MOTHERHOOD OF THE CHURCH,
PREACHED IN ST. MARY'S CHAPEL,
Rev. S. C. PARTRIDGE,
ALL SAINTS’ EVE
PRINTED AT THE “SHANGHAI MERCURY” OFFICE
WHICH things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from Mount Sinai which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and answereth to Jerusalem which now is and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.—St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians iv. 24, 25, 26.
"Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long
in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."—Exodus xx, 12.
The Ten Commandments are commonly divided into two sections known as the Two Tables of the Law. The first half contains our duty to God, the second half our duty to our fellowman. They were summed up once and forever by our blessed Lord Himself when He said that on the Two Commandments of love to God and love to Man hung all the law and the prophets. The commandments are capable of another division according to their subject matter, namely, into temporary and permanent, or we may say into civil and ecclesiastical; one part remaining the same for all time, the other changing to meet the needs of the Church in history. The first commandment, for instance: "Thou shall have none other God but me," remains the same in all ages, but the fourth commandment changes; the obligation to keep the Jewish Sabbath has passed away, for the Christian Sunday has come in to supersede it. And here is the great error and inconsistency of Puritanism. It recognizes with the Church the eternal obligation to observe stated days of rest and worship, but confines these to the civil code of Judaism and refuses to see that they have been replaced by something higher. The man who today keeps the fourth commandment in spirit and in truth is the man who observes the Church's stated days and seasons of rest and worship, and not the man who turns the joyful day of the Resurrection into a cold and cheerless Jewish Sabbath.
 The position of the Fifth Commandment is peculiar and interesting; it stands mid-way between the two tables of the law and is the bridge from one to the other, or rather the hinge upon which they mutually turn. In it we see the two divisions above-mentioned, there is first the temporary and civil application to the Land of Canaan and to the long life which was literally to be granted to the faithful Israelites, and secondly, there is the eternal obligation of reverence, respect and obedience to father and mother and also to elders, superiors and masters. But above and beyond all this there is a higher and a fuller meaning—a relation to the Deity and to fellow-man through God and in God. It is of this that I desire briefly to speak. "Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." Let us pause for a moment and look around about us and ask our Christian friends what these words mean. We shall find on the one hand the old literal Protestant interpretation still lingering here and there. This said "Obey your father and mother and you will live to a green old age," but as a matter of fact a great many of the good and obedient little children died young and perished like the flowers. So, little by little, this fond old idea has been given up and been replaced on the other hand by what we may call the modern Sunday school interpretation, which, echoing the pious cant of the day, says: "Obey your father and your mother and be a good little boy and when you die you will go to heaven." Which statement in addition to being theologically incorrect (for good people when they die go to Paradise and not to Heaven) is very unsatisfactory and indefinite; but it sounds well, and nobody denies it, not even the heathen, who teach very much the same thing, and so it finds wide-spread popularity.
To one who gives himself the trouble of a little devotional meditation upon the subject, however, there will be manifested glimpses of a higher meaning which Protestantism has largely missed sight of, namely:—An obedience to God first and then to parents in God; or the parental element in religion, manifested in [4/5] both paternal and maternal relations.
Now, Dearly Beloved, what is there that fills this aching of the human heart for the motherly element in religion? You had the answer given from this pulpit a few short weeks ago, when the preacher, speaking to you of the life of one of the early saints, said that the Holy Catholic Church was the Mother of us all. Let us dwell for a moment or two, then, on this topic of the motherhood of the Church.
And (I) Let us lay down the proposition that God is One. Always and everywhere His laws are the same, in the spiritual world as in the physical, in the realm of nature as in the realm of grace. Bishop Butler in his immortal work showed for ever the analogy between things natural and things revealed. We have implanted in us by our Creator in our physical nature the parental instinct in its two divisions of love for the father and love for the mother, and we have exactly the same instincts and longings and desires in our religious nature, and you can no more change or quench the one than you can the other. You may argue and reason and debate and philosophize over it for ever—it remains there as a stubborn fact and refuses to move a single hair's breadth. Communists and Socialists in all ages have devised their satanic plans and schemes against it, but all in vain. Whether it be that the mother should give up her child without a murmur to the state, or that she should rear others in common with it, the answer has always been the same. The mother clasps the child to her bosom and says: "It is mine and you shall not tear it from me." You may read that answer all through the pages of history, from the Roman mother flinging herself from the battlement of the city with the babe in her arms, to the English mother at Lucknow falling with her child by her side beneath the sword of the merciless sepoy.—And the converse is exactly the same, the child loves the mother with the selfsame mysterious love. When you can crush out that love of the infant for the mother who bare it, and nourished it, and cared for it, then and not till then can you [5/6] crush out of the child of God the maternal instinct in religion. The human heart in its weakness demands a revelation from Almighty God to fill this want. It demands, I say, a condescension on His part that shall gratify this innate longing in the human soul for the parental relation of fatherhood and motherhood. We may deny it, we may beat it back, we may try our best to stifle it, but the reaction goes steadily on until, like the ivy crushed beneath the great block of stone, it lifts even the weight that oppresses it, and seeks the freedom of the sunlight and the air.
Are we left without this, Dearly Beloved? Has our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, a Being all mercy and love and condescension, has He planted a longing like this in our hearts, and then refused to gratify it? No! No! Banish the terrible thought!
She who received us into her loving arms at baptism and watches over and protects us now, the Holy, Catholic Church; SHE, SHE is the Mother of us all. O wonderful love! Adorable mystery! the mystery of Christ and his Church! By her we are born again, she cares for us and nourishes us through all our infancy and childhood, she, when we are old enough to bear it, feeds us with the very Bread of Life itself; she is with us in every scene of joy and sorrow, giving her benediction to the marriage feast and soothing our pillow upon the bed of sickness and pain, and, blessed truth, at death, she does not leave us, but with the same loving watchful care that the earthly mother lays its little one to rest and speaks to it the words of peace, so does our heavenly Mother lay her children to sleep in holy and consecrated ground, speaking over us the words of everlasting peace and faith and love. Watching over us until the morning breaks, she then leads us on from the portals of the heavenly mansions to the great banquet hall beyond, bidding the pearly gates swing open before us, and ushering us into the presence of the King in His glory!
The Church of Rome long since recognized this principle, and has acted upon it with the success which we too well know; and just as long as Protestant Christianity refuses to recognize this principle, [6/7] just as long as she refuses to gratify this longing in the human heart, just so long is Rome going to triumph over her. The principle is a true one, the basis of fact is there, but the superstructure is false. Mariolatry owes its success to the fact that the idea of the motherhood of the Church has so largely been lost sight of since the days of the Reformation. I shall never forget a sermon which I once heard preached by a Romish priest in the saloon of an Atlantic steamer. It was the Feast of St. Mary, the Star of the Sea. We had listened to a long sermon in the morning on "What think ye of Christ?"—an eloquent discourse by a Protestant divine—and one that left a very good and deep impression, but if you ask me which of the two touched the tenderest springs in the human heart, I answer, the former. And why? Because he knew the depth of the longing for just the teaching which he was prepared to give. He spoke of the loving care and solicitude of St. Mary for all those upon the sea, comparing her to that beautiful evening star by which we were tracking our path across the ocean; and he struck a responsive chord in the hearts of his congregation. You may see the same principle illustrated by the great golden figure of Notre Dame de la Garde, which towers high above the harbor of Marseilles, giving her motherly care and protection to the sailor departing on his voyage and welcoming him home again at his journey's end. Now we do not wish to repeat that mistake, we have no desire to substitute the worship of the blessed Virgin for that which is so far above it and beyond it; but the time has come for us to recognize a hard and patent fact and to act upon it in what we believe to be the divinely appointed way. We must build upon the proper structure and teach the world that not the Virgin Mary, but the Holy Catholic Church of Christ is the Mother of every child of God. This is our glorious privilege and duty. May God help us, one and all to be faithful to it! And here is just where Protestantism fails; fails because it is only a half-development. Sad indeed is the spectacle of a large portion of the so-called Christian world teaching only half the truth, [7/8] enlarging continually upon the fatherhood of God, and neglecting entirely the motherhood of God in the Church. And so it gradually goes lower and lower until finally you get to Unitarianism which is the only consistent system for making half-orphans in religion. And that is just why you can calmly predict its ultimate failure, and there is nothing unkind or uncharitable in so doing; it is simply a question of scientific accuracy. Any man who brings forward a scheme which contradicts one or more of the fundamental laws of the universe simply dashes against "reason's flaming walls" and supports a dying cause. He is not one whit less a fool because his folly is cloaked under the garb of religion. Any system, however noble, however pure and lofty, however philanthropic, that teaches the fatherhood of God and omits the relationship of motherhood in the Church must eventually go to pieces; and why? For the same reason that every scheme to reconstruct human society and crush out the element of parental love goes to pieces.—It is the house divided against itself, and the house divided against itself must fall!
Why do we love our Church? Is it merely on account of her beautiful architecture, and all the accompaniments of her majestic ritual? Is it the fretted aisle, the stained-glass window, the solemn music, the matchless liturgy alone that bind us to her, with a love which to so many outside her fold is almost incomprehensible? Ah no! Ask the youth, ask the middle-aged man why he loves that saintly woman by his side, and he will tell you it is because she loved him and cared for him when a child. And he may go through the long catalogue of all that she has done for him, but if he is a true man he will stop and say: "Well, Sir, after all I love her—because—well because she is my mother, Sir!" Ah! that is it. When he has said that one word "mother" he has nothing more to add. And that, dearly beloved, is the answer which every true churchman should give when asked why he loves the Church.
Why do we not leave her for others? Others may change, [8/9] but we cannot. The Methodist may become a Baptist, and the Baptist a Presbyterian; but the child of the Church cannot become either. Why? Because She is Our Mother, and the child cannot and will not leave its mother to go to an aunt or uncle or cousin or any relative or friend whatever.
The charge is often brought against us that we are proselyters? Why is this? It is not that we consider ourselves holier than others, God forbid; here we are often misjudged. It is simply because of our love for our holy Mother that we try to bring others to her. The story is told very touchingly in a modern book of a traveller and a sailor meeting on a vessel, and one noticing in the other a resemblance to his mother. The likeness was so striking that he spoke to him of it, and on comparing notes and dates they found that they were brothers. The elder for twenty years had followed the sea, not knowing that he had a parent or relative on earth, for he had been saved from a wreck when an infant and separated from all his kin. Oh! the joy and the gladness that came to him when he first heard the news that his mother was yet alive, and, mother-like, she had never given up the hope of yet seeing him before she died! So he returned to his old home; even as a child this rough, weather-beaten seaman knelt by his mother's side to receive her blessing and to be welcomed back to his father's house. It is the experience of the Church in our day over and over again. Many who have never known their Mother have found her at last, and sought shelter and peace within her loving arms. Many others who parted angrily from her in childhood have come back in later years to receive her motherly forgiveness.
Oh the love of the Church for her children, always ready to forgive, never losing her interest, never for a moment relaxing her care, and—most blessed thought of all—never forsaking them. We show this longing in other things in life, we speak of the "Mother country," but many of us are far away from the dear land of our birth. We love the institution that gave us our [9/10] training, we sing. "Alma mater floreat, quae nos educavit," but the day comes when we must leave and forsake her. Shall the day come too when we must leave the Church? NEVER! In the uttermost corner of the earth, in Paradise, in the new Jerusalem we are with her, with Christ, with God, for ever!
This is the eve of All Saints Day, the last great feast in the Christian Year, the day of days when our dear Mother welcomes us all again to her loving arms. Yes! All are one. The goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs, the saintly men and women of every age and name, those whom we have known and loved and who are now in the joys of Paradise, those whom we have left in lands beyond the sea, all are one to-morrow. Let us then join our songs and prayers with theirs. Let us so honor our Father and our Mother that with them our days may be long in the land which the Lord our God shall give us (even) in the New Jerusalem for ever.