Project Canterbury

Discourses Illustrative of the Office and Work of the Holy Spirit
by the Reverend Samuel Seabury.

New York: 1874.


An Address delivered in the chapel of the General Theological Seminary, on the Feast of St. Thomas, 1864, at the Matriculation of the Junior Class of said year.


IT is made my duty, my young friends, to address you on the present occasion, when a number of new students are to be matriculated, or admitted in due form, to be members of the Seminary; and to plight their solemn promise to observe, with a filial temper, the duties which this promise imposes. The Holy Day selected for the occasion, and the Blessed Sacrament in which we call God to witness the sincerity of our vows, attest the sacredness of the engagement; while the engagement itself naturally directs the attention of all of us to those more sacred stipulations and promises which will be required of you, in order to your admission to the Holy Ministry. For the more immediate object of the Seminary is to prepare you for the Diaconate; and while you are pursuing your studies with this view, it is right that you should have your minds turned, from time to time, to the questions which will then be proposed to you, and to the answers which you will be obliged to make. I presume, therefore, that I shall meet your reasonable wishes and expectations if I avail myself of the occasion to turn your thoughts to the first question which will be proposed to you when you offer yourselves for Deacon's Orders; the more so as the peculiarly subjective nature of the question makes it difficult to ascertain its meaning with clearness and precision, and to give it that firm and intelligent answer which reason and conscience demand. The question is, "Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this Office and Ministration to serve GOD, for the promoting of His Glory and the edifying of His people?" And the answer is, "I trust so."

The general design of the question is sufficiently apparent; it is to keep out of the sacred office all those who are either innocently unfit for it, .or who aspire to it from unworthy motives. And, wherever there has been a ministry of religion, some precautions of this kind have been always found necessary. Under the Levitical dispensation, it was not enough to be a descendant of Aaron, but those who were admitted to officiate in holy things underwent a severe scrutiny. Nor was this scrutiny designed merely to secure that exemption from corporal defects and blemishes which served to foreshadow and typify the integrity and purity of the Evangelical Ministry, but it was designed to exclude from the performance of priestly offices such as were not approved of for their piety to God, and for their gravity and sobriety of life not to add that the bodily perfection required of them could hardly fail to remind them of the moral integrity which it symbolized. Among the more enlightened nations of antiquity, they who were admitted to celebrate the mysteries of religion, or to teach in the schools of philosophy, were expected to give proof of their fidelity, fortitude and general fitness, by previous trial and discipline; and even among the barbarous nations of ancient Britain and Germany, those who were designed for the ministry were subjected to severe and protracted trials before they were invested with it. On this Point, however, I need not dwell, for the question which we are to consider refers not to a ministry of religion in general, but to the Christian ministry in particular; and, moreover, its aim is not merely to insist on a general fitness for the office, but to ascertain whether we trust that we are moved by the HOLY GHOST to take it for the glory of God, and the edifying of His people. This is evidently a test of fitness which is peculiar to the Christian religion, since it was Christ alone who procured for us the Holy Ghost, and sent Him from the Father. And as our Divine Redeemer sent the Holy Ghost to take His place in the Church, and to carry forward His work, it is no less evidently His will that none should be called to take part in His ministry without this inward operation of the Holy Ghost moving and disposing them to receive it. The necessity of the qualification, therefore, grows out of the very design and scheme of the Christian economy, and would be none the less imperative though the question respecting it were not asked. Our Lord Himself knew the hearts of msn, and had, therefore, no need to put the question to those whom He called. The apostles had the gift of discerning spirits, and were, therefore, in no danger of calling to their assistance those whom the Holy Ghost had not prepared to receive the call. While the Church was under persecution, it was not likely that any would seek the Christian ministry who were not moved and drawn thereto by the Holy Spirit. But when miraculous gifts were withdrawn, and the storm of persecution had ceased, there can be no doubt that all such means as piety and prudence dictated, were used to call to the ministry those, and only those, whom the Holy Ghost had moved to receive the call. The governors of the Church did not, indeed, prescribe the precise question under consideration, but they took other means which they deemed effectual to the same end. Indeed, the question itself was first introduced into the ordinal by the English Church, at the time of the Reformation, either from a laudable desire to remedy the evils which had grown out of a previous relaxation of discipline, or because it was believed that the promise of obedience to the bishop, which had been always required, would be made with a higher and juster sense of responsibility if reinforced by a direct appeal to the conscience, enlightened and quickened by the Holy Ghost.

In what I have said, I have assumed that the inward operation of the Holy Ghost, moving the candidate to take the office, is a distinct thing from the call to the office. Two things undoubtedly there are, which ought both to be united in the person to be ordained. First, there should be an inward inclination to the office, and a resolution to take it, wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost; and secondly, there should be an outward admission to the office, by those whom Christ has authorized to confer it. These are sometimes distinguished as the inward and the outward call to the ministry; but it would be, I think, more conducive to precision and justness of thought, and more in accordance with the language of Scripture and the Church, to regard the call to the Ministry as the voice of God speaking to us from without, by His Church, and to regard the inward operation of the Holy Ghost as consisting in the production of those tempers and dispositions which move and prepare us, in the sight of God, and in the depths of our own consciousness, to comply with the call. Men are called to salvation by the preaching of the Gospel, and by the preventing grace of God they are enabled to obey the call, and when they do obey it, and are made members of Christ, their Christianity is their calling, their vocation. In like manner some Christians are called to be ministers of the Church, and the Holy Ghost moves and prepares them to obey the call; and when they do obey it, and are invested with the office, then the ministry is their calling, their vocation. So the Church seems to distinguish in her Ordinal. The first question to the candidate is: "Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, to take upon you this Office and Ministration, to serve God for the promoting of His Glory, and the edifying of His people?"

Here no outward tests are proposed; only the ends of the Christian ministry are declared, and the candidate is required to look into the recesses of his soul, and say whether he trusts that he is inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, to take upon him the Office out of a pure regard for the ends for which it was instituted.

Not a word here of a call to the Ministry; that is reserved for the next question: "Do you think that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the Canons of this Church, to the Ministry of the same?" By the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, is undoubtedly meant His revealed will as contained in the Holy Scriptures, and both this and the Canons of the Church are outward tests, and by these we are to judge of the genuineness of our call to the Ministry. In order to receive a true call, we are required to believe, and publicly to declare our belief, that they who tender to us the gift of office in the Church of Christ have the power of orders and jurisdiction; that is, the authority to bestow on us office, and to empower us to exercise it; and that the form or manner by which they confer orders is sufficient without the use of certain words and ceremonies, which are retained in other churches, but which the Reformed Church has advisedly abolished. Hence the opinion that we are truly called to the office of the Christian Ministry, agreeably to the directions of Scripture and the regulations of the Church, is a quite different thing from the trust that we are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, to take the office at the hands of those who confer it; and if the distinction is real and well taken, it may be of use to preserve it in our language.

Nay, it is of use; for there are two errors on this subject which this distinction helps us to detect. The one, of those who imagine that in order to be admitted to Holy Orders they must have a special revelation of the Holy Ghost, that God has particularly commissioned them to the office. This persuasion has, I think, kept many conscientious men out of the ministry who would have been useful in it. The other and more fatal error is that of those who, imagining that they have received this special inward commission, have forthwith undertaken to exercise it without the sanction of the Church, and pursued it in opposition to her authority. Now it is not to be imagined for a moment that the Church gives the least sanction to this fancy of a special inward commission. She teaches us, indeed? that men must be inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take on them the office at the hands of those who are empowered to confer it. And if the candidate humbly desire the office, and take pains by prayer and study, and the cultivation of devout and holy tempers, to qualify himself for the office, and if the office itself be "a good work," who, I pray you, is the author of this steady inclination and movement of the soul toward it, if it be not the Holy Spirit, the author and giver of every good gift? In impressing on us, then, the necessity of being inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, to take on us the office of the ministry, the Church is very far from insinuating a necessity of an inward authoritative call to the ministry. She knows of no authoritative call but that which conies from God through the governors of His Church, and of no inward call unless we choose to give that name to the operation of the Holy Ghost moving, inclining and preparing the heart, to take the office from God as she confers it. But the error of these men is, that they imagine, some that they need, others that they have received, an inward call like that of St. Paul, which is its own authority, and commissions them directly for the work of the ministry. They forget the example of the other apostles who were regularly called and commissioned, and emulate St. Paul only that they may be born out of due time.

Now it is true, that when the Gospel was first promulgated, the call to the ministry came directly from our Lord himself, and in St. Paul's case directly from heaven; and they to whom it was addressed had instant and certain proof of its divine origin. It penetrated their souls, and not only convinced them, but enabled them to convince others, that they were the chosen ambassadors of heaven. Such a direct and immediate call was necessary in the first promulgation of the Gospel, and was attested by miracles as its proper credentials; but when the Church was once planted and settled, and the ministry empowered, by a commission, under the broad seal of heaven, to propagate itself in an orderly way, this necessity ceased; and thenceforward all who were moved by the Holy Ghost to take on them the ministerial office would be in duty bound, and of themselves inclined, to submit themselves to the constituted authorities of the Church, and undergo the necessary examination as to their fitness. Otherwise, God would discredit His own institution, and the ministry, instead of promoting peace and unity, would breed endless division and discord. And while we grieve over the divisions of Christendom, it may be well for us to consider how far these divisions have sprung from the enthusiastic persuasion of an inward call or commission to the ministry, not to be judged of or controlled by the lawful authority of the Church, but born in the spirit of antagonism to that authority, and working only to achieve a mixed and transient good at the cost of future and permanent evil.

If you are convinced that you are not to look for any inward sensible testimony of the Holy Ghost, that you are called to the ministry, nor for any extraordinary spirit of illumination, but that only the ordinary influences of God's Blessed Spirit are needful to sanctify and enlighten you for His service in the ministry, you will at least not stumble at the threshold, and will be in a position to see distinctly and to weigh deliberately the qualifications to which your attention should be directed. With this remark I pass on to state directly, but briefly, as my time requires, the grounds and reasons on which you may build your trust--and observe that it is a sincere and humble trust, not a clear and certain knowledge, which is required of you--that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take on you the office which the Church tenders to those who are fitted to receive it.

In the first place, then, let me remind you that the Christian Ministry is appointed by God, in order to rescue men from everlasting perdition, to bring them to salvation, and to secure their everlasting happiness. It is, therefore, necessary to this end, and whoever takes it upon himself, receives a trust of pre-eminent usefulness, as well as of dignity and awful responsibility.

Consider, also, that as the office is subordinate to the glorious scheme of human redemption, the distinctive qualifications for it are not such as reason and nature can furnish. Inclination, ability and education are enough to determine a man in his choice of a secular pursuit. But we can not say that a man is inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to the choice of a worldly occupation. Something more, then (than a concurrence of inclination, ability and education), is needful to justify us in expressing the trust, that we are moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon us the office of the ministry.

If you consider, also, that the Holy Ghost is the peculiar gift of God to His Church; that He is the author of all those graces which lift us above the world, and fit us for the kingdom of heaven, and of all those holy purposes and resolutions which prompt us to engage with alacrity, and to persevere with fidelity, in a work which is above nature, and which is contrived for saving mankind from the wreck of nature, and exalting them to everlasting life; and that He is in particular the author and inspirer of the Holy Scriptures, and of all the arguments, counsels and motives, which are contained in these Scriptures, and that, consequently, when you are moved by them, you are moved by the Holy Ghost; I say, if you will consider these things, you will see that there is a sober and rational sense, in which a man may declare his trust, that he is inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, to take upon him the office of the ministry. For the legitimate ends of the office can never be attained by the most transcendent efforts of unaided reason and nature, but only under the promptings and guidance and in the strength and comfort of that Holy Ghost, whom the Redeemer of the world has procured, and sent to us from the Father, to be the Lord of His Church, and the giver of life everlasting to its faithful members.

Consider, further, that in the orderly and settled state of the Church, as it has been ever since it came from the hands of our Lord and His apostles, the Christian vocation precedes the ministerial vocation. You are not to think, therefore, of assuming the ministerial character until you have attained a good degree of proficiency in the Christian character. The essential element of the Christian character is holiness, which separates the people of God from a world lying in wickedness, and without which no man can see the Lord. And the living spring of the Christian life, the first and most necessary attendant of Christian faith, is the love of JESUS CHRIST, who suffered and died for our redemption. Think not, then, that you are moved by the HOLY GHOST to take on you the office of the ministry, unless you have been first moved by Him to exemplify that sobriety and diligence, that temperance and chastity, that integrity and fidelity, in all the pursuits and relations of life, which are the constituents of Christian holiness. Think not that you can feed the flock of Christ, or impart to others the blessings of salvation, unless your heart glows, as every Christian's ought, with a fervent love of Him, who thrice enjoined Peter, and through him all His Ministers, "Feed my flock, feed my lambs."

Supposing, then, that you already possess those qualifications which ought to belong to all who profess the name of Christ, consider next what are the motives which incline you to relinquish your station as a private Christian and to take office in the Church of Christ. Are they sufficient to justify the change? Will they stand the scrutiny of an impartial judgment? Are they such as you can submit, with a good hope of approval, to Him who searcheth the heart? If so, you need not doubt that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take on yon the ministerial office.

You intend, then, to take the office; you resolve to endure its trials. But, O God! what are human intentions? What are human resolutions? Believe me, this is not enough. If you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, your intention must be pure, your resolution firm and unshaken.

Your intention must be pure; i. e., unmixed with base and unworthy motives. Your intention must be as the question in the Ordinal implies, to serve God for the promoting of His glory, and the edifying of His people; to do good to mankind in those ways, (and in no other way can you do good to them) which Scripture directs and the Church approves. If the intention is pure, it implies that you humbly judge yourselves, after deliberate examination, and in submission to your superiors, to be possessed of those abilities and gifts, which, with due care and cultivation, will qualify you to do God more and better service as a minister of the Gospel than as a private Christian. For if you sincerely intend the honor of God and not your own honor, the edification of His people and not the gratification of your own vanity, or the promotion of any selfish end, you will desire to serve Him only in that capacity for which He has fitted you. You will not seek to fly on wings of wax. You will not rashly venture on trials which are above your strength. The language of your heart will be, "Lord, here am I; do to me as seemeth thee best!"

A pure intention aims at a heavenly, and not an earthly reward. If you are God's servants, you must be content to have God recompense you in His own way and in His own time. I do not say that you should disregard the means of worldly subsistence. Our Lord has said that the laborer is worthy of his hire; and St. Paul has told us that "the Lord hath ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel." If the Master has joined together the office and the recompense, the labor and the hire, the servant is not obliged to put them asunder. But I do say. that you are not to covet the Holy Ministry as an avenue to worldly honor and emoluments, nor to use it only that you may get your living out of it. You are to take the office only that you may serve in God's vineyard, and give your best labors for the promoting of His glory, and the edifying of His people; and leave your reward to Him. The minister of Christ is, above all other men, a pensioner on God's providence. He is sent forth to cut his fellow-men loose from the world, and he strangely and madly perverts his office when he uses it as a cord to tie himself up to the world.

And, as your intention must be pure, unmixed with selfish designs, so must your resolution he firm and unshaken to serve God, as long as you live, in the way and to the ends for which the Ministry is instituted. He that putteth his hand to this plough, and turneth back, is not fit for the Kingdom of God. If you once take the sacred office you can not abandon it, and go back to the traffic and occupations of the world. To do so would be "to puff back the breath of God into His face." Look well, then, and steadily at the discouragements and sufferings which, in some form or other, von will, if you are a faithful minister of God's word, be almost certain to encounter; and think whether you have courage and constancy for the work, Remember, that you will not be called to labor in a Church that enjoys the patronage and protection of the State, nor in a community which is leavened and controlled by those sound principles of the Catholic faith which you will be bound to inculcate. You will have to encounter, in a thousand subtle forms, the spirit of antichrist, propagating infidelity under the mask of religion, and in the robes of angels of light, and exhaling the pestiferous breath of anarchy and lawlessness from the skeleton frames of order and government. You know not what evils the godless spirit of the age may portend; but you do know that the people of God are always liable to the enmity of the world; and, if you shall be honest and fearless in proclaiming the truth of God as the Church has received it, only the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove will save you from trials which no human fortitude can sustain.

Have you, then, this pure intention? Have you this firm resolution?

If humbly conscious of that holiness of heart and life, and of that love of God which are found in all real, practical Christians, but which are expected of yon in some more eminent degree, you will deliberately weigh these two questions, and if, after a frequent, serious and impartial examination, invoking the Holy Spirit for your guidance, your judgment tells you that you really desire the office of the ministry with a pure intention, and a firm resolution to serve God, to the glory of His name, and to the edifying of His Church, you may then, I think, safely and rationally affirm, in due submission to those who will give you the call to the ministry, your trust, that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take on you the office; and you may cherish, moreover, a confident hope that He who has moved you to take the office will be ever afterwards with you, to bless and enlighten you in your duties and to sustain you in your trials; to guide you by His counsel here, that He may bring you to glory hereafter.

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