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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
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
“ the spouse
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 a.” But I am persuaded, that there is nothing wanting but that a suitable proposal be
a 2 Sam. xix. 11.