Gospel Preached to the Poor,
PREACHED AT AN ORDINATION HELD BY THE RT. REV. JAMES
BY WILLIAM EDWARD WYATT, D. D.
Associate Minister of St. Paul's Parish, Baltimore, and Prof. Theol. in the
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
ST. MATTHEW, xi. 5.
"The poor have the gospel preached to them."
THE term Gospel has been comprehensively explained by St. Paul, in his Epistle to Titus. It is that "grace of God which bringeth salvation, and which hath appeared unto all men,"—unto all descriptions of men—"teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." [Titus ii. 11,12.] And, "if our gospel be hid," said the same Apostle, in another Epistle, "it is hid, or veiled, to them that are lost;" [2 Cor. 4:3.] or, according to the reflex signification of the original word, "to them that destroy themselves." This statement of the characteristics and design of Christianity, represents it to be of universal application. And in the words of the text, our Saviour taught, that it was addressed to a description of persons, which before [3/4] had been deemed unworthy or incapable of improving such privileges. A reference to the occasion upon which these words were pronounced, and also to some parallel passages may contribute to show, that they exhibit a prominent and distinguishing feature of the Christian revelation.
St. John, hearing even within the walls of a prison, into which he had been thrown, of the miraculous power exercised by our Lord, sent two of his disciples to ascertain, if the person thus endowed, was the long expected Messiah. This enquiry was not designed for the confirmation of his own faith. He was the herald of the Messiah; had predicted his approach; had proclaimed his arrival; and illustrated the pre-eminent and spiritual character of his mission. The Baptist's object, therefore, was to direct the public attention, and that of his own disciples in particular, to those supernatural attributes which distinguished Jesus Christ from all the pretenders to his office, who had, for so many years, appeared among the Jews. The Redeemer evidently entered into his design; [4/5] and instead of affirming, in a categorical manner, that he was the promised Saviour, he referred the messengers to his achievements, for the illustration of his character. "The blind," said he, "receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." [Matth. xi. 5.] This was in astonishing correspondence with an ancient prediction of the character of the Messiah's ministry. "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me," said the evangelical prophet, "because he has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, to comfort all that mourn." [Isaiah lxi. 1.] And our blessed Lord, in what was probably his first discourse in Nazareth, appropriated to himself this passage, as prophetic of his own mission. [Luke iv. 21.] But the miracles of Moses, of Joshua, of Elijah, and Elisha, are [5/6] sufficient to show, that the mere exercise of supernatural power, could not, in itself, designate the expected Messiah; and that in these predictions, therefore, were mingled a mystical and a literal import, both of which should have a correspondence in the person foreshown. "It is probable," to use the language of the late Bishop of St. Asaph, "it is probable, that all these expressions of the poor, the broken hearted, the captive, the blind, and the bruised, carry something of a mystic meaning, denoting moral disorders and deficiencies, under the image of natural calamities and imperfections; and that the various benefits of redemption are described under the notion of remedies applied to those natural afflictions and distempers. But notwithstanding, since the prophecy in some of these particulars had a literal accomplishment in our Lord's miracles, the literal meaning is by no means to be excluded; and it is evident, from this consideration, that the discoveries of the Christian revelation, are, in fact, emphatically glad [6/7] tidings to the poor, in the literal acceptation of the word. [Horsley, vol. 1. Serm. 9.]
The natural order of these words will lead me to examine successively the Object, and the Subject Matter, of the gospel mission, and the Manner in which it is to be accomplished.
The Gospel is emphatically addressed to those who are Poor in respect to intellectual advantages. The purest religious systems of the heathen world, were like those verdant and fertile groves, which the Oriental traveller sometimes discovers in the midst of a desert, refreshing with their fountains and shade, a few favoured individuals, while the multitude of pilgrims, in burning and pathless sands, wander and perish. The qualifications for admittance to the schools of ancient moralists, the habits and deportment enjoined upon those initiated, the abstract and metaphysical nature of their enquiries, the persevering application which they demanded, [7/8] and the mystery which involved the whole, rendered the porch and the academy utterly unprofitable to the great body of the people. The schools of the Jewish Rabbis were not greatly dissimilar in these respects; and it seems to have been the object of the more elevated classes in every nation, before the ministry of our Lord, to maintain their ascendency, by confining to themselves that intellectual excellence which constitutes power; which sustains the true dignity of our nature; and which furnishes to men in the most abject condition, the means of ascending to the most distinguished. But from the very corner-stone of the Christian edifice, its whole arrangement is manifestly adapted to invite, accommodate, and improve the humble and obscure. Unlike the temple of the fabled god, its gates are unfolded day and night, under the sway of the Prince of Peace; within its long porch, the peasant and mechanic may walk, and hold converse with sages more illustrious than those of Greece and Rome. To its inmost recesses, [8/9] to its most sacred mysteries and rites, an honest desire for improvement, is the qualification for admittance; and instead of mottos and emblems, intelligible only to the learned, Christ has inscribed upon its sacred walls; "The poor have the gospel preached to them." There is much in nature, that neither philosophers nor peasants can explain. There is much in ourselves, for which we can assign no second cause, and devise no theory. There is much in God, which baffles our poor attempts to define and illustrate. But there is in the Gospel, no doctrine propounded to our faith, there is no precept inculcated as a rule of action, there is no quality exhibited for our imitation, as tending to conform us to the divine image, which may not be comprehended as thoroughly and effectually by the vulgar and unphilosophical, as by the refined and erudite. And that is not preaching the Gospel, which places the truths of revelation beyond the attainment of any portion of human kind. Was the word of God, less affecting, less [9/10] majestic, less profound, from the lips of Jesus Christ—from the preaching of St. Paul, and his companions, than it is from the pulpits of churches in the present day? And do we any where read that the sermons of the Saviour and his apostles surpassed the intellectual ability of the early converts to the faith? On the contrary, are we not taught, that "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble were called; but that God had chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and that he had chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty?" [1 Cor. i. 26, 27.] Although we may then employ the utmost leisure and ability, in exploring the heights and depths, the treasures and mysteries, of that spiritual creation which the gospel unfolds, the unlearned are not prohibited such contemplations. Where there is an inclination for them, an adequate faculty will be found to exist, because [10/11] "these things are spiritually discerned." [1 Cor. ii. 14.] The most humble, if truly devout, will be enabled justly to appreciate the beauty and fitness of the "Truth, as it is in Jesus;" and to comprehend, with admiration and delight, that wisdom of God, which is no longer hidden in a mystery, [1 Cor. ii. 7.] but revealed gloriously in his Son.
The gospel mission is also addressed emphatically, to the poor, in respect of temporal comforts and pleasures. "It were a derogation from the greatness of our Lord's work," said the learned prelate that was quoted before, "to suppose that with an equal strength of religious principle once formed, the attainment of salvation should be more precarious in any one rank of life than in another. But if we consider the different ranks of men, not as equally religious, but as equally without religion, the poor were the class of men, among whom the new doctrine was likely to be, and [11/12] actually was, in the first instance, the most efficacious. [Horsley, vol. 1, Serm. 9.] There is a vast inequality in the external condition and comforts of men: and when we observe the extensive accommodations of the opulent classes, sometimes as magnificent as they are luxurious; their tables abounding with the productions of nature and art; their varied and seductive resources at every season for amusement and health: and when we contrast with these, the narrow cabin, the scarcely covered pallet, and coarse unvaried fare of the poor; we cannot but feel that some great moral instrumentality is necessary, to vindicate the impartial regard of God for the creatures of his hand; to elevate the one class to a condition in which a competency of enjoyment, and of moral ability may be attained; and to furnish a counterbalance to the inordinate love of life, which might grow out of the prosperity of the other. The gospel of Christ furnishes that moral instrumentality: [12/13] and an experience of the trials and adversities of the world, not merely prompts in the poor a stronger desire for pleasures and privileges belonging to the world to come, but its tendency is to create a greater fitness and capacity in their minds, for the reception of the genuine doctrines of the gospel. Pride of birth, to which we cling so fondly, long after the vicissitudes of time have separated us immeasurably from greatness; pride of rank, however recently it may have been attained; the love of ease and indulgence; regard for the privileges of rank, which seem to challenge for it, a deference, with which the language of religious truth is sometimes incompatible: all these produce obstacles to the admission of practical Christianity into the heart, and strengthen that repugnance to holiness which characterises human nature in every condition and circumstance. The minister of Christ, entering the abodes of the humble and obscure, is encountered by few of those difficulties. Their joys are not so numerous as to create a passionate attachment to life, [13/14] and to the unadorned walls, and simple repast of their cottages. Their brief relaxation from labour allows them to partake of fewer amusements unfriendly to the spirit of Christianity. Religious instruction becomes in itself an amusement; and, at the approach of him whose office it is to impart it, you may read, in the cheerful lighting up of the eye, a repetition of the prophet's affecting exclamation, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings." And when they are in sorrow,—in their experience of that tribulation, which has been wisely mingled in our earthly allotment,—then the gospel is almost the only asylum of their wounded hearts. The eye turns from the wide desolation, the unmitigated pains and toils, the friendless avocations of the world; and it rests, with an intense ardor, with a soothed, and grateful, and triumphant hope upon the promises and revelations of the word of God. How imperious then the duty of a minister to furnish them with [14/15] these consolations! How delightful, and, at the same time, how awfully responsible his obligation, in a peculiar manner, to preach the gospel to the poor!
Several considerations unite to exhibit the truth and importance of this view of the subject. It is analagous to many of the incidents related by the Evangelists, no less than to the whole tenor of the Christian system. The obscure and indigent condition selected for himself by the Son of God; the character of the persons employed to propagate his doctrine, and of those who first received it; the extremely mortifying tendency of his maxims; and the alarming admonitions addressed by himself to the rich; constrain us to infer that there is a degree of peril to the soul, and of indisposedness to imbibe religious excellencies, in elevated conditions of life,—in all situations of ease and security,—which demand of persons thus circumstanced, special vigilance and solicitude. Many passages in the gospel seem to breathe to the opulent, something like the [15/16] terrifick remark of the Almighty in one of the parables: "Thou in thy life time receivedst good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things. Now he is comforted and thou art tormented." [Luke, xvi. 2,5.] It is another consideration which renders it less painful to urge such reflections, that, while they are offered as admonitory to one description of men, and encouraging and consoling to others, by none should they be regarded as denunciations. They are merely designed to apprise you of difficulty and peril; to excite you to a more vigilant devotion; and to produce such a correspondence between the firmness of your resolutions, and the obstacles to be overcome, as even temporal success usually demands. It is believed that there are persons in almost every congregation, whose hearts, through the influence of worldly prosperity, are hardened against the power of the gospel; and who, if reduced to a condition of sorrow or penury, would find less difficulty in the love of God, and in the [16/17] attainment of sanctification. God forbid then, that I should refrain from admonishing such of my brethren, at suitable opportunities, of the peculiar trials which they are called to encounter in the work of their salvation! But it is that view of the subject which is peculiarly gratifying, and which belongs to the enlarged and benevolent spirit of the gospel, that all,—whatever may be their rank and possessions,—all who, through the power of the divine Spirit, are disposed to imbibe docile, contrite, and holy affections, are capable of partaking the full benefits of Christianity, and have an equal interest in its considerations and privileges. The Almighty has appointed his creatures to no condition that is incompatible with sanctification. To those, who, in the language of the Evangelist, are broken hearted under the consciousness of natural infirmity and acquired guilt; who feel the captivity of sinful passions to be painful and debasing; who desire spiritually to discern and appreciate the revelations of the Son of God; who mourn in apprehension [17/18] of the divine displeasure; and who wait anxiously for that acceptable year of the Lord, which will be to them a year of jubilee, of new privileges, and increased graces: to all who, according to this comprehensive import of the phrase, are "poor in spirit," the Christian mission is addressed: and when the gospel finds such a heart in affluence or in indigence, it communicates all its graces, and pledges the whole extent of present and future mercy.
It was proposed, in the second place, to offer some remarks on the Subject Matter of the Gospel. The religious system to be addressed to those who possess this humble and docile spirit, propounds doctrines to our faith. In these the essence of Christianity peculiarly consists. A moral code might have been communicated to mankind, with much less expense of divine power and agency, than that which ushered in, and established, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A mere rule of life could have been sufficiently promulgated and attested by any one of [18/19] that long series of prophets which preceded the appearance of the Messiah. But the Gospel is an instrument of vastly greater moment. Its birth was in the councils of Deity, before the worlds existed. It was gradually matured amidst prodigies in heaven and among men. It was pictured to the eye of faith by types, and sacrifices, and mysterious emblems. Its heralds were holy sages, and patriarchs. And its welcome was the hymns of the angels of God. The gospel reveals the means adopted by the Almighty of rescuing a perishing world from perdition. This end was to be accomplished, not merely by recovering the guilty race from that profound helplessness and debasement into which they had sunk. It was necessary, also, to render compatible with man's justification, the exercise of those divine attributes which, in consequence of his guilt, had been engaged to destroy him. It was the decree proclaimed by infinite Justice: "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." [Heb. ix. 22.] It was the yoke of God in the understanding and conscience: "The blood of bulls and of goats cannot take away sin." [Heb. x. 4.] After four thousand years of disquieting fears, and hopes, and unavailing ceremonies, it was the voice of Jesus Christ in the gospel: "Lo I come to do thy will O God." [Heb. x. 9.] At the basis of the revelation of an atonement by the Eternal Son of God, is the doctrine of that most deplorable corruption and guilt of our nature, which render vicarious propitiation indispensable to our safety. In connexion with the doctrine of atonement, is that of the necessity of the renewing and sanctifying operations of the Spirit of God, by which alone, the dominion of sin can be subdued, and the dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ established in the new and ransomed heart. The necessity of a voluntary, and explicit, and personal covenant with Christ, is also inculcated in the system. And Faith, by which we approve [20/21] and ratify what has been done in our behalf, is a condition,—not a meritorious one,—but a sovereign and indispensable condition, where-ever it is promulgated, of receiving any benefit from the everlasting covenant of the Redeemer. And as God, before the full communication of his will in the Christian revelation, selected the Jewish nation to be exclusively the depositaries and guardians of the sacred oracles, and the channels of his grace and mercy to the world; so now he has committed to his CHURCH, all the precious blessings of his gospel; and it is in and through the Church, that grace, truth, and eternal life, are dispensed to the great family of mankind. This is no narrow and partial system under which we live. No exclusive privileges are necessarily appropriated to any portion of the human race. But equal mercy, an equal covenant, equal glory, are pledged, in sacraments validly administered, to every individual that will accept those sacraments, at the hands of Gods embassadors upon earth.
 Such are the doctrines of Faith which we preach to the poor of Christ's fold. And in this proclamation of universal guilt among men; in this proffer of free and universal mercy; in this requisition of a voluntary and authorised covenant by a valid ministry, and sacraments, in order to give the covenant its due effect;—is there any thing revolting to the understanding or conscience of mankind? Do not the Patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, revealed as typical, and therefore employed as explanatory, of the Christian system, inculcate the same doctrines? Or, should you regard any portion of this system as contradictory to evangelical truth, or natural privileges,—is it not the result of that civil and religious liberty which we enjoy, and which may God long preserve, that every form of opinion, every description of faith, which the most heated imagination can devise, as illustrative of Christianity, has in this country its asylum? And would they not, therefore, be without excuse, who should enter our communion in [22/23] order to scatter among us the firebrands of discord? The Church has in the most explicit manner promulgated her faith. She has so constructed some of her articles, as to widen, as far as possible, the terms of her communion. This she does in benevolence and liberality. But as, on the one hand, she employs no constraint, so, on the other, she admits no disguise. And it is appropriate to the occasion which dictates this discourse to remark, that she justly and imperiously demands of those who apply for admittance to her sacred orders, that they preach no other gospel than that which they find inculcated in her Articles and Forms. It is to be presumed, that none can enter her priesthood while ignorant of her peculiar and distinguishing views of gospel doctrine. It is to be expected that none will continue in it to weaken her authority and influence; to violate her discipline; to disseminate erroneous or fanatical, or confused notions of her tenets; or to agitate, by the excitement of party spirit, that mystical body of Christ, [23/24] which should be united in one hope, by one faith, at one altar, under one head.
Besides these doctrines to be believed, the gospel contains precepts tending immediately to practice;—precepts, designed to secure and advance both the happiness and the holiness of life; and, conformity to which, is an unerring criterion of the power of a true and saving faith. These precepts are numerous and minute. They do not merely designate the great outline of our public conduct, but they enter with us into the privacy of domestic life. They do not merely enjoin a certain course of action, but they legislate for the heart. And it is the duty of the minister of Christ so to conduct his public and private ministrations, that they may exert this wide and universal influence. His exhibition of evangelical truth, should be co-extensive with the wants and infirmities of his flock: and the great sanctions of Christianity should be so forcibly and unceasingly presented to their view, that the whole tenor of their life should be conducted under the [24/25] influence of the hope of heaven, and, of the fear of hell.
To this necessarily brief allusion to the Christian system, succeeds the third consideration proposed; the Manner in which the gospel should be preached to the poor of Christ's fold.
The doctrines of the gospel should be delivered with piety. It is possible to be accurately and scientifically acquainted with any subject, without possessing an ability to render it edifying to others, and conducive to practice. The diligent study of theology may enable a man to become a mighty disputant, a profound advocate, an eloquent declaimer in the pulpit. But it is an experience of the sweetness and power of those doctrines in his own heart, which alone will enable the preacher to communicate their full and lasting efficacy to the hearts of others. An unfeeling, or an unworthy clergyman, may gain proselytes to his party. But it is, in most instances, only the devout minister of the altar, who will succeed in conducting [25/26] souls to Christ. Therefore let me affectionately, but earnestly, recommend to the esteemed candidate for admittance to the holy office, this day; that in addition to those principles of piety which he has cherished, and will, I trust, continue to cultivate, in regard to his own salvation, he should endeavour to perform every ministerial act in the spirit of piety and devotion. Venture not, I pray you, to study, to instruct, to converse, without previously invoking the guidance and aid of the Divine Spirit. Let it be the Spirit of God, under whose gracious influences you prepare the exposition of his word; in whose strength you deliver it to his people; through whose blessing alone, you expect that they, and you, will reap its fruit. When, in imitation of your blessed Redeemer, you take into your arms the infant candidate for the covenant of salvation; when you ascend into that awful chamber where the immortal spirit is throwing off the garments of the flesh, and seeks your aid to prepare it for the scrutiny of [26/27] God's tribunal; when you minister the affecting pledges of redeeming grace; when you approach the temple and the altar; let your heart, as much as possible, be constantly ascending up to God in prayer. Disclaim incessantly, any reliance upon your own strength. Most importunately entreat the Almighty that your motives may be exalted, and sanctified; that the glory of God, and not the esteem of the world, may be the secret object of your labours; and tremble, lest, while men are uttering their applause, God offended at the absence of a pure design, may be pronouncing a fearful malediction.
The gospel should be preached with all the aids to be derived from human learning. Not that the pulpit is a suitable arena for the ostentatious display of learning. On the contrary, what is honourable, when appropriately introduced in other situations, would be worse than ridiculous exhibited in the sacred desk. We should always remember, that we preach for the instruction [27/28] of plain, simple men, and even of children, in the way of salvation; and to be mysterious and obscure, when our office is to illustrate and enforce what Christ has already revealed with simplicity;—and when we are pointing out the great roads that conduct to heaven and to hell,—would manifest a want of judgment which no attainments in learning could compensate. But, with this caution, we are bound always to consider, that every branch of knowledge, every height of excellence, the widest extent of scientific and literary attainments, aids the cause of the gospel; augments our means of defence against its enemies; sustains the dignified character of the priesthood; and, if not sought at the expense of still higher attainments and duties, constitutes a part of our professional qualification.
The preaching of the gospel may not be confined to occasions of public religious instruction. As perfumes leave a grateful memorial of their sweetness in the chambers in which they were deposited; so, the prudent [28/29] and pious conversation of a clergyman,—a conversation uniformly regulated by principle, is constantly exerting an influence, which, in the Apostle's phrase, "Ministers grace to the hearers." There is a vast amount of good to be done among all classes of men by this instrument, in the hands of a benevolent and energetic character. Perhaps a day never passes, in which a clergyman may not contribute materially to fix the vacillating principles and purposes of the young; or to mollify the resentment of others; or to instruct them by his experience and observation; or to awaken their apprehensions of the speedy and destructive consequences of vice; or to present the dispensations and attributes of the Almighty in a point of view calculated to engage love and admiration; or to improve the heart, by the renewal of those amiable impulses, which, often repeated, contribute to form the character, and determine our final destiny. We need not depart from the path of our common pursuits and duties for such purposes. [29/30] We need not exhibit, at all times, the character of a teacher or apostle; nor be always proclaiming a warfare against the fashions and follies of the world. If the mind be imbued with an abiding principle of benevolence; if there be a watchfulness for opportunities of increasing the amount of human enjoyment; if the claim of each individual be readily acknowledged to all the charities of the heart; the habit of rendering our ordinary discourse beneficial, may easily be acquired. Neither is the discharge of this duty to the most humble individuals in the community, without its advantage to ourselves. For the rough materials of knowledge are in nature: and it is the privilege of the observing and reflecting mind, to draw them forth; and, by combining and modifying them, to render them the instruments of happiness and prosperity. Every page of the vast volume of human character, though similar in its general outline and aspect, may afford peculiar amusement or instruction: and, it will sometimes be found, [30/31] that the leaf, which has been most blotted and defaced, since it came from the hand of the great artist, retains notwithstanding noble and original principles, and may suggest interesting and profitable speculation. The example of the Redeemer furnishes in all things, the best model for the government of our conduct. His manner of conversing with the various descriptions of men, who sought him from motives of interest, curiosity, or affection, should teach us, that we may be edifying to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, without suffering a deterioration of our own character, or sanctioning their vices. It is not only related of him, that "he went about doing good;" but even the prejudiced and jealous Jews, "wondered at the gracious words which proceeded from his mouth." "Looking unto Jesus," not only for the forming of our principles, but for the regulation of our pastoral deportment, let us learn of him, in what manner we should converse with our people to their edification. Let us always remember, that the motives which led [31/32] him to an association with the unprincipled and despised, were compassion, their instruction and improvement, and the glory of God. And, with less worthy motives, or, engaging in conversation that has any other tendency, let no man imagine, that he can innocently mingle in a society, which may expose his heart to contamination, or afford the wicked the implied sanction of his countenance and favor.
Another characteristic of the manner in which the gospel should be preached, is a mingled simplicity, candour, and boldness. A manly frankness and candour, under the restraint of prudence and benevolence, secures esteem in every condition. The physician, who, to quiet our apprehensions, trifles with us, when life is at stake; the lawyer, who neglects essential precautions, and endangers our property in order to mitigate a painful solicitude or, to secure our confidence, by presenting the most favorable view of our cause; provokes indignation and reproach. But how shall we express the unworthiness [32/33] of that unfaithful minister, who deems it less painful to expose his flock to the peril of an eternal perdition, than to deliver to them "the whole counsel of God;" or to proclaim it in a language of Christian simplicity and force! Let your mind be always fortified and animated, when in the discharge of pastoral duty, by reflections upon the value of an immortal spirit; upon its purchase by the blood of the Son of God; and upon your own sacred vows and obligations. These considerations, devoutly cherished, must destroy the influence of all subordinate hopes and fears. Let your people be convinced, by the consistent and pious tenor of your own life, of your sincerity. Let them be convinced, by your faithful and zealous discharge of all your duties, of your affectionate interest in their welfare. And they will never, or rarely, complain of your plainness in the declaration of religious truth. But in every event, you should remember, that, "appointed a watchman upon the walls of Zion," you are the servant of [33/34] God; that your accountability is to God; that it was his injunction,—"Be not afraid of their faces, for I am with thee; lest thou be confounded:" that if they perish in ignorance, he will "require their blood at your hands." Be careful then, by preaching the whole gospel, and that with plainness and boldness, to deliver your own soul, at least, in the last great day.
I have but one more consideration, my brother, to present to your notice at this time; it respects the regular and canonical discharge of clerical duty. Of this matter the Church is the supreme judge and she has prescribed submission to the godly judgments of the Bishop of the diocess, and conformity to her rubrics and canons, as the indispensable duty of her ministry. At this moment, you are at liberty to worship God according to whatsoever principles and forms, your taste and inclination may point out. But this liberty is soon to be taken away from you. It must be abandoned voluntarily, and with mature reflection. [34/35] And when you approach this altar, before you can receive that imposition of Episcopal hands, by which the holy office is conferred, you are solemnly bound, before God and man, "reverently to obey your Bishop," and to "conform to the doctrines and worship of this Church," as they are exhibited in her articles and forms and canons and rubrics. [Constitution P.E.C. Art. 7.] Now these are words of no trifling import. Should it ever appear that the officers of the Church enjoin any thing incompatible with your conscientious obligations, your duty to God is paramount to every other. But in matters of expediency, of ceremony, of feeling, of judgment; the rule of the Church will be the law of a good man's conscience.
The rubrics which precede the service of ordination direct, that upon such occasions there shall be a sermon, pointing out the duty and office, the usefulness and privileges of the Sacred Orders: and it must [35/36] hence be apparent, my Brethren, that the Church has reference no less to the admonishing of the people, than to the future government of the novitiate's conduct. It much behooves a christian congregation, rightly to appreciate the duties of the ministry. But it is more especially important, that they should regard themselves as accountable agents in giving that ministry its full effect. To add some recommendations of the latter duty, which is less frequently enforced, will not, therefore, be a departure from considerations relating to the occasion, or to the text.
You owe, my Brethren of the Laity, you owe to your pastor respect for his office. Many stations are more distinguished in point of power, rank, affluence, display. None, in the estimation of reason and piety, is more honourable, or more influential upon social and domestic excellence and prosperity. It is the office which the eternal Son of God consecrated by his assumption of it; to fulfil whose duties He, for a period, forsook the [36/37] throne of Jehovah. You owe to your pastor, whomsoever he may be, respect for his character and virtues: for, if he cannot urge this claim to your regard, you are partakers of his guilt. An unworthy clergyman is the most malignant public foe: and it is the religious duty of every member of the community, to aid in banishing him from a station where he is employed in poisoning the fountains and streams; and in blasting, as with mildew and catterpillar, the provision which gracious Heaven has made for the souls of men. This rule appears of universal application to a clergyman whom the public voice charges with immorality;—if he be innocent, you owe to him an effectual vindication;—if he be guilty, it is due to souls, to the Church, to Christ, that he be deprived of his dangerous and abused preeminence. You owe to your pastor, an active, and devout co-operation in his sacred office; active,—by the open employment of your time, voice, and influence, wherever they may appropriately be exercised: and [37/38] devout,—by urging his cause and necessities at the throne of Him that heareth prayer. You owe to him a patient and uniform consideration of that characteristic of the ministry, which, in the Apostle's language, is the consignment of "the treasure of the gospel, to earthen vessels." You owe him that submission to his evangelical instructions and admonitions, which was inculcated by the same Apostle, in his Epistle to the Hebrews: [xiii. 17.] "Obey," said he, "them which have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls." And, lastly, you owe to him and his family a competent support. "Let him that is taught in the void, minister unto him that teacheth in all good things;" [Gal/ vi. 6.] "for even so hath the Lord ordained, that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel." [1. Cor. ix. 14.]—The pastoral connexion of him that now addresses you, with a people, whose attachment awakens the most grateful sensibility, and the known and punctual liberality [38/39] of many in this congregation, will exempt him from the imputation of individual reference, when he adds, that the negligence of some parishes, in this respect, is equally incompatible with justice, and with piety. The decorum, no less than the engrossing duties of the clerical office, prohibits our resort to those collateral means of subsistence which are open to the members of every other profession. The absence of punctuality in complying with pecuniary engagements, however obviously it may proceed from indigence, is always regarded in a clergyman, not as a misfortune, but as a crime. And having a knowledge of these facts, there are wealthy communities, whose remuneration of their clergyman, cannot raise him above the cares and privations of the most indigent mechanic:—there are affluent individuals, whose annual stipend to the Church of Christ, would be an inadequate compensation for a few days of manual labour. But, my brethren, I cannot prevail upon myself to suggest a conformity to any [39/40] mercenary standard, as the measure either of your pastor's labour and fidelity, or of the respect, affection, and support, which are his due. Let us form our hearts, and govern our deportment by more generous principles. The pastoral relation is one of the most elevated character. We are indebted to our people, for many and great benefits:—they receive, through our instrumentality, the most precious and inestimable gifts. I hesitate not to acknowledge either position. And such convictions are calculated to cherish and inflame reciprocal kindness. Yes! ours is a sacred and endearing relation. When the pastor feels that comforts and pleasures are descending bounteously and cheerfully on his path, he cannot seek for remote instruments of divine providence. The healthful repast spread upon his board; the decorous arrangements of his domestic establishment; the means of imparting to his offspring the advantages of education and refined society; all the elements of that cup of joy which God himself mingles for [40/41] our portion, are imparted, through the medium of the people committed to his parochial care. And must he not, if there be in him a heart to feel, must he not be sensible that ours is an endearing relation? Not less strong will be these convictions, when darker dispensations attend him, and it is the purpose of a wise, but always gracious Providence, to appoint sorrow and calamity. If he be assailed by calumny, and pursued by injustice and wrong, not one voice only is raised in his vindication; not one hand only stretched forth in his support; but a ready, generous, and friendly impulse animates a thousand tongues, and inspires a mighty combination in his righteous cause. And if he be stricken down, by the hand of mysterious Heaven, on the wearisome couch of disease, are pain and helpless despondency permitted to maintain unbroken watches there? No! for many good Samaritans minister to him in his sorrow; and the oil and wine of human consolation are [41/42] proffered by many a gentle and munificent hand.
On the other hand, in whatever condition the believer is placed, in almost every important crisis that marks his progress through life, the influence and agency of the pastor are appointed by Heaven and employed by men, to consecrate, to console, or to bless. In the joy and gratitude which swell the parents' heart at the birth of their offspring, they send for the minister of religion to mingle with their felicity, and to introduce the natural heir of sorrow and death, into the company of the faithful, and to the conditional privilege of an eternal inheritance in the heavens. The instructions of your pastor illustrate the simple but fundamental principles of morals to the youthful mind; and assist in conducting the lambs of the fold, through the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to stations of usefulness and respectability. It is we know, the authority of the minister of religion, which ratifies the most important occurrence of [42/43] life, while it hallows an union as sacred as it is tender,—capable of diffusing greater gladness and virtue, over every subsequent step of our path to heaven. Upon whose sympathy do you cast yourselves, with a confiding tenderness, when the heart is riven and bleeding under the sorrows and calamities of the world? Whose office is it to proclaim the inestimable maxims of Christianity; to urge by line upon line, and precept upon precept, in season and out of season, those great motives and considerations which are instruments of governing the passions, and means of imparting peace and prosperity? Whose office is it to proffer the gracious covenant of heaven, and to consecrate and impart the pledges of a Redeemer's Immortal love? Whose to support the trembling spirit in its approach to the land of darkness and mystery? And whose is it to minister at the bed of death with a holy power; to drive away the terrours of fainting nature; to exhibit to the eye of faith [43/44] the triumphs of the cross; and to shed through the dismal chamber of the believer's last conflict with Hell, hope, and light, and a foretaste of bliss? To none are committed duties thus sacred and important,—to none so precious a privilege to comfort and bless, save to the Minister of the gospel of Jesus, the Shepherd that "watches for your souls." Some men jeer and scoff at such an agency, in the hey-day of worldly prosperity. But who would not wish, when every reed of human consolation and support is shivered,—when the heart is driven from its asylum in honour, wealth, science, fortitude, or affection,—to receive, from the Priest of God, that rod and that staff which can never be broken?
And now, my brother, I commend you to God, and to the power of his grace. You must have reflected, I am sure, with lively sensibility, upon the awfully responsible station which you are about to assume. Like the child Jesus, every minister, it has been [44/45] remarked is set for the fall or rising of many in Israel. Once admitted within the sacred pale of the priesthood, he cannot be saved or perish alone. His unfaithfulness or fidelity must involve many others in his eternal sorrow or joy. Go, then, with a holy love of souls in your heart, and with the gospel in your hand, and anointed with the Spirit of the Lord; go, bind up the broken hearted; proclaim liberty to the captive in the fetters of sin; open the prison to them that are bound; comfort them that mourn; preach the gospel to the poor. Be the friend of youth, and the solace of age. Wherever there is sorrow, thither let your steps hasten. Shrink not from the couch of disease, nor from the cell of the guilty. Go, "through evil report, and through good report; as unknown, and yet well known; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." And when the task of a well spent life is fully [45/46] accomplished, Christ will open upon your soul, a vision of glory, which shall be blissful and imperishable.
ERRATUM—line 3, for "these words" read "the words of the text."