June 18: Rev. Dr. Leland’s Charge, Part 1

In keeping with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, which meets beginning this Tuesday evening, the following charge brought at the ordination of a young minister, seems quite appropriate. Something to read when you should otherwise be paying attention to that report currently being read from the Assembly floor. May this charge stir your soul!

REV. DR. LELAND’S CHARGE, Part I

 [excerpted from The Charleston Observer 7.20 (18 May 1833): 77.1-4]

At the ordination of the Rev. J. F. Lanneau, in this city on the 1st of May, the following charge was given by the Rev. Dr. [Aaron Whitney] Leland; and it is now published at the earnest solicitation of may who heard it.

[The Rev. Dr. Aaron Whitney Leland, 1787-1871, served as the first professor at the Columbia Theological Seminary, Columbia, SC. The Rev. John Francis Lanneau, 1809-1867, who was being ordained on this occasion, later served as a missionary.]

You have now been conducted into the sacred office of the Christian Ministry, according to Apostolic usage, by prayer and the laying on the hands of the Presbytery. You are now called out and separated from your fellow men, and solemnly devoted to the service of God.—You have taken a station which you can never abandon, and assumed responsibilities from which you can never be relieved. Henceforth you are not to be weighed in the same scale with other men; you are officially connected with the kingdom of Christ; and you hold committed to your trust with the interests of immortality. Just stationed on the walls of Zion, you may hear a voice from the throne above, saying: son of man, I have made thee a watchman for the souls of perishing men; therefore hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say to the wicked, O wicked man thou shalt surely die, if thou dost not warn the wicked, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. Such indeed is the nature of the office you now sustain, that your influence and character, your example and deportment, nay your very words and looks will prove a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death, to those around you.—This evening you are commissioned an Ambassador of Christ, sent to your fellow men, with a treaty of reconciliation with an offended God; and the amazing interests and destinies involved in that embassy, are entrusted to your fidelity. You have voluntarily enlisted for life, as a leader in the armies of Emmanuel, and have registered your solemn vows, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, to maintain a ceaseless conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil,—and never to put off your armour till you gain the victor’s crown, and receive the plaudit from the King of Zion, “well done good and faithful servant.” AS an accredited steward in the household of the Lord, treasures of incalculable preciousness are committed to your care, and you are to bear in mind, continually, as long as you live, that it is required of stewards that a man be found faithful. On your entrance upon such scenes of labor and peril, with such momentous duties in prospect, you doubtless feel the overwhelming responsibilities which press upon you, and your utter inability to sustain them a moment, without a support of an Almighty arm. You have not, I trust, placed your foot upon this holy ground confiding in your own strength. In this trying hour, repose upon the blessed assurance, that the Redeemer’s grace is sufficient for you, even in such exigencies; and that, though powerless as infancy in yourself, you can do all things through Christ’s strengthening you.

Standing as you do, my young brother, a monument of distinguishing mercy—a brand plucked out of the fire—it is certainly peculiarly fitting, that you devote your life to the blessed work of proclaiming that mercy to others, and preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ.—Rescued by the grace of God from those fearful dangers by which, in common with your early associates, you were surrounded; delivered from the poverty of an earthly portion, and the degrading bondage of worldly delusions, and enriched with spiritual blessings—how high the privilege, how appropriate the employment, of devoting your time and talents, your labor and life, to the service of God, in the Gospel of his Son.

I am well aware, that you have not rashly and thoughtlessly entered upon this great work. I know you have turned away from all the attractions and indulgences which surrounded you, and devoted your youth to long and laborious preparation for usefulness. Fully continued, that in this age of the Church, the literary and intellectual qualifications, requisite for the Ministry, are not obtained by any supernatural process, you have patiently “climbed the heavy alps of science, and devoted seven years to toil,” in order to obtain that mental cultivation, necessary to make you “a scribe well instructed in the things of the kingdom, thoroughly furnished for every good word and work.” I trust also, that you have, what is all important, a preparation of heart, which is from the Lord. I believe the love of Christ constrains you to enter upon the arduous and self-denying labours which are before you, and that you are ready and willing to spend and be spent in untiring efforts to save the souls of men, and advance the cause of the Redeemer.

Nevertheless, as the time has now come when you are to enter the field, bearing the Christian standard as a herald of the Cross; and as your final vows of allegiance and fidelity have just been recorded, I cannot fail to sympathize in your emotions, and affectionately to direct you to that source of spiritual consolation and support, of which you must so deeply feel the necessity.

In this most solemn hour of your whole life, on this occasion fraught with such momentous results to yourself and others, it is my official duty to remind you of your duties, dangers and responsibilities, and to urge upon your regard the sacred Ministerial obligations which now rest upon you. As you have given yourself to the Lord, and taken part in our Ministry, I solemnly charge you, as you value your own soul, and the souls which may be committed to your care, that you faithfully fulfil it. I charge you to preach the doctrines of the Gospel, fully, fearlessly, and plainly. You are set for the defence of the Gospel; and are bound to declare the whole counsel of God, and to defend and vindicate the entire system of redemption, as it is revealed by Moses and the Prophets, Christ and his Apostles. In this matter, nothing is left to your choice or discretion. As an ambassador, you are bound rigidly to adhere to your instructions. You cannot change or modify the term of the treaty. You have the statute book of the kingdom, and it is incumbent upon you to publish all the laws, and precepts and penalties, which are therein contained.—Let your mental inquiry always be—not what will be popular and acceptable, but what hath the Lord spoken, and what message does he send by me to these dying men, whom I am to address upon the things which belong to their everlasting peace. Let your preaching be discriminating—giving to all a portion in due season. Ever bear in mind, that your hearers consist of saints and sinners—the friends and the enemies of God—those who are on their way to heaven, and those who are on their way to hell. You are commissioned to say to the righteous that it shall be well with him, and you are enjoined also to say “woe to the wicked, it shall be ill with him.” I charge you in your preaching so to address yourself to Christians, and to impenitent sinners, that every one of your hearers may distinctly known what portion of your message is designed for him; and that your sermons, like the voice of the archangel, may make your hearers feel that they are separated from each other by an immeasurable contrast of character.

Like a skillful Physician, you are to apply the moral remedies, entrusted to your care, to the various cases, and stages, and symptoms, of spiritual disease, which you may meet in this great hospital of sick souls in which you are employed. In feeding, and guarding the Church of God, you have meat for the strong, and milk for babes—you have consolations for those who mourn, and alarm for those who slumber—you have instructions for the ignorant, guidance for the wandering, admonitions for the sluggish, and a scourge for the backslider. In delivering your message to those who know not God, and obey not the Gospel, who have no hope, and live without God in the world, you are equally well furnished with materials for a wise appropriation. The thoughtless are to be persuaded by the terrors of the Lord; and the refuges of lies, under which self-deceivers repose, are to be shaken to ruins by the strong arm of truth. Arrows are furnished to pierce the obdurate heart, and gracious invitations to lead the heavy-laden sinner to the Saviour’s feet.

While you are thus made a keeper of the vineyard of others, take heed, I charge you, that your own be not neglected; that you cultivate personal religion, that you be faithful to your own soul. Remember you are set as a light of the world—an example and model for other Christians—a sample of those lively stones of which the temple of God is composed. Be no deceived by supposing that it is easy for a Minister to grow in grace, and to become eminently spiritual, as he surely ought to be. In some respects, it is more difficult to him than to others. His constant familiarity with the truths and duties of religion, expose him, in a very peculiar and distressing degree, to formality and apathy. Make up your mind, to contend against a host of difficulties, dangers and temptations, and that you will need uncommon watchfulness, self-denial, faith, and humility, to guard you against those wiles of the Devil, which will be employed for your destruction.

I charge you to set before the Church and the world a consistent, edifying example.—Present to all around you an attractive pattern of uniform, cheerful piety; of charity, meekness, and diligence. Teach them, practically, that devotion is something to be enjoyed, not to be endured; and that in keeping God’s commandments there is great reward. If you have property, be frugal to yourself, and liberal in relieving distress, and promoting every good work. If you are poor, be contented and cheerful; and thus afford a living commentary upon the text, that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance which he possesseth. If God places you at the head of a family, see to it that it be a truly Christian family, a model to all the vicinity. In ordering and governing your own household, evince your fitness for the Pastoral office; for, says St. Paul, “if a man cannot rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God.” Be temperate in all things. Avoid every appearance of luxury or extravagance in your table, dress or equipage; and see to it that your house be furnished with that decent plainness which becomes a Christian Minister. It seems hardly necessary to caution a Clergyman to abstain entirely from ardent spirits; especially as I know that you never use them. But I do charge you to persevere in that abstinence, at all times, and under all circumstances, and to bear an open decided testimony against the slightest deviation from this only safe rule. The time has come when this is an important item in Christian morals; and a Minister of the Gospel, who uses intoxicating drink himself, or vindicates its use in others, however ably he may preach, preaches in vain. His example hardens men in sin, and gives boldness, and energy to the deadliest foes of God and man. I charge you to be a faithful, fearless advocate for total abstinence, and never give place, no not for an hour, to any of its opposers.

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