THE EPISCOPATE A STEWARDSHIP.
"It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful."
I COR. IV. 2.
ST. PAUL by his labors at Corinth, then the great emporium of the commerce of the Levant, a city by consequence overflowing with riches, and saturated with those vices which riches engender, with arrogance, and luxury, and license, had not merely irritated the heathen and the Jews, but had kindled heart-burnings even among the disciples, whom he had brought over to the Christian faith. His open proclamation of divine truths in all their height and breadth, which he was not careful in any way to extenuate or qualify, in order to soothe prejudice, or propitiate opposition, and which he did not seek to recommend by philosophical subtilties, or a brilliant rhetoric; his plain and honest denunciation of vice and sin, by whomsoever committed, and which, indeed, became the more vehement when vice and sin were found within the sacred pale of the church; these things had lowered the respect and alineated the affection once felt for him, by a people who were at the same time intellectually haughty and morally impure. In this letter, he undertakes to deal with this difficult and dangerous case. And it is instructive to us who look to him as our model in the Christian ministry, as the wise master-builder of the Church, as the Doctor of the Gentiles, the chosen vessel to bear to them the riches of the Gospel; it is instructive to us, I say, to observe how this great preacher deals with a captious and self-willed people.
He does not oppose speculation to speculation, but [2/3] plants himself on the ground of fact. He claims authority to instruct them. "Am not I an Apostle?" says he. And here he says, "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." He feels and says that he has an office to perform; he has the right to teach them, and they are bound to hear him, not as a wrangler in their schools, but as an authorized ambassador of God. And because he bears this office, he must perform its duties. He is an ambassador, he must represent his master, and deliver his message. He is a steward, and he must be faithful, for it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. This, then, is the grand and elevating idea of the ministry, with which St. Paul fed his own soul, and strengthened it to adventure on those amazing deeds, and to endure those unparalleled sufferings, in the midst of which his ministry was spent.
This is the nature of his work, by which he vindicates to others his claim to their belief and obedience; that he is a representative of one higher than himself; that his office is a trust; that his powers and gifts are derived from his Master, belong to his Master, are to be used for his Master, are to be accounted for to his master. He stands, for example, before Felix. His life is at stake, on one side is the dungeon from which he has been summoned, the chains with which he is now bound, the block in the distance; on the other, are liberty, the affection of expecting friends, the reverence of disciples, waiting to hear from his lips again the words of instruction and consolation. Shall he not then speak for himself? Has any man a better right? Is any man more urged by danger and disgrace on the one hand, by the love of liberty and life on the other? Shall he not ask release from his bonds; some repose for his wearied and aged body; some [3/4] of the balm that friendship can pour into a soul, vexed by the insults of persecutors and rude jailors? What man now more needs care for himself than this prisoner, Paul? Shall he not then propitiate the Governor, as far as truth will permit? Shall he not appeal to his mercy, at any rate, to his justice? So he well may, if he look but to his own safety, his own happiness, or even his own rights, as an individual. But he remembers that he is a minister of Christ, a steward of the mysteries of God, and that it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. As a man, Felix sits before him, his judge, having power to release and having power to condemn. But as a minister of Christ, he sees in Felix a rebel against his Master, a wretched soul going down to destruction, tied and bound with the chain of his sins. God has given him, has entrusted him with this opportunity of calling to that man, of proclaiming to him his misery and danger. He, perhaps, communes for a moment with himself. He says, "I am Christ's servant; I must be about His work, whatever becomes of myself. I must be faithful to my master, who has entrusted me with so great a charge." He then opens his mouth, but it is to speak, not of himself, but of Felix now ready to perish, to warn him, to remind him of the righteousness and temperance which he habitually violated, of the judgments to come, which the miserable man was ignorant of or disregarded. A voice was ever in the ears of St. Paul. Thou art a Steward, thy Master's eye is upon thee. Thou must give account. It is required of thee to be faithful. And in like manner he exhorts others. Keep, says he, to Timothy, that which was committed to thy trust. And the things thou hast heard of me, commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
Assembled as we are today, dear brethren, to assist [4/5] in, or to witness one of the most solemn events, that can take place on earth, the commission of this trust of ministerial power, in its highest forms, with its heaviest responsibility, to a brother young in years for such a charge, but already known and honored by the Church, and deeply beloved by those who best know him; remembering that that trust is to be exercised by him in regions remote from the friends, by whose sympathies he has been accustomed to be soothed, and by whose counsels he has been accustomed to be assisted, in the midst of a frontier population, many of them rude, and wild, and lawless, and, to some extent, over a people of a strange tongue, a foreign race, and a corrupt and intolerant religion, nay, over the very savages themselves; with such high and arduous duties before him, entering upon them while still so young, with a frail body, gently nurtured, tenderly cared for to this hour; is there one of us who will not, in heart and spirit, come before God, and earnestly and importunately cry out to Him "to bless this, our brother, and to send His grace upon him, that he may duly execute the office whereunto he is called, to the edifying of the Church, and the honor, praise and glory of God's great name?" And that we may pray thus the more fervently, and that he may more deeply feel the magnitude of the obligations he is about to take on himself, let us consider some of the particulars of the trust which our Lord and master is about to commit to him, by the hands of the Bishops of the Church, the successors in office of His Apostles.
He is, in the first place, to "teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine, to withstand and convince gainsayers, and to drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's word." It belongs to the office of a Bishop, then, to preserve, transmit and [5/6] diffuse evangelical Catholic truth, the truth as it is in Jesus. This is a function which our Blessed Lord himself did not disdain to declare to be one main object of His incarnation. "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I might bear witness unto the truth." When He left the world, he bequeathed this office to His Church. The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, its monument and its foundation, proclaiming it, upholding it. This truth is of inestimable value; it is the life-blood of the souls of men. It enfranchises them from sin and death. If we believe it not says St. Paul, we shall be damned, and conversely, he tells us, we are chosen to salvation through belief of it. Being then of such high origin and such untold value, St. Paul considered himself set as its champion, planted as a warrior, with watchful eye and armed hand to guard it. For where God's truth is, there is liberty, there is light and peace, there is purity of morals, there is solid prosperity in the blessings of this life, there is a good hope of eternal life. To know this truth aright, it must not only be perceived as an outward thing, by the dry light of the understanding, but it must be received into the heart, incorporated into our own experience and spiritual life. Yet, we must be sure that it is not a mere religious sentiment, that it is the truth which we thus receive, for it has many counterfeits; there are, there always have been, there always will be, many deceivers gone out into the world. To find out the truth we must search for it in Scripture. Thy word, says our Lord, to His Divine Father, Thy word is truth. But in drawing it from Scripture, we must, if we wish not to be arrogant, not to be rash, not to trust to our own hearts, nor lean to our own understandings; we must, if we wish to be right, if we wish to be safe, we must reverently and humbly consult [6/7] that body which Jesus Christ has promised to be with to the end of the world, and which He has appointed to be the pillar and ground of His truth. The Church which received the truth from Christ, which can itself neither make it nor reveal it, has yet the high mission of guarding it and teaching it. She has systematized the teachings of Scripture, incorporated those which are essential to salvation into her creeds, and wrought these and other truths into the very texture of her Liturgy and offices. Now it is a part of a Bishop's duty to guard this precious deposit. It has many enemies, and is exposed to many perils. Abhorred by Satan, it is likewise repugnant to the passions and the prejudices of men; it thwarts their apparent immediate interest, it transcends their reason, it irritates their pride of intellect. Efforts, then, are constantly making to refute, to mutilate, or to corrupt this truth, as the sea incessantly throws up her waves against the walls or foundations of some castle built upon a rock. Never were such efforts more industrious or more subtle than at present. There is, on the one hand, a most formidable spiritual power, the Church of Rome, with the venerable hoar of antiquity upon it, strong in learning and intellect, in numbers and wealth, fortified by immense political power, unscrupulously used, with a halo of light, delusive, indeed, but brilliant from the reputed sanctity of some of its members, with offers of satisfaction to every doubt, and absolution from every sin; most attractive thereby to unquiet and self-tormented spirits, and thus, by something of real conformity to ancient doctrine and ancient usage; by many illusions, by great temporal power, exercising immense influence over the minds of men; then is this authority undertaking to give from age to age new disclosures of divine verities; making that matter of faith to-day necessary to salvation, [7/8] which six years ago was confessedly only matter of opinion, thereby adding to the word of God; at other times taking from it, as in the suppression of the second commandment, not only practised but justified, and perverting doctrines which it dare not deny, thereby making another Gospel; and yet, confidently and persistently proclaiming itself the only divine authorized guide to religious truth, thereby beguiling unstable souls. On the other hand, is that immense multitude who have no standard of truth, but their own private interpretation of Scripture, who are thereby tempted to reject whatever contradicts their bias of mind at the moment, whatever thwarts a favorite notion, whatever is inconsistent with the interests of a party, whatever, in short, undertakes to bridle a strong passion, or root out a cherished prejudice. Such persons are of course open to every deceiver. They may, many of them do, retain the substantial truth of the Gospel, but it is because no tempter has strongly assailed them, or because they have personally deep religious convictions, or impassioned religious sentiments, but they have no guarantee for their faith. Their city has no walls or bulwarks. The inheritance they transmit to their children is a sentiment, not a faith, a belief of to-day, not a creed of all ages, a possession forever.
In the midst of these mutable opinions, open to change at every hour, whether the change be ordained by the Pope at Rome, or the Pope in the individual's own bosom, God has seen fit, in his mysterious sovereignty, to entrust this Church with a stable and definite creed, the very truth as taught by Christ and His Apostles, as received and transmitted by that Body which he has promised never, never, never to forsake! This truth it is a Bishop's office to guard, and his duty, to diffuse. But, brethren, let me ask, by the way, is it only the business of a [8/9] Bishop? This truth, when imparted to a man, to any man, is it not also in his hands a trust? Is that father, then, without sin, who does not use care and pains, that his children may learn this Gospel, but who, perhaps, so far from doing this, does himself send them where they are to learn another Gospel? Is that master without sin who does not provide for his servants instruction in this Gospel, but provides them nothing, or something contradictory to this Gospel? Is that man, rich or poor, without sin, who does not labor and deny himself, and give, even of his poverty, to send this Gospel to his neighbors, neighbors in the Gospel sense, although the Alleghany swell, or the Mississippi flow between them, yea, if even the broad ocean divide them? But above all, can that Bishop be without sin, who does not labor to make himself master of the true meaning of that glorious Gospel by diligent study, by frequent, earnest prayer for light and for more light, and who does not seek to teach it privately, publicly, in season and out of season, in the church, and from house to house; and who does not strive by his own profound sense of its value, by his plain and distinct statement of it, by counsel, by entreaty, and if need be, by discipline, to banish from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine, contrary to that truth of Christ. My brethren, we all are, and especially every Bishop, is a steward of this great trust, and it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.
Again, it belongs to the office of a Bishop not only to guard the doctrine of the Church, but to labor directly for the souls of men. Bishops are rulers in the Church of God, but they are likewise Pastors, whose business it is to feed the flock. There is danger that in our own minds, as well as in the opinion of the multitude, the former relation may overshadow and even thrust out the latter. [9/10] The Bishops of the primitive Church were pre-eminently Pastors, only secondarily rulers. In the mediaeval period, when Dioceses were inordinately enlarged, and became the objects of secular ambition, the office of ruler absorbed every other appertaining to the order. Men held more than one Diocese, and even Dioceses in more than one country, and even children were made Bishops, as children might succeed to a lordship. This abuse tended to bring about, and in some degree to justify the introduction of the Presbyterian system, and so obstinate are old traditions and old habits of thought, that we have scarcely yet learned to feel how direct ought to be the relation between a Bishop and his flock, how immediately he ought to feed them, and not merely by the hands of others, how individual should be his acquaintance with them, how he ought to know his own sheep by name. A Bishop ought to be a preacher to his Diocese, whose voice is familiar in every part of it; of all preachers, he ought to be the most earnest, the most self-renouncing, the most studious to win souls. He must then cultivate in himself a just sense of the magnitude of the charge entrusted to his care. He ought to dwell much in his own thoughts on eternity, and seek, by God's help, to raise himself to a right judgment of the value of souls, and to that end, must learn first to value aright his own soul. For can he be much concerned to snatch others from destruction, who himself goes on contentedly to destruction? And yet, what danger is there that a Bishop may almost unconsciously fall into the fatal habit of mistaking sanctity of office for sanctity of character, and because his work is holy assume that he himself is! His life and conversation are not apt to be scandalous. The necessities of his position enforce this. He cannot, without apparent ruin, be in a single instance a drunkard, or an adulterer, or a [10/11] blasphemer. How easy, then, for him to think that the grace of God has given him victory over all his sins, while yet in his heart he is envious, covetous, ambitious or mercenary, and regards these only as infirmities in a religious character. And yet, how does any such sin eat as a canker into the very heart of ministerial fidelity and ministerial usefulness? He that does not himself love Christ, how can he earnestly call on others to love Him? He that does not habitually and supremely value souls, how sure is it, that he will not be earnest in laboring for them, but for his own advancement, or interest, or reputation? How carefully, then, should one raised to this dangerous post examine himself; how earnestly, even above other men, should he cry out to God, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." But if we value souls, we must use all suitable means to win them, and one surely of the most efficacious of these is, by simple, earnest, loving, thoughtful, instructive preaching. And what an opportunity of doing good in this way is put into the hands of a Bishop! Wherever he goes, multitudes of people flock to hear him. He may be a gifted preacher or he may not, but at any rate he is their Bishop, their chief Pastor. He speaks with authority. Every word rightly spoken by him tells. The people look to him with confidence for their food. How necessary, then, that he should be prepared to distribute this food, the sincere milk of the word, the bread of life. Not fossil skeletons of old sermons which he has dug up out of his closet, from which all life has departed, if ever they had life; not the hard stones of controversy with which to pelt opposers; not the chaff of mere declamation; not the vapid flowers of a gaudy rhetoric, but the bread of life, [11/12] carefully searched, and, as far as may be, winnowed from error; divine truth taught positively, taught with authority, with reference to the wants and dangers of his immediate hearers, their peculiar duties and temptations. This requires love, and faithfulness, and labor, and study. And this is the proper end of study with Christ's ministers. He must not mistake mere reading for study, nor all earnest study for proper ministerial study. "There are," St. Bernard says, "those who wish to know, only that they may know, and, this is a base curiosity. And there are those who wish to know that they may sell their knowledge, and this is base avarice; and there are those who wish to know that they themselves may be known, and this is base vanity; but there are those who wish to know that they themselves may be edified, and this is wisdom; and there are those who wish to know that they may edify others, and this is charity." Love, indeed, is the source of all the excellencies of a good Bishop, a Ken or a Wilson. Simon, son of Jonas! lovest thou me? Yea, Lord, says the Apostle. Then the Master adds, feed my sheep. But to preach effectually, he must live holily, as the ordinal expresses it, "showing himself an example of good works." The sins of teachers, as good Bishop Hall quaintly says, are the teachers of sin. Do we declaim, against a covetous, worldly temper, and ourselves exhibit such a temper? Do we denounce ambition, and yet ourselves be aiming at pre-eminence? Alas! who will give heed to what we say, if our conduct prove that we cannot even persuade ourselves? O, awful care of souls, that makes it necessary not only that we speak the truth in love, but that we live it every hour! What a stewardship is this, to have a multitude of souls committed to our care, each worth more than a world, dependent, in a measure, for weal or woe upon what we [12/13] do, what we leave undone, upon our words, upon our silence, upon our very looks! And yet, to this stewardship, so vast and so minute, it is required that a man be found faithful.
And at the same time that the Bishop is a shepherd over the flock, he is to be the ruler and the overseer of the other shepherds. These he is to cheer, and strengthen, and encourage, and at the same time direct, and if need be, restrain. A Bishop ought to have, to be fully fitted for his work, a sympathizing nature, to be able to weep with them that weep, and rejoice with them that rejoice. His brethren of the clergy should recognise in him their truest friend, and apply to him spontaneously for counsel and for consolation. And yet, with the gentleness of a Father, there should be the authority and firmness of a ruler; and these latter qualities are the more necessary in our day, because so plainly the tendency among us is to break down all authority. A Bishop, with his entire church, may have to oppose himself to a powerful and threatening world. He may have to stand up with his clergy against the laity. He may have, hardest trial of all, to stand up against his clergy, for he must stand up supremely for His Master, whose steward he is. How difficult in this office to be faithful! Need we wonder that the ancient Bishops are said sometimes to have fled from those who sought to consecrate them? And that in our own Church, which approaches more nearly, I believe, than any other to the primitive in constitution, as I trust it is now, year by year, approaching more and more nearly to it in spirit, need we wonder that in it there is an increasing diffidence and reluctance in undertaking this office? Men bow themselves to be consecrated as Bishops, feeling that they are about to take up a heavy burden; and yet, after all, it is to him who enters on it, [13/14] with his whole soul, a good work, arduous but glorious. Must we not believe that God gives special grace to faithful men who heartily devote themselves to this work? Are we not permitted to hope that we see the effects of this grace in their increasing ripeness and soundness of Christian character? That the harsh and vehement are softened, and the gentle and the yielding are strengthened. And surely, surely, we must be persuaded that the reward of a good Bishop hereafter will be something signal and transcendant. The angels of the churches are represented in the book of Revelation, as stars which the Son of Man carries in His right hand, and the elders are described as sitting around the Lord on His throne, clothed in white raiment, and having on their heads crowns of gold.
And now, dear brother, this office, so weighty, so responsible, is about to be conferred on you. It is certain that you have not sought it, that had you consulted with flesh and blood, you would have thrust it from you. The Church has shown her esteem for you by calling you to lead her advance guard, to the post of peculiar hardship and danger. It seems to be the will of God that you should go, and your answer has been obedience. You take up your arms, the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, and like a good soldier you go to the frontier. And you know that many hearts bless you as you go, that many prayers rise up to God for you, that your trials may be light, that your consolations may be abundant, that your work may be successful in winning many souls to Christ, and that when you stand in your lot at the last great day, you may hear, with grateful and exulting heart, the words of your Master, saying "Well done, good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things."
[Transcriber’s note: The original booklet contained in a six-page Appendix, The Form of Ordaining or Consecrating a Bishop. I have chosen not to add that to this transcription. Anyone interested in it may contact the transcriber.]