The Holy Priest
Milwaukee, WI: The Young Churchman, 1899. 176 pp.
THIS is an attempt to portray the inner life of a holy priest. The sources from which its lights and shadows have been drawn are a personal acquaintance with some and the biographies of many who approximated the stature of Jesus Christ in their priesthood. In the progress of the years, a certain definite conception has gradually impressed itself upon the mind; and this it is which is here put into words, with the sole object that, so far as it is to the life, the portrait may win the writer and the reader to a nobler apprehension of the spiritual possibilities of the Christian priesthood.
The book is simply a record of impressions, and does not aspire to the dignity of a treatise on the nature and functions of the priesthood. It presents an ideal, but one so dim of outline that the writer dare not regard it as more than a suggestion of what some nobler hand may depict, some humbler mind describe, to the end that we may be awakened to see how empty and useless are church, dogma, sacrament, outward expansion, societies, and meetings, if by our fault these are not permitted to produce in us their normal and predestined fruit of personal holiness. God has taught us so much and we have learned so little of the supreme necessity of character conformed to the Christly example, that it does seem as if this ought to be the problem of the hour rather than the many lesser issues which absorb the Church's attention. In sending forth these pages, the writer indulges the hope that the reader may find in them some material for use in the quiet hour and lonely place of daily meditation. If they shall haply furnish help suitable to the needs of any one who hungers for spiritual life or restoration, let him use them with sole reference to their professed aim. The value of spiritual reading depends upon its right use. It is not at all depreciatory of the intellectual faculty to insist that in religion its chief value consists in its power to spur the soul on towards God until itself is left far behind and the spiritual faculty becomes completely devoted to God by the strong simplicity of its unsyllabled trust. It is possible to engage in devotional reading, and even in the prayer of meditation (as also in theological and Bible study and sermon making), in such a manner that the progress of the soul in the knowledge of God is impeded or arrested. The mind experiences a vast amount of satisfaction in considering subjects of a religious character. These are immensely attractive from the mere intellectual point of view, and so attractive that even with some excitation of the devotional nature they tempt us to fall off into intellectual self-indulgence. When this temptation achieves the victory, thoughts about God interest the mind more than God Himself. An earnest man must be on his guard against this subtlety of self-love. As crafty as audacious, it seeks to pass off thoughts, reasonings, imaginations, indeed, all the play of the mind acting on divine themes, as equal in value and effect with the love of God, whereas, as all men know, the mind may be replete with theological lore and mighty in the scriptures, while the spiritual nature remains as cold and hard as marble, with a fatal tendency to grow harder through increase of familiarity with things divine. Many a priest, through this devil's lure, this conceit of the intellect, has missed the blessing which fills thousands of unlettered saints with love for God, and has unconsciously glided into the hypocrisy of proclaiming truths which soften not his own heart. This is not the path of peace: its end is despair.
Let thoughts and considerations, arguments, fancies and imaginations, claim and possess their right place; but let us also forestall their improper use by the practice of intellectual humility and mortification. The greatest lesson we have to learn is how to fall at God's feet, without trains of thought, without points for meditation, without any mental activity whatever, without words even; how to fall down before Him oblivious of self because overwhelmed with the presence of His majesty; how to lie there mute and motionless, only loving, only adoring, only putting ourselves in His hands and leaving ourselves there. With such sacrifices He is well-pleased. He gets our love instead of our fine thoughts about love. This is the perfection of prayer, the meditation of the heart, the proper end of all mental activity. The right use of this book, therefore, should empty it of any presumed intrinsic value and discover to the soul where its true treasure is to be found.