Western New-York, August 10, 1843,
St. Peter's Church, Auburn,
August 17th, 1843.
To the Rev. Lloyd Windsor.
Rev. and Dear Sir,
The undersigned, having listened to your sermon at the opening of the Convention of the Diocese, on the morning of yesterday, with great pleasure, and believing that its publication will promote the cause of Gospel truth, Gospel order, and Gospel holiness, respectfully express the hope that you will furnish a copy for that purpose.
We are your Friends and Brethren in the bonds of the Church of God.
Clergy. John C. Rudd. W. Shelton. B. Hale. J. V. Ingen. Stephen McHugh. William Croswell. Amos G. Baldwin. Thomas Torvell. A. Hull. Charles B. Stout. Henry Gregory. P. A. Proal. J. Swart. Samuel Appleton. Chas. G. Acley. J. T. Clark. Thomas J. Ruger. Thomas Meachem. Edward Ingersoll. William E. Eigenlsodt. James A. Bolles. E. D. Kenniult.
Laity. V. Matthews. G.B. Webster. J. Benedict. H. Lull. George H. Boughton. Jasper Smith. Charles Seymour. George B. Throop. T. Fitch. Benj. Pringle. Wm. A. Seaver. Jas. S. Shethar. Anthony Dey. John Isaacs. Wm. A. Cook. Henry Easton. Henry Proud. E. E. May. Thomas Clark.
Lockport, August 21st, 1843.
To the Rev. J. C. Rudd, D. D.
Vincent Matthews, Esq..
Your kind and flattering note, requesting a copy of my sermon, delivered at the opening of the Convention of our Diocese, for publication has been received, and I herewith comply with your request; not, however, without expressing the wish, that so important a subject had been treated by an abler hand.
With sincere regard,
Your unworthy brother
in the bonds of our Catholic Faith,
"And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.
The church on earth, my brethren, is militant not only in respect to the world, her avowed enemy from the beginning, and her spiritual foes, who, unseen, are ever about her path; but also her own children. The warfare, alas! must be waged both within and without at the same time. Unworthy members, false members, will always be found within her fold.
So Christ described his church, when he compared it to a field in which grew wheat and tares; and to a net which gathered of every kind offish.
There never has been a period in her history, from the treachery of Judas, to the present hour, when the church has not been liable, and actually exposed to the most serious and alarming dangers from within. She is truly a militant church. Schism, under a variety of pretexts, sometimes the most trivial causes, is constantly threatening to divide her one communion. Heresy, is diligently sowing the seeds of error, to corrupt her faith. The folly and the infirmities of Christian men, and, in some instances, open and notorious [5/6] wickedness of life, almost daily bring a reproach upon her holy name, and do deep injury to her sacred cause. This, it is true, is the dark side of the picture, and as such, I present it. It is, nevertheless, the sober truth and sad reality. Can such a church dispense with discipline? Does it not need an efficient authority to maintain its position amid so many difficulties and discouragements? Surely there is no occasion for a labored argument to prove the obvious necessity, in the church, for a strict and vigilant discipline. Without it, remembering that she is entrusted to the hands of frail and fallible men--contains the seeds of life and death--without it, she must go gradually, but inevitably, to decay and dissolution. Alas! we have painful demonstration of this truth, in those branches of the vine which once were living and fruitful, but now are dead.
I know that the divine promise is, that the gates of Hell shall never prevail against the church,--that her adorable Head, in heaven, is ever present with her here on earth; yet, she must work out her own salvation, with fear and trembling. It is not designed to draw a parallel between the case of an individual Christian and the church, as implying a possibility for the church wholly to fail. For, in the face of the dear declarations of scripture to the contrary, we cannot admit such a possibility. Still, we are to act as though it were possible. Certainly it is possible for any single branch of the church to decline into a state of spiritual death. Its organic life may remain, but its pulse may beat so feebly, as to be scarce discernable, and all animation and power to move in [6/7] the divine life--the life of the soul--may cease. No miracles are wrought, even to sustain the church. An effectual and perfect system has been established; means are given--grace and wisdom from on high,--but they must be faithfully and diligently used, by the stewards whom God has appointed, aye, at the peril of their own souls, and the souls of others.
Hence, we are taught, in the text, my brethren, that the church hath authority for discipline, so necessary for her preservation. "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican."
The term church, in this passage, is doubtless, to be taken in its highest sense, as meaning that divine society which Christ established in the world for the salvation, of men. The idea, entertained by some, that it refers only to an informal assembly of Christians, is wholly inconsistent with the action contemplated in the case--the denouncing one of their own number as a heathen and a publican, and, of course, ejecting him from the communion. What right could a confessedly informal body of men (Christians though they be), destitute alike of divine organization or authority, have to perform so solemn an act as this? None, whatever. Further--the text was addressed, among others, to Peter and the rest of the apostles. Now, Peter had, but a short time previous, heard Christ use this word, in its peculiar and appropriate sense. "Upon this rock, I will build my church." Could, then, Peter, to whom this promise was made, and those of his brethren to whom he may have [7/8] communicated it, have understood the Saviour, in the text, as using the word in an entirely new and different sense--especially, when there is nothing in the language or the circumstances of the case, to restrict its meaning? They, at least, we are bound to suppose, must have understood him to be speaking of the Church--the same, respecting which, he had previously discoursed to them.
To this divine society, the text ascribes the power to admonish offenders, and if need be, to cut them off entirely from the unity of the church. But, the important question here recurs--To whom did Christ grant this power of discipline in his church? To the whole congregation, as some contend; or only to the chief ministry, whom he appointed to preside over if?
In support of the claim which is set up for congregational discipline, the text itself is cited as conclusive proof. "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." Now, it is said, that by a fair and obvious construction, these words include the whole church, not a portion of it. This conclusion, however, is unsound, and amounts to nothing more than a begging of the question. For the expressions, "tell it unto the church, and if he hear not the church," while they may mean the whole church--all its members--do not necessarily convey that idea. They may refer to the authorities who had been constituted in the church for that purpose; and those authorities acting for the church, may, in view of such action, be rightly called the church itself. So we speak of "the people," or [8/9] of "the State," as prosecuting and punishing public offenders, not surely that we mean, thereby, the whole people--all the individuals who make up the State--but the people, by and through, the agency of their proper officers. And likewise, the church may be said to hear and try offences by her rulers--rulers who act by the authority of Christ--for the church is his--his spouse--his body; He is the sole Head from whence alone all power is derived.
No valid claim, therefore, for congregational discipline, can be based upon the peculiar expressions of the text. And this claim, so far from deriving support elsewhere, in scripture, is directly opposed to its positive declarations. For, on three different occasions, the Saviour granted, in express terms, the right of discipline in his church, to the apostles.
In the sixteenth chapter of St. Matthew, we read, that Christ said unto Peter--"Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven," This was prior, in order of time, to the delivery of the text. Again, in the same chapter in which the text is found, and in the verse immediately following it, this power, in precisely the same form, is given to all the apostles. Lastly, in the twentieth chapter of St. John, and as a part of their final commission, it is said to the apostles--"Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."
Now, whatever differences of opinion may prevail as to the extent of the meaning of these passages, all must admit that they cover, at the least, the [9/10] subject of church discipline. The power to bind and loose is restricted, indeed, by some, to things merely, that is, the power to declare what is lawful, and what is unlawful in the church. But this restriction, in fact, amounts to nothing. For, in those cases where actions and conduct are the subject of the binding and loosing, the persons themselves, who are the authors of the actions or conduct, are necessarily included in the judgment.
That the power to remit and retain sins, is to be exercised in reference to persons, there can be no doubt. This power was not granted for a limited period of time only, nor in view of any particular state of things then existing; but as general, absolute, and perpetual. It was as much a part--an essential part of the apostolic commission, as the right to baptize or preach the gospel. It is as necessary in the church now as at the first. From these remarks, it will be perceived that we do not regard the passage as investing the apostles with a supernatural and arbitrary power, growing out of the circumstance of their inspiration, to forgive infallibly, and, of their individual and private judgment, as God forgives the sins of men. This would be to suppose that their inspiration was omniscience, enabling them to read all the secret workings of the human heart--to perceive every thought before it had been in any way expressed, every imagination, intention, purpose, and desire of the soul, as soon as formed. But there is no ground for believing that apostolic inspiration was equal to this. It is true, they had the power of discerning spirits, but not to the extent, so far as we are informed, of knowing [10/11] all, and the deepest movements of the souls of men, And, admitting that they had--that they knew each sin of the heart, as soon as committed,--what then? None but God, strictly speaking, could forgive sins: He had already forgiven them, upon certain prescribed conditions.
Now, it was for the apostles to make known, and apply these conditions; to judge, as far as their knowledge went, who did, and who did not, fulfil them. In this sense, therefore, and not absolutely; in their official capacity as the duly appointed agents of God; and, in reference to the church of Christ; in respect to the conditions and terms of the gospel they were to remit and retain sins. The power seemed to belong inseparably to the prerogative of holding the keys of the kingdom of heaven, on earth--the church. In that was the covenant of mercy. There only was the remission of sins. And the apostles had the sole power, in the name, and by the authority of Christ, to admit or to exclude men from that kingdom. Hence, in a strict sense, though in respect to each individual case, not absolutely and infallibly, they did remit and retain sins. Vast responsibility, you will exclaim; but, my brethren, a responsibility that must, from the nature of things, be lodged somewhere. All religious societies, even those who have no shadow of a claim to be portions of the church, and who, consequently, have not this power, assume it, from the bare necessity of the case.
They, too, claim to hold, and in fact, use, as though with divine right, the keys of Christ's kingdom.
If it be said, that we have reduced the apostolic [11/12] power of remitting and retaining sins, to a mere right of admitting or excluding members from the communion, which, however important, is a low view of the passage--we reply, nay; but it involves the judicial and executive powers of the church--the whole subject of authority for discipline. For, where-ever the final authority, from which there is no appeal on earth, rests for pronouncing officially the blessing of the church, granting, on the terms of the gospel, her absolution and remission of sins pledged, sealed, and given, in her ordinances of grace rightly received--or, for declaring her anathema against, the offender--and taking away from him the evidences of heaven's favor--retaining his sins--there, rests a responsibility and power, in view of which, even an apostle might exclaim--"Who is sufficient for these things?"
The apostles, soon after our Lord's ascension, we know, ordained ciders in every church, to aid them in their ministry, and invested them, among other rights, with the right to "rule," or take the oversight of the flocks committed to them. But, it is equally certain, that the apostles took the oversight of these elders, and of their flocks--still retaining in their own hands the chief authority. In a subordinate sense, therefore, and under certain restrictions, they gave to the elders the keys of the church, the power of discipline [in the full sense in which we have explained it.] To be satisfied of this, we have but to refer to the epistles of St. Paul to the several churches which he planted. There were presbyters doubtless, in the church at Corinth, during St. Paul's absence from it, for assembling them for public worship, and for celebrating among [12/13] them the holy communion; and yet the Apostle writes to them in a strain that cannot be misunderstood. "This is the third time (says he) I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." (Here allusion is made to some judicial proceedings which he was about to institute.) Again, he says, "And being absent, now I write to them who heretofore have sinned, and to all others, that if I come again, I will not spare." Also, in the epistle to Timothy, he writes, "Let the elders who rule well, be counted worthy of double honor." And at the same time charges Timothy to rule both the elders and the people. We might ask, who was to judge whether the elders ruled well--who was to bestow the double honor? Here is implied a superior officer, viz. Timothy the apostle. The elders at Ephesus, therefore, held an expressly limited and subordinate authority for discipline. The final authority was in the hands of Timothy, by virtue of his apostleship. And, indeed, how could it be otherwise? The apostles, in creating an inferior ministry to aid them in some of the functions of their office, did not thereby lay down their own commission. They could not (if they would) cast off the responsibility which Christ had so solemnly and expressly laid upon them--laid upon them forever--saying, as it were, in his parting words, "Lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
To recur to the discussion of the text--if it be still urged, from the language there, that the power of discipline was conferred on the congregation--the people generally--then it will follow, that there were two [13/14] independent and co-ordinate or equal authorities, at the same time, and for the same ends. But, this is a clear absurdity. We must yield either the claim of the apostles, or the claim of the people. For the sins retained by the one, might be remitted by the other--what one bound the other might loose; and thus endless confusion, not to say anarchy itself, be introduced into the heritage of God, and the authority of Christ's kingdom wholly destroyed. Need I ask which is the strongest claim, that based on the vague phraseology of the text, or that which is thrice stated in the most positive terms?
Furthermore, the text, as we have seen, can be fairly explained to agree with those passages which attribute the power of discipline to the apostles; but, on the contrary, those passages cannot be made to quadrate with the text, if it be interpreted as giving the power to the people.
In such a case, we are to follow that rule of interpretation which reconciles the different parts of holy scripture to each other, and harmonizes its apparent discrepancies, and not that which renders itself contradictory. Guided by this rule, we understand the text, in the expression, "tell it unto the church," to mean, tell it unto the authorities, i. e. the apostles of the church; and if he hear not them, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.
It may perhaps be said by some, that the view of this subject which we have now presented--our entire argument--is confined strictly to the state of things, as they were in the apostolic age; and no inference can be drawn in favor of the same state of things at [14/15] present in the church. Let it be remembered, then, that we have not been viewing the apostles as men endowed with extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. We have based nothing, in our argument, on the fact of their plenary inspiration--their power of discerning spirits, or working miracles; nay, we have expressly avoided tin's, and have regarded them only in their ordinary ministerial character, as the chief shepherds of the flock. And, Ave ask, where else, but in the apostolic age, and in the New Testament, are we to look for the divine constitution of the church? No society can put forth a reasonable claim to be the church, and as such possessed of divine rights and powers, exclusive of the claims of other societies, unless on the ground that Christ himself established it, not in doctrine merely, but in its organization and structure as a society. Now, it is beyond question, that it is represented in the New Testament as a matter of inspired history, that the Saviour gave the sole authority for government and discipline in his church, to the apostles. Can man place it elsewhere--can man overturn that foundation which he hath laid? It will still, however, be objected, that the apostolic office ceased with the lives of the first apostles. Without entering now into the proofs, both from truth and fact, which conclusively show that that office did not cease, but was transmitted, in its integrity, in the church; it will be sufficient to remark, that on the supposition that it terminated, the conclusion is inevitable, that the constitution of the church, as settled by Christ, also terminated. For, in vain will we search the holy scriptures for any evidence that Christ [15/16] gave the power for discipline to others than the apostles--their official acts he promised to ratify and seal in heaven. Nor, is there evidence, a single line of proof, that the apostles gave it to the elders, or to any other order of ministry but their own, excepting under the restrictions and limitations already mentioned. If, then, it cannot be shown that the elders, were invested with the supreme authority for discipline in the church--if the time and the occasion cannot be specified from scripture when the apostles placed them in their own position and office, with plenary and final powers for government--and, if, at the same time, it is contended that the apostleship ceased, then, where is the divine authority for discipline? The elders have it not, and the apostles are no more. The case then, my brethren, stands thus: We who believe the apostolic office--its miraculous gifts only excepted--to be now in the church, and with us, also believe, that we possess, in our bishops, the highest divine authority--as Christ first gave it--for discipline. They who deny this, and affirm the apostleship to have been temporary, will find it impossible to point out any warrant, in holy scripture, for the same authority.
The popular errors, on this subject, are many, and of a most serious nature, not only leading to great practical evils in religion--but threatening the very system of Christianity itself. They are also widely prevalent in this our day. In the first place, the most inadequate ideas are entertained of the nature and effects of the sin of schism. We hear much, indeed, said of the inexpediency of schism--its injurious tendency [16/17] upon the interests of society and religion; but we seldom hear the right of schism questioned, at least, among those out of our own pale. We seldom hear it denounced, as the apostle denounces it, as a sin of the most heinous nature. Multitudes, perhaps, I may say the great bulk of nominal Christians, in our country, have come to look upon schism as a mere act of division, which, peaceably accomplished, they have an entire right to, and violate no authority, other than that which is human; as though Christ, had no church on earth, or, if he had, that he possessed no control over it--no representative authority in it--had not given to it laws, a ministry, and sacraments. They seem to have forgotten that there is any such passage in the Bible, or that it has any application, to the present times--"Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven--whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them;" that the church is a divine society--divinely constituted--divinely administered--the kingdom of Christ, in which He reigns, and his authority, delegated to his ministry, when legitimately exercised, binds the consciences of men, and cannot be knowingly and openly resisted and renounced, without, at the same time, renouncing their claim to salvation.
Hence, from the wide prevalence of their false sentiments, we see almost daily springing up about us new churches of man's creation, in which, no matter how orthodox, their doctrines, the authority for government and discipline is not that of Christ. They create a new ministry--saying, in effect, to them--"What thou bindest, in our name, is bound in heaven; [17/18] whose soever sins ye remit, by receiving them into the covenant of grace, and giving unto them the pledges and seals of their salvation, are remitted unto them." They set up altar against altar; propound new terms of communion which the apostles did not propound, and which are nowhere found in the New Testament. Not to dwell, however, on the nature of schism, its practical effects are most disastrous. It strikes at the foundation of all church authority, reduces it to nothing, and thus effectually destroys discipline. For, when there are a number of distinct and separate religious organizations, there are, of course, just so many independent authorities, each absolute and complete in itself--acting without any reference to each other--with no mutual understanding even, or common law between them. Infinitely more divided than the kingdoms of the earth, for they have an international law--these societies, even supposing they were one in faith, have no external bond in reference to government and discipline. Their authorities neutralize each other. What one binds, another looses. The sins which one remits, another retains.
Is an individual excommunicated from one of these societies, justly too, though perhaps for nothing grossly affecting his moral character, he seeks and obtains a ready admission into another. Thus, in the space, it may be of a single day, he finds himself excommunicated, as he supposes, from the church, and received into it again without a word of explanation, or a sign of repentance. Now, if all these societies constitute the church of Christ, where is the discipline of the church--to what alarming results must not such a [18/19] system inevitably lead? Nor is this the mere theory, but the daily working of the system. Its developments are already far advanced, and are proceeding with great rapidity. The formation of new religious bodies, claiming to be churches, possessed of full authority to speak and act in the concerns of eternity, is an occurrence that now excites scarcely any notice or remark--calls forth no warning voice--no rebuke that they are committing that sin which the apostle calls a dividing of Christ--a rending of his body.
Christians have become singularly indifferent to this fundamental truth of their religion--a truth which evidently lies at the basis of the whole outward structure of Christianity. We have shown (we think conclusively) that there can be no effectual discipline-scarcely any thing worth the name--without a unity of government, and a unity of authority.
Multiply governments, setting them off in opposition to one another; multiply authorities, equal and independent of each other, and that too in one body, all-professing to be members of one household, subjects of one kingdom, servants of one master--and in just the same proportion do you weaken and decompose the principle of discipline. The church, so called, meaning all Christians, instead of a well ordered host, the sacramental host of God's elect, presenting a solid and unbroken phalanx against the world, like Israel of old, becomes a confused mass of conflicting powers, wounding each other in internal strifes and dissensions--a very vortex of disorder--over which the enemy will gain an easy conquest.
 It is the testimony of our Saviour, that a house divided against itself cannot stand.
What is the value of that discipline which is merely conceded, for the time being, by one portion of Christians to another, as a voluntary act on their part? Which may be modified, suspended, or wholly annulled, according to the pleasure of the party from which it emanates? What confidence can man have in such an authority, in the great and eternal concerns of religion? Will he fear or reverence it, or will he not rather look upon it as entirely human, the result of a mutual and voluntary compact between himself and others? And, though, in fulfillment of his agreement, he is, in a moral sense, bound to submit to it, there will still be a something more important, that lies beyond, which such authority and discipline cannot reach--something in the depths of his religious being, in his single relationship to God, which nothing but direct divine authority can or ought to control. This only can enter into the strong-hold of his conscience, and bind him there--not to outward submission merely, but to the inward submission of the soul. He must realize that the discipline of the church of Christ, not only in the act itself, that is, its justice and equity, but in the administration of it, is that of God, and not of men. The agency of men must, of course, be employed; but those whom he has appointed by a personal communication of authority and who, therefore, act in his name and behalf--and, moreover, only so far as their instructions written in the divine word extend. It is perfectly obvious, that where an act, in itself considered, may be just, expedient, and proper, [20/21] the right of those who perform it may be questioned; and this is the main point in our argument. Discipline, however unobjectionable it may be, however it may agree with the spirit and precepts of the gospel, may yet be utterly invalid as to the right of those who administer it. Thus while its natural or moral force remains, its power as an act of church authority is wholly void. Now this, my brethren, will not meet the necessities of the case. Men will not give their consciences unto the keeping of others. They will not submit, in religious matters, to the control of any but God. Point them, then, to the clear instructions of the divine will, in holy scripture, and to the ministry of divine appointment, who are to carry out and apply these instructions--let this great truth be impressed upon the conscience by conviction, and you have an authority--a ground-work for discipline---which answers all the demands of the case.
The second error which I shall briefly notice, is the idea so prevalent among a certain class of Christians, that the Bible, independently of the church, or an apostolic succession, grants authority for all religious purposes and acts whatever. Inasmuch as this is a delusion, it need not be met by argument, but by a simple statement of the facts. The church had existed in the world as a divine institution; clothed with ample authority for all its objects, ages before a page of holy scripture had been written. This is true of the patriarchal dispensation: in reference to the Christian--the church of Christ had been established, and the Lord had added daily to it such as should be saved, [21/22] long before the New Testament was begun, and longer still before it was completed. Thus it will be seen that, in order of time, the church is the first work of the Spirit, and the holy scriptures the second. And further, the scriptures were written in the church, and by and for the church.
They are but the reflection of her light, in that day when she was favored of heaven, and the Spirit was poured out abundantly on her sons. The hands of her own Prophets, Evangelists, and Apostles, traced the words of divine truth. How absurd, then, to sever the Bible and the church, and distinguish between them as means of grace, using the one without the other. They are parts of one truth, of one system. Without the church, there would have been no holy scriptures. They belong to it as much as do the sacrament and ministry. Men are wont to exalt the Bible above the church, and even to make it a substitute for it, by saying it is a direct and certain revelation of God's will.
True; and is not the church also a revelation of his will? Are not the sacraments, baptism, and the holy communion, and the ministry of reconciliation acting in his stead--are not these ordained, personally, by Christ--by his own hands, and the words of his lips--a revelation full of mystery and power, commanding the reverence and obedience of men at the peril of salvation? They are, indeed, a revelation, about which there can be no uncertainty, coming, as they do, from God, in the person of his son Jesus Christ. With what rational meaning can it be said that the Bible gives authority for discipline and government, [22/23] or for any other ministerial function? That authority can be conveyed only by a living and personal agent. It existed long before the Bible was in being. It came from Christ to the apostles, and through them, to their successors.
It is the office of the Bible to describe that authority, to inform us whence it came, and where it may be obtained--to define its limits, and give rules for its exercise; but it conveys no authority, nor is it even a proof, in the case of any particular individual, that he is possessed of authority--his warrant consists in the evidence that he has been appointed by Christ through an unbroken succession. What avails it for any one to read, in holy scripture, that Christ gave power to his apostles to bind and loose, with the promise that their acts would be ratified in heaven--that he said to them, Go forth, in my name, and preach the gospel-baptize, remit, and retain sins: of what concern is all this to any one among us, unless he can show, for himself, that these words apply to him--that, through an uninterrupted line of ministers, they are spoken to him, with the same authority with which Christ first uttered them? The Bible, in these matters, is our guide, leading us to the living source of authority. It is to the church, what the pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night, was to Israel, of old, in the desert. That light, if men will follow it, leads them to the camp of Israel--to the church.
Let us not dismiss this subject, my brethren, without the single reflection that, it brings with it a fearful responsibility, both upon ministers and people. We are members of a militant church--a church [23/24] struggling against her own infirmities--which may flourish with a high degree of prosperity, yielding much fruit to God, or, which may decay through our fault and negligence, to a state of all but spiritual death.--We, my brethren, of the Clergy, are to watch over and guide and feed the flocks over which the Holy Ghost hath made us overseers, under the eye of our chief shepherd on earth, and our chief Shepherd in heaven. Awful will be the reckoning of that day, when the blood of souls shall be required at the hands of the slothful pastor. At one time he has slept upon his post, and the enemy has entered in, and sown tares; at another, he has himself been the blind, leader of the blind; and, again, his low standard of zeal and piety has infected the people of his charge--a false sentiment of charity on the one hand, and a want of that holy and conscientious fear of God on the other, that ought ever to be a ruling motive of duty, have induced him to relax the discipline of the church--yielding to it himself only a reserved and partial obedience, requiring no more from others. So that from his failings, in one or all of these respects, the cause of his Divine Master has suffered loss, at his hands, of the extent of which he can form no adequate idea in this life. Nor can he find any excuse for his want of fidelity, in the fact that the treasure is committed to earthen vessels. While this is a palliation for our necessary infirmities, it furnishes no ground of defence, in view of positive omission and neglect of duty.
Though the vessels are earthen, to which the treasure has been committed--yet, we must remember, it is said, "My grace is sufficient for thee"--that we can [24/25] do all things through Christ strengthening us--therefore, the responsibility rests upon us with undiminished force; and, though never so frail, we must bear the treasure, at the peril both of our own salvation and that of others.
And upon you, my brethren of the Laity, there is incumbent always, under all circumstances, the duty, not only of a respectful and kind reception of the instructions of your pastors, but also of a submission to their authority when lawfully exercised.
They watch for your souls as those who must give account. Heaven's trusts are committed to them, and they must fulfill them, as well for their own, as for your eternal welfare. In yielding to the just rights of the ministry, you do not submit to men, but to God. It is not a human, but a divine authority which claims your deference in holy things. However unworthy may be His ministers, you are to lay entirely out of view all mere personal and private considerations, and regard them in their official capacity, in the sacred character of their office, as clothed with divine rights in the government and discipline of the church. Their acts, validly done, and in accordance with the church's rule of faith and practice--the holy scriptures,--are done, says St. Paul, as if in the person of Christ.
Finally, let us remember, my brethren of the Clergy and Laity, that the church hath a blessing to bestow upon her faithful children, which is life--and a sentence of condemnation, which to the guilty soul (who merits it) is DEATH.