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THE SOLEMN CHARGE OF ST. PAUL TO THE
ELDERS OF THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS,

ILLUSTRATED.

A Sermon
Preached in St. James' Church, at Philadelphia, before the General Convention of the

Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States :
BY THE RIGHT REV. JOHN CROES, D. D.

BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF NEW JERSEY.

Acts xx. 28._" Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock' over the rohich the

Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his oron blood.

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This injunction is a part of that solemn and affecting charge, which the Apostle Paul, in his episcopal capacity, gave to the elders of the Church at Ephesus, a city of Asia Minor. The charge itself was delivered at Miletus, to which city, the apostle had summoned the elders, when on his way from Macedonia to Jerusalem. The introductory part of it was admirably calculated to conciliate their regard; and prepare their minds for a ready reception of the injunction that followed. It consists of an appeal to them, in proof of the trials, privations, and dangers, which he underwent; and the disinterestedness, self-denial, zeal, diligence, and fidelity, which he manifested, in preaching and inculcating the great doctrines of repentance toward Gob, and faith toward the LORD JESUS CHRIST: also of his determination to persevere in the same course; and his willingness to suffer all the imprisonment, and other afflictions, which, through the mo

* This Right Reverend Prelate was consecrated in St. Peter's Church, in the city of Philadelphia, on Sunday, November 19, 1815, by the Right Reverend Bishop White, of Pennsylvania : the Right Reverend Bishop Hobart, of New York, and the Right Reverend Bishop Kemp, of Maryland, being present and assisting.

Vol. II.--20

nitions of the HOLY SPIRIT, he foresaw, continually awaited him in every city. None of these things, said this faithful, this devoted servant of God, move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.

Having thus prepared the hearts of his auditors, he introduced the text, which strictly speaking, is itself the charge; for whatever, of that nature, occurs in the succeeding part of the chapter, may all be comprised in this comprehensive verse. Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

The charge may be considered as consisting of three parts, careful attention to themselves; the same attention to the flock over which they had been placed; and the high obligations to such care, arising both from the divine nature of the Being, by whom they had thus been constituted overseers of that flock; and the immense value of the price which had been given for it, the blood of the Son of God.

These subjects will be discussed, in the order in which they stand.

In the exhortatory phrase, Take heed to yourselves, which is first to be considered, the apostle evidently intended to urge upon the elders addressed, the exercise of the greatest attention and care both with respect to the reality, the correctness, and the purity of their religious principles and affections ; and also with respect to the propriety of their conduct in their intercourse with the world.

The first of these is indispensable, as well to private Christians, as to those who hold the sacred and highly responsible office of ministers of CHRIST, and stewards of the mysteries of God. *

Without such vigilance and care, with respect to their thoughts and feelings; without, indeed, daily application to the throne of grace,t for divine help to enable them to hold the truth, as it is in JESUS ;t and to enjoy those affections, and possess those graces, which are the fruits of the Spirit; neither the minister of the Gospel, nor the private Christian, can long preserve his adoption, as a son of God. The consequence to both, as it respects their eternal state, will be the forfeiture of their salvation. But to the former there must be superadded, not only the guilt of violating his ordination vows, but also the inability thus produced, of regulating his life by the precepts of Christ; and consequently of rendering his ministry efficient and successful. No man, especially a clergyman, who is uninfluenced by religious principles, by a living faith, and is destitute of those holy affections, which, under divine grace, such principles are calculated to excite and cherish ; however well he may, for a time, put on the semblance of a pious and virtuous life, can long continue to exercise that care and vigilance, relative to his conduct, which are necessary to conceal from the world the unsoundness of his pretensions, and his frequent deviations from the purity of the Christian precepts. The consequences of this--in the case of a clergyman-on the religious and moral condition of his flock, cannot fail to be highly injurious.

• 1 Cor. iv. I.

1 Heb. iv. 16.

: Eph. Iv. 2.

But, though the absence of a lively sense of religion, in the heart, will, sooner or later, inevitably be accompanied with a defective regard to religious and moral duties; the conclusion must not be drawn, that internal piety, unattended with care and watchfulness as to our conduct in life, will necessarily render that conduct, in all respects, conformable to the divine will. If such were the fact, the directions and injunctions to the practice of moral duties, in cases which presuppose the existence of a genuine faith, and a heart renovated by the Holy Spirit, would have been entirely unnecessary. As it regards the ministry, where would have been the necessity of our Lord's direction to his disciples ; Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.* 'Where the necessity of St. Paul's exhortations to Timothy, Thou, O man of God, flee these things,-viz. envy, strife, covetousness, &c.and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.f Flee youthful lusts; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace. We must therefore believe, that the apostle, in the injunction, Take heed to yourselves, intended that the elders or presbyters of the Church at Ephesus, should pay a due regard as well to the piety, purity, and benevolence of their conduct, as of their hearts.

.

Matt. v, 16.

+ 1 Tim. vi. II.

* 2 Tim. ii. 22.

In what purity and uprightness of life, as applicable to all the orders of the ministry, chiefly consist, the apostle has stated, in his epistles to Timothy and Titus. They should, said he, be blameless, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, not to wine, no strikers, not covetous, or greedy of filthy lucre, not brawlers, not selfwilled, not soon angry, but just, holy, temperate, gentle and patient ; judicious rulers of their own houses, persons, who sustain good characters, especially among those, who are without,* or do not belong to the household of faith, and who, in all things, shew themselves patterns of good works.I

But something more was implied, in this injunction, than the care and cultivation of religion in their own hearts and lives. As ambassadors of their Lord and Master to his rebellious creatures; as instructers to those, who manifested a disposition to return to their allegiance and duty, or had already accepted of the offers of pardon and grace; and as governors of that body, composed of

; these penitent and reconciled offenders, which is, by way of eminence, termed the Church ; no doubt can exist, that knowledge of the doctrines and precepts of the religion of which they were ministers, aptness to teach, and wisdom to govern, were qualities also required in them, as well by reason as Scripture.

As to care, in the acquisition of the knowledge of divine truths, and of the learning ordinarily requisite for that purpose ; although, from the circumstance that the miraculous gift of tongues, and other extraordinary endowments of the HOLY SPIRIT, still continued in the Church, it might be supposed not to come within the scope of the injunction to those primitive elders, To take heed to themselves; yet if we refer to the cases, in which the apostles urge the acquisition of them, upon those whom they constituted their fellow laborers, and successors in the ministry; it can hardly be doubted, that such was the case. Beside; though it is true, that many doctrines, relating to the mysteries of redemption, which the apostles were not capable of bearing till after the resurrection and ascension of our Savior, were, according to his promise, communicated to them by the Holy SPIRIT; yet it does not appear that this privilege was conferred upon others. That such was not the case—indeed, on the contrary, that other ministers were to obtain their knowledge of the Christian doctrines through the medium of the apostles, will plainly appear, by a reference to the passages, above mentioned, in which the duty and the manner of acquiring it, are inculcated and taught. The things, said St. Paul to Timothy, that thou hast heard of me, among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. * Give attendance to reading, to doctrine, said he to the same beloved youth, meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and to the doctrine ; continue in them.t

. See 1 Tim. iii. and Tit. i.

| Gal. vi. 10.

Tit. ii. &

A competent knowledge of the doctrines and precepts of our holy religion, is indeed indispensable to those, whose office it is to promulgate and explain them; and, with whatever facility this knowledge was originally obtained, it now requires considerable learning and laborious study, to become so well acquainted with them, as to qualify men for that sacred and responsible station.

But to knowledge must be added aptness to teach, as it is termed by St. Paul. This is a quality also, in a considerable degree, necessary to a steward of the mysteries of God. It has generally its origin in nature ; but it must be much cultivated, by study, by the acquisition of literature, and especially, by prayer for the divine blessing upon the exercise of it; before the possessor can be approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth ;; and be able also, by sound doctrine, to convince the gainsayers.||

Wisdom in the government of the Church, is another property requisite in the ministerial character. To be wise as serpents, at the same time, as harmless as doves, was the instruction, which our blessed Lord gave to his disciples, when he first sent

• 2 Tim, ii. 2.
$ ? Tim, ii. 15.

t I Tim. iv. 13, 15, 16.
I Tit. i. 9.

11 Tim.iij. 2.
# Mat. x. 16.

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