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LORD BISHOP OF PETERBOROUGH. Preached in St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square, London.
2 Corinthians iv. 7. " But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."
This Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians is evidently written under the influence of two feelings which scarcely ever seem to be absent from the mind and the heart of St. Paul as he writes or speaks. One of these is faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ ; and the other is fear for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul is ever filled with an undoubting and unwavering faith in the truth and the divine origin of the Gospel that he is preaching to the world. It is, for him, the truth of all truth. He has never so much as a shadow of a doubt that that truth has come to him by divine revelation. It is the gospel and the glorious gospel of God that he has to proclaim. It is not only true but it is the truth : it is the everlasting truth : it is the power of God unto salvation. It is the revelation in this world of the eternal and the invisible that are to outlast all things that men see and touch and handle. Assuredly, a doubt concerning the divinity of the gospel of Christ and of his kingdom has never crossed, so far as we can see, the mind of St. Paul. And yet, with all this absolutely assured faith that the gospel is God's divine gift to
man, St. Paul is haunted with fears for the future of that gospel. There is scarcely a Christian church to which he writes to whom he does not express, in some form or other, these fears. He knows that, after he has gone, grievous wolves will come in, not sparing the flock. He knows that perilous times for the gospel and the kingdom of Christ are near at hand. He knows that there must be heresies and schisms and divisions. He knows that there must spring up those whose word shall eat as a very canker. He is full of fear, and he frankly confesses it. He is distressed ; he is perplexed ; he is cast
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down ; he is desponding ; he is all but despairing, about the eternal kingdom of God of which he is the messenger and the apostle.
How are we to reconcile so deep a faith and so keen a fear as we find in the heart of the apostle Paul ? It may help us to understand it if we remember that in some degree he thus reflects the heart and the mind and the foretellings of our blessed Lord himself. Our Lord, assuredly, knew that he was founding a divine and eternal kingdom, — that he was basing his church upon a rock against which the gates of hell should never prevail ; and yet how constantly does our Lord forecast the failure and defeat of that church. How does he describe himself as the sower going out to sow, three-fourths of whose sowing comes to nought ; or the sower of the field in which the adversary, while men sleep, sows tares that choke and hinder the growth. Or if he de-
scribes those whom he is sending out to conquer the world as the light of the world and the salt of the world, does he not forebode a time that may come when the salt shall have lost its savour, and men shall cast it out and tread it under foot ? And even as he founds his eternal kingdom of faith does he not foretell the time when he shall come and scarce find faith upon the earth?
We see, then, brethren, all through the divine prophecies concerning the future of the Church, this mixture of a deep conviction that it is a divine and eternal kingdom, and yet an equally deep conviction and an equally clear forecast of the fact that from time to time in the history of this Church it shall be ever and again upon the verge of perishing.
How are we to understand this, brethren ? It concerns us to understand it ; for we in our own day have to suffer somewhat from the apparent difficulty of reconciling these two things — faith in the gospel and fear concerning the gospel. When we Christians, now-a-days, who profess our deepest conviction that this gospel is from God, nevertheless manifest fear and anxiety about the future of the gospel, it may be, in our own country and our own church — when we show ourselves distressed and anxious about assaults upon the gospel, how often are we met with the taunt, " Do you really believe that your gospel is from God ? Do you really believe that Christianity is a divine revelation and a divine power upon earth ? And, if so, why are you so afraid about Christianity ? If you really believe it to be divine how can it do otherwise than triumph, say what men may against it ?" And so our fear and our anxiety for the faith are made a taunt against us and an argument against the truth of that faith.
Let us see whether we can understand clearly what is the reason for confi-
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dence and what is the reason for fear, as we regard the present or the future of Christianity amongst us.
Brethren, we do fear and we ought to fear for the future — for the continuance and for the purity of Christianity amongst us ; and why ? Not because it is not divine, but because it is, — because we are most deeply assured of this — as assured as we can be of our own existence — that this gospel is God's most blessed gift, his most direct and divine revelation toman. For that very reason and for none other do we tremble at times for the future of that gospel in our midst. And why so ? Because, if that gospel be divine, its birth is not of this earth ; its home is not of this world. It is a seed that needs to be sown, and which does not spring up naturally in our earthly soil — a seed that needs culture and care and protection from the sowers of the false seed, and the growing of the choking weed, just because it comes from heaven and does not naturally spring up from earth. It is a gift from God, and therefore it follows the law that regulates all God's gifts, that as we treat them so do they abide with us or vanish away from us. Christianity, brethren, is a supernatural gift and a supernatural thing, but it is not an unnatural thing ; and it would be altogether an unnatural and a monstrous thing if it were to
be the only gift of God that is exempted from that great law that rules all his other gifts — "To him that hath shall be given, and to him that hath not" — that is, that hath and uses not — "shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have." Yes, brethren, this is the law of every one of God's gifts, even of the very meanest and seemingly most natural of all the gifts that we possess. Take it from the very lowest to the highest scale of existence and possession, and see how this law rules all God's gifts. The seed that we sow has in it, surely, a divinely given life. It is not self-created or self-sustaining ; and that life of the seed needs, as 1 have just reminded you, the care and the culture of man to bring it to perfection. The arts, the sciences, the culture of humanity, — do they not need fostering care and careful watchfulness and diligent patronage, even, if they are to come to success ? Nay more, brethren, the very social existence of mankind — all that makes the joy and the security and the peace of the home — the love, the obedience, the morality, the purity, the sweet grace and tenderness of a Christian home — do these spring up naturally in every home ? Are parents and children to be seen naturally exhibiting all that makes a home graceful and beautiful and dear? Or do we not know what careful culture, what watchful training, what resolute self-denial, what patience, what care, what tact even, are needed from day to day in our own homes if we would make them all that they ought to be ? Is
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it not true, then, of all these gifts — the social, the moral, nay, even the intel-
lectual—that we have them as treasures from God, but, nevertheless, we have them in earthen vessels ; and that just as a ray of light from the sun comes down into our lower world a divine and ablessed gift, and yet it is dimmed and deflected by the mists through which it may have to pass, so every good and perfect gift comes down from God, a blessed and a divine thing ; and yet that human nature into which it comes, and with which it allies itself, and which must be the keeper and custodian of it, has over it a terrible power of reflecting it for evil — of perverting, of wasting, and, thereby, of losing and destroying. And so, not because Christianity is not from God, but because it is — just because the excellency of the power is from God, and yet because that precious gift with all its divine power is lodged in earthen vessels — while we have an unwavering confidence and certainty in the final triumph of Christianity, our hearts may be filled with fear and anxiety for the present fate of Christianity here or there — in this heart, in that home — in this or that church — in this or that country ; for, though Christ has promised that the gates of hell shall never prevail against his entire church, he has nowhere promised that they shall not prevail against portions — against large portions of that church. There is, then, a false and there is a reasonable confidence, as we look upon Christianity at any moment in the world, — a false confidence if we suppose'that our Christianity — the Christianity in our own hearts, in our own homes, in our own church — will be preserved by an unnatural and an undeserved miracle, if we fail to do our duty respecting it. And there is the true confidence that, fail as it may here and there, through the very fragility of the earthen vessels in which it is treasured, or the stain or the corruptiblenessofthem, nevertheless, the heavenly gift shall never entirely fail, because the excellency of the power that is in it is of God.
You see, then, brethren, how directly this bears upon the subject that I have to bring before you this day, for that subject is nothing less than this — How shall we Christians of the English church preserve in our English homes — preserve in our country of England — the blessed treasure of Christianity that God has given to us ? If we neglect it, if we abuse it, if we waste it, if we fail to guard it, so surely as he has taken it away from other countries that have dealt with it in like manner, so surely may he do so from us ; and ill does it become us, brethren, to boast of the Christianity of England, and to talk confidently of the future of our Christian country, unless that confidence be justified by the knowledge that we are each one of us, as in the sight of God, doing all that in us lies to preserve that Christianity in our own
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hearts — in our own homes — -in our own church. He who walks amidst the seven-branched light can take away the candlestick now, in wrath and in judgment, as he did of old in the beginning of the history of judgment and of blessing that marks his presence in his church.
Let us take heed, then, brethren, that there be naught in our church to provoke him to suffer the light of it to be quenched by heresy, or torn away by violence. While we acknowledge that the excellency of the power of God is in the midst of us, let us take heed to remember that it is there subject to the
eternal condition of the gift, — that it is held in earthen vessels, and that the earthliness of our own hearts — the sinfulness and carelessness of our own lives — may cause us, any day, the loss of that treasure.
And now let us consider this question of the continuance and permanence of Christianity in a country, with reference to one gift of the church and one only : I mean the gift of the Christian ministry to the church.
There are none here who would doubt or question the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ gave to his church the gift of a separated and ordained ministry, — that he designed that there should be those who, receiving their stewardship from him, should ever be to his flock the ministers and stewards of the mysteries of God. An ordained and a separated ministry is one of Christ's gifts to his church. To that ministry, brethren, Christ has given gifts for you — gifts of some of which it is not in their power to hinder you by any fault or earthliness of theirs. The sacraments that Christ has given to his church no unworthiness in the hand that distributes can hinder of their effect. The unworthy minister may be what he has been likened to — the torch whose light is for another, and whose waste is for himself — as he holds out to the church the mysteries of Christ's sacraments. The word — the written word of Christ which he has entrusted to the guardianship of his ministers — it is not in their power to take from you or to hurt by their unfaithfulness. But how large a measure of other gifts and other dudes, brethren, in which you of the laity are deeply concerned, do depend upon the purity and the saintliness of your ministers. All that the clergyman is bound to be to his people, of the prophet and of the pastor and of the teacher, too, depends on
this. All that stern and resolute faithfulness that you should demand at the hand of him who stands in the midst of you, to " cry aloud and spare not,' as he utters forth the judgment of God against the sins of his day or of his society, — all that you have a right to demand at his hand of prophetic faithfulness,— all that you have a right to expect from him of pastoral loving care and self-denying watchfulness for the flock that Christ has bought with his
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own blood, and for which, if needs be, he should be ready to lay down his life, — all that you have a right to expect from himof learned and wise and skilful and well apportioned distribution of the treasures of God's word, as a well instructed scribe bringing out of his stores things old and new, — all these gifts of the prophet and the pastor and the teacher depend upon the purity and upon the saintliness and upon the earnestness — or, in one word, they all depend upon the spirituality — of your minister.
Brethren, you of the laity are not slow to remind us of the clergy of this fact. You set before us a high standard — and I pray God that you may ever set before us a high and a still higher standard — of our duty to you as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. You love to tell us — do you not? — that your ministers should be holy men — that, whatever may be allowed of laxity or carelessness to a layman, you expect better things in a clergyman. And you love sometimes, do you not? — to remind us that we do
not always come up to this standard. And perhaps there are some who are not unwilling to detect instances of failure to reach that standard, and to say, " Ah, there is such a one : how utterly he fails to realize all that we know a clergyman ought to be. What an earthen vessel that is that holds those treasures of the sanctuary !'" And then, perhaps, the layman will add complacently, " lam not a great pretender to piety. I do not set up to being very much better than my neighbors I am not a very strait-laced person, but I do expect piety and spirituality in a clergyman." Yes, all this is true, brethren, and we need to be reminded of it. God knows that the minister who is to strive to raise his people to a higher level of holiness and spirituality has need to be so raised first himself ; and God knows how hard and how sore the task is to the minister who, sharing the infirmities of his flock — (else how could he be to them a faithful and sympathizing priest ?) — has still to endeavour to set before them in his own life and conversation a higher standard — if it may be so — than their own. All this is true, and we need to be reminded, ay, we need to remind ourselves day after day and hour after hour — of the earthliness of the vessel in which are treasured for others the sacred things of God's holy place. And we need above all others, to be reminded of that danger which lies in the daily handling of holy things, — need, above all others, to pray from our very hearts, in fear and yet in faith, " From hardness of heart and contempt of thy word and commandment, good Lord, deliver us, thy tempted and endangered ministers "
All this is true, brethren — true of the gifts which the clergy possess for you. But have you thought of this on the other hand — that if the clergy possess
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gifts for you, for the use of which they must be accountable, the clergy themselves are a gift lo you, for the use of which you must be accountable ? If the treasures of God's grace — if the sacraments of Christ's church — if the opportunities of the ministry — are God's gift to the ministry, the ministry in its totality, as an order, is God's gift to the laity ; and, if so, that gift comes to you conditioned as every other gift of God does, — that you shall rightly use it, or if you do not rightly use it, that it shall suffer in your possession, that it may become to you not a blessing but a hurt, for the ministry is a savour of life unto life, or death unto death ; and which it shall be to the laity depends not together — nay, depends not so much as is sometimes thought — upon the ministry. Rather does it largely depend upon the laity themselves. For instance, the layman who tells us that he desires spirituality in his minister, and wishes that, whatever he himself is, his minister, at least, should be all that a minister ought to be — has he ever once paused in his criticism of his minister to kneel down and honestly raise one prayer to God that He may make that minister, for Christ's sake, all that he ought to be to him ? Do those who criticise the ministry, and who are swift to point out its defects or its failures, spend much time in praying for their ministers ? Or, if they spent some larger proportion of that time than they spend in fault finding, might it not be that their prayer might return into their own bosom sevenfold, in the blessing of a more deeply spiritual pastor ? Or again, those who desire that the ministry should be more spiritual, more
elevated, more saintly — do they ever help them in this way ? Do they ever consider how sore a temptation to worldliness, and to forgetfulness of their sacred calling, must be ihe society of merely worldly or fashionable laymen or women, in which the clergyman is bound to move and to mix for the sake of his flock ? Do they who claim an almost superhuman sanctity and strictness and spirituality, on the part of their pastor, help him by receiving him in their society as the man of God, and showing by their demeanour to him that they recognize him as such and that they desire him to be such in their midst ? Or are they willing to welcome him as the pleasant social companion, the cultivated gentleman, the "good fellow" of the dinner party, and then to be somewhat surprised and offended if he is not all that they think a clergyman ought to be ?
My brethren, ask yourselves, do you all deal quite fairly, quite honestly, by your ministers in this matter ? Do you strive, each one of you, as regards the clergy of our church, so far as in you lies, to help them to be all that you say and believe that they ought to be ? We hea rmuch, in this day,
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of ours, of sacerdotalism on the part of the clergy, and we hear sometimes the loud expression of resolve on the part of some, at least, of the laity, that they will not tolerate sacerdotal assumptions on the part of the clergy. If there be on the part of any of us of the clergy an undue magnifying of that
part of our office which makes us priests before God — a grasping of anything of the power or of the honor that belongs to our divive Lord and kingly Priest, then it is well that we should be rebuked for such assumption, and well that we should be told that such assumption is not to be endured in the church of Christ. But there is another temptation to sacerdotalism on the part of the clergy, and which perhaps, the laity scarcely sufficiently remember. When the layman says, " I am not very much given to asceticism or piety, but I think that my clergyman should be so," what is he doing, after all, but proposing a vicarious piety on the part of the clergyman ? The layman is willing enough that the clergyman shall not be a priest, but he is not willing that he himself shall be what he claims to be a'nd what in a real and a deep sense he truly is — a priest to God himself, to offer to him the daily sacrifice of a pure and a prayerful life. Yes, there is a sacerdotalism of the clergy, and a great danger of a sacerdotalism of the clergy ; but it is not only the sacerdotalism that the clergy invent, but the sacerdotalism that the laity force on the clergy when they bid them be holy and spiritual in their stead.
See to it, brethren, that, if you claim, and rightly claim, that the clergy shall be no more than clergy ought to be, you resolve, on the other hand, and rightly resolve, that the laity shall be all that the laity ought to be. You are, indeed, "kings and priests unto God." Be kings in the regal control over your own appetites and your own passions ; be priests in the daily sacrifice and ser .ice of your life to God, and in the help that you may render for God's and for Christ's sake in the daily sacrifice that you may make for the help of some suffering brother or sister ; and so help your ministry to be to you what they ought to be.
And, yet again, surely, on the laity devolves the duty of a fitting maintenance of the clergy. The gospel, as we have said, is God's gift ; but it comes with this amongst other conditions to you of the laity — that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel, — that they who give to you spiritual things should reap your worldly things. This is as much a law and a condition of God's gift of the gospel as any other law and any other condition that accompanies it ; and the neglect of this law — the omisson to fulfil this condition — must seriously hurt the gospel in your midst, if it be a condition imposed by God. Men talk, often loosely and often very unjustly and dis3
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honestly, of the need of poverty on the part of the clergy, in order to their spirituality ; and they seem to speak and think sometimes as if it were an advantage to a country to have a poor clergy, and as if those who claim to be the successors of the apostles should show in our midst not only apostolic piety, but apostolic poverty. Those who so speak forget this fact — that if the apostles were poor, so were their flocks ; and that to see a poor and suffering minister in the midst of a wealthy and luxurious laity is certainly not what we may term a realization of apostolic Christianity. How stern would have been the rebuke — how earnest and pathetic would have been the entreaty — of the apostle who claimed that the labourer was worthy of his hire, if,
instead of appealing to the poor and the scattered and the scanty converts of the early church, he had been appealing to great multitudes of wealthy and even luxurious Christian laity. Brethren, a poor, a suffering ministry, in the midst of a wealthy and prosperous laity, and that poor and suffering ministry an eminently spiritual and pious one, is a state of things that probably never has existed in the Christian Church, or, if it did exist, never could continue long, for one or two things would have been certain to happen : either that the devoted and saintly and poor ministry would teach the laity the duty of giving, or else that careless and luxurious and illiberal laity would be soon smitten as a judgment with an unlearned and ignorant and worldly clergy ; for spirituality does not necessarily go with poverty, and there may be as much of worldliness in the hunger that craves for wealth, as there may be in the sated luxury that spends that wealth. You will not have a spiritual clergy by securing a pauper clergy : you will but obtain a class of men for whom the scanty stipend that was unfitting to offer the Christian and the gentleman is a sufficient temptation to induce them to forsake some lower calling, and trust themselves into the priesthood that they may earn a piece of silver and a morsel of bread.
No brethren, God's conditions attached to all his gifts are unalterable. They are eternally wise, and therefore they are never safely evaded or denied ; and if to his gospel is attached this condition — that they who preach the gospel shall live of the gospel, and that they who profit by the gospel shall make fit provision for the preachers of it — this condition can never safely be left unfulfilled.
Is it so now ? Is it the truth, brethren, that the ministry of our great wealthy Church of England — when I say "wealthy" I speak of the wealth of its laity- -is it true that this ministry is suffering from poverty in any respect? And., if so, whose is the fault? In no spirit of anger— in no spirit of hasty
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fault-finding — yet in all honesty and simplicity and godly sincerity, do I desire to put before you the simple facts of the case.
There is in our Church a very large number of clergy — I think some six of seven thousand — who are known as unbeneficed clergy — as curates. I speak nothing now of the insufficient maintenance of many of those who are bene ficed clergy. I ask you for a moment to direct your thoughts to the condition of the unbeneficed clergy in our church. How comes it that there are any clergy unbeneficed — that is to say, any clergy who are not possessed of a cure of souls or parish of their own ? Why are such persons as stipendiary curates in our church ? Simply for this reason —that the population of the country, that is to say, the number of the laity, has so increased that additional laborers are needed if the parish priest is to do his duty to his people ; but the income of the parish priest is insufficient to provide the additional laborer in most cases ; and if the incomes of all priests were equalized and divided there would be none left for the provision of any assistant minister. These unbeneficed clergy — these assistant clergy — are in a very special sense
the servants of the laity. They are the additional servants brought into the establishment of the ministry — if I may speak of it in terms so homely — brought into your establishment especially to minister to your need and want. Are they sufficiently provided for ? Is the income of an unbeneficed clergyman such as, in fairness and without shame, we may offer to a Christian and an educated gentleman ? In very many cases it is not so. And be this remembered further — that as you introduce increasingly a number of these unbeneficed clergy into the ministry of your Church — as you increase, that is to say, the number of your servants — the number of benefices remains very nearly fixed, or but slightly increases, at any rate ; and therefore you are ever increasing the number of the unbeneficed : that is to say, you are diminishing, year by year, the prospects of a benefice for each one of these. And when I speak of the prospects of a benefice, I am not speaking merely of the prospects of sufficient maintenance. I am speaking of independence ; I am speaking of an assured position : I am speaking of that cure and government of souls which every priest in Christ's church may naturally look forward to obtain. 1 am speaking of the not unnatural desire of a man who has laboured for some twenty years in Christ's church, at the beck and call of others, liable to be moved in the chances of life from one place to another, with his family, spending his life in a spirit of wearing and anxious dependence. I say that the number of benefices for these men is comparatively unchanged, while the number of the men is increasing yearly. And therefore it
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comes to this — that the long weary years of unbeneficed service in our church must be increasing year by year ; and so they are for the period at which a man can expect, on the average, to obtain promotion in our church is yearly lengthening ; that is to say that the deferred hope that makes the heart sick is year after year, for many an honest and conscientious and pious laborer in your service, growing more and more weary, more and more deferred, more and more heart-sickening in its delay and its disappointment.
Now, it is to help these — the unbeneficed ministry of our church — that the Society for which I plead sends me here to entreat your help. I ask you, my dear friends, with regard to these unbeneficed ministers in Christ's church, having, as I have just put it to you, an especial claim upon you of the laity, inasmuch as they are specially brought into that ministry that they may minister to you, to consider whether their prospects of promotion and their income at middle life are such as you think they ought to be. And if they be not, I ask you, not for their sakes — for I will not plead for my brethren in any Christian assembly as if they were paupers in need of a dole — I will not so ask on behalf of my brethren, and for my brethren and companions' sake I will not so degrade the plea which I make for them, but I do plead with you for your own sakes, for the sake of the ministry of Christ which you desire to be a blessing and a strength in the midst of you, and for the sake of Christ's church of which you, the laity, are the great body, that you will fulfil the condition on which this gospel and the ministry which brings and teaches it have been given, and that you will see that those who are laboring for you are sufficiently provided for. This is what this society for
the augmentation of the salaries of the unbeneficed clergy aims at ; and this is what I do earnestly entreat that you will help them to realize this day. For those clergy who have been more than fifteen years as curates upon inadequate salaries, I ask you to do something this day, and to do it, as I have said, not for their sakes, but for your own.
The excellency of the power, in this matter of alms-giving, is of God ; and I do pray that he may put it into your hearts to deal in timely and wise and large liberality with these your servants, that there may be returned to you a tenfold blessing by him whose ministers and servants they are.
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