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ON THE EXCELLENCE OF THE MINISTRY'.
YOU expect from me, no doubt, my Brethren, some word of instruction and consolation: I will, however, satisfy myself with beseeching you to meditate frequently on the following awful passage of the Apostle. To the faithful Pastors, it will administer comfort; to the careless and negligent, it will be a source of confusion.
"Thou that maketh thy boast of God, and "knowest his will, and approvest the things that "are more excellent, being instructed out of the "law; and art confident, that thou thyself art a "guide of the blind, a light of them which are in "darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher "of babes, which hast the form of knowledge, and "of the truth in the law. Thou, therefore, which "teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?"
"Thou that makest thy boast of God."—We, then, whose highest honour it is to be the Ministers of God; we, who owe to Religion the distinction which society has conferred upon us, let us not weaken, by our morals, the reverence due to our holy office; let us not accustom the world to separate our private conduct from our professional character. Let us honour, in our persons, the priesthood, if we desire that it should reflect honour upon us: we are, it is true, to be " clothed" with respect—but piety, alone, can render us respectable; and so long as men shall not perceive it to be the predominating principle in our behaviour, their contempt will encrease, in proportion to the reverence which they conceived to be attached to our profession: and what ought to attract their regard and esteem, will serve only to heighten our shame, and aggravate our reproach. The world neither does, nor can, know any thing more contemptible, than an unprincipled Pastor.
"And knowest his will, and approvest the things "that are more excellent, being instructed out "of the law."—We, who have, from our infancy, been nurtured by the sacred truths of the Gospel —we, who have, from our earliest years, been blessed with a religious education—how shall we answer to God, if our morals have not been correspondent to our information; if, with more knowledge than the people we are to direct, we are, perhaps, less religious, less charitable, less disinterested, less temperate than themselves? A single truth, proposed to an ingenuous man, often opens his eyes, informs his understanding, and affects his heart; and shall we, who declare these truths, continue in our lethargy, and our want of sensibility? Our blindness seems to encrease, in the midst of encreasing light that surrounds us; and whilst we are bearing the torch, which shews the path, we wander from it ourselves, and perish in the very act of saving others.
"And approvest the things that are more excel"lent, being instructed out of the law."—We, who know the height to which we are to aspire, and the advances we are expected to make, under the blessings of the gospel, the vices we are to renounce, and the virtues we are to practise, we are more attached to the earth, to sordid interests, more the slaves of sense; we live less by faith, than those ignorant men, who scarce distinguish good from evil; but in whom a love of religion, and a fear of God, supply the absence of knowledge, and the defect of instruction. Ignorance, indeed, oftens lead them to superstition; but this very superstition is no other than an excess of religion: their simplicity will plead beiore God, in excuse for their weakness: they carry religion too far, because their minds are not sufficiently enlightened with knowledge; whereas we, although instructed in the word and doctrine, discharge imperfectly our several duties; enforced as they are, upon our consciences, by the conviction, that God will demand them of us, in proportion to the light we have, and the opportunities we possess.
"•' And art confident; that thou thyself art a guide "of the blind, a light of them that are in darkness."—That is to say, what encreases our confidence, ought to become the continual motive of our most reasonable apprehensions. We are the light of the blind—but do we guide, do we enlighten them? Does it appear, in the conduct of the people committed to our care, that they have a leader and a guide? Are they not as sheep without a shepherd? Do we instruct them? Do our examples support our instructions? Are we not blind leaders of the blind ? And will not both fall into the same ditch, either by the carelesness with which our instructions are impressed on them, or by the degeneracy which we exhibit to them? We are the light of them that walk in darkness; but prayer and study are the means which render us the light of men: prayer is the science of the heart> study that of the mind; the one derives its utility from the other. Now, how associate the habit, and the consequent delight, of prayer, with the dissipated life which many lead? Our preparatory years are devoted to study; the priesthood obtained, books disappear, and study is neglected: the moment that some men are ordained to the pastoral office, which supposes them capable of instructing mankind, they cease to acquire knowledge; and often, when they are so situated, as to have no occasion to exercise it, they forget what they had previously acquired.
"An instructor of the foolish."—The Sacred Writings style those men fools,who " set their affec"tions on things of the earth, and not on things "above." It is, then, peculiarly incumbent on us to teach men, that the fear of God is the only true wisdom, that every thing besides, is " vanity and "vexation of spirit;" that, to devote reason, prudence, judgment, diligence, understanding, merely to obtain the perishable things of this life, and to build here, upon the sand, an abiding city, ■ i
without thinking of that which is prepared for us in heaven, is no other than the prudence of fools, and the grossest of follies. Notwithstanding, far from undeceiving them, our solicitude, our anxiety, to lay up treasures, our views confined solely to the earth, our low and sordid avarice—do they not confirm mankind in this deplorable error? The avarice of the Clergy has become so common, that it has almost passed into a proverb: it is a reproach, however undeservedly, cast upon the whole order*.
"A teacher of babes." The innocence of children is entrusted to us; their faith and their Religion, as an holy treasure, which God hath committed to our care : they derive from us the title which makes them Christians!; it is our duty then to teach them to what this high title engages them; to cultivate those young plants, which we ourselves
* This reflection cannot be applied to the Clergy of the Church of England, who are, very many of them, the most humane and charitable of men.
t "Besides our general Instructions, it is very needful, that we give the Youth under our Care, in particular, an early Knowledge of our Religion, that may abide with them; and stand the Trials to which their riper Years will of course be exposed. I hope you are diligent in that most useful work of Catechizing: and have done your utmost to prepare for Confirmation, those whom you present to me. And I earnestly recommend it to you, that the good Impressions, which may well be supposed to be made upon their Minds at this Season, be not suffered to wear off again; but be improved into settled Habits of Religion and Virtue, by still farther Exhortations, and leading them as soon as possible to the Holy Communion." —Abp. Secker, S