Project Canterbury

Commentaries Suited to Occasions of Ordination
by William White, D.D.

New-York: Swords, Stanford and Co., 1833.

On the Questions in the Office for the Ordaining of Deacons

QUESTION I. "Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, to take upon you this office and ministration, to serve God for the promoting of his glory, and the edifying of his people?"

In proportion to the solemnity of this appeal to the conscience, there should be care, on the one hand, not to adopt any expedient for the lessening of the responsibility designed to be brought on the candidate; and on the other hand, not to suppose that there is exacted a species of call of which not a single instance appears on record in the New Testament. Accordingly there may be a propriety in delaying the attention for a while, on the force of the expression, "I trust." It is not uncommon to hear this question appealed to, in order to prove that the Church requires an absolute assurance of a divine call to the ministerial office. Were there indeed an inward call, alike clear with that outward call which St. Paul heard on his journey to Damascus; it would become the person receiving it, in imitation of the same apostle, who "conferred not with flesh and blood," to enter on his office without the consent of man. But the whole scheme of the Christian ministry, as framed by the apostles, and handed down to us in succession, implies the intervention of an ecclesiastical order, designated for the purpose. Accordingly, as the question of the candidate's fitness for the office, is not subjected altogether to the test of a consciousness in his own, mind; so, in reference to what passes there, as duly pointed to its object, he is expected to declare, not his assurance, but his trust. And indeed, the Church by making this the ground of her proceeding, rejects the other; which, if there were any warrant for it, ought to have been noticed and demanded.

Very important, however, is the appeal made, under the expression which the service uses: and very awful is the responsibility involved in the reference to the Holy Spirit. It will be no difficult matter to ascertain what the Church means, when she warrants the ascribing of any religious disposition of the mind to so high an agency. The Scriptures assure us, Eph. v. 9, "that the fruits of the Spirit are in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth." In Gal. v. 22, the fruits of the Spirit are described more at large. And the passages are many, in which there is attributed to the Spirit of grace whatever is holy and good in man. Our Church, keeping in view this evangelical truth, recognises it continually in her service. If then, agreeably to the expressions which follow in the question of serving God for the promoting of his glory, and the edifying of his people, a man be desirous of taking on him the ministerial office, under a sufficient knowledge of the purposes for which it was instituted, accompanied by a due regard to them; and if he be desirous of devoting his time, his talents, and his labours, to so holy and benevolent a use; surely it is not less to be ascribed to the Holy Spirit, than any good work which he can perform. [On the supposition of there being required a special revelation of the call, to the mind of the candidate, it is incongruous in this service, that when the bishop, after the imposition of hands, delivers the Gospel to the candidate, und gives authority to read and to preach it in the Church of God, the preaching is with the restriction--"if thou be thereto admitted by the bishop himself." On the said supposition, this is an arrogant limitation of the divine commission. It is equally incongruous in the candidate, to submit to the test of a literary examination.]

But, to place this matter in a more practical point of view, let it be inquired, what are the grounds on which, after an investigation of the evidences of being moved by the Holy Ghost, in the sense which has been unfolded, there may be either assurance of the negative, or a modest trust in the affirmative.

If the motive be either wealth or maintenance, it is corrupt; coming under the censure which St. Peter passes on those who undertake the ministry "for filthy lucre's sake." If it be the effect of ambition, and for the display of any talent which may be possessed, it is indeed not so sordid as the other, but not in the least more holy.

There is no need to enumerate the improper passions which may actuate the heart of man: of all which we may pronounce, that the motive cannot be correct, if there be any trait of character which, if known, would throw dishonour on the calling. On the scriptural principle of there being "no communion of light with darkness," the Holy Spirit cannot dwell under such an alienation from the genius of the Christian ministry; and therefore, under the disqualification of such a circumstance, cannot move to it.

Further; if there be not, in addition to this absence of every foul stain, u bent of mind that disposes to devotion; that takes delight in the truths, and in the consolations of religion; that rejoices in whatever extends her influence, and grieves at any thing by which she is dishonoured; it is impossible that a person to whom this is wanting can be moved by the Holy Ghost, to interest himself in her concerns, or to administer in her offices.

But if a man desirous of the ministry, should believe, on an honest inquiry into his heart, that in sincerity, although doubtless mixed with imperfection, he is desirous of discharging his duty to God and man; if he should be not sensible of any known sin, that cuts him off from the benefits of the Christian covenant, and ought therefore to bar him from the Christian ministry; if he do not feel himself prompted, either by the love of gain, or by the love of honour; although under the former head he may lawfully look, with moderation, to the supply of the wants of himself and of his family; and, under the latter, he may enjoy any reputation which may be brought to him by his talents, giving the glory to God, and not bearing, himself with arrogancy to men; and finally, if he should be sensible of a direction of mind interesting him in whatever extends the kingdom of grace, and fits men for the better kingdom of glory; such an inward character, satisfactorily perceived by those to whom the Church has committed the right of judging of the sufficiency for the undertaking generally, may be counted on as evidence of that moving by the Holy Ghost, which the service holds out as so important.

Under this head, there remains something which seems worthy of consideration. When Christianity was first planted, the apostles ordained the most suitable per sons from among their early converts, without a preparatory education, under an especial designation to the service, which, in the circumstances then existing, must be evidently seen to have been impossible. In all succeeding ages throughout the Christian Church in general, the ministerial offices have been filled by persons designed for them, from early periods of their lives. How far this is consistent with the sanctity of the profession, is the inquiry which is now proposed.

For a father to destine his son to the ministry for some secular object to be accomplished, and the project to be carried into effect without any reference to qualifications, and especially the essential qualifications of love and zeal for the work, and desire of being useful in it, is to bring on them both a heavy load of sin. But if a parent, being himself devout, should give his son an education qualifying for the ministry, so far as education can qualify for such a purpose; if the parent should wish' that the effect may be his son's future usefulness in the Church; and if, all along, the inclinations and the fitness of the latter are circumstances without which the former neither endeavours nor desires to carry his plan into effect; he is so far from deserving censure, that his conduct may be pronounced the effect of holy thought and purpose: and, whatever may be the issue, he has deserved well of the Church, by his zeal and by his endeavours in her service.

Nothing remains under this first head, but to express the wish, in regard to every candidate, that his preparation may be such as to stand the test here laid down, were it possible to read his heart, and there were discerned in it a manifest falling short of the sense of the question which is to be proposed and answered; he should here be cautioned, as he tenders the honour of God, the good of the Church, the salvation of his soul, and not these only, but even his comfort in the present life, not to take oh himself an office, which will cover him with crime; which has peculiar trials bringing with them corresponding consolations to others, yet not to him; and above all, which will subject him to a responsibility hereafter, before the Judge of quick and dead.

[Against examining into the movements of the mind of the candidates, farther than is provided for in the services, there are the following objections.

[No authority, for it can be shown from the Scriptures; while tire contrary to it may be shown, from the absence of it in 1 Tim, iii. 1-13, and in Tit. i. 6-9.

[It affords temptations to prevarication and deceit.

[It may be a door to tyranny of the bishop, or of those concerned with him in admission to holy orders; who may put a veto on a candidate, because of his want of something not defined, but held by them to be essential.

[In England, during the prostration of her Church, it was productive of tyranny and of hypocrisy, in the hands of tryers, as they were called.

[These considerations ought not to prevent addresses to the consciences of the candidates: which are an object of the present commentaries.]

QUESTION II. "Do you think that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the canons of this Church, to the ministry of the same?"

There is here a change of language from "do you trust" to "do you think." In the preceding question, the matter asked after, related entirely to a certain consciousness in the mind; but here the inquiry has partly a reference to external institution. And therefore the question is so framed as to admit of a greater degree of diffidence in. the answer.

What confirms the distinction here taken, is the phraseology made use of in the Latin service; for this being of equal authority with the English in the Church of England, they are mutually interpretative of one another. The expressions used by the Latin service in the first question is, "Num persuasum habetis;" and that in the second question is, "Num in ea estis sententias" in which two forms the difference seems more pointed than in the English.

There is a reason for this difference in the two questions. Although the mind should be made up under the effect of due care, and although a man has to answer for the influence of vicious prejudice over his judgment, yet the Church considers, that opinion should be delivered as such, and not as knowledge.

There are two branches of the opinion to be given: that the call is agreeable to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ; and concurrently with this, to the canons of the Church.

To justify the candidate in believing that he is called according to the will of Christ, he should be convinced, after due inquiry, that the Church to which he looks for ordination, is a true apostolick Church, deriving its authority from that founded by the apostles. For since they did confessedly found a communion, and since it did confessedly transmit its ministries, there seems no possible right to the name of a Christian Church at present, but in succession from the originally established body. What then is the result, but that an opinion, formed under due care, is a prerequisite of admission to the ministry?

It is of importance to every candidate, and much more so to the Church, that he should have his principles settled on the present point; since otherwise he will be in continual danger of setting of his own opinion in contrariety to what the Church has decided or ordained. Why not, he be apt to say, in matters resting on the will of man? Even in this he reasons wrong, since individual right may be limited by compact. But if human will be exercised under an authority delegated by heaven; and if it require nothing absolutely sinful, (for in the latter case the reasoning does not apply,) it is surely a heavy aggravation of individual caprice, that it is the resistance of an authority so high; an authority which the exigencies of the Church make necessary; which must be exercised by fallible men; but which had best not be exercised at all, if every man carries in his own breast the measure of the submission which should be paid to it.

The other particular is the canons of the Church. Although as a branch of the general Church, she has essentially the power of self-government, yet this should be conducted by known laws, which, when made, ought to be respected and obeyed. In this place the canons are considered more immediately as applying to admission to the ministry. In regard to which, it is proper to remark, that if a minister should be obtruded on the Church, in violation of the canons, it must be in consequence either of some imposition on his part, or of neglect in his ordainer. The question then, by the appeal which it makes to the conscience of the candidate, may prove a counterpoise, not only to excessive facility in the bishop, but also to the shameful looseness of principle often found in social life, inducing men of plausible character in other respects, to put their names to testimonials, exhibiting for facts what is beyond, and even what is in contrariety to the knowledge of the subscribers. If a candidate should know, that there is in his case an attempt to evade, in this or in any other way, the design of the canons of the Church, it concerns him to be aware, that the contrary wins intended to be provided for in the question which he is to answer in his ordination.

But there is another evil, which was intended to be guarded against. It is that of a man's entering the Church, not contemplating the being subject to the canons and conducting his subsequent ministry in defiance of them, and of the authority by which they were ordained. Surely such a man cannot think himself called agreeably to the canons of the Church. It is possible, however, that he may console himself with the thought that he is called agreeably to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ. But this cannot be when the object is accomplished by imposition. Were the two matters at variance, the divine call would dictate to him to disregard the other. It is to be feared, that if the conduct here noticed could be traced to the spring of it in the human heart, it would be found to originate in the failing, which induces men for the accomplishment of an object, supposed good, to make great sacrifices of conscience: the object in the present case being the procuring of admission to opportunities, from which they would otherwise be excluded.

Any candidate before whom this may come, would do well to consider it as a caution against the making so light of the sacred law of truth. He may, perhaps, conceive that his general object is good. Let him remember, that he may misjudge in this, from the imperfection of the human understanding: but there can be no mistake in affirming the unlawfulness of doing evil that good may come.

QUESTION III. "Do you unfeignedly believe all the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament?"

This requisition has two points in view; the genuineness of the sacred books, and the evidences on which there should be faith in their contents.

For the unfolding of the first, it should be noticed, as to what is understood by the canonical books of Scripture, that it appears from the enumeration of them in the book of the Thirty-Nine Articles; and as to what is presumed to demonstrate the authenticity of the books, that it may be seen in the part of the twentieth Article, which denominates the Church, "the Witness, and the Keeper of Holy Writ." It will therefore be perceived, that their genuineness rests on the testimony of the Church: and the stating of this must be understood to the exclusion of other standards of authenticity, imagined by different descriptions of persons. The Church of Rome supposes herself entitled to declare the catalogue of the sacred books, not in the way of testimony merely, but as of authority: which appears in her including of books, acknowledged by her best authors, not to have been known as canonical in the early Church. There are some who refer, for a criterion, to the consenting testimony of a Christ within. And further, there are some who think we need no Other evidence than the stamp of divinity, which may be traced in the excellent matter contained: which, by the way, is precisely the argument alleged by the Mussulmans, to prove the divine authority of their Koran. But when we consult any early writer, who has made this his subject, we find the ground taken to be that of human testimony. So far, indeed, were the fathers from supposing that there was an unerring standard, either in the will of constituted authority, or in divine monition to the mind; that at first there were rejected a few books which were afterwards received, in consequence of further inquiry and better information.

Ought it to be supposed, of the course marked out by them and trodden in by us, that it is the result of a low estimate of the doctrines and of the morality of the Gospel? By no means: but both they and we act in harmony with the injunction of an apostle, to be "ready to give an answer to every man." That the reason at hand should be such as ought to satisfy those to whom it is to be offered; according to the established principles on which, by the law of our nature, we generally act, seems evident. And why our own minds should take up with any species of proof, which we cannot offer to others, with the expectation of its being effective, is a matter for which no reason can be assigned.

If it should still be objected, that this is a resting of the genuineness of the sacred books on a lower species of evidence than such as their high contents might warrant us to expect; let it be asked, Is the objection against moral evidence, as such, or against the instance of it particularly in question? If the former, the difficulty extends to every branch of what is called natural religion; not excepting the being and the attributes of God. For when St. Paul says, "The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen;" here is nothing which notices the subject spoken of, as being submitted either to the senses or to the mensuration of lines and angles. But if the objection be intended of the instance of evidence applying to the present subject, there can hardly be conceived of any more convincing. It is precisely that which is relied on above every other in all the concerns of collective bodies. For look at the histories of states, in all the variety of their forms, and you will find that it is never contradicted, never questioned. The accounts of their several origins may be full of fable; which will be received or rejected by individuals, according to their respective measures of understanding. There may also be handed down to them the histories of former times; which will be judged of by every man, according to his opinion of the credibility of the writers, and of their sources of information. But that laws and institutions should be attested in any nation, from age to age, as the works of defined periods of time, and that the books recording them should be declared, on the like testimony, to be faithful records of their subjects; and especially when these are such as have had important effects on manners; and yet, that there should be at last detected an imposition in the original delivery; is an occurrence of which no history can give an instance. Far from it; the records of such laws and such institutions may be lost, and yet may be presumed to have existed, merely in consequence of the remaining influence of them, over the habits of the social state. The more there is contemplated the actual force of this species of evidence, in innumerable instances over the human mind, the more it will appear, that to sincere and candid persons no higher was necessary in reference to the canon of holy Scripture. At any rate, no higher has been bestowed; and it becomes us gratefully to receive the evidences of our holy religion, as they are; leaving to the deniers of it, arrogantly, and according to their custom, to determine what in their opinion it ought to and might have been.

There is something worthy of remark in the unanimity of testimony which, the Church, in all the various places of her settlement, has borne to the integrity of the Scriptures handed down in her. In regard to the Old Testament, indeed, the Roman Catholic Church has added to the canon. But this does not affect the principle maintained; because the witness in that department is the Jewish Church, and not the Christian. Now, among the Jews, until our Saviour's time, there was an acknowledgment of precisely the same books which Protestants receive, and of no others. And even since that time, the only exception is the exclusion of the prophet Daniel; doubtless because of its very clear descriptions of their rejected Messiah; although it has its place in the canon, as this is given by Josephus. In regard to the Scriptures of the New Testament, there is no diversity. And that this should be the case, after all the contentions which have taken place in regard to the sense of their content's, would seem ascribable to nothing less than the good providence of God, which has preserved the sacred canon in such integrity, that the contending parties consent in it, however widely they may differ in the interpretation.

There may, further, be a use in remarking incidently on this branch of the subject, the vast importance resulting from it to the position, that the Church, as a social body, is divinely instituted. There have been some who have avowed the opinion, that, although the Scriptures were given by inspiration, yet the means of extending a knowledge of their contents, and of sustaining the correspondent worship, are committed to human discretion merely. And it is to be feared, that the same opinion has an unperceived influence on many; there being no other way of accounting for the undisguised reference to personal considerations, in all their conduct relative to ecclesiastical concerns. Were the opinion correct, there would have been an unsuitableness in resting the sacred books on the testimony of social bodies, created by compact;. and not having any necessary connexion with the sacred truths of which they are the depository. But if the Church be, as the article affirms, "the witness and the keeper of holy writ," there results from this a responsibility, which greatly criminates the interference of human passion, in the concerns of this divinely instituted body.

So much for the authenticity of the books of Scripture. The requisition applies, however, to our believing of them not only genuine, but true. Of course, the ground on which the latter rests becomes equally important with the other.

On this part of the subject, also, there have been endeavours to reduce truth to the standard of inward testimony, some referring it to one species of operation, and some to another, of the human mind. But if we consult the Scriptures themselves, the evidences to which they refer us, in proof of their divine authority, are entirely of a moral sort. If this should seem too feeble to any person, let him, before he renounce it for something apparently more luminous, be aware, that this may perhaps prove less stable: and let him at least weigh the evidence of which his conceptions are so low. Surely it will not be rash, to affirm, that, as it is said in Scripture of the divine Being, "He left not himself without a witness," meaning in his works; we may say of his interposition in the revelation of the Gospel, he has not left himself without a witness in the dispensation itself: meaning this, not merely of the record of the event, but of the agreement of the same with effects which no human contrivance could have produced, especially on the plan on which Christianity was published to the world, destitute as it was of any aids, either of the wisdom or of the power of man.

If we first consider the Scriptures as a connected chain of divine dispensations, given at different times, but all relative to the same object, that of the redemption; this being at last brought about by the intervention of passions and prejudices, in which nothing was less contemplated than the end to which they were made subservient, such a mutual relation is itself an argument of divine design throughout the whole. For thus there is net a single prophecy, from the first dawn of prophetick information in Paradise, to the close of it in Malachi, which does not, in the very circumstance of its having been delivered, and independently on its accomplishment, apply as an evidence of what was at last promulgated by the Gospel. And in the same point of view, there is scarcely a patriarchal or a Mosaick institution which does not at this day preach Christ to us; independently on the collateral evidence of its fulfilment in the event which it prefigured.

If there is so much evidence in the existence of a connected chain of prophecies, and in the ordaining of typical institutions, how much more results from the opening on us of the antitype in all his splendour; and in his thus pointing to divine inspiration, as the only way of accounting for the announcing of events, which no human wisdom could have foreseen! And this is an argument of revelation, not appearing with peculiar weight in the age in which it was given, and perhaps not with as great then, as in the succeeding ages; in which the prophecies are still going on in a fulfilment, reaching to the consummation of all things.

Even in regard to the argument from miracles, it would be a mistake to consider it as consisting merely in a credible narrative of facts affirmed. It is not in this of itself, but as accompanied by certain effects in the visible state of the world, no otherwise to be accounted for; and, independently on the cause here pointed to, in contrariety to all our theories of the human mind, and all our experience of human life.

In addition to this variety of evidence, there is the excellency of Christian morals; in their being so fruitful of whatever can contribute to private satisfaction and to public peace: an advantage which, inestimable as it is, comes to us exceedingly enhanced in value, by the circumstance, that the morality of the Gospel is not, like that of the philosophers, influential only in the schools and on the higher orders of society; but brings home its admonitions to the bosoms of the mass of the people; by whose labours the state of society is upholden, and on whose submission to law and order it is most of all dependent.

And this is a recommendation of the Gospel which distinctly points to heaven for its origin; in proportion as we compare different states of society with one another, in regard to the moral improvement respectively obtaining in them. For it will be found, notwithstanding all the boasts which have been made of the sufficiency of the reason of man, for the discovery of his true good, that the specious theory is contradicted by the state of morals in every form of society, wherein revelation is at this day unknown: which confirms the opinion, that in the ancient world there was nothing deserving the name of morals, except what was an imperfect remnant of a revelation originally communicated to our species.

That the apostles of our Saviour were content to rest the divine authority of the Gospel on the evidences here stated, and especially on the two pillars of the performance of miracle and the accomplishment of prophecy, appears through the whole of their transactions. There shall be adverted to a few circumstances only. We find St. Paul, in his address to the Athenians, appealing to the miracle of the resurrection; but in his speech to king Agrippa, varying his evidence to the character of his hearer, and laying the chief stress on the prophecies of the Old Testament. And we find St. Peter, in what he says to heathen Cornelius, appealing to apostolick testimony in proof of the miraculous works of Christ; and yet, in a varied manner, like that of his fellow-apostle, urging prophetick testimony in his speech to the assembled Sanhedrim. This shows, that such were the evidences on which the truth of the Gospel was designed principally to rest. And if, as some imagine, these were to be referred to a permanent evidence of any other kind, it would be unaccountable that, while the subordinate evidence is made so prominent, the more important is entirely overlooked.

Let knot be understood that there is denied to arise in a pious and virtuous mind, not satisfaction only, but confirmatory evidence, on finding a suitableness in the Christian revelation to all the wants and the weaknesses of human nature; especially in its bringing of relief under a sense of sin; in its supplying of aid for the remedying of human weakness; and, in short, in its illustrating of its powerful energy, by subduing corrupt propensity; and by moulding the temper, more and more, to the requisitions of the divine law and the standard of supreme perfection. So far as a man is conscious of this, he has found, by experience, that the Gospel is "the power of God unto salvation." It can never, however, be a medium of conviction, through which he may address the understandings of other persons; or even induce in his own mind the reception of truths, before unknown or doubted of. For this we must always appeal, like St. Paul, to "the demonstration of the Spirit and to power;" that is, to prophecy and miracle, which he certainly intended in these expressions, and to similar proofs on the visible face of Scripture.

Lest it should seem that the present statement has been needlessly engaged in, occasion is taken to remark, that it stands in opposition to various fancies, which set reason and revelation in contrariety. Of that description we may consider means of conversion, which agitate the passions without conveying any information to the understanding; and according to which there are supposed assurances of salvation, without the possession of a particle of knowledge, either of the truths of our holy religion, Or of the grounds on which it rests. Under the same class is the sentiment avowed by some, that the proper way of communicating the Gospel to those who are strangers to it, is by merely preaching Christ to them, in the offices in which he is designated in Scripture; leaving the issue to the operation of divine grace. It ought to be a subject of grief, when, in reading accounts of the labours of pious men, for the converting of Heathen nations, we find this the only ground on which the desired conversion was either attempted or expected. There is here no hesitation to express the opinion, that it in some measure accounts for the almost absolute inefficacy of their zeal and pains. And we cannot but believe, that when the time shall come, as it certainly will, when the nations now in Heathen darkness shall be blessed with Gospel light, it will be through the medium of the same evidences on which it was originally carried to other nations, who now enjoy the benefit. Whether such a further extension will be accompanied by a miraculous power, as in the beginning, and agreeably to an opinion delivered by an eminent prelate of the Church of England, (Archbishop Tillotson,) is more than it is now possible to ascertain. But if there should be no such power, and until it is given, it seems essential to all such conversion, that it be accompanied by a knowledge, on historick testimony, of the states of the world connected with the series of evangelical events: without which it would seem that there cannot be any, national reception of the same Gospel which was planted by the apostles; when "their sound went out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world."

This part of the discourse ought not to be left without its being suggested to candidates to make themselves more and more acquainted, as well with the occasion, the design, and the distinguishing properties of every book of Scripture, together with the grounds on which the Church has included it in the canon, as with the evidences of the divine authority of the whole Bible, in relation to all the points to which they apply, and as cleared from all the objections which the enemies of our faith have set against them; objections grounded on false statements, on bold assertions, and, most of all, on methods of reasoning, which, pursued into their consequences, are not more hostile to the revealed religion than to moral virtue. Were candidates for the deaconship designed to be stationary in that grade perhaps less knowledge might serve, than under the present circumstances, of their looking forward to the priesthood. In this, an inability to give satisfactory answers to the infidel sentiments which have been propagated of late years, with a sort of apostolick zeal, and with which they will continually run the hazard of being assailed, will not only expose their insufficiency, but shake the faith of those who may be within the hearing; and who, unless better informed than those within whose professional sphere the subject more especially lies, may be tempted to think that cause desperate, which even the designated guardians of it are not capable of defending.

QUESTION IV. "Will you diligently read the same, (that is, the books of the Old and New Testament,) in the church where you shall be appointed to serve?"

On what ground the office of reading is here especially mentioned, as attached to the deaconship, will be a question coming, with similar matters, under the next head. Under the present there shall only be remarked the circumstance in the system, that such reading is considered as a part of the service not to be dispensed with.

Of the many marks manifested by this Church, of her being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, there may be considered the importance which she gives to the public reading of the Holy Scriptures, as not one of the least. There is no branch of the service of the primitive Church more demonstrable than this. In the apology of Justin Martyr, edited within half a century of the decease of the last of the apostles; and in the account which the apologists gives of the worship of the Christian assemblies of his day, this is distinctly noticed, as a part of it. Of similar testimonies from other fathers, there might be produced very many; proving also, that the same reading took up a considerable proportion of the time. But it is not necessary to be particular; the facts affirmed being not questioned. In proportion to the growth of popery, there ensued an abridgment of the practice, until it became confined to a few select portions, under the name of Epistles and Gospels.; being much the same with those which now bear the name in the communion service of this Church. And it is not to be doubted, that even these scanty, but judicious selections, afforded some light, under the general spread of the dark cloud which for ages hung over the whole Christian world.

When England threw off the yoke of Rome, the importance of restoring the old and edifying practice was distinctly seen and acted on by her reformers. But when there seceded from that Church persons, who formed new communions, partly on the professed principle that her liturgy was lifeless, and that piety was to be promoted by the abandonment of forms of prayer; this was accompanied, and it would seem naturally, with some, by an entire exclusion of the reading of the Scriptures; and with others, by a very limited exercise of this sort. The truth is, it does not harmonize with that degree of animal fervour which has been affected in the separations here alluded to. The same has happened, in others of a more recent date. Concerning all these societies, it is not unnatural to conceive, as to what may be deemed error in their systems, that the continuance of it has been in a great measure owing to the dropping of the reading of the Scriptures, or else to the reading of them in a very scanty measure. Were there shown any one of them which has returned to primitive integrity in this particular, it would be a temptation to predict, that before long such a society would abandon the extravagancies of its original separation.

There shall be concluded this article by remarking, of both deacons and the other orders of the ministry, the propriety of their perceiving in the exercise here the subject, that it is a declaring of the glad tidings of salvation, not mixed, as sometimes happens in their own discourses, with human imperfection. They may be assured, that the Gospel, so read, is often brought home to the consciences and the affections of the hearers, by the same holy Spirit which inspired it. And hence there arises a strong inducement in those less showy departments of administration, to aim at that gravity and that correctness which are likely to aid in the impressing of important truths and lessons, delivered to the people from their unadulterated source.

QUESTION V. After laying down the peculiar duties of a deacon, demands--"Will you do this, gladly and willingly?"

It would seem impossible to read the duties of the deaconship, as delineated immediately before the present question, without some degree of painful sensibility, occasioned by the palpable inconsistency of practice, as well in England as in this country.

But before the bringing forward of any sentiments to this effect, it will be proper to answer an objection made by some, against the extension of the duty of the lowest order of the ministry, beyond the serving of tables; that is, the care of the poor, as laid on them in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. That this was the object especially in contemplation, is indeed evident in the passage referred to. And that it must be desirable to keep in view the same original designation, as a prominent branch of the employment, may be conceded. But that these considerations restrain the Church from exercising the order, in some departments not noticed in the history of the transaction which gave an ecclesiastical being to it, is a consequence not to be allowed. Independently on this remark, the very early records of duties laid on deacons, beyond the single duty of administering to the poor, afford a strong presumption, that such accession of labour had taken place even in the days of the apostles. Thus, when we read in the passage now the subject, "It appertaineth to the office of a deacon in the Church, where he shall be appointed to serve, to assist the priest in divine service, and especially when he ministereth the holy communion, and to read holy Scriptures and Homilies in the Church, and to instruct the youth in the Catechism;" there is nothing of which we do not find abundant evidence of its being generally practised in the primitive Church; and how this should have happened in different places, distant from one another, without its having grown out of usage, introduced under the eyes and with the approbation of the first teachers of Christianity, it is not easy to conceive. This Church goes on to instance, as another branch of duty, "in the absence of the priest, to baptize infants." That a deacon might, at least in the case of an emergency, baptize not only infants, but an adult, appears within two chapters of the narrative of the institution of the order, where we read of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Philip, recently appointed a deacon. The allowance of deacons to baptize is therefore lawful. When infants are specified, it may be supposed to be in reference to ordinary occasions; and grounded on the expediency of an approbation from a higher grade of the ministry, of the fitness of a presented adult. And when the matter is limited to times of the absence of the priest, it may be an intimation, that the office is more properly his, although lawfully permitted to the deacon. Further, when it is added, "and to preach, if he be admitted thereto by the bishop;" it is probable with the same view of upholding the difference of grade. The preamble goes on to add, "furthermore it is his office, where provision is so made, to search for the sick, poor, and impotent people of his parish; to intimate their estates, names, and places where they dwell, to the curate, that by his exhortation they may be relieved with the alms of the parishioners or others." And here it is much to be wished, that this were sustained as well by practice as by theory, to be apart of the designation of a deacon. Of the improvement here intimated, there can be little hope, until the Church shall think it expedient to ordain to the office of deacons, some of whom no expectation is entertained that they will rise to a higher order of the ministry. And where would be the impropriety, or rather how comely as well as useful would it prove, if, even in churches provided with incumbents, there were a religious person of each church, following some secular employment, yet managing any revenues appropriated to the poor, under a designation known to be permanent, and from the source of all ecclesiastical authority? Which expedient might be so conducted, as to leave the tenure of property where it is, in the hands of churchwardens and vestrymen; to whom also there should be an accountability, for the disposal of monies in the deacon's hands. But the institution would be still more useful in places in which, because of the small number or the poverty of the people, there can be no permanent provision for a minister devoting his whole time to the service of the sanctuary; an evil, which would be in some measure remedied by the appointment to the deaconship of a proper character, wherever it should offer, with the view, not only of his distributing to the poor, but further, for the reading of Scriptures and discourses, and for baptizing. It cannot but be supposed, that his reading of prayers and of sermons of approved divines, would carry more weight than when it is done, as occasionally at present, by a layman; although this, where necessary, is commendable.

While there is thus held out the utility of an alteration in our practice, it is not wished to be understood as a proposal to hazard the accomplishment of it, by any imprudent haste; especially by producing such dissatisfaction as might endanger the peace of the communion. But there is perceived no impropriety in the expressing of the opinion, countenanced as it is by avowed principles of this Church; from which there is a deviation in practice, although in points not materially affecting either truth or order.

In the preceding statement of the duties of a deacon, he is presumed not to preach, but by the permission of the bishop. Notwithstanding the declared wish, that matters were brought to the condition, in which there would be some deacons not intending to be priests; yet as this does not apply at present, and as the exigencies of the Church make a claim for the extension of the permission to preach as far as shall be consistent with settled order, it is probably considered as given to every candidate who is ordained.

QUESTION VI. "Will you apply all your diligence to frame and fashion your own lives and the lives of your families, according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make both yourselves and them, as much as in you lieth, wholesome examples of the flock of Christ?"

Here are three particulars; the good life of the person promising, the good lives of his family, and the salutary influence of both, in the way of example to the Church.

There can hardly be occasion of bringing authorities from Scripture, to prove the obligation on every clergyman, of whatever order, to a holy life and conversation. On a subject so far from admitting doubt, it will be sufficient barely to intimate, and that not as instruction, but in the way of reminding concerning matters of which information may be presumed, what is implied in the demand which the Church makes under the present head.

Every candidate will, in the first place, perceive how inconsistent his engagement would be with any sin in which he might at present live, and of course with any into which he might fall in future. For what would this be, but the unsaying, in the unequivocal language of the conduct, of what would be said in public discourses, in the hypocritical language of the lips? Or if there be cases to which hypocrisy does not apply--and indeed it must be confessed, that there have been some clergymen not at the pains to hide their immoralities from the world--the difference is only this, that he is released from the charge of that vice to be loaded with another, the personating of a character not his own; and no otherwise to be supported, but by the use of language, which, however pious in itself, becomes in his mouth profane. And it cannot be doubted, that every thing of this sort contributes much to the increase of immorality and infidelity.

What has been here said is far short even of the negative part of the obligation lying on a minister of the Gospel. For it is evident, that he may carefully avoid every scandalous immorality, and yet be marked by such levity, by such indifference, and by such devotion to the world, as prove unequivocally, that nothing is further from being the object of his zeal and of his affections, than the duties to which he had engaged himself by the most sacred promises. So far as decorum and the good order of society are concerned, there must be allowed a difference between such a character and the other noted; but in regard to any usefulness to the Christian Church, in addressing the instructions of the Gospel to the consciences, and its consolations to the hopes of men, there is no material difference between the two; and the world is not likely to overlook, in either of them, the contrariety between the character and the profession. But it is a slender ground of commendation of a clergyman, that he avoids whatever is in direct contrariety to the letter and to the spirit of his calling. He pledges himself to much more; to the cultivation of all the virtues which can either adorn him personally, or apply to the various relations in which he stands. Here it would be easy to display a splendid assemblage of Gospel graces, universally confessed to be ornamental to any man, but especially looked for in the man of God. To all this, however, there will perhaps be opposed the consideration of the imperfection of human nature, in order to show in relation to what is true in theory, that considerable allowance must be made in practice. Now, since it cannot be denied, that human virtue will be imperfect at the best; it may be worth the while to ascertain, in what shape the plea affects the argument. The line of distinction is here understood to be, that where the mind manifests the positive evidences of substantial virtue, allowance is to be made for the mistakes, and even for the frailties, which occasionally prevent the application of correct principles to questions of conduct which occur; but that in regard to persons, in whom there is no high and ruling principle, and this evidenced in the general life, frailty is but another name for depraved passion, and imperfection for vicious conduct.

The extension of the care of the Church from the personal conduct of the candidate to that of his family, cannot but be seen proper; when it is considered, that there is no line in which his personal character may be more clearly traced. For that a man should have his own mind impressed by the truths of religion, and yet that he should be indifferent to their influence over those in whose happiness he is the most deeply interested, and much more, that he should, without concern, behold them addicted to any corrupt practices or opinions, is so evidently impossible, that it is equally so not to impute indifference of this sort to a want of faith in the subjects of publick ministration, or at best, to its not interesting of his affections.

It is known to all, that it is in a limited sense, in which one human being can be responsible for another; and that this applies, although in a lower degree, in respect to those who stand to us in such a relation, as subjects them in some measure to our command. But even here, a distinction should be taken, between those matters which are properly the subjects of command, and those in which what is good can be effected by persuasion only. The minister who endures, in his family, any thing which is a breach of good morals, subjects himself to the reproach passed of old on Eli, "that his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not." To induce to the piety of the heart, and to what is positively amiable in the conduct, lies within the province of persuasion. There are some well intentioned parents, and it may be supposed that there is occasionally a clergyman of the number, who obtrude the duties of religion on their families, in a tone of authority so high, as to create disgust. Better is it, that his family should be witnesses of the happy effect on his temper, and on his hopes, of the truths which he inculcates. For although it docs not dispense with precept, yet it materially influences the dress in which precept should be clothed, The great Father of all condescends to draw his children with the cords of love; and earthly parents must use the same means, if they would incite to the same end, which, is the homage and obedience of the inward man.

It must be evident how much the accomplishment of this is dependent on the discretion with which the matrimonial connexion is engaged in, and a choice made of a partner in the care of a common offspring. There can be no doubt of the difficulty of laying down rules, by which future character in this or in any other line can be ascertained: and therefore all intended in regard to it, is the general remark, that the man who selects such a companion, without a view to the continuance of the attendant friendship beyond the scanty term of life, does not possess or deserve any security, either for substantial happiness, or for educating the fruits of the connexion in principles which can prepare them for this life or for another.

But, as was remarked, the Church contemplates the conduct of the candidate on the subjects stated, as it may render himself and his family "wholesome examples to the flock of Christ." In regard to his family, they cannot be supposed of especial importance to his flock, any further than as it is his conduct which speaks through theirs. But both in his own conduct and in that of those about him, if delinquency be countenanced or connived at, it is a counteracting, by ecclesiastical influence, of what is declared on the ground of ecclesiastical authority and recommendation.

It is said, indeed, that the ungodly example of the minister should be lost sight of in the divinity of his doctrine, and the utility of his precepts; and it must be confessed a sign of no small advancement in a holy temper, when a private Christian can attend on the public service of the Church, without hinderance of his devotion, although not without grief, from the wicked example of him who ministers. But the question is, not concerning what grace may accomplish, or what duty may require, but of what may be expected to take place in the common course of things, and consistently with the prejudices of mankind. On this ground it may be pronounced confidently, that while all wicked doers have much to answer for, not only on personal account, but because of the mischief of their example, there is an immense increase of this responsibility, on the head of an ungodly minister, whose example operates, not only like that of others, to the conciliating of the disposition, but, besides this, to the corrupting of the conscience.

In regard to every candidate, therefore, it is to be hoped, that there will often occur to him the additional degree of obligation, resulting from his pledging of himself voluntarily, and at a mature age, to his faithful endeavours for the performance of his religious and moral duties; which indeed are indispensable, independently on such an engagement, while yet this should make them the more impressive on his conscience. His promises, however, will not be likely to be influential, without his frequently making of them a test of self-examination, conducted under a sense of the presence of the great Searcher of hearts. And to this he may be incited by the encouragement warranted by the divine word, that it will be a mean of all the aid necessary to the sustaining of him in his ministerial course, and to his at last finishing of it with joy.

SEVENTH AND LAST QUESTION. "Will you reverently obey your bishop, and other chief ministers, who, according to the canons, may have the charge and government over you, following with a glad mind and will their godly admonitions?"

On this point there should be observed a proper medium between the relinquishment of a right given, not on any personal account, but for the maintaining of the good order of the Church, and the setting up of claims, which may give scope to private prejudice and passion.

When the question speaks of other ministers, it cannot be considered as applying strictly to any other dioceses than those which have been subdivided, with presiding clergymen appointed over the several districts. Nevertheless, it would be unseemly in any clergyman, especially a deacon, to be indifferent to the advice, or indignant under the admonition of his seniors, who may be supposed, from religious motives, to feel an interest in the prosperity of the communion, and who have a right to take all reasonable measures to secure its reputation, even on account of a connexion of it with their own.

When the passage speaks of godly admonitions, it must have respect to some standard, by which they should be directed. This standard must be the various established institutions of the Church, and not the private opinion of the bishop. It is well known, that the Church from which this is descended, like the state to which it is allied, is under a government of law and not of will: and we cannot suppose that ours, professing to follow it in the leading features of its system, should have designed to reject this, so congenial to the still more moderate degree of authority, which it will be possible in present circumstances to exert. If it should be asked, Who shall be the arbiter, on any question which may be raised, as to the fitness of the interposition of the bishop? The answer is, the question being understood of admonition, out of the line of strict ecclesiastical proceeding, which ought of course to be governed by a determinate standard, that each party must judge for himself, as he shall answer for this and for every other part of his conduct to Almighty trod. That injudicious or even impertinent interference is possible, ought not to be denied, and cannot be justified. But there are two descriptions of cases to which no such censure is applicable: one is, when an offence against morals, the other, when an offence against order is the subject. In either of these cases, indeed, the admonition of the bishop would be unseasonable, unless the offence were notorious and admitted; because he would otherwise be in danger of making himself an accuser, where he is appointed to be a judge. But if either of the species of offence be acknowledged by the offending party, and especially if it be justified and persevered in, there is here claimed to the bishop the right in question, not only oh the ground of ecclesiastical law, but on that of the consent of the party, in the answer to the question last read; which may be considered as a personal contract, binding him to submission under reproof for past faults; and to amendment, under exhortation relative to the time to come.

The series of sentiment arising out of the questions being gone through, there ought not to be withheld a remark, which has often occurred in the contemplating of them. It relates to the opinion entertained by some, that in the business of ordination there ought to be a scrutiny into what are called the experiences of the candidates. If this opinion be correct, there ought indeed to be acknowledged the deficiency, and even the unfaithfulness of this Church, and of the Church from which she comes. Accordingly, it may be considered as falling in with the subject to defend them in this particular. Let there not be misunderstood, the objecting to the thing alluded to, as if it were thought that exterior conduct is the only field in which religious principle is to act; or that there can be an inward influence of it, without the consciousness of the party. If there be felt by any, as one of the Church articles expresses it, "a working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and drawing up the mind to high and heavenly things;" this with whatever is the result of it, in devout affections, and in any thing else worthy of the source of supreme good, must be a matter of sensibility before it can manifest itself in act. Even on this part of the subject, however, we are entitled to believe, from what we may read and from what we hear Concerning those who affect the pretended improvement, that they mean something superadded to the experience which has been described, and of a very different complexion. But even on the supposition, that they would exact nothing visionary or erroneous, the requisition would be censurable on these two grounds; that it is unauthorized, or rather impliedly discountenanced by Scripture; and that the possible vise of it is far more than counterbalanced by the probable or rather certain abuse.

It is here said to be unauthorized by Scripture, under a conviction that the challenge may be safely made to the producing of any passage in which it is found. And it is said to be impliedly discountenanced, because there are two passages, one in the third chapter of the Epistle of St. Paul to Timothy, and the other in the first chapter of the Epistle to Titus; in which the apostle professedly, and as a directory to persons to whom the business of ordination had been committed, lays down qualifications of the ministerial character; but without a word which can be perverted to the requiring of this, supposed by its advocates the most material of all. And when there is spoken of the probable or rather certain abuse, the meaning is to tyranny and to hypocrisy; and this, not by such incidental consequence as may be entailed on any expedient generally good; but by means of a natural relation between the measure and the mischief to which it leads. The experiment was once made, not in the Church of England, but in that country, during a temporary downfall of its Church; and the consequent evils were so many, and are so well attested, as to be a security against the return of the error, whiles she shall retain any thing of herself besides her name; and also against the inroad of the same error on the order of this Church, so long as there shall remain any trace of communion with the Church of England, besides the bare fact of our having derived from her its descent.

If what has been now said should be conceived of by any candidate as countenancing the idea, that his life being unstained by immorality, he is qualified for the ministry without piety, without the subduing of natural corrupt affection, and without a concern for the extending of the spiritual kingdom of the Redeemer; it is declared to him, that if, under such a mistake, he have advanced thus far in the pursuit of the ministerial commission, the advice to him is, to stop at the threshold, and not profane the sanctuary by entering it in a state of mind in which the responsibility to be assumed by him will not be sustained, either with satisfaction to himself or with usefulness to the Church of God. On the contrary, he will be heaping on his head a heavy load of guilt. But while so much depends on his consciousness of the movements of his mind, the Church does wisely in resting her satisfaction on the promises which he is to make, in the solemn transaction that lies before him. An explanation of them has been now attempted; although misunderstood, if it should seem to rest a fitness for the ministry on any ground that dispenses with the power of religion over the heart.

Far from this; that the power may be felt by all those who shall be ordained to any grade of the ministerial calling, and that this discourse may have some tendency to so happy an effect, is the sincere desire, and will be a subject of the prayers, of him by whom it has been prepared.

Project Canterbury