BISHOP OF MARYLAND.
No. 139 Broadway.
MY DEAR YOUNG BRETHREN, OF THE GRADUATING CLASS--
A request which carries with it the weight of a command, has imposed on me the duty of conveying to you at once the congratulations and the admonitions of the Church, appropriate to your present position.
You have sucessfully prosecuted that course of study which has been prescribed as the necessary preparation for the high office to which you aspire. Those in whose hands the Church has placed you, to be trained and moulded for her service, bear witness to your teachableness, and fair measure of profit by the advantages you have enjoyed. For this we tender you our congratulations and rejoice with you, that in a good race you have well begun.
But the very name popularly given to this solemn attestation of your progress, serves to remind us that it is but the commencement of a career. When most faithfully and successfully prosecuted, the studies of this institution can be regarded only as the progumnasmata of the Christian athlete--exercises by which his thews and sinews are brought into training to take up and wear that armour with which he is hereafter to clothe himself and go forth to war. Not even in a literary point of view, the lowest that can be taken, can any thing more be allowed to the Seminary course. If you have rightly used it, it has taught you how little you know, how much you have to learn, what days of toil and nights of watching you have yet to spend, before you may dare to consider yourselves as in any degree entitled to the enviable characteristic of well instructed scribes. As a science, theology is yet your land of promise. A hasty survey has revealed to you its fair hills, out of which the painful miner may dig gold for treasure, and iron and brass for tools of husbandry and warlike weapons, and its fairer valleys ready for the vintage and the harvest. To enter on. their possession, in the portion of heritage which GOD'S providence shall allot, will be the labor of your life. So regard it. Deem yourselves to be now for the first but beginning that "reading" to which an inspired apostle commanded his own son in the faith, and through him, all called to any degree of the like ministry, "to give diligence." Choose your path from among the many roads which diverge throughout the length and breadth of the spacious land before you, and resolve, the LORD helping you, to prosecute it to the end. Retain, and conscientiously labor to improve the superficial acquaintance with all the branches of theological study which it has been, until now, your business to acquire. But from among those branches single out some one for more especial culture. Aim at thoroughness and excellence in that. If you choose it rightly, with duo regard to your opportunities as well as predilections, there is no sphere of duty to which you may be called that can preclude the hope of success. Success will give you character, and character, influence. Usefulness in those duties of your ministry which all share in common, and for which all theological pursuits indirectly qualify, and all only indirectly, will be increased in proportion to the growth of character and influence, The truly learned philologist, patristic, systematic theologian, ritualist, historian, canonist or casuist, will attain a standing by his excellence in his one branch, and thereby secure a degree of deference and attention, which would never be awarded to the same amount of labor and mental vigor bestowed in the acquirement of a smattering in all.
As students, then, you are but commencing, not closing your career. The world (and indeed it is within itself a world) of theological science, is all before you, where to choose. Let not indolence, timidity, or indecision, keep you back. Be discreet, but bold and firm, and from the good beginning you have made, resolve to go on, in the vigorous prosecution of some definite line of study, to seek the rich reward of distinguished usefulness.
But one branch of study, on which you have already entered, and barely entered; claims equal attention from every aspirant to the gospel ministry. The treasures of wisdom unto salvation laid up in the written word, are to be drawn thence for your own souls' nourishment, and for that of the LORD'S people whom you are to serve. Were not diversities of gifts and ministrations needed in the Church, and sanctioned by the word and providence of GOD, the one study of the Bible would alone furnish ample occupation for all the time, and employment for all the faculties of every one who is to minister in things sacred. In it, as a common focus, all the rays of human learning may converge. Arts, sciences, linguistic studies, and conomic theories, all minister to it as handmaids. The universal scholar, were there ever such a phoenix, would but have made ready to begin the work of breaking up the depths of wisdom stored in the oracles of GOD. You have sojourned here to little purpose, if you have not by this time learned that in the study of the Scriptures, an undivided life-time might be well spent, and that a thousand lives bestowed upon it, would leave it unexhausted.
How could it be otherwise? When GOD vouchsafes to communicate with man, must not the least of His communications partake of the character of Him from whom they emanate, and stamps even man's poor instrument of conveying thought from mind to mind, with the impress of infinity? Of all the fruitful brood of neologistic errors, there is none, perhaps, more subtle, certainly none more dangerous, than the utterly false assumption, that when our Maker deigns to employ the instrument which He lent us in the use of written speech, He is limited by the bounds which limit us, and subjects Himself to the restrictions under which our finite capacities and powers place us. It is not true, that a man's letter to his friend can be understood merely by once or twice reading, after the acquisition of an adequate acquaintance with the vocabulary and grammar of the language in which it is indited. If relating to himself, his doings and his plans, a knowledge of the writer, his character, his principles, his habits and mode of thought, not easily attainable, nor always to be attained, must be possessed, before we can be sure we understand him. How evident the truth, that the communications of the Unsearchable MIND come under the same category! How self-evident the consequence that no human intellect can ever fathom their exhaustless depth of meaning! That no merely human skill can even penetrate its surface!
Beware, then, of the empirical concert of rationalism, that by measuring words and syllables you may drain the fount of revelation, and by the use of grammars, lexicons and commentaries, assure yourselves that such and such an expression in the word of GOD, means just thus much and nothing more--that the surface-meaning is all you have to look for, and, once obtained, leaves no reward for further search. No such shallow conception of the value of the precious deposit committed to our keeping and opened for our use, kept back the humble men of heart of olden time, from striving to look info the full import of every portion of its contents. History, prophecy, and precept; type, ceremonial law, and symbol; sacred song, proverb, parable, lamentation, and wise saying; all, they believed to be, and because they believed it, found them, replete with indications, rather than revelations, suggestions rather than inculcation of high and edifying spiritual truth. It is a true though a painful confession, that "whole portions of Scripture, Levitical details, topographical catalogues, or Hebrew genealogies, appear to have been full of CHRIST, full of outlines of His Church, to the affectionate temper of early times, where now to us the lamps are gone out, and there are no springs of heavenly meditation flowing."
Beyond question, to the multitude of those who bear the name of CHRIST, this low estimate of the Written Word is doing deadly mischief. It poisons the spiritual life in its very fountains, and starves our faith, and dwindles love and obedience, by withholding the food provided for their nourishment. The unvarying experience of the Church attests, that in proportion as her children cease to look after and prize high meanings in the text of Scripture, in the same proportion they leave off striving after high attainments in divine communion and holy living; and that cold, dead orthodoxy, hollow formalism, or low-toned morality, go hand in hand with the mean and narrow views of the interpretation and use of Scripture, that have from time to time, like an intermitting plague, broken out erst at Antioch, then at Mopsuestia, after a lapse of many ages, with Laurentius Valla for a leader, in unbelieving Italy, and in their last worst shape, in Germany and England in the eighteenth century.
It is a melancholy but instructive exhibition of human weakness and inconsistency, that such degrading views of Holy Writ, seem ever to have prevailed in company with a corresponding dis-esteem of the organization of the Church, which is its divinely constituted witness and keeper. The men who have been most prone to disparage the ministry of the successors of the Apostles, and the mysteries committed to their stewardship, in ostensible jealousy for the authority and efficacy of the Written Word, have proved themselves readiest to depress the Scriptures to the level of human compositions, to deprive them of their sacredness and divine impress, and, as far as in them lay, to empty them of their fulness of grace and consolation.
Be it our welcome and honorable task, my brethren, to strive equally against these associated though inconsistent errors. Holding fast to the golden chain by which we trace our possession of the means and pledges of spiritual life up to the throne of GOD, let us with not less tenacity retain the charter of salvation, and contend for all its pregnancy of import. Even as the ways of GOD and the thoughts of GOD are not as mail's thoughts and ways; even so let us be bold to believe and teach that His words are not as man's words, but full where mere human writings would present to these latter days only emptiness, and overflowing with the soul's best nourishment, where the critic can find nothing but a source long since drained dry.
To this end they must be our constant study, in a right, that is, an humble, believing, seeking spirit. Not the reading of a few verses or chapters, or a book, in a set course, in the translation made for the unlearned, will serve our term. As a connoisseur sets some precious work of a great master in every light, that he may seize all its beauties in their several aspects, we must vary our modes of studying the Scriptures, to provide in every way against the deterioration or diminution of their sense, by our own subjectivities of ignorance, prejudice, incapacity, inattention and stupidity. At onetime, large portions read consecutively may enable us to catch the spirit of the whole, and take in, as at a bird's-eye view, the drift: at another, sentences, and even words, may be pondered on for weeks, and revolved with unwearied industry, even to the hundredth time. An expression, as, for example, that by which the Lord JESUS is designated as the mystic "Corner-Stone," may be traced down from psalmist to evangelist, and back again from evangelist to prophet, and thence from prophet to apostle, till it becomes the key to the mystery, hidden from the beginning, of the wondrous fabric of the spiritual House of GOD. A phrase--as Bishop Sanderson has admirably shown in the case of the royal psalmist's favorite theme, the "mercy and truth," in which he trusted--may be dissected, until we discover within its folds the germ of the whole wonder of redeeming love.
To such pursuits I may, surely without irreverence, exhort you in the sacred language, "count not yourselves to have apprehended," but with unceasing diligence "press forward" to obtain a nearer and a clearer insight into all that the Infinite Mind which ever lives in the words of the blessed Book designed to make attainable through their medium by created intellect.
To that end, let me direct you to the earliest and best days of the Church as faithful and efficient helps. The writers of the first three centuries, in a spirit that contempt and persecution kept free from the contamination of the world, saw more in the facts of sacred history and in the words of revelation, than our eyes, darkened by the scales of sensuous pride and self-indulgence, are able to discover. Their simple but sharp-sighted faith might shame us, instead of affording theme for scoffs, were not our wilful blindness its own punishment, by deluding us into the belief that there is nothing more nor other than that we see. We need to love the LORD who bought us with a purer love, and to follow in His steps more closely, before we can judge aright of the skill of His early followers in using His holy Word. For the twentieth time, or oftener, the perusal of the brief letters of the martyr-bishops of Antioch and Smyrna, and that most touching exhortation of Clement, whose name is in the book of life, to the Church of Corinth, will repay the student, merely regarded as a help to the proper appreciation and use of Scripture. If for no other end, take the fathers as your masters, and sit diligently at their feet, that they may teach you to reverence, love, and spiritually understand the blessed oracles of eternal life.
But there are other ends, though subordinate to this, for which you should cultivate an acquaintance with ecclesiastical antiquity. Your lot is cast in times presaging trouble. Old strifes are stirring afresh. Discordant elements are clashing all around you, and rapidly resolving themselves into the two great antagonistic principles of error; Pantheistic infidelity on the one hand, and Popish sensuousness of worship, tyranny in discipline, and exaggerated distortions of Catholic doctrine, on the other. Between the two, on an isthmus narrow, but of living eternal rock, stands the one holy apostolic Church of CHRIST, the Lord and Saviour. As His body visible among men, sent forth with the Pentecostal Gift to abide His second coming, commissioned in His name to preach glad tidings of redemption, and seal it to the individual believer in saving ordinances, to teach, exhort, premonish and rebuke with all authority, and to bind or loose on earth what is bound or loosed in heaven, she bears, in the written word, her letter of commission in her hand, reading it as she has always read it, and holding it forth, without fear or shrinking, for all to read, and own her teaching true. In and for that mystic spouse of CHRIST you seek to minister, as stewards of the mysteries she holds in trust, and preachers of the one only Gospel she has received. To do so faithfully, you must needs expose yourselves to opposition, misrepresentation, and reproach. On cither hand those who have despised her teaching and flown off to an extreme, will see you in a line with the opposing error; and to the Protestant sectarian you will appear as Papists, while the Romanist will behold you as if mixed up in the motley host of modern schisms. Both pervert the Scriptures to their several ends. Both rely on their personal infallibility of judgment as the criterion of truth. Both mutilate and distort the faith once delivered unto the saints. To both you must oppose, as the only human means of at once defending your own position and convincing the gainsayer, the testimony of the Church given always, every where, and by all her acknowledged children, to the great Catholic truths, and the unchanging apostolic order. Antiquity will confound the Romish innovator: universality and consent the schisms of British growth, and the mushroom family that is springing out of their decay. But to urge with success the witness of antiquity, universality and consent, you must establish, by deserving it, a character for aptness to conduct for yourself an examination of the facts at least so far as verifying evidence adduced by others. Subtle misquotation and perversion of old writers as well as Scripture, has ever been a favorite art of the Romish controversialist. The student of compendiums and compilations is ill prepared to defend himself or others against its exercise. A small measure of patristic learning, if sound and deep so far as it extends, is a sufficient safeguard. Three or four of the earliest fathers studied with such care as to be thoroughly mastered, will do more to arm you against the daily thickening assaults of Rome, than whole tomes of modern controversy.
Yet it would ill become you, laboring in a field thick sown with the dragon's-teeth of sectarian strife, to be unread in controversy. The works of Field, and Hooker, and Hall, and Laud, and Taylor, and Bull, and Stillingfleet, will prove invaluable assistants in the reviving controversy with Rome. Those of Hammond, and Leslie, and Law, and Waterland, and Horsley, and Jones of Nayland, are armories of weapons against hydra-headed heresy and schism in all its forms. Be not satisfied with the slender acquaintance you have as yet formed with those great names. Seek an intimacy with their works. Strive to imbibe their spirit. Aim to learn of them to drink at the fountains of which they drank, and walk in the strength in which they walked.
I have dwelt thus long on study as a duty yet before you, my young brethren, because I believe it to he a part of the ministerial work acquiring daily more and more importance and yet shamefully neglected; not because I deem it of paramount importance (the study of Gou's Word alone excepted) to the minister of CHRIST. With but one book, where absolutely debarred from the use of others, he is never unfurnished for his work; and in such case, he will find the reformer's maxim true--bene orasse, est bene studuisse--there are days of study in an hour of prayer.
Students you ought to be, and nothing but the most imperative necessity will excuse you before GOD, if you be not: but men of prayer, you must be, and no plea will avail to shelter you from the punishment of hypocrites and unfaithful servants, if you prove remiss in that high privilege and sacred duty. In all its forms, from the solemn public worship of the congregation, daily if within your reach, and on all accessible opportunities, to the unbreathed ejaculation of a heart abstracted from the world around it, ascending continually to the presence of its ascended Lord and Intercessor, be assiduous, earnest, unwearied in prayer. Count no time lost, no engagement sacrificed in vain, that is given up to prayer. By prayer you may scale heaven to draw down blessing on your labor. By prayer you shall conquer earth and hell if leagued against you. In prayer you get the victory over your most dangerous adversaries--your own deceitful and corrupt hearts. Pray that the Lord may increase your faith. Pray that He will keep you humble. Pray that He may fill you with that child-like spirit to which He has promised the inheritance of His Father's kingdom, and in which He perfects strength. Aim to live in a constant readiness for prayer, and disposition to it, with a soul, resilient as it were, from the polluting touch of the sinful world around it, and ever springing back to its rest in GOD.
To that end, you must cultivate habits of self-denial in every mode. Hard and hitter is the service of that man who takes on him the Christian ministry without previous practice in self-denial. Better for him to drudge beneath the lash of the most cruel earthly task-master, than to take up the awful burthen of accountability for souls with an unmortified spirit, untrained to bear the cross, and wear out the energies which his work demands, in mean and miserable struggles to compound with conscience, or to stifle its upbraidings. In a thousand ways, you will be called on to forego permissible enjoyments and harmless gratifications, for the discharge of duty, or to avoid endangering the souls committed to your charge. An indulgence innocent in itself, and to you, if you stood alone, unfraught with danger, may be ruinous in its consequence to those who make you the beacon by which to steer their course. A levity of conduct or conversation, not absolutely sinful either in its origin or in its display, may become relatively so, to a heinous degree, in you, by its tendency in its effect on others. The old tradition, that our Heavenly Master, while on earth, was never seen to smile, though He often sighed and wept, may at least serve to teach us, who bear His commission and profess to do His work, the unbccomingness of light-hearted merriment and full-fed jollity, in those who bear the censer of propitiation forth in a plague-stricken world, between the living and the dead.
Not that our calling demands moroseness of demeanor, still less sour-visaged affectation. On the contrary, experience shows that it is the morose and ostentatiously austere, who, when they do forget themselves, (and what, that is human, does not forget itself at times?) are liable to the most unbecoming, preposterous, and dangerous outbreaks of the pent-up spirits. A quiet, even, sober cheerfulness, is the eminently Christian temperament--the continual welling over of a gentle spring of joy and gladness, from within a heart filled with the spirit, and therefore never either elated to excess, as they that are drunk with wine, or depressed and vexed as those who have no comforter when the enemy prevails.
This temperament is indeed an attainment which all Christians are bound to make; but so is every sanctifying grace our heritage only in common with all our brethren. Ours is the double blessedness, while our own souls are nourished up for immortality, in the crucifying of the flesh, with the affections and lusts, by the powerful operation of the renovating Spirit, to become at the same time means for the accomplishment of the work in others, with usefulness and reward, increasing just in proportion as it goes on in us. Every cross we bear, we bear aloft, as an instrument of drawing men to Him who commanded us to take it up. In His cross we never glory so effectually as when we show its power, by forsaking all, to take up ours and follow him.
Beside the unceasing call to the performance of this duty, that, from first to last, in the whole course of the ministry to which you look forward, will press upon you, my young brethren, there is one which, in my judgment, claims your attention at the present juncture, and which, at the risk of being misunderstood or even censured, I feel therefore bound to name. It is not on the ground of example to he set to others, still less on that of principle, but as a result of the present circumstances of the Church, that it assumes the character of such strong expedience as to become little less than a bounden duty. I refer to the continuance in an unmarried state for at least a few of the earlier years of ministry.
The unexampled increase of the Church, is yearly multiplying the number of feeble congregations, unable wholly or in great part at once to provide a place where the honor of the LORD may dwell, and to support a person who may minister at His altar. Others, provided with a Church, are still unable to maintain a minister. Others again, unhappily, who might do it if they would, want the will to provide for their own soul's nourishment, by furnishing a competent maintenance for a clergyman and his family. For all these, the only dependence for supply, is the younger portion of the ministry, yet unburthened with the cares of the married state.
The custom of early marriage, fostered in our country by the facility of maintaining a family in the ordinary walks of life, has naturally extended itself to the clergy, to a degree, I believe, unexampled in any other portion of the Church; so that while elsewhere the average marrying age falls rather over than under thirty, among us it descends nearer twenty. On many accounts, this is to be regretted. The time of life during which in the first ages of the Church, a man did not cease to be esteemed a youth, might not unreasonably be expected to be more especially devoted to study and prayer, preparatory for more active duty in riper years. It is enough injurious to the standard of ministerial qualification and attainment, that the wants of the Church compel her to call her sons to her highest trust, years before the age at which their LORD and His forerunner took up the exercise of their respective ministries--without the super-addition of family cares to the premature assumption of ministerial responsibilities. I believe that the Gospel would be better preached, the sacraments more duly ministered, and more souls saved through the embassage of reconciliation, had the Church faith to adhere, regardless of immediate consequences to the pattern set her by her LORD, as to the age for entering on the sacred work; but if she admits her sons to its awful trust at an earlier age, it is surely worthy of their consideration whether they are not the more bounden to reserve the interval wholly for its duties without distraction, and postpone the entrance on other cares beyond that period. The Canons of the Church, seem to presuppose such a state of freedom, when they place the deacon wholly at the disposal of his bishop: and I speak the result of experience and conference with others, when I say that it is daily becoming more nearly imperative on the bishops to insist upon the right thus given by the canons, to dispose of the deacons of the Church, where it is hopeless to attempt the settlement of married presbyters. That the deacon has an express scriptural warrant, fully recognized in the provisions of the Church for his admission into Holy Orders, to lead about a sister, a wife, and assume the responsibilities of the headship of a family, is undeniable. But he has also the example of St. Paul, and the recorded opinion of the sacred writer, to teach him to forego that right, when the needs of the Church require it: and hardly could the "present necessity" be greater, or the times more urgently demand that a proportion of the ministry should be unembarrassed with the duty of provision for a wife and children, than now in our rapidly growing, but ill supplied dioceses. My heart has ached and my cheeks tingled, as again and again, to the urgent entreaties of feeble handfuls of worshippers, able to provide for a single man and able to do no more, that I would send them a young unmarried minister, I have been compelled to reply, that none such were to be found. Shall it always continue so? I will not believe it. I will not believe that there is not in our candidates for the holy ministry sufficient disposition to be followers of Paul as ho was a follower of CHRIST, to induce them to dedicate the first years of ministerial life unreservedly to the work, and keep themselves in a condition to go preach the Gospel when and where those whom God has set over them, direct.
It is too true that they will be often called on, in that case, to throw themselves upon a people holding out but precarious prospects, or, if a sure provision, yet a very scanty one, if maintenance even for themselves alone. Surely it is their duty not to shrink from such a step! Surely it is their privilege, in taking it, to throw themselves on GOD in undoubting faith, that with the work He can and will, in His own way, provide wages for the workman. Suffering and privation, mean raiment and scanty food, may be the form of recompense He sees best for us, and most advantageous for the work. Shall we, with the exceeding weight of glory full before us, shrink and murmur at the light afflictions which prepare us for it? Those whom the love of CHRIST indeed constrains, it incapacitates for nice calculations of pecuniary advantage, bodily comfort, and worldly ease. Souls to be saved, with none to watch for them--men hungering and thirsting for the word of life, with none to deal it forth, will be a sufficient inducement, wherever they are to be found, to proclaim and communicate the unsearchable riches of redemption and grace in CHRIST, a sufficient reward, wherever it may be had.
Thus to be disposed, my dear young brethren, you must regard the ministry neither as a profession--a genteel and useful mode of filling a niche in life--nor as an office held for the behoof, and at the pleasure of the people among whom it is discharged, but as a mission from a bleeding SAVIOUR to a dying world, from a reconciled Father to the children whom He is drawing to Himself, from an ascended King to His disobedient people, from a High Priest in heaven to those for whom he is making intercession at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Let the professional gentlemen negotiate and explore, till he provide himself with a situation where he may be secure of his due measure of respect and comfort--a snug parish, with wholesome air and good society, not too small to pay an easy salary, nor large enough to be burdensome in the amount of duty. Let the hireling of the people seek to please his masters, by becoming a courtier of the rich, an idolater of influence, a student of the ways and means of standing well with every one, keeping to himself all "awkward" principles and pretensions, not making people weary, nor shocking their deep-seated prejudices, "not taking up too high grounds to be practical, but considering peace to be of the first importance;" expedience of the nearest concernment, truth and duty, things rather to he praised than carried out in practice. Be yours, young brethren, the bold, the honest, the faithful stand of "ambassadors for CHRIST, as though GOD did beseech" a ruined world, "by you, praying them in CHRIST'S stead, to be reconciled to GOD." In CHRIST'S stead go forth, confiding in His promise to be always with those whom He commissions to do His embassage, and satisfied with his abiding presence. What need we desire beyond that presence? What is there that it cannot supply?
The SAVIOUR present with his own, to support and bless, to give peace in heart and power in word--to make men sufficient for things, in which an angel left alone might fail--to subdue His people unto Him, by the feeble instrumentality of mortals of like passions with themselves--therein is the secret of success, the seal of duty! The everliving Spirit working in us, and attendant on our ministrations, giving His own demonstration to the truth, His own witness to the message of salvation, is the ground--the only ground of our engagement. In proportion to the strength of your reliance upon that, young brethren, you may be confident in offering yourselves for the noble work you seek, and will be willing to undertake it in any form. Hearts which themselves have heard the SPIRIT'S voice say, "Come," when the bride of CHRIST said, "Come," will not be slow to take up the gracious note of invitation, and go forth, even in peril, poverty, and pain, proclaiming, "Let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."