KING & BAIRD, PRINTERS,
No. 9 George Street.
"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."--2 TIMOTHY ii. 15.
ONE of the most striking features of the Gospel, is its adaptation to the circumstances of every age, and the necessities of every mind. Its moral precepts originated in the solving of some special case of conscience or question of casuistry; its institutions seemed designed to meet some peculiar emergency; its doctrines appeared to be only the development of a restricted and local system of religion. And yet these precepts and institutions and doctrines are found to be equally adapted to all lands, all governments, all times, and to provide for the spiritual wants of all sorts and conditions of men.
In its ordinances and its principles, the Gospel is the most rigid and unvarying system ever given to the world; and still for all the various and changing necessities of the world it makes ample provision.
This universal adaptation of the Gospel is proof of its Divinity: the Church stands unmoved and unmodified amid civil changes and the crash of dynasties, exercising its legitimate functions whether monarchs or the people rule, because it is the construction of God, and he has ordered all its arrangements; the truth, embodied and taught in the Church, survives the mutations of philosophy, the march of science, the progress of human knowledge, and always utters the same thing, because it is but a transcript of the immutable mind of God.
It is through the Christian Ministry that this eternal truth is brought to bear upon the world. Their duty is, just to set forth and enforce what God has ordained. They have no [3/4] right to tamper with his word, to modify his institutions, or to utter any fancies and inventions of their own. Their function is, simply to discover what He has spoken, and then press this home upon the hearts and consciences of men. It is a solemn and most responsible office to which they are called. Its issues take hold upon eternity.
An immense power may be wielded in our land by an able ministry. Consider the vantage-ground upon which they stand, the facilities which they have for reaching and affecting the public mind. One day in every seven, the great body of the people gather around the ambassadors of Christ, "to hear all things that are commanded them of God." Secular employments are laid aside, the noise of the hammer and the chafferings of trade are hushed; and, in the quiet of the consecrated sanctuary, surrounded by all the holy and hallowed influences of the Church, men sit at the preacher's feet, to learn their duty and their destiny. Consider the nature of the work in which they are engaged. As teachers of Divine truth, as expounders of the will of God, the ministry wield the mightiest engine of moral power. If they be well-taught in the Scriptures; if they understand whereof they affirm; if they be capable of conveying to others the impressions which they themselves have received, and enabling the people to comprehend and feel the Gospel, they may form and control the moral principles of the age. Wo unto them, if they fail to use, and use rightly, the influence which God has put into their hands. And the question is one of the deepest interest, what qualities of mind and heart are needed, in order to the faithful and effectual discharge of the duties of this ministry?
I. We answer, in the first place, a clear, intellectual discrimination, in order that they may "rightly divide the word."
They are set for the defence and propagation of truth, they [4/5] should therefore be able to distinguish it from error. They should be skilled in the analysis of principles. Heretical doctrine is often wrapped around in the folds of some acknowledged truth; and under this disguise imposed upon the Church. It is their work to tear off this deceptive covering, and hold up the naked falsehood before the sight of men. They must have a distinct, penetrating, spiritual discernment, lest they become "blind leaders of the blind."
They should be able to detect error in the germ; so that they can tell by looking at the seed, what sort of a plant and what sort of fruit, it is likely to bring forth. Error is feeble in its incipiency and easily mastered; in its maturity, it is gigantic and powerful. A child may crush the acorn; the might of a hundred men cannot dislodge the oak. In its first advances, error is modest and unassuming, it asks only to be tolerated; give it scope, and it soon becomes clamorous and persecuting, lording it over God's heritage like a despot. The monster must be strangled in its infancy; and we must learn to read the features of the man in the countenance of the child, that we may know it to be a monster. All errors are not alike important, but all are contrary to truth, and should be resisted. A falsity in theology, once broached and allowed to live, no man can tell whereunto it may grow. Men at large ridicule and censure the sensitive jealousy which is manifested in view of what seems to them like an unimportant aberration from Gospel doctrine. There is, indeed, sometimes seen an excessive and morbid apprehensiveness, which detects mischief where none exists, and starts at shadows; this is the offspring of ignorance and prejudice. But an intelligent, honest, and discriminating regard for God's holy truth, which shrinks from the first beginnings of actual evil which lifts up the voice of warning at the first deviation from that straight, clearly defined, and narrow way through which [5/6] fallen man is to reach the gate of life, is a feeling which should reign in the heart of every minister of Christ. He should never teach to others, nor allow himself to believe, that there are different, and yet parallel paths, in which, with equal safety and convenience, men may travel on to heaven. There is but one name given among men, whereby they may be saved.
And again, our views of truth should be so comprehensive, well-balanced, and symmetrical, as to protect us from the danger of supposing that one extreme of error is to be cured by running into the opposite extreme. The manifold evils of schism-and their name is legion-are not to be corrected by the establishment of a mere mechanical, outward unity; such a visible unity is desirable, but is of little avail, where there is no union of sentiment and affection. The tendency which exists in certain quarters to undervalue, and even annihilate the Christian sacraments, is not to be stayed by multiplying their number and investing them with an incomprehensible and magical power. The neglect of the Fathers, as historical witnesses to primitive doctrine and practice, which prevails in many Christian bodies, is not to be mended by elevating them to the level of Scripture, either to be joined with it as a rule of faith, or as its authoritative interpreter. The withering ravages of fanaticism are not to be guarded against by sinking into a frozen, barren formalism. It is not wise to rush from the equator to the pole, because of the heat; nor from the pole to the equator, because of the cold. There is a temperate region, in which the kindly fruits of the Spirit flourish and ripen best.
And again, our survey of the Gospel should be so broad and liberal as to leave us in no peril of elevating one class of truths to the entire neglect, or at the expense of another class, which are perhaps equally important. Some appear to [6/7] forget the form in the spirit; others, the spirit in the form. With some, the leaves over-lay and kill the fruit; with others, the fruit perishes for want of the protecting leaf. Some present only the dry bones of dead doctrine; others attempt to build up the living temple without the support of any frame-work. They do not "rightly divide the word of truth." They need to remember, that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable."
And again, the Christian Ministry should have so wide a range of knowledge, should be so well disciplined in mind, and have sufficient candor to guard them against enforcing true principles by false argument, erecting a weak superstructure upon a sound foundation. The truth is certain to suffer, when the erroneous statement, by which we attempt to sustain it, comes to be detected. The over-strained pressing of a principle, naturally excites a reaction, by which the principle itself is in peril of being overthrown. Truth is often thus wounded in the house of its friends.
In view of all these dangers, the Christian Ministry should be competent to the exercise of a cautious, intelligent discrimination. And, when error is detected, they should be able and ready to resist and oppose it. They should be valiant for the truth. Their voice should be distinctly understood, uttering no "uncertain sound," speaking in no feeble and faltering notes.
There is a system of doctrine based upon the fact of man's entire, native depravity, which teaches him that his only ground of hope is in the all-sufficient merit of Christ, of which he becomes a partaker through the exercise of faith,-that his heart must be renewed by the power of the Holy Ghost, through the instrumentality of Gospel truth,-and that the evidence of this renewal must be manifested by obedience to all the commands of the preceptive and the moral law. This [7/8] we believe to be the essential truth of the Gospel. This is the system of doctrine taught us in the services and standards of the Church. Let this doctrine be exhibited so clearly that no man can mistake our meaning. And, against every scheme of error, which would substitute any thing else in the place of Christ, or in any way vitiate the entire sufficiency of Christ as the sinner's justification, or lead guilty man to stop short of the cross of Christ, we must be always ready to lift up the voice of solemn warning. Life and death are at stake, and we are recreant to our high trust, if we keep silence. "If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" A blow aimed at the corner-stone of our faith should rouse every true servant of Christ, and excite him to prompt and vigorous resistance.
And, thanks be to God, that we have a Church, in which, if anywhere in Christendom, the truth as it is in Jesus, is likely to be safe against the assaults of the adversary. Within our borders, great latitude of opinion is allowed upon all matters of mere opinion, and this is essential to the comprehensive and catholic character of the Church; but the great doctrine of salvation only through Christ, is a fact, an essential verity, which the Church will not allow to be impugned or doubted. It is interwoven with every part of her system, with all her offices and ordinances and prayers and praises; it is the great Church principle, for which her martyrs died, and in defence of which it is our privilege to live. She must lose her existence as a Church when she loses this truth. We have no fear of either of these results. We believe that the great body of our laity and ministry hold fast, and ever will hold fast, to a truth, the comfort and preciousness of which they have experienced too sensibly in their own hearts, to allow them to sacrifice it. They will not give up their title-deed to the inheritance of heaven. They will [8/9] not strike away the Rock upon which they rest their hopes for eternity. They will not re-cross the threshold by which they entered the kingdom, that they may seek "to climb up by some other way." The song which they have loved to sing, and which they hope to sing before the golden throne, is-"Glory and honour to the Lamb that was slain!" They ask not to share the glory of their salvation with the Lamb-they would not rob him of one star in his princely diadem!
And, let us not feel that we ever need to apologize for uttering what we are assured is the word, commanded us of God. Let us not leave the people in doubt whether we really believe what we speak; let us not preach the truth as though it were falsehood. Standing between the living and the dead, let us speak as men in earnest; let us make our people feel that we are in earnest. Let us preach, as those who have a message from God to deliver to men; to which if they will not listen, they must perish. Let us not amuse them with our own speculations and fancies; let us not strew the path with flowers, while they are hurrying down to death. Our business is to lead lost sinners directly to Christ. Whatever else we do, if this be left undone, our first great duty is neglected.-They will perish, and their blood will be upon our heads.
II. The second distinguishing characteristic which should especially mark the Christian Ministry in the present age, is, an active, untiring, far-reaching energy; we must have "workmen, that need not be ashamed."
The world is all awake. It is a day of stirring, onward enterprise. All the powers of evil are awake and active. The church must be aggressive, or she will lose her ground. It is not a time when we may shut ourselves up in the citadel, and be content with simply warding off the blows that are aimed against us; we must go forth into the field, and meet the enemy face to face.
 Consider, first, whom we have to meet. Directly before us, stands the infidel cohort, who in our day have changed their tone, but not their spirit; meaning the same thing when they now talk of freedom and philanthropy and social elevation, which they meant when they openly avowed the principles of anarchy and licentiousness and misrule. On the right, we encounter the compact, well-disciplined army of Rome, with its glittering banners, its orderly ranks, its experienced officers, its obedient soldiery, and its reserve-corps of Jesuits, self-denying, self-sacrificing, ready for any work, in any quarter, under any privations: An army, claiming the world as its own by decree of Him who made the world-which is no sooner driven from one territory, than it repairs the loss by setting up its standard on some other soil: which, ever changing its policy, never changes its principles and designs: which has an appropriate post for all classes of men, has work for all minds and temperaments and abilities: whose spies are found everywhere, mingling in all companies, under all possible disguises, uttering all varieties of opinions-anything and everything outwardly, always the same at heart. And, on the left, we meet with a variety of motley groups, unorganized, undisciplined, irregular in all their movements,-yet sometimes the more effective from their disorderly freedom-and they are broaching all sorts of fantastic heresies, which might only furnish food for ridicule, were it not that by them, great multitudes are lured on to destruction.
The necessity which exists for an effective, as well as an enlightened ministry, is obvious.
But, the question arises, how shall the enemies of truth be met? They must be met with suitable weapons, by modes of action adapted to the exigencies of the times. The great fact which we should consider in settling the manner of our ministry, our modes of operation and teaching, is this-we [10/11] have to deal with a wakeful public mind, and an educated people. As ignorant, indeed, by nature, of spiritual truth, as sternly opposed to that truth, are the people of the 19th century as were the people of the 12th-the same substantial work needs to be done now as then, but it must be done in a different manner. It is the same truth which saves sinners now with that which was their salvation a thousand years ago; but let it be remembered that we have to deal with men who can reason, and who will exercise their understandings upon the truth which we set before them. They must be convinced before they can be converted.
And it is not by reviving exploded theories and modes of action, that we can effectually meet the evils that surround us. By studying the history, the effects, and the causes which led to the dissolution of by-gone institutions, we may learn valuable lessons of instruction and warning; but, if we would know what our times demand, we must look about us. And it will not do for us to shut our eyes against existing circumstances, and say, "if this or that mode of preaching and action be not adapted to the times, it only proves that 'the times are out of joint,'--as a Minister of Christ, I have the same work to do, whether I live in the 10th or the 20th century, in Africa or in Greenland." We have the same work to do, but not in the same manner. When St. Paul sat down with a company of humble Jews about him, he spake to them in language which they could understand and feel, and his illustrations were drawn from the synagogue, and the sacrifice, and the temple-he adapted himself to their customs and their notions-"to the Jews he became as a Jew that he might gain the Jews." When he stood on Mars Hill, amid the marble glories of Athens, he spake as a Christian Greek might address a Greek, and the finger of illustration was pointed, not to a Hebrew temple, but to the altars and shrines by which he was surrounded.
 What we do must be suited to accomplish the desired end, or the most untiring labor will come to naught. Where a principle is involved, we have nothing to yield; where it is a mere question of expediency, touching the mode of doing things, we must regard the character of the country and the age, or we can make no impression upon the age.
And again, the enemies of truth must be met with a firm and steady resistance. Much of even the Christian activity of the times expends itself in fitful, irregular, spasmodic movements. But the tendency of the institutions of our Church is to direct the current of action into a uniform, unvarying, and onward course, and to restrain it within the proper channel. In this respect, we have an eminent advantage over other Protestant bodies. And yet there is nothing in the construction or the genius of our own Church to check the most energetic action, so that it be only rightly directed and legitimately exercised. We do not indeed favour the sudden leap of the zealous operative from the work-bench to the pulpit; we do not encourage men in assuming the office of teachers who themselves need to be taught the first rudiments of the knowledge of Christ; we do not wish to see men discharging the functions of the ministry before they have been regularly called thereto. We are taught to believe that there is a right and a wrong way of doing even good things; and that, if order and subordination are needed any where, it is in the Church of Christ. But the ministry are in no way hindered from doing whatever it is desirable that they should do. And in this age, they should buckle on their armour and go forth to the battle as men, who are determined-in humble and entire reliance upon the Holy Ghost-that their efforts shall tell upon the community. They should go forth with an unfaltering faith in God, confident that He will give them strength for the fight, and not suffer their labour to [12/13] come to naught. They should go forth, appreciating and feeling the dignity and nobleness of their work; magnifying their office, but not themselves. They should remember that they labour for eternity; and that, if they prove faithful, they will erect a monument to the glory of God, more enduring than brass or marble. And then, after having patiently borne the heat and labour of the day, when the trumpet of recall shall be heard, and the warfare is over, their "rest shall be glorious."
My brethren, we have a great work to do, and the time is short. Our people are fast passing into eternity, and we shall soon follow them. They will bear testimony concerning us at the judgment, and become either "crowns of rejoicing" to us, or witnesses to our neglect and unfaithfulness.
III. The third prominent characteristic which should distinguish the ministry of this and every age, is a deep, heartfelt, and manifest piety: "studying to show themselves approved unto God," as well as unto man. The truth that we preach, we must live. This requisite wanting, it matters little how much we know, or how much we do, God will not be honoured, man will not be benefited. There must be no room for doubt on this point, no occasion for the people to question our sincerity and godliness. The ministry must be above suspicion; it must be made manifest unto all men that "we have been with Jesus."
What sort of piety should they have?
Not that of mere sentiment, which mistakes transitory emotion for an inward, abiding affection, and evaporates in a sigh; which is charmed with the magnificence of splendid architecture, and ravished at the harmonies of celestial music, and awed by the pomp of imposing rituals; which regards the Gospel only as a series of beautiful and touching pictures, and the Church as a venerable and moss-covered structure, to be honoured and revered as we reverence a noble ruin. [13/14] All this is the poetry of religion, the development of a refined and chastened taste, attractive and worthy to be cultivated; but which may exist, when the heart is utterly "dead in trespasses and sins."
Not that of a monkish asceticism, which drives the devotee to dwell with the moles and bats of the desert, there by vigils and self-inflicted tortures, to earn for himself a title to eternal life.
Not that of a cold, dead formality, which contents itself with a barren round of irksome observances, a mere mechanical obedience, a heartless, perfunctory discharge of duty.
But we should have a piety, experienced, consciously felt in the soul, as the result of a living faith, as the working of holy love within us, as an effect of the renewing grace of the Spirit. We must feel that there is light, where once there was darkness; life, where once there was death; that grace abounds, where sin did once abound. We must feel that a mighty change has been wrought within us, so that "all things have become new." The time of this change in its first inception, we may, or we may not be able to determine, but that it has been effected, we should have comfortable and satisfying evidence: evidence based upon the consciousness that holy desires reign in the soul, that sin is abhorrent to us, prayer grateful to us, and Christ loved by us with an all-controlling and dominant affection.
And then this internal, spiritual life should manifest itself in abundant good works; in an entire devotion to the work of God; in a reverent submission to all His dispensations; in a prompt and cheerful conformity to all His ordinances; in an unquestioning reception of His truth; in a lowly obedience to divinely-constituted authority; in the restraint of every harsh and unholy temper; in universal love to man; in self-denials and sacrifices; in labours in season and out of season; [14/15] in patience under rebuke and reviling; in doing good even to our enemies.
And it should be a comprehensive piety, covering the whole ground of human duties; guiding our meditations in the closet, moving upon our souls in the devotions of the Church, directing our conversation in the domestic circle, controlling our conduct in all the social relations-it should be broad as the domain of human action, profound as the depths of human thought.
With a ministry thus enlightened and discriminating, thus active in their Master's cause, and thus filled with the spirit of grace, what may we not accomplish?
It must be evident to the most careless observer, that our beloved Church is commissioned and destined to do a great work in this favoured land. We have facilities for the accomplishment of a permanent good in these United States, unshared by any other body of Christians. With the living truth of the Gospel embodied-not embalmed-in our noble Liturgy; with our compact and well-ordered organization; with our unchanging institutions; with our apostolic ministry; and with the benefit of all those hallowed associations, which gather around a Church, whose walls have been wet with martyr's blood, whose foundation was laid by Apostles and Prophets, whose palaces are a sure refuge from heresies and schisms; if this Church be not richly blessed of God, and made a rich and abundant blessing to the land, it will be our own fault. We have no new truths to discover, no new machinery to plan; we may address ourselves at once to our Master's work. We take the Church as it has come down to us, and the Gospel as our Fathers have delivered it to us. We wish no change in either; whether on the right hand or on the left. We only ask for liberty to plant this Church as it is; and to preach the Gospel as we have received it.
 My respected brethren, we have met once more in solemn council, and we have prayed Almighty God, that he would be present with us, "to direct, sanctify and govern us in our present work." In all that we do, let us recognize His presence, and remember that His eye rests upon us. "He walks among the golden candlesticks." Let us go forward in the fear of God, seeking only and always to advance His glory. For His glory the Church exists; for this end, let every thing in the Church be done.
This being the motive, let the manner and mode of our proceedings be guided by the spirit of fraternal love. Let us learn to regard and respect honest differences of opinion. Truth may be seen from different positions, and so present itself differently to the eye, and still be the same truth. But, where we differ, let us differ as Christians; as those who labour in the same cause, for the same end, and in the service of the same Lord. The ties which unite us are those by which we hope to be bound together in eternity-the differences which separate us will all be buried with us in our graves. There we shall all soon lie; while we live, let us live together as brethren.
And, whatever may be the result of our present deliberations and action, let our confidence in the over-ruling and directing Providence of God, be firm and unshaken. God will take care of us, and He will take care of His Church; the Ark is safe in His keeping. "His ways are not always as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts;" but we know that "He doth all things well."
And may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make us perfect in every good work to do His will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.