WHATEVER difficulties may occur in interpreting the Book of Revelation, they do not extend to the first three chapters; especially to the short epistles to the seven churches of Asia. But in the addresses of the epistles there is a peculiarity distinguishing them from the other epistles of the New Testament: for whereas the latter are directed immediately to the members of the respective churches, those now spoken of take notice of some one person in each church, who had an especial interest in the messages. This person is designated by the name of "Angel;" as "the Angel of the church of Ephesus," "the Angel of the church of Smyrna," and so of the rest. The title had been applied to the presiding minister of every synagogue; but is here descriptive of the presiding minister of each o the seven Asiatick churches, agreeably to the metaphorical style of the whole book.
There is but one way of accounting for this difference in the forms of address. At the late period when the hook of Revelation was written, the Episcopal authority over the church, at [3/4] first exercised at large by the apostles, had become restrained to the presiding pastors in the churches of the individual cities; so that the persons described by the said symbolical titles, were the Bishops of the respective churches in office; such as those who presided universally in Christendom for 1500 years, and who continue to preside in our church to the present day, how ever short may be their grade of merit of that of their predecessors.
Although each of these short epistles is addressed to the presiding minister, yet it is not he, but the church itself, which is described. This appears on an inspection of the epistles, and is agreeable to the symbolical character of the book, which, in its description as well of civil powers as of the ecclesiastical, while it speaks of the heads of them respectively, intends the strong colourings in which it has drawn them, not of the heads them selve, but of the powers of which they are the emblems. Accordingly the text may be considered as applying to all in this assembly. In particular to the respectable person who is, on this day, to be consecrated to the Episcopacy, there may seasonably be addressed the caution and the encouragement; the more so, as they were primarily addressed to a personage in the same grade of the ministry, who, even under the eyes of the apostolick founders of the church, was supposed to be not without the need of counsel, which should be imperative on succeeding Bishops to the end of time. On the present occasion, the preacher has reason to confide, concerning the reverend brother in question, that having been long faithful in a lower grade of the ministry, he will not be wanting in the new character on which he is about to enter: Yet, in consideration of the instability of all human virtue, in every stage of our earthly pilgrimage, [4/5] he will not be disdainful of the word of exhortation, nor of that of encouragement; inciting him to diligence and perseverance in the work before him.
On the unexpected and the late call of the present occasion, the words of the text shall be considered, 1st, As implying a trust: 2ndly, As calling for fidelity: 3dly, As prescribing the term of it; and 4thly, As promising a reward.
First, they imply a trust; which is of the grace of the Gospel to the professors of it generally; and to the authorized ministers of it, the being devoted to the extension of its influence.
The subject of this trust, is the grace of the Gospel to the professors of it generally. It may indeed be affirmed, that our time, our talents, our possessions, in short whatever we have, are a trust from the Almighty Donor, to whom we must give an account for the application of them to their appointed purposes. But what is particularly in view in the text, is the trust of the Gospel; that is, of the doctrines which it reveals, of the worship which it prescribes, and of the duties which it ordains; a trust to be improved to its due effect, over our tempers and our lives.
At the time when the book was written, some of the Asiatick churches are contemplated by the writer of it as in danger, on account of the licentiousness of many of their members, and the remissness of many more, of having their "candlesticks removed out of their places;" that is, of the withdrawing of the light of the Gospel from them; agreeably to the threatenings contained in the several messages referred to. The Church of Smyrna had withstood the growing corruptions of the day, and had [5/6] suffered much on that account. The great Head of the Church praises their constancy, admonishing them to continue in it to the end.
Every age has its peculiar dangers, and ours has not the least of them; consisting of the corruptions of many within, and the enmity of many without; and creating especial calls on the conscientious professors of the Gospel, to defend it by their zeal, and to adorn it by their lives. But there is one danger common to all times and places--that of falling short of the standard of Christian morals which it prescribes; and consequently of the life and immortality which it has brought to light.
In order to prevent this, let every one consider the Gospel as resting on his conscience a weighty trust; comprehending truths which were designed to make him "wise unto salvation;" promises, by which he should become a partaker of the divine nature; and precepts, rendering him "thoroughly furnished unto all good works." These, with whatever they imply of instruction to guide us to our duty, and of grace to enable us to discharge it, are a part of the trust, which gave a ground for the admonition in the text.
Although this is a trust which should rest on the consciences of all, it ought to have especial weight on those of the ministers of the Gospel. Rather, it is enlarged to the more extensive duty of devoting their time and their talents to the service of the ministry, on which they have entered; a ministry, not of human institution, but appointed by an heavenly Authority; and therefore not to be limited by human discretion, or accommodated to human convenience; but to be taken in connexion with its [6/7] important duties, as defined by the same high Authority which ordained it.
This idea of a special trust, involved in the ministerial calling, is strongly stated to us in the Scriptures. St. Paul, in his Epistle to Timothy, speaking of "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God," describes it as "committed to his trust;" and elsewhere, be enjoins the same person, "Keep that which is committed to thy trust." In another place, speaking of himself and his fellow labourers, he describes them thus: "as we were allowed to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who trieth the hearts." In another place he rises to the sentiment of "a dispensation laid on him;" the calls of which it became him to comply with "willingly," while the dispensation was obligatory on him, whether with or in contrariety to his will; and "woe be to him, if he preached not the Gospel."
There has been stated this circumstance of the ministry, as distinguishing it from any undertaking engaged in on the mere consideration of expediency or of usefulness; and in which general rectitude of intention would be consistent with the choice of means, dictated by discretion, for the accomplishing of it. Not so is the ministry of the Gospel. It is a trust, having a reference to the will of Him who instituted it; which must of course be kept in view, for the forming of a correct apprehension of the required fidelity. This was noticed as the second particular, and is expressly called for by the text.
It involves, in the first place, an improvement of the knowledge thus communicated to us of the perfections of God, of the [7/8] terms of the Christian covenant, of the consolations supplied by the same blessed system, with the prospects which it opens to the hopes of the believer. As surely as that mankind are accountable creatures, they will be judged according to the advantages which they will have enjoyed in the present state of being. The Scriptures harmonize with this suggestion of our reasonable nature, assuring us that "to whom much is given, of them there will be much required;" that they who "have sinned without law, shall be judged without law," while "they who have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law:" this, says the apostle, "in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel;" and therefore, as is implied, shall judge the subjects of that Gospel agreeably to the holy morality which it has enjoined, without regard to any such corrupt prejudices as may have weakened the force of its sanctions over their consciences, or have lessened its influence over their actions.
This fidelity exacts, further, an improvement of the means of grace, instituted by the same authority of Revelation. Its baptism brings an heavy obligation on us, to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit." Its eucharistick sacrifice, while it shows forth that great sacrifice, through the merits of which we draw nigh to God, is a mean of grace to those who celebrate it with affections suited to its subject. Prayer, in all its branches, must be for ever obligatory, as the mean of access to the adorable Being who has promised to hear and answer it. In short, the ties of these duties, and the obligations of the blessed fruits which grow from them, are what do not rest on any acceptance or choice of ours; but to all who, by the good Providence of God, are brought within the dispensation of grace, they are a [8/9] trust, either to be improved by fidelity on the one hand, or to be the subjects of contempt and disregard on the other.
Another operation of fidelity, is the improvement of divine grace in its influences over our hearts. All sin is a "resisting and a grieving of the spirit of grace." On the contrary, the living in the exercise of the Christian graces, is the being "led by the Spirit." In short, godly motions of every sort are ascribed to this Divine Agent, and are considered as a part of that precious purchase of the Redeemer, the result of which was made manifest, when having "ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Of course, the improvement of the influences of the Spirit, in listening to his ad monitions, and in being able to rejoice in his consolations, is a branch of the fidelity which the text holds out to us, as incumbent on all Christians.
In regard to ministers of the Gospel in particular, the grace before us calls for sincerity, in contra-distinction from every in direct motive; for courage, as opposed to criminal timidity; and for diligence, to the discouragement of a life of inactivity.
It calls for sincerity, in contra-distinction from every indirect motive; such as that in the contemplation of the Apostle St. Peter, where he instructs ministers to "take the oversight of the flock, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;" an instruction implying what is said explicitly in an another place--"God hath ordained, that they who preach the Gospel shall live of the Gospel;" but at the same time interdicting the support derived from this source, in the shape of motive inducing to the office; such also as was within the view of the same Apostle, where he adds, [9/10] "not as being lords over God's heritage;" an expression alluding to the ascendency which some acquire by little arts over weak minds; and which they make use of for the gratification of their ambition; more inviting to some persons than any attached to avarice and sensuality; although perhaps as dangerous as either to the party moved by it, and more destructive than both to the peace and the happiness of mankind; and again, such as was within the view of St. Paul, where, laying down the rule of his own conduct, he says, "not as pleasing men, but God who trieth the hearts." This fixes a stigma on the vanity that has for its object mere popular applause, and aims rather at the gratifying of the fancies of men, than at administering to their edification.
As pastoral fidelity supposes sincerity, so it involves courage, in opposition to criminal timidity; to the timidity which prompts complaisance with the corrupt humours or opinions of mankind; and which is pointedly discountenanced by St. Paul, where he instructs fidelity "to reprove and to rebuke," as well as "to exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine." It is a duty which, while it must be accommodated to time, to circumstances, and to the different dispositions of men, can never allow the minister of the Gospel to connive at or to sanction any thing in opposition to the strict demands of Gospel duty. In doing this, at the same time that he would be unfaithful to his trust, he knows not what extent of unfaithfulness he may give occasion to; or, in the language of Scripture, how far he may be "a partaker of other men's sins."
It was also remarked, that the duty included diligence; to the discouragement of a life of inactivity. Conformably to this, St. [10/11] Paul enjoins--"be instant in season, out of season;" a strong way of expressing the sentiment, that all times and all occasions are proper, if not of delivering authoritatively the instructions of the Gospel, yet of insinuating its persuasions. With the same view he directs--"give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doc trine;" and in another place--"let us wait On our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation;" offices which, if conscientiously engaged in and acted up to, will never allow of remissness in the persons dedicated to them; "so long," to use the words of one of the ordination services, "as there is place left, either for error in religion or for viciousness in life."
If there be any who conceive of the matters here laid down, that they are beyond what is essentially involved in the ministerial office; they may be referred to the promises required by the Church, in her admission to the ministry according to its various grades. These promises are so full, and are given under such circumstances of solemnity, that it becomes those who can reconcile any degree of levity or of indifference with the resulting duties, and especially those of that description who have taken, or intend to take, the promises on their tongues, to consider how far the assent thus given is consistent, not to say with the perfection of Christian morals, but with that truth and integrity which is expected in all other dealings. A late infidel writer [T. Paine] has remarked, that when a man has so prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional beliefs to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. The remark applies at least [11/12] as strongly to the making of promises, which the party has no intention to perform. The insinuation of that writer, levelled at the clergy generally, is uncharitable; and, as is here trusted, untrue. But so far as the reproach applies, it is just: and on the ground of the maxim of receiving instruction from an enemy it is mentioned as an illustration of the sentiments which have been delivered, and as aggravating the guilt of that species of insincerity which, with great reason, was so shocking to the moral theory of an unbeliever.
Then particulars being included in the idea of fidelity, the third head is the term to which it extends. The term is "unto death," the boundary between the period of our probation, and a new scene that is to succeed it The precept may be considered as militating against the opinion, that there is such a sealing to the day of redemption, as renders final apostacy impossible. Were this a truth of Scripture, there would seem to be little reason for the precepts addressed to Christians of every grade, "be not high-minded, but fear;" and "let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall;" and "let us fear, lest, a promise being made of entering into rest, any of you should seem"--or, as it might be rendered, adjudged--"to fall short of it." But no; life is a battle, in which we can never safely lay aside the armour of the Gospel: or it is a race, in which there must be no suspension of exertion, until we shall have readied the goal. If any one should imagine that the prize is sure, before the victory shall have been accomplished, let him learn humility from the great Apostle of the Gentiles; who, after all his attainments and all his labours, gives, as a reason for his still "bringing of his body into subjection," [12/13] "lest when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away."
If this circumspection, this diffidence, this holy fear, is incumbent universally on Christians, it must lie especially on Christian ministers, who, besides the care of working out their own salvation are emphatically said to watch for the souls of others. Accordingly, they are instructed by the same unerring rule, "to have their loins girt about, and their lamps burning;" and to be like servants, who are habitually waiting for their Lord. Again, where our Saviour asks, evidently with an eye to the ministry, "who 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," he answers his own question, and describes such a faithful minister as follows: "blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing." These, and many more, are the incentives to the ministers of the Gospel, not only to be faithful to their trust at any present time, but to persevere their fidelity to the end. They are incentives which allow of no abatement of zeal and no remission of labour, much less of that desertion of their profession, which, however lightly it may be thought of by some, yet, when compared with the solemn engagements made at ordination, and when there are no providential impediments nor disabilities, can never be justified on any principles of moral obligation, but must be perceived to be inconsistent with the dictates of truth and sincerity, confessed generally by mankind.
Whatever, therefore, may be the difference of trust between the clergy and people of other callings, they are alike in this, [13/14] that it is death only which can release them from the obligations lying on them respectively. That is the decisive period, when there will be rendered to every man according to his work; and when this will be done without distinction of order, but be proportioned to the talents which had been bestowed, and the opportunities which had been enjoyed. Then will the discharge of duties promotive of piety and virtue, and issuing from good intention and a well-directed zeal, far outweigh the achievements of the most brilliant talents, and the most admired attainments of art and study: not to say when they are fruitful of human misery, but when they are not directed to the accomplishing of a measure of publick good, proportioned to the means with which the agents had been supplied.
These ate the considerations suggested by the admonition, to extend fidelity to death: and the importance of them is immensely enhanced by the continually approaching, and, for aught that can be known, nearly impending period, when there will remain no further opportunities of instructing the ignorant, or of comforting the sorrowful, or of bringing sinners home to God, or of confirming the godly in their good desires and their good designs, or of any other branch of an office appointed for the salvation of mankind. But it should he the support of the faithful ministers under this weight of duty, that there will no more be its anxieties and its sorrows. On the contrary, there will remain for him, and not for him only, but for all who shall have loved the Lord Jesus Christ with sincerity, and have adorned his doctrine, the reward promised in the text, and noticed under the fourth head, in the terms, "I will give thee the crown of life."
 This branch of the subject applies alike to ministers and to the people; as it relates to a new state of things, in which there will be no difference of professional character, but a common responsibility, according to the conduct of every one in the sphere in which Providence had placed him.
"I will give thee a crown of life." It is a mode of expression, like many others in Scripture, from which we derive no positive information concerning the happiness of "just men made perfect" in the intermediate state between death and the resurrect this being perhaps disproportioned to our present faculties, but represented under such emblems as are contrasted with the difficulties of the present life. The emblem in the text has a reference to the exercise of running, in the Grecian games; in which the reward of victory was a crown; not given until the successful contender had reached the goal. "Now," says St. Paul, in a place where he dilates the comparison more at large, "they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible." It is in harmony with this comparison, that we read in the text of "a crown of life;" which, as in the literal sense it reminds us of the achievement with all the difficulties involved; so in the application thus made to religious truths, it should suggest to us the zeal, the patience, the perseverance, and the continued industry and exertion, of the contender in the Christian course.
In order to give this important object its due effect, not only on the mind of the reverend subject of the ensuing solemnity, but on the minds of all the reverend brethren present, there shall be taken occasion to remind them of that saying of the wise man--"whatsoever thou takest in hand, remember the [15/16] end, and thou shalt never do amiss:" a remark which is very conspicuous amidst all the business of mankind, in the unwearied pains which they never fail to take, for the obtaining of whatever is the supreme object of their desires. If honour, or if wealth be the thing in prospect, it will not only give a complexion to their conversation, their conduct, and their inward character, but in no event of life, and in none of their actions, however apparently unconnected with the main design, will it be lost sight of or entirely disregarded. If the end of the minister be thus in view--and what has he of the spirit of his profession, if his end be any thing short of the crown of life?--he can never materially err from the path of duty. His temper will be moulded to conformity with the reward in prospect. His publick discourses, and his private exhortations and persuasions, will feel its powerful influence. Should unworthy passions interfere, to seduce him from the dictates of an enlightened conscience, whatever appearances they may wear of a holy zeal, he will dismiss them with some such rebuke, as that of our Lord to the Apostle Peter, "Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those which be of men."
If such an end causes the ministerial calling to be a life of care and labour, let it be remembered, that nothing else can render it fruitful of consolation, or even binder it from being full of disappointment and vexation; and indeed, that on any other ground, both the calling and the persons who sustain it are utterly useless to mankind.
The less shall be said on the present point, because of the call of the attention as well of the preacher as of the audience, [16/17] to the case of the reverend person who is to be the subject of the ensuing solemnity. It has been much discussed within these walls, in the consultations of the representative body of our church, and in the presence of many others, who, either from curiosity, or from an interest taken in the subject, have listened to the deliberations. To the preacher it has been a cause of painful sympathy, from the apprehension that the delay and the hesitation, in a city in which our reverend brother is comparatively a stranger, however dictated by necessity, and however unconnected with his personal merits, should be erroneously construed as detracting from them. The contrary has been the result; there having been done ample justice to his character, in all the discussions of the members of the convention; however differing in their interpretations of ecclesiastical enactments, and of their bearings on the question of elevation to the Episcopacy. [In the case of the Rev. Dr. Meade, the question agitated in the Convention arose from his having been elected Assistant Bishop, without the right of succeeding the Diocesan. The major number of the House of clerical and lay deputies, concurred in the presentation of him for consecration; not from approbation of the restriction; but because they were content with guarding against future occasions of a like kind, by a Canon, which was accordingly proposed and passed. The minority ware no less explicit than the majority, in declaring their satisfaction with the personal character of the reverend person, to whom the question had respect; but thought that the terms of his election should be rendered conformable to precedent, and, as connected with their view of the subject, with the constitution of the Church, before consecration should be given.]
In the opinion of him who is now speaking this has so loudly proclaimed the estimation in which the reverend person is held by all who know him, as ought to be a sufficiently counter balancing consolation to any mortification which may have intervened. As to the knowledge of him by his present monitor, [17/18] it has been such as to impress the conviction of his past fidelity; therefore, to be as sure a pledge as human frailty will permit to be relied on of continuance until death. Neither is there in his personal character any reasonable cause of doubt of his exercise of sound discretion in his ensuing ministry, especially as he will have the aid of the superintendence and of the counsel of his experienced diocesan, the loss of whom to the church we may hope to be distant, while we congratulate him on the obtaining of the aid so loudly called for, by his years and by his frequent sickness.
It will not be out of place to solicit, or rather to rely with certainty on the counsels and on the countenance of all our brethren in the Episcopacy, in favor of him who is to be soon their junior brother; and further, the respect and the esteem of all the ecclesiatical body now assembled; whose honoring of the new bishop in his station will be the best evidence, if any should erroneously be thought wanting, of the true ground of the difficulties which have occurred on the question of presenting him for consecration. In the management of the concern, it has been no small relief, under the anxiety occasioned by it, to have witnessed the talents and the knowledge of ecclesiastical polity which have been displayed, as well by lay as by clerical members of the assembly. There are here recollected by the preacher the incipient measures adopted m this city, for the organizing of our church, above forty-five years ago. Although, at that time, there were some eminent persons of the lay order, who came forward to raise, from its discordant elements, a church prostrate, and thought by many about to become extinct, yet there has subsequently been brought to her aid a great increase of talent and of active zeal. Our lay brethren will not [18/19] think it presumptuous, that they are now exhorted to proceed in such works as that which has occupied them on the floor where they are still assembled; and especially to take care, in respect to the Gospel which they advocate, that it be to them the best source of instruction, of admonition, and of consolation; or, to use the words of Scripture, that it be found by them "the power of God unto salvation."
To return to the text, and to the reverend person to whose case it has been applied.
Brother; the advice tendered to you on this occasion will doubtless, be considered by you as clothed with some weight, from the near end of the responsibility of the person from whose mouth it has proceeded. You are in early life; and if, like him, you should reach the age of more than four score years, you will also, like him, look back with regret to any opportunities which have been unimproved; although it may be hoped, with humble trust in the acceptance of such services as may have been rendered in faith and with fidelity; not for any merit in themselves, but through the merits of the adorable Redeemer. That this, with the promised reward, may be the consummation of your fidelity unto death, may God, of his infinite mercy, grant.