THE INAUGURATION REV. ALEXANDER T. M'GILL, D.D.
PROFESSOR OF PASTORAL THEOLOGY, CHURCH GOVERNMENT, AND THE COMPOSITION AND DELIVERY OF SERMONS.
THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY AT PRINCETON. N.J.
DELIVERED AT PRINCETON, SEPTEMBER 12, 1854
BEFORE THE DIRECTORS OF THE SEMINARY.
... As to the ministry, there are obviously two extremes in the Church; one among ministers, the other among the people. That among ministers, is an abuse of their office, so as to make it a stepping-stone to power, and to the exercise of undue dominion over their brethren. That among the people, arises from the idea that, because ministers are servants, therefore they are their masters. The one extreme has given rise to hierarchies, which, in their most modified forms, have been a calamity to the Church and the work — and the other has given rise to insubordination, springing from the assumption that ministers, as such, were accountable to the people, and not to Jesus Christ. These extremes exist and are producing one another; as in the state, anarchy produces despotism, and despotism anarchy. Whilst the people owe obedience to scriptural officers, exercising due authority in the Lord, ministers should ever regard the precept of their Master, "He that will be great, let him be the servant of all," and the example of their Master, who said, "I have been among you as one that serveth." They should aim to be, in every respect, "able ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." But what are the characteristics of an able minister of the New Testament? We would place among these:-
1. Decided piety
— Piety is a firm and right apprehension of the being, perfections, and providence of God, with suitable affections to him, resemblance to his moral perfections, and a constant obedience to his will. To be an able minister and faithful, this must be decidedly possessed. Otherwise, the great spring of ministerial life is wanting, or defective. No gifts however splendid or attractive can compensate for the lack of piety. It requires but a small degree of this for a young man to go through our required course of training for the ministry, and to sustain a respectable character. Its trial commences with the active duties of the ministry. There is difficulty in finding a field of labour, and division attending his settlement, his salary is inadequate, his labours are exhausting, his people are lukewarm, he is opposed in his labours, the world murmurs, his preaching is not successful, his talents are depreciated, and he is apparently neglected by his brethren. Now comes the trial of faith, piety, and principles, which soon makes apparent the real state of a minister's heart. And unless his heart is deeply imbued with the Spirit of Christ, he fails to accomplish many of the great ends for which the ministry was instituted. The lack of that Spirit also manifests itself in efforts to become what the world calls a popular preacher. One is truly popular by the force of his talents and the fervour of his piety ; another, because he makes it his main object. Between these there is a great difference. One is simple and solemn; the other, magniloquent and self-complacent. The one impresses by his thoughts ; the other, by his language. The one collects his flowers from Calvary ; the other, from Parnassus. The one wins converts to Christ; the other, makes admirers of himself The one moistens the eye with a tear ; the other, curls the lip with a smile of admiration. The one preaches strongly and boldly the doctrines of the cross ; the other, withholds them, lest they should offend, and blunts his arrows lest they should penetrate; — emulous of the reputation of a popular preacher. These nice and pretty preachers are too rapidly multiplying; and they will continue to increase or diminish in the proportion of the degree of serious piety in the ministry. Such are not ambassadors for Christ; they are but Sabbath-day performers before fashionable audiences, that seek amusement alternately at the church, the opera, and the theatre! How gladly the Jewish Church suffered from false prophets and priests ! How soon the early Church was rent and torn by ungodly ministers ! For how many ages, not excepting our own, the boasted successors of the Apostles were the vilest of men ! How even, at the present day, in some countries nominally Protestant, the lowest infidelity is decked in the robes of the ministry; and how, in communions regarded as evangelical, an unsanctified clergy are prostituting the order and ordinances of God's house, to the supplanting of a spiritual by a formal and ritual religion! And, when we examine the history of the Church, we find that true piety was the great element of the success of those who have most blest it by their ministry. It was the piety of Paul that sustained him amid his manifold trials, and persecutions, and untiring labours. We owe the glorious Reformation far more to the piety than to the policy or talents of the reformers. What but the piety of our Presbyterian fathers sustained and animated them amid the glens, and the rocks, and the mountains of Scotland, when the bloody trooper was sent out for their murder by those who worshipped in cathedrals. And if we look into the character of such men as Baxter, Doddridge, Edwards, Dickinson, Davies, Tennant, or to come down to some of our own Alumni, whose names are as fragrant ointment among us, we find that decided, warm-hearted piety was the great element of their success.
2. To be an able minister requires due qualification for the work
In the magnitude of its objects the preaching of the gospel far surpasses every other employment in which man can engage. There is scarcely any intellectual culture, civil liberty, or social order, but through its influence. And it is alike God's appointed instrument for the salvation of men, and for the moral illumination of our world. To the scheme of redemption all objects and events in our world are subordinate and subservient. This is the point where all the attributes of God converge into a blaze of glory. And the means appointed to make known the redemption which is in Christ Jesus to our world, is the preaching of the gospel. If angels, without being satisfied, are prying into its wonders; if Paul, so eloquent and aged, could say, " Who is sufficient for these things," — then a pious, uninspired man, should seek the highest possible qualifications for the ministry. The distinguishing mark of a faithful minister is this, "he shall feed his people with knowledge and understanding." Unless he possesses these, how can he mete them out to his people ? What, but sound, can an empty vessel send forth? Regarding an uneducated ministry as unfit to instruct the people, as unfitted to obtain for the gospel the attention and the respect of the thoughtful, and as very liable to become the dupes of error, and the promoters of fanaticism and folly, our Church, from its origin, has insisted on an educated ministry. Hence, it has ever been the patron of the school, the academy, the college, and of schools for the instruction of her rising prophets. Hence, the erection of this Seminary, and of its sister institutions, that the future pastors of the churches may have the benefit of a thorough training for their high duties. Mere piety will exert an influence; but it requires an alliance with talent and education to arrest the attention of the vicious, and to reform public morals. It required all the talent and education of Paul, to cross the Rubicon of Jewish prejudice; to confute the Pharisee and Sadducee in the Synagogue; the sophist in the school of Tyrannus, and the subtle heathen in all the courts of the Gentiles. It required all the talent and education of Luther and Melancthon to breast the storm of papal wrath that fell upon them ; and, like the towering cliff, to bear unmoved and uninjured, the tempest, the thunder, and the lightning, that played around them. And wherever the gospel has made signal and permanent conquests, in changing the face of society, in moulding civil and moral institutions, in correcting the opinions and reforming the lives of the intelligent and influential, it has been always preached by men of high mental endowment, and of great and varied acquisition. The living historian of the Reformation tells us, that "the Reformers always connected deep study with the laborious ministry; the ministry was the end, study was but the means." And this we might learn from their works. And here we have revealed one of the great elements of their success. The great defect of the ministry of our day is a neglect of study; and this is induced by causes which we cannot now stop to state. They are known of all men. A young man of fine promise concludes his course of study and becomes a pastor, exciting high hopes of eminence and usefulness. Amid the calls and rewards of active life, books and studies are neglected. Applauded by those who praise without stint, because without sense, he soon learns to lean upon his unassisted genius and natural sagacity. He soon discovers a way to reputation other and shorter than the dull and beaten one of industry. He soon cuts the knot that he cannot untie, and jumps the difficulty that he cannot remove, and depends less upon patience of investigation than upon his intuition to comprehend causes, and subjects, and methods of argumentation. And soon his mind, naturally fertile and productive, becomes a barren. Now his sermons are alike, whatever may be the text. All have something old, but nothing new. His people complain ; but habits are now formed which cannot be mended. His people cry for meat, and he gives them milk. Unprofited by his labours, they seek a dismission; and he must retire from a field where diligent habits of study would make him an honoured and useful man until the almond blossoms flourished upon his head. He began a man; he ends a boy. As a rule, the minister should make everything give way to a due and full preparation for the pulpit. The pulpit is the place from which to instruct the people. There, pre-eminently, he is to prove himself an able minister of the New Testament. He should ever feel that the image of God is not to be re-in- stamped upon our world by those who are talkers, and exhorters, and storytellers, instead of preachers and teachers ; and whose best prepared nutriment is but milk for babes.
3. To be an able minister of the New Testament requires the full presentation of its great doctrines
It is by the preaching of the gospel, that God has ordained to save men. Everything else, so far as saving men is concerned, is but giving scorpions for eggs, and serpents for fish. The grand object of the Saviour during his incarnation, was to prove that he was the promised Messiah, by the miracles which he wrought, and by showing that in himself all the lines of history and prophecy met and blended. His life he closed upon the cross agreeably to the Scriptures ; being made a sin offering for his people, that they might be made the righteousness of God in him. And with the cup of sorrow in his hand, and with the agonies of Gethsemane and Calvary in full view, he uttered this memorable sentiment, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." This refers, primarily, to his crucifixion, but in a secondary and important sense to the preaching of the doctrines of the cross. And, hence, after the resurrection had completed the circle of testimony to his Messiahship, and the Spirit had been granted, the work of the Apostles was to preach a crucified Christ as God's great remedy for the moral diseases of man. This was the theme of Peter amid the gatherings at the feast of Pentecost — and of Paul amid all the cities of the Gentiles. Their grand theme was " repentance towards God, and fixeth in the Lord Jesus Christ." And, hence, their ministry was mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds. And such is the course which must be pursued by all their successors in office who desire to approve themselves as able ministers of the New Testament. When we look into the ages of conflict between truth and error, we find that those have been always the victors who presented the doctrines of the cross most simply and purely. And in every branch of the Church that ministry has been most successful which has been thus characterized. The preaching of Christ and him crucified, produced the Reformation, and has sustained it. If any doubt this, let them read D'Aubigne, and Luther on the Galatians, and the Life of John Knox, and Howe's Living Temple, and his nine sermons on Friendship with God, and Flavel's forty-two sermons on the character of Christ, and his thirty-four on the method of Grace, and Owen on the Spirit, and on the Person and Glory of Christ. A Christ crucified for the sins of sinners, as their substitute, and in their law place, is the great central truth of our religion. And to the directing of the eyes of all men to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world, an able minister of the New Testament will make everything subservient. The Alumni of this Seminary will all testify that thus we have been emphatically taught by the venerated Professor in whose vacated chair we place to-day a successor. And our heartfelt supplication will ascend to the God of all grace, that in this, as in all other respects, the mantle of Elijah may fall upon Elisha. And is there not need for warning upon this subject, when so many are turning away from the simplicity of Christ, spoiling the gospel, " through philosophy, and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of this world?" Instead of preaching Christ, and simply expounding His word, how many are seeking, above all things, to make adherents to their own peculiarities ! One has his theory of moral suasion, — another, of inspiration, — another, as to original sin, — another, as to regeneration, — the atonement; another, as to interpretation, — another, as to the efficacy of sacraments and ceremonies, — another, of moral and social reform. In many portions of the Church there is a raging controversy as to the mint, anise, and cummin, amid which the lifting up of the Son of Man is sadly neglected. It is the preaching of the cross that gives power to the ministry ; and when that is neglected for anything else, we cut off the lock of our strength. The truth as it is in Jesus is the only successful weapon of the ministry; and the history of the Church is pregnant with the most important lessons upon this subject. As the truth died out from the ancient Church, fancy, and credulity, and corruption had a freer play ; the tokens of departing glory and of a coming night fearfully multiplied. Shade thickened after shade. Each succeeding age came wrapped in a deeper gloom, until the sun which rose over Judea set at Rome, — until the flood of light which it poured upon the world had to retreat before that long, long night, called the "Dark Ages” which seemed to roll on as if it were never to end ! And what, in some quarters, has been made the reproach of our beloved Institution, is its true glory; and is the great cause of the rejoicing of all its friends, and of its influence in all sections of our country, and in all branches of the Church, that amid the currents and counter currents of erroneous doctrine ; amid the conflicts of philosophy falsely so called; amid the storms which have blown over the Church, and which have made some of its men of might to bow; amid the reproaches of lukewarmness and time-serving by its friends, and of bigoted attachment to antiquated formularies, and of blind submission to authority b}^ its enemies ; it has continued steadfast and immovable in the faith once delivered to the saints. So may it ever continue. And the prayer of all of us will ascend to the God of all grace that the beloved brother placed among its professors by the election of the Church, may strengthen every cord that tends to bind it, in immovable anchorage under the shelter of the Rock of Ages.
4. An able minister must be impressive
If true as the notable reviewer of Milton affirms, that "as civilization advances poetry necessarily declines," it is equally true, and for the same reasons, that in the proportion people are enlightened, is it difficult to impress them! In the age of Moses the Jews, were more easily impressed than in that of Isaiah ; and as the unsanctified mind becomes accustomed to the light of science and religion, does it lose its susceptibility of impression from the public exhibitions of divine truth! And hence the inelegant but descriptive phrase, "a gospel-hardened sinner," to describe a person who, under the influence of light, has lost, measurably, that susceptibility. We state the principle, not as an argument for the blessedness of ignorance, but for an impressive ministry. It is by the preaching of the gospel that men are to be saved instrumentally; and no effort should be left untried to raise up a ministry prepared to preach, so as to impress men with a sense of its eternal importance. And especially should this be the case in our country, where, more than in any other, the public mind is swayed by popular addresses; where the current to worldliness is so proverbially strong, and where, perhaps, more than in any other, the difficulty may be greater of arresting attention, and turning away the heart from the pursuit of vanity. Ours, beyond all others, is the country for a Whitefield, a Summerfield, a Larned, a John Breckinridge; men peculiarly adapted to sway the masses, and whose dispensation was public impression. Such men may leave no monuments to their learning ; but they give out impulses which may be absorbed by other minds, and plans of action, and thus pass away from view, but never die. May it not be that to this point too little attention is directed in our seminaries; and by our young brethren who resort to them for instruction ? Their chairs of theology, and of history, and of criticism, are filled with the best, and best furnished minds in the Church; but in many of them there is no adequate provision made for instruction in the art of preaching. In the field which is the world, the power of impression is the main thing; is it not regarded as too secondary in our theological schools? Is it not even sometimes the subject of the sneer of the dull scholastic? Notwithstanding the positive and accumulated evidence upon the subject, there is a way of talking about popular talent as if it were necessarily disconnected with profound thought ; and also a way of talking about mere scholarship, and the power of accumulation, as if they could accomplish everything. And the whole machinery of our preparation for the ministry, is calculated thus to impress our candidates for the pulpit. Hence, many of our young ministers can read their Hebrew Bibles fluently, who cannot in public read a chapter of the English version, without stumbling and mispronouncing from the beginning to the end. Many can read Homer and Horace, with accuracy and fluency, who cannot read a hymn of Watts or Newton, with the emphasis or elegance of a young lady from some of our best boarding schools. Many can write a sermon according to rule, and of power both as to truth and argument ; but when they come to preach it, so dull and slovenly is their manner, and so drawling and holy is their tone, that to their hearers it has neither sense, point, truth, or force. As spiritual fishermen they cast the net so clumsily as to drive off, instead of drawing up the fishes. And so little skill in adapting themselves to circumstances have many of our best educated licentiates, that they wander through our vacancies for years, without meeting with a congregation willing to extend a call to their educated dullness. We are far from believing that too much is done to secure the full education of our ministry ; we would rather increase than diminish the time for preparation, and the course of study ; but the conviction is deep and heartfelt, that far too little is done to give it power and impressiveness in public. We may differ as to the cause, but the fact is obvious, that our ministry, to a lamentable degree fails to impress the masses. The necessary ingredients to impressiveness in the preacher are, good writing, good speaking, and a manner at once solemn and earnest. When these are accompanied with a character for consistent piety, they cannot fail to attract and to impress. And hence they should be sedulously cultivated in order to usefulness. To be sure, education cannot supply everything where nature has been parsimonious of her gifts. But it can do much ; and what we plead for, is, that far more attention should be given to that side of the education of our ministry which fits it for impressively preaching the gospel, so as to reach the great masses that are out in ways of wandering from God.
(5) When we add to these characteristics of an able minister of the New Testament, that of entire consecration to the work of the ministry, our picture is complete
The injunction of our Lord is, "pray ye the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers unto his harvest." The Lord's harvest requires labourers, not idlers. Those who enter the field in answer to this prayer, enter it, not to seek the lordship of it, nor yet to fatten on the labours of others, but to work in it during the whole day of their lives, whether it be long or short. It is not sufficient for a true minister to feel a general desire to be useful; he must be possessed by a desire for the salvation of men, which will give him no rest but as he seeks to gratify it. Souls are his hire ; and many waters cannot quench the love which inflames his heart to obtain them. It is this one great, absorbing feeling, which takes him to his study, to his closet, to the chamber of sickness, to the pulpit. It inspires every sermon he writes, gives energy to every address he makes, and fervency to every prayer he utters, and marks all his intercourse with all men. He is seeking a place among those who, by turning many to righteousness, will shine as the stars forever, and forever. A church with such a ministry is a growing and glorious church. But will any say, this is a fancy sketch, unattainable by ordinary men ? But is not Christ the pattern for our imitation ? And his meat and drink was, to do the will of his Father. But will any say he was divine ? Then look at Paul ; from the hour the scales fell from his eyes, until the hour he went up to receive his crown from his exalted Saviour, he lived but for one object : to save men by the preaching of the truth. But will any say, he was inspired ? Then look at "Whitefield and Wesley. " When you see them dividing their lives between the pulpit and the closet ; sacrificing every comfort, crossing the ocean many times, moving populous cities, often rising from the bed of sickness to preach to multitudes, and under circumstances which rendered it not improbable that they might exchange the pulpit for the tomb ;" when you look at the lives and labour of these, and such men as Heywood, and Baxter, and Chalmers, and others among the dead and the living, you will see that we have drawn no fancy sketch. When it was announced to the dying Backus, whose ministry was greatly protracted and useful, that he could not survive an hour, " then," said he, " place me on my knees, that I may offer up another prayer for the Church of God before I die." He was placed upon his knees; and upon his knees, praying for the Church of God, he died. Such being what we consider the characteristics of an able minister of the New Testament, we proceed briefly to state: — Our country is incomparably the most inviting field for Christian exertion which the world contains. Its territory is vast, its soil productive, its wealth beyond computation, — its mind, intelligent and active; its institutions free. We possess the broadest liberty, and the most perfect security. And as free as is the air to the electric fluid, so free is our country to the exchange of thought, and open to manly discussion on all kinds of subjects. It is also the point towards which almost all the streams of emigration rising in the old world are flowing. The strangers weekly landed on our shores, under the genial influence of our institutions, are soon moulded into fellow-citizens. And a minister must possess the gift of tongues who can in their own language preach to the few hundred inhabitants of any of our rising villages on the banks of the Ohio, or on the shores of our lakes. As a nation, our physical power is vigorous, and it is all driven as by steam. The most enterprising people of Europe in comparison with our own, are but as the sluggish Rhine as it flows through Holland, to our Niagara. Indeed we possess all the great elements of power, with room to grow, and nurture to sustain. But these elements are not yet fully combined ; and a few generations are to determine whether we will be governed by infidelity and Popery, or by morality and religion. Unless the gospel gains the ascendancy in this nation, the astonishment excited by our unexampled progress to greatness, will give way to the greater astonishment of our sudden fall And whether or not the gospel shall obtain the ascendancy depends, under God, upon the fact whether or not it is supplied with an able ministry. And what but a ministry earnest as was that of Paul and Whitefield, truthful as was that of Davies and Brainerd, self-sacrificing as was that of our Scottish and Irish ancestry, can scatter the salt from the Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the east across the Great River, through Texas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, and California, in such quantities as to preserve their rapidly growing communities from moral putrefaction? Let but a tithe of the enterprise which reigns in the world around us, glow in the bosom of the ministry of our land, and soon the Rocky Mountains will cry to the Alleghenies, and the Sacramento to the Hudson, and the Columbia to the Ohio: "O, magnify the Lord with me, let us exalt his name together." Nor when we look at the state of the world, is the kingdom of heaven as near as many would imagine. This age does not answer the description of that which is to precede the setting up of the kingdom of our Lord. Before Jesus Christ becomes the king of nations, there will be a conflict which will make the earth to tremble. The signs of the times are already portentous in the old world. Popery is yet what it was in the days of its Gregories, Clements, and Johns. The lion is caged, but his natural ferocity and tusks remain. And Mahometanism is yet what it was in the days of its Alis and Omars. It is civilly weak ; it has lost its bold spirit of enterprise and imposture ; but its heart is the same. Nor has heathenism lost any of its stupid and sullen resistance to the truth. " The prince of the powers of the air," yet rules the heathen world with a strong hand. Nor will these powers always look quietly on, and without resistance, see their territories won over to the Prince of Peace. There is yet a battle to be fought, when, as seen in vision by the prophet, the blood may come up to the horse's bridles. True, the result is not doubtful. Victory wall eventually perch upon the banner under which are ranged the people and saints of the Most High. But an able ministry is needed to prepare the Church for the conflict ; to lead on the hosts of the elect, and to guide them in the coming struggle. And the present state of the visible Church loudly calls for such a ministry. A wasting and multiform fanaticism, claiming almost prophetic revelations, is deluding multitudes. A religion of forms, and sacraments, and priestly interferences, is deluding multitudes more. Prelacy, for reasons baseless as the fabric of a vision, is urging its exclusive claims to be the true church ; and in some quarters, with a narrowness and bigotry better suited to the dotage of the "Latin sister." Popery, too, is lifting up its wounded head, and is stretching its aged limbs, and is urging its gray hairs and furrowed brow, its decrepitude, its wounds, and its weakness, to make unto itself friends. And amid our evangelical churches, old heresies are rising under new names, and old errors are returning in a new dress, distracting the councils of the wise and the good, and arraying brethren against one another, who should stand shoulder to shoulder in the conflict with the common enemy. In any of our villages of one thousand inhabitants we meet with the rationalism of Germany, the infidelity of France, the apostasy of Oxford, and the stupid Popery of Ireland. And everywhere is human nature in ruins, and the carnal heart with its errors and prejudices. To silence these adversaries ; to repel their assaults upon the truth, and to save men from their snares, we need minds trained, sanctified, and active, that can pour forth light like the sun. A feeble opposition to these is worse than none, as they measure their strength, not by the volume of their own muscle, but by the dexterity with which they cause a weak opponent, like a silk worm, to wind himself up in the web of his own weaving. In our age and country, mind is unshackled, — and with the chains of superstition it has thrown aside reverence for orders, office, station. We make the statement only to record an historical fact. Nothing is now received without investigation, but error and nonsense. The attachments of clans, parties, sects, descending from one generation to another, are here unknown. The f\ict that a man is a minister obtains no notes for his opinions; and in many portions of the land, secures many against them. The most catholic principles are here discussed, as if but just stated ; and creeds and confessions, sealed by the blood of martyrs, and which have received the sanction of ages, are searched and sifted as if but just published. Amid such an array of opposition, the advocacy of truth requires the ablest minds that God has created. Efficacy as to the success of the truth is from God, but the instrumentality is with man; and the more able our ministry, the surer the hopes of its speedy triumphs. As we cannot expect every lawyer to be a Blackstone, nor every judge to be a Marshall, nor every physician to be a Rush, nor every soldier to be a Washington, nor every philosopher to be a Newton, so neither can we expect every minister to be a Paul, a Chalmers, a Miller, or an Alexander. There are various departments and fields of labour in the Church to occupy every variety of talent in the ministry; and every man sustaining that relation to the world should occupy their every talent to the full ; and, like the stars in heaven, should fill up the orbit in which they move with their light. A minister in our age and country, where so much is to be done, and yet finding nothing to do! Out upon such ministers! Had they lived in the days of Noah, they would have found themselves in lack of water when the waves of the deluge were rising around them. Such, my brother, is the ministry needed in our day by the Church and the world. It was for the education of such a ministry that our fathers founded the Theological Seminary located in this town ; and that through the years of its history, it has been fostered and cherished by the General Assembly. And it is to aid to the utmost of your ability, in the education of such a ministry, that you have been called by the Church from a sister Seminary to be a professor in this Institution. No higher mark of their confidence could the Directors of this Seminary give you than their unanimous nomination of you to the Assembly which has transferred you here; and we feel assured that that confidence will be justified, by a life consecrated to the high interests which we cheerfully commit to your trust. ....