The Ideal Minister
DOUBTLESS there are some who feel that a layman is the only person competent to write a paper on The Ideal Minister. There is much to be said in support of that feeling. Clerical opinion is apt to run in grooves and to be satisfied with traditional proprieties. The inertia of clericalism may rob one of power to understand the spiritual needs and cravings of men. Were the Ideal Minister to appear, the people rather than the ecclesiastics might be the first to recognize and to hear him. In a striking passage in The Apostles, Renan says, “Jesus saw with wonderful clearness that in the popular heart is the great treasury of devotion and resignation for the saving of the world.” To this one might add: In the popular heart is the instinct that knows and welcomes the leader of men when he comes. So it is well that the hand of a layman shall set forth the qualities that make a minister whom men will hear, and trust, and follow, as an ambassador of Christ. Every theological school would be the better if it could keep before its students and its teachers a portrait of the Ideal Minister, drawn by the strong, steady hand of a master-layman of the modern world.
There is something to be said on the other side. It is not impossible that he who studies the ministry from the inside, weighing all things in the balance of his own life experience, may judge most adequately of the ideal. For he, after all, is the man of practical knowledge. The layman, in this case, is the theorist. His theorizing is invaluable, yet may be onesided. His experience has been on other lines. The thing that he knows most thoroughly is not the ministry. In any case, a layman rarely trusts a minister’s judgment in matters of business; he calls it academic, having reached his own conclusions in the school of experience. So, sometimes, lay judgments of what the ministry should do and be seem inadequate to one who has explored the profession with his life, who has felt its limitations and its opportunities; who has rejoiced in its privileges, wrestled with its besetting sins, peered through some venerable fallacies inclosing it, measured his own small attainment against its splendid possibilities.
My own opinion is that a minister may be the worst possible interpreter or the best possible interpreter of the ministerial ideal. There is perhaps no human calling which more severely exposes its members to the peril of unreality. They live and move and have their being in an atmosphere charged with potential selfdeceptions: social, intellectual, moral. The effect of bad perspective in the ministry is social self-deception. A narrowing parochialism is one of the causes of bad perspective. Parochial leadership is a most honorable employment, yet there are two ways of doing it. There is such a thing as a narrowing parochialism ; a surrender of great interests to neighborhood contentment and petty forms of jurisdiction, whereby social proportions are confused and large human areas of need and helplessness are obliterated by foreground proprieties of caste or sect. Still further may this social self-deception be promoted by egoistic churchmanship. The power of straightforward outlook on life’s broad facts, and of sympathy with the world’s needs, may be vitiated by too constant use of the ecclesiastical lens. Ecclesiasticism may become a habit of mind, a regrettable shortsightedness. Secure within the citadel of tradition, and from its battlement looking down on a nonconforming world, a man may have a ministerial ideal which, like the spectre of the Brocken, is only an enlarged and shadowy reproduction of himself. Perhaps St. Paul, who counted himself to be “less than the least of all saints,” had this in mind when he wrote: “I say to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.”
The effect of mental seclusion in the ministry is intellectual self-deception. Living too much apart from men, an anchoret of the study, haunted by watchwords of a “school of thought,” strained by mental over-production, a minister may establish a purely subjective, and quite morbid, ideal. Obedient to this ideal, his mode of thinking may grow away from that of his brother men, and his life, wounded by the indifference of others, may shrink into itself, to tread henceforth, with melancholy persistence, the lonely path of an intellectual Ishmaelite.
The effect of erroneous personal standards in the ministry is ethical self-deception. One must look into history to find the source of these erroneous standards. In their present form they are survivals of an age when priesthood, wrapped in garments of reputed sanctity, and absolved from the common toils and cares of men, was a necessary institution, with out which the religious organization of society might not have been possible. Then, the layman paid homage to the priest, as such; and the priest, from the standpoint of a privileged class, looked down upon the layman. Time has brought great changes. I do not say that the old order has been invalidated, but that other credentials for ministry than membership in a priestly caste are foremost in the mind of the modern laity. He who, clinging to the tradition of an earlier age, shields himself or seeks to shield himself from the plain, hard code of righteousness that binds other men, by claiming ministerial privilege, is a self-deceived man; dangerously self-deceived, because his fallacy is ethical. For such a man, drastic dealing with himself is necessary, if he would save his soul alive. From the good-natured tolerance of a half-contemptuous laity; from the soft, beguiling flattery of tongues; from the tightening fetters of self-indulgent habit, let him deliver himself, by violence, if need be, that he may reach the firm ground of untitled, unprivileged manliness, and be counted worthy to suffer, as other men do, for righteousness’ sake.
That a great profession should be surrounded, at certain epochs in its history, by an atmosphere of unreality is no ground for surprise; still less does it justify any word spoken against that profession. It is merely one more evidence of man’s perpetual need of readjustment toward his most invaluable possessions. The world moves ever onward. Into the social order new elements of knowledge and experience enter, producing new states of mind and changed attitudes of opinion. It is idle to resist or bemoan. The duty of strong men is to grapple with problems of reconstruction, as successively they occur, and, by enlightened selection and use of altered forms and modes, to conserve the unalterable substance of precious inheritances. A fair illustration of this is found in connection with the most precious of all our inheritances, the Holy Scriptures. The nineteenth century brought to Christendom intellectual conditions that forced a reconsideration of historical and literary questions. Biblical literature could not, without grave peril to faith, be treated as an exception. For a time there was confusion and unreality in many minds touching the authority of the Bible; there was also much alarm and sorrow. But strong and earnest men guided the work of readjustment, and to-day the divine message of Holy Scripture, like a freshly sharpened knife, pierces with new keenness to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart.
The Christian ministry is perhaps the next in order of our precious inheritances to pass through the process of readjustment. The coming in of an age of democracy has brought new strain to bear on every social institution. Kings, peers, and priests no longer are sheltered by ancestral privilege from public criticism. Liberal pressure in England for reconstruction of the House of Lords, with elimination of bishops; violent repudiation of clericalism by French democracy; academic reform that threatens the grave tranquillity of Oxford, — are signs (for better or for worse, God knows!) of forces, no longer negligible, compelling readjustment of sacred inheritances. It is impossible for the Christian ministry to escape arraignment and cross-examination at the bar of social democracy. It ought not to escape. Those who love it best will pray that, at all cost of sentiment and tradition, the ministerial ideal may so change with changing generations that it shall keep close to contemporary human experience; being not an antiquarian survival, but an immediate and indispensable force in the life of men.
Meanwhile, the process of readjustment is going on in our day, accompanied by phenomena which confuse and alarm many, who do not realize that the time has come for restatement of the ministerial ideal, in terms of modern life.
As I analyze this process of readjustment, in search of some psychological principle which can account for it, I find myself face to face with a matter, the discussion of which I would gladly escape. It is the matter of priesthood as connected with the Christian ministry. No other idea can equal this, for formative power and official authority, in the history of the Christian church. None has contributed more impressively to the growth of reverence in the lay mind of the past. None has lent itself more nobly to the highest forms of religious æstheticism, contempt for which was the cardinal weakness (amidst mighty strength!) of the Puritan reaction. None seems more surely destined to pass away.
I do not here inquire into the source and ground of Christian sacerdotalism; its kinship with imperial and aristocratic theories of society; its alleged excesses; its remoteness from the practice and teaching of Christ. Whatever may be shown by the historian in these particulars, the fact remains that the intrinsic power of priesthood as the ministerial ideal was, and in certain quarters is, impressive. Its appeal to the imagination, its suzerainty over the lay conscience, its power to bind and loose, its opulent reserve of grace to meet deficiencies in the average man, its privileged insight into mysteries, its secure hold on the covenanted mercies of God — these and other attributes of priesthood place it among the primary forces that have shaped the religious history of fifteen centuries.
The psychology of priesthood rewards the closest study and explains its compelling power in ages of faith. Man has two deep-seated social instincts — the instinct of control and the instinct of submission. It is in his nature to lay hold of inferior lives and project upon them the authority of his own. It is equally in his nature to be governed by that which transcends his own experience. These social instincts appear in the life of primitive peoples. The instinct of control is written large over the ancient East.
Every village has its head-man; every bazar its tribute-taking overlord; every valley its hill rajah. In the beaten track of immemorial submission the people plod on, accepting the situation with a salaam or a sigh, as the case may be. It is instinct. Out of this instinct emerges organized society. The powers that be are ordained of God. Submission to authority is the first condition of social order as well as the first instinct of average humanity.
Looking back over Christian history, one can see how these instincts of control and submission reflected themselves in the evolution of the church. At first, and to long as the simplicity of Christ’s example prevailed over men’s memories, they who were set to rule in the church exercised their authority as in no whit above their brethren. One of the greatest of the leaders accounted himself to be “less than the least of all saints.” The end of earthly leadership and authority was simply that all things might be done decently and in order. In the same spirit the laity submitted themselves to every ordinance for the Lord’s sake; esteeming very highly in love them that were over them in the Lord. But, as the church, no longer a little persecuted flock, moved into the sunlight of imperial favor, the ministerial ideal took on new attributes. From precedents set in Judaism and in non-Christian faiths, it assimilated the essence and donned the insignia of priesthood. It esteemed itself to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven, to be the arbiter of conscience, the mediator of destiny, the dispenser of holy mysteries, the vessel of hidden grace.
It is not difficult to understand the absorbing fascination of these ideas, alike for minds sincerely believing themselves to be invested with these powers, and for those sincerely yielding lay homage thereunto. The segregation of a class, for special intimacy with God and authority over man, is an idea in line with instincts of control and submission that flourish in an age of imperialism and public ignorance. If we feel this fascination waning in the present day, it is not so much because men put it from them voluntarily as because the spell of the idea tends to wear off in the atmosphere of democracy and popular education. Its temporary survival in such an atmosphere is due in part to the persistent inertia of custom and in part to emotional self-persuasion and devout refusal to weigh pious theory against fact.
It is erroneous to suppose that the Protestant Reformation was, or was intended to be, the abolition of the priestly idea from the Christian ministry. Radical non-sacerdotalists speak sometimes as if priesthood were a parasitic growth that had climbed upon and twined itself about the tree of the ministry; and as if the Reformation were the axe that cut off that parasite, root and branch. Such a notion is unhistorical. The Reformation did indeed seek to hew off certain excesses and abuses that had developed in the notion of priesthood. But the essence of the idea, which is the enduement of men with power of special intimacy with God and spiritual authority over their brother men, passed with modifications into the reformed churches. Theoretically, it was abandoned by the dissenting sects. Practically, it clung to the ministerial ideal, even in the imagination of many thoroughgoing non-conformists. Presbytery may disavow that the laying on of hands conveys grace in ordination, yet to this day that stately act of symbolism stirs the imagination of many a layman and many a minister with solemn survivals from a vanished past.
For those who are in the priestly office, busied with its routine, buoyed by its agreeable assumptions of power, every motive of self-interest and self-persuasion, to say nothing of the momentum of established custom and hereditary opinion, keeps one committed to the status quo, and veils from one’s eyes the actual state of extra-ecclesiastical thinking, that has passed beyond skepticism into indif ference on the subject of human priests.
As a matter of fact, the decay of faith in the priestly conception of the ministry has been going on for fifty years. It may take fifty years more to consummate it; but the ultimate issue of the process is foreordained under the laws of the human mind. Less and less can men bow down to their brother men believing them to be other than themselves or in any sense special custodians of the mysteries and grace of God. This is not iconoclasm. It is not irreverence. It is in part the postponed reversion of nature to spiritual reality; and, in part, the useful outcome of scientific study in the field of personality.
We make a great mistake, I think, in attributing to irreligion the breaking away from church life of large numbers of intelligent and pure-minded persons. Whatever proportion of this is due to lax morality or to the love of pleasure, there is also much that arises from a vague sense of unreality in the position and claims of the ministry. People have studied the psychology of religious experience; they have looked out more broadly upon the world; they have pondered the phenomena of spiritual life appearing outside of Christian boundaries; they have sought and found communion with God unmediated by sacerdotal permissions and authorities; and their lives have, in consequence, grown away from a ministry hedged about with unnecessary survivals of unverified theory. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as mysticism. It is merely more general to-day than ever before. True mysticism, which rests on belief in immediacy of access to God, has found a powerful ally in true psychology. Moving into a larger freedom of the Spirit, the enlightened religious consciousness slips, with less compunction, ties of ecclesiastical custom that seem no longer essential to reality.
The modern application of scientific scholarship to the Bible and to theology assists the disintegration of priestly conceptions of the ministry. It coöperates with the spirit of social democracy to weaken the formidable attempt of an infallible church to interpret Scripture and impose dogma. It recovers the original liberty of Protestants and exalts the immediacy of the Holy Spirit’s action on the intellect and conscience. It is not intimidated by sacerdotal thunders, nor deterred by ecclesiastical penalty. Rejoicing in the truth, it endures all things for the truth’s sake. Its motto is: Noblesse oblige.
At the same time, it has brought grave unrest to many minds and turned many aside from the way of the ministry. For the time being, it is not the simple thing that once it was, to be a Christian minister. So long as one received without question the modified view of ministerial authority that came over into the reformed churches, and that was in essence priesthood without the name; so long as one rested without inquiry on the ordered system of doctrine approved by one’s ecclesiastical superiors, strong men could go, and did go, into the ministry, upheld by the sense of reality. But both of these grounds of reality are obscured. The rise of democracy has thrown a mist over the claims of priesthood, even in the highly modified forms found in various branches of orthodox Protestantism. The growth of scholarship has drawn into the category of open questions matters long supposed to have been settled. The ministerial ideal, once sharply defined as a mountain peak against the blue, is now, for many persons, hazy and evasive as the same peak seen through wreaths of flying scud. Before this vocation many strong men have stood, pondered, and turned aside, declining to enter a calling that presented aspects of an historic survival rather than a contemporary force making for righteousness. Within this vocation some strong men who entered under the old conditions have been confused by the stir of transitional influences, and, losing faith in a calling that it was too late to abandon, have asked themselves, with sinking heart, “Why am I here?” And the world outside, never slow to barter old institutions for new, detecting the atmosphere of unreality that seemed for the time to cling about this great profession, and seeing the eagerness of average men to read Sunday newspapers and play Sunday golf, has announced the decay of the ministry as a primary ethical influence, superseded by the public press and the new enthusiasm for nature.
The situation thus created challenges the interest of all who are accustomed to look beneath the surface of things in estimating the values of life. In the face of modern science and philosophy he would be accepting a difficult brief who undertook to maintain to-day that priesthood is the ultimate basis of the ministerial idea. Whatever priesthood has done for the world (and I am among those who speak reverently of its power for good), it is to-day a diminishing factor in the world’s affairs. The tremendous force of institutionalism keeps it alive, and may keep it alive for some time to come; but the world grows away from it, as a pious relic of the past. Men of the world treat it with respect so long as it is not aggressive. When it becomes so, they decline to take it seriously. But nothing could be more fallacious than to assume that disintegration of priesthood is decline of the ministry. It is rather the falling away of a provisional and temporary interpretation of the ministry, serviceable in the past, but unsuited to the present. The thing that remains when priesthood passes is the thing that many have noticed as a phenomenon of this age which persistently contradicts the assumption that the ministry is in decadence. Wherever a man arises of such simple excellence that the people dare to trust him, and preaches, without ecclesiastical accent, a Gospel of the Living God that appeals to life, and an interpretation of life that leads men to the Living God — that man never lacks an audience, an influence, and an answer from human souls. The common people hear him gladly. The preoccupied ear of culture is arrested by his words. The blood of high-minded youth leaps beneath his message. The storm-swept heart of sorrow listens and finds peace. What is the meaning of this phenomenon — this hungry response that men give to whosoever, coming in the name of Christ, combines with a just and manly life the power of interpreting God to man and man to himself? It means that, as artificial and provisional conceptions of the ministry dissolve before the searching realism of an age of demo - cracy and an age of science, the ministry itself is justified by the unstudied verdict of human experience. Humanity outgrows its priests but not its prophets. Sacerdotalism is a thing that we can live without, but the seed of God within us creates kinship with the Infinite that answers wherever the voice of a man rings true to the things of God. It is our involuntary sense of relation to life and to the divine source of life that speaks like a harpstring beneath the touch of one having the gift to interpret God and the soul. The true minister is he that has that gift. He is an interpreter — one among a thousand! He may or may not call himself a priest. It matters not. He is a minister, not because he is a priest but because he is a prophet: a man who speaks for God and for his brother man.
The ministerial ideal is, then, the prophetic ideal. As such it has its basis notin an act of ecclesiastical authorization but in a vocation and endowment of the Spirit. This is the call: the prophetic sense of obligation to speak in the name of God, to man, and in the name of man, to God. Order and decency of procedure justify ecclesiastical authorization, but ministers, like poets, are born, not made. They arise, as parts of the essential structure, as modes of the progressive action, of human society; and howsoever many there be of spurious and perverted occupants of the profession, — unblessed of God and rejected of men, — where one arises having the true vocation, the hearts of men answer to his influence, as the viol to the bow.
After much obscurity, brought by disquieting theological and ecclesiastical conditions of late years, thought seems to be moving toward a clearer view of what the ministry is. It is coming to be seen in its relation to humanity rather than in its relation to the church. Hitherto the minister has been too much regarded as the official and creatine of the church. And young men with splendid gifts and glorious aspirations have often halted at that thought, and, suspicious of priesthood, have preferred to cast in their lot with untrammeled humanity. But when the ministry is seen as, first of all, a part of the essential life of humanity, an answer to a yearning need in the soul of the world, a prophet’s voice uttering for men what they have not uttered for themselves, and showing men a glory in God that they have not seen for themselves — then the choice flower of our youth, having the sense of this vocation born within them, shall no longer hesitate; and the prophets of the Highest shall be multiplied.
Deceived by popular indifference to churches and priests, some noble-spirited young men have withheld themselves from the ministry, honestly doubting whether religion is not a waning fire in the modern world, whether the altar of man’s communion with God is not in the way of being thrown aside by ethical reform and social service. The apostles of secularism, by whom these young men have been influenced, have much to answer for. They have confused the issue. No one could blame them for criticising ecclesiastical unrealities and the sophistries of clericalism. But when, deliberately or in unconscious error, they speak against religion and teach our younger men that the world is outgrowing it, they sin against the very Spirit of God, who, viewless as the wind, breathes into every soul that comes into the world. It is well to recall Renan’s passionate protest against secularism. “Religion,” he cries, “is not a popular error. It is a great truth of instinct, half-seen by the people — uttered by the people. Nothing is falser than the dream of certain persons who think to conceive a perfect humanity in conceiving it without religion. We should put it just the other way. A perfect being would be no longer selfish, he would be wholly reli gious. The effect of progress, therefore, will be the expansion of religion, not its destruction or its decay.”
If I have succeeded, in what is thus far written, in extricating the notion of the ministry from some ancient and modern confusions that have fogged it, and in bringing out into the clear that vocation of the interpreter whereby the ministry becomes a necessity for human self-real ization and Godward advance, then, in the rest of this paper, let me try to describe some marks of the Ideal Minister, not of a vanished age, but of to-day. I assume that he is a just and manly man in his character. Without this nothing is possible, of long duration. He may attract for an hour, but “Time, the parent of truth,” shall discover him and cancel him, sooner or later. The false prophet shall reap what he has sown. He shall go to his own place: a nook of obscurity shunned by the great worldheart, that, however often it be deceived by men, still cries out for the Living God.
By what marks would the Ideal Minister be known, were he to appear among us to-day ? Let me name five, that seem, without doubt, to belong to him: Simplicity — unselfishness — humanness — hopefulness — reverence.
1. Simplicity. The mark of the cleric, the pride of institutionalism, shall not be on him. He shall not seem to men to be clothed in a vesture of traditional claims, but quite to have forgotten himself in the joy and sorrow of his work. Those are charming words that Sir William Gairdner wrote about his old friend and colleague, Principal Caird: “No man ever crossed my path in life who impressed me more as a character of great simplicity and, I would almost say, homeliness; absolutely without affectation or parade, and, if not unconscious of his great gifts, — which of course he could not possibly be, — yet in all ordinary human intercourse behaving as if he were unconscious of them — a common man among common men. ... In everything that he did and said you came to feel that if any one else could have done it nearly as well he would at once have gladly stood aside and yielded position as to an equal or superior. ... It was, indeed, this entire absence of self-seeking — and by this I mean not only unselfishness in the ordinary sense of the word, but also great inborn modesty and unobtrusiveness in all things for which men strive and assert themselves — that gave to his oratorical efforts their greatest charm to those who knew the man. He was conscious, as it appeared, only of the high matters with which he dealt, not of the person who was the instrument of dealing with them. In a very real sense of the words you would have said that, as a preacher, his life was ‘ hid with Christ in God.’ ”
I have thought it worth while to quote at length Sir William Gairdner’s words about Caird, for they define most perfectly the quality that clothes, like an atmosphere, every true prophet of the highest things. He may be as another, Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, was: an officer of state, wearing the jewel of a great order—an ecclesiastic, guiding the affairs of an august institution — a scholar, loaded with honors by his University — a courtier, admitted to the close friendship of his sovereign. But these, and all other accidents of earthly dignity, were forgotten by those who talked with him and heard him preach. For evidently these were not the major interests in his life. If he remembered them, he sought not after them to glory in them, nor counted them distinctions separating him from his brother men. “His soul was like a star and dwelt apart,” in regions of the Spirit, where the great realities of experience are things that eye hath not seen nor ear heard. It was his perception of these things that disengaged him from the common vanities and self-seekings of men and left him free for simple intercourse with others. Looking back after thirty years to radiant hours of fellowship with him in the Deanery at Westminster, I know that then I walked with one who walked with God, and I was not afraid, youth and dissenter that I was. His life was too great for pride, too high for churchmanship.
2. Unselfishness. So long as the impersonal tradition of a church lends to its ministry a priestly status, there remains a chance for small and selfish men to hide their littleness beneath the cloak of authority. So long as a romantic ecclesiasticism weaves its spell over devout minds, there exists a tendency to idealize the actual minister into a sacerdotal symbol, and to cease from asking what kind of spirit lives beneath beauty of vestments and dignity of titles. The broad mantle of priesthood is perhaps a merciful concession to the frailty of men undertaking a difficult task. It affords measurable defense against publicity. But the possibility of shielding a man behind his office is passing by, as the glamour of tradition fades into the light of common day. The strenuous realism of a democratic age halts not at the threshold of the House of God. The ancient laying on of hands by the clergy enveloped the minister in a robe of mystery. The modern laying on of hands by the laity tears off that robe and cuts to the heart of things with the question, “ What manner of man is this ? ” The priest stood amid the shadows of the sanctuary. The prophet stands in the open, —a living epistle, known and read of all men. It is a wonderful suggestion of One, who, long ago, stood in the common highway of the world, with the multitude thronging Him, having come not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. Of such temper and motive is the Ideal Minister. Unselfishness is, in him, not the name of the thing, but the thing itself. Obviously, his joy is in the spending of himself for others. Whereupon, when he speaks to men, they listen; when he summons them, they follow; for they know his voice, not the voice of his lips alone, but the voice of his life. Henri Frédéric Amiel put it well: “The Kingdom of God belongs not to the most enlightened but to the best, and the best man is the most unselfish man. Humble, constant, voluntary self-sacrifice — this is what constitutes the true dignity of man.”
3. Humanness. One may call the accent of personality the most subtle essence of a man’s life. It is not so much what one says as the tone and disposition of the heart that speaks beneath the word and invests the being. The accent of personality in the Ideal Minister is humanness, — oneness with his brother men. He is not the defender of a system, nor the apologist of a school, nor the incumbent of an office, nor the propounder of a theory. He is near to human life; nobly magnanimous; understanding the ways of men and the forces that make them what they are. He has respect for humanity, esteeming it the offspring of God. After the manner of One of whom it was said, “He knew what was in man,” the Ideal Minister seems to have tasted every chalice of joy or sorrow, to have felt the faintness of the weak, the courage of the strong, the strain of the tempted, the contrition of the sinful. Men seem to find through him the clue to their own lives. They say one to another, “Come, see a man that told me all that ever I did.” He knows the ways of children, and puts into words incommunicable thoughts throbbing within their souls. This humanness comes not forth from him with the cold precision of a theorist, but through the warm channels of intuitional experience. He has lived a thousand lives in one, assimilating through love the experiences of others so that they have become his own. He is thus a prophet of human life. Such a prophet must Frederick Robertson have been. Such, surely, in the days of his glorious prime, was Stopford Brooke, Robertson’s biographer. I look back to years when it seemed worth while to cross the Atlantic on the chance of hearing one sermon from Stopford Brooke. For, whatever he failed to teach me, he seemed to have lived my life through before me, and to be putting into my hands the clue to the labyrinth.
4. Hopefulness. I use the word in the grand, unconquerable sense in which Emerson, in the New England Reformers, cries, “ Nothing shall warp me from the belief that every man is a lover of truth.” It is a mark of the Ideal Minister that his intuitional oneness with humanity has taught him the majesty of the soul as an emanation from God, and the latent capacity of the soul for truth. He can have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way. Though he looks on sin with Godlike abhorrence, yet, like God, he can believe in a best that lives in the heart of the sinful. He can comprehend how a sold that seems to be an enemy of the truth may, in fact, be opposing some distorted or abandoned travesty of the truth, propounded by an age of superstition or surviving from an age of ignorance. The hopefulness of the Ideal Minister is born in part of appreciation of the nobler qualities of the soul (not less noble if dwarfed and thwarted by long disadvantage), and, in part, of critical discernment of truth’s perpetual need of restatement in terms of contemporary experience. Upton, in his Hibbert Lectures, says, “Herein we see the immense value of the critical understanding, which is always at war with superstitious survivals, and, by its fresher and clearer insight into the facts of nature and mind, is always dissolving old and outworn forms of doctrinal conception and enabling the vital essence of religion to embody itself in higher and more adequate forms of expression.” This conviction of the critical understanding, that truth is forever reincarnating itself in forms more perfectly expressing the purpose and meaning of the Spirit of God, supplies to the Ideal Minister the ground of his invincible hopefulness. His is a love that will not let men go. If they resist the truth he does not condemn them nor cast them off. He examines his own heart with the question, “How can I so lift the truth above their misconceptions of it that they shall see it as it is, and know their inheritance as children of the Living God?” I sometimes think that the Ideal Minister, when he comes, will be drawn by the logic of opportunity to India and the Far East. A field of fields is there, just now, for men of vision, humanness, and hopefulness. It were a task worthy of Christ himself to go to the East believing in the love of truth that lies deep in the Oriental religious consciousness, beneath much practice of error; and so to lift the Eternal Message above age-long misconceptions of it that the imprisoned glory of the Eastern soul might be emancipated and installed in its proper office as the spiritual leader of the world.
5. Reverence. In every great historical transition affecting our most valued inheritances there is danger of loss. The price of progress sometimes is very heavy. It is so in connection with Biblical criticism. Immense gains of knowledge have been paid for with immense losses of sentiment and feeling. Recovery of these losses one hopes for, but the result is problematical. It is so in connection with the ministry. The disintegration of priesthood under the piercing rays of science and democracy dispels an atmosphere that made its own contribution to the dignity and worth of existence. It was the atmosphere of reverence. Whether proceeding from truth or from fallacy, it made for the enriching of experience. It cast over the shrines and sacraments of religion a hush of sacredness. It checked the familiarity that breeds contempt. It redeemed large areas of life from sordid commonplaceness and hedged them about with suggestions of an invisible world. It gave awful authority to the pulpit, silencing doubt, rebuking sin, defining belief. What remains of this is a survival, — a balance of unexpended momentum from a past that cannot be reproduced. The new age has come and seated itself with nonchalance, if not with levity, in the seats of dissent. The loss to reverence has been enormous. The worst part of the loss is that it falls most heavily on those unconscious of it. The majority of our youth know not how much nearer God seemed to the fathers than to their children; how much more august and compelling seemed the services of religion and the voice of the ministry; how urgent the needs and satisfactions of the spiritual life; how open the avenues of eternity. There has been a great change. The leveling influence of democracy has done its part, diminishing traditional veneration for the clerically ordained. The hum of institutional activity has dispelled the ancient stillness of the sanctuary. The brisk utilitarianism of social science has introduced changes in church architecture and sacramental customs that break absolutely with the historic order. An astonishing flood of original methods has poured through the nonsacerdotal churches, producing a homely informality in religious affairs for which there is no precedent in history. It is a dangerous time, for the reverence of the people is in peril.
The key to the situation is in the future, not in the past. We cannot go back and rehabilitate the tottering fabric of priesthood; “We cannot buy with gold the old associations.” We can go forward toward the type of the Ideal Minister. For, to his simplicity, his unselfishness, his humanness, his hopefulness, he adds reverence, which gives to all these other qualities Divine significance and power. The reverence of the Ideal Minister is involunary consciousness of the Unseen and the Eternal. As the touch of genius lifts the master above the mere musician, so this sense of the Unseen lifts the Ideal Minister above the mere preacher of sermons. It is the investiture of a priesthood verified not by tradition but by experience. It is immediacy of access to the eternal fountains of salvation. He lives among men as one of them, simple, unselfish, human, hopeful; yet they know that he walks with God,
Is on his way attended.”
He is a scholar, but criticism has never violated that shrine of the Spirit where the pure in heart see God. The unfading newness of everlasting truth gives to his speech the freshness of springtime. The unsearchable mystery of Infinite Holiness gives to his thought and conduct gravity and reserve, as one who has beheld things which it is not possible for a man to utter. The demands of social service have not stamped him with the professionalism of a reformer. The ardor of churchmanship has not made him an ecclesiastic. He remains a prophet of the Highest. When he speaks, men feel that he is standing on holy ground. When he prays, men perceive that he is prostrating himself before the Risen Christ.
Approximations to the standard of the Ideal Minister are multiplying in these latter days, in the sacerdotal churches and in the non-sacerdotal churches. A type is developing that gives promise of a glorious future. It is familiar with the whole process of criticism, yet finds an apostolic gospel to preach that the spiritual sense of the modern world is waiting to hear. It is in sympathy with social service, yet permits not that, or anything else, to interfere with its first duty as an interpreter and mediator of God to man. It is in line with democratic reality, as between man and man, yet counts its high calling greater, not less, than traditional priesthood. Its supreme ambition is to be a true prophet of the Eternal Love, a faithful dispenser of the Eternal Truth, a redeeming brother, a child of light, a steward of the Kingdom of God.
As the air clears and recent confusions roll like storm-clouds from the sky, the glorious ambition of prophethood shall rise in the breast of youth. The ministry of the coming age shall include the choicest product of our universities. The manliest among men shall choose the highest among vocations.