EXCELLENCY OF THE LITURGY
Deuteronomy 5:28-29. They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were such an heart in them!
IN our preceding Discourses on this text, we first entered distinctly and fully into its true import, and then applied it, in an accommodated sense, to the Liturgy of our Established Church. The utility of a Liturgy being doubted by many, we endeavoured to vindicate the use of it, as lawful in itself, expedient for us, and acceptable to God. But it is not a mere vindication only which such a composition merits at our hands: the labour bestowed upon it has been exceeding great: our first Reformers omitted nothing that could conduce to the improvement of it: they consulted the most pious and learned of foreign divines, and submitted it to them for their correction: and, since their time, there have been frequent revisions of it, in order that every expression which could be made a subject of cavil, might be amended: by which means, it has been brought to such a state of perfection, as no human composition of equal size and variety can pretend to.
To display its excellence, is the task, which, agreeably to the plan before proposed, is now assigned us; and we enter upon it with pleasure; in the hope, that those who have never yet studied the Liturgy, will learn to appreciate its value; and that all of us may be led to a more thankful and profitable use of it in future.
To judge of the Liturgy aright, we should contemplate, Its spirituality and purity—Its fulness and suitableness—Its moderation and candour.
I. Its spirituality and purity
It is well known that the services of the Church of Rome, from whose communion we separated, were full of superstition and error: they taught the people to rest in carnal ordinances, without either stimulating them to real piety, or establishing them on the foundation which God has laid. They contained, it is true, much that was good; but they were at the same time so filled with ceremonies of man’s invention, and with doctrines repugnant to the Gospel, that they tended only to deceive and ruin all who adhered to them. In direct opposition to those services, we affirm, that the whole scope and tendency of our Liturgy is to raise our minds to a holy and heavenly state, and to build us up upon the Lord Jesus Christ as the only foundation of a sinner’s hope.
Let us look at the stated services of our Church; let us call to mind all that we have heard or uttered, from the Introductory Sentences which were to prepare our minds, to the Dismission Prayer which closes the whole: there is nothing for show, but all for edification and spiritual improvement. Is humility the foundation of true piety? what deep humiliation is expressed in the General Confession, and throughout the Litany; as also in supplicating forgiveness, after every one of the Commandments, for our innumerable violations of them all! Is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the way appointed for our reconciliation with God? we ask for every blessing solely in his name and for his sake; and with the holy vehemence of importunity, we urge with him the consideration of all that he has done and suffered for us, as our plea for mercy; and, at the Lord’s supper, we mark so fully our affiance in his atoning blood, that it is impossible for any one to use those prayers aright, without seeing and feeling that “there is no other name under heaven but his, whereby we can be saved.”
The same we may observe respecting the Occasional Services of our Church. From our very birth even to the grave, our Church omits nothing that can tend to the edification of its members. At our first introduction into the Church, with what solemnity are we dedicated to God in our Baptismal Service! What pledges does our Church require of our Sponsors, that we shall be brought up in the true faith and fear of God; and how earnestly does she lead us to pray for a progressive, total, and permanent renovation of our souls! No sooner are we capable of receiving instruction, than she provides for us, and expressly requires that we be well instructed in, a Catechism, so short that it burthens the memory of none, and so comprehensive that it contains all that is necessary for our information at that early period of our life. When once we are taught, by that, to know the nature and extent of our baptismal vows, the Church calls upon us to renew in our own person the vows that were formerly made for us in our name; and, in a service specially prepared for that purpose, leads us to consecrate ourselves to God; thus endeavouring to confirm us in our holy resolutions, and to establish us in the faith of Christ. Not content with having thus initiated, instructed, and confirmed her members in the religion of Christ, the Church embraces every occasion of instilling into our minds the knowledge and love of his ways. If we change our condition in life, we are required to come to the altar of our God, and there devote ourselves afresh to him, and implore his blessing, from which alone all true happiness proceeds. Are mercies and deliverances vouchsafed to any, especially that great mercy of preservation from the pangs and perils of childbirth? the Church appoints a public acknowledgment to be made to Almighty God in the presence of the whole congregation, and provides a suitable service for that end. In like manner, for every public mercy, or in time of any public calamity, particular prayers and thanksgivings are provided for our use. In a time of sickness there is also very particular provision made for our instruction and consolation: and even after death, when she can no more benefit the deceased, the Church labours to promote the benefit of her surviving members, by a service the most solemn and impressive that ever was formed. Thus attentive is she to supply in every thing, as far as human endeavours can avail, our spiritual wants; being decent in her forms, but not superstitious; and strong in her expressions, but not erroneous. In short, it is not possible to read the Liturgy with candour, and not to see that the welfare of our souls is the one object of the whole; and that the compilers of it had nothing in view, but that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in God, we should glorify his holy name.
II. The excellencies of our Liturgy will yet further appear, while we notice, next, its fulness and suitableness.
Astonishing is the wisdom with which the Liturgy is adapted to the edification of every member of the Church. There is no case that is overlooked, no sin that is not deplored, no want that is not specified, no blessing that is not asked: yet, whilst every particular is entered into so far that every individual person may find his own case adverted to, and his own wishes expressed, the whole is so carefully worded, that no person is led to express more than he ought to feel, or to deliver sentiments in which he may not join with his whole heart. Indeed there is a minuteness in the petitions that is rarely found even in men’s private devotions; and those very particularities are founded in the deepest knowledge of the human heart, and the completest view of men’s spiritual necessities: for instance, We pray to God to deliver us, not only in all time of our tribulation, but in all time of our wealth also; because we are quite as much in danger of being drawn from God by prosperity, as by adversity; and need his aid as much in the one as in the other.
In the intercessory part of our devotions also, our sympathy is called forth in behalf of all orders and degrees of men, under every name and every character that can be conceived. We pray to him, to strengthen such as do stand, to comfort and help the weak-hearted, and to raise up them that fall, and finally, to beat down Satan under our feet. We entreat him also to succour, help, and comfort all that are in danger, necessity, and tribulation. We further supplicate him in behalf of all that travel, whether by land or by water, all women labouring of child, all sick persons, and young children, and particularly entreat him to have pity upon all prisoners and captives. Still further, we plead with him to defend and provide for the fatherless children, and widows, and all that are desolate and oppressed: and, lest any should have been omitted, we beg him “to have mercy upon all men,” generally, and more particularly, “to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts.” In what other prayers, whether extemporaneous or written, shall we ever find such diffusive benevolence as this?
In a word, there is no possible situation in which we can be placed, but the prayers are precisely suited to us; nor can we be in any frame of mind, wherein they will not express our feelings as strongly and forcibly, as any person could express them even in his secret chamber. Take a broken-hearted penitent; where can he ever find words, wherein to supplicate the mercy of his God, more congenial with his feelings than in the Litany, where he renews his application to each Person of the Sacred Trinity for mercy, under the character of a miserable sinner? Hear him when kneeling before the altar of his God: “Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burthen of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father! For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past, and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honour and glory of thy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord!” I may venture to say that no finite wisdom could suggest words more suited to the feelings or necessities of a penitent, than these.
Take, next, a person full of faith and of the Holy Ghost; and if he were the devoutest of all the human race, he could never find words, wherein to give scope to all the exercises of his mind, more suitable than in the Te Deum: “We praise thee, O God: we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting. To thee all Angels cry aloud, the Heavens, and all the Powers therein: To thee Cherubin and Seraphin continually do cry, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy Glory.”—Hear him also at the table of the Lord: “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God: Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord most High.”
Even where there are no particular exercises of the mind, the Liturgy is calculated to produce the greatest possible good: for the gravity and sobriety of the whole service are fitted to impress the most careless sinner; whilst the various portions of Scripture that are read out of the Old and New Testament, not only for the Lessons of the day, but from the Psalms also, and from the Epistles and Gospels, are well adapted to arrest the attention of the thoughtless, and to convey instruction to the most ignorant. Indeed I consider it as one of the highest excellencies of our Liturgy, that it is calculated to make us wise, intelligent, and sober Christians: it marks a golden mean; it affects and inspires a meek, humble, modest, sober piety, equally remote from the unmeaning coldness of a formalist, the self-importance of a systematic dogmatist, and the unhallowed fervour of a wild enthusiast. A tender seriousness, a meek devotion, and an humble joy, are the qualities which it was intended, and is calculated, to produce in all her members.
III. It remains that we yet further trace the excellence of our Liturgy, in its moderation and candour.
The whole Christian world has from time to time been agitated with controversies of different kinds; and human passions have grievously debased the characters and actions even of good men in every age. But it should seem that the compilers of our Liturgy were inspired with a wisdom and moderation peculiar to themselves. They kept back no truth whatever, through fear of giving offence; yet were careful so to state every truth, as to leave those inexcusable who should recede from the Church on account of any sentiments which she maintained. In this, they imitated the inspired penmen; who do not dwell on doctrines after the manner of human systems, but introduce them incidentally, as it were, as occasion suggests, and bring them forward always in connexion with practical duties. The various perfections of God are all stated in different parts; but all in such a way, as, without affording any occasion for dispute, tends effectually to encourage us in our addresses to him. The Godhead of Christ is constantly asserted, and different prayers are expressly addressed to him; but nothing is said in a way of contentious disputation. The influences of the Holy Spirit, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, are stated; and “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is sought, in order that we may perfectly love God, and worthily magnify his holy Name:” but all is conveyed in a way of humble devotion, without reflections upon others, or even a word that can lead the thoughts to controversy of any kind. Even the deepest doctrines of our holy religion are occasionally brought forth in a practical view (in which view alone they ought to be regarded;) that, whilst we contemplate them as truths, we may experience their sanctifying efficacy on our hearts. The truth, the whole truth, is brought forward, without fear; but it is brought forward also without offence: all is temperate; all is candid; all is practical; all is peaceful; and every word is spoken in love. This is an excellency that deserves particular notice, because it is so contrary to what is found in the worship of those whose addresses to the Most High God depend on the immediate views and feelings of an individual person, which may be, and not unfrequently are, tinctured in a lamentable degree by party views and unhallowed passions. And we shall do well to bear in mind this excellency, in order that we may imitate it; and that we may shew to all, that the moderation which so eminently characterizes the Offices of our Church. is no less visible in all her members.
Sorry should I be, when speaking on this amiable virtue, to transgress it even in the smallest degree: but I appeal to all who hear me, whether there be not a want of this virtue in the temper of the present times; and whether if our Reformers themselves were to rise again and live amongst us, their pious sentiments and holy lives would not be, with many, an occasion of offence? I need not repeat the terms which are used to stigmatize those who labour to walk in their paths; nor will I speak of the jealousies which are entertained against those, who live only to inculcate what our Reformers taught. You need not be told that even the moderate sentiments of our Reformers are at this day condemned by many as dangerous errors; and the very exertions, whereby alone the knowledge of them can be communicated unto men, are imputed to vanity, and loaded with blame. But, though I thus speak, I must acknowledge, to the glory of God, that in no place have moderation and candour shone more conspicuous, than in this distinguished seat of literature and science: and I pray God, that the exercise of these virtues may be richly recompensed from the Lord into every bosom, and be followed with all the other graces that accompany salvation.
From this view of our subject it will be naturally asked, Do I then consider the Liturgy as altogether perfect? I answer, No: it is a human composition; and there is nothing human that can claim so high a title as that of absolute perfection. There are certainly some few expressions which might be altered for the better, and which in all probability would have been altered at the Conference which was appointed for the last revision of it, if the unreasonable scrupulosity of some, and the unbending pertinacity of others, had not defeated the object of that assembly. I have before mentioned two, which, though capable of being vindicated, might admit of some improvement. And, as I have been speaking strongly of the moderation and candour of the Liturgy, I will here bring forward the only exception to it that I am aware of; and that is found in the Athanasian Creed. The damnatory clauses contained in that Creed, do certainly breathe a very different spirit from that which pervades every other part of our Liturgy. As to the doctrine of the Creed, it is perfectly sound, and such as ought to be universally received. But it is matter of regret that any should be led to pronounce a sentence of damnation against their fellow-creatures, in any case where God himself has not clearly and certainly pronounced it. Yet whilst I say this, permit me to add, that I think this Creed does not express, nor ever was intended to express, so much as is generally supposed. The part principally objected to, is that whole statement, which is contained between the first assertion of the doctrine of the Trinity, and the other articles of our faith: and the objection is, that the damnatory clauses which would be justifiable, if confined to the general assertion respecting the doctrine of the Trinity, become unjustifiable, when extended to the whole of that which is annexed to it. But, if we suppose that this intermediate part was intended as an explanation of the doctrine in question, we still, I think, ought not to be understood as affirming respecting that explanation all that we affirm respecting the doctrine itself. If any one will read the Athanasian Creed with attention, he will find three damnatory clauses; one at the beginning, which is confined to the general doctrine of the Trinity; another at the close of what, for argument sake, we call the explanation of that doctrine; and another at the end, relating to the other articles of the Creed, such as the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, and his coming at the last day to judge the world. Now, whoever will compare the three clauses, will find a marked difference between them: those which relate to the general doctrine of the Trinity, and to the other articles of the Creed, are strong; asserting positively that the points must be believed, and that too on pain of everlasting damnation: but that which is annexed to the explanation of the doctrine, asserts only, that a man who is in earnest about his salvation ought to think thus of the Trinity. The words in the original are, Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat: and this shews in what sense we are to understand the more ambiguous language of our translation: “He therefore that will be saved, (i. e. is willing or desirous to be saved,) must thus think (let him thus think) of the Trinity.” Thus it appears that the things contained in the beginning and end of the Creed are spoken of as matters of faith; but this, which is inserted in the midst, as a matter of opinion only: in reference to the first and last parts the certainty of damnation is asserted; but in reference to the intermediate part, nothing is asserted, except that such are the views which we ought to entertain of the point in question. Now I would ask, was this difference the effect of chance? or rather, was it not actually intended, in order to guard against the very objection that is here adduced?
This, then, is the answer which we give, on the supposition that the part which appears so objectionable, is to be considered as an explanation of the doctrine in question. But what, if it was never intended as an explanation? What, if it contains only a proof of that doctrine, and an appeal to our reason, that that doctrine is true? Yet, if we examine the Creed, we shall find this to he the real fact. Let us in few words point out the steps of the argument.
The Creed says, “The Catholic faith is this, That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance:” and then it proceeds, “For there is one person of the Father,” and so on; and then, after proving the distinct personality of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and their unity in the Godhead, it adds, “SO that in all things as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of the Trinity.” Here are all the distinct parts of an argument. The position affirmed—the proofs adduced—the deduction made—and the conclusion drawn in reference to the importance of receiving and acknowledging that doctrine.
From hence, then, I infer, that the damnatory clauses should be understood only in reference to the doctrine affirmed, and not be extended to the parts which are adduced only in confirmation of it: and, if we believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is a fundamental article of the Christian faith, we may without any breach of charity apply to that doctrine what our Lord spake of the Gospel at large, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Thus, in either view, the use of the Creed may be vindicated: for, if we consider the obnoxious part as an explanation, the terms requiring it to be received are intentionally softened; and if we consider it as a proof, it is to the doctrines proved, and not to the proof annexed, that the damnatory clauses are fairly applicable.
Still, after all, I confess, that if the same candour and moderation that are observable in all other parts of the Liturgy had been preserved here, it would have been better. For though I do verily believe, that those who deny the doctrine of the Trinity are in a fatal error, and will find themselves so at the day of judgment, I would rather deplore the curse that awaits them, than denounce it; and rather weep over them in my secret chamber, than utter anathemas against them in the house of God.
I hope I have now met the question of our Liturgy fairly. I have not confined myself to general assertions, but have set forth the difficulties which are supposed to exist against it, and have given such a solution of them as I think is sufficient to satisfy any conscientious mind: though it is still matter of regret that any laboured explanation of them should be necessary.
Now then, acknowledging that our Liturgy is not absolutely perfect, and that those who most admire it would be glad if these few blemishes were removed; have we not still abundant reason to be thankful for it? Let its excellencies be fairly weighed, and its blemishes will sink into nothing; let its excellencies be duly appreciated, and every person in the kingdom will acknowledge himself deeply indebted to those, who with so much care and piety compiled it.
But these blemishes alone are seen by multitudes; and its excellencies are altogether forgotten: yea, moreover, frequent occasion is taken from these blemishes to persuade men to renounce their communion with the Established Church, in the hopes of finding a purer worship elsewhere. With what justice such arguments are urged, will best appear by a comparison between the prayers that are offered elsewhere, and those that are offered in the Established Church. There are about eleven thousand places of worship in the Established Church, and about as many out of it. Now take the prayers that are offered on any Sabbath in all places out of the Establishment; have them all written down, and every expression sifted and scrutinized as our Liturgy has been: then compare them with the prayers that have been offered in all the churches of the kingdom; and see what comparison the extemporaneous effusions will bear with our pre-composed forms. Having done this for one Sabbath, proceed to do it for a year; and then, after a similar examination, compare them again: were this done, (and done it ought to be in order to form a correct judgment on the case,) methinks there is scarcely a man in the kingdom that would not fall down on his knees, and bless God for the Liturgy of the Established Church.
All that is wanting is, an heart suited to the Liturgy, and cast as it were into that mould. It may with truth be said of us, “They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were in them such an heart!” Let us only suppose that on any particular occasion there were in all of us such a state of mind as the Liturgy is suited to express; what glorious worship would ours be! and how certainly would God delight to hear and bless us! We will not say that he would come down and fill the house with his visible glory, as he did in the days of Moses and of Solomon; but we will say, that he would come down and fill our souls with such a sense of his presence and love, as would transform us into his blessed image, and constitute a very heaven upon earth. Let each of us, then, adopt the wish in our text, and say, “O that there may be in me such an heart!” Let us cultivate the moderation and candour which are there exhibited; divesting ourselves of all prejudice against religion, and receiving with impartial readiness the whole counsel of our God. More particularly, whenever we come up to the house of God, let us seek those very dispositions in the use of the Liturgy, which our Reformers exercised in the framing of it. Let us bring with us into the presence of our God that spirituality of mind that shall fit us for communion with him, and that purity of heart which is the commencement of the divine image on the soul. Let us study, whenever we join in the different parts of this Liturgy, to get our hearts suitably impressed with the work in which we are engaged; that our confessions may be humble, our petitions fervent, our thanksgivings devout, and our whole souls obedient to the word we hear. In a word, let us not be satisfied with any attainments, but labour to be holy as God himself is holy, and perfect even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect. If now a doubt remain on the mind of any individual respecting the transcendent excellence of the Liturgy, let him only take the Litany, and go through every petition of it attentively, and at the close of every petition ask himself, What sort of a person should I be, if this petition were so answered to me, that I lived henceforth according to it? and what kind of a world would this be, if all the people that were in it experienced the same answer, and walked according to the same model? If, for instance, we were all from this hour delivered “from all blindness of heart; from pride, vain-glory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness;” if we were delivered also “from all other deadly sin, and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil;” what happiness should we not possess? How happy would the Church be, if it should “please God to illuminate all bishops, priests, and deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of his word, so that both by their preaching and living they set it forth and shew it accordingly!” How blessed also would the whole nation be, if it pleased God to “endue the lords of the council, and all the nobility, with grace, wisdom and understanding: and to bless and keep the magistrates, giving them grace to execute justice and to maintain truth; and further to bless all his people throughout the land!” Yea, what a world would this be, if from this moment God should “give to all nations, unity, peace, and concord!” Were these prayers once answered, we should hear no more complaints of our Liturgy, nor ever wish for any thing in public, better than that which is provided for us. May God hasten forward that happy day, when all the assemblies of his people throughout the land shall enter fully into the spirit of these prayers, and be answered in the desire of their hearts; receiving from him an “increase of grace, to hear meekly his word, to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit!” And to us in particular may he give, even to every individual amongst us, “true repentance; and forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and endue us with the grace of his Holy Spirit, that we may amend our lives according to his holy word.” Amen and Amen.
EXCELLENCY OF THE LITURGY
Deuteronomy 5:28-33. They have well said all that they have spoken: O that there were such an heart in them!
THE further we proceed in the investigation of our Liturgy, the more we feel the difficulty of doing justice to it. Such is the spirit which it breathes throughout, that if only a small measure of its piety existed in all the different congregations in which it is used, we should be as holy and as happy a people as ever the Jews were in the most distinguished periods of their history. If this object has not been yet attained, it is not the fault of our Reformers: they have done all that men could do, to transmit to the latest posterity the blessings which they themselves had received: and there is not a member of our Church, who has not reason to bless God, every day of his life, for their labours. But they knew that it would be to little purpose to provide suitable forms of prayer for every different occasion, if they did not also secure, as far as human wisdom could secure, a succession of men, who, actuated by the same ardent piety as themselves, should perform the different offices to the greatest advantage, and carry on by their personal ministrations the blessed work which they had begun. Here therefore they bestowed the utmost care; marking with precision what were the qualifications requisite for the ministerial office, and binding, in the most solemn manner, all who should be consecrated to it, to a diligent and faithful discharge of their respective duties.
When we first spake of the Liturgy, we proposed, after vindicating its use, and displaying its excellency, to direct your attention to one particular part, which on that account we should reserve for a distinct and fuller consideration. The part we had in view was, The Ordination Service. We are aware, indeed, that in calling your attention so particularly to that, we stand on delicate ground: but, being aware of it, we shall take the greater care that no one shall have reason to complain of want of delicacy. It is the candour that has invariably manifested itself in this congregation, that emboldens me to bring this subject before you. Any attempt to discuss the merits of the Liturgy would indeed be incomplete, if we omitted to notice that part, which so pre-eminently displays its highest excellencies, and is peculiarly appropriate to the audience which I have the honour to address. I trust therefore I shall not be thought assuming, as though I had any pretensions to exalt myself above the least and lowest of my brethren. I well know, that, if my own deficiencies were far less than they are, it would ill become me to take any other than the lowest place; and much more, when I am conscious that they are so great and manifold. For my own humiliation, no less than that of others, I enter on the task; and I pray God, that, whilst I am shewing what our Reformers inculcated as pertaining to the pastoral office, we may all apply the subject to ourselves, and entreat help from God, that, as “we have well said all that we have spoken, so there may be in us such an heart.”
There are three things to be noticed in the Ordination Service; our professions, our promises, and our prayers: after considering which, we shall endeavour to excite, in all, that desire, which God has so tenderly, and so affectionately, expressed in our behalf.
Let me begin, then, with calling your attention to the professions which we make, when first we become candidates for the ministerial office.
So sacred was the priesthood under the Law, that no man presumed to take it upon himself, but he who was called to it by God, as Aaron was. And though the priesthood of our blessed Lord was of a totally distinct kind from that which shadoweth it forth, “yet did he not glorify himself to be made an High-Priest,” but was so constituted by his heavenly Father, who committed to him that office “after the order of Melchizedec.” Some call therefore, as from God himself, is to be experienced by all who devote themselves to the service of the sanctuary. Of this our Reformers were convinced: and hence they required the ordaining bishop to put to every candidate that should come before him, this solemn interrogation; “Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office?” to which he answers, “I trust so.”
Now I am far from intimating that this call, which every candidate for Holy Orders professes to have received, resembles that which was given to the Apostles: it is certainly not to be understood as though it were a voice or suggestion coming directly from the Holy Ghost; for though God may reveal his will in this manner, just as he did in the days of old, yet we have no reason to think that he does. The motion here spoken of is less perceptible: it does not carry its own evidence along with it; (as did that which in an instant prevailed on the Apostles to forsake their worldly business, and to follow Christ;) but it disposes the mind in a gradual and silent way to enter into the service of God; partly from a sense of obligation to him for his redeeming love, partly from a compassion for the ignorant and perishing multitudes around us, and partly from a desire to be an honoured instrument in the Redeemer’s hands to establish and enlarge his kingdom in the world. Less than this cannot reasonably be supposed to be comprehended in that question: and the way to answer it with a good conscience is, to examine ourselves whether we have an eye to our own ease, honour, or preferment; or, whether we have really a love to the souls of men, and a desire to promote the honour of our God? The question, in this view of it, gives no scope for enthusiasm, nor does it leave any room for doubt upon the mind of him that is to answer it: every man may tell, whether he feels so deeply the value of his own soul, as to be anxious also for the souls of others; and whether, independent of worldly considerations, he has such love to the Lord Jesus Christ, as to desire above all things to advance his glory. These feelings are not liable to be mistaken, because they are always accompanied with corresponding actions, and always productive of appropriate fruits.
Now in all cases where this profession has been made, it may be said, “They have well said all that they have spoken.” For this profession is a public acknowledgment that such a call is necessary: and it serves as a barrier to exclude from the sacred office many, who would otherwise have undertaken it from worldly motives. And though it is true, that too many break through this barrier, yet it stands as a witness against them, and in very many instances an effectual witness; testifying to their consciences, that they have come to God with a lie in their right hand, and making them to tremble, lest they should be condemned at the tribunal of their God, for having, like Ananias and Sapphira, lied unto the Holy Ghost. Yes, very many, who have lightly uttered these words when they first entered into the ministry, have been led by them afterwards to examine their motives more attentively, and to humble themselves for the iniquity they have committed, and to surrender up themselves with redoubled energy to the service of their God. Though therefore we regret that any should make this profession on insufficient grounds, we rejoice that it is required of all: and we pray God, that all who have made it, may reconsider it with the attention it deserves; and that all who propose to make it, may pause, till they have maturely weighed the import of their assertion, and can call God himself to attest the truth of it.
Let us next turn our attention to the promises, by which we bind ourselves on that occasion.
In the service for the Ordination of Priests, there is an exhortation from the bishop, which every minister would do well to read at least once every year. To give a just view of this part of our Liturgy, we must briefly open to you the contents of that exhortation; the different parts of which are afterwards brought before us in the shape of questions, to every one of which a distinct and solemn answer is demanded, as in the presence of the heart-searching God. The exhortation consists of two parts; in the first of which we are enjoined to consider the importance of that high office to which we are called; and in the second, we are urged to exert ourselves to the uttermost in the discharge of it.
In reference to the former of these, it speaks thus: “Now we exhort you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you have in remembrance, into how high a dignity, and to how weighty an office and charge, ye are called: that is to say, to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; to teach and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.”
Where in such few words can we find so striking a representation of the dignity of our office, as in this address? We are “messengers” from the Most High God, to instruct men in the knowledge of his will, and to communicate to them the glad tidings of salvation through the mediation of his Son: we are “watchmen,” to warn them of their danger, whilst they continue without an interest in Christ: and we are “stewards,” to superintend his household, and to deal out to every one of his servants, from day to day, whatsoever their respective necessities require. Now, if we occupied such an office in the house of an earthly monarch only, our dignity were great; but to be thus engaged in the service of the King of kings, is an honour far greater than the temporal government of the whole universe. Should we not, then, bear in mind what an office is devolved upon us?
From speaking thus respecting the dignity of the ministry, it proceeds to speak of the importance of the trust committed to us: “Have always therefore printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge: for they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood.” The congregation whom you must serve, is “his spouse, and his body.” What a tender and affecting representation is here! The souls committed to our care are represented as “the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for which he shed his blood.” What bounds would there be to our exertions, if we considered as we ought, that we are engaged in that very work, for which our Lord Jesus Christ came down from the bosom of his Father, and shed his blood upon the cross; and that to us he looks for the completion of his efforts in the salvation of a ruined world? Further still, they are represented as “the spouse and body of Christ,” whose welfare ought to be infinitely dearer to us than life itself. We know what concern men would feel if the life of their own spouse, or of their own body, were in danger, though they could only hope to protract for a few years a frail and perishable existence: what, then, ought we not to feel for “the spouse and body of Christ,” whose everlasting welfare is dependent on our exertions!
After thus impressing on our minds the importance of our office, the exhortation proceeds in the next place to urge us to a diligent performance of it. It reminds us, that we are answerable to God for every soul committed to our charge; that there must be no limit to our exertions, except what the capacity of our minds and the strength of our bodies have assigned. It calls upon us to use all the means in our power to qualify ourselves for the discharge of it, by withdrawing ourselves from worldly cares, worldly pleasures, worldly studies, worldly habits and pursuits of every kind, in order to fix the whole bent of our minds on the study of the Holy Scriptures, and of those things which will assist us in the understanding of them. It directs us to be instant in prayer to God for the assistance of his Holy Spirit, by whose gracious influences alone we shall be enabled to fulfil our duties aright. And, finally, it enjoins us so to regulate our own lives, and so to govern our respective families, that we may be patterns to all around us; and that we may be able to address our congregations in the language of St. Paul, “Whatsoever ye have heard and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” But it will be satisfactory to you to hear the very words of the exhortation itself: “If it shall happen the same Church, or any member thereof, to take any hurt or hinderance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue. Wherefore consider with yourselves the end of your ministry towards the children of God, towards the spouse and body of Christ; and see that you never cease your labour, your care and diligence, until you have done all that lieth in you, according to your bounden duty, to bring all such as are or shall be committed to your charge unto that agreement in the faith and knowledge of God, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, that there be no place left among you, either for error in religion, or for viciousness of life.”
“Forasmuch then as your office is both of so great excellency, and of so great difficulty, ye see with how great care and study ye ought to apply yourselves, as well that ye may shew yourselves dutiful and thankful unto that Lord who hath placed you in so high a dignity; as also to beware that neither you yourselves offend, nor be the occasion that others offend. Howbeit ye cannot have a mind and will thereto of yourselves; for that will and ability is given of God alone: therefore ye ought, and have need to pray earnestly for his Holy Spirit. And seeing that you cannot by any other means compass the doing of so weighty a work, pertaining to the salvation of man, but with doctrine and exhortation taken out of the Holy Scriptures, and with a life agreeable to the same; consider how studious ye ought to be in reading and learning the Scriptures, and in framing the manners both of yourselves and of them that specially pertain unto you, according to the rule of the same Scriptures: and for this selfsame cause, how ye ought to forsake and set aside (as much as you may) all worldly cares and studies.”
Here let us pause a moment, to reflect, what stress our Reformers laid on the Holy Scriptures, as the only sure directory for our faith and practice, and the only certain rule of all our ministrations. They have clearly given it as their sentiment, that to study the word of God ourselves, and to open it to others, is the proper labour of a minister; a labour, that calls for all his time, and all his attention: and, by this zeal of theirs in behalf of the Inspired Volume, they were happily successful in bringing it into general use. But, if they could look down upon us at this time, and see what an unprecedented zeal has pervaded all ranks and orders of men amongst us for the dissemination of that truth, which they, at the expense of their own lives, transmitted to us; how would they rejoice and leap for joy! Yet, methinks, if they cast an eye upon this favoured spot, and saw, that, whilst the Lord Jesus Christ is thus exalted in almost every other place, we are lukewarm in his cause; and whilst thousands all around us are emulating each other in exertions to extend his kingdom through the world, we, who are so liberal on other occasions, have not yet appeared in his favour; they would be ready to rebuke our tardiness, as David did the indifference of Judah, from whom he had reason to expect the most active support; “Why are ye the last to bring the king back to his house? seeing the speech of all Israel is come to the king, even to his house [Note: 2 Samuel 19:11.].” But I am persuaded, that there is nothing wanting but that a suitable proposal be made by some person of influence amongst us; and we shall soon approve ourselves worthy sons of those pious ancestors. I would hope there is not an individual amongst us, who would not gladly lend his aid, that “the word of the Lord may run and be glorified,” not in this kingdom only, but, if possible, throughout all the earth.
But to return to the bishop’s exhortation. “We have good hope that you have well weighed and pondered these things with yourselves long before this time; and that you have clearly determined, by God’s grace, to give yourselves wholly to this office, whereunto it hath pleased God to call you, so that, as much as lieth in you, you will apply yourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all your cares and studies this way: and that you will continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost; that by daily reading and weighing of the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your ministry, and that ye may so endeavour yourselves from time to time to sanctify the lives of you and yours, and to fashion them after the rule and doctrine of Christ, that ye may be wholesome and godly examples and patterns for the people to follow.”
After this, the bishop, calling upon the candidates, in the name of God and of his Church, to give a plain and solemn answer to the questions which he shall propose to them, puts the substance of the exhortation into several distinct questions; two of which only, for brevity sake, we will repeat: “Will you be diligent in prayers, and in reading of 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?” To which we answer; “I will endeavour myself so to do, the Lord being my helper.” Then he asks again; “Will you be diligent to frame and fashion your own selves and your families according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make both yourselves and them, as much as in you lieth, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ?” To which we answer, “I will apply myself thereto, the Lord being my helper.”
These are the promises which we make before God in the most solemn manner at the time of our ordination. Now I would ask, Can any human being entertain a doubt, whether, in making these promises, we have not “well said all that we have spoken?” Can any of us say, that too much has been required of us? Do we not see and feel, that, as the honour of the office is great, so is the difficulty of performing it aright, and the danger of performing it in a negligent and heartless manner? If a man undertake any office that requires indefatigable exertion, and that involves the temporal interests of men to a great extent, we expect of that man the utmost diligence and care. If, then, such be expected of the servants of men, where temporal interests only are affected, what must be expected of the servants of God, where the eternal interests of men and the everlasting honour of God, are so deeply concerned? I say again, We cannot but approve the promises we have made; and, methinks, God himself, when he heard our vows, expressed his approbation of them, saying, “They have well said all that they have spoken.”
We come, lastly, to mention our prayers, which were offered to God on that occasion.
And here we have one of the most pious and affecting institutions that ever was established upon earth. The bishop, who during the preceding exhortation and questions has been seated in his chair, now rises up, and in a standing posture makes his earnest supplication to God in behalf of all the candidates, in these words: “Almighty God, who hath given you this 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 has begun in you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” After this a request is made to the whole congregation then present, to offer up their prayers in secret to God, and to make their supplications to God for all these things. And, that they may have time to do so, it is appointed, that silence shall be kept for a space; the public services being for a while suspended, in order to give the congregation an opportunity of pouring out their souls before God in behalf of the persons who are to be ordained.
What an idea does this give us of the sanctity of our office, and of the need we have of divine assistance for the performance of it! and how beautifully does it intimate to the people, the interest they have in an efficient ministry! Surely, if they felt, as they ought, their need of spiritual instruction, they would never discontinue their prayers for those who are placed over them in the Lord, but would plead in their behalf night and day.
After a sufficient time has been allowed for these private devotions, a hymn to the Holy Ghost is introduced; (the candidates all continuing in a kneeling posture;) a hymn which, in beauty of composition and spirituality of import, cannot easily be surpassed. Time will not allow me to make any observations upon it; but it would be a great injustice to our Liturgy, if I should omit to recite it: and it will be a profitable employment, if, whilst we recite it, we all adopt it as expressing our own desires, and add our Amen to every petition contained in it.
“Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire!
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost thy seven-fold gifts impart;
Thy blessed unction from above
Is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Enable with perpetual light
The dulness of our blinded sight;
Anoint and cheer our soiled face
With the abundance of thy grace;
Keep far our foes, give peace at home!
Where thou art Guide, no ill can come.
Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And Thee, of both, to be but One;
That through the ages all along,
This may be our endless song,—
Praise to Thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!”
In this devout hymn the agency of the Holy Spirit, as the one source of light, and peace, and holiness, is fully acknowledged, and earnestly sought as the necessary means of forming pastors after God’s heart: and it is well entitled to the encomium which has been already so often mentioned, “They have well said all that they have spoken.”
Passing over the remaining prayers, we conclude this part of our subject with observing, that no sooner is the imposition of hands finished, and the commission given to the candidates to preach the Gospel, than the newly ordained consecrate themselves to God at his table; and seal, as it were, their vows, by partaking of the body and blood of Christ; into whose service they have been just admitted, and whom they have sworn to serve with their whole hearts.
Thus far then “all is well said;” and if our hearts be in unison with our words, verily we shall have reason to bless God to all eternity. “O that there were in us such an heart!”
Glad should I be, if your time would admit of it, to set forth at considerable length the benefits that would accrue from a conformity of heart in us to all that has been before stated: but the indulgence with which I have hitherto been favoured must not be abused. I shall therefore close the subject with only two reflections, illustrative of the wish contained in the text.
First, if such an heart were in us, how happy should we be in our souls! Men may be so thoughtless, as to cast off all concern about futurity, and to say, “I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart.” But, if once we begin to indulge any serious reflections, we cannot avoid thinking of our responsibility on account of the souls committed to our charge. Then, if we bring to mind that solemn declaration of God, that “the souls of our people shall be required at our hands,” we must of necessity tremble for our state. The concerns of our own souls are of more weight than all other things in the world; and the thought of perishing under the weight of our own personal transgressions is inexpressibly awful: but the thought of perishing under the guilt of destroying hundreds and thousands of immortal souls, is so shocking, that it cannot be endured: if once admitted into the mind, it will fill us with consternation and terror; and the excuses which now appear so satisfactory to us, will vanish like smoke. We shall not then think it sufficient to have fulfilled our duties by proxy; since others can but perform their own duties; nor can any diligence of theirs ever justify our neglect: having sworn for ourselves, we must execute for ourselves; nor ever be satisfied with committing that trust to others, which at the bar of judgment we must give account of for ourselves. Nor shall we then think it sufficient to plead, that we have other engagements, which interfere with the discharge of our ministerial duties; unless we can be assured, that God will wave his claims upon us, and acknowledge the labours which we have undertaken for our temporal advantage, more important than those which respect his honour, and man’s salvation. On the other hand, if we have the testimony of our own consciences, that we have endeavoured faithfully to perform our ordination vows, and to execute, though with much imperfection, the work assigned us, we shall lift up our heads with joy. Matter for deep humiliation, indeed, even the most laborious ministers will find; but at the same time they will have an inward consciousness, that they have exerted themselves sincerely for God, though not so earnestly as they might: and, in the hope that the Saviour, whose love they have proclaimed to others, will have mercy upon them, they cast themselves on him for the acceptance of their services, and expect, through him, the salvation of their souls. Moreover, if we have been diligent in the discharge of our high office, we shall have a good hope that we have been instrumental to the salvation or others, whom we shall have as our joy and crown of rejoicing in the last day. With these prospects before us, we shall labour patiently, waiting, like the husbandman, for a distant harvest. Trials we shall have, of many kinds; and many, arising solely from our fidelity to God: but we shall bear up under them, going “through evil report and good report,” till we have fought our fight, and finished our course: and then at last we shall be welcomed as faithful servants into the joyous presence of our Lord. Who would not wish for such happiness as this? Only then let our hearts experience what our lips have uttered, and that happiness is ours: only let our professions be verified, our promises fulfilled, and our prayers realized, and all will be well: God will see in us the heart which he approves, and will honour us with testimonies of his approbation to all eternity.
My second observation is, If there were in us such an heart, what blessings would result to all around us! The careless minister may spend many years in a populous parish, and yet never see one sinner converted from the error of his ways, or turned unto God in newness of life. But the faithful servant of Jehovah will have some fruit of his ministry. God will answer to him that prayer at the close of the ordination service, “Grant that Thy word, spoken by their mouths, may have such success, that it may never be spoken in vain!” God indeed does not make all equally useful; but he will leave none without witness, that the word which they preach is His Word, and that it is “the power of God unto the salvation of men.” Behold, wherever such a minister is fixed, what a change takes place in reference to religion! The obstinately wicked, who either hear him with prejudice or turn their backs on his ministry, may possibly be only more hardened by the means he uses for their conversion; and circumstances may arise, where those who would once have plucked out their own eyes for him, may become for a while his enemies: but still there are many that will arise and call him blessed; many will acknowledge him as their spiritual father; many will bless God for him, and shew in their respective circles the happy effects of his ministry. They will love his person; they will enjoy his preaching; they will tread in his steps; and they will shine as lights in a dark world. What, then, might not he hoped for, if all who have undertaken the sacred office of the ministry, fulfilled their engagements in the way We have before described? What if all prayed the prayers, instead of reading them; and laboured out of the pulpit, as well as in it; striving to bring all their people, “not only to the knowledge and love of Christ, but to such ripeness and perfectness of age in Christ, as to leave no room among them, either for error in religion, or for viciousness of life?” If there were such exertions made in every parish, we should hear no more complaints about the increase of Dissenters. The people’s prejudices in general are in favour of the Establishment: and the more any persons have considered the excellence of the Liturgy, the more are they attached to the Established Church. Some indeed would entertain prejudices against it, even if all the twelve Apostles were members of it, and ministered in it: but, in general, it is a want of zeal in its ministers, and not any want of purity in its institutions, that gives such an advantage to Dissenters. Let me not be misunderstood, as though by these observations I meant to suggest any thing disrespectful of the Dissenters; (for I honour all that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, of whatever church they be; and I wish them, from my heart, every blessing that their souls can desire:) but, whilst I see such abundant means of edification in the Church of England, I cannot but regret that any occasion should be given to men to seek for that in other places, which is so richly provided for them in their own church. Only let us be faithful to our engagements, and our churches will be crowded, our sacraments thronged, our hearers edified: good institutions will be set on foot; liberality will be exercised, the poor benefited, the ignorant enlightened, the distressed comforted; yea, and our “wilderness world will rejoice and blossom as the rose.” O that we might see this happy day; which I would fondly hope, has begun to dawn! O that God would arise and “take to him his great power, and reign amongst us!” O that he might no longer have to express a wish, “that there were in us such an heart;” but rather have to rejoice over us as possessed of such an heart; and that he would magnify himself in us as instruments of good to a ruined world! The Apostle to the Hebrews represents all the saints of former ages as witnesses of the conduct of those who were then alive; and he urges it as an argument with them to exert themselves to the uttermost: “Having then,” says he, “so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Thus let us consider the Reformers of our church as now looking down upon us, and filled with anxiety for the success of their labours: let us hear them saying, ‘ We did all that human foresight could do; we shewed to ministers what they ought to be; we bound them by the most solemn ties to walk in the steps of Christ and his Apostles: if any shall be lukewarm in their office, we shall have to appear in judgment against them, and shall be the means of aggravating their eternal condemnation.’ Let us, I say, consider them as spectators of our conduct; and endeavour to emulate their pious examples. Let us consider, likewise, that the Liturgy itself will appear against us in judgment, if we labour not to the utmost of our power to fulfil the engagements which we have voluntarily entered into; yea, God himself will say to us, “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant.” May God enable us all to lay these things to heart; that, whether we have already contracted, or are intending at a future period to contract, this fearful responsibility, we may duly consider what account we shall have to give of it in the day of judgment!
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 5". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany