Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.
To understand these words we must have regard to the occasion, to the time, to the proverb quoted, and to the contrast drawn.
The occasion was our Saviour's having held discourse with the inhabitants of a Samaritan village: and as this was his first opportunity of addressing persons who were in the Darkness of heathen error, it brought to his mind the splendid property of his mission, that he should be "a light to enlighten the gentiles, and for salvation unto the ends of the earth."
The time was the seeding season of Judea, as appears from the term specified?"four months;" that being commonly the interval between the seeding season and the harvest.
The expression?"say ye not" that this is so, refers to what we are told of its having been a proverb among the Jews: and the ground of the proverb is in the satisfaction with which the husbandman, having lodged his seed within the soil, anticipates a joyful increase.
But between this case and the matter intended, there is a contrast drawn: for the husbandman, after all his labour, had many a fear to undergo, from chilling winds, from parching heats, and from drenching rains, before his green stalks should be crowned with the full ears; the white hue of which would show that they would be soon the golden grain, fit for the reaper's sickle. Not so the gospel harvest: for "behold," says our Saviour, "lift up your eyes and look on the fields, white already:" that is, the time is come; the world is prepared; the means are at hand; and the event is sure.
It is probable that this transaction fell in with what is said by another of the Evangelists?"From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand:" so that now was the eve of the gospel day: now was to begin that sound which should "go out into all lands, and its words unto the ends of the world:" now was to be verified what our Saviour had just before told the Samaritans, that the local worship of the Jews was to give way to an universal "worship of the Father, in spirit and in truth;" and that his own blessed instructions should be in the hearts of believers, "a well of water, springing up into everlasting life."
You see, then, that the text respects an event, which, at the time, was just about to take place; namely, the establishment of Christ's Church, emphatically called his kingdom on earth. It is a subject that has its encouragements and its duties. I chose it with a view to the present ecclesiastical convention; because such a body, at any period of the Church, can have no proper object, except in the way of instrumentality to the event foreshown. But there having occurred, unexpectedly, another occasion, which calls for some notice from this place, I consider, with satisfaction, that there are no sentiments arising from my subject previously selected, but what will apply alike as a charge and as an incentive to our Rev. Brother, now entering into the highest order of the ministry. And when I contemplate both these occasions in connection with the present state of the world in general, and of this our country in particular, there opens so wide a field of gospel labour, that I find myself warranted to apply to my text that saying of our Saviour on another occasion?"This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears."
The use which I intend to make of the text is as follows:
1st. To lay open to you the ground on which our Saviour predicted the success of the ensuing preaching of his gospel.
2dly. To bring before you the encouragement which we have at this time, to expect an happy issue of our labours, in the same blessed work: and,
3dly. To apply to the state of our Church what shall be said on both these heads, in respect to the influence which they should have on doctrine, on discipline, and on morals.
1. I am to lay open to you the ground on which our Saviour predicted the success of the ensuing preaching of his gospel.
That ground: is in the crisis to which all the manifestations of God to man, after his apostasy, have a reference.
The most distinguishing characteristic of the history of the Bible is its presenting us with a long series of circumstances, connected with one another, and terminating in a great event, which could have happened at no other time than that when "the Sun of Righteousness arose, with healing in his wings." With the curse upon the ground, and the sentence of man's mortality, there was given the consoling promise of "the seed of the woman to bruise the serpent's head:" And to be a sensible representation of the promise, pointing to the fulfilment of it, sacrifices were instituted, to be figures of that great sacrifice, which should be made in due time for sin.
If we carry on our attention to the patriarchal age, we find nothing in it more conspicuous than its being distinguished by promises not at that time fulfilled. The Apostle St. Paul, in reference to this very point, says, "By faith Abraham sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, concerning things to come: And by faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph." Yes, it was all in faith, and not in sight; in expectation, and not in enjoyment, that they were distinguished by the divine blessing. If this life, and if those times only had been in question, we see nothing, in the circumstances of the personages spoken of, answering to the chain of expectation, that reaches through their history, of good things in store, from a dispensation, in which themselves, their posterity, and, indeed, the world were interested; an expectation, which we find the last of them delivering to his sons, with some note of the time when it was to be accomplished; viz. when the sceptre should be departing from the tribe of Judah.
The later we descend, the more evidence we find of the time designed. Thus Haggai makes it between the building and the destruction of the second temple: Malachi "seals up the vision and prophecy with an annunciation of the Messiah's harbinger:" But the Prophet Daniel is the most precise of all, when he specifies seventy weeks of years, as what should end with the "bringing in of everlasting righteousness, and the anointing of the Most Holy."
All these predictions, and many more, apply to the time of our blessed Saviour's appearance, as to the beginning of a new era, in which they were to have their completion. And I have taken this review, as conceiving that nothing can more recommend the publishing of the glad tidings of salvation, or more powerfully persuade to the contributing to that good work, than the seeing, that it was appointed as early as man's apostasy in paradise; that it was foretold and hoped in by a succession of patriarchs, of prophets, and of saints; in short, that long and often before its commencement it was held out, as what should at last prove the completion of all the dispensations of providence to the human race.
This then is the ground of the prediction in my text; and the laying it open prepares the way for my remarks under the second head;
2. Which is to bring before you the encouragement we have at this day to expect an happy issue of our labours in the same blessed work.
For, 1st. It is a continuance of the same merciful dispensation to mankind. We have seen how wonderfully the prophecies of the Old Testament centered in the point of time which our Saviour has called the beginning of his gospel harvest. But thence arises another chain of prophecy, which will end in the finishing of the harvest, by "the binding of the tares in bundles, to burn them, and the gathering of the wheat into the barn:" for such is the figurative language in which there is represented to us the final appointment of rewards to the righteous, and of punishments to the wicked.
There is a Very expressive prophecy to this purpose, in which Christ compares his Church to "a grain of mustard seed, which was the least of all seeds; but yet (in the climates of the east) became a great tree; so that the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it." The smallness of the seed was, indeed, a fit emblem of the humble beginning of Christianity; the branching out into a tree was a lively representation of what happened in the ensuing increase of the Church; and the circumstance of the fowls of the air finding shelter under the branches of it, corresponds with the consolations and the uses of Christian Doctrine. But yet we are not to consider the prophecy as fulfilled until, agreeably to the clear sense of other prophecies, "the fulness of the gentiles be come in."
As there is thus a continuance of the same dispensation in another chain of prophecy, so, 2dly, There is the same divine commission on which to rely for success.
The promise of Christ to his Apostles, and through them to his whole Church, that he would be with them to the end "of the world," is as much in force at the present day as when it proceeded from his gracious lips. The command originally given?"Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature," comes as authoritatively in succession as when it was first received. As to any hindrances which have occurred to the accomplishing of the full effect of such promises and of such commands, they are what were foretold in scripture. Still, the "promises of God in Christ are yea and amen;" that is, immutable and sure, carrying on our expectations to the time, when "the fulness of the gentiles shall come in," and when the kingdom of the Messiah shall "cover the whole earth, as the waters cover the sea."
As there is thus the same commission, so, 3dly. There are stipulated the same divine aids, as well, generally, to all for whose sake the commission was given, as, especially, to those vested with it. The promise, that "where two or three are gathered together in Christ's name, there is he in the midst of them," was a pledging of divine truth, which no length of time can abrogate or weaken. What animating promises, to the same purpose, do we meet with every where in scripture! Such as, of "a strength to be made perfect in our weakness;" of " a grace that is to be sufficient for us;" of "a love" which "will bring us off more than conquerors" over our spiritual enemies; and of "a power," by which we shall be "kept through faith unto salvation!" In connection with these aids, and as the ordinary means of their conveyance, we have the same sacraments, to be the seal and the outward sign of that inward grace; all designed for the strengthening of our faith, for the confirming of our resolutions, and for the increasing of our graces; and further, to keep steadily before our view that great end of all, "the life and the immortality brought to light by the gospel."
4thly. I cannot leave this branch of my subject without adding, as another encouragement, or rather as a circumstance giving weight to all the encouragements enumerated, that the time in which we live is such as naturally prompts the expectation of the enlargement of the Messiah's kingdom, held out to us in prophecy.
It cannot be unknown to you, that many of great name, in different countries, have had their attention drawn to this point, and especially to the openings which they think they discover of it in the book of Revelation; which has been profanely called a "book of riddles;" but is not exceeded by any book, either in the nicely wrought contexture of its parts, or for the evidences of a deep design throughout the whole; and of which there have been some predictions so conspicuously fulfilled (predictions expressed in symbolical language, but intelligible from the use of the same symbols in other parts of scripture), that we have reason to rely on it in regard to events to come,
It is not my design to bring before you all the reasons which have occurred of the expectation stated. I will, however, principally mention one passage of the said book, which has made a particular impression on my mind. It is in the 14th chapter; where, after the events of the sixth trumpet, which are supposed to reach down to the age in which we live, and just before the fall of mystic Babylon, which, in subsequent parts of the prophecy, appear to be connected with the sounding of the seventh trumpet, not yet heard; I say, at this crisis the sublime symbol is introduced, of "an Angel, flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell "on the earth; and to every nation, and kingdom, and tongue, and people:" a symbol, the sense of which cannot, I think, be accomplished in the preaching of the gospel between the two periods, amidst the darkness of the intervening times, which is the interpretation commonly given to it; but, considering the new agent introduced, the solemn notice given of him, and the extent of his errand, seems to be a new and general extension of the faith. Whether this shall happen in consequence of persecutions first falling on the professors of Christianity, as some think there is prophetic, ground to apprehend, and which shall cause their religion to extend itself into distant countries, in like manner as literature formerly spread itself over the western parts of Europe, in its flight from the desolations of the eastern; and whether a temporary prevalence of infidelity shall be marked with such bloody violence as to draw men back to the mild religion of Jesus, divested of whatever corruptions may have been grafted on it; and whether it may not be the splendid privilege of the land in which we live, to be, the most conspicuously, the scene of the fulfilment of the prophecy, by exhibiting a concurrent progress of Christianity and of civilization, are points which I do not presume to determine, and which do not materially affect the remark I have introduced: for the event being sure, but the time and the means of it locked up in the counsels of God; the expectation of it is an encouragement to gospel duties and to gospel labours.
What inclines me the more to the interpretation given, is the consideration of two events predicted in the same book, and, in all probability, not now remote: I mean the ceasing of the dominion by which the Arabian imposture has been supported, and the overthrow of the Roman power in its seventh and last head. And when I say that, in all probability, they are not remote, I allude to the long interval which has taken place since the event which was the subject of the sixth trumpet; and the place assigned to the events now spoken of, which will be under the seventh. In regard to the first of these events, the specified periods of "an hour, a day, a month, and a year," however figurative the language, denote a determinate time in the counsels of God: and although I presume not to fix the beginning and the ending of the term, yet I contemplate a relation between the ending of it and that other figure of "the drying up of the Euphrates, that the way of the Kings of the East may be prepared:" which I suppose can denote nothing short of an opportunity given for the conversion of the nations who have been under the iron sceptre of the impostor and his successors. In regard to the other event, I should be misunderstood if I were thought to implicate pious and virtuous persons of any religion, or of any station, in the woes denounced under this department of the prophecy. The figurative language of a beast, with the attributes in which he is arrayed, must mean, in this book, as in the book of Daniel, from which the figures of this are in a great measure taken, not a person, not a succession of persons in their individual capacities, but a power. And when this political agency, this metaphysical Being, is described with the properties of persecuting and idolatrous, I conceive that the censure can no further apply to real persons, than as they may have been carried, either contrary to their convictions, or through the influence of passion, into habits of idolatry and of persecution. With this caution against the charge of uncharitableness in myself, and against the danger of exciting it in others, I profess the opinion that the book in question is utterly unintelligible, but on the principle of applying the metaphor of the beast who took the dragon's seat, to that power which arose during the dark ages, within the bounds of the western Church. And it is the downfal of this power at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, as it is expressed in one place, or at the pouring out of the seventh vial, as it is in another, when a new and better dispensation of Providence is to begin; under which "all the kingdoms of the world are to become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ."
Let me not be supposed chargeable with the folly of calculating the times of events, which, for the evident purpose of obscurity until the times shall come, are wrapped up in hieroglyphic language. No; I leave such knowledge to the dispensations which are to disclose it; when there will, doubtless, stand forth as evident a correspondency between the events and the figurative exhibitions of them, as, there is now in regard to past events which had been foretold in this very book: for instance, the rise and the vast extent of the Saracenical and the Turkish empires; concerning which it was impossible to have formed any precise expectations from the terms in which they had been announced. And there is this unhappy circumstance attached to the being, by anticipation, "wise above what is written;" that it tends to reconcile men to very wicked deeds, under the idea that they are hastening the accomplishment of the divine predictions. No doubt, the great Being "who makes the wrath of man to praise him," will, in this line, as if the more ordinary dealings of his providence, overrule injurious passions to a subserviency of his eternal purposes. But his course, in this respect, is perceivable no otherwise than by the issue; and, in the meanwhile, it rests with us to judge of men and measures on the immutable grounds of justice and mercy, independently on the consideration, that good will be at last brought out of the temporary prevalence of evil. But notwithstanding the abuses into which some well-meaning persons have been betrayed, the circumstances stated may be considered as the opening of splendid prospects as to the future prevalence of the uncorrupted gospel of the Redeemer. And if the field, in this extensive sense of the words, be not "already ripe to harvest," the grain is in such forwardness as that the reapers should be in readiness to avail themselves of the ripeness when it shall appear; and, in the mean time, there is work sufficient for the exercise of their vigilance, their activity, and the best gifts which they may possess, whether of nature or of education.
The sum of what has been said is this: That the gospel stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God: its preparatory dispensations, its miraculous establishment, and its subsequent progress, entering into every part of the series of Divine Providence, from the creation of the world to its dissolution.
Nevertheless, God acts here, as in the natural world, by second causes: so that, after the establishment of the Christian faith by miracles, the extension of it will very much depend, under the divine blessing, on the zeal, the charity, and all the graces and the qualifications of its ministers, and its other members, in their respective times and places. For this reason I proposed, under the third head of my discourse,
3. To apply to the state of our Church what has been said, under the preceding heads, in respect to the influence which they should have on doctrine, on discipline, and on morals.
Here I implore divine grace, to be guarded alike against that influence of infirmity which may make me mistake human opinion for the infallible word of God, as against that extreme of caution which might keep back any matters arising out of my subject, and profitable to us, either individually, or in relation to the trust at this time committed to our management.
First, then, in regard to doctrine, it must be evident, that if, as this whole discourse was designed to prove, it be a part of the plan of unerring wisdom, that Christian Doctrine should have an important, an increasing, and, at last, an universally pervading effect on the condition of mankind, it must be accomplished by something inherent to the system, and of which it cannot be deprived without its ceasing to be the contemplated instrument in the divine hand.
If this be so, here is a powerful motive to christians of all degrees, to maintain inviolate the precious deposit of "the faith once delivered to the saints." Especially, it brings an obligation to that effect on the consciences of those to whom is committed the superintendance of ecclesiastical concerns; and it intimates cause of fear, that the neglect of so sacred a trust may be visited by the judgment denounced in scripture relative to the very delinquency in question; viz. "the removing of the candlestick out of its place," or the ceasing to be a branch of Christ's mystic body.
It will not be thought that I am cautioning against an imaginary danger, when it is recollected, that in these latter ages there has been a growing disposition to accommodate to a concurrent growth of infidelity, by laying little stress on those parts of the Christian system which are exclusively Christian, and by representing its blessed Author as little else than the teacher of a rule of morals. It would be easy to show that such prevarication has been the means, not of checking infidelity, but of extending it. This out of the question, it is a mean which no apparent benefit of the end can justify; especially as it is evident, throughout the whole history of Christianity, that, as well its consolations as its restraints, have been the most conspicuous in the conduct of mankind, when its doctrines and its precepts have gone together in a consistent union.
It will not be expected that I should, at this time, make a display of the body of Christian doctrine. It may be proper, however, to advert to a few leading points, in evidence of the sentiments which have been expressed. With this view only, then, I add, that the ground-work of the whole scheme in man's loss of his original righteousness; that, by way of remedy of this, the mediatorial character of Christ, involving the sacrifice which he made for sin, in the strict and proper meaning of the expressions; as connected with every branch of the subject, his divinity, and his existence before all ages; and, as stamping a character on the entire design, its being a dispensation of grace, meaning of grace or favour as the operating motive of the' divine mind, and of grace or aid as essential to man's performance of the conditions of the gospel covenant; are points not dependent on detached passages of holy writ, but pervading all its books. They are points which have' been held by the Church at all times and in all places, and have always entered into the encouragements and the hopes or' Christians. Of consequence, if there be any promises which favour the expectation of a future increase of the prevalence of the gospel, such promises can have no force, otherwise than as connected with these characteristic doctrines of the system to be propagated.
On this occasion, then, I remind the Clerical Members of our assembly, of the duty lying on us so to form our discourses from the pulpit as not to separate what God has thus joined together, in his revelation of himself in the gospel. You will understand me, my Rev. Brethren, as meaning that we should be not merely moral, but gospel preachers. God forbid that I should echo the cant of those who value themselves on the decrying of moral righteousness?that perfection of the human character, or rather of the divine. But however full the scriptures in their display of every branch of moral righteousness, their principal benefit to man, in his present state of infirmity and sin, is in the motives and the aids by which virtue and duty of every sort are brought within the sphere of his attainment and his practice.
Is it, then, that the minister of the gospel is never to make a particular moral duty the professed subject of his discourse? It is not my design to say so: but what I mean is in relation to the three points which follow, and which, I conceive, should distinguish him from a preacher of mere moral righteousness. First. That the leading doctrines of the gospel should be, occasionally, the especial subjects of his discourses: next, that moral duties, inculcate them when he may, should be grounded on Christian principles, and enforced by Christian motives: and, principally, that the same righteousness ought not, according to his statements, to be a mere "cleansing of die outside of the cup and platter," consistent with uncleanliness within, but should be, what the gospel precepts are so full of, that renovation of the heart which is the only source of real rectitude in the life, and the only evidence of our being within the gospel covenant.
In delivering these sentiments, I will clothe myself with the sanction of an eminent character much venerated in this country in his day. The person whom I mean is the late Archbishop SECKER; and I allude to a letter of his relative to a disturbance which had arisen in one of our American congregations. The American clergy had been represented to the Archbishop as not being gospel preachers: In relation to which he advises to guard against the reproach, by more diligently inculcating whatever truths border on the errors existing in the quarter from which the accusation came. The letter, addressed to a Rev. Member of this Convention, [Dr. Smith, of Pennsylvania.] was published, many years ago in a narrative of the transaction referred to, by another Rev. Brother, formerly of this State. [Dr. Chandler, of Elizabeth-Town.] And I am happy in the idea, that a venerable father of the Church, now dead, and during his life very attentive to the concerns of our American Churches, yet speaks to you in what I am delivering from this place.
The principle which I am inculcating is obligatory not only on preachers, as such, but on all persons, whether of the clerical order or of the laity, who may be appointed to the exercise of the legislative authority of the Church. I know that this contradicts the notions which some persons have framed to themselves, of liberality and toleration. Strange misapplication of the words! Is it not sufficiently liberal that we leave those who differ from us to the judgment of our common Master; duly estimating what virtues they may possess, and making every charitable allowance for what we may conceive to be their errors? Is it not sufficiently tolerant to show ourselves as far from having the will, as, God be thanked, we are, in this land of freedom, from the power, of inflicting injury for diversity of opinion? And can there be no claim to the virtues spoken of, until we acknowledge no truth which some persons may suppose to be an error, and until we have no prayers to which there are opinions in opposition? It may be doubted whether, on such a ground, there can be any social worship: But it is certain that such a system is not in the gospel, which proclaims "the truth as it is in Jesus," independently on what may be the speculations of fallible men. It may happen?it has happened to the said divine truth, to be disfigured by the additions of human weakness. To disengage the Church from these, is incumbent on those who govern in it, according to the best of their ability, and as they shall answer to the Judge of all. But they are not to do this by the sacrifice of gospel doctrine to doubt and unbelief; which would render the Church of Christ an Institution dependent on the changing interests and the unforeseen incidents of different times; and not that spiritual society always subject to the same faith, the same sacraments, and the same ministry; and whose divine Head has promised to be with it "even unto the end of the world."
The next point to which the discourse applies is that of the discipline of the Church: for it has been of the essence of the subject, that the spiritual harvest promised was the gathering of a social body. To this body there must belong all the attributes which are found in society under its various forms: which attributes, so far as the society in question is concerned, must be considered in connection with whatever else has been determined by its divine Founder, as especially belonging to it. The different portions of this spiritual body extended over the world, are joined together by the common tie of the "unity of the Spirit, and the bond of peace." But, besides this, each part is charged with the preservation in itself of the integrity of the common faith, and the administration of its local interests and concerns. Now, if there be such a body grounded, as the argument implies, not on voluntary association, but on divine institution; and if there rests on each particular part of the body, the obligation of maintaining and of extending the influence of gospel truth, no doubt its success must very much depend on the unblemished reputation of its members: and it is evident, that licentiousness, in any degree, and in any shape, must operate in contrariety to the profession made, however true and holy.
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to believe that any one can be persuaded of the divine institution of the Christian Church, and not at least entertain the wish, that the discipline of it might clear it of the scandal of every person who lives in violation of its moral precepts.
Far be it from me to hold up ecclesiastical authority, as extending to a discipline of the mind. If there be any religious societies who think, that, by such means, they can accomplish such an object, it is not the sense of the Church to which we belong: for she considers as her legitimate children all who, having been brought within her communion by the regenerating rite of Baptism, have not swerved, in conduct, from the profession therein made by them, or in their name. She knows that there may be tares growing among the wheat; but she remembers the injunction of the Lord of the field?"let both grow together until the harvest:" and she therefore restrains the officious zeal of those servants who might be tempted to "gather up the tares," by the exercise of an inquisitorial authority over the movements of the mind. But if there be any living in sensuality, or in profaneness, or in dishonesty, or in avowed disbelief of our holy religion; and if there be any Christian who is not wounded by the dishonour which the Church sustains from the membership and exercised rights of persons so living, such a Christian must have less sensibility to the honour of that body of Christ of which he is a part, than he would have for the reputation of any human association.
Intended for the transaction of the business of the world, or for the entertainment of conversation.
I know the magnitude of the work which I am holding up as an object of desire: I am aware of the weight of character necessary to prevent every effort towards it from being not only impotent, but contemptible: I confess that nothing ought to be done in it, unless it can be, as nearly as human infirmity will permit, without prejudice or partiality: and I calculate on the clamorous pretences which would be made of persecution, however unconnected the matter with any civil interests. I hope that, in consideration of these impediments, we do not stand guilty in the eye of the Father of mercies, of criminal neglect of a trust, which, to all appearance, and under present circumstances, cannot be exercised for the Church's good, except in that moderate degree which I suppose it to be practised by all the Clergy, the repelling of immoral livers from the celebration of the Eucharist. Yet this hinders not its being a matter of devout desire, and much tending to the propagation of the gospel, that, in regard to every ungodly and licentious liver, we were in the practice of that precept of the gospel, applied to this very matter?"Put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
There is a more limited exercise of ecclesiastical discipline, concerning which I take this opportunity of declaring my opinion, "that there are no existing circumstances apologizing for the neglect of it; I mean as it respects immoral Clergymen, if such are to be found. There is so glaring an inconsistency in preaching to others what we have no sense of the duly of practising ourselves; there is such a mockery of God in assuming, at ordination, those solemn vows, which are not intended to have any operation on the conscience: in short, an immoral Clergyman so much shocks the sense which mankind in general entertain of decency, that both saints and sinners will honour every exertion for the clearing of the Church from the scandal of his irregularities.
It is your preacher's duty to suppose, that no such case exists as that which he contemplates to be a ground of ecclesiastical censure. It is more especially his duty to suppose so, because, if such a case were to be found, it must be either not within the sphere of his acquaintance, or, if within it, not subject to his notice, until brought- before him by those on whom it lies to make the presentation: and, on any other principle, he would be in the double character of accuser and judge. While, therefore, he is conscious of a readiness to exercise the authority committed to him by our ecclesiastical institutions, he finds himself warranted and incited by his subject, to make a call on the consciences of those who hear him, to do in this matter what lies on them in their respective places; to do it as a measure eminently conducive to the honour and the increase of the Christian Church, and as removing from themselves the foul reproach of countenancing iniquity by a sinful toleration more effectually than, they can recommend, by any other means, the practice of religious and moral duty.
The obligation now stated is peculiarly incumbent on our Church, in consideration of the claim made by her (we trust with truth) of a nearer conformity than that of many other communities of Christians, to the practice of primitive antiquity, particularly in respect to the orders of the ministry. These orders, say we, three in number, were of apostolic institution, and existed universally in the Church, as now among us, until within a few ages of these later times. We think that the current of testimony is in our favour. Still, we must acknowledge, that there has been the exercise of much learning and ingenuity on the other side; and that the generality of christians are not possessed of the materials of knowledge which enter into the merits of the question. They have, however, sufficient reason to believe, on the testimony of all who write or speak concerning the early ages of the Church, in the devotion, the charity, and the holy lives of its worthy fathers: and, while this is the case, there will be a considerable bias to the supposition, that the best pretensions to antiquity must be with those who have the most of the purity of manners by which antiquity was adorned.
Before I leave this part of my subject, I will venture to rise above the tone of argument to that of prediction, grounded not on the fancy of supernatural communication, but on observation of men and manners, and some small knowledge of the history of preceding times. We have been anticipating the future progress of the gospel, as an event grounded on the truth of God. Now my prediction is, that whatever may be the extent in which the expected progress may be realized, very little of it will arise from the exertions of any Church, in which a Minister may be a by-word for his immoralities, without being driven from the administration of its ordinances. Instances of this sort offend in such a degree, that the Church which tolerates them will constantly behold people going off from her communion; some to infidelity, and others to any sect that has, at least, an apparent sense of the sanctity of its profession.?But I pass from doctrine which may be in the head, without affecting the heart, and from discipline which can extend no further than to the preventing of licentious conduct, to the
Third and last branch of this part of my subject, that of morals: I mean Christian morals; comprehending as well the graces of the mind, as the exercise of them in the performance of all the duties of practical obligation.
I consider myself as at this time exhorting to an holy life and conversation, with an especial view to the subject. I say nothing, therefore, of a preparation for the high demand, " Give an account of your stewardship." I do not bring forward the interest which we have in the apostolic intimation, of "saving ourselves as well as those who hear us:" and I put out of view the danger of being found among; those who, having prophesied, that is, preached in their Master's name, shall be the subjects of the disdainful rejection?"Depart from me, I never knew you." All these; things shall be forgotten, while I contemplate the effects of our labours on the extension of the Messiah's kingdom, which shall at last, whether with our instrumentality or without it, know no bounds, and endure for ever.
Can any one doubt, that this blessed cause is hindered by every instance of a profession of godliness, without its being accompanied by the power? Certainly not; for so congenial is the sense of religion to the human mind, that men can, in no other way, wholly discard its obligations, than by persuading themselves that there are no practical uses of it to be discerned. They, indeed, are apt to adopt this opinion, on the ground of very imperfect observation;, not estimating the innumerable occasions on which, in ways unseen, religion exercises her restraints; and the many others in which, in like ways, she administers her consolations. Yes, they judge in error; but it is prompted and confirmed in them, in proportion as they think they see the inefficiency of this blessed governess, towards regulating the known conduct of those who seem to be the best informed of its evidences, and who have brought themselves under the weightiest of its obligations,
We live at a time when a specious but unsound philosophy has made, and is still making, havock within the fold of Christ's flock; and the consideration of this alarming fact ought to bring a charge on the conscience, not to say of every delinquent professor, but of every one who does not evidence in his actions a sense of religion over his mind, of being accessary to that murder of unwary souls. The pen of inspiration has intimated a period when, notwithstanding an intervening prevalence of the gospel, "Satan shall be let loose for a season." I presume not to determine the date of the especial fulfilment of the prediction; but it has been, and may be expected to be again, in various degrees, fulfilled in different times and places, by extraordinary efforts of ungodly men against the truth. Let such a temporary dominion of the wicked one happen when, or where it may, it will be marked by trophies of violence, of desolation, of human misery of every description and degree; and, therefore, woe be to those who become contributors to such mischiefs, in contrariety as well to their inward convictions, as to the testimony of their professions.
To all appearance, these States are designed by Providence to be an increasing, and, at last, an immense addition to the population, the agriculture, the commerce, and the stock of useful arts throughout the World. All this will be dependent on our laws, on our policy, and on the administration of them both. But will these again have no dependence on the degree of influence which religion shall exercise alike over those who are to govern, as over those who are to obey? Unquestionably they will: and, in proportion as the constitutions of our country disclaim that agency which directly applies the religious principle to the promotion of its purposes, there will be the heavier obligation on religious bodies to extend, by the means of their exertions in their collective capacities, and by their examples as individuals, the influence of this only effectual restraint on the injurious passions of mankind. This opens before us a prospect in which we cannot but perceive an immense field "already white to harvest:" a rising empire calling for religious cultivation, not only as essential to the enjoyment of all the blessings which a gracious Providence has bestowed; but to check that prevalence of irreligion, which will otherwise make it, in future times, the seat of licentiousness, of civil discord, and, perhaps, of barbarism.
I trust that considerations of this sort will operate as a charge on those of my audience, whether clerical or lay, who are at this time assembled to exercise the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of our Church. For, should it be found that there is in their conduct any deviation from good morals; and more especially should they be known, in societies of another cast, to be unbelievers in the divine authority of the religion, the concerns of which they have undertaken to administer, it cannot but affect the reputation of any counsels adopted with their concurrence, and tend to load us with the reproach of being a withered branch of the Universal Church. There are no circumstances of civil respectability which can atone for any defect of moral character, or for the want of a sense of religion in the mind, as a qualification for the work before us. To dispense with, these, on the score of any extraneous considerations, is to "build with untempered mortar," and has as little chance of being respectable in the eye of the world, as it has of claim to the promise of the divine blessing.
On the clerical members of this Convention there is an especial call to whatever contributes to the progress of the gospel. Yes, my Rev. Brethren, yea will consider it as idling in with the design of the appointment of a preacher, when he incites both himself and you to a purity suited to the work which we have in hand. Let us, therefore, look forward to the times displayed to the eye of faith by the sure word of prophecy, and remark how much may be dependent on our zeal, our charity, our temperance in regard to this world, and our transcendent affection for another. Let us consider, further, that besides the abundant harvest, to the contemplation of which we are carried by my text, and by similar passages of scripture, we may always, in a lower sense of the expression, "behold the field already white to harvest," in the multitude of persons who may be brought to an holy life and conversation, by our instructions, our exhortations, and our reproofs; and let us avail ourselves of the blessed opportunity for this, while it shall continue. In regard to the business brought before us on this occasion of our being assembled, let the recollection of the trust committed to us prevent every word and every feeling which may be discordant to the nature of religious inquiry and opinion. Finally, I trust that it is not an undue partiality to the apostolical constitution of our ministry, to the evangelical tenour of our doctrine, and to the edifying spirit of our offices, when I venture confidently to predict, that, let them be adorned by the correspondent manners of the ministers, and of the members generally, of our Church, and they will render her "a joy and praise in the whole earth;" securing to her a splendid share in the accomplishment of the promise?"From the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering."
If in the circumstances which I have stated, and if in the sentiments which have arisen from them, there be any thing of an edifying tendency, it will doubtless have its effect on the mind of the Rev. Person to the consecration of whom we shall soon proceed.
My Rev. Brother will not be displeased with the confession, unconnected with his personal character, that in entering on the administration of this holy rite, I experience sensations of a painful nature. A celebrated Roman has, in a pleasing dress of eloquence, displayed the sentiment, that delegation to the same civil office is a ground on which benevolence and friendly offices may be expected. [Cicero pro Muræna.] The remark seems reasonable: and if so, how much more sacred is a relation between two persons, who, under the appointment of a Christian Church, had been successfully engaged together in obtaining for it the succession to the apostolic office of the Episcopacy; who, in the subsequent exercise of that Episcopacy, had jointly laboured in all the ecclesiastical business which has occurred among us; who, through the whole of it, never knew a word, or even a sensation, tending to personal dissatisfaction or disunion; and who had lived, during the time, in the exchange of all the friendly civilities which the circumstances of their respective residence permitted. In respect to such persons, no event can be altogether welcome to one of them, under such circumstances as now occur relative to the other; or prevent the former from mourning over the want of health, or any other cause that has lead to the transaction of this day, however proper. [Bishop Provoost, who was induced, by ill health, and other causes, to resign his Episcopal Jurisdiction of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York.]
I the more confidently give vent to what I feel, from the belief, that there are many present who so well know my affection for the elected Bishop, and my opinion of his abilities, of his integrity, and of his zeal, as to screen me from the imputation of indelicacy towards him. I have, indeed, so sanguine an expectation of his future usefulness, that I might be tempted rather confidently to foretell, than earnestly to exhort to it, were it not for the consideration of that universal insecurity of human virtue during this state of frailty, which should be an incitement to him, to me, and to the whole ministry, to live under the influence of a caution, which even an Apostle thought applicable to his standing in the Christian life; viz. of taking care, "lest, while we preach to others, we ourselves should become cast aways."
Yes, my Brother, this is a danger which will still attend you, notwithstanding your present attainments, your past worthy conduct in the order of the Presbytery, and the reputation which you have thus acquired: a danger to which you well know nothing is equal but the grace to be invoked on your behalf in the ensuing service; which may be pronounced to be as instructive, as solemn, and as affecting a display, as human ingenuity can devise, of the duties on which you are entering. It will, therefore, be sufficient to remind you, that the Church need have no better security for your faithful discharge of the trust which, by our hands, she is committing to you, than your keeping always before you the engagements which she exacts of you at this solemn crisis, as what should have an abiding weight on your conscience, and be a continual incitement of your best faculties and affections.