Bear ye one another's burdens.
PREACHED AT THE
REV. HARRY CROSWELL,
On Thursday, 22d February, 1816.
BY THE REV. PHILANDER CHASE,
Rector of Christ's Church in Hartford.
PUBLISHED BY THE REQUEST OF THE VESTRY
PREACHED AT THE INSTITUTION OF THE
REV. HARRY CROSWELL,
TRINITY CHURCH, NEW-HAVEN.
GAL. vi. 2.
Bear ye one another's burdens; and so fulfil the law of Christ.
By the solemnities of this day, two things are offered to our serious consideration. The one is, that, by the good providence of God, a shepherd, we trust duly qualified, has been placed over a particular flock of Christ's universal fold.
The other is, that this flock has canonically received and acknowledged him as such.
Hence arises a connexion most interesting in its nature, and giving birth to duties numerous and important. So numerous and so important, that, however appropriate all may be to form the subject of our present discourse, a partial selection from them must suffice.
Accordingly, I have chosen, as a guide to our present contemplations, a text of Holy Scripture, which directs us to consider such of the relative duties between a Pastor and his Flock, as are evidently mutually binding, and reciprocally aiding. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
A burden, here, is a duty, whether moral or religious; and to bear one another's burdens, must mean, to be mutually aiding and assisting, in the discharge of the [3/4] several duties of the Christian profession. That we are said, in thus doing, to "fulfil the law of Christ," marks the importance of this comprehensive duty. For "the law of Christ," in this passage, seems to be none other than that, which is styled, by the Apostle, "the end of the commandment;" that which "never faileth," namely, Christian charity; or, such a love in the mystical body of Christ, as is aptly signified by the love which actuates the members of the natural body;--a love causing all to suffer and rejoice together, to co-operate in producing one and the same end--the happiness of the whole. This is that "law of Christ" to be "fulfilled by bearing one another's burdens."
To apply the spirit of the text, thus explained, to the consideration of the relative duties and reciprocal assistances between minister and people, is both easy in itself, and pertinent to the object of this day's solemnity. The minister of Christ, the pastor of every flock, has his burdens; and his people have theirs: both separate, in some respects; yet, in many others, so mutually dependent, that were they not also mutually assisting, they could not be performed; and thus the law of Christ would be left unfulfilled.
To clear the way, for a due apprehension of our present subject, it is necessary that you be apprized of the method, in which it is to be treated.
My general design is this:--
I. To select some of the many duties of the pastoral office; showing, as we proceed, how the congregation can aid the minister in the discharge of them.
II. To say something to the Pastor himself shewing how he can assist his people, in the discharge of their manifold duties.
That we may all be assisted in the contemplation and improvement of this important subject, by the directing and cheering influences of God's gracious Spirit, is, I sincerely hope, the prayer of all who are present.
1st. The relative duties of a Christian pastor, are briefly expressed in his ordination vows; the sum of which is contained in the Bishop's exhortation, namely: "That he would never cease his labour, his care and diligence, [4/5] until he have done all, that lieth in him, according to his bounden duty, to bring all such as are, or shall be, committed to his charge, unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and unto that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or viciousness in life."
This as it respects his duty in general; to the whole of which he gave his voluntary assent.
When descending to particulars, he did promise and vow,--with his own mouth pronouncing--"that he would give all diligence always to minister the doctrine, and sacraments, and discipline, of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this church hath received the same, according to the commandments of God; so that he may teach the people committed to his care and charge, with all diligence to keep and observe the same."
Such are the relative duties, both general and particular, which the minister of Jesus Christ, now your instituted pastor, stands bound, by the most solemn vows, to perform towards you, his beloved people. By all who duly consider them, it must be confessed, they constitute a burden of no ordinary weight. Without God's especial grace at all times assisting, it is indeed too heavy to be borne.
But, as much as the divine aid is both needed and promised, does not God require, that this same aid shall often be afforded, through your instrumentality? Is it not given to you, the people of his care, materially to assist your pastor, in the discharge of his duty; and thus to lighten it of much of its burden? We hope to show you, in the sequel of this discourse, that it is.
Take, then, a view of a few, among the many ways and means, by which you can manifest the correctness of this observation.
1. Your pastor is bound to "minister the word unto you." That this may be duly performed, it is implied that you are ready and willing to receive it;--ready, in being always present; and willing, in always receiving it with joy. While your pastor is supposed conscious of the great value of the heavenly seed of God's word, the load of duty, in dispensing it, is lessened instead of [5/6] magnified, by the numbers who attend, and the avidity with which it is received. The more you press to hear, and the more you are benefitted in hearing, the more easy the labour of teaching. Consider, then, how you violate the command in the text, by all unnecessary absence from the public offices of religion; and especially in remaining unimproved by them. All such neglects and transgressions, in this way of considering them, embrace a complicated sin,--against God,--against man,--and against your own souls. You sin against God: this wounds the heart of your faithful pastor: and both eventually fall on your own selves. Your first duty, then, is to attend the assemblies of God's people; and your next is earnestly to endeavour that the seed of God's word, there preached, "fall on good ground;" that so it may bring forth the manifold fruits of a holy life. This will especially lighten the burdens of your pastor.
2. Next to preaching God's word to you, it his duty to teach it unto your children: for He that said unto the apostles, "feed my sheep," said also, "feed my lambs." True it is, as you may know by consulting all faithful pastors,--that this can scarcely be called, in the stricter sense, a burden; for, the smiles of children, as yet uncorrupted by the vices of a wicked world, while receiving with meekness the milk of the word, and the nurture of the Church, around the altar of God, give a pleasure, rather than constitute a burden to the minister. But, my brethren, I can tell you what is a burden of grievous tendency, which must sink the heart and spirits of every faithful pastor.--This is to see you suffer your children to neglect, and perhaps to despise this primitive duty. This weight of sorrow he will feel, in proportion to the true love he bears you and your off-spring. For, he beholds in it a growing evil, which, though small at present, will spread itself throughout all the branches of Christian society. The same cause, which teach children to despise the catechism, will make them, when come to maturity, despise the word, sacraments and church of God. Impose not, then, this, the heaviest affliction, on the mind and spirits of your pastor.
 3. From preaching and teaching the word of God, we proceed to a no less important duty of the Christian ministry; and that is of offering up, in the priestly character, the sacrifices of your prayers and thanksgivings to God.
And here, we may pertinently observe the excellency of our Apostolic Church; that in these duties of public worship, you, my brethren of the laity, possess the incomparable privilege of bearing a part: and so, of essentially aiding and assisting your pastor. And, be well assured that, in proportion to the decency, order, and devotional fervour, you manifest herein, you will afford satisfaction and comfort to every sincere minister of Christ. This you may do, both by your voice and gesture.
It is the true intent and spirit of our primitive service, that every person present join audibly in it; that, as all come into the house of God on one common level, to worship one common Father of all, so all should join to make the same manifest by their voice; in order, that the prayer and the praise may be, like fire, converting every heart into one common mass of true devotion. When this is the avowed intent of our service, the failure thereof, by the silence of the congregation, is a great grief unto the minister; which, if it do not impede, must, at least, sadden his devotion. For, in this, above all other things, he will perceive that, as it "is through the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," so, if the praises of God are not spoken and heard in the great congregation, there is one evidence that the heart is wanting in piety. I need not tell you, my brethren, who know your minister, that this will be a great grief unto him, and accumulate the weight of his pastoral burden. Nor need I exhort you to prevent it.
The intent of what is said about the voice, is equally applicable to the posture of the body in the worship of God; save only that, concerning the latter, the Church hath been more particularly peremptory: and this not without the greatest reason,--reason drawn from the nature of the thing, and the express word of scripture. In prayer, strictly so called, the Church requires that we be upon our knees, to express (and what do we [7/8] appear in public for, if it be not publicly to express) that humility of soul, without which, all our addresses to the throne of grace are but solemn mockery. In praise, we are, in like manner, required to stand erect, to express that elevation of heart and mind to God, which the act of praise requires.
These two acts of devotion are evidently distinct; as much so as the words and sentiments are distinct, which they accompany and signify. And those who blend them together, mar our excellent service; and thus, in no small degree, grieve and impede the ministry.
That we should rise, when we praise God, the reason of the thing, and the consent of all denominations of Christians, as well as all scripture sufficiently shew. And that we should kneel, or prostrate our bodies, instead of standing upright, or sitting at our ease, while in the act of prayer, is equally evident. There is neither example nor precept to the contrary of this, within the compass of the Holy Bible. We are commanded to "worship God;" and the very word worship, in all languages, means to fall prostrate, or kneel. Thus, Abraham, Moses, and all the Fathers of the ancient Church, fell upon their faces, whenever they presumed to talk with God. Solomon, the king of Israel, kneeled when he prayed at the dedication of the temple. "Daniel kneeled upon his knees, three times a day, and prayed towards Jerusalem," the seat of God's visible presence. St. Stephen, recommending his soul to Jesus, in his dying moments, kneeled down. St. Paul did the same, and that on the sea shore, when he prayed, at parting from the elders of Ephesus. Our blessed Lord himself, as our Mediator and Great Exemplar, kneeled when he prayed both for himself and us. Yea, the members of the triumphant Church in heaven, are represented as kneeling and prostrating themselves before the throne of God and the Lamb. Having such authority, one would suppose, that the injunctions of our primitive Church, touching these things, would be obeyed; and that there would not be a diversity of practice, within her own communion, so evidently discouraging to the duties of the ministry.
4. While on the subject of public worship, in which the Pastor and the People are to be mutually assisting, [8/9] I cannot forbear mentioning some appendages thereunto belonging; which, if rightly observed, afford great comfort to every pious minster; and thus serve to lighten, by satisfactory contemplations, the burden of his duty. These consist in the manner of our entering and leaving the house of God.
Knowing the nature of man, that he is prone to evil, and his best services apt to be interrupted and impeded by worldly associations, the Church has required, that her places of worship shall be solemnly consecrated; so that all, who enter them, may never do it but with deep impressions of the awful majesty of the Divine presence; and thereby be more duly prepared to reap the benefit of what is said and done.
To perfect this Pious purpose, we are taught that, when going towards the house of God, we should imitate the example of Abraham, when beholding afar off the holy mount Moriah; and say to all our worldly thoughts, as he did to his men, "Tarry ye here, while we go and worship yonder;" that when stepping on the threshold of God's temple, we should say with Jacob, "Surely the Lord is in this place,--this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven;"--and that, when we seat ourselves, we remember in whose house we are admitted to that honour, and devoutly pray that God by his Spirit would assist our devotions, and awaken and instruct us by his word--Especially that, when the service is over, we do not rush out of the house of our heavenly King, as if desirous to hasten from his presence; but rather tarry for a space, to beg, in a short and secret prayer, the Divine blessing on what we have heard and done. An earthly prince exacts a reverential decency, when his subjects leave his audience; and shall we not pay it to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, by whose bounty we live, and by whom we must all be finally judged?
In regard to the secret prayer to be said by all, immediately after the last blessing, and the short space of time required for that purpose; if there be any, who have not themselves piety enough to observe this primitive order, it is supposed that common civility, I might say decency, would incline them to regard the feelings of those who have. This minute (and no more is required) [9/10] is a precious one to many, and I fondly hope to far the greater part of those, who frequent our divine service. And why should a thoughtless few be so cruel as to deprive them of it? Without question, this minute is of all others the choicest to your pastor; who, having so long laboured for the good of his flock, having so frequently prayed and earnestly preached for others, would now beg to be indulged, before all devotion is drowned by the unavoidable bustle of a retiring congregation, to pray for himself. And permit me to add one suggestion more in his favour. Would that in this sacred minute of profound silence, when the blessed Spirit is hovering over you, to wing your devout sighs to the Throne of Grace,--would, that your beloved pastor might be named in your prayers;--that one wish might ascend from the altar of your hearts, with the incense of Christian faith, to the God of mercy, that He would bless, support, and reward him. Will not this indeed sweeten his labour? Will not this lighten his burden, or inspire him with more strength to bear it with Christian fortitude? It will, my brethren; and, if you sincerely love your pastor, you will so do, and so "fulfill the law of Christ, by bearing one another's burden."
5. From the duties of the pastoral office, with respect to the doctrine and worship of God, we pass on to the administration of the Sacraments.
In things which so exclusively belong unto the ministers of Christ, at first view, it may be thought, that the people have little concern; but, by due consideration, we shall think otherwise. Two things are necessary in the administration of the sacraments; the one is, that they be rightly performed; and the other, that they be rightly received. The former is secured by the blessing of God on the vigilance of the Church, in providing a pious and authorized ministry. The latter is expected from the faith and obedience of all her children. Unless these two be joined together, there can be little benefit from the sacraments. And, as these are the chief pledges of a Redeemer's love to his Church, I need not tell you, what a grief and impediment the failure of their intended effect, will be to the mind and heart of your pastor. Consider, then, that as he is [10/11] bound to administer the sacraments, and all ordinances, according to the rules of our primitive Church; so he must have your co-operation and concurrence; or one of these two evils will follow;--the wounding of his conscience; or your being deprived of their benefit.
From the many instances, which present themselves to illustrate the practical use of these observations, I shall select but one: that is from the manner in which the Church requires that the baptism of infants shall be performed.
The rubrick requires, there shall be three sponsors for every child; of course, one at least, besides the parents, even when they are admitted. Now, this rule, among the rest contained in our excellent liturgy, your pastor, by his ordination vows, stands bound to obey. Admitting, then, that this requisition, on the part of the Church is not contrary to the Gospel,--and we hope to show you that it is highly conducive to its aim and end,--it would seem, that a regard to the conscience, the peace of mind, and virtuous feelings, of the officiating minister, will incline all parents to conform to it, and make provision accordingly.
But, besides this argument, so strictly in point of our present discourse, we have others, on which to urge the propriety of this primitive rule, of no inconsiderable moment.
The rule of having sponsors other than the parents, is highly beneficial to the child;--it is consoling to the parents; it is edifying to Christian community.
It is beneficial to the child.--When sponsors are chosen, as they ever ought to be, from among the most pious, well informed, and conscientious part of the community, the child baptised has a security for his Christian education, which nothing else can give.--Where parents alone stand for their children, they are bound, it is true, to "train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord:"--but none the more so, by reason of their answering for them, at the font: for nothing can enhance the parental obligation: no additional promise can make it greater. Now, the benefit of this parental obligation the Church enjoys previously, and beside all sponsions at the font. So that the proper question is, what shall best secure against accidents, in [11/12] the event of the parents death, or of their failing, through any misfortune or neglect, to perform their duty? This important question is clearly answered, in the institution of sponsors other than parents. And for the truth of this position, we appeal to fact.
Besides the innumerable instances, wherein the parent has been reminded and excited to do his duty to his children, through the vigilance of the sponsor alone, thousands of young persons have, to all human view, been rescued from ruin, through the same blessed instrumentality.
Having the best right, and feeling, as he ought, deeply sensible of his duty, the sponsor, when the parent sleeps in the grave, or, through any cause, ceases his care, has often interfered, with timely advice or reproof, in some critical moment, and turned the scale in favour of virtue and religion. Often has he, through the influence of this endearing connexion, extended his duty unto temporal affairs; and, mingling the affections of a friend with the admonitions of a spiritual guide, protected the orphan and supported the fatherless. Hence the truth of our second position,--that the rule of having conscientious sponsors is of great consolation and comfort to the parents themselves. It is such in their health and prosperity.--It is such in affliction, poverty and distress:--and in the event of a sudden and untimely death, there is something in this pious requisition of our holy Church, which we want words to express. What, under God, can reconcile a father to bid adieu to his tender offspring?--What can cause him to submit with Christian resignation to be called in the prime of his parental usefulness from time to eternity, more than the consolations which this righteous custom affords? In the awful moment of death, will not the consciousness that there are persons of good principles, and stable characters, solemnly bound to God and the Church to take care of his orphan children when he is gone have a salutary effect to compose his anxious mind? We think it will.
Lastly:--this rule has an effect to edify Christian community, and promote social happiness.
A great portion of happiness in every Christian society, consists in love and mutual affection. Whatever [12/13] therefore has a tendency to connect the professors of our faith more nearly together, and to give a more extensive influence to that connexion, on the principles of mutual good offices, is among the surest means of securing your happiness. Now, we do know that a due conformity to the ecclesiastical rule, of which we are speaking, has this tendency.
In the Church, every religious person, who has asked the favour of his neighbour to stand for his children, is supposed willing to stand sponsor for the children of others. And this taking place by different persons with different children of the same family, the consequences, that the whole society is linked together, by one and the same bond of mutual love and kind offices. All are bound, each to the other, to aid and assist in training the rising generation to holiness and virtue. And while they are so, it would be strange if this did not appear in the social walks of life, by preventing or healing unreasonable divisions, by smoothing the rough passions of our nature, and by attuning all to harmony and social happiness.
It is not affirmed, that these blessed effects always flow from this pious ordinance; for, in every society here on earth, some are found so perverse as to be bound by no ties, however sacred and endearing. But these effects take place much more generally there, where this rule is duly observed, than where it is neglected.
And now, my Christian brethren of the Laity, all this your pastor knows as well as I; and perhaps has often expressed the same in a much better way. But you, who in most things have led the way in promoting the good of our holy Zion; you, who have exhibited not only to this diocese, but to our whole country, an example, at once, of primitive order, taste, and zeal, in erecting, at your own expense, this incomparable edifice to the glory of the Great Redeemer; YOU, will suffer the word of exhortation, in "stirring up your pure minds by way of remembrance," on this important subject,--from one, who sincerely prayeth for your mutual and individual happiness.
Recommending this the rule of our Holy Church, certainly is, by its antiquity, its intrinsic wisdom, and [13/14] evident conformity to the spirit and design of the Gospel; recommended as it is by its utility to the rising generation, and by its social and endearing effects on the face of Christian society; and binding as it is, and ought to be, on the conscience of your beloved pastor; you will never cease its general and salutary use. You will be ever ready to stand at the holy font for each others children; the rich for the children of the poor; and the pious poor for the children of the rich. This is one among the surest ways of relieving the burdens of your pastor. In every point of view, both to him, to yourselves, and to the Church at large, it is, according to the truest sense of the text, "fulfilling the law of Christ by bearing one another's burdens."
2d. Having detained you so long on the first general head of our discourse, but a short space is left for the second.
Had I the ability, I have not now the time, to point out the many ways, in which the minister of Christ should assist his people, in the performance of their manifold duties. But something may be said, by way of summary.--And here I cannot proceed in the second person. I shrink from every thing dictatorial, when speaking to a fellow-labourer, who may know, and do, his duty much better than myself. Instead of saying it is your duty, we will, my Reverend and dear Brother, say it is our duty, by every Gospel means, to assist the people committed to our care, in the attainment of everlasting life.
If they are commanded to hear and receive God's word, we are bound faithfully to preach it to them: to which end, two things are necessary; first, that we ourselves know and understand the word which we preach; and the second is, that we have fortitude to declare it. The former cannot be attained, without much study and devout application; and the latter requires that we bear ever in mind whose ambassadors we are, and to whom we stand accountable. Let us, then, with unremitting prayer to God, for the aid of his Holy Spirit, apply ourselves to the study of our BIBLES; and to every thing, which may lead us righty to understand them, that we be not "novices:" and let us take care that we never sacrifice truth or duty unto popularity; [14/15] that we deserve not the shameful epithet of "pleasers;" two characters utterly inconsistent with the office which we bear, and the vows which are upon us.
Again, if the people of God are bound to receive the sacraments, it is the duty of God's ministers to do all in their power that they receive them worthily: To which end, their nature and importance must often be the subjects, of our public and private discourses. Our Divine Master, having left the sacraments as means of grace unto his people; as pledges of his love, and seals of his covenant; and he having committed their safekeeping and due dispensation to his ministers; woe be to us, if we either know not their use, diminish their importance, or dispense them to such as wilfully abuse them.
Again; if our people are commanded devoutly to pray in public, it is our duty devoutly to pray with them. If they be not incited to piety in this way, we are shamefully deficient. Let us, therefore, follow the piety of the Church, and we may expect our flocks will follow ours. Let no part of our excellent service be omitted; that the people, seeing us mindful of our vows, may be incited not to forget their own. Above all, let us feel with our hearts what we utter with our lips. Let us "set God always before us," and remember that we are addressing ourselves to him, and not to the people. This will give life to our prayers; and all, who are truly devout themselves, will be much more edified, than by any mechanical and studied accents.
Once more; if our people our bound to lead godly and Christian lives, the least they can expect from us is, that we perform the vow which we made before God and his Church, at our ordination, and on which we took the blessed sacrament, namely, that by God's help "we would frame and fashion ourselves and families, so as to make both them and us patterns to the flock of Christ." Without this, we are not only perjured ourselves in the sight of God, but all our usefulness is lost to the people. "Physician, heal thyself," is the reply which the world ever did, and ever will make, to be addressed by those, whose lives are not [15/16] conformable to the rules of their own preaching. Therefore, by "showing our faith by our works;" by showing that the religion of which we are the ministers, has had the effect to turn our own hearts and lives from sin to holiness, from the cares and vain pleasures of this world to the more important objects of eternity; we afford the most effectual help (without which all others are vain) to aid our people in the attainment of their own salvation.
Let us then so conduct ourselves, in these respects, as to be "pure from the blood of all men;" so as both to save our own souls, and those of our beloved people, by our example. Let us lead the way in the Christian warfare, by striving against sin in our own persons, as well as exhorting all around us to do so in theirs. Let us "deny all ungodliness, and worldly lusts:" let us "keep under our bodies and bring them into subjection" to the Spirit; "lest, after having preached to others, we ourselves should be castaways."
These are the means, good Brother, by which we, in our place and station, can essentially serve our beloved people in their attainment of eternal life. This is the way, by which we can, in our turn, "bear their burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ."
God grant unto us all, both minister and people, to pastors and their flocks, the constant assistance of his gracious Spirit, to perform our several duties, in the Church militant here below; that through it we may pass to the Church triumphant in heaven; for the sake of Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of us all; to whom, with the Father and Holy Spirit, three persons and one God, be all honour and glory, might, majesty and dominion, now and forever more--AMEN.