These words of the text are so obviously plain, that they need no introduction--no explanation. They express the great characteristic motive and duty of every true Christian. The desire to be approved of God, is one of the clearest marks of piety, one of the evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart. This desire lays the only sure foundation for moral rectitude in every situation of life, and under every trial of temptation. The man who habitually fears God, and uniformly strives to commend himself to the Divine favor, has around him a strong wall of protection, and is stimulated to fidelity in duty, by the most stringent motives and sanctions that can operate on the heart and conscience of a moral agent. This St. Paul well knew. For this reason, in order to ensure the fidelity of his beloved Timothy, whom he had ordained as a Minister of the Gospel, he calls upon him to "study to show himself approved unto God." Passing by all inferior and secondary considerations, the Apostle proposes to him, the most noble and elevated standard, and directs him at once to God, who understands the thoughts and intents of the heart--and this he must study to do. It must not be an occasional thought, passing through the mind, but the habitual constraining purpose of the heart. He must be careful, diligent, and untiringly persevering in his effort to show himself approved unto God.--In a word, he must make this the rule of his life and actions. What a strong proof is here incidentally given of the integrity of St. Paul, and of the excellency of the Gospel. Had St. Paul been an impostor, anxious from worldly [3/4] motives to place himself at the head of a party--had he not been fully persuaded of the truth of the Gospel, as a Divine revelation, his advice to Timothy would have been far different. He would have counselled him to look to the world--to court the favor of men--and by artful appliances, to promote his own aggrandizement. But with the honesty and consistency of the Disciple of that Saviour whose kingdom is not of this world, he charges him to "study to show himself approved unto God." Brethren, if we were asked to specify what should be the great leading motive of the Christian Minister, and what would be the most likely to make him faithful and useful, we know not that we could give a better answer than in the words of the text. As it will reasonably be expected, that on this occasion, we should say something on the subject of Ministerial duties, we shall endeavor to present from the words of the text, a few reflections, which, we trust, will not be inappropriate.
1st. By studying to show themselves approved unto God, Ministers of the Gospel will have the best evidence of the purity of their motives, and will be guarded against all unhallowed and worldly influences. When we call to mind how much the character and success of the Church depend upon the standing, the piety, and the conduct of her Ministers; and that, consequently, all ungodly and irreligious men should be carefully excluded from admission into her Priesthood, and that none should be permitted to officiate at her Altars, but the truly pious, and pure in heart--we perceive, that on the part of all of us who call ourselves Ministers, it should be a most grave and solemn inquiry to ascertain that our motives for seeking to enter on the duties of the Priesthood, and for our continuing to labor therein, are pure and holy. On this point, we cannot be too scrupulous, nor too importunate in prayer, that God, by His Holy Spirit, would guide us to a right decision. We have great need for this caution, when we remember how deceitful is the human heart; and what multitudes there are, who by their inconsistent walk and conversation, are a shame and reproach to the name which they bear. We may learn the importance which the Church attaches to Holy and Godly motives, on the part of her Ministers; from the first question she propounds to the Deacon, at the time of his [4/5] Ordination--asking him, if he "trusts that he is inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon him that office and ministration, to serve God for the promoting of his glory, and the edifying of his people?" The Church well knows that no man will be a consistent and useful Minister for any length of lime, unless his heart is brought under the renewing and sanctifying influences of Divine grace; and unless he does really desire to promote the glory of God, and the salvation of souls;--and therefore it is, that, at the very threshold of the sacred Ministry, she makes that searching a solemn inquiry. In primitive times, when the exercise of the Ministry was at tended with contempt, and sometimes with persecution and death, there was, perhaps, not so much need for cautious self- examination on the part of those who took upon themselves the office of Clergymen. There was hardly any secular or unholy end, that could be supposed to awaken in any man the desire to enter on the Ministry. But now, the times are changed. Although, the duties of the Ministry are responsible and laborious; although, there is little to tempt cupidity in the way of worldly emolument; although, discouragements and trials have often times to be encountered; still, it must be confessed, that there are some baits in the office of the Ministry to excite our secular ambition. The desire of being respected, esteemed, and courted; of being admired for our learning, or applauded for our eloquence, or venerated for our piety and zeal; in a word, the love of popularity, will insinuate itself and mingle with better and purer motives. The world will be constantly prone to thrust itself in and to take possession of hearts, that should be consecrated to higher and holier objects.
Besides, the natural tendency of the heart to gravitate downwards, we are apt to be intoxicated with vanity, and in flamed with ambition, by the marked attentions which we receive; and by the misplaced compliments and flatteries, which are too often times bestowed. Here, perhaps, is one of the greatest dangers to which we are exposed in the present day--that of having our standard of action lowered, and of suffering a selfish and worldly ambition to creep in and to supplant the holy desire of glorifying God and saving immortal souls. Here it is, that its the present day, Satan makes his most violent, and alas, his most successful attacks upon us. Here it is, that [5/6] we all have need to watch and pray, lest we be led into temptation. How diligently should we guard ourselves against exhibiting the humiliating and disgusting sight of a Minister of the meek and lowly Jesus, puffed up with vanity and self conceit; self-indulgent, light and frivolous in his manners and conversation, grasping at the miserable bubble of popular applause, and obviously far more solicitous about his own name and reputation as a graceful and eloquent speaker, than anxious for the glory of God, and the edifying of his Church. Now, in order to counteract this tendency to the manifestation of a worldly spirit, let it often be remembered, that the great duty of the Minister should be to please God, and to labor for the conversion and salvation of souls; and that, if he would hope to be useful and happy in his calling, he must be an holy, godly, and self-denying man.
Let us then, my Brethren, cherish no motives to action, but such as we believe are acceptable to God. Let our prayer often be that of the Psalmist--"Search me, oh God, and know my heart--try me, and know my thoughts--and see if there be any wicked *ay in me--and lead me in the way everlasting." Especially, let us endeavor to be humble minded, and thus show in our conduct, that we possess something of the spirit of Him whom we profess to call our Lord and Master. If ever we would hope to see the work of the Lord prospering in our hands--if ever we would expect to behold our beloved Zion removing the prejudices which exist against her, and rising from the dust of humiliation to which she has been reduced, we must make it evident to all around us, that we are truly men of God: that our desire is to do good--that our hearts are really engaged in the work of the Ministry--that we are influenced by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ;--and that we are laboring not to gain a name and reputation amongst men, but to obtain the benediction of God, as having been faithful in his cause and service. The character and destiny of the Church are, under God, placed almost entirely in the hands of the Clergy. We would, therefore, again repeat it, that if ever the Church is to be respected, and to grow, and to flourish in the land, her Ministers must show themselves to be holy men, humble men, self-denying men, faithful in preaching the pure word of the Gospel, careful in their conduct [6/7] and conversation, and abundant in the fruits of good living.
2nd. Ministers will be enabled to be faithful in the delivery of their message, by studying to show themselves approved unto God. Our office is, indeed, an awfully responsible one. We watch for souls, as they that must give an account. In some measure, the eternal welfare of our hearers is placed in our hands. How dreadful then must be our condemnation, if we prove unfaithful in the delivery of our message; and thus cause the ruin of those for whom Christ died! What sore punishment must await that Minister, who by his unsound teaching, by his inconsistent walk, by his frivolous conversation, and by his worldly conformity, dilutes the power of the Gospel, lowers the standard of Christian morals, and encourages his hearers in the ways of worldliness and sin! It is almost enough, to make the boldest and the best shrink back from the responsibilities of the Ministry, when we read such passages as these in Holy Scripture:--"Cry aloud--spare not! Lift up thy voice like a trumpet--show my people their transgressions--and the house of Jacob their sins." And again, the awful charge of the Prophet, viz: "Behold! I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore, hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning: When I say unto the wicked, thou shalt surely die, and thou givest him not warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way to save his life, he shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thy hands." Such passages as these, are enough to make us tremble with alarm, and to exclaim, "who is sufficient for these things." Oh! what manner of persons ought Ministers to be in all holy conversation and godliness. If St. Paul, with all his constitutional firmness, and with all his supernatural endowments, must call upon the Ephesians, to "pray for him, that utterance might be given him, to open his mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel," what need have we most importunately to ask of God grace and strength in these degenerate days; when there are so many temptations to draw us aside from the path of duty and fidelity. Oh! how careful should we be to declare the whole counsel of God; and to keep nothing back from fear of offending popular prejudice--how should we resolve to let our trumpet give no [7/8] uncertain sound; and like St. Paul, to preach the doctrine of Christ and him crucified, in all the fulness of its length, and breadth, and heighth, and depth. Oh! in these days of temporizing policy, and worldly conformity, where an almost idolatrous veneration is paid to public opinion, as to an infallible interpreter of truth and of error; and when the inquiry is so often to know, not what is commanded and instituted of God, but what is popular with man, we need all the solemn admonition of the words of the text to keep us steadfast and faithful in the path of duty. Nothing less than a sense of our accountability to God will enable us boldly to resist vice; and to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all long suffering and doc trine. Unless he adopts this high standard of duty, no Minister will ever be conscientious and faithful in exercising the discipline of the Church,--he will shrink back from pointing out the errors and faults of his flock; and thus from fear of offending, he will become accessory to their sins, and bring himself under the displeasure of Almighty God.--And we would remark, that the Minister of the Episcopal Church, needs specially to be prompted to fidelity by the words of the text; for in one respect, he is under strong temptations to fail in his duty. We belong to a Church that is feeble, and of little esteem among men; our views are peculiar; we differ from the Christian bodies around us in several points, which we consider of great importance. Our doctrines are therefore unpopular; and the hard names of exclusiveness, intolerance, and bigotry, are often applied to us. Being thus situated, we are in danger of temporizing, of withholding some of the distinctive and prominent doctrines of the Church; or, at least, of forming our estimate of what is important, not by the teaching and authority of the Church, but by the opinions and practices of those who have separated from her. Now, whilst we are bound to be kind and charitable towards all men, and should scrupulously abstain from assailing any of the Christian denominations around us--yet, we are required to be faithful in the delivery of our entire message. It is our duty, honestly, to set forth the whole truth, as held by the Church--to declare not only what she teaches in regard to the atonement of Christ, and Justification by Faith, but also, what she believes in reference to the Ministry, the Sacraments, and the worship of the [8/9] Sanctuary. Unless we do this, we preach a maimed and defective Gospel. We should bear in mind that we are under a solemn canonical obligation to instruct our people in the doctrines, constitution, and liturgy of the Church; and that whenever we refuse to do this, we set up our own private opinion in opposition to the wisdom, the judgment, and the authority of the Church. If, indeed, it be true, as many will contend, that it is a matter of no consequence to what denomination of Christians we belong, then, upon that principle, we should regard it as an inexcusable intrusion--a wanton act of schism, to introduce the Church into any community, in which there was an organized Christian Society already existing. True it is, that whenever we give up our principles, that distinguish us as a regular branch of the Apostolic Church, we may be admired and praised for our liberality, by those to whom these principles are objectionable; still, we shall be unfaithful Ministers, in leaving our hearers unprotected against doctrines and influences, by which they might be drawn away from the true faith of the Gospel, as held and taught in the Church. Let then the Minister of the Church remember, that he is accountable not to others around him, but to the God of Heaven. Let him never be ashamed openly and candidly to avow the doctrines of the Church, sanctioned as they arc by the authority of Scripture, and of primitive usage; and whenever he may encounter obloquy or reproach, for thus earnestly contending for the faith, as once delivered to the Saints, let him find sup port and comfort in the hope of God's benediction.
Again, by endeavoring to act up to the elevated standard of showing himself approved unto God, the Minister of Christ may be enabled to rise above the debasing influences of party views and party strife. This is a matter of vast importance in the present day, where there is so much of distrust and suspicion; so much of carping and cavilling; in a word, where the spirit of party is the shame, and the curse of the Church. Against this spirit of party, we should watch and guard as against a deadly poison; for there is hardly any thing by which the progress of the Church is more hindered, or by which the piety of her members is more injured. We scarcely know any conduct more contemptible in itself, more inconsistent with the character of a Christian or a gentleman, or more [9/10] grieving to the Holy Spirit of God, than for one Brother to be sneering at another--railing at his opinions and practices--insinuating doubts in regard to his piety as a Christian--or to his soundness as a Churchman; and in this way impairing his character, his usefulness, and his happiness. Indeed, the licentious freedom with which Ministers of the present day often speak of each other--a freedom that would not for a moment be tolerated amongst the officers of the Army and Navy--is one of the most fearful signs of the times; and may, possibly, forebode some awful judgment of Heaven to be inflicted on the Church. It is nothing but disgusting cant and affectation to be talking of our love for the Church, and our soundness in her faith, when we are crippling the hands of her Ministers, destroying all reverence for those whom she places in authority, and thus bringing into contempt all her claims and institutions. True it is, that in our mutual railings, we may sometimes be admired for the keenness of our wit, and the severity of our ridicule and sarcasm; and by an arbitrary standard, may prove a Brother to be unsound in the faith; but the judicious, and the pious, will in all these things detect the jealousy of envy--the bitterness of malice--and the turpitude of slander. Now to guard against this fearful prevalence of party spirit, is the duty of every one who loves the Church, and really desires to promote her best interests, and this, we cannot better do, than by studying to show ourselves approved unto God. When we recollect that we are accountable to Almighty God for the manner of our stewardship; and when we call to mind our manifold defects, infirmities, and transgressions. we shall see how greatly we stand in need of charity and mercy, in the judgments passed upon our actions--we shall thus learn to be tender of a Brother's reputation--to be indulgent to his infirmities--to do justice to his virtues--and always to be far more ready to vindicate his character, than to vilify his name and undermine his usefulness. Oh! when we shall come to stand in the awful presence of Almighty God, and shall be called upon to show how much we had done for the glory of His name, and the salvation of souls, how odious, and eminently sinful, will then appear our little disputes, and fierce contentions about things that were unimportant, accidental and transitory. On this subject we have spoken the more [10/11] fully and strongly, because here is the great besetting sin of the times. Indeed, we can hardly mingle with a company of Clergymen, or look into the religious papers of the day, without being annoyed and grieved by acrimonious discussions, or railing accusations. Never was there a time when the solemn and stern admonitions of St. James were more appropriate or more needed--"Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation, his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not; and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy arid good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy, and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace."
3d. By studying to show ourselves approved unto God, we shall be borne up under the trials and discouragements incident to the Ministerial office. Although our calling has its blessings and comforts, yet it is not exempt from difficulties and hardships. Beside the mental labor and bodily fatigue inseparable from our office, we have sometimes other trials more grievous to be borne. We are perhaps called to labor in a barren and unfruitful soil. After all our efforts, we perceive no fruits--no improvement amongst our hearers--no addition to those who profess to be the followers of the Lord; and in reviewing our field of labor we have to adopt the melancholy complaint of the Prophet,--Lord, who hath believed our report. Under such circumstances there is a tendency even in the best regulated minds to sink down into despondency; and there is danger lest in our impatience and discontent we hastily and unadvisedly abandon our post of duty; and leave to waste and neglect the field in which we have ploughed and planted. Now to counteract this tendency to hasty conclusions, let us adopt as our principle of action, the words of the text. Let us do our duty, and leave results to God; let us plant the seed of the word, and leave to God to bestow or withhold the dews of his grace. We are not competent to decide on results; because they are not all developed in the [11/12] manner and during the period that we may imagine. As long as we can look up to God with an humble hope of his approbation, we should go forward to our work with a cheerful diligence, not doubting but that the seed sown in faith, will in its proper time, bring forth fruit to the glory of God, and the increase of his Church. In a well regulated army, there are various offices to be performed, and the soldier who faithfully stands at his post and acts as sentinel, is as useful as he who storms a redoubt, or captures a city. Again, it sometimes happens that dark clouds spread over our field of labor--discord and division show themselves--opposition arises from those who think themselves wiser than their teachers--our characters are assailed, and our conduct misrepresented by whisperings and backbitings, and the door of usefulness closed against us by distrusts and suspicions and evil surmisings. These things are trials hard to be borne, and yet they have of ten fallen to the lot of the best Ministers; and we should therefore not be surprised if it be our portion to encounter them. As long as we are in a world that lieth in iniquity, and in which there is so much wilfulness, and self conceit and vanity, we must expect to endure the contradiction of sinners. The hearts of men are now just the same as they were in the time of our Savior, and if he was reviled and persecuted, his Ministers have no right to expect to pass along without censure and reproach. Now when laboring under these bitter trials, which are indeed grievous to be borne, nothing can so effectually sustain us as the consciousness of having studied to "show ourselves approved unto God," and that in "simplicity and godly sincerity; not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world." This will afford unspeakable comfort under the severest buffetings of opposition and reproach, and prove a tower of refuge against the arrows of persecution. It will give an increased peace to the soul when all the other fountains of sympathy and enjoyment are dried up. With our hopes thus resting upon God, we can possess our souls in patience, and calmly await the time when at the bidding of the Master the fury of the storm shall be hushed, and the clouds be dispersed from the Heavens. We can thus appeal from the hasty and partial decisions of men to the just sentence of Him, who knows the secrets of all [12/13] hearts--we can look forward in humble confidence to that great day when all mysteries will be removed, all injuries will be repaired, and the wan of God be vindicated to man. We shall thus be prevented from sinking down into torpid inaction or misanthropic disgust; we shall be stimulated to fidelity in the path of duty; and thus "forgetting the things that are be hind, and reaching after those that are before, we shall press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Here at last must be the main stay and prop of the Minister of the Gospel; viz--the hope of obtaining God's approbation. Without this he will have no energy nor efficiency he will falter and fail. It was this that bore up the Apostles under a storm of opposition, and enabled them to meet a world in arms against them. It was this, that gave such dignity and elevation to the reflections of St. Paul in the prospect of death: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight--I have finished my course--I have kept the faith:--henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me at that day." And surely, if in the ranks of the redeemed, one spirit can be more happy and joyous than another--it must be the humble, faithful, yet fiercely tried Minister of the Gospel, when he hears from the lips of his Master, that blessed sentence of approbation--"Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
And now, my beloved Brethren, who have taken upon you the solemn duties of the Priesthood, let us in conclusion ad dress to you one word of affectionate exhortation. It is indeed an awful responsibility you have assumed, and dreadful will be your guilt and condemnation if you should prove to be unfaithful. What need have you to be watchful, and diligent--to be humble in spirit, and earnest and frequent in prayer to the God of grace and of truth. And yet we would not discourage you by the mention of dangers and difficulties--but would rather cheer you by the promise of grace to be given, and animate you to perseverance by the assurance that your labors will not be in vain. True it is, you will have many perplexities, and trials and hardships--you will oftentimes have your patience to be tried, and your feelings to be wounded, [13/14] and your best meant efforts to be misunderstood and opposed; but know you, for your encouragement, that you rest not on the arm of man, but on the power of God; and that you serve one who has promised his Ministers to "be with them to the end of the world." Go you forth in the confidence of this promise, striving to show yourselves approved unto God, by faithful preaching, and a godly life; and be assured you shall never fail; the Lord will never leave nor forsake you--he will furnish you, day by day, with the needful supplies of his grace--"He will strengthen you with might by his Spirit in the inner man"--he will guide you in safety through a labyrinth of difficulties, and keep you from harm in the midst of dangers. In every situation let your inquiry be, "Lord what wilt thou have me to do;" and your course through life will be independent, dignified, and useful;--the Church will never blush to own you as her Ministers, and when the days of your pilgrimage are over, you shall receive an ample reward for all your labors in the benediction of your God, and in an inheritance of bliss and of glory. Amen.