DELIVERED BEFORE THE
TRUSTEES, FACULTY, AND STUDENTS
GENERAL THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH
In Christ Church, New-York, on the Occasion of the Delivery of the
To the Students who had completed the Course of Studies, July 30, 1824.
BY WILLIAM WHITE, D. D.
Bishop of the Prot. Epis. Church in the State of Pennsylvania.
Published at the Request of the Trustees and Faculty.
BRETHREN, THE TRUSTEES OF THE SEMINARY;
YOUR President, being with you on the third return of your anniversary, takes the liberty of stating, that within the sphere of his ecclesiastical superintendence, and probably in many other places, the reputation and the prosperity of the Church are very much dependant on the means which shall be put in operation at the seat of its location, to render it a respectable nursery for the ministry throughout the Union. He submits this to you with the more confidence, in consequence of the opinion declared from the quarter alluded to, at an early period of our deliberations on the subject, that it were better left to such vicinities as possess means adequate to the object, than to combine in a common effort. Although the ground is changed, and evil would be the result of indifference--much more of hostility, to a system established by an almost unanimous agreement; yet it is hoped, that the suggestion now made, with much respect, will not be thought obtrusive by those to whom it is especially intended to apply--the influential Churchmen of a sister Diocese.
BRETHREN, THE PROFESSORS OF THE INSTITUTION;
He who addresses you, still avails himself of his local character, to express the gratification which has been gathered by him and by many others, from the circumstance, that, of [3/4] your learned body, two are from the Diocese referred to which, while the labours of all of you are duly appreciated by us, seems to give us a considerable proportion of the resulting reputation. This is a sentiment, which, on the mind of him now addressing you, has been especially impressed by the late examination, because of its ending so honourably to yourselves and to your pupils.
YOUNG MEN, THE LATE AND THE PRESENT STUDENTS OF THE INSTITUTION;
When its Professors requested the President of its Trustees to take a Journey to this city, to be present at the late examination, they doubtless expected, that the occasion would not conclude without some suggestions, tending to excite and to increase your energies. Accordingly, he enters on that duty. In his address of last year, he comprehended more points than could be treated of in sufficient extent, consistently with reasonable limits in regard to time. He now confines himself to a single point; very important in itself, and admitting of great variety of improvement. It is the prominent pledge which each of you is to give of the purity of his motive, at his future presentment for admission to the lowest grade of the ministry; in the first demand made by the Bishop in the service--"Do you trust, that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, to take upon you this office and ministration, to serve God, for the promoting of his glory, and the edifying of his people?"--with the answer--"I trust so."
The subject is made a matter of trust: very justly; because, if it were a state of mind of a higher grade, the candidate will have done wrong, in committing the issue of his admission to the result of an examination by frail and fallible men. His having done so, must have been in consequence of views, not in harmony with the institutions of our Church, and therefore not consistent with godly sincerity. The trust is of an inward moving of the Holy Ghost; to be distinguished from the belief of the suggestion of immediate [4/5] revelation; which belief, if it be demonstrative of a divine source in the present case, must be the same in other instances, of persons moved--as they think--to teach in direct contrariety to our constituted ministry, to our doctrines, and to our sacraments. How then are the motions of the Holy Spirit to be distinguished from the ordinary operations of our minds? The answer may be gathered from various places of our institutions. One place only shall be mentioned. It is in the first part of the homily for Whitsunday. The question is distinctly put, not with a special view to the ministry, but doubtless admitting application to that subject. The answer is in the words of St. Paul, in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, enumerating the religious graces of the Christian character. Accordingly, whatever emotions of the mind come under any of these heads, designate the Spirit of grace to be their source. To this belongs what follows in the question before us--"to serve God for the promoting of his glory and the edifying of his people." The desire is holy in itself; however cherished, as it ought to be, in submission to the authority that is to judge of the sufficiency of the party: there being an evident difference between the question of the worthiness of the object, and that of the necessary requisites of the person in pursuit of it; who, with the best intentions, may misjudge.
That the trust expected in the candidate, and to be declared by him, is not of such a cast, as to justify his committing of himself to the impulse of his own persuasion, let loose from ecclesiastical restraint, is evident from other parts of the service: particularly, in the limitation annexed to his being authorized to preach, which he may not do except by permission of the Bishop; and by his promise of obedience to the same authority; doubtless meaning canonical obedience, under a government of law and not of will: but improperly promised, if the agent were under another authority, with which the former may interfere.
If it should be imagined, that our Church exacts too little at the door to the ministry; and that the minister should be [5/6] required to declare a divine call, in terms of a higher grade of confidence; the answer is, that the objection, were it valid, would apply, with equal force, to what we read of the Christian ministry in the Scriptures. Of all the ecclesiastical characters which they introduce to our notice; whether associated with the Apostles in the exercise of a super-eminent jurisdiction, as in the cases of Timothy and Titus; or, of the order called indiscriminately Elders and Bishops; there is no instance of such a special call, as might be a warrant to think lightly of the ecclesiastical: and, what seems to apply still more decidedly to the point, there are the ample instructions given by St. Paul, concerning the qualifications to be required alike in the case of a Presbyter and in that of a Deacon; in which there is no intimation, that in the admitting of them to their respective orders, there should be a higher measure of certainty than that specified by our Church.
These statements are made, in order to defend the requisition of our ordinal, put in the modest form of the trust of the party, rather than in that of the assurance of an immediate revelation to his mind. While it is hoped, that the exposition is sufficiently clear to those to whom, it has been addressed; yet, lest there should be ambiguity in any of the expressions; and further, to give the greater weight to the interpretation, there shall be recited the sense of Archbishop Secker on the point. Others might be named to the same effect: but his authority is preferred, on account of the high estimation in which he was held by our American churches in their colonial state; and because, of all the prelates of England, he was the most distinguished by an interest taken in our concerns. He writes as follows: (vol. iv. p. 210)
"Candidates for Deacons' orders are asked--Do you trust, that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, to take upon you this office and ministration? A solemn question; and which ought to be well considered, before it is answered. Observe then, it is not said, Do you feel, have you an immediate perception of such an impulse from the Holy Ghost, as [6/7] you can distinguish from all other inward movements by its manner of impressing you: but, do you trust? are you on good grounds persuaded?"
It would be a mistake to suppose, that this representation, from the pen of a very eminent prelate, places the subject in a lower degree of certainty, than that which it was intended to exclude. On the contrary, while in acting under the impulse of a sentiment pressing on the mind, and supposed to be divine, there will be the disdain of considerations arising from the exercise of the intellect; in the other case, the sense of a trust will submit to the indispensable condition of being bottomed on a comparing of personal qualification with the requisitions of Scripture, and on conformity to ecclesiastical order. It is all important, that these should be regarded by candidates for the ministry, lest, what was designed to be descriptive of a well-grounded trust, should prove the excitement of a mere phantasm, not having a relation to the essential qualifications for the ministry; however powerful the drawing, on which so mistaken a confidence may have been placed.
If, agreeably to the present statements, the idea of the trust is to be accommodated to the test of a standard, according to which the determination of the candidate is to be made, he may be sure, that, at the least, it excludes motives not sanctioned by correct views of Gospel truth and duty.
Much needs not be said, in the application of this to what St. Peter has interdicted under the name of "filthy lucre:" that is, pecuniary inducement to the ministry. If it has sometimes brought unworthy men into the department, which indeed cannot be denied; so little of emolument is attached to clerical labours in the United States, that there is not the probability of a very extensive operation of a principle so unworthy: at least among young men whose education opens more profitable departments to their prospects. [* In the delivery of these sentiments, there was the recollection of what may be considered as an exception--accession to the ministry, from disappointment in secular occupations. Unquestionably, this is an evil to be guarded against, by strict attention to the circumstances of every particular case; without discouragement of accession of worthy labourers in the vineyard from the said source: of which there have been many instances, produced by religious impressions, and by desires of more extensive usefulness.] On the [7/8] contrary, it will hardly be denied by those the most addicted to the bringing of the charge of avarice against the Clergy, that it is not uncommon, to find in their ranks the possessors of talents, which would have elevated to the stations in civil life, the most connected as well with the weight of influence, as with that of wealth; and this remark is made, without an exclusive view to our own religious pale.
Independently on pecuniary considerations, the vanity of the display of talents may be a drawing to the ministry. It is not so sordid a motive as the other, but not in the least more holy, or a ground for the trust that is to be declared. In some respects, it is, of the two, the most carefully to be guarded against. For, while the love of money is sure to meet with discouragement, and may meet with its cure, in the censure and the disesteem of the world; the love of admiration may be made to pass for laudable ambition, or even for holy zeal. Not only so, whereas the former cannot but be matter of consciousness to the persons contaminated by it; the latter may be the effect of that frailty of human nature, which renders us incompetent judges of our own talents and of our own acquirements; especially at a time of life, when we are the most susceptible of flattering expectations, and the least aware of the innumerable causes of disappointment.
Although what has been said, is merely discouragement of unworthy motives; yet it will not be irrelative to the prospects of those addressed, to admonish every one of them, that, in the event of his future admission to the ministry, if, going beyond the expectation of a reasonable support from it, which he may not only rightfully entertain, but may become a duty to those dependent on him, he should fall under the already alluded to censure of the Apostle St. Peter; which may also be chargeable on the pressing of reasonable [8/9] claims in a worldly spirit; or, if he should adopt a course of conduct, producing in himself and others, what another Apostle has stigmatized under the names of "envy, strife, railings, and evil surmisings;" which we often find to arise from ambition or from vanity in their respective forms; or if, in any other way, he should entertain projects, which cannot be brought under that precious saying of the Apostle the last mentioned--"I seek not yours, but you;" in any of these or of the like cases, he will have cause to look back on the declaration which he now contemplates in prospect, of a trust that he was moved by the Holy Ghost, to take on himself the ministry of the Gospel. That divine Agent, has not wasted his energies in such a cause; but, on the contrary, may be considered as addressing the candidate with the demand--"Why dost thou preach my law, or take my covenant into thy mouth?"
These remarks, relate to the absence of unworthy casts of character: but the subject will not have been sufficiently opened, without the mention of some positive attributes; independently on which, we may reasonably conclude, that there is not a ground for the declaration exacted by the Church.
It cannot be a mistake to affirm, that to warrant the trust spoken of, the party must be conscious of his being, as to inward character and outward conduct, an approved subject of that dispensation of grace, of which it will be his duty to invite others to be partakers. He may have been brought within the Christian covenant, by the pious care of those who had the guardianship of his infancy; under the same, he may have received a religious education; and, by the grace of God, he may have improved it. Having been thus "called to a state of salvation," as is recognized by the catechism of our Church, he may have "continued in the same," as is expressed in the same instrument: doubtless, not without errors arising from frailty, yet not in subjection to known and habitual sin, cutting off from the mercy of God in Christ. Or, having incurred such apostasy, he may have been [9/10] restored through the merits of the Mediator, at the cost of humiliation and sincere repentance. In either case, he must be in the state which warrants the approaching of God as a reconciled Father in Christ. To use the words of our Church in the article of the xxxix, which has been more misinterpreted than any other (xvii): "he must feel in himself the Spirit of Christ"--not in any sensations which can be brought under the head of enthusiasm; but, as the article proceeds to define, "by the mortifying of the works of the flesh, and the earthly members, and the drawing up of the mind to high and heavenly things;" this being manifested by what is said in another of the articles (xii) which requires good works as "springing necessarily out of a true and lively faith; insomuch, that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known, as a tree discerned by the fruit." Our Church knows no other ground of assurance than that defined. In this, she faithfully follows the Scriptures; since, in them, certainty in the important concern is never rested on a persuasion in the mind, or on a revelation to it; but always, on some such test as where we read--"ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you;" and--"this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments;" and--"the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth;" and--"that ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." If the candidate have no evidence of a state of acceptance with God, resting on the grounds set forth, it may be said to him in reference to the ministry--"thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter." Thou are not likely to sustain its duties, or to have a relish for its consolations; and thou canst not betake thyself to any occupation, which may either be begun or continued in by thee, with so much hazard to thy soul.
Next in importance to the settling of the mind of the candidate on the only sure foundation, as the subject regards himself, [10/11] is a deeply rooted desire of being instrumental, to the bringing of others to be partakers with him of the benefits of the Gospel dispensation. It is not more certain, that the Christian Church was established by the arm of Omnipotence, than that there was grafted on it a divinely instituted ministry, for the purpose of making known its glad tidings, in every way in which there may be ability and opportunity for the work. Accordingly, if the candidate have not at heart the conversion of sinners, the edification of the godly, and the extending of the prospects of all from the transitory things of time to the "life and immortality" which has been "brought to light" to them by the Gospel; if this weighty work be not felt in a pressure on his conscience and his affections; if it be not habitually with him a subject of prayer; and if he be not prepared to prefer it to his personal ease and gratification, he cannot be under the holy influence in question. There must be some measure of the unction of the same spirit, in Christian men of every grade; who, however, have their respective callings, which cause the salvation of their fellow-men to be matter only of occasional concern: but it is the occupation of the minister of the Gospel; and, if he be not prepared to enter on his profession with this understanding of its end and aim, he prevaricates in saying that he trusts--for he has no warrant to trust--that he does it to promote the glory of God, and the edification of his people.
To the two grounds of trust stated, we may reasonably add a third--that of being possessed of the requisite qualifications. This must be confessed a matter of peculiar delicacy; especially if the party feel the weight of that saying of an Apostle, under a sense of the magnitude of the work--"who is sufficient for these things?" The same Apostle, however, has spoken of "the treasure of the Gospel" as committed to earthen vessels, "for the express purpose, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." Accordingly, it having pleased him to appoint, as his agents, men with their infirmities and their imperfections; we ought not [11/12] to entertain such ideas of Christian humility, as would repel from the ministry all besides the arrogant and the vain. Where personal piety is unequivocal; and where it exists in unity with zeal for the inculcating of the truths and the holy morality of the Gospel; qualification as to other points may, consistently with modesty, be a subject of trust; provided there be submission to the determination of those, who, as one of our articles (xxiii) speaks, "have public authority given them, in the congregation, to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard." Under disregard of this, the party is so far from being authorized to entertain the trust in question, that he manifests unfitness for the sphere, into which, contrary to Gospel order, he would intrude. If, after admission to the ministry, there should be disregard of the constituted authority, and of the appointed order of the Church; it is the matter concerning which there has been an admonition from the beginning, in that intimation of St. Paul--"God is not the author of confusion, but of peace." The contrary to this, may wear the garb of religious zeal: but it is one of the ways, and there are many of them, in which we find verified the saying of the same Apostle, that "Satan is transformed into an angel of light."
After this exposition of a very important demand, to be made at the door of entrance to the ministry; it will not be irrelevant to divert the discourse from those who have been principally the objects of it, to the Trustees and to the Professors of the institution, in a respectful recommendation to them, that in the government to be exercised, and in the course of instruction to be given, while due pains will certainly be bestowed on proficiency in theological attainments, there may not be lost sight of the excitement of devout affections, with an accompaniment of all the graces of the Christian character in the hidden man of the heart. With some, this matter is submitted to a species of inquisition, not known in the institutions of our Church; and, as we suppose, liable to be abused to tyranny and to hypocrisy. Still, except in instances of an extraordinary talent for concealment, there will be [12/13] verified those sayings of Scripture--"out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," and--"the tree is known by its fruits."
Considering the time which will be spent by the Students in the Seminary before attainment to its honours, there will generally be a developement of character within the term: an advantage, in which the Professors will have better opportunities of observation, than the Bishops; to whom the presentments for orders are to be subsequently made; and who, in general, cannot take particular cognizance of the candidates, during the year in which, agreeably to the canons, they are subjects of inquiry. This is mentioned as ground for the suggestion, that in cases in which there shall be little or no evidence of religious sensibility, it will be substantial charity, at this early stage of the course on which the parties have entered without due consideration, to advise the abandoning of the design: there being wanting the qualification, without which, there will not be sanctified to their proper uses any other qualifications which may be acquired. This is not to be understood, as countenancing any species of devout exercise, alien from that of the services of the Church. With some, no engagedness in the latter will be held to be indicative of real piety, if there be not the effusions as unlike to them as possible, in the properties in which they have been generally acknowledged to excel. This is not the devotion, which it is here the object to exact or to recommend. On the contrary, in the case of views so alien from the spirit of our religious exercises; and especially, where the party may rest his call to the ministry on a ground not known in the institutions of our Church, it would be commendable to discourage an entrance on its duties. In such a person, it would be a more consistent error, to set at nought all human agency in the transaction; and in his condescending to be a subject of this, there is more of the wisdom of the serpent, than of the innocency of the dove.
BRETHREN OF ALL ORDERS, IN THIS ASSEMBLY, MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH WITHIN THE DIOCESE;
Let it not be thought assuming in the speaker, to recommend to you the taking of an interest in an institution seated in your city; but looked to, with expectation, in the various districts of our Church throughout the Union. It is not intended, to represent your brethren elsewhere, as released from the obligation of contributing their money and their active services for its advancement; but there is taken the liberty of suggesting, that if zeal of this description should be wanting here, it is a circumstance which will have a paralyzing effect on our endeavours in every Diocese.
In this remark, he who makes it may reasonably consider himself as the organ of a Right Reverend Brother, whose concurrence in what has been delivered, would not have been wanting, it is thought, had he been present; and whose absence on this occasion has been felt, in anxiety for his preservation and safe return.
To one who has been a witness of his merits in his boyhood, in his youth, and in his maturity, there could not but be caused sympathy, by the sickness which has carried him from his family, from this Seminary, and from his Church. To all these relations we hope in a gracious Providence for his restoration: and, in no one is this desire more sincere, than in him, who, in consequence of the request of the learned Professors of the Institution, has been delivering an address on this occasion.