THE HOLY SPIRIT:
HIS SANCTIFYING GRACES,
HIS OFFICIAL OR FUNCTIONAL GIFTS.
BY BISHOP VAIL,
O Lord God Almighty, who didst endue thy holy Apostle Barnabas with singular gifts of the Holy Ghost; Leave us not, we beseech thee, destitute of thy manifold gifts, nor yet of grace to use them alway to thy honor and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
[COLLECT FOR ST. BARNABAS THE APOSTLE'S DAY.
O Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle Saint Peter many excellent gifts, and commandest him earnestly to feed thy flock; Make, we beseech thee, all Bishops and Pastors diligently to preach thy holy Word, and the people obediently to follow the same, that they may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
[COLLECT FOR ST. PETER'S DAY.
1 CORINTHIANS 12: 4-6. "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all."
Two days only have intervened, since we all, Christian brethren, were permitted, in the good providence of God, to commemorate, within the consecrated Houses where we respectively worship, the marvellous grace of the Holy Ghost in His visible coming down upon the first Apostles of the Church of Christ. We meet in the Whitsun-week. From the day of that grace given to the Apostles, "their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Rom. 10: 18); and we, who have "believed through their word" (St. John 17: 20), have abundant reason to rejoice in that descent of the Comforter. For He it was who gave them power to exercise the office to which they had previously been appointed by the Lord, when He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Ghost for their ministry, and sent them forth to "remit the sins" (St. John 20: 23) of the penitent and faithful, and to "preach the gospel to every creature" (St. Mark 16 15).
At the close of this very week, too, the Octave of this our festival of Whitsunday blends with the Feast of Trinity, wherein we celebrate the awful mystery of the Three in One, and are led to contemplate the merciful intervention of the Father, Son, and Spirit, while we adore them in the unity of the Godhead.
 There is, then, a manifest propriety, if, in following the leadings of our Ritual, we select a subject appropriate to this present Ecclesiastical Season, and invite your thoughts from one of the Lessons for this Week (2nd Morning Lesson for the Monday in Whitsun-week) to a consideration, although necessarily very incomplete; of the agencies of the Holy Ghost.
Taken in their connexion with the context, the verses which we have read teach the principle, that all the privileges of the interior Christian character and of the outward Christian ,state are inseparably connected with the direct action of the Holy Spirit, so that we can not be anything nor do anything in our personal religious experience, nor in our several Ecclesiastical relations, except by the agency of the Holy Ghost.
A brief reference to the history of the text will illustrate our interpretation. The object of St. Paul in this portion of the Epistle was to reprove the Corinthians for their disorderly conduct in their assemblies; for their shameful desecration and perversion of the Lord's Supper; and for the envious and partizan dispositions which they encouraged towards each other, while they were "coveting earnestly the best gifts" (1 Cor. 12: 31) or charismata of the Holy Ghost. For the healing of their jealousies and disgraceful rivalries, he reminds them, that there was really no occasion for the self-exaltation of any on the one side, nor for the self-depreciation and envy of any on the other side; that they were all equally at first but "Gentiles carried away unto dumb idols even as they were led" (v. 2.), and that whatever advantages any had received, they were bound to ascribe the praise of the same to the good Spirit whom God had given them. He thus unfolds, by various examples, the deep principle which the Blessed Redeemer had before taught, as in the Gospel of St. John (chapters 14, 15, and 16), that everything of the Christian's being and attainments in the Church, and everything of the Christian's holiness and obedience in Christ, are intimately associated with the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Following, therefore, this principle as a guide, we may conceive of the agencies of the Holy Spirit, if we may systematize on such a subject with reverence, as in two classes, what [4/5] we may denominate His internal and sanctifying agencies, and His external and official or functional agencies. By the former we mean all those hidden operations or influences, by which the internal and spiritual character and dispositions of men are affected and changed. And by the latter we mean all those secret and unexplained administrations or acts by which the external state or relationships of men aft modified and controlled.
In these two classes, it appears to me, if we would have clear. ideas respecting the offices of the Spirit, we must classify His various influences—the sanctifying, by which men's internal character is wrought upon; and the official or functional, by which their external state or condition is acted upon, by which they are brought or placed into certain relations towards God and men in the ordinances or institutions of the Church.
We will consider these two classes separately.
I. We have spoken of one of these two classes of the Spirit's agency as the sanctifying. We need not occupy much time in a very exact specification of these influences upon the heart and internal character of men, inasmuch as they are generally acknowledged. These influences consist in the reproving of the careless and impenitent; in conversion, or the beginning of the conscious new life, which is always directly connected with justification or the coming unto Christ as a Saviour and a Master; in progressive holiness; in enlightenment upon the written word of God; in the cultivation and growth of all peaceful and pure and charitable and joyous affections; in intercessions. The reproofs of the Spirit come to all who are not disciples of Christ, who are in what the Saviour and His Apostles call "the world" as contradistinguished from the company of Christ's faithful people. (St. John 16: 8, and 17: 6; also 1st Ep. 2: 15-17.) The conversion by the Spirit is in that change of purpose and character, when the sinner until then condemned comes to Christ, and is enabled to consecrate himself consciously to his Lord, and is therefore and thereupon justified through the unfailing promise and all-sufficient merits of Christ. And all the steps of the "growth in grace"—those other sanctifying influences, which follow this beginning of the new life—are given as the [5/6] blessing upon the fulfilment of each several duty, as in the study of the Word; in faithful prayer; in dutiful attention to all divine ordinances; in the proper use of the sacraments and other means of grace; in all works of charity; and in the daily obedience of a holy life.
In remarking upon this head of our subject, the point to be especially attended to is this—that whatsoever there is truly good in the world, or in the character of any person, is the result of this sanctifying agency of the Holy Spirit. Such is the current testimony of the Scriptures. And such is the doctrine of our Church, gathered from the Scriptures, and declared explicitly in the 10th article: "The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he can not turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing (going before) us, that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will." Or, in the words of one of our noble old Homilies, the 28th, the Sermon for Whitsunday: "It is the Holy Ghost, and no other thing, that doth quicken the minds of men, stirring up good and godly motions in their hearts, which are agreeable to the will and commandment of God, such as otherwise of their own crooked and perverse nature, they should never have. . . . As for the works of the Spirit, the fruits of faith, charitable and godly motions— if he have any at all in him—they proceed only of the Holy Ghost, who is the only worker of our sanctification, and maketh us new men in Christ Jesus."
Far then from us, brethren, if we be true to the Scriptures and to our own Standards, be all those theories—some advocated by those who boast of their Catholicity, and some by those who boast of their departure from Catholicity,—which would ascribe any thing of righteousness to man alone, or which would give anything of the merit of our holiness to any other agent than the Holy Ghost.
There are many and very serious errors respecting these sanctifying influences of the Spirit. The most of these errors [6/7] originate in an undue devotion to systems and theories of philosophical divinity. Men, when they leave the simplicity of the Scriptures, and of the old Church standards, based upon the Scriptures, and embodying the faith with the devotion of the early and consecutive ages, have always received or framed some system, within which they have endeavored to adjust, side by side, the teachings of the Word of God and the deductions of human reason. Vain attempt! as if the vast thoughts of the Word of God could be circumscribed within the limits of a man's philosophy; or, as if the mere fragments of truth which man by himself can grasp,—fragments, often apparently conflicting, although belonging really to whole and harmonious systems hidden within the knowledge of God or of intelligences higher than man—as if these mere fragments of truth were parallel to the broad and measureless revelations of the Great and Glorious God.
One of the errors spoken of, the only one which we have time now to notice, and the one to which those of the clergy who serve in the country parishes of the Diocese are most exposed, is that of applying mere human tests, in judging of the presence and works of the Holy Spirit. A particular sort of experience must be passed through, the same almost circumstantially in all cases,—there must be just so much intensity of feeling,—there must be just so clear and perhaps sudden and surprising evidence of acceptance with God, —there must be just such a correspondence of the man's experience with the peculiar tests applied, or he can not be recognized as having partaken of the Spirit. This is a very common error, especially in the less-intelligent neighborhoods. So easy it is, when men follow their own traditions, to wander from the plainest declarations of the Scriptures which tell us: "Every one that doeth righteousness is born of him." (St. John 1st Ep. 2: 29.) As if the Holy Spirit were not free, were constrained in a single narrow channel which may never be over-passed. As if it were possible to judge of His presence except by His operations, since He moves incomprehensibly and in countless modes, yet always effectually, like the wind, which may blow from the north or from [7/8] the south, from the east or from the west, in the placid breeze of the cloudless summer day, or in the fury of the hurricane, while the lightnings are flashing terror and the thunders roll. Now, if we will apply this principle, that all things really good are the fruits of the Spirit, and that all the fruits of the Spirit come only from the Spirit, how simple is our rule of judgment in any case. It matters not so much how a man has received the Spirit. If there be in him any goodness or any perfectness, it is from God, since "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights." (St. James 1: 17.) The great concern should be as to the matter of fact, whether the man has, not in only one particular way, but in any way, received the Spirit to sanctify him. Or, to use words better than our own, as the same 28th Homily (part 1st) instructs us: "O but how shall I know that the Holy Ghost is within me? some man perchance will say. Forsooth, as the tree is known by his fruit, so is also the Holy Ghost. The fruits of the Holy Ghost, according to the mind of St. Paul, are these: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance, &c. (Gal. 5.) Contrariwise, the deeds of the flesh are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, wantonness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, debate, emulation, wrath, contention, sedition, heresy, envy, murder, drunkenness, gluttony, and such like. Here is now that glass, wherein thou must behold thyself, and discern whether thou have the Holy Ghost within thee, or the spirit of the flesh. If thou see that thy works be virtuous and good, consonant to the prescript rule of God's Word, savoring and tasting not of the flesh, but of the Spirit, then assure thyself, that thou art endued with the Holy Ghost; otherwise, in thinking well of thyself, thou dost nothing else but deceive thyself."
II. In turning our attention now to the second class of the agencies of the Spirit, which are not directly sanctifying, we enter upon a very interesting theme for investigation. We have spoken of this class of agencies as the external and official or functional. And we use this term, not because it is the best, but for the sake of defining, by some phrase, a very [8/9] important distinction between the two classes of agency, in which the Holy Spirit is represented in. the Scriptures as exerting his power. By the external and official we mean those agencies which do not directly, affect the character and dispositions of men, but their state or condition in reference to God, to the church, and to the world.
The 12th chapter of the 1st Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians is a very remarkable portion of the Divine Word. If it were not inspired, we might speak of it as an exhaustive excursus or disquisition of St. Paul upon the charismata—those gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are external, that is, not sanctifying, but official or functional. As it is inspired, we may speak of it as a most valuable revelation, through St. Paul, in regard to these charismal gifts. He opens the subject with the same solemn form of introduction, with which in other places in his Epistles he announces revelations (as in Rom. 1: 13, 1 Cur. 10: 1, 2 Cor. 1: 8, 1 Thess. 4: 13) or other emphatic truths: "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant." (v. 1.) And then, through the whole chapter, he expands and expounds the subject, going through the entire list of these "gifts," reciting them or else commenting on them by their names or their recognized effects or their intended leadings, and ascribing them all, as in our text, to God, as the gifts, administrations, operations or manifestations of the Holy Spirit; and winding up the thorough exposition of the subject, extended through thirty-one verses, with the expressive statement: "But covet earnestly the best gifts, and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." (v. 31.)
In the passage immediately following our text—near the beginning of this notable Revelation—St. Paul enumerates some of these external and functional works of the Holy Ghost, of essential use in the Church, some for evidence to unbelievers, some for instruction to believers, some for government, and some for discipline and order in the Church. Several of these have been temporarily discontinued, others of them are still continued, in the Church. As I recite them, you will notice, perhaps with surprise, how [9/10] none of them are sanctifying, that is operating directly to change the heart or affections, or to reform the moral character, and how all of them are simply functional, acting upon only the intellect or the will: "For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." (1 Cor. 12: 8-11.) Here, in these charismal gifts, are mental endowments and accomplishments, here are functions or relations of persons to the Church and to the world, here are what may be called religious franchises—authorities and powers and duties,—all of vast importance, and vital to the spread and edification of the Church, and to the Christianization of the nations, each a "gift" of the "self-same all-working Spirit," yet not touching the heart, not in its nature sanctifying.
In addition to those now enumerated, two others of these non-sanctifying gifts or external agencies of the Spirit are referred to in this significant chapter on "Spiritual gifts." (v. 1.)
One of these two, the gift of membership in the Church, is mentioned in this same passage, only a verse or two later, in connexion with these very charismata, evidently as one of them, and in the course of the same argument: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body," (v. 13), and, a few verses later, and in the same connexion and argument: "God hath set the members, every one of them, in the body, as it hath pleased him. . . . Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular," (vss. 18, 27.)
The other of these two, the gift of the ministry in its several orders, is mentioned as among these "spiritual gifts"—these non-sanctifying charismata—in the same chapter, and in the same argument: "And God hath set some in the Church, first, apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that [10/11] miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." (vss. 28-31.)
It is impossible to read through these passages, and the chapter to which they all belong, and to weigh carefully these statements of St. Paul in reference to the charismata, without being convinced that, in his mind, membership in the Church and the various ministries and offices in the Church were to be reckoned or included in that same class of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as were miracles or tongues or healings or interpretations. And we learn, besides, that these charismal gifts were, some miraculous and temporary, some not miraculous but extraordinary, and some ordinary and of perpetual necessity.
And when we reach this conclusion, we reach a sublime thought, which has been too much overlooked if not too sadly forgotten by the present age. For we must not limit, as multitudes even of professing Christians are too apt now to do, the field of the Holy Spirit's operations, nor deny the diversity of His administrations. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Person, through whom the active energy of the Godhead is everywhere and in all things exerted. Even the Providences of material nature are often His doings, as when "the Spirit of God moved (or brooded) upon the face of the waters." (Gen. 1: 2.) He is the "Creator Spiritus"; in nature as in grace. He is "the finger of God," through whom God works upon men's bodies as well as upon men's souls in the expulsion of demons.
And, when we turn to the Church of Christ, can we think of any thing really done in it without the Holy Ghost? The Church is Christ's kingdom, bought with His precious blood— organized and established by Him and for Him. While He was with it here, He authorized every thing in it. When He went away and ascended to His Father, He sent another [11/12] Paraclete, another Advocate, another Comforter, another Intercessor, another Guide and Teacher and Ruler, to take His place, to complete His designs, and to do just what He would have done, if He could have stayed with us, to be the Supreme Agent and authority in His Church, to receive His members, to appoint His officers, to effectuate His discipline, to train His people, to act, in everything, and in every way, for Him. In Christ's absence this is the dispensation of the Holy Ghost.
We will illustrate these charismal gifts—these official or functional agencies of the Holy Ghost, as now continued in the Church, by the two examples already alluded to—Baptism and Ordination.
1. One of these official or functional agencies of the Holy Spirit is in Baptism. We have a right to presume, from the relation of the Holy Spirit, in the place of Christ, to the Church, that He will have something to do in the admission of persons within the visible Body of Christ. And so clear and so straightforward is this presumption, that it, can be rebutted only by positive evidence contradicting it. The Church is a divinely-appointed society, to be forever continued, through the promise and power of God,—not a mere voluntary society of men, which may live or die at the pleasure of men. It is to be presumed (and the burden of proof lies upon those who deny this presumption) that when a person is transplanted out of a world which is all hostile to Christ and His kingdom into the visible kingdom of Christ, that the "Head over all things to the Church" (Eph. 1: 22,) must have something to do with it, either immediately or by the Paraclete in His stead. Evidently, then, "the self-same all-working Spirit" must be the agent. Since the Church is constituted of visible men, visible men must be employed in the act of admission. But how shall their action be authorized and validated? Since the Church is also and especially God's Church, God must also be efficient in this act of admission. In what way? We answer, By the Holy Ghost, although we are not able to understand the rationale of the [12/13] fact nor to explain it. As we accept the Scriptures in their plain natural sense, it is a pleasant thing to believe, simply because God has spoken.
And accordingly in the Holy Scriptures we have these questions settled, for we hear St. Paul, in only a few verses succeeding our text, and while uttering Revelations in regard to the charismata, asserting: "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." (v. 13.) But how few are there, who think of baptism—that is, admission into the visible Church of God—as implying any agency of the Holy Spirit? Yet here is an agency, expressly revealed, of the Spirit upon "all baptized." What agency of the Spirit? Not of conscious conversion, which always precedes the one baptism in the case of adults, and can not occur in the case of infants; not of confirmation, nor of ordination, nor of miraculous powers, which all came after Baptism,—but something peculiar and always attached to this particular Sacrament, whether in the case of adults or of infants, whether in the first century, or in any of the centuries which follow it—the gift of admission into visible membership in the Church, an official gift of the Spirit belonging to baptism and confined to it. Since the Spirit is the efficient power in every thing connected with the Church, it must be that He stands at the door to guard and order its openings.
Now when we understand that there are official or functional gifts of the Spirit, as distinguished from sanctifying graces, how proper does that language of our Baptismal offices appear, where the minister prays: "We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant, (or this person,) with thy Holy Spirit," that' is, as explained in the next parallelism, "to receive him for thine own child by adoption," or, as still the remaining parallelism again interprets it, "and to incorporate him into thy holy Church." Here is asserted a Scriptural verity, that the Holy Spirit acts officially in the Sacrament of Baptism.
Without going into any discussion as to what doctrine, if any, is involved in that undefined and much-controverted word "regenerate" as used in this clause of the Order of [13/14] Baptism; and without going into any discussion as to what form or measure, if any, of sanctifying grace, converting or renewing, may be involved, either directly or conditionally, in the Sacrament of Baptism, or may be associated. with its faithful and prayerful ministration; and without going into any discussion as to the theory, upon which our Baptismal offices are constructed or are to be interpreted; we do find, outside of all these discussions, that there is, and in the nature of things must always be, (and the Service may very properly express it for those who receive it,) at least a functional gift of the Spirit in making a soul a member of the Church of Christ, as there is in making him, as we shall presently see, an officer in that Church. And is not here an important part of the truth of God? And that this truth is lamentably forgotten, let the reproaches which have been laid so severely upon the Ritual which every day testifies to that forgotten truth, (whether blindly, traditionally, or with clear conscious intent it matters not,) bear witness.
I wish to be not misapprehended. I am defending or justifying the employment of the words "with thy Holy Spirit" in this Formulary. I am not speaking of the word "regenerate" in this clause of the sentence. Personally, I might prefer a word that has some established meaning recognized by all who repeat it, instead of the present word, to which every one may give a meaning to suit himself, and which therefore has no fixed or intelligible sense in the Service. Personally I might wish sometimes to give my thanks, instead of doing so in the indefinite phrase here commented on, rather in the clear unmistakable words of inspiration: "that this child or this person is by one Spirit baptized into one body." At all events I think, as I have uniformly maintained, that while the essentials of the Sacrament are preserved, there ought to be alternative phrases provided for and allowed, in the body of the Service, to meet the conscientious "scruples" of different persons in what ought to be a comprehensive Church of Christ, and not the narrow sect of a party. And I frankly maintain that, until these are provided for, a great wrong is done to the loyal and [14/15] aggrieved petitioners, and a gross inconsistency with the otherwise generally comprehensive arrangements of our Ritual is perpetuated.
But, to return to our topic, is it not manifest, that the Holy Spirit, as superintending and controlling every thing in the Church, must have an agency of some sort, in the admission of persons into the Church, that is, in Baptism, and that this agency is not necessarily sanctifying, as changing or affecting the personal spiritual character of the baptized, but is official or functional, as effecting a new relationship of the baptized to God, to the Church, and to the world? Although man is employed in it, can this be done by man alone? Or, must the essential validifying act be done by the Holy Spirit? Who else can do it but He who is in the Church in the stead of the ascended Christ and who acts for Christ? This, we contend, is the teaching of the Inspired Apostle in our text and context.
Let it not be thought that the doctrine of our Standards upon this whole subject is peculiar. The same doctrine is maintained in the Standards of all the Reformed as well as the Corrupted Churches. It seems to have been always affirmed as a Scriptural truth. It has come down from the Apostles' times as never doubted. The Westminster Assembly's Catechism, both the Larger and the Smaller, the Cambridge, and Saybrook Platforms of New England, and the Presbyterian Confession of Faith of the Middle and Southern States, together with other modern Standards as well as older Protestant creeds of the Reformed Churches of Europe, all teach the very same doctrine substantially, the only difference between those and ours being that those Standards do sometimes express the doctrine more broadly and with less caution than ours.
That these non-Episcopal Protestant Standards maintain the official agency of the Spirit in Baptism is proved by their proof-texts, wherever the doctrine is not expressly asserted. Thus the Cambridge, Saybrook, Westminster and Presbyterian Standards referred to above, do all, in sustaining the article that "by baptism the parties baptized are solemnly [15/16] admitted into the visible Church," refer to 1 Cor. 12: 13th as their one decisive proof-text—the same which we have adduced: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body."
Doubtless there has been much confusion in the minds of theologians on this subject, as any one will admit, who has read their treatises. This very important distinction between sanctifying and functional gifts has been often overlooked, and even venerable Standards have not always been perspicuous and unequivocal in their utterances. The presence and action of the Holy Spirit in some way in all ordinances have been recognized, sometimes dimly, but have been misexplained. Some, disregarding the existence of these functional agencies, yet recognizing the presence in some way of the Holy Spirit, have conjoined in their theories sanctifying graces with matters to which they do not apply, and have exhibited their puzzling schemes; and others still making the same mistake have presented other schemes, no more convincing; and controversies very obscure and very unsatisfactory on all sides have been the result.
Better to take the key of the universality of the Spirit's operations and of the diversity of His Divine Agencies, and with that key open these controversies, as we may, to the light of truth. And we shall find that, with many misapprehensions, the reality of "the All-working Spirit" has been felt and acknowledged by believers, and the desire to give to Him the honor due to His name has been, although frequently mingled with errors, the actuating motive of His people.
2. Another of these official or functional agencies of the Holy Spirit is in the gift of the ministry or ordination. In what we say on this proposition, we are not debating the form or the method, the regularity or the validity of an apostolic ministry. Waiving all those questions, our point is simply that wherever there is a real ministry in the church, the proposition above made applies to it.
St. Paul, in the chapter to which the text belongs,—his memorable revelation concerning the Charismata,—speaks [16/17] most clearly, as we have seen, of the ministry as among these charismata, or functional gifts of the Holy Spirit. He tells us that "God hath set some in the Church," referring, as you remember, to the various orders of the ministry. In the Epistles to Timothy (1 Tim. 4: 14, and 2 Tim. 1: 6) and to Titus (1: 3, 5), the ministry is also spoken of as a "gift" committed unto men—a charisma. It is also similarly described in other places which readily occur to you. One of these passages, which is very striking, I must also quote from the Epistle to the Ephesians: "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. . . . And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." (Eph. 4:7, 11-13.) Now here, in this ministry given from God, is a work of the Spirit, not necessarily sanctifying, but official. A man may receive the "gift" of ordination, yet his heart may be that of Judas an Apostle who betrayed his Lord, or of Demas a minister who "loved this present world."
But what multitudes there are, who have no conception that there is any direct influence of the Spirit in the making of a minister of Christ, who think of the ministry as only a profession which the people authorize, or which a man may take up or may lay down at his pleasure. It is a much-needed testimony to Scriptural truth which the Church bears, when she asserts that the Christian ministry is now, as it was in the Apostles' days, an official gift of the Holy Spirit. Forgetful of this truth, there are those, even among the leaders of the people, who have laid the charge of blasphemy at the door of the Church, because, in her Ordination offices, she permits her Bishops to say, in one of the Alternative Forms of the Ordering of Priests, and also, in the Form for the Consecration of Bishops, "Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest (or of a Bishop) in the Church of [17/18] God," not perceiving that in this she has, in all reverence, kept close to the word of God, and used the very phrase which her great Head had hallowed by his own example. For we read in the Gospel of St. John, that our Saviour, after" His resurrection and before His Ascension, having met with his disciples, "breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." (St. John 20: 22-23.)
Now, as no one will deny, here in this Ordination by our Saviour was a gift of the Holy Ghost, but not of conversion or of sanctification, for those they had received before; nor was it of miraculous powers to enable them to witness for Christ, for that they received afterwards at the Pentecost, and they were to "remain in Jerusalem, until they should be endued with power from on high" on that Whitsunday not then come; nor was it the gift of Inspiration, for this they were not to receive until after His Ascension, when the Comforter should be sent to them to "teach them all things, and to bring all things to their remembrance whatsoever He had said unto them." (St. John 14: 26.) It was the simple official or functional gift of the ministry, giving them not new moral characters but a new office or relation to Christ and the Church and the world—a charisma, or special functional gift of the Spirit, for they "received the Holy Ghost."
And, to dwell for a moment longer upon the remaining words of this our Saviour's Form of Commission, as quoted from our "Ordering of Priests" or Presbyters, as follows: "Whose sins thou dost forgive they are forgiven, and whose sins thou dost retain they are retained," we can not conceive of any peculiar power of remitting or retaining sins, here granted to the Apostles, further than that ministerial or declarative authority and that right of discipline, which appertain essentially to the nature of the office of an ambassador from Christ to men. Is it to be supposed, that the Apostles, who were but sinful men, were invested with any absolute and unconditional power of giving salvation or damnation to individual souls? By no means. Could ever such power be [18/19] imparted to mere men? Certainly not. Even the Jews called the claiming of such a power by a mere man blasphemy; and Christ conceded that they were right by admitting their question: "for who can forgive sins but God only?" (Mark 2: 7.) This power of absolute forgiveness and condemnation is the supreme prerogative of Jehovah alone, the one only "Judge of all the earth:" And He may not delegate it to any created being, for it implies his Divine Omniscience which no created being can receive. The utmost that any created being can receive is authority to make the "declaration," as our Church entitles it, of the conditions on which God alone in His absolute Sovereignty can forgive or condemn. Man may declare the conditions, as God may authorize him; the judgment. is reserved for God Himself. No, brethren, the power here given was one which the Apostles, as created beings, as men, could receive—that influence and commission of their office, by which the Gospel, which they were to preach, was to fix and convey the conditions of pardon and of punishment to sinners, and by which they were further authorized to enforce a proper discipline for the future Church. The apostles were but men; ministers now are but men; both are in one ministry, so far as the remission or retention of sins is concerned, under Christ. The design of the Church is in all ages the same. The wants of sinners are of the same sort and equally urgent in all periods of time. There is no difference between the ministry now and the ministry then. The apostles were the ministers of God in the Church in the midst of a world of sinners, just as we are now. And whatsoever commission the great Head of the Church found it necessary to give to them then, is and must be needed by the very same ministry of the very same Church in the midst of the very same world of sinners now.
And accordingly, since this authority given to the Apostles, whatever it is, belongs to the nature of the ministerial office, without regard to time or place, and since our Lord has given us a Form, even if we should be somewhat ignorant of its exact sense, there seems to my mind a manifest propriety in allowing His own Form to be used by those [19/20] who wish to use it, with all humility intending nothing more nor less than the sense, whatever it is, of Christ's own words. And to be brief, my brethren, the act of our Lord in this narrative of St. John, was simply that of ordination to the, ministry of His Church, which is, in its inherent design, the same ministry in all periods of time; and in this ordination He recognized, as His inspired Apostles did, after Him, the necessary agency of the Holy Ghost. And if, in doing the very same thing which our Master did, the Church allows to be used, as the prescribed Form, or as an alternative Form, the very same words which He used, she ought not surely to be blamed, for she is not thinking her own thoughts nor speaking her own words, but humbly depending upon the perfectness and infallibility of the Son of God.
Let men be careful how, in their human speculations, they depart from the simplicity of the sacred Scriptures, and trifle with the holy and exalted ministry which God has appointed; lest, on the one hand, they degrade it, as many do, into a sacrificing priesthood, like that of an effete paganism or that of an abrogated Judaism; and lest, on the other hand, they degrade, as many others do, into a mere man-made committeeship of a mere human society that Divinely-constituted ministry in the Church of God, which is the "gift" of the Holy Ghost.
III. We have said that these official gifts of the Spirit do not directly affect the character and heart. We would not be understood as affirming that they are never in any case associated with the grace of sanctification. On the opposite we believe the agency of the Spirit to sanctify and improve the heart is always associated with the distribution of His official gifts, in the case of those who understandingly and reverently and with due preparation present themselves for the reception of these official gifts, since God's sanctifying Spirit always accompanies the discharge of duty. For example, he who receives the gift of ordination with fit and earnest purposes, with self-communion and communion with God, will find associated with that gift the grace of a higher sanctification than he had before attained, and he [20/21] will feel himself a humbler and a stronger and a more devoted Christian; since he gives himself up to the service of God with a renewed self-dedication, and therefore receives a new spiritual blessing proportionate to his preparation for it. So he, who is baptized or confirmed or receives the Lord's Supper with due preparation of heart and with faithful prayer, consecrates himself thereby anew to the discipleship of his Lord, and obtains that renovating grace which is always granted to such devotion.
It is therefore eminently proper and a bounden duty that the Church, as our Church has done, in arranging her Offices for all those occasions whereon these charismal gifts are sought, should incorporate in them such Selections of Holy Scriptures, such appropriate Instructions, such solemn Thanksgivings, Supplications, and acts of Dedication, and such pious and suitable Exhortations, as shall tend to quicken devotion, and bring to those more immediately concerned—in Baptism, to the adults and to the infants baptized, to the parents, and to sponsors and witnesses,—in ordination, to the persons ordained, to the officiating bishop and the attending and assisting presbyters,—as well as, in each case, to the congregation, the sanctifying benedictions of the Holy Comforter.
IV. We have endeavored to lay before you what we believe to be the true doctrine of the agency of the Holy Spirit. We have given only the texts of thought, and you must investigate them your Bibles and upon your knees. We wish to lead you to this truth, that the Holy Spirit is efficient in all things, internal and external, to His Church; that you may realize the Holy Spirit in everything connected with your religion; that you may always remember yourselves as in the presence of God and of His Divine operations—nothing in yourselves, but everything in Him.
I confess, brethren, that the distinction between the internal and external agencies of the Spirit,—the sanctifying graces and the charismal official gifts—here presented so imperfectly, seems to my mind very important, and one which, when clearly apprehended, furnishes an indispensable key to the solution of many difficulties, in the interpretation of the [21/22] Scriptures, and of the Liturgical and Ritual Standards of the Church. The rejection of these Standards, so valuable in preserving a correct interpretation of the Scriptures, as witnessing through all the ages, to what the sacred writers mean, has led to a forgettal, on the part of many, of the distinction referred to; and the loss of this distinction has led to many and grievous corruptions of Christian doctrine. It is but one example of the value of such Standards as witnesses, and of the danger of removing their testimony. And surely we can not be too grateful, that while the Great Head of the Church has, by His wonderful Providence, preserved in the midst of the world, through so many centuries of agitation and revolution, these lofty monuments to bear testimony to the truth of His holy word, He has so graciously permitted us to live peacefully under their shadow, and to learn His truth. A blessing there is to the Church, when she testifies to Christ, but a wo there is for "the Lamb's wife," when she either, on the one hand throws carelessly and self-confidently away the simple habiliments and tokens of her bridal, or, on the other hand, puts over them the gay and blaspheming mockeries of the false adulteress.
God give us all grace to love the Scriptures and Him to whom they all bear witness, for the sake of "His love constraining us;" and to look to the Holy Spirit as the one ever-present Agent in the gift of all ecclesiastical privileges and the increase of all Christian graces.