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Held in St. John's Chapel, New York, on Friday, June 30, 1837




Bishop of the Diocese of New York, and Professor of the Nature, Ministry,
and Polity of the Church, in the Seminary.





Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007


As we are deprived of the expected privilege and pleasure of the presence, on this interesting occasion, of the venerable Presiding Bishop of our Church, who had kindly consented, had he been able to attend, to deliver the accustomed address, that office has devolved on the present speaker.

The most momentous responsibility which Christ has laid upon His Church, is that of exercising the prerogative of continuing, to the end of time, the ministry which He established, by the careful choice of fit persons to serve in its sacred ranks, and their solemn ordination to the work. In fulfilling this responsibility, it behooves her to guard with the utmost care every step taken by those who look forward to the ministry, in the prosecution of their purpose. Hence the period of probation, the course of studies, and the ample testimonials to character, which she requires, and hence the supervision under which she places them, the godly counsels which she addresses to them, and the solemn prayers which she provides in their behalf. Hence, too, her solicitude, that even to the last there may be a reasonable guard against the [3/4] want of due care, reflection, and circumspection on their part, or due caution on hers. All things being ready, her ordaining officer present, the preparatory services and the required counsels from the pulpit duly attended to, and the candidate presented on the responsibility of a Presbyter, the people are called on, if they have aught against him, to declare it, and arrest, even now, the solemn proceedings, if there is danger of an unworthy person being raised to the holy office. And although the duties and responsibilities of the ministry are supposed to have long been to the candidate the subject of study, of careful meditation, and of frequent and fervent prayer, and he is supposed to have long since settled it in his mind, that he is approaching it in a proper spirit, with proper views, feelings, and motives, and with satisfactory evidence that he is moved thereto by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, yet are these momentous points made subjects of special public inquiries, ere he receives the solemn laying on of hands. The reply to these inquiries should be, indeed, the answer of a good conscience toward God--a conscience well satisfied, after much study, meditation, and prayer, that all is right on the momentous points embraced therein, and a conscience kept ever in lively sensibility to the claims of the ministry, in the proper character of those who hold it, and in the duties to which they are set apart, and ever having justice done it in the maintenance of that character, and in devotion to those duties.

[5] I propose, as the present exercise, a consideration of the questions which, in the ordering of Deacons, are required to be addressed to the candidate. And the beloved young friends and brethren now before me, will not, I am sure, be insensible to the deep personal interest which each one of them has in the subject. And I would commend it to the attention of all good Christian people present, and ask their kind sympathies and faithful prayers in behalf of these young men, who anticipate going abroad into the world under the weight of the awful responsibilities and obligations of the Christian ministry.

The first interrogatory addressed to the candidate in the ordering of Deacons, is, "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?"

This is not to be understood as referring to any miraculous or supernatural call. Of such there is no scripture promise; nor indeed, were it given, could there be any satisfactory evidence of it to the Church, except the manifestation of supernatural powers. This only would be effectual security against a claim to that call being the result either of the delusion of a weak, or the artifice of a wicked mind. Nor is there involved in this question any assurance of such an impression upon the mind as contains in itself satisfactory evidence of genuineness. The candidate is not asked whether he knows, but whether he [5/6] trusts--an expression supposing the exercise of well-directed inquiry into the subject-matter of the question. The spirit within him which has produced and sustained the desire and endeavor to enter into the ministry must be tried whether it is of God.

The test in this, as in all other cases, is to be found in the fruits. If one would reasonably trust that he is moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon him the ministry, he must be well satisfied that his motives, feelings, and views on the subject are in accordance with the rules set down in those Scriptures which were written as the penmen were moved by the Holy Ghost. He must be satisfied that he is well informed as to the character, duties, and qualifications of the Christian ministry, and that he seeks admittance to it in strict conformity with the rule and measure of preparation duly established by the Church, and through that ordaining medium which Christ has appointed. He must be well satisfied also as to his views and motives in entering into holy orders. The proper rule for judging of these is succinctly though fully and satisfactorily laid down in the concluding words of the question,--"to serve God for the promoting of His glory, and the edifying of His people."

The service of God, the glory of God, and the edifying of the Church, are the great motives which should lead a man to desire the ministry, and the great ends which he should ever have in view in the discharge of its duties. The mere [6/7] love of theology as a science; a mere regard to the respectability of the clerical profession; a mere fondness for the comparatively easy and quiet tenor of life with which it may be supposed to be attended; a love for the popularity to which it may minister access, or the influence that may be thus gained; or any motive or consideration whatever, which, terminating in self, or in temporal and worldly views, indicates but the preferences of the natural man, should be discarded by him who would minister in holy things, as a reason for aspiring to the high, sacred, and awfully responsible functions of the clerical office. He should be satisfied with no motives but those which make him forget self, in all its bearings, and fix his mind, and direct his heart, to the glory of God, and the edifying of His people, as the one great end and aim of his prayers, his thoughts, his studies, his labors, and his life; and he should shrink from polluting such holy considerations with aught that may minister to personal vanity, or to selfish views.

It is only on humble and honest conviction, after much prayer, and the most solicitous self-examination, that such are the feelings, motives, and views which actuate him, that one can, in enlightened sincerity, declare his trust that he is inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon him the office and work of the ministry.

And, beloved brethren of this congregation, surely for these fellow members of the Church of Christ, who, following the motion which they [7/8] trust to be from on high, now stand ready to give themselves, "soul, body, and spirit, with all their powers and faculties," to the one great object of promoting the glory of God, and the edifying of His people, and thus of advancing the best interests of society and the commonwealth, and the spiritual and eternal welfare of their fellow men; you will not be wanting in earnest supplications to the throne of grace; and you will follow them with your best wishes and your Christian sympathies, as they go forth on the high and holy functions to which they are to be devoted.

The second interrogatory addressed to the candidate is, "Do you think that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the canons of this Church, to the ministry of the same?"

The former question having had particular reference to the views and motives with which one enters into holy orders, this relates to his qualifications.

An affirmative reply to this question by no means requires any very high ideas of one's own fitness, or peculiar qualifications for the exercise of an attractive, laborious, and extensively useful ministry. Such a spirit is at entire variance with the principles of the Gospel, and the pervading character of the institutions of the Church. An honest conviction on the part of the candidate that he has duly attended to the rule and measure of preparation for the ministry prescribed by the Church, and a well-grounded trust that he has [8/9] herein experienced the divine blessing,--his faithful fervent prayers for such blessing having been diligently offered,--will be sufficient to justify his affirmative reply to the interrogatory now considered. Let it, however, never be dissevered from the humble conviction, that with all the sincerity which the Church requires in this matter, there must ever be a deep sense that the utmost human efforts must fall short of the full measure of preparation which may be rendered useful; and that, therefore, the whole life of the Christian minister must, in all humility and readiness of mind, be devoted to adding to his fitness for his holy functions.

The next interrogatory respects the candidate's unfeigned belief in the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament.

This must be considered as going very far beyond that conviction of their divine original, which, in the course of his studies, has been commended to his understanding as the only conclusion warranted by common sense, and true philosophy.

This conviction is, indeed, the only one which sound reason can justify, and is therefore proportionably reasonable and right. But the subject is of too holy and practical a character to be allowed to stop at the mere conviction of the understanding. The unfeigned belief which the candidate is called on to profess, is that sanctifying and practical principle, which will direct his constant and devout attention to the Holy Scriptures, [9/10] as the only rule of the faith and practice whereby he is himself to adorn the doctrine of God his Saviour, and to enforce the same duty upon others. And intimately connected with these obligations, is that of seeking, with unwearied importunity, at the throne of grace, that illumination and guidance whereby alone he can wax mighty in those Scriptures which are man's only direction, through faith and holiness here, to everlasting happiness hereafter.

The next question refers to the Deacon's duty of diligently reading the Scriptures unto the people assembled in the church where he shall be appointed to serve.

This, of course, refers to his diligently performing, where he is duly appointed thereto, those holy services in which the reading of the Scriptures is made so conspicuous a part. This reading of the Scriptures in public worship is one of those characteristics of our Church in which it accords with the primitive model, by giving that prominence to the word of God which distinguishes its provisions from the popish error of substituting traditions and legends, and the error of many protestants, of excluding, or unduly curtailing, the reading of the word of God, to make room for human comments on the holy text. The truth is the public reading of the Scriptures is a holy and peculiar duty of the Church. Her members may or may not read them in private. She is bound to provide that they be publicly read for the edification of all who may come within the [10/11] sound of their holy doctrines and precepts. Hence the prominence given to the reading of the Scriptures among the duties of the holy ministry. And in reference both to him who is to discharge this duty, and those who are designed to be benefited by it, it should ever be regarded as of the most solemn import, and claiming the most serious heed that it be not a fruitless exercise.

The next interrogatory includes a general summary of the duties appertaining to the office of a Deacon. In the course of Divine Providence, the eleemosynary concerns of the Church, which were once committed to the Deacons, have now, owing to the great demand for their services in their spiritual functions, very generally passed into other hands. And owing to our insufficient supply of pastors, the holders of this office are usually called to fill the place of Presbyters in all the pastoral functions appertaining to their order; such as conducting the public services of the Church, administering the sacrament of Baptism, catechising the children, [* The language of the Ordinal on this subject is deserving of special consideration. It is, "to instruct the youth in the Catechism;" that is, not merely to hear them say the Catechism, but also to make that instrument the ground of the special instruction of the youth--of such a course of pastoral teaching as will lead to their right understanding of it. It is also hence obvious that "the Catechism"--the Church Catechism--is hereby made the standard of instruction for youth. And this instruction the first rubric after the Catechism makes it the duty of every clergyman to give "diligently," and "openly in the church."] preaching the word, and the various particulars included in the comprehensive and vastly important department of parochial duty.

[12] Very full and extensive are the requisite qualifications--spiritual, moral, and intellectual--for the faithful fulfilment of the promise to do these things "gladly and willingly." In his own deeply seated experience of evangelical faith and piety, the minister of heaven must find strong motives for endeavoring to extend them among others. In his own constant habit of prayer to God, founded on a deep practical sense of its duty and value, and on faith in its efficacy through Christ, he must find his best preparation for leading the devotions of others with solemnity, impressiveness, and fervency. In constant study of the word of God, with prayer and meditation, and due attention to whatever may help to a right understanding of the same, he must prepare himself for the faithful preaching of the Gospel, in all its purity, and all its fulness. He should keep back nothing which it reveals or requires. He should turn a deaf ear to the loudest calls, which may come from any quarter, to speak smooth things, to study the gratification of his hearers, to seek his own popularity, to withhold unwelcome truths and precepts, to minister to the love of novelty, or to give even the most indirect or negative sanction to any departure from the pure doctrines and wholesome order of the Gospel, or the authoritative requisitions of the Church. And in cultivating the virtuous sympathies and sensibilities of our nature, he is to prepare himself to go in and out among his people, in daily pastoral intercourse, as their friend and counsellor, ever intent on the promotion of their [12/13] best interests, and sharing in both their sorrows and their joys--their comforter in affliction, kindly rebuking them in their errors and follies; and the minister of Heaven's support, and of peace and consolation, in the visitation of sickness, and the dread hour of death.

With such qualifications, in such a spirit, and with such views of duty, let the candidate, humbly depending on the grace of God, promise, in all sincerity of heart, to do "gladly and willingly" whatsoever appertains to the holy office to which he is to be admitted. Be it his firm resolution to spend and be spent in his Master's service. Once admitted into the ranks of His ministers, he is no more his own. His own ease, temporal interest, or comfort, must not sway him. Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth, must be his heart's language of constant readiness to go wherever, and do whatever, that Master, in the order of His providence, and by the authority of His Church, may direct.

The next question refers to that indispensable requisite for honesty, consistency, and usefulness in the ministry, personal piety, forming the minister's own life and character, and illustrated in the due training and ordering of his household. There is no more awful danger to the cause of religion and morals, and to the souls of men, than that which arises from the want of the proper manifestation, in the characters and lives of the ministers of religion, of sound, practical, evangelical piety. This does more injury to the world, in a religious and moral point of view, than all the hostility of avowed and [13/14] open infidelity. I would call it the personification, in their worst form, and with the most extended sway of their blighting influence, of blasphemy and impiety. And horrible, truly, must be the future retribution of him who, while he ministers in religion, is the virtual advocate of sin and Satan: and while he wears the armor of the Lord, is, in fact, traitorously fighting the battles of His enemy. If there be a class in the regions of the accursed more wretched than any other, it must be that of the unfaithful, spiritually indifferent, worldly, wicked, hypocritical clergymen.

The last question in the ordering of Deacons, relates to the candidate's exercising his ministry in deference to the constituted authorities of the Church, and in a spirit of humility and order.

Order is Heaven's first law. The breach of it cast angels from their celestial abode, and brought sin and all our woe upon earth. To the truly evangelical mind, that which drinks deeply into the spirit of the Gospel, the love of order is a universally and perpetually controlling principle. It represses presumption and vain glory, checks the deleterious influence of the spirit of innovation, secures harmony, and mutual confidence and good feeling, and shuts out from the Church sources of endless trouble, and of the most serious departures from the spirit and purity of our holy religion. And never did circumstances call more loudly for strict adherence to this principle, and its conscientious application in all its legitimate details, than do those of the present time. The connexion which God has been pleased to [14/15] establish between the outward good order and the inward purity of His Church, was never more apparent than now. The wholesome provisions for the former which characterize our communion are seen, and daily more and more largely owned, by the religious of other names, to be among the best means, under God, of preserving harmony of feeling, and unity in the true faith, among the followers of Jesus; and the bearing of these upon the interests of evangelical piety must be obvious to every one whose views are formed on Scripture principles, or the experience of the Church. The care, therefore, with which our clergy labor to preserve the good order of the Church, and act ever in strict conformity with her discipline, is their duty, not merely in reference to her peace, stability, and welfare, but also with regard to the high and holy general interests of the religion and Church of the Redeemer, which are thus most materially strengthened and advanced.

One word more, before I close, of affectionate appeal to you, my beloved young friends, the students of the Seminary. And those of you who are now candidates for its honours, and expect so soon to make the momentous professions and vows that have been considered, will regard yourselves as more particularly in my heart.

The solemn professions and vows which you will be called upon to make are illustrative of that conformity with evangelical principles which characterizes all the offices of our Church. She provides that they be made with the qualifications, "By the [15/16] help of God," and "The Lord being my Helper." I am sure I need not remind you how necessary these qualifications are, and how full is their import. You know that without the help of God, aiding you in your ministry, and following it with His blessing, that ministry must be vain. O, then, ever seek that help. Resolve never to enter on any of its duties without a humble prayer that it may be vouchsafed you; and daily as you bow your knees to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, forget not especially to remember how you always need the help of the Lord in fulfilling the solemn duties which you have in view. And may that help be ever with you! In your labors, trials, and anxieties, the Lord be your Helper! When these are drawing to a close forever, the Lord be your Helper, that you may depart in peace! The Lord be your Helper, that you may be found blameless in His great day, and have an entrance ministered unto you, through His Son's atonement, into His everlasting joy!

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