On the Questions in the Office for the Ordaining of Priests Prefatory Address
BROTHER [OR BRETHREN,]
IN the solemn admonition, which the Bishop, agreeably to the ordinal, addresses to every candidate for the priesthood, before his making of the professions and the promises exacted of him, it is presumed that there had been held up to him the importance of that grade of the ministry in his "private examination." Although this may be done by oral statements, made personally, it has appeared to me, that they will be more likely to be effective, if submitted to perusal in retirement; in which they may be more deliberately weighed, and more closely brought home to the consciousness of the party's; and all, with the accompanyment of prayer. The ground-work of what is to be delivered are the questions in the service; in like manner, as in ordination to the deaconship, the questions in the service for that grade were the ground on which the duties proper to it were founded. Some of the questions and answers are common to the two services; and shall therefore be unnoticed at present, except by intreating a re-perusal of them. The greater magnitude of the points especially belonging to the priesthood will require more lengthened, I remarks; although they will be still far from doing justice to their respective subjects.; and should rather be received as hints intended to give a direction to present and future meditation. They will at least serve the purpose of a solemn declaration of the ordainer, of his construction of the promises of the ordained. Although in the case of error in the former, the promises will not be armed, by his opinions, with senses not contemplated by the Church of which he is the organ j yet it is to be hoped of every candidate, that he will be aware of the responsibility attached to any endeavour to diminish the import of the words which he is to take on his tongue.
There seems a desire to guard against the danger of this, by the solemnities with which the promises are clothed. The high tone of the precedent address, its concluding with the intimation that the engagements are to be made in the presence of God and of his Church, the short invocation made by the Bishop for the faithful: performance of the engagements, the invocation of the Holy Spirit immediately before the imposition of hands, the call made on the congregation, to put up their secret prayers, and the sealing of the transaction in a participation of the memorials of the body and the blood of Christ, are so many expedients for the upholding of the sanctity of the act. The object is still kept in view in the concluding prayers, put up in the name of all present, in respect to the presbyter or the presbyters now duly constituted, that "we may have grace to hear and receive what (he or) they shall deliver out of the word of God, or agreeably to the same, as the means of our salvation." The implication to the Bishop and the other clergy, that they are not now above their being profited by their younger (brother or) brethren, is also to (him or) them an intimation of their unworthiness of the station, if it have been entered on without a due estimate of its duties.
It is for the purpose of additional security against so great sin, and so great injury to the Church, that the perusal of the following commentary is required.
QUESTION I. "Do you think, in your heart, that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the canons of this Church, to the order and ministry of priesthood?"
Under two of the questions these will be no need to say any thing; because they are precisely the same with those in the ordination of deacons. There may be a use in intimating, that the sentiments to be brought forward are to be considered as explanatory, not as argumentative. This distinction applies as well to the remarks which have been made on the service for deacons, as to these now intended as relative to the priesthood. But it is the more important to note it under the latter, because of the great variety of the matter; which would otherwise exact investigations, embracing almost the whole of our ecclesiastical system. It is true, that in each of the departments of this commentary, there is the necessity of adverting occasionally to the arguments on which the decisions of the Church are grounded;, but it is only when a view of the argument is essential to the purpose of explanation.
To some it may seem a material omission, that, in this service, there is no such question as the first in the service for deacons--"Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost?" And, indeed, if this demand had been designed to carry the sense which has been imposed on it, of an inward summons to the ministry, distinct as, was that outward call of St. Paul in a voice from heaven, this would seem the place more especially calling for it; because now, and not before, the candidate presents himself for the reception of an authoritative commission to preach the Gospel. Accordingly, the silence in this place confirms the interpretation given of that important question, which was explained as requiring the consciousness of there being no unworthy motive to the ministry: and of there being the influence of the true motive, directed to the end specified in the question-"to serve God for the promoting of his glory, and the edifying of his people." And even in regard to this, although the motive inquired after is a matter of consciousness, yet the Church, aware of the difficulty of self-knowledge, and the danger of self-deception, demands a declaration, not of assurance but of trust.
Still it may be asked, Why is not the same trust exacted in the more important act of an admission to the priesthood? There would seem to be no good reason besides this; that the governing principle being supposed to have been secured in the first service, it is presumed in that succeeding. The subject may be illustrated by a comparison taken from domestick life. The steward of a large household, in admitting to an office in it, may be supposed to make inquiries, the design of which would be the ascertaining whether there were an inward cast of character, qualifying for the master's service. And yet he might dispense with this, in elevating from a lower to n higher grade; integrity of principle being required equally in both. In like manner, if the deacon have been sincere in his former answer, he may be presumed to be still under the same bent of disposition; especially when presented by a presbyter of standing in the Church, who testifies concerning the presented party, that he has inquired concerning him, and examined him, and thinks him meet for the priesthood; and when the bishop can truly say that, after due inquiry, "he finds not to the contrary;" that the same party "is lawfully called to his function and ministry; and that he is a person meet for the same." But we have reason to presume, that if the Church had designed to rest a warrant for the exercise of the ecclesiastical function, on the persuasion of a call to it in the party's mind, any question framed to this effect would have been inserted in the service for the ordination of priests, to which it would especially belong; and not in the service for the ordination of deacons, which is so far from being considered as clothing the deacon with an independent power to preach, that he is reminded of his having-no such power, "unless admitted thereto by the bishop."
It must be evident, that the first question in the present service has the same relation to the priesthood which the second in the other service has to the deaconship. They are intended to guard, as well against the insufficiency of qualification, which lenity might overlook, as against the impositions sometimes practised by those who certify what is contrary to their knowledge, or at least not within it. With this, any candidate under the government of conscience, would be the less likely to come forward, from the knowledge that he must, in so solemn a form, join in any falsehood which may have been fabricated to secure his admission to the ministry.
In this part of the address, there ought not to be neglected the opportunity of opening what is taken to be the meaning of the words "priesthood" and "priests."
Priesthood is the office or ecclesiastical standing of a person of the order of priests; for when it is taken in a more extensive sense, comprehending the three orders of the ministry, there is a use of the word not warranted by the practice of early antiquity, or of the Church of which we are members, but springing from an erroneous system, against which it is here intended to give a caution.
The word "priest," is evident the Greek word presbuteroV, so far changed as to have a termination suited to the English language. In Scripture, the words iereuV, and presbuteroV, denote characters far from being the same: and if it had happened that our language had been supplied with a rendering of the former word by some name not similar in sound to the latter; perhaps much of the confusion here lamented would have been guarded against.
It is well known that many of the errors of the Romish Church involve the presumption, that the Christian ministry is analogous, and in succession to the Jewish priesthood. To this theory there occur these three objections: First, the dissimilarity obvious on the face of the institutions. Under the law, the priest stood between God and man, offering to the Creator the sacrifice, and with it the devotions of the creature, in a manner corresponding with the imperfect nature of the legal economy; bat not comporting with the nature of the evangelical, under which all are invited "to draw nigh to God with the full assurance of faith." Again, agreeably to the preceding sentiment, the Epistle to the Hebrews is express and particular in declaring, that all pertaining to the ancient priesthood had been fulfilled in the person of "the High Priest of our profession." And further, had the affirmed analogy been intended, it would have been natural to have perpetuated under the Gospel, the names consecrated and become familiar under the law; which was not done, but new names were introduced. It has been said, indeed, to have been owing to the impropriety of setting up one priesthood against another; the Jewish being confessedly authoritative among the Jews, until the destruction of their polity. But how did it happen that, there was no intimation of a succeeding priesthood, to take place when the other should cease? How did it happen that, after its ceasing, apostolick men do not appear to hare performed any act, or to have uttered any sentiments, for the effecting of the change that has been contended for? In short, how did it happen that the new name never showed its head until the latter end of the second, or the beginning of the third century; that, in the course of the latter, it grew but slowly into use; and that it did not become sanctioned by custom until the fourth? Doubtless it was then the familiar style of many holy men, who little thought of the gross errors to which it would lead.
The influence of it in generating and sustaining some of the worst errors of the Roman Catholick Church, was clearly discerned by the great and good men who took the lead in the reformation of the Church of England. Accordingly, although agreeably to their plan uniformly adhered to, of not changing for the sake of change, they retained the words "priest" and "priesthood," sanctioned by their etymology; yet, that they had not an idea of the former as iereuV, nor of the latter as ierosunh, is evident. For in the Latin liturgy, designed to be of equal authority with the English, they use the words "presbyter" and "presbyterium"--not "sacerdos" and "sacerdotium:" by which last, and not by the two former Latin words, the preceding Greek words are translated. Even in the question under consideration, there may be discerned the sense of the Church on the present subject. For if "priesthood" had been designed by her as a term comprehensive of the whole Christian ministry, which is contended for by those who advocate the system here denied, it would have been incongruous to address the candidate, as presented for the order of priesthood, [ordinem presbyteriatus,] without distinguishing the intended grade; he being already in one of the three orders, while there is yet another higher.
QUESTION II. "Are you persuaded, that the Holy Scriptures contain all doctrine required as necessary to eternal salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined, out of the said Scriptures, to instruct the people committed to your charge; and to teach nothing as necessary to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scriptures?"
In this question there are contemplated a persuasion and a promise.
The persuasion is of the propriety of a prominent characteristick of all Protestant churches; the holding of the sufficiency of Scripture as a rule of faith, and a directory of practice. And this is well known to be the leading line of distinction between them and the Church of Rome.
As the objections of the latter turn on the hinge of the insufficiency of written documents to the occurring occasions of different times, it is natural to suppose, that in settling the present point, our Church looked back on the Jewish economy, and inquired, what provision there had been made in it for the guarding against a difficulty, which, if existing at all must have been precisely the same in the Jewish Church. No such expedient was adopted in that instance by divine wisdom. There was a priesthood to administer in the offices of the dispensation instituted; and there is a ministry for the same purpose in the Christian Church: but in neither case is there the gift of infallibility, for the guarding against error. And the argument applies with an increase of force, in consequence of two circumstances under the Jewish economy, of which there is not any thing similar pretended under the Christian. One of the circumstances is, the high priest's asking counsel of God by Urim and Thummim: which was always for direction in a special case occurring, and never for the resolving of questions in reference to doctrine. The other is the succession of prophets raised up from time to time; for these, however guided by inspiration, and having an insight into futurity, never extended their authority to the determining of controversies; the law and the testimony being considered as fully accommodated to all needful information.
This is a sufficient answer to the supposed necessity, which many have avowed as the point on which their attachment to the Romish communion rested--because of its being furnished with a living judge in controversies. If indeed it be possible to find such a judge commissioned in the New Testament, we ought not to be prejudiced against his authority, on account of there being nothing like it in the Old. But where are the documents of such an appointment? The one principally alleged, is the promise, that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church:" "The gates of hell," or 'AdhV, that is, the invisible world, to which the passage is by death. The promise amounts to an assurance that the Church shall be coeval with the world. It is not stronger than many assurances given to the Jews, of the perpetuity of the covenant made with them: and yet this hindered not but that there were many and even general defections to idolatry, under which the Church was still preserved, however corrupt her members in faith and manners.
What greatly confirms the principle here advocated, is the utter uncertainty of there being any standard other than that of Scripture. The Romanists are exceedingly divided among themselves as to this point. They who vest the infallibility in St. Peter, and in the popes as his successors,--although this is done only by those who profess such an unlimited submission to the see of Rome, as Roman Catholicks generally abhor,--have the advantage both of simplicity and of consistency. But there is in Scripture such an absolute dearth of evidence of St. Peter's authority over the other apostles; while yet there is the record of another apostle's withstanding of him to the face, in a matter that concerned faith as well as practice; and further, it is so evident from history,--for here Scripture will not be pretended to have spoken,--that if St. Peter resided at Rome, it is more certain that he resided, and for a longer time, at Antioch; and still further, there is such entire silence,--as the candid of the Roman Catholick historians acknowledge,--as to any respect paid by the very early Christians to the Church of Rome, above the Churches of the other principal cities of Christendom; that the point of papal infallibility is but feebly maintained, even within the bounds of that communion. And what ought to place the matter beyond all doubt, are the instances of popes who have been censured by the whole Church, not for mal-practice only, but for heterodoxy also, as in the instance of Liberius in the fourth century, and of Honoring in the seventh.
Still, when the Roman Catholicks look beyond the popes for the infallibility, they entangle themselves in endless difficulties. If there be set up the decisions of general councils, it becomes difficult to ascertain what circumstances are necessary to the constituting of such bodies; and even whether there ever has existed an individual council of this description. Those the most generally respected, and which were held in the fourth century, were summoned by the emperors, and were rather councils of the Christians within their dominions. And, indeed, the necessity of general councils could never have been in contemplation in the divine economy in Scripture; because this was fitted to the Church, under whatever circumstances she might be placed; whereas it might interfere with the prerogatives of secular authorities, that citizens or subjects should repair, without leave, to a distant land, on the summons of a foreign prince or prelate; and especially of both these characters in the same person. And then, what is to be said, when councils, nearly equal in number, contradict each other? This is what has happened. But to fit the case, union with, and subjection to the bishop of Rome, is interposed as the test by which to distinguish between a true and a false council. But what foundation can there be for this, when, in the earliest councils, there was not even the presidency of the bishops of Rome, much less their controling pleasure?
The last resort is to tradition. The ablest of the Roman Catholick authors rest principally on this; so that whatever weight they ascribe to councils, it is declaratory of traditionary doctrine, originating in inspiration, and descending in the Episcopal succession. But there can be nothing less consistent than this, with the very course which the Church of Rome adopts, for the establishing of truth, and the exterminating of error. There is convened a general council, or what is so denominated. The points are put to issue, and opposite sides are taken by different bishops, not charged with heretical pravity. In the end, the matters litigated are determined by a majority of voices: and supposing them all to acquiesce in the major vote, yet how evidently had the stream of tradition run wide of the dissentients and their respective flocks, until restored to its channel by this human management! Considering also how rarely such occasions occur--it being two hundred years since the last, and generally supposed that there will never be another--how incompetent must tradition be, to the imagined necessity of a living judge in controversy! In the council of Trent, here alluded to, it is notorious, that a great proportion of the prelates were men of high rank, who had never concerned themselves with theological controversies, and who stood in need of the discussions of learned divines, not members of the council, in order to be prepared to rote when the questions should be decided on. Were such men the receptacles of the unerring standard of tradition? In the account of the proceedings there seems nothing like it, or of their imagining of themselves to be so.
That branch of the question before us which exacts a promise, divides itself into a positive and a negative part. The positive part is, that the future minister will, out of the Scriptures, instruct the people committed to his charge.
It is agreeable to every part of the question to suppose, that each clause of it has an aspect on the Church of Rome, and was intended to guard against her errors, both in faith and in practice. One of the abuses of the latter sort was, a practice which had been introduced in the middle ages, and was, perhaps, at its height at the time of the reformation, for preachers to entertain their hearers with discourses on the lives and the virtues of saints; and those very often either fabulous or insignificant: not only so in proof of doctrine, there were commonly quoted the decisions of councils, and the opinions of ancient authors, as though of equal authority with holy writ. And what aggravated the evil, many of the authorities, then held high, are in later times confessed, by learned Romanists, to have been forgeries. Of such abuse there seems but little danger in the present day.
But although the circumstance stated may be supposed to have principally given occasion to the words now before us, yet they fall with their whole weight on any more recent modes of preaching, in which the sense of Scripture is not so prominent as it evidently stood in the contemplation of those by whom our ecclesiastical system was framed, or rather restored, to the standard of times much earlier than those from the practice of which it was intended to depart. Now there is a certain sort of sermons, of which it would hardly be guessed that they were designed as such, or that they had any connexion with the Christian dispensation, if notice were not given of these things, by a passage of Scripture under the name of a text. Possibly, the subject of the sermon may be the same with that of the text; which, however, might be exchanged for something from one of the Heathen moralists, without any injury to the body of the sermon; there being no opening of the sense of the Holy Spirit in that passage, from the words which precede, or from those which follow, and no confirming of any doctrine originating from cither, by suitable passages from other parts of Scripture, much less any endeavours to bring home the declarations of God's word to the hearts of the hearers, further than may be found in that species of inference or application, in which a counsellor may be supposed to sum up his argument to a bench of learned judges, who have neither prejudices to bias their understandings against the truth, nor passions indisposing them to receive it. But what is here considered as one of the most offensive circumstances in this species of preaching is, the little regard paid in the choice of subjects, or in the manner of stating them, to the degree in which they are likely to be interesting to the minds of either saints or sinners. What though a discourse be ingenious, it ought indeed to be eminently so to render this a counterbalance to the disgust which the mind may reasonably entertain, either because there has not been opened some influential truth, or because there has been no endeavour to give such a truth a hold on the affections.
Let not the opinion here expressed be mistaken for that of persons who, confounding metaphysical theories with prominent truths of Scripture, know of no evangelical preaching besides such as is seasoned with their theory. As there are some who thus pervert the expression from its proper signification, the greater is the pity, that occasion should be afforded to them thus to censure every thing not exactly squaring with the standard which they have devised.
Neither is it here wished to hold up the idea that a branch of Gospel morality may not be made, distinctly, the subject of a discourse. All contended for is, that instructions grounded on such subjects should be seen as comprehending Christian morals; that is, should be delineated in a Christian extent, and enforced on Christian motives. And indeed, there is no Christian grace in regard to which it may not be affirmed, that all useful effect depends on the regarding of the distinction here stated.
The defective preaching alluded to bad no place in the Church of England, during the times intervening between the reformation and the restoration, nor even in the age in which the latter event took place. But one effect of the preceding troubles seems to have been, that the species of preaching made fashionable by them, being afterwards held in proportionate abomination and contempt, it was thought by some, that their distance from it could not be too great. Although it has been justly remarked, that enthusiasm and hypocrisy have a direct tendency to make infidels of those under whose notice they come; yet it may be doubted, whether the same effect be not produced in at least an equal degree, by the hearing of the Gospel imperfectly preached by those whose minds are evidently unaffected by its peculiar doctrines; and who give unequivocal proofs, that they discern no excellence in it, except such as it possesses in common with various productions of the human intellect.
There can be no doubt, that the fault here charged on some English preachers crossed the Atlantic; and that it has withheld the sincere milk of the word from the mouths to which it was due: and further, that this very thing has been no small hinderance in the way of the increase of our communion. Still the evil has been described with aggravation, by some, as was intimated before, because they substitute metaphysical theory for evangelical doctrine; and by others, because they suppose that every thing must run aside of this, provided it be agreeable to the faculty of reason. But misconceptions and misrepresentations like these, cannot dispense with a duty which God has laid on the ministers of his word, and to which they have consented at their ordination. Accordingly, the matter is here presented to the mind of the candidate, as entering essentially into the obligation which he is assuming.
After mention of a fault chargeable on some of the preachers of the parent Church, and from them insinuating itself into ours, it is with pleasure added concerning the former, that in the present day there seems much less of this mischievous leaven than formerly, so far as may be judged from the printed discourses of her bishops, and other distinguished characters among her clergy. It is to be wished, that their example may be influential on the clergy of this distant branch of the same communion; of whom we may affirm, that they hardly deserve the name of Christian, and probably are not so in their hearts, if they be indisposed to Christian preaching; and who, on the other hand, are destitute of other qualifications suited to their calling, if they cannot demonstrate by their doctrine, that revelation and reason may combine, in a union as natural as that so often witnessed between enthusiasm and nonsense.
This branch of the subject shall be concluded with two motives to the plan of preaching recommended. One is, that so far as can be judged from observation, it is that alone which carries conviction to the consciences of the hearers. The other is, that it is that alone which has the promise of being blessed to their salvation. Both these remarks apply immediately to the uses for which the ministry of the Gospel was instituted. The first brings here to mind a well known anecdote concerning a French bishop, [Massillon,] of whom it was said by his sovereign, that whereas he listened to some other preachers with pleasure, he never heard the preacher here alluded to, without being displeased with himself. If the present papers should be ever read by any candidate who conceives of praises bestowed on ingenuity, or on eloquence, as comparable to a compliment like this; on such a candidate the advice given at this time is probably thrown away. But if any candidate should perceive the declaration to be the most satisfactory that could have been made to a Christian preacher, he needs but peruse the discourses of the same bishop, to perceive, that the holy unction giving occasion to it, was transfused into them by the spirit of the peculiar doctrines of revelation; and that without this, however otherwise eloquent and sensible, they would never have had the effect on the conscience of the monarch.
The other motive is alike important, when taken in connexion with the promises made in favour of the preached Gospel; such as the assurance of its blessed Author's being with his ministers, in the office especially appointed to them, "even unto the end of the world." The promises imply, in addition to the internal excellency of divine truth, operating like the excellency with which some other writings may be clothed, an agency of the Divine Spirit, giving its efficacy towards the ends designed by it. Now, while it would be easy to find abundant evidence of the fulfilment of this promise, in the preaching of the truths of the Gospel, even where it is accompanied by no small portion of error; yet, in regard to mere moral preaching, it would be difficult to find much fruit to the like effect, even where no error can be imputed. If then, as is expressed in the ordination service, the ministry was "ordained for the salvation of mankind," here is the highest possible motive to the conducting of it in such a manner as alone can make it effectual to its end. There is related of a famous English prelate [Archbishop Williams,] a fact which may perhaps set this matter in a strong point of view. The prelate alluded to possessed very splendid talents and acquirements. But although he made a figure in the world, it was in civil transactions, and not in those of the Church. Indeed his whole life was so secular, and in some instances so incorrect, that, from all recorded of him, it would not have been natural to have inferred, that religion had made any impression on his conscience, were, it not for a declaration made by him towards the close of his days. The declaration was, that could he know of any person brought to heaven by his instructions and persuasions, it would give him more satisfaction than he found resulting from all the labours of his active life. What a pity is it, that such a sentiment should have taken possession of a mind near the close of a ministry, rather than in the beginning of it. And what a pity would it also be, if such an impression, attendant on the beginning, should not be accompanied by a correct view of the means whereby alone the end can be accomplished!
The negative part of the question is--"And teach nothing as necessary to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scriptures?"
There can be no doubt that this was designed principally with a reference to traditions, and the decrees of councils; which, when the service was composed, had become elevated to a level with the word of God. But the prohibition applies, with at least equal force, to doctrines of more modern origin; because antiquity, although it cannot sanction error may palliate the reception of it, under the persuasion of its being true. And it applies with the most force to the suggestions of private opinion. For although the preacher, who delivers any thing of this sort as essential to salvation, will first persuade himself that it is proveable by Scripture: yet the consideration of the consequences of error, in this particular, may prove a considerable restraint on that vanity, which so often carries men in quest of something novel, merely that they may be distinguished.
On the subject now presented to the view, there arises the serious question,--What esteem and deference are due to the opinions of those who are called the fathers of the Church? Especially as we find from the writings of some of the very reformers by whom the present service was composed, that they laid no little stress on the documents which had been handed down from the first ages; although they drew so marked a line of difference between them and Scripture. It has been already intimated, that the ascertaining of the line of distinction intended by them ought to engage attention under the present question.
There seems no way of reconciling them to truth and to themselves in this particular, but by admitting, that while they considered Scripture as the standard, they thought that in the interpreting of this some light might be gathered from the opinions of the Christian Church in the times immediately subsequent to those of the apostles. Now the principle seems reasonable, on those rules of evidence which carry conviction to all minds not under the bias of strong interfering prejudices. If the question had related to a system of legislation of high antiquity, it is not likely there would have been a dissentient, as to the sufficiency of this species of proof. And why it should be otherwise in regard to a religious economy, it is difficult to perceive. It has been said, that we have not only the same Scriptures, but the same helps to interpretation. This is true in a degree, but not entirely; because, whatever aids to criticism result from circumstances peculiar to the Gospel age, must have been more in the possession of the age succeeding than in our own. And this has-the greater weight, on account of the very few works 'handed down to us, of the many which we know to have been written, between our Lord's ascension and the end of the second century. But were the allegation true in the extent intended; still there seems to be a help not duly considered in the quarter from which the allegation comes. The help alluded to is in facts attendant on the subject. The position may be illustrated in two instances; one of doctrine, and the other of discipline. Suppose a question raised concerning the pre-existence and the divine nature of our blessed Saviour; and the sentiments of the age immediately succeeding that of the apostles to be on the one side or on the other; taking into view the extent of Christendom, comprehending churches in places remote from, and having little connexion with one another. To conceive, on the one hand, that having been announced to the world as mere man, and this in a system which had for one of its, leading objects the downfall of idolatry, he should, in the next age, and in so many various places, and without contradiction, have divine attributes ascribed to him; or, on the other hand, that having been announced as possessed of these, he should, in so short a space of time, be reduced to the grade of the first of prophets; is so contrary, in either case, to the experience of the world, and to our ideas of human nature, that such an event would seem impossible. Accordingly, on finding the earliest accounts of the person of Christ to describe him as an object of adoration, there seems reason in considering this,--not indeed as creating a truth of Scripture,--but as confirming an interpretation of it, relatively to that very point. So, if there be moved the question of a subordination or a parity in the ministry, when we perceive, in the second age of the Church, the former established throughout the world, and testified to have been so from the beginning; testified, not in controversy, but as an undisputed fact; and affirmed] not of particular places merely, but of all Christendom, in its disjointed state already noted; there seems ample evidence of the characteristick of our system, which requires three orders of the ministry; still not as adding to Scripture, but as illustrating it. For the reason stated, and here applied to two subjects only, but admitting of application to many more, it should be recommended to every candidate, to pay a careful attention to the records of the first three centuries of the Church: at least to those of them which are principally illustrative of the faith and the discipline of their respective times. This is here recommended with a view to various theological notions of modern times; for when it shall appear, concerning any of these, that, during the ages mentioned, they were not known either in the character of truth or in that of error; there seems the highest evidence admitted of by the subject, that they cannot have had any place among the truths delivered to us in the Gospel.
Although in the weight here assigned to the opinions of the fathers, they have been contemplated as standing on the very ground on which they are placed by the institutions of our Church, yet it maybe proper to notice an objection always brought against us by the Roman Catholicks. And it is noticed on' the explanatory plan; because the sentiment involved in it has been sometimes brought forward by clergymen of the Church of England, inconsistently as would seem with a very leading principle of their communion. The objection is, that in the two points of infant baptism and the Christian Sabbath, we have no scriptural precept; that they rest on tradition only, and that, therefore, being acknowledged as well by Protestants as by Roman Catholicks, they are an evidence of the obligatory virtue of tradition.
Of infant baptism, how can it be said that there is no precept for it in the Scriptures? The command of our Saviour to his apostles is, to "make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." The question then turns on this other; Who are in a state susceptible of discipleship? The answer, as it concerns infants, is in that passage of the tenth chapter of St. Mark, which our Church has introduced into the baptismal service for infants. This renders it a matter of surprise, that any persons of the said Church should fall into the old Romish sentiment, of there being no precept for the baptism of infants; and if the argument needed further confirmation, it might be derived from the circumstances under which our Lord's baptismal command was given. It was addressed to persons familiarized to the Jewish economy, the initiatory rite of which was applicable to infants. There was now to be an initiatory rite of a new economy. In what sense then must the command have been understood by the persons to whom it was addressed? Surely they could not have conceived, that under the Gospel, so much' more liberal in all other respects than the dispensation which it succeeded, there was such a narrowing of the visible fold, as must be the result of the exclusion of infants from the privilege of being within its pale.
In regard to the Christian Sabbath, there is here conceded what the Romanists presume; although under the recollection of its being a disputed point, that with the Jewish Sabbath there expired all the authority on which the observance of one day in seven rested. Accordingly, some new authority for the observance of the first day instead of the seventh, is to be looked out for. But such an authority is to be found. For the making out of this, it is to be recollected, that social worship is a duty independently on any appointment like that in question. But there must be a designation of some times, for the carrying of this duty into effect. If, therefore, it should appear, as well from the sacred Scriptures, as from the records of the Church illustrating them, that it was the habitual practice of Christians, taking place under apostolical direction, to meet on a particular day of the week in preference to the other days of it, for the discharge of the publick offices of their religion; this, taken in connexion with the independent nature of the duty attached to the offices themselves, carries with it the force of a command. For thus the subject becomes of a different nature from the subjects to which it has been compared; such as our Saviour's washing of the feet of his disciples, and the sanctioning of the love-feasts of the early Christians by the apostles, neither of which is now held obligatory, because of the distinction between practice and command. These matters are in themselves of no force, and therefore require a command for the proving of the observance of them to be obligatory. But not so there being some appointed time, for the waiting on God in the instituted duties of religion. The very instituting of such duties calls for periodical times, and, therefore, the times designated by the practice of the proper authority become the appointed times. But that there was a solemnity attached by the apostles to the first day of the week is evident; and its being entitled (Rev. i. 10,) "the Lord's day," is additional evidence of the fact. Also, in 1 Cor. xvi. 29, and in Acts xx. 7, the first day of the week is spoken of as the appointed weekly day of social worship.
On some of the preceding points, there has been given a very imperfect sketch of the grounds of the controversy between the Roman Catholicks and us. Imperfect, however, as it is, there may seem to have been more said than is consistent with the explanatory plan laid down. But there was seen a necessity of opening some of the views of the main point, on which our system rests; in order to the determining of the degree of Weight which, among ourselves, should be given to opinions extraneous to Scripture. For we may apply to this case what St. Paul says of another in Gal. ii. 18, "If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor." The application of this to our case is as follows: if we go back to the principles on which we have separated from the Church of Rome, the separation is thereby acknowledged to have been unwarrantable.
QUESTION III. "Will you then give your faithful diligence, always so to minister the doctrine, and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded; and as this Church hath received the same according to the commandments of God, so that you may teach the people committed to your care and charge, with all diligence, to keep and observe the same?"
The objects of the question come under three heads; that of doctrine; that of the sacraments; and that of discipline. Of each of these in their order.
Under the head of doctrine, the first inquiry occurring is, What right has a Church to define a standard of orthodoxy, to the rejection of those whose faith is otherwise? And is not this an assumption of power not warranted by the Gospel? The answer is, Whatever right a minister possesses in his individual capacity, the same may belong to the ministry, of which he is a member; and this not with a greater, but in general a much less interference with individual opinion. If indeed it be presumed, that in every congregation, every minister happening to officiate among them has a right to require attention to what he holds to be divine truths; and if it be unchristian in them to exclude any minister from officiating, because of errors supposed by them in his instructions; and further, if it be a violation of religious liberty for one minister to give discouragement to another, on these accounts, our system is fundamentally erroneous on the present point: but if the negative of these hypotheses, as is here expected, will be confessed by all, the question becomes reduced to a much narrower compass than before, and ought to respect, not the power itself, but the manner in which it is the most likely to be exercised with wisdom, and without the intermixture of personal enmity or rivalship. And here it might be supposed, but for evidence to the contrary, that there could be no room for difference of opinion.
Of the many controversies, the results of which depend on discerning the precise points whereon they respectively turn, perhaps there is no one in which the precise point has been more overlooked by one of the parties than on the present. When, to those who censure our Church in this particular, you state the inconvenience and the indecency of opposing doctrines, and opposing parties, within the same walls, you will find them constantly recurring, as conceiving it to be the only security of their peculiar system, to the discretion of the congregation; which, they think, will dictate the avoiding of the choice of a pastor hostile to it. Even this has been found among them insufficient for the purpose, where property was regarded. For there has been perceived the necessity of vesting it in trustees, in order to guard against the popularity of some future pastor, and the mutability of the flock. Is it not evident, in these two cases, of the former, that there was lodged in the major vote of the congregation, and in the latter, that there lay with a few select members, the very power determining a standard of orthodoxy, which, with us, has been exercised in another way more likely, as we think, to be agreeable to truth, and promotive of "unity and peace?"
In opening what is to be understood by commanded doctrine, as interpreted by the reception of the Church, it may be sufficient to delineate some leading traits of what appears from her institutions, and especially from her articles, to be her sense of the system of the Gospel.
Not only general propriety, but the crisis in which she stood when the articles were framed, occasioned her being very decisive and particular in her protest against the errors of Popery. Her testimony, as to every particular connected with this subject, is too express to be mistaken.
It is equally so in regard to the Arian and Socinian errors, which existed even then, but have been propagated in our day with an extraordinary degree of zeal. As no Arian or Socinian can intrude into our ministry, without the practice of gross deception and prevarication, there needs not be any thing further said concerning them.
There are around us sundry communions of professing Christians, whose peculiar tenets are contradicted by our articles, with an explicitness not permitting mistake; and it is to be hoped, that no religious and virtuous members of such bodies will suppose us possessed of the less esteem for their persons, on account of the testimonies which we hold ourselves bound to bear against their opinions.
But there is another question meeting us, and occasioning considerable diversity of sentiment. It is, whether, according to a distinction of names originating since the framing of the articles, they are Calvinistick or Arminian. The opinion here entertained is, that they are neither; but that there are discernible in them these three things; that on the first branch of the controversy, (predestination,) they are silent as to the point discriminating between the Calvinists and the Arminians; that on other points they fall short of the Calvinistick theory; and that on others they are opposed to it.
When it is said that, on the first branch of the controversy, the articles embrace both Calvinists and Arminians, the meaning is, that there is no decision on the question--Whether predestination be or be not founded on prescience? And yet this is a question which must have been before the compilers, as it had been resolved in the affirmative, by the fathers, both of the Greek Church and of the Latin, before the days of St. Augustin; and continued to be so in the former Church, even after the great ascendancy of this father had effected the negative of the question in the latter Church, The points on which the articles are here thought to fall short of Calvinism, are, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ; the imputation of the sin of Adam; such a corruption of human nature as to impel to every species of crime, except so far as those are restraints indifferent to moral good and evil; and finally, irresistible grace. Not one of these things is declared in the articles.
And the points on which they are supposed to be opposed to Calvinism, are the universality of redemption, and the possibility of a fall from grace. In relation to the first of these, the thirty-first article would seem to speak in terms too plain to be misunderstood, and a sense which is also supported by many explicit passages in the liturgy. The latter of the points is essentially involved, not only in positions of the article on baptism, but in the whole of the baptismal services. It is here supposed not to be alleged by the favourers of the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, that it is to be met with in the articles.
The opinion of the Calvinistick description of the articles, seems to have arisen from the tendency to Calvinism in the clergy of the Church of England, after the sanguinary reign of Mary. And yet it does not appear that, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the favourers of the system were so apt to plead the authority of the articles, as the example of what they thought the best reformed churches. This is certain, that what are called the Lambeth Articles, were drawn up to supply a supposed deficiency. And, accordingly, we find that persons dissatisfied with the establishment, were solicitous to have them incorporated with the other; in which, however, they were never gratified.
While there is thus delineated, though briefly, the sense of our Church on the points in the quinquaticular controversy, it is wished to be done with the forbearance which should be the result of the consideration, that many wise and good men have held the articles to be strictly Calvinistick. But what is here deemed intolerant in some persons of this description, is, their continually exhibiting of their opinions on the subject; as the doctrines of grace, while they refuse this character to the opinions of those who differ from them. And further, it is to be deeply lamented, that there should ever be a specious pretence afforded them by any of the clergy of our Church, in the not laying of sufficient stress, and the not insisting sufficiently often, on those of her doctrines by which the Gospel, as a dispensation of grace, is characterized. For the opening of what, is here intended, there shall be referred to the five points severally, in order to show how far, under each of them, the glory of divine grace is interested.
On the first, although Scripture as well as revelation teaches, that "known to God are all his works, from the beginning of the world:" yet if, as the article decides, "we must receive the promises of God in such wise as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture;" the defining of a line between opposite errors on the subject, may be waved, as a mere matter of metaphysicks; This is agreeable to the silence of the article, in relation to the principal difficulty of the controversy. And it is agreeable to Scripture also, if, as is conceived to be the case, the predestination of which it-speaks, be of the collective body of a Church, and in reference to their state of covenant with God, in the present life.
Of universal redemption it is difficult to be perceived, either on the ground of the articles, or on that of the Scriptures, how it can be declared too explicitly; provided, as the article containing it exacts, it be ascribed wholly to "the offering of Christ once made" as "a perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world;" to the exclusion of all human deservings, as operating in the least degree to the forgiveness of sin.
As the effect of the fall we are to acknowledge and teach constantly, that all right to immortality was lost in Adam; and that, by our descent from him, our understandings become darkened, and our wills depraved; or, as the ninth article speaks, "we are far gone from original righteousness;" so that, without the mercy of God through Christ, we are amenable to his justice for the punishment of sin in a future life, from which nothing in or of ourselves can rescue us.
Here intervenes the question of grace, as the word is used to denote divine assistance; to which source we must refer whatever may be holy and good within us, from the beginning of it to its consummation. And this is a sentiment which cannot encourage us to be inert, because, to the attainment of good, there must be the desire of it; which desire is itself the work of grace, independently on all questions concerning this principle, as to its being resistible or otherwise.
The subject of perseverance, according to the medium through which it is at present viewed, no further concerns us, than as it is to be kept continually before our minds, and made the great object of our endeavours; and as what, if ours, is ascribable only in respect to the praise of it, to the grace by the aid of which alone we can be kept through faith unto salvation.
These are doctrines which may be traced every where-on the face of the New Testament; they are comprehensible by the most ordinary capacities; and they are immediately applicable to practice. But, alas! there have been engrafted on them many metaphysical subtleties, which the mass of mankind will never be able to understand; which no man is obliged to endeavour to understand; and which, generally, are the least understood by those whose faculties are devoted to them. Yet let not the minister of the Gospel, while he looks with contempt on the hay and the stubble, undervalue the foundation, which alone can sustain the superstructure of "gold, silver, and precious stones," to be brought together and built up by his ministry. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." And if, for this foundation he substitute that of the sufficiency of human reason and human virtue, the issue will not be either profitable to the Church, or satisfactory to himself.
To proceed to the subject of the sacraments. The senses in which our Church has received them, so far as concerns her departure from the Romanists, is so clearly set forth in the twenty-fifth, twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and twenty-eighth articles, that nothing needs be here said in that respect. Those articles bear ample testimony against transubstantiation, the introduction of five sacraments, unknown as such to antiquity, and some matters connected with the same unauthorized doctrines. But among Protestants, and especially in modern times, there have been introduced opinions not at all consistent with the articles of the Church referred to.
It is necessary only to read what is said of baptism under the twenty-seventh article, and what is included concerning it under the more general terms of the twenty-fifth, to perceive, that our Church considers this ordinance as an actual grafting into the Church, without any such distinction as the one invented, between a visible and an invisible society under that name. The same had been uniformly taught in the primitive Church, long before the introduction of the errors of Popery; which, enormous as they were, left this matter untouched. It was so blended with the system of St. Austin, that the early Churches of the reformation, who held the writings of this father in great esteem, could not overlook the circumstance, that it was there retained, although perhaps not in perfect consistency with some of his favourite doctrines. Calvin affirms it, in terms equally explicit with those of Austin. Even the creeds of some Calvinistick Churches of the present day contain expressions which must have originated in the same principles. How this is reconciled with the general sentiment of the members, it is not easy to perceive. For the ministers and others of these Churches consider baptism merely as an introduction to the visible Church, without any such effect as our articles have defined. Neither is this confined to Calvinistick communions? for there are some of an anti-calvinistick description, who hold and teach directly contrary to us in this particular, it seems inconsistent in any person who thinks with them, to declare his belief in our articles. For not only are they explicit in themselves, but if they needed a comment, there is an ample one running through the baptismal offices. The same is obvious in some of our prayers, in the other parts of the Liturgy; and it is further declared in the Catechism, in which the person examined is affirmed to have been mode, in baptism, "a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." In addition to Scripture, the uniform language of the Christian Church on this subject is a disproof of some doctrines, of which it may be perceived, on historick grounds, that they were superinduced on the Christian faith, at no very early period of time. The inferring from this circumstance of a caution against the unsoundness of such doctrine, is one of the uses here proposed, in the opening of the present particular of the system.
Concerning the Lord's supper, it is intended to guard against two opposite extremes.
On the one hand, there has been frequently remarked, that some divines, treating of this holy ordinance, make it little more than a man's celebrating of the memory of a deceased friend, from whom he had derived considerable benefit. That there has been ground of complaint in this respect, is here clearly conceived: but with a suspicion, that there is frequently a mistake in the application of the censure, and that the error in view lies deeper than the censure reaches.
As our Lord's command wast simply, "Do this in remembrance of me," it seems as if no more were necessary on the part of the receiver, than the act of commemoration, provided there be adequate apprehensions of the commemorated subject; that is, of the death of Christ, not merely as for human benefit, for so were the deaths of St. Peter and St. Paul, but as a propitiatory sacrifice, the antitype of that paschal sacrifice, at the close of which the eucharist was instituted, In this point of view, the bread and the wine are memorials of the body and the blood of Christ, as a sacrifice for sin. And the consuming of the memorials, is a participation of the benefits of the sacrifice. When these things are kept out of view, there seems an inaccuracy in ascribing imperfection to the mere commemorating; the imperfection wholly lying in low ideas of the commemorated subject. The effect of this sentiment should be, not the countenancing of representations below the dignity of the eucharist, but the applying of the idea of dignity to the proper point.
For there are some who, to avoid the extreme stated, have gone into its opposite; that of affirming a proper sacrifice in the eucharist. If the deception concerning this were unconnected with other questions, the definitions of sacrifice have been so numerous, that it might perhaps be resolved into a strife of words, although in the scriptural sense of sacrifice, except when used metaphorically, slaying was an essential circumstance. But to the idea of a sacrifice in the eucharist, there is attached that of an altar, and that of priest, in the Jewish sense of the terms, which is unauthorized either by Scripture or by our Church, or rather in violation of the authority of both.
The word "priest," has been spoken of in another place; and concerning "altar," there is to be remarked, that it is never used in Scripture, as applicable to the place of depositing the elements; "table," being the word, Heb. xiii. 10, has been quoted to the opposite purpose; but independently on the metaphorical style of that book of Scripture, the text is differently interpreted by the best writers of our Church, among whom is Dr. Hammond. The history of changing altars for tables by our reformers, in the reign of Edward VI. is well known; and although at a later period endeavours were used to restore what they had done away, it was one of the many improprieties which produced effects very disastrous, and which were frustrated in the end; so that our Church remains in this particular, as she had been left by such men as Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer.
If the communion service be examined, it is easy to perceive places in which the eucharist itself might have been called a sacrifice, had any such thing been thought desirable; but in no such manner is the term applied. In the prayer of consecration, our prayers and thanksgivings are called a sacrifice; and we offer ourselves as "a living sacrifice." But these are evidently in the same latitude of sense in which our alms are so called in Scripture. As to there being a sacrifice in the elements, or a sacrificing in offering them, nothing like it is to be found.
That some pious and learned men of the Church of England, being sincere Protestants also, have entertained a wish to bring her back, in the premises, to what she has relinquished, appears too plainly in their writings. However great their names, we may presume so far to differ from them, as to think that there may be discerned the germ of some of the worst of the errors of the Church of Rome, in the sentiments which they have expressed. On this ground, and supported by the unquestionably declared sense of our Church, it is proper to caution the candidate against exploded opinions, in which, if they should ever gain considerable ground in our branch of the Protestant Church, there may be clearly discerned an opening to contention and disunion.
There remains to speak of discipline; and the most obvious circumstance in the shape in which our Church receives it, is the Episcopacy.
In establishing the superiority of the Episcopal order, there has been some variety in the arguments of eminent men. There is no occasion to ascertain the merits of their several pleas. But it is to the purpose to remark, that the most moderate principles on which the candidate can estimate his relation to his bishop, requires submission to the canonical exercise of authority. For if the presbyter is rightly to minister the discipline committed to himself, he is of course to be submissive to that under which he is. But what is needful on this subject, has been said under a question omitted here; because handled in the treating of the service for deacons. It is more important therefore to remark, that the ministering of the discipline requires of the presbyter the sustaining of the Episcopal system in his ministrations. There have been some ministers of our communion who, from affectation of liberality, have encouraged under their superintendence, ministerial doings, implying an entire disregard of Episcopal sanction. Even in regard to the professed charity of such a practice, it is in appearance only; because charity will always be best manifested in forbearance towards those who differ from us; and in thinking well of their motives, and of their persons, so far as circumstances may warrant, rather than in sacrificing our principles to theirs. But be this as it may, where such license is intended, to make the promise is prevarication; and where resolved on afterwards, is a breach of promise.
The subject exacts a few remarks concerning discipline, as it respects, first, the clergy; and secondly, the laity.
As it respects the clergy, the promise requires of him who makes it, that he shall so far faithfully discharge his share of discipline, as to perform what it enjoins on him, for the censuring and the removing of disorderly brethren in the ministry. It is not meant, that he should make himself an inquisitor; nor, without knowledge of a just cause, an accuser; nor yet, that he should concur in any such arbitrary measures, as, being adopted without evidence, and even without regard to fair methods of proceeding, would tend to leave to no man security for interest or for reputation. But it is necessary to the conscientious discharge of the obligation here assumed, that the party feel a deep interest in the cause of Christianity in general, and of this Church in particular--that, with a view to these objects, and without personal malice, he concur in all orderly and temperate measures, for the clearing of his communion from any existing scandal--that if called on to judge and to determine in any case, he have a due sense of the interests of religion, although not such a mistaken idea of them, as to imagine them to be served by excessive severity, much less by tyranny or injustice--in short, that the principles confessedly applicable to men in authority in the concerns of the state, and to which they are tied by the solemnity of oaths, be considered by him as binding in this case, without an oath, in the civil sense of the word; yet by a promise, made under circumstances at least as solemn as those accompanying an oath. For this must surely be seen to attach to the answer, to be made at the Christian altar, to the question now before us; which must be seen to have little meaning, if it do not oblige a clergyman to vindicate the purity of his professional character; so that, if it be violated by a depraved brother, there may be a concurrence with respectable brethren, in their measures for "putting away from among them that wicked person." Where a minister is grossly negligent of the duty here stated, it would be rash to say, that it may not be owing to lenity of temper, carried to a criminal extreme; but there would seem required considerable evidence of his zeal for religion in some other way, to justify so favourable an interpretation as that supposed; and to shield him from the charge of being equally indifferent to his profession, and to the religion which it was given to sustain and propagate.
As discipline respects the laity, there ought to be remembered the limited sphere within which our canons have extended it: and it is not here designed to uphold to a candidate the idea of his so stretching of his authority beyond the canons, as, if permitted, would be a precedent for the making of a tyrant of every minister of a parish. There ought, however, to be declared the opinion, that if ecclesiastical discipline were maintained among us in its perfection, open and proved immorality would be followed by an exclusion from a membership of our communion. How moderate would be an authority exerted to this effect, compared with that assumed by other religious communities; which, in some instances, extends to an inquisition into the movements of the minds of men; and, in others, excludes for causes not contrary either to reason or to Christian precept! For the present, however, there does not open the prospect of such a reasonable extent of discipline, as is here advocated: so that in the promise here exacted by the Church, there is enjoined nothing further than the limited discipline, which respects exclusion from the eucharist for just cause, and on account of scandal. To this the candidate certainly binds himself by the promise.
Before leaving the question, there will be propriety in noticing these words in it--"So that you may teach the people committed to your care and charge, with all diligence to keep and observe the same?" It applies to all that went before, to doctrine, and to the sacraments, as well as to discipline. The duty in question is bound on the conscience of the minister, by its intrinsick importance, and by his voluntary promise. But its end is the sustaining of the importance of the matters specified, not in his own estimation and practice only, but also in the body under his charge. If the pastor be lax in the administration of ecclesiastical discipline, he can hardly blame even a greater degree of laxity among his parishioners; and, particularly, in points in which his individual interests may be concerned. There is the greater reason to notice this, because of the readiness of those prone to violate institutions, to make loud complaints, when any are violated to their own disadvantage. But such ought to be aware, that if they set the example of an emancipation from discipline, it is in the ecclesiastical line as in the civil, that the leaders in such license are not the competent judges, as to the lengths to which it may be extended.
QUESTION IV--"Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines, contrary to God's word; and to use both publick and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole within your cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given?"
Before the discussion of any particular here occurring, there may be propriety in ascertaining the precise senses of the terms.
"Faithful diligence" is exacted, and continual readiness for the exercise of it. The matter against which it is to be exercised are, "all erroneous and strange doctrines, contrary to God's word." They are to be "driven away"--so far as ministerial vigilance and activity can produce such an effect--"from the Church." These words are not in the English service; but were inserted in the American, in order to avoid the harsh appearance of a sanction of civil proceedings relative to error in religion. Not that this could have been designed in the Church of England, which knows of no power to that effect in parochial ministers. It was, however, prudent to guard against all danger of our being charged on this account. In driving away error from the Church, "both publick and private monition are to be used;" and they are to be addressed "as well to the sick as to the whole." This does not seem to designate the sick and the healthy, in the common acceptation of the words; for however applicable to them, as to others; the specifying of them in this place would mar the unity of design; and thus weaken the force of the matter principally to be enjoined. What is added, "as need shall require, and occasion shall be given," is a reasonable qualification of the duty; and shows, that discretion is to be called in for the judging of the probability of usefulness.
There seems to have been especial care bestowed, in the choice of the expressions in this question. In the preceding, there had been exacted faithful diligence in the ministrations in which the pastor, under all possible circumstances of personal ability, is supposed to be employed; but here, mention is indeed made of the same faithful diligence, yet he is required to be ready to exert it as circumstances may require. Although this presumes the possibility of his being stationed where error does not show its head to the disturbance of the Church; yet there is exacted a willing mind to be prepared for the suppression of it, if such an exigency should occur. Here it is of importance to remark, that if the minister is to have a ready mind, to the effect stated, this presumes him furnished with the necessary acquirements for the purpose; so that without possessing them in a competent measure, it would be rash to bind himself by the promise. Some entertain the opinion, that besides piety and a good life, nothing further is necessary to qualify for the pastoral charge, than what they call a gift for preaching; by which word they understand little more than a talent for speaking volubly on the usual subjects of popular edification. Now let there be this endowment in ever so great a degree; and let it be exerted with ever so little disfigurement of the weakness which is often concealed or made acceptable by it; we cannot but perceive, that there may be a possession of the talent attended by a glaring deficiency of the information requisite to combat fundamental error, in the various shapes which it may assume. Under the idea of banishing and driving away error from the Church, there seems especial reference to such error as is brought forward to the disturbance of its peace; so that the promise does not oblige to an inquisition into the private opinions of men's minds. It is true that, independently on this promise, a minister should always be ready in the case of material error on the mind of any individual, however sincerely entertained, and however modestly expressed, to point out its contrariety to the Gospel; and the dangerous, although perhaps unintended consequences to which it leads. This is a bounden duty; but it is not the object of the question, which supposes something obtruding itself on the social body, so as to disturb, or threaten to disturb its peace.
Under the expressions "erroneous and strange doctrines, contrary to God's word," there can be no doubt that the Church comprehends all those against which she has borne her testimony in her articles; and so far at least the promise must be seen to bind. It cannot be denied that time has brought forth others, not contemplated in the framing of the articles; and although the promise must be acknowledged to include them also, yet there is danger of erring through indiscreet zeal on one hand, or criminal remissness on the other. It is not every shade of difference in opinion that will warrant the minister to throw on it the odium of material error; and the danger of confounding the two is an additional reason for requiring a sufficiency of intellectual information as a qualification for the ministry; because this cannot fail to operate as a counterpoise to pride and passion, in their tendency to intolerance; not indeed eradicating those principles where they have taken possession of the heart, but restraining them from the excesses which are the result of ignorance. But, as was intimated, there is the other extreme of indifference to upstart errors; and this will in vain look for justification to the silence of the Church, which, having exhibited a connected chain of Christian doctrines, has a right to presume, what is indeed a fact, that there can arise no novelty which will not be founds contradiction of some truth affirmed by her.
The question goes on--"and use both publick and private monitions and exhortations." The publick monitions and exhortations are evidently the exercises of the pulpit. It is evident that the Church expects of her ministers occasional remonstrances against prevailing error; and therefore, however true the position that sermons should be directed to the amending of the heart, and the reforming of the life; and although this end may reasonably be thought defeated by the bestowing of too great a proportion of preaching on speculative subjects; yet it should be understood with a due regard to the sanctions by which alone evangelical morality is sustained. The garden of Gospel morals may be acknowledged the especial subject of cultivation; the fence, however, is not to be neglected by the gardener, however blameable he would be in making it the principal object of his attention. The matter now treated of is a proof of what results from many other sources also--the importance of a minister's adapting of his discourses to the present state of his congregation. And particularly it reminds him, that if there be danger of the extreme of dwelling too often and too long on subjects which give much scope to litigation, how much more will he err, if, as to the subjects dwelt on, his congregation are little if at all in danger of being led astray. This, however, ought not to make him inattentive to the consideration, that if there be the prevalence of any particular error, he is in some degree chargeable if he do not bear his testimony against it. And although there is no impropriety in doing this by discourses addressed particularly to the evil; yet a judicious preacher may accomplish the same end, and perhaps more effectually, by contriving occasionally that monition and exhortation shall grow out of some branch of an argument, apparently framed independently on such design. There are contemplated not only publick but also private monition and exhortation; the most difficult of all the duties here enjoined by the Church, and to be taken on the conscience: especially as the end of it, being not the exercise of ministerial superiority, but the good of the person admonished or exhorted, if either his proud passions would evidently render him the worse for his being the subject of such an exercise, or if the minister be conscious of the want of a weight of character in himself, to render his interference any other than a matter of contempt; there would seem no use, but, on the contrary, great disuse in the office in contemplation. The latter of these suppositions is among the many considerations which should induce a minister to aim at such a purity of character as must render his instructions and even his presence, a rebuke of any thing contrary to good morals. And it should, besides, move him to such vigilance over his own heart, as that any verbal rebuke, if given, shall not be attributable to vanity, or to the idea of a wounding of his personal dignity on the occasion. In short, on this delicate subject there are to be taken into the account many considerations, arising out of the personal characters of ministers and of people. And besides these, there are to be taken into view other considerations, accommodated to time and to place. The conscientious minister must judge under an alternate danger, on one hand, of throwing pearls before swine, or of exhibiting himself as not knowing what manner of spirit he is of; and on the other hand, of a criminal indifference, which would be not only a breach of the present promise, but endanger the bringing of his ministry and, deservedly, his person into contempt. It shall only be added, that the least exacted of him in this respect, is his manifesting not resentment, but disapprobation and grief, when religion and morals are offended in his presence. If he hare no sensibility on such occasions, he is a stranger to the spirit of the Gospel ministry; and if such occasions occur often, without his evidencing a sense of impropriety in the offenders, he may be assured that his real character is not a secret to the world.
The monitions and exhortations are to be given, "as well to the sick as to the whole." It has been intimated already, that these expressions should be construed with a reference to the subject of error; and explained to denote the being under its influence, or the contrary. This meaning best harmonizes with the prominent design of the question. If the interpretation be correct, the sentiment is, that the minister, not contenting himself with inculcating sound doctrine on the minds of the people generally, is to make it an especial object to extend the same to those who are the most in danger of perversion. But if any one should suppose that bodily health and sickness are the matters intended, the sense will still be good: amounting to this, that the admonition and the exhortation, fitly addressed in time of health, are especially seasonable in time of sickness; at which time there is an extraordinary use in ministerial aid. And yet we may doubt of its being the matter provided for in this particular place; the more so, because the sick are held out as prominently the objects of attention. This indeed they are in respect to consolation, and in some cases information; but not in respect to admonition and exhortation.
There was remarked of the last clause, that it calls for theological knowledge: but by the remaining clause there is called for, perhaps as much as by any thing in the system, a quality of another nature--that of Christian prudence. A minister is to use his best diligence to prevent the spreading of error among his flock. But is it by inquisitorial process, and by interferences on slight grounds, known in all ages to have increased the evils which they were designed to remedy? Not at all: It is "as need shall require and occasion shall be given." Here, then, as was remarked, is a loud call for Christian prudence; for it often happens, and even as the effect of an honest and inquiring mind, that doubts and difficulties occur, where there is no unworthy passion inducing a bias to sectarian error: doubts, which are easily removed by free and friendly conversation, and oven by the parties' more mature consideration; while the hastily treating of it as heresy or schism would be the likeliest mean, such is the infirmity of human nature, of inducing these extremes. We may lament, that seeing there is in the world so much sectarian zeal, impelling to unwearied endeavours to make converts to senseless systems; ministers should have much reason to complain--as indeed they have--of those who are occasionally seduced from our communion, without giving opportunities of freely discussing the causes of contemplated separation. Here is an additional motive to the exercise of the discretion recommended. But much more, it is a motive to all the virtues of the Christian character; the want of any one of them operating as some discouragement of such disclosures as have been represented to be desirable. But if a minister possess any trait of character evidently opposed to Gospel morals; and even if, in connexion with decency of deportment, he be marked by a worldly spirit, and manifest no considerable interest in the defence and the propagation of religious truth; he is not likely to be had recourse to, in any such seasons of difficulty as those supposed.
QUESTION V. "Will you be diligent in prayers, and in reading the Holy Scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the flesh?"
The first matter here mentioned, is diligence in prayers. Of the sense of this solemn interrogatory, there needs be no exposition. And of the importance of the subject, there needs be no demonstration to any person whose mind is seasoned by the most elementary precepts of our holy religion. But there may be pertinency in remarking, as a circumstance which ought to be very important with every candidate for the ministry, that God and his own conscience, and none besides, are judges of the sincerity with which he binds himself to a duty so sacred, and at the same time so retired. The remark is confined to his sincerity in making the promise, and is not extended to the fidelity of his performance. In this there are other judges besides his conscience and his God. The world in general will be his judge. For although they do not follow him to his closet, or look into his heart, yet his conduct will testify to them the degree of influence of the promise over the exercises of both. What is meant is, that if the person thus pledging himself to have his thoughts and his desires in heaven, should have them fixed on this transitory world, much beyond what is necessary for the fulfilment of its duties; and especially if he should show himself in any way under the guidance of wicked passion; he proclaims more unequivocally than can be done in words, "I have been unfaithful to my promise, made before God and his Church at my ordination."
Diligence is required, as in prayers, so also in reading the holy Scriptures. The prominent place here given to the latter subject, has tended much to confirm an opinion here received, from a consideration of Christian subjects generally, of an erroneous--and that perhaps the common--method of directing the study of divinity, which is to put into the hands of the student, the systematick treatises of this description, without exacting a previous and careful study of the sacred text. In this there is no design of condemning systematick study in the gross; as some in the other extreme have done. Not but that the substantial parts, even of systems, may be gathered from the writings of those who have bestowed their labours on explanations of the Scriptures. Still, as they who are young in ecclesiastical studies, are in some danger of hastily taking up opinions not conformable with one another; very often considering an opinion in its distinct merit as they appear on a particular view of it, and not aware of the relation which yet it may bear to some other; there may be a use in such writings as help, so to speak, to systematize the student's own mind. Still the substratum, the applying of all the parts of which to their proper uses, ought to be the end aimed at in all human reasonings, are the Holy Scriptures. Without habitual perusal of them, it is impossible that the minister of Christ should be prepared for those exigencies which will doubtless occasionally occur, of defending softie parts of them against the objections and the scoffs of infidels, or of explaining other parts against the perversion of them to very dangerous errors. For the former it is somewhat easier to be prepared, because of that blind credulity to which nothing is equal in any other line, wherewith infidel writers hand down, from age to age, the same stale objections, and which modern unbelievers pick up, without a knowledge of the able and satisfactory replies. But in the latter line, it is impossible to foresee the various misconceptions by which detached passages of Scripture are perverted to the support of whimsical fancies taken up in haste. It would be very injurious to the sacred oracles to suppose, that this is an evil peculiarly attached to them. It belongs to the expressing of any subject in human language. At the same time there is discernible in Scripture, a clearness of diction in regard to whatever enters essentially into the faith or the practice of a Christian. But when people overlook truths so luminous, and become ingenious in selecting what they understand the least, there may be weakness in this, but there is a mixture of perverseness also. Still, the minister of the Gospel meets it often; and if he have not studied his Bible with sufficient care; and if, in addition to this, he have not been in the habit of refreshing his memory by recurring to the connexion and other explanatory circumstances; he may find himself often confounded by ignorant and weak persons, with the furniture of a more diligent reading of the Bible, especially if this be aided by a retentive memory and a volubility of tongue. But there is a more serious reason still, for great readiness in the Scriptures. A clergyman will occasionally have to address a person in a state of mind, rendering an application of the consolations of the divine word peculiarly important; and in doing this, he will have to counteract misrepresentations of other parts of it, leading to deep distress. Of persons of this sort, sometimes in health, and sometimes in sickness, instances will occur often: and they will come unexpectedly; and are no otherwise to be provided for than habitually. It is to be hoped, that there can be no need to demonstrate how miserable is the insufficiency of a minister of the Gospel, unprovided on such occasions, with what must be confessed among the most precious of the fruits of a diligent study of the Holy Scriptures. Surely we may say of this in regard to him, as of charity in regard to men in general, that without it, "if he have all mysteries and all [other] knowledge, it profiteth nothing."
But the candidate promises, that he will "give his faithful diligence," as "in reading the Holy Scriptures," so likewise "in such studies as help to a knowledge of the same."
Here the Church decides explicitly on the question--Whether there be studies extraneous to the Scriptures, yet helping to the knowledge of them? There has been already noticed, that, to an inquiring mind, Scripture is itself, and without foreign aid, sufficient for whatever enters essentially into faith and practice. But this is to be understood, under the supposition of so much modesty as will be content with want of information, where God has not bestowed an opportunity of acquiring it. Nevertheless, the more full opening of the Scriptures is one of the uses for which the ministry was ordained.
There is recollected the delicacy of the point now, brought into view, how far the prospect of usefulness may be a reason for dispensing, in some cases, with branches of learning held to be generally important. This question has been much discussed among us, in another line; and it is not intended to counteract the moderation which has governed in the public counsels of the Church, But it is wished to state strongly, the distinctions between the dispensing with literature and the denying of its importance. The latter stands opposed to all correct apprehensions of the nature of the Gospel ministry.
On every subject there should be a consistency of theory and of conduct. There are societies of professing Christiana, who hold and zealously defend the tenet, that to the discharge of the ministerial commission, there can be required nothing that is dependent on study, or on any other application of the human intellect. Whether among such societies there are ever admitted to authorized instruction, persons who cannot read the Bible, is a point on which no information is here possessed. On the ground of their professed principles, it does not appear how such a person, otherwise approved of, could be refused. All this, though erroneous, is consistent. But in the persons now in view, who contend that no literature besides that of reading the Bible should be required, there is manifest inconsistency in supposing that even this is necessary, since it is an attainment requiring the intervention of human art. If such inconsistent reasoners should be brought so far as to concede, that besides the bare reading, the understanding of the Bible may be made a requisite, there is desired no further confession, as the foundation of the following statement of what may be supposed to have been understood by the Church, under the terms, "such studies as help to a knowledge of the same."
In the first place it must be presumed, that a knowledge of the languages in which the Scriptures were given must have been considered by her as of no small importance. Be it so, that the knowledge of them is not necessary in every case; yet what would be the condition of the Christian Church, if its ministry were ignorant of them altogether? And would not Christianity be taken by tradition, as much, and indeed more, than in the darkest times of the middle ages? Some divines have pronounced, and among them is no less a man than Calvin--that, in the minds of godly persons, there is a witness to true Scripture, distinguishing it from the false. But those divines proceed on the supposition, that the Scriptures are faithfully translated; and none of them go so far as to affirm the same inward test of the fidelity of the translation. Even this, indeed, has been professed in the societies before alluded to; but, although instances have been affirmed as facts, it is not here imagined that the matter has been put to the test of a fair experiment, which might easily be done. But to bring these remarks to their proper point; if it be acknowledged that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament were delivered in the Hebrew and the Greek languages; and that the translations of them are guides no further than as they agree with the originals; it must needs be of essential importance that there should be some persons qualified to judge of the correspondency. And if there must absolutely be some so qualified, the more general the qualification the better; especially as there must frequently occur occasions of controversy concerning doctrine; when, for elucidation, recourse must be had to a comparing of the translation with the original.
In regard to the Hebrew language, there may be propriety in making the acknowledgment, that there seems weight in the remark of its being rendered less necessary than it would otherwise have been, by the translation of the seventy: which may be depended on as substantially correct, since it was used in our Saviour's time generally, by the Jews in the Grecian countries; and since some of the quotations in the New Testament, of passages from the Old, agree more exactly with the Septuagint than with the original Hebrew. The latter, however, will be often found of great importance, and ought to be recommended; and indeed more strongly required, When opportunities shall more generally be found of acquiring it. Still, that it may be easier dispensed with than if there had not existed the said aid of the Septuagint translation, is, here conceded.
Of the Greek language there can be no need to say much. It must be self-evident, that if any language besides the vernacular is necessary to a clergyman, it must be that in which there are recorded the life and the death of the Redeemer; and as well his own blessed instructions as those of his apostles. There are few, perhaps none, who enter on the foregoing languages, without being first acquainted, in some measure, with the Latin. If any, however, should plead for the dispensing with this, because not one of the vehicles of divine truth, there cannot be alleged in its favour ail equal importance with that of the other two.
Yet it is of considerable importance; for if, as is certainly the case, the history and the very ancient monuments of the early Church, by exhibiting its faith, reflect light on questions arising concerning the sense of Scripture; this is a consideration which gives great importance to the language in which the said documents are conveyed to us, so far as regards one of the great branches into which the Christian Church became nominally divided before the separation of communion, which at last took place and became final.
Concerning all the languages here noted, it is a stale pretence that Christianity was at first propagated by unlettered men. This is true; but, for the exigency of the then existing circumstances, were they not furnished with the gift of tongues? Were they not possessed of miraculous gifts of various kinds? These extraordinary helps have confessedly ceased: and the Scriptures have been transmitted to us by their divine Author, under such circumstances, that without helps of another nature they would he a sealed book. Mow inapplicable the premises! How weak the conclusion!
Besides these languages, without which, possessed by some, we should be as much strangers to the Gospel as the inhabitants of Japan or China, even when it is opened to us in our own language, it is so much connected with civil history, that without this, in connexion with ancient customs, we want much light otherwise to be obtained, for the explaining of passages very difficult without it, and for the removing of objections, of which the enemies of our holy religion are always ready to avail themselves. There shall be mentioned a striking instance. When the present writer was a youth, there was no topick of infidelity so much insisted on, as the inconsistency of sacred history with that of the Chinese and of the Eastern India. To this it was reasonably answered, that the intercourse of the Europeans with the inhabitants of those countries was so recent and so partial, as to be inadequate to the obtaining of documents commensurate with the positions made. Of late years the delusion has vanished; principally in consequence of the labours of the late Sir William Jones, and others acting in connexion with him; That great limn, who is said to have gone to India a skeptick, became there fully convinced of the truth of sacred history, from the consenting evidences which he found of the deluge; of the dispersion; of the prominent facts in sacred story; and of the epochas to which they are referred. It would be irrelevant to the present subject to remark, as some might be disposed to do, that the matters mentioned will not avail to the renovation of the heart. They are not mentioned as applying to such a purpose. But in proportion to the importance of this holy operation, is that of sustaining the credibility of the Christian system; which must be given up, if it will not bear a rational investigation on the best established principles of evidence. And by whom is it to be defended on such grounds, if, in this point of view, it is to be abandoned by the clergy?
Perhaps there is no branch of literature, the speculations of which have so much mixed themselves with theology, as those of metaphysicks. But while their use in their proper place is confessed; and while the divine is advised to avail himself of it, in such a manner as to guard against the abuse; yet there is none greater, than that which has been the result of its laying its unhallowed hands on the simplicity of Christ's religion. The science, however, cannot be without its use, as it respects the investigation either of those properties of the Divine Being, which show a foundation of theology in nature; or those powers of man, which constitute him a subject of moral discipline. But in the ages prior to the Christian, there had been among philosophers a monstrous excess of metaphysical refinement, to which there was the greater temptation, as fallacy could so easily shelter herself under the difficulty of detection. Nothing is more evident on the face of Scripture, than its being unsophisticated by this science. And the same may be said of the religion professed during the first two centuries, and with some exceptions in the third. But in the fourth, the inroads of metaphysicks on the territory of Christian theology became conspicuous. It seems to have happened thus: When philosophers became converted in considerable numbers to Christianity, it was natural for them to retain a bias to their former systems, in such points as they thought not inconsistent with the faith; and hence to imagine, that in this they saw some countenance to the opinions of the other. The first mischiefs of this stranger, were in the Trinitarian controversy. Afterwards she put her meddling finger on the questions of predestination and grace. And in the latter, her subtle theories became swelled into dogmas, which press with their whole weight on the Christian Church to the present day. So fertile is the human imagination, when let loose into this airy field, that it is not uncommon to find books written for the influencing of the faith of ordinary Christians, in which the distinctions are so many and so minute, that if they be correct, it would seem as though there were no faculty of man having so much to do in the concern of his salvation as his memory. The amount of what has been said, is the opinion to be here expressed, that the requisite attention to metaphysicks, of a clergyman, as such, does not extend beyond its most demonstrable truths; and that, if he go further in them, it should be for the purpose, not of bringing aid to Christianity, but to rescue it from an unnatural association.
Concerning physicks or natural knowledge, and its attendant helps, there may be remarked, that besides their tendency to strengthen the reasoning faculty, and to enlarge our views, some information in this line is called for, with a view to the defence of the Christian fortress against those by whom it is assailed, with the misapplied weapons of human literature. The remark might be illustrated in various instances: but there shall be given one instance only, and that in a modern infidel, whose work has been the mare noticed in this country, because of his having been here himself.
The writer, [Volney,] in a work well calculated to dazzle the imagination, has described all religion, whether natural or revealed, as growing out of the astronomical observations of the ancient Egyptian priests, by them expressed in hieroglyphick characters and fables; which, in time, became misunderstood and misinterpreted. Nothing can be more futile, than the evidence on which he grounds this; referring to the pretended monuments of it, in his notes, which do not sustain the things affirmed. But any Sciolist can pick up the assertions, without troubling himself with the notes, and thus assail the faith of ordinary Christians. Very inconsistently, indeed, will these act, if the well attested records of Christianity are outweighed in their estimation, by every random hypothesis. Still the poison is at hand; and by whom is the antidote to be administered, if it be beyond the sphere of those who are the commissioned deputies of the great Physician of souls?
Of the science of natural morality there shall be said but little; because there can hardly be overlooked, that it co-operates with Christian morals in accomplishing the same great end. These rest on the command of God himself; not to be questioned by our reason, or bounded by our discretion: that traces duty to its sources in the nature of man, and in the will of God discoverable by nature. There may be propriety in guarding against an error; and if the mention of it should be thought not exacted by the nature of this address, the importance of the matter may be an excuse. The error is the taking for granted, as is done by many, that the moral law contemplated in nature, is what the human mind, by its own energy, and under all circumstances, ascertains. Nothing can be more contrary to fact; as is evident in the gross conceptions of the subject, by which, in all ages, whole nations have been degraded. It must, indeed, be conceded, and is confirmed by what St. Paul says in the second chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, that independently on revelation, there is a law agreeable to the light of nature, and rendering the conscience of a man a law to himself. But however his mind may--not must--reason correctly on data when given to him on the present subject; it has always been a problem, how far such data, with the wisest of the Heathen, were the remains of an original revelation; and whether without this their minds would not have stopped at as low a point in the scale of sacred truth, as those of the Eastern and of the Western Indians? But be this as it may, there might be easily proved, that the moral theories of the wisest of the Greek and of the Latin s, were far short of Christian morals. And yet, when the luminous splendour of this has heightened the beauty of the morality transmitted by the Heathen, the infidel seizes on the subject thus cultivated and refined, and holds up the progeny of revelation as the rival of its parent.
But to return: It is hoped that there has been perceived the bearing of all these remarks on the point intended--the sense of the Church in her requisition of diligence in the studies helping to the knowledge of the Scriptures. But it is important to the subject to remark further, that if we think ourselves indebted to the good providence of God, for our being at this moment emancipated from the Papal yoke, this benefit has been in a great measure accomplished by the aid of that species of literature which is more especially applicable to a right understanding of the Scriptures. When the reformation began, there was thought cause of suspicion of attachment to it, even in a zeal for the cultivating of the languages in which the Scriptures were written. Without the learning possessed by the reformers, they might have made disciples for martyrdom; but they would not have withdrawn nations from their subjection to the see of Rome. This was soon perceived on the other side; and consequently pains were taken to relieve the clerical body from the load of ignorance under which they lay. This, with the aid of the inquisition and other penal props, has delayed the impending downfall. During the delay, it has been conspicuous that the progress of literature produces, if not Protestantism, infidelity. Still, it is a known fact, that literature is much cultivated among those orders of the Church of Rome, which are looked to for the educating of ministers for foreign missions; and this is mentioned for the opportunity of the remark--how low the cause of Protestantism will sink, if Protestant ministers in-general should be found insufficient to the management of the controversies between the Church of Rome and us.
But although a portion of this disadvantage belongs to every instance of a weak defence; yet, in the circumstances of these states, and considering the encouragement to literature, we need be under no apprehension of an advantage to the Roman Catholick cause, from a prevalence of general ignorance in Protestant communions. Far from this, we may remark societies formerly considered as very defective in this particular, now adorned by clergymen of great literary merit, and indeed abounding in them. What is the inference resulting from the consideration of this? It is, that if the clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church should become remarkable for their ignorance, she must relinquish her share of the work of Christ, to societies which, as such, and so far as the present circumstance extends, will better deserve to be employed in it.
It may be hoped, that every minister of our Church, in proportion to his abilities, and according to the opportunities which God has given him, will do what in him lies to prevent this degradation, and, perhaps, this extinction of our communion; still, however, keeping in view that the literature which he pledges himself to cultivate, is such as helps to the right understanding of the Scriptures. This indeed opens a field of such wide extent, that it is difficult to say what branch of general learning is entirely excluded. But there is one branch of theological learning, which mast be perceived especially pertinent to the promise. It is the biblical, or what helps to the ascertaining of the sacred text. Perhaps there have been more labour and more expense employed in that line in the present age, than in any other. And although the result scents to have been a conviction in the minds of the learned, that the common English translation of the Bible is even more valuable than had been before supposed; yet, since there is not perfection in human work, and since some imperfections are confessed in this, it becomes a minister of the Gospel to give a respectful ear to any sober criticism which respects the integrity of the sacred text, as put into our hands; to acknowledge the correctness of the criticism, if it be proved; and to show, for this may be shown, that no essential truth is thereby affected. But to be prepared for occasions of this sort, he must be furnished with information in that kind of learning; which is the more necessary, as there are persons very erroneous as we suppose, who eagerly arm themselves with weapons taken from this armoury. As their right to have recourse to it cannot be denied, nothing is left for us but to show the misapplication of what they gather there. But how can this be done, by those who are materially uninformed in the department?
There yet remains a branch of the question--"laying aside, as much as you may, all worldly cares and studies." Although in the Latin the expressions are stronger than in the English--"de mundanis et corporeis nihil soliciti;" it must have been directed against excessive care, and such a measure of occupation in worldly matters as is inconsistent with the high duties undertaken: for such a construction seems justified by the clause of the address made by the bishop in the office--"laying aside, as much as you may, all worldly cares and studies."
In a Church which confesses the right of her clergy to engage in the matrimonial connexion, and of course in the providing for a family, there cannot be supposed to have been an utter disregard of the consequent relations, because this would imply the idea of there being opposite and inconsistent duties.
There is therefore to be drawn a reasonable line of distinction; and it is less easy to do this than to state extremes which fall short of or exceed it. Perhaps the conceiving rightly of these may enable any man to ascertain the proper medium, according to the peculiar circumstances of his case.
One of the extremes is neglect, amounting to a desertion of natural duty, which, as already remarked, could not have been the object of the promise. But there can be no doubt that it was designed, in the first place, against engaging in any other occupation, unless this should become necessary for support: and then against the engaging in it in such sort as to prevent the discharge of the ministerial vows, so far as the other engagements will permit; for doubtless they will always permit in a considerable degree: and further, that as the having of recourse to them is the dictate of necessity, they should be chosen with a view to the circumstance of their harmonizing, as much as possible, with what the heart is supposed the most engaged in; the contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. Besides these things, it seems altogether incongruous, after being bound by the vows now under discussion, to engage in those hazardous pursuits which not only engross a man's thoughts and the active portions of his time, but plant the thorn of anxiety within his pillow. They may be called for by the wants of social life; but there is no call on a clergyman, to commit himself to so great n danger of the breaking of his most sacred promises.
It is not here forgotten, how much may be said, even in regard to ministers who have support attached to their vocation, to prove that the thoughts of a person may be generally bestowed on the world, while yet they are often enough drawn off from its concerns to have his mind seasoned with a sense of heavenly things. This is true, while yet there is in the matter in question a material difference between a layman and the pastor of a flock. Religion calls off the former, at times from his habitual occupation; of the latter the habitual occupation ought to be ecclesiastical duties, and the preparation for them. There is no portion of his time, in which he is not liable to be summoned, if health permit, to the exercise of his function. And whether called or not, no considerable space of time will pass in which, if faithful, he will not be engaged in what has more or less relation to it.
But there has not yet been opened the full extent of the question. The candidate is required to promise, that he will lay aside, or be nihil solictius, not only "of the study of the world," de mundanis, but also "of the study of the flesh," de corporeis. The last word seems levelled at a measure of sensuality, not amounting to intemperance, yet lowering any man, and especially a clergyman, in the moral scale. Let it not be understood, as wishing to extort from the institutions of the Church an abridgment of the Christian liberty, which St. Paul admitted, when he said, "as using this world without abasing it," It is only maintained that, independently on intemperance, there may be an immoderate attachment to conviviality; and that this, while it is derogatory to any man, has the difference in relation to a minister and to others, that, it destroys his usefulness, and yet perhaps not theirs, in their respective occupations. Me it further remarked, that the faulty propensity has been contemplated as allied to social enjoyment: it seems hardly necessary to add, that without this union, there is aggravated ignominy in the former.
There is often discussed the subject, how far a clergyman may engage in one or another species of social entertainment, liable to be abused to dissipation. Without any disposition to lay down restrictions on Christian liberty, there cannot be overlooked the fact, that even they who plead for the greatest extent of clerical license in this way, are not apt to think highly of the clerical merit of those who use it. The truth is, the professional occupation of a clergyman is so little in unison with the relaxations to which he is thus solicited, that neither serious persons, nor those remarkable for levity, conceive of their being easily blended. Its lowering of him in the estimation of cither description, and especially of both, is a loud admonition to him to be found in his proper calling. These remarks are made without a view to social entertainments involving what is licentious or profane. A clergyman's attendance on any thing of this sort, may reasonably be interpreted as a virtual renunciation of his instructions from the pulpit.
There remain three questions: but agreeable to notice given in the beginning, two of them are to be passed over, the sixth and the eighth, as they stand in the service.
QUESTION VII.--"Will you maintain and set forwards, as much as in you lieth, quietness, peace, and love among all Christian people, and especially among them that are or shall be committed to your charge?"
The compilers seem to have had their minds so full of the importance of this inquiry, as to labour for words, to place the subject in all the lights of which it is capable. "Will you maintain"--that is, continue, or keep inviolate on your part; "and set forwards"--that is, advance the design, and concur in all measures contributing to it. "As much as in you lieth:" that is, not feebly, but with the full force of your endeavours. "Quietness:" the lowest grade of Unity, yet having a shade of difference from the higher grades, although aiding them. "Peace:" there may be quietness in the conduct, while there is in the heart discord: to which peace is here opposed. But. there may be both quietness rind peace, without the sympathies of Christian charity, and the variety of beneficence in which they issue: which, under the name of "love" are to be promoted "among all Christian people." This, as will be shown, is the same with people of every description. But as the opportunities of a man are especially within the sphere in which he principally moves, there is added, "especially among them that are or shall be committed to your charge."
It is probable that this question is never proposed and answered on any occasion of ordination, without its exciting of an esteem for the service, in the minds of the persons present; nor, if the compilers should be thought of, without an honouring of their wisdom and their virtue, evidenced in this correct apprehension of one of the most important uses of the office for the duties of which they were here providing.
If we were to consider the Gospel ministry in the light of an institution merely civil, there surely cannot be conceived of an expedient better adapted to restrain in many instances, and to moderate in many more, the angry passions of mankind. This effect it produces, in a great measure, independently on a disposition in the minister to promote peace and union; and merely by means of the devotion and the addresses, in which he will officially at least, hold up to the eyes of men the high obligations to which they have in this respect been subjected by their common Father. How much greater will be the effect, in proportion as the official tendency is supported by personal endeavours; and where these have the additional sanction of example!
It has indeed been not uncommon, to hear the clerical order reproached with having contributed to the fomenting of discord, as well between independent nations as between contending parties, into which every people becomes divided. But however some ecclesiasticks may have been guilty of the charge, there is a fallacy in the stating of it. When stations of high trust and influence have been filled by men who become clergymen solely with a view to them; it might have been expected that with the same talents and the same ambition, they would have played precisely the same parts, had their stations been as professedly secular as they have been rendered by a spirit in contrariety to their profession. But in the general charge, the attention is principally confined to a few made conspicuous by their crimes; and there is lost sight of the many who, in their circumscribed and unnoticed spheres, have contributed to the best interests of society; as in many ways, so especially in this--the labouring effectually for its peace.
It was intimated, that a remark is necessary on the expression, "all Christian people." When the service was composed, all the people with whom the candidate was to have any intercourse, were Christians in profession. Although there was prevailing among them much unchristian strife, in those days of England's vacillating between Popery and Reformation; the attendant uncharitableness was to be moderated by the minister, so far as was within the compass of his means; but the principle on which this was required, extends to the cultivation of the same Christian virtue, to persons of every and of no religion. This circumstance has been thought worthy of notice, lest the letter of the question, by confining charitable deportment to Christian people, should be construed as dispensing with it towards those who are not Christians even in name. This, contrary to what could have been designed, would describe our Church as alien from the precepts of Scripture, which enjoin us to "follow peace with all men; as we have opportunity to do good unto all men;" and to bear ourselves "with meekness to them that are without."
If this be due to the open deniers of our holy religion; more evidently does the same conduct become us, towards those who profess with ourselves to look for salvation to the mercy of God, extended through the same Redeemer; and to be under subjection to the same holy law in Scripture. What though this may, in our estimation, be mixed with considerable error: we are not to countenance it; but to make as much allowance for the prejudices of those who hold it, as may be warranted by the circumstances of their several cases. There are some, indeed, who to show how much they soar above illiberality of religious sentiment, would throw down every barrier dividing our communion from some others in visible administration, because they think the existing differences are of no importance. Among the objections to such a plan, it is not the least, that it tends to the disturbance of peace and charity; while the securing of these is its professed object. And such must be the effect, unless these mistaken promoters of unity can persuade one of two parties whom they may at any time aim to reconcile, to give up points which they think involved in Christian verity. So far as there have been attempts to draw the Episcopal Church into this plan, liberal as some conceive, the design has uniformly exacted the sacrifice of the prominent characteristicks of our system. But it is to be wished, that while the clergy see through the vail of such expedients, they will embrace all opportunities of cultivating friendly communications, and an interchange of personal civilities with ministers of other denominations; it being understood that their individual characters are such as to invite to such a disposition. An essential ingredient in the terms of so good an understanding, must be the discountenancing of all uncharitableness towards them, in the members of our own communion. In every religious society, more or less, there are zealots who eagerly embrace every opportunity of making a blow at the usefulness and the reputation of ministers of other societies, considered by them as rivals. Perhaps it may be the result of partiality; but our communion is here thought to be as free as any other from this unworthy kind of zeal. It is desirable, that there should be none of it; and that our clergy in particular would distinguish themselves in the discountenancing of it, and of a religious party spirit in every way in which it may be manifested. Thus will they be discharging their promise to "maintain and set forwards quietness, peace, and love, among all Christian people."
If this becomes us, the principle must more forcibly apply to the communion of which the candidate is to be a minister. However to be lamented the circumstance, that the body of professing Christians in these states is divided into difference of profession, extending much further than any material difference of sentiment; yet it cannot but be perceived, that this is owing partly to causes which bring no reproach on the Christian name, and partly to other causes, the blame of which can hardly be said to argue a present proneness to separation. So far as our country has been peopled from different countries of the old world, whose sovereignties and whose churches were independent, it does not appear that a body of emigrants from any one of them could claim a control over the emigrants from another. And even so far as separate communions have resulted from controversy, and what we may think unnecessary separation in the old world; the continuance of the separation in a new country where there reigns a confessed equality of privilege, cannot fairly be imputed to a propensity to feud, however desirable the healing of the breach, and a disposition on each side to that effect. How far union ought to be promoted by either party's recession from former opinion, is out of the question; for it requires conviction: and the subject at present, is not truth, but charity. In all that has been referred to, there seems but little ground for infidelity to triumph. But where angry controversy arises within any communion, in which the points are evidently such as that there may be tolerated a diversity of sentiment, without endangering essential truths; in which, notwithstanding this, the passions of people, of ministers of the Gospel in particular, become heated to a degree of warmth, and issue in lengths of uncharitable-ness which all good men deplore, even when seen in the concerns of civil life; it tends more, perhaps, than any thing else that can be named, both to inspire and to confirm doubts of the truth of a religious system, erroneously supposed to produce these mischiefs, which, however, are in contrariety to the spirit of its institutions, and to the plain letter of very many of its precepts.
When measures were begun for the organizing of the Episcopal Church in these states, perhaps there never was a communion in circumstances which more exposed it to the dangers resulting from diversity of opinion. But although it cannot be said that nothing of this sort has occurred; yet, under the blessing of the great Head of the Church, it has not prevented such a harmony as led to our being fully consolidated and organized; and as is here trusted, with the prospect of perpetuity. These things are mentioned, with the view of recommending to every candidate by whom they may be heard, and further, of beseeching by all those sacred ties which are to unite him to the ministry, to do all in his power for the preservation of that unity of our Church of which he finds her in possession, or for the restoration of it, if he should find it broken. Occasions may occur calling on him to bear and forbear for its preservation. Let him in such cases seriously inquire, to what lengths concession may be carried without a crime. That conscience is not to be sacrificed to peace, is a point conceded. But before a man brings her sacred name for the sanctioning of a breach of order, let him examine his own heart for the sincerity of the sentiment. The world will compare it with his conduct. We need but to read history, and without this we need but to look around us, to know, that under this venerable plea there is often a straining at a gnat, and a swallowing of a camel. And wherever this is perceived, we may be sure that in the plea there is unhallowed passion sheltering itself under the name of conscience.
Although there cannot but be perceived, that what has been just now stated comes within the promise exacted by the Church, yet she has especially an eye in the case of every minister, to "the people committed to his charge."
There shall be here briefly traced the influence of this pacifick disposition, as it respects, 1st, A minister in his private concerns: 2d, The part he is to take in the concerns of his Church: and, 3d, The interest of himself and of his parishioners, in questions which concern the commonwealth.
In his personal concerns it will doubtless be allowed, that the moderation which is commendable in a man of any description, is especially to be looked far in him. Not that he, any more than another man, is bound to relinquish a just right. But we know, with how little litigation some men go through the world in comparison of others; and this is principally, the result of the difference of character under consideration. If there be here rightly understood the precepts of the Gospel addressed to this very point, a clergyman will forego a small right, rather than assert it at the hazard of great contention; and he will pursue a just right, not only honourably, but with temper, and without unnecessary irritation. If the question of right should be involved in a contention between him and his flock, the same principles apply as in any other case; except with this difference, that it should lead him seriously to review his own conduct, to ascertain whether he have faithfully discharged to them the duties on which any engagements made to him were predicated. For although, in such an inquiry the issue is not to rest with the party who may be benefited by an unjust decision, yet there is a difference when the question is put between a man's own conscience and his God.
Next, in regard to the same temper, as it should influence in the common concerns of a particular congregation. Although there is for ever to be detested the illiberal policy which would shut the mouth of their minister, on any question which may occur; yet it becomes every man, and him most of all, not to be too positive, or too pertinacious in his opinions. The questions here alluded to are such as do not involve any thing, wherein either Christian verity or ecclesiastical discipline is at stake. For where one or the other of these is threatened, he cannot support with too much firmness, although even this should be without passion, the principles to which he is bound by the most solemn ties. In his personal conduct nothing should divert him from them; and if in the conduct of others, he cannot prevent error or irregularity, yet he can keep at a distance from all allowance of it.
For the promoting of unity in a congregation, there is nothing more important, than that he should discountenance the forming of a party, of which his interests are the especial object. If there be persons whom he supposes to be his enemies, to say absolutely that it cannot in any instance be the effect of malice, would be rash. But instances of this are rare. In general, either there is a cause, and then it would be unreasonable to be offended; or the persons are in an error, and a little time will convince them of it. If the dissatisfaction arise from the failure of attraction in the publick administrations of the minister; we all know, how different are the tastes of different persons. No man ought to wish to be celebrated, for accomplishments which nature has not bestowed on him. There may be, however, a want of discernment in the dissatisfied. But of this it would be as unreasonable to complain, as of a want of sight, if it had been denied to them. But it may be said, and the fact is here acknowledged, that some complain from mere fastidiousness, and from a love of novelty, which will be satisfied with nothing long. For the inconveniences resulting from this there are but two remedies, or rather alleviations. The first is, to be very diligent in the discharge of those duties, to which there is a competency in all furnished with the qualifications indispensable to a proper engaging in the vocation; and perhaps it would be difficult to find a congregation with the greater part of whom this would not be a sufficient counterpoise to the discouragements arising from caprice. But if, after all, any portion of such discouragement should seem intolerable, a clergyman ought to reflect, that the evil is deeply grounded in certain properties of human nature; and that to be too much troubled by it, is to arraign the wisdom of the Creator, who may be considered saying as he did to Jonah, "Dost thou well to be angry?" The wayward disposition thus complained of being as much according to the common course of things, as were the rapid growth, and the as rapid withering of the gourd. But, under the present point, there is still a matter not to be passed unnoticed. Sometimes, the feuds of a congregation are the result of the rival interests of different ministers. If this be the effect of a competition for the charge of a congregation, the conduct to be observed on the occasion is so conspicuous, and the correct path has been so often trodden by competitors for civil offices, and this, in some cases, without the control of religion, and with only discretion for a guide, that the matter cannot be mistaken by an honourable mind. This is however to be remembered, that what is supposed to have been done in some cases from the principle of honour, should in this case be prompted by the fear of God. There occurs more difficulty, when rival ministers are associated in the same charge, each having partisans, who conceive of a merit in evidencing their friendship for him, by hostility to his rival. The clergyman who condescends to be the head of such a party, disgraces his profession, as much as he could do by gross intemperance. In the supposed conjunction of clerical labours, it can hardly happen but that each shall have peculiar friends; who, in many instances, became such from circumstances merely incidental. And if it have been from preference, what profession is there not liable to the same? If one clergyman is to conceive of a parishioner as his enemy, because he is his brother pastor's friend; there arises from it an argument against the ministry itself, more weighty than has ever been brought against it, either by infidels or by those mistaken Christians who have denied the divine designation of such an order. Were it here foreseen of any candidate for holy orders, that he would be capable of harbouring such an unsanctified spirit, it would hardly be worth the trouble to contemplate his case in this address. But on the supposition that a minister may be drawn unwarily into difficulties, from reluctance to the painfulness, and perhaps apparent ingratitude of checking what may wear the appearance of friendship for himself, though venting itself in unkindness to his brother, the present caution is given with the hope, that no occasion will render it of consequence; but with the further hope, that if this should happen, the caution will be of use.
Finally, there are to be spoken of those jarring sentiments and inclinations, which in all free governments, or rather in governments of every description, agitate the minds of the people, and throw almost every man into one party or another, according to the view which he takes of whatever concerns the publick weal. Doubtless a man does not divest himself of any civil right, by becoming a minister of the Gospel. Besides this, as the duty of the citizen cannot be dispensed with by the duty of the minister, his testimony is to be borne on all fit occasions, and in a temperate way, to what he conceives to be the true interests of his country. But it will be allowed, that all are not equally called on to take a lead in, and give a tone to, publick measures: and the only restraint here designed to be laid on a clergyman is, that of those not so called, he is one. His taking of the ground here intimated, will not prevent his having an influence in moderating the rage of party; it will rather contribute to his possessing of such an influence, which prepares him for the discharge of one of the best of civil offices, and one to which he pledges himself in his answer to the present question. But if he become himself a partisan, either he is insignificant, or he adds fuel to the flame. One of the most likely effects of his error will be, the utterly disqualifying of himself from being of use to persons of the party opposed to him, in any of those seasons which call for religious information or consolation. It is not an improbable event, that he may drive them from the Church of which be is a minister. It often happens, that a man deserts his religious communion on some very trivial pretence; and among other pretences, there is sometimes that of his minister's not being altogether to his mind. If this be mere caprice, it does not seem that the conscience of the minister has wherewith to be much concerned. But if it be from his having gone so much out of his proper vocation as is here supposed, he cannot render a good account of himself, either to God or to the Church. There is no need to enlarge; there being few who would not agree in the position. But if it be not correct, and considering how the minds of men become heated and prejudiced by civil dissensions, besides the divisions already subsisting in Christendom, in order to enable ministers of the Gospel to be of use, there should be in every neighbourhood another division of every society, according to the existing state of parties. But even this would not answer the purpose altogether: for it would not prevent the ecclesiastical zealot from suffering in the estimation of those who think with him in politicks, but who will think meanly of the interest which he takes in his proper calling. Such persons will avail themselves of him as a tool, if his talents render him a proper one to work with; but they will not revere him as a spiritual shepherd.
The leading sentiments of these remarks ought to be considered as enforced to the conscience of a candidate, by what the bishop is to say to him expressly in the service--"We have good hope that you have well weighed these things with yourself, long before this time." In consideration of these impressive words, it may seem, that the present labour might have been scared: and indeed the principal benefit expected from it is, that if ever offered to a candidate who has indulged the idea that the promises are made in ceremony, and that they are little to be regarded in succeeding life; the great compass of them which has been exhibited may tend to counteract the delusion, and show, that if any correspondency is to be expected between words and the intentions of the mind, great and permanent should be the result.
There is the more reason to draw the attention to this, as some men, after binding their souls under so weighty an obligation, have considered the clerical profession as one which may be taken up and laid down at pleasure; and have even expressed surprise at measures adopted to render the effect of their renunciation as permanent as that of their ordination was intended to have been. The question of propriety, as considered at present, is foreign to the case of a man who has bound himself by vows, which he afterwards, on due inquiry, judges to be contrary to truth or morals. In such a case, there is no difficulty in ascertaining the correct principle, although an awful danger in making the application: and were we to suppose it to happen relatively to the ministry of this communion, still we must perceive the propriety of severing the party from the body. But for a man to imagine that he may be a minister of the Gospel, or divest himself of the character, as it may at one time or at another suit his temporal convenience, implies an opinion of the office not warranted by Scripture; and if it were understood between the Church and the candidate when she admits him to the ministry, it would be an irreverent use of the highest sanctions of religion, to suffer him to take on his tongue the promises which are in the answers to the questions occasioning these remarks. Whether they will have any good effect, however small, in fencing the sanctity of the ministerial calling, is known only to HIM, without whom even Paul must have planted, and Apollos have watered in vain.
In proportion as the remarks shall have the effect designed by them, the issue will be the preparation of the mind of any candidate for the concluding address to him by the bishop, after his receiving of the answers to the proposed questions--"Almighty God, who hath given you a will to do all these things, grant also unto you strength and power to perform the same; that he may accomplish his work which he hath begun in you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."