Thrice happy they who at Thy side,
Thou Child of Nazareth,
Have learnt to give their struggling pride
Into Thy hands to death:
If thus indeed we lay us low,
Thou wilt exalt us o'er the foe;
And let the exaltation be
That we are lost in Thee.
Let me say a little on a subject which, like the last, is one of some delicacy and difficulty, though its problems are of a very different kind. It is, the relation between the Curate and his Incumbent; or more particularly, the Curate's position and conduct with regard to the Incumbent.
A LECTURE ON CURATES.
I need not explain that the legal aspect of this important matter is not in my view. Not long ago I listened, in the library of Ridley Hall, to an instructive lecture, by a diocesan Chancellor, on the law of Curates; one of a series on Church Law delivered under the sanction of the University. The Lecturer informed the audience, certainly he informed me, of many points of practical moment not clearly known to us before. He gave a sketch of the history of the licensed Curate as an institution, and made us aware that he is a modern institution, comparatively speaking. Before the Reformation the numerous host of |chantry-priests| was largely used to supplement the offices of the parochial Clergy. After the Reformation, for a very long while, the pastoral arrangements did not include a special institution of Assistants. Then, as the unhappy system of pluralities grew large and common, such as it was all through the eighteenth century and beyond it, |the Curate| meant not the active assistant of the resident Pastor but the substitute for the non-resident -- the Curate-in-Charge. It was not till well within these last hundred years that men were commonly to be found doing what we now understand so well as Assistant-Curates' work. The presence in the Church of us Assistant-Curates (I hold a licence myself, and am therefore one of the company) is at once an effect and a sign both of the great increase of population and of the concurrent increase throughout the Church of England of the desire for fuller and more laborious ministrations.
A CHANCELLOR'S SUGGESTIONS.
So our able Lecturer led us through our own history; and then he proceeded to instruct us in some main elements of our legal qualifications, and duties, and rights: how to get into a Curacy, and how to get out of it; what are the Bishop's rights over the Curate, and how the Archbishop may interpose if the Curate pleads a grievance against the Bishop. But I trust that this and other Lectures of the same course may see the light some day in a better form than a rough and passing report of mine. My purpose in referring to them now is that I may call attention to one point on which the Lecturer laid no little stress. It was, that it is the wisdom of the Curate, when he has once deliberately accepted a Curacy, to be thoroughly loyal all along; to consider himself as |at the Vicar's beck and call|; to serve him heartily and unreservedly. If tempted to do otherwise, particularly if tempted to complain of the Vicar to the Bishop, let him resist that temptation to the utmost of his power. |There may be sad exceptions, and necessity knows no law; but as a rule,| said my honoured friend, |I may assure you, from a large experience, that the Curate who complains of his Incumbent to his Bishop injures not the Incumbent but himself.|
Our Lecturer avowedly spoke not as a spiritual but as a legal counsellor. I would now take up his words, and from the point of view of the friend and Brother in the Lord say a little to my younger Brethren, engaged or about to be engaged in assistant Curacies, concerning the Christian rightness and Christian wisdom of taking the sort of line which the diocesan Chancellor recommended.
THE IDEAL INCUMBENT.
As I come to the subject, let me say on the threshold that I am sure to be writing for many readers who little need the discourse, at least at present. You are working under a Vicar or a Rector whose example and also whose friendship is one of the greatest blessings of your life. You see in him a man perhaps much older than yourself, perhaps nearly your coeval, but however a leader, who is also, in the Lord Jesus Christ, your brother, and your most considerate while stimulating friend. He consults you, without forgetting his responsibility of ultimate direction. He gladly and fully recognizes and honours your work done under his organization. He has not the slightest wish to come between you and the affections of his parishioners among whom you move. He cultivates, in his busy life, Christian fellowship with you in private; you pray together, and talk together, not only about the parish but about the Lord, and the Word, and your own souls. He lets you find in him, as he is glad to find in you, just a man, a friend, a Christian, with trials and blessings of inner experience on which it is sometimes good to speak to one another; a living soul, companionable and human, while in it Christ dwells by faith. You have experienced with happy uniformity your Incumbent's patience, sympathy, fairness, trustworthiness. You have seen in him one who is himself always at work, always watching for the flock; who does not put on you this duty or that merely because it is irksome to himself, but whose whole purposes are in the cause of God, and who distributes labour in any and every interest but his own.
And perhaps you see this man honoured and loved by all around you, as they too see and know him to be what he is. You move about in the parish, and you are quite sure to hear allusions to the Vicar. And as a rule, perhaps, they are all friendly, all loyal, all grateful. You find yourself, in short, under no appreciable present temptation, being (as of course you are) a true man yourself, to do anything but identify yourself very gladly with him.
YET EVEN HE IS NOT PERFECT.
But then, even in this bright supposed case -- a case of which the Church of England contains hundreds of practical examples, thank God -- appreciable temptations in the other direction, the wrong, unhappy, fatal direction, may very conceivably creep upon you with time. Your admirable Incumbent is all the while a mortal man, and as such, most certainly (he himself above all men knows and owns it), he is not perfect, not quite equal to himself in every way. Perhaps he has come to be not perfect in physical health, and thus he is obliged, to his own grief, to do less in this or that branch of activity than some of his people think he ought to do; and then you are tolerably sure to hear some not very just and generous complaints in the parish. Perhaps domestic sorrow, or domestic straits and care, may have come in to becloud his spirit and to make his energies for a season flag. Perhaps among his many gifts you may find some gift a little lacking; he may be manifestly less strong in the committee, or in the labours of arrangement generally, than in the pulpit or the class; or it may be just the other way. And you, my dear friend, may be (or may think yourself to be) somewhat strong where he is somewhat weak; an opportunity for many subtle temptations. The days and weeks go on; and if you let |the little rift| of criticism widen, and do not continually take it to your Lord to be examined and mended, other feelings -- not born from above -- may steal in between you and this good man, your elder and leader in Christ. Petty dislikes and impatience may rise in your heart about some trifling point of manner, some momentary failure of sympathy, some oblivion of arrangement or engagement due to a sore stress of work, some very small matter of Church order, or Christian dialect; or who can tell what?
GRAVE POSSIBLE TEMPTATIONS TO DISLOYALTY.
But also it is just possible that I am writing for some reader who finds himself in more grave and pressing difficulties than these. My most honoured brethren the Incumbents, if any of them should cast their eyes over these chapters, written by a Curate mainly for Curates, will not blame me for saying that there are cases, sad and sorrowful, where the Curate cannot honestly think with perfect happiness of his leader's work and influence. Perhaps that Incumbent has |run well,| nobly well, but (as it was of old with some primitive saints) something or someone |hindered him.| [Gal. v.7.] Perhaps he has lost first love and zeal, and sunk, he knows not how, into an indolent clericalism, or anticlericalism, of thought and habit. Perhaps he has suffered care, disappointment, parochial conflicts, to sour his spirit, or at least to take his heart away from his people. Perhaps he has felt the sad influence of controversial battles, and the love and richness of the old Gospel has somewhat faded out of his life, and conversation, and sermons; I do not refer to faithful care over distinctive and world-offending truth, but to the controversial spirit, which is altogether another thing. Perhaps he has somewhat lost command over temper; perhaps he has not yet found in our Lord's great fulness the open secret by which He supplies patience to His servants, even when they are sorely vexed by man. And just possibly difficulty between Curate and Vicar threatens to arise from some side-quarter; from those who stand around the Vicar, who inevitably see him often and intimately, who are active and important under-workers in his field, and who may themselves be not quite fully |governed by the Spirit and Word of God.|
BEWARE OF THE GROWTH OF A CURATE'S PARTY.
I have put a good many supposed cases. How much I should rejoice if I could know that not one reader of this page could find any of my |peradventures| the least in point within his experience. But I must emphasize one of them which is hardly a peradventure at all; namely that the Curate is practically certain, sooner or later, to find temptations presented to his loyalty by the conversation of parishioners. There is not one parish in all England where everybody is pleased with the Incumbent; pleased always and about everything. And if the given Vicar or Rector employs a Curate, and if that Curate is you, it will be a moral miracle if you never hear of such discontents. You will hear of them, very probably, in ways which will offer you, however faintly, an opportunity of acting towards your chief a little as Absalom acted towards David when he expressed certain pious wishes that he were made judge in the land in his father's place. [2 Sam. xv.1-6.] I do not for a moment mean that you are, or ever will be, a man of treacherous purposes; the Lord forbid. But if you do not watch, and are not in some measure forewarned, you may easily be betrayed unawares, quite unawares, into speech or into action which will practically be treacherous to the man who is over you in Christ, and so toward Christ's work and cause in the parish where you serve. Do you not know the possibilities to which I refer? Have they not crossed either your own path or that of some Curate-friend of yours? Is there no such thing as an intimacy formed by the Curate in some house where the Incumbent is not liked, and is that intimacy never used by the Curate not for the noblest ends? Is there no weak listening to parochial gossip on the Curate's part? Is there never any allowance by the younger man of a growth around him, in ways which he could stop summarily, if he tried, of a certain unwholesome sort of preference and popularity? Is it not sometimes known that a Curate condescends so low as to concur with criticisms or sarcasms on his chief, or even to volunteer them? Alas for the parish where there is a |Curate's party,| small or more extensive. Happy the parish where no chance is given in that direction by either Incumbent or Curate. Happy the Curate who is so truly loyal and dutiful, it may be even under difficulties, that he makes it quite unmistakable that, if a party is to gather, it must gather around some one else.
HOW TO REPRESS IT.
Some cases happily in point are present to my own mind. I once knew of a parish in which the truly devoted Vicar was, however, not popular; he had sadly felt the weight of depression and disappointment, and this had had a weakening reflex influence on his ministry. He was joined by a Curate, a man in the prime of youth and vigour, well qualified to attract confidence and affection, and particularly gifted as a preacher. Very soon many parishioners showed a preference for the young man's ministrations in public, and for his company in private; it was a golden opportunity for the almost spontaneous formation of a Curate's party. By the grace of God, the young Clergyman was enabled both to see the position at once and, by most decisive and manly speech and act, in the right quarters, to show, without a chance of mistake, that he considered his work as altogether identical with his Vicar's, never to be carried on for an hour outside a faithful subordination. Another instance may be given. Some years ago it was my duty to explain at a meeting the objects and work of the Divinity Hall with which I am connected. Quite incidentally, while describing our course of teaching, I mentioned my earnest desire always to caution my student-friends against giving the slightest encouragement to the rise of Curates' parties.
At the close of the occasion, a Clergyman rose at the back of the parish-room where we met, and said a few words, as gladdening as they were unexpected. He had come to the meeting-place with no knowledge of the meeting; merely to keep an appointment. But he happened to be the Vicar of a large town parish, and there to have had a friend of mine as his Curate; and he told us how this same Curate had come to him at a time when the parish, under circumstances inherited from past years, was ripe and ready for partizanship and division. Nothing would have been needed but the Curate's passive allowance of such tendencies to embarrass and spoil the difficult work of the Vicar. But my dear young friend was |found in Christ|; he knew his Lord's will in the matter, and he strove to do it. By active discouragement he precluded the mischief completely, and thus greatly strengthened his leader's hands for the work of God before him.
|THE LOST GRACE, HUMILITY.|
Surely few Christian men have wider and nobler opportunity than Curates have for the practice of |that lost grace, humility,| in its form of unselfish dutifulness, |good fidelity in all things.| [Tit. ii.10.] My Brethren know the sort of humility I mean; no artificial mannerism, nothing in the least degree unworthy of the |adult in Christ.| What I do mean is that thing so scarce in our days, the noble opposite to that individualistic spirit than which nothing is more narrow, more low, more hostile to all true, genial development and greatness. I mean the generous modesty which delights to recognize the claims of an elder, of a leader; which loves the idea of trustworthy service, taking as its motto a more than princely Ich Dien. I mean the temper of mind which sees the happiness of siding against ourselves, of judging not others but ourselves; the spirit which is much more anxious to vindicate a superior's reputation than our own, more alert to ward criticism off from him than to shield our own head from its arrow. I mean the life which shows that so far from being ashamed of the idea of subjection, the man has learnt at the feet of Jesus to think true service the truest freedom.
Another day, very probably, the Curate will find himself an Incumbent, and will have his own helping brother at his side. It will be a happy thing then for both parties if he has thoroughly learnt that great qualification for command, the experience of obedience; and has cultivated the exercise of sympathy with his subordinate by having first striven in honest loyalty to take his chief's part against himself.
TAKE PART AGAINST YOURSELF.
Few, very few, are the cases where a man who has accepted a Curacy with his eyes reasonably open finds that such is the friction of the position that his first duty is to seek a release. There are such cases, I am afraid. But, I say it again, they are very few; and in every case which looks as if it were one of them, the Curate should first exercise the severest scrutiny upon himself, trying honestly to find, in some magnifying mirror, |the beam in his own eye.| [Matt. vii.3.] And even where such scrutiny still leaves it plain, after consultation not only with sensible friends (if necessary) but of course with the Lord Himself, that it is best to seek a change, let it be remembered that, up to the very last day of connexion, the Curate is still the Curate, bound to all possible loyalty and good faith.
|SUFFER THE WORD.|
It is with some misgivings of feeling that I have dwelt thus at length on difficulties and anxieties incident to the relationship of Curate and Incumbent. But I do not think after all that I shall be misunderstood. In the nature of the case, the bright sides of the matter have hardly needed comment. The Curate who finds himself the favoured and advantaged helper of some true-hearted leader needs little counsel from me, unless it be in face of the fact, on which we have touched, that the noblest leaders in the Lord in the whole English Church are not above parochial criticism, or even parochial slander. But I do know that there are Curates whose circumstances are less favourable; and I long to impress it upon them that few Christians have a larger and more fruitful field than they for the cultivation of some of the crowning graces of the Gospel. It is for them to make no common proof of the power of the Indwelling Lord to subdue the iniquities of His people, to hallow their inmost spirits, to set before their lips the watch and ward of His blessed Presence, to drive utterly away from their pastoral souls the wretched spirit of sarcasm, to enable them for an unselfish faithfulness when no eye but the unseen Master's oversees.
INDEPENDENCE AND LOYALTY.
It is no part of the system of the Church of England, as it is of that of the Church of Rome, to put a man (or a woman) under the |spiritual direction| of a fellow-sinner, who is to be, for the |directed,| the organ and representative of the will of God. For such a method is no part of the apostolic Gospel, which never for a moment bids us surrender conscience into the keeping of another. |Who art thou that judgest Another's servant? To his own Master he standeth or falleth| [Rom. xiv.4.]; words which deeply and decisively contradict the root-ideas of spiritual despotism, for they teach us to think of our fellow-Christians, as if -- for purposes of the conscience -- He who is their Master and ours was, for them, another Master than ours. Yet the ideas of spiritual despotism are only the distortion or parody of ideas which are as true and sacred as the Gospel can make them; the ideas of self-abnegation for the good of others, and of resolute denial of the miserable spirit which prefers self to others and talks about rights when we should be intent on duties. The Christian man, and a fortiori the Minister of Christ, is called (as we have seen in earlier pages) to nothing less than a life in which, while conscience is inviolable, self is surrendered to Christ, in that practical sense of the words which means surrender, for His sake, to others, in all things which concern not right and wrong but our self-will.
I owe this remark to my friend the Rev. H.E. Brooke.
|CLOTHED WITH HUMILITY.|
|Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.| [1 Pet. v.5.] I never forget how the Apostle finishes the passage; |Yea, all of you, be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility,| [Greek: egkoubosasthe ten tapeinophosynen], |tie humility round you| as the servant ties on his apron. Most characteristic of the Bible is the impartiality of the precept, so given; the Elders in the Church of God will not forget it on their side. But nevertheless the stress of the precept bears upon the younger man. He, in the Lord's order, is especially to recollect the sacred duty of a willing, loyal, and open-eyed humility.
A NOBLE SUBORDINATION.
All the instincts of our time are against this. But for the true disciple of Jesus Christ there is something stronger than any spirit of the age; it is the Spirit of God, dwelling in the inmost soul. By that wonderful power the Christian Curate, who walks with the Lord in secret, and finds in Him his way of purity and consistency in the more general aspects of his |walk with others,| will daily be enabled for a bright and glad consistency in the path of ministerial subordination. He will not cease to be a man, who must observe and think; nor will he necessarily hold it his duty never, in all loyalty and respect, to express to his Vicar a differing wish or opinion. But his bias will be against himself, and for his chief, if he indeed lets the Spirit of God lead him, and rule him, and fill him. For the Lord's sake, [Greek: dia tou Kyrion], and by the Lord's power, [Greek: dia tou Kyriou], he will carry the principle of a watchful |submission| not only into greater things, but even into the smaller preferences of his elder and leader, if they in the least degree affect the duties of the parish and the church.
A LETTER ON CURATES' GRIEVANCES.
I close this chapter with a quotation. It is a letter written to the Editor of the Record, in the spring of 1885, after the perusal of a correspondence in that paper in which some |grievances of Evangelical Curates| had been set forth, and in which it had been implied that such grievances might give some sufferers occasion to transfer their sympathies to another |school.|
|After reading the recent correspondence, I cannot forbear a few words expressive of the sad impression left upon my mind. Far be it from me to say that Incumbents have no lessons to learn from this correspondence. All Incumbents who have, by grace, 'the mind that was in Christ Jesus' will surely embrace every suggestion, however painful in form, which can stimulate them to larger manifestations of holy and self-forgetting sympathy, perfectly compatible with the firm attitude (which is also their duty) of responsible direction. But this thought leaves unaltered the mournful impression taken from the tone of the letters of my aggrieved Brethren. In one form or another one thought seemed to breathe in all; -- the thought of my rights, my position, my gifts and opportunities, and what was due from others in regard of them; the complaint that others were not humble, when the Christian's first concern with humility is to derive it for himself from his Lord. Such a spirit is not easily compatible with a true secret hourly walk with God and abiding in Christ, the sine qua non of fruit-bearing. And fruit-bearing is the supreme inner aim of the true pastoral life, fruit-bearing in the devoted doing of the Master's present will.
|In one letter I read with pain that 'it is no marvel' if men who cannot secure justice and happiness in one party should transfer their allegiance to another. Is it indeed 'no marvel'? Is it to be expected, then, in the holy Ministry, that convictions about divine truth should be modified by the personal claims and comfort of the holder, if the word 'hold' may be used without severe irony in such a connexion? Can a saint and servant of God, young or old, Vicar or Curate, walk closely with Him all day, truly given to Him, wholly submissive to His word and will, and yet find it possible to deal with convictions so? What are personal rights and exterior happiness weighed against the claims of what we have really grasped as truth in the presence of the Lord? It is well for us that martyrs and confessors, and their worthy successors, our Evangelical ancestors of a century ago, knew how to answer that question.
CONVICTION SACRED, SELF NOWHERE.
|I aim to speak with all humility and sympathy. But I cannot but thus earnestly express the unalterable conviction that the only ministerial life which can be 'sanctified and meet for the Master's use' is the life in which conviction is sacred, in which Christ is all, and in which self is nowhere.|