Project Canterbury









General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church
in United States of America,

On Friday, September 14, A.D. 1804, in Trinity Church,
New-York, on the Occasion of the











No. 160 Pearl-Street.




ST. LUKE xii. 42.

Who then is that faithful and wise servant, whom his Lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?

AMONG the many authorities in scripture for a standing ministry, this is one of the most decisive; because, being a declaration of our Saviour to his disciples while he was with them, and yet applying to the ordering of a kingdom in prospect, it proves the institution of such a ministry to have been in contemplation from the beginning, as a part of his gracious purposes to his Church.

In the preceding part of the chapter, there are many salutary instructions of our Saviour to "an innumerable multitude" which, it is said, "were gathered together." The last of these instructions is, that they should have their "loins girt about, and their lights burning," in preparation for his future coming. St. Peter takes occasion to inquire, "Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even unto all?" The answer in my text is an intimation, that Peter was right in his construction of a more immediate application to the disciples. As if it had been said--However suited the instruction to hearers of all degrees; yet to thee, and to thy fellow disciples it especially belongs; and in you, to all who shall succeed you in your commission; who are to take the charge of the whole flock; and will therefore have the greater need of the vigilance enjoined.

[4] I consider the text as setting before us these three particulars of the Gospel Ministry:

I. Its Qualifications;

II. Its Authorities; and,

III. Its Duties.

1. There are the Qualifications, which are two, Fidelity and Wisdom. Accordingly, taking up the former of these, I may define it to consist in Affection, Firmness, and Diligence.

I say, it supposes Affection; meaning for the work of the Ministry; on the ground of its origin and its merits. This is taught us in that solemn transaction, in which our Saviour, about to invest St. Peter with the pastoral charge, makes an inquiry into the sincerity of his affection. Known to him who knew the hearts of all men was Peter's preparation for the work before him; yet, for the confirming of his affection, and to show him the greatness of the trust, he thrice demands of him, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" enjoining him, on every answer in the affirmative, "feed my sheep." The instruction extends through all ages, to every one who is receiving the pastoral charge; who may, in that transaction, hear his Lord demanding of him, as he did of Peter, "lovest thou me?" That is--Delightest thou in my character, in my precepts, and in that dispensation of grace which I am establishing, for the recovery of a fallen world? And if his heart can not answer with that of Peter, "yea, Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee," let him not expect, that his ministry will be attended either with usefulness to the world or with satisfaction to himself.

As affection is one pre-requisite, so also Firmness is another. This was strongly inculcated on the first publishers of the Gospel; who were told, "fear not them who can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do [4/5] but rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Now, if any should suppose, that the same fortitude is not alike necessary at all times, although not always for the like occasions, it must argue a mistaken estimate of the state of the world, even within the bosom of the Christian Church. To bear an open testimony against irreligion and immorality; to set at naught wealth and station, so far as they give countenance to these great destroyers of human happiness; to be incapable of a word, or of a look which should operate as flattery of persons, or an implied approbation of their corruptions; and, further, on fit occasions, to reprove and rebuke with all authority, are duties to which there will be constant calls, until that general harvest of the world when the tares shall be separated from the wheat.

To give these dispositions of affection and firmness their due use, there is occasion for that other of Industry; or the devoting of our talents, of our time, and of our strength to the work of the Ministry; the renouncing, as much as may be, of all pursuits and cares which hinder it; and, as to such studies as consist with it, the drawing of them, as the service says, this way.

Agreeably to this, St. Paul thus instructs the Clergy--"Having this Ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth on teaching, or he that exhorteth on exhortation;" adding soon after--"not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." And the same apostle instructs Timothy--"Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine--give thyself wholly to them." Nothing can be more evident than that the Ministry is not like other professions in this respect, that it may be taken up or laid down as inclination or circumstances may require. No, it involves a devoting of ourselves to the extending of the kingdom of Christ. On any other ground, what [5/6] an abuse of the name of God, and of the most awful sanctions of religion, are the promises which the Church requires of the Candidate at the Altar! These promises exhibit our Order in a most responsible point of view to mankind in general. For many who have but little sense of the higher duties of the Christian calling, are yet not so lost to all regard for integrity and truth, as not to disapprove of their being flagrantly and avowedly set at naught. And this they surely are by those who desert or neglect, or perform but slightly the duties of their pastoral calling, after being bound to them by such solemn ties.

Such is the qualification of fidelity. And as to the other of Wisdom, it may be said to consist in a Knowledge of sacred subjects, in Discretion, and in Acquaintance with men and manners.

That a Knowledge of the subject to be taught is a necessary qualification of the teacher, would seem a proposition which it is needless to prove, if it were not that there are tome who set tip an impulse of the spirit as a substitute for attainments of that sort, and as a dispensation from such studies as may enable to explain, to defend and to apply the truths of scripture. Not so St. Paul, who instructs Timothy as follows: "The things which thou hast heard of me, the same commit thou unto faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." Still we find fidelity held up as the first and leading requisite; but ability to teach goes hand in hand with it, as that without which it would be of little use to the edification of the Church. Our blessed Saviour also characterises a fit Minister, as "a scribe ready instructed to the kingdom of God;" that is, furnished with all necessary knowledge pertaining to the Gospel dispensation. And he compares such a person to "an householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasures things new and old;" that is, such a scribe draws out from [6/7] his stock of knowledge, every different species of instruction, of exhortation, and of consolation; according to the various occasions to which they are respectively suited.

If it be asked, What are the subjects which come within this branch of knowledge? I answer, that in this, as in every other line, it must be such as especially pertain to the profession concerned. If there be other intellectual attainments of importance to a Clergyman, as indeed there are, it must be on the principle expressed in one of the questions in the ordination service, that they help to a knowledge of what is contained in scripture. Whatever can assist in so good a work--and there is scarcely any branch of general knowledge which may not lend its aid--who will dare say, that it is foreign to the character of a Gospel Minister? But if human knowledge be set up as a rival to divine truth; if an inability to confute the gainsayer, to instruct the ignorant, to bring back the wandering, to support the weak, and comfort the desponding, be thought atoned for by a progress in science and by skill in languages; this is not the wisdom called for in the texts the Gospel stands "not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God." That is, its subjects are of divine communication, and not the achievement of human thought or study. The Revelation being made, its sense is to be determined, to be opened, and to be applied by the human mind, with the help of whatever assistance it can obtain. But let not the means be substituted as the ground on which they are to work. Let not that species of knowledge, which should derive its importance from its being subservient to one of an higher kind, be admitted as a dispensation from the main object.

Another branch of religious wisdom is Discretion; or a faculty of prudent conduct in all business and to all persons. This our Saviour still more pointedly requires [7/8] under the denomination of wisdom, where he instructs hi disciples, "be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves:" the wisdom there meant, having an express reference to the persons they were to converse with, and to the scenes in which they were to be engaged. It has been the way with some, to represent discretion as a low attainment for a Gospel Minister; and indeed as little better than another name for a defect of zeal. But such extravagance is contradicted by the authorities laid before you. Not only so, there are other qualifications, which can hardly subsist with want of prudence. Such as where St. Paul lays it down as a rule to Timothy in his ordinations, that there be "a good report of them that are without;" and again, that the person ordained be "one that ruleth well his own house;" neither of which will ever apply where there is a want of this useful talent. And even for the improvement of the more splendid gift of zeal--what is it without the guide of prudence? Our Saviour, in that parable where he describes the officious zeal of the servants who were for rooting up the tares from among the wheat, re presents to us the mischievous tendency of zeal without discretion; which will always give a scope to the passions of men, instead of being a serving of the cause of God.

Besides these properties of religious wisdom, I mentioned an Acquaintance with men and manners. For if the Minister of the Gospel is "to make a difference, having compassion on some, and saving others with fear, plucking them out of the fire," how shall he thus accommodate himself to persons, without having remarked their respective casts of character? It is a complaint often made of men devoted to study, that they view mankind through the medium of a theory which they have formed to them selves in their closets, instead of seeing them as they are exhibited in real life. There can be no better proof that [8/9] such a degree of abstraction is not, generally speaking, suited to the station of a Preacher of the Gospel. Happy, indeed, in this respect, are those Churches which, being provided with endowments for the purpose, may spare a proportion of their Clergy to a life of strict study; where by their labours become useful to the general cause of religion and of learning, and make a compensation to the Church and to society for their being taken from active duties. But where the latter are incumbent, no attainments in knowledge can atone for the want of acquaintance with the human character in its wonderful varieties; which the active labourer in the vineyard must carry along with him in all his cares and his cultivation.

2. If, after all, there be any question of the necessity of the qualifications stated, I appeal to the Authorities with which the Pastoral Office is cloathed in scripture; and which was to make the second head of my discourse.

Very unsuitably is such authority bestowed, unless there are required suitable talents for the exercise of it. And yet, in my text, the Ministers of Christ's kingdom are called rulers of his household. St. Paul also speaks of them, as being rulers in the Church of God. And in another place he directs, that they who rule well be accounted "worthy of double honour."

By some, however, all pre-eminence of this sort has been thought protested against by that declaration of our Saviour to his disciples--"Ye shall not be so; but he that is the greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve." Now, if that declaration be considered in its due connection, it will not be found a prohibition, either of an Ecclesiastical Order, or of a difference of Order among the Clergy; but a lesson of humility, from which no degree of Order was to be a dispensation. Both the letter and spirit of what is said is [9/10] to this purpose--that stations of the higher authority in the Church of Christ, should be the most adorned by dispositions and by acts of kindness and condescension, instead of being the objects of ambition and the path to worldly greatness; such as they had been contemplated by the applicant, to whom the declaration is an answer. As surely as that the members of the Christian Church were to be formed into a social body, there was to be a government erected over them. And if so, there were to be some who should preside and ride, as in all other organizations of mankind.

Here then a question arises, as to the persons clothed with the authority, and, also, as to its due extent and limitations.

The persons clothed with the executive authority in the Church--that, however, not according to an absolute and arbitrary administration, but to be directed by scripture as far as its sense is declared, and by the laws of the Church in those matters which are left to her discretion--the persons clothed with this authority, are they whom the scriptures have called "stewards of the mysteries of God, ambassadors of Christ;" and here, in my text, "the servants of the divine Householder." These, each of them in his vocation, are to look to the flock of Christ. It seemed good to the Apostles, to appoint some of these with a supereminent commission, of which there were in stances in Timothy and in Titus; and the persons so appointed have handed down their commission through the different ages of the Church. This is the originally constituted Order. And, therefore, without judging those who have departed from it, we may wish and pray for its restoration in all Christian Churches; as one mean for the restoring of godly discipline, for the having of our "hearts knit together in love," and "that we may with one heart [10/11] and one mouth, glorify God." Still it is not to the higher Order of the Clergy, that the government of the Church is exclusively committed. For St. Paul speaks of "the Elders who rule well;" and they of Ephesus whom he charges, "take heed of the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers," were not Bishops in the appropriate sense of the term, as used afterwards. Accordingly our Church, in her service for the ordination of Priests, acknowledges them partakers with Bishops in discipline, as well as in the administration of the sacraments.

As to the extent of the authority, its object is, in the first place, to admit to the kingdom of God; that is, (for such is the general meaning of the expression) into Christ's Church; agreeably to his last injunction to his disciples, "go and teach all nations, or, as is the full sense of the words, make disciples of them, "baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

The authority involves, as the right of admitting to Christian privileges, so also that of excluding from them; "according to the power," which, as the Apostle says, "the Lord hath given for edification and not for destruction." The discipline of the Church of Christ, necessarily embraces a power which exists in, and is essential to every social body. And however high the power, when considered as it respects the mystical body of Christ; or however free the exercise of it should unquestionably be from human passion; yet, when it operates on Gospel grounds, we cannot doubt of the fulfilment of the declaration, that what is thus done on earth, is ratified in heaven.

Another instance of the reasonable exercise of this authority, is to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines, contrary to God's word. It would be more consistent to deny the existence of the [11/12] Christian Church, as a society established by her divine. Head; than to suppose, that he has subjected her to the endurance of all the errors of wicked or of weak men, without any authority to censure and suppress them. Certain it is, the Church of Ephesus is commended for having tried those who said they were apostles and were not; but were found liars. The Church of Pergamos is censured for enduring errors which led to idolatry and to licentiousness. St. John, in his catholic epistle, forbids the receiving or the bidding of God-speed, to certain who in deed confessed the Saviour, but denied the truth of his appearance in the flesh. And St. Paul instructs Titus to "reject an heretic," after due and unregarded admonition. But much need not be said to establish a power, which, under all circumstances of the Church, has been and must be used, as it should be, either under laws made with de liberation and without reference to persons, or else according to discretion, which is always in danger of being affected by passion and by caprice.

Lastly, it is for this Ecclesiastical Authority to regulate the worship of the Church: which appears from hence, that it is directed--"Let all things be done decently and in order"--and "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets;" while yet there are no special rules of invariable and universal use; but the providing of them is left to that prudence, which may have regard to various circumstances of time, of place, of character, and of custom.

Thus much for the extent of the Authority. And as to the limits of it, I know of but one restraint on the power of a Christian Church within its proper sphere; which is, the acting under the influence of that sentiment of the Apostle--"We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth"--that is, the Church has not the power, [12/13] under any circumstances, of changing the revealed will of God. And when any branch of the universal Church attempts this, there arises a case, and it is the only one that can arise, in which private conscience and not public law becomes the rule of conduct. But although this is the only absolute limitation of the Church herself, yet her individual members, whatever may be their stations, are subject to other limits; even as many as arise from the general declared will, moving under the restriction above mentioned. I am not inquiring how this will should be expressed, nor who are they who should bear their parts in the determining of it. The former must he different in different times and places. As to the latter, reason and propriety require, that those persons are to have a pre-eminence in the business, whose stations in the Church invest them with the greatest share of responsibility. But yet, the more fully the things determined carry with them the sanction of all the orders to be governed by them, the nearer they conform to the true principles of legislation, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical; and the more likely they are to be wisely done, and to be peaceably and profitably executed. In all this, however, there is room for considerable variety, according as human prudence shall direct. But regulations thus made, are binding on per sons of all orders in the Church; and on the contrary supposition, there can be no order or social government, but every one is left to his own humour or opinion.

After all, ecclesiastical authority, like the civil, not taken in connection with its end, will always be a scope given to the worst passions of human nature. Accordingly, its object is defined by the Apostle in my text, in the expression of "giving to every one his meat in due season."

3. And to open to you the sense of this metaphor, was to be the third head of my discourse.

[14] The same metaphor is found in other places; as where Christ commands Peter--"Feed my sheep;" and where St. Paul instructs the Clergy of the Church of Ephesus--"to feed the Church of God, which he had purchased with his own blood." In all these places, the meaning of the metaphor is Christian doctrine and precept; which consists in the opening of the great mystery of redemption; in stating the obligation of the Christian ordinances; in inculcating the duties of life in their evangelical purity and extent; in enforcing them by the prevalent example of the great Author of our religion; and in holding forth the splendid revelation of "life and immortality brought to light," These are subjects suited to all times: and yet my text mentions it as a Qualification of a Minister of the Gospel, that he gives every one "his portion of meat in due season;" meaning, that from subjects alike important in themselves, there will be occasion for a judicious selection, in application to present use. And this is no more than what arises from the diversity of the exigences to be supplied.

I consider then the point before us as referring to these three particulars--a difference in the circumstances of the Church; in the character and condition of persons; and in the duties of the Ministry.

There is, I say, a difference in the circumstances of the Church; which will require stress to be laid, sometimes on one truth or duty of religion, and sometimes on another; now, this error or corruption, and then that to be especially contradicted and exposed. And there could hardly be a greater mistake, than the applying to any sea son of what is not suited to its occurrences. To explain my meaning: Should a Minister of the Gospel take a re view of the works of the most celebrated divines of the Church of England, he will find them, at one period, [14/15] laying peculiar stress on the eternal obligation of Christian morals, and placing them in contrast to a then prevalent enthusiasm, which, decrying morals and exalting faith, was a cover to the blackest hypocrisy, and an incentive to the foulest crimes. At another period he will find them roused by a zeal for the doctrines of the Gospel, as asserted and established at the Reformation, in opposition to high-handed endeavours for the readmission of superstition and the dominion of the Papacy. And if he were to turn his eye to the same Church at the present day, he would behold her ablest divines employed in a vindication of the great and leading doctrines of Christ's Divinity, of the Atonement, and of every other characteristic of Revelation, contrary to avowed exertions for the overthrowing of them. In all this, they have maintained what is in a degree seasonable at all times and under all circumstances; but yet have laid special stress on truths the most in danger; have directed their principal strength to that part of the Christian fortress which was assailed by the enemy.

It is easy to see, that the reasoning applies not only to the general, but to the local circumstances of the Church; in every part of which there will be some contradiction of Gospel truth, more immediately calling for the exercise of a temperate and enlightened zeal. Or if, happily, the Minister of the Gospel should be exempted from this difficulty, there is another which will never be wanting--the prevalence of some corrupt practice, deriving special encouragement from present custom; and therefore requiring the servant of an almighty Master, not only to "give the household meat," but to give what is "in due season"--not only to administer salutary instruction, but to take care that it be such as circumstances most require.

But there may be a difference as in the circumstances of the Church, so also in the characters and in the conditions of persons; and this, as well as the other, enters into the duty of "giving every one their portion of meat in due season."

For while there are profane persons who have need of remonstrance and rebuke, there are the timid and the desponding, who call for encouragement and counsel. The young will, in general, be most benefited by the checks, and the old by the consolations of religion. There is a diversity in tempers, which makes some the easiest moved by those hopes, and others by those fears, both of which, in accommodation to this very property of our nature, are fully laid before us in the Gospel. Diversity of conditions also enlarges the scope of the present duty. For prosperity on one hand, and adversity on the other, have each of them its temptations and its obligations: and while, in respect to the fanner, there is occasion to guard against arrogance and licentiousness, and to animate to beneficence and exemplary piety; so, in relation to the latter, it is necessary to caution against despair and discontent, and to exhort to implicit submission to the divine will.

But I observed farther, that the duties of the Christian Minister open an ample field for these exercises of his office, the commendation of which is their being done "in due season." For instance, in his visitations of the sick, what opportunities arise, sometimes of calling to repentance and reformation, and at other times of administering support under the severest trials of humanity! And what ever be the peculiar cast of instruction, how are they enforced by the most powerful considerations, which can present themselves to the hopes or to the fears of man!

In his common intercourse also, opportunities will arise, sometimes of reproving immorality and vice, and at other times of showing the amiableness of a religious life and [16/17] conversation: in which, if it be suited to time and place, and void of all reference to self, he will find ample illustration of the sentiment of the wise man, where he says, "a word spoken in due season how good is it?"

Sermons, it is true, must be of a general cast. Yet even here, if the instructions be suited to the various cases which may be supposed to exist in a mixed assembly, it is scarcely possible, but that genuine Evangelical Doctrine will find some minds predisposed to the receiving of impressions from it. What though the Preacher has no design, as indeed he ought to have none, of personal application--still there is an inward witness, which may make it for him. Besides, there is an higher Agent, who produces an increase from what is planted and watered by human labour. And as when a bow had been drawn at a venture, the arrow was directed to the heart of the King of Israel, by the overruling Providence of God; in like manner, instructions indiscriminately given are often brought home to the hearts of individual hearers, by the equally efficacious energy of his holy Spirit.

While I am thus delineating duties evidently lying on my Rev. Brethren of our Ecclesiastical Convention, I am aware that the matters delivered relate to the ministerial character at large, without much peculiar reference to that highest grade of the Ministry to which one of our Rev. Brethren is to be admitted at this time. But when I contemplate his long standing in our communion, and the reputation which he has sustained in it, together with the experience which he has had, and the zeal which he has manifested in its conceits, I feel no inclination to deliver to him, in the form of instructions suggested by the discretion and grounded on the authority of the speaker, the same truths which the Church is about to address to his [17/18] conscience in her own most authoritative instructions before the Altar.

I trust it is an evidence of the good Providence of God over our Church, and it is certainly one of the most encouraging circumstances in my administration of her concerns, that her Bishops have never been called on to admit into their number any persons under the influence of the spirit of innovation, which, in a variety of ways, is aiming at inroads on that holy system of rational and evangelical devotion which we have inherited from our Parent Church, and which has been handed down to her from the pure source of primitive belief and practice. Should such a case occur, I am persuaded of my Right Rev. Brethren, and, under the hope of divine aid, it is my determination in regard to my own conduct, that there shall be a resistance of a measure so directly tending to the dishonour, and, eventually, the ruin of our communion. We cannot, however, but have observed with the most poignant sorrow, that even our desire of extending the kingdom of the Redeemer has been a door of admission to the Ministry of persons who disdain whatever restraints may be imposed by public reason on private fancy. And, indeed, it gives us one of the most melancholy views which can be taken of human nature, to find evils of this magnitude arising out of a combination of extraordinary apparent piety, with a disregard of the most explicit promises which can be made, in one of the most solemn acts to which Religion can give her sanction. If through the medium of imposing recommendations and more imposing perfidy, we have been sometimes betrayed into the admission of Presbyters of this description, it is to be hoped that subsequent experience of them will be a bar to their introduction to the Episcopacy.

[19] I entertain no doubt that there will be a strengthening of this bar, in the Consecration on which we are now to enter. The Rev. Person who is to be the subject of it--such I am persuaded is the expectation of us all--will act up to the spirit of the high requisition of the text, in regard to the flock of Christ to be committed to him, of "giving every one his portion of meat in due season"--the wholesome meat of evangelical doctrine, unaccompanied by the poison of enthusiasm. Not only so, he will resist that specious but false reform which, by an abandonment of the characteristic doctrines of our holy Religion, would leave little of it besides the name. And, above all, he will, in his conversation and in his conduct, bear a protest against an increasing infidelity, "exalting itself above all that is called God, and that is worshipped;" and deriving indirect aid from those errors, which, under the venerable profession of Christianity, are a departure from "the truth as it is in Jesus." These are benefits, my Rev. Brother, which I delight in anticipating, rather than in enjoining. I will so far, however, change the manner of my address, as to exhort you to look forward for your encouragement, while engaged in so holy and so beneficent a work, to the promise connected with the words which have been the subject of this Discourse--"Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing." Blessed we believe you will be, in a divine prospering of your endeavours for the extension of truth and righteousness. Blessed you will certainly be in the consciousness of employing your talents for the use for which they were bestowed. But, above all, blessed you will finally and everlastingly be in the sentence already recorded by the pen of Inspiration--"Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

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