With very great reluctance I have yielded to the persuasions alluded to in the title page, to put forth into wider circulation that which was written only for my own congregation. The assurances I have received that many perplexed and distressed minds have been already quieted and comforted by my words, and the hourly experience which I have of the disturbed and harassed state of the most right-minded amongst the members of the Church of England, must be my apology with such as think I am unnecessarily intruding into public notice matters strictly personal. For myself I ask nothing even from the most prejudiced: but for the Church of England, her Liturgy, and doctrines; her ministry of the word and sacraments; her truth and order; I claim from all her dutiful sons and daughters the reverence and confidence, the love and support, which in a time of trial and distress like this, she deserves and requires. "For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do thee good."
A tone of peculiar affectionateness runs through this epistle of the great Apostle of the Gentiles,--his thankfulness and assurance of his special intercession on their behalf; his glad remembrance of their conversion from idolatry to the service of "the living and true God"; his mention of his own sufferings in connexion with his mission to them; his record of his own and his brethren's singleness of heart and purpose in their labours amongst them; the mention of his own fatherly care, and anxieties, and longing concerning them, as so tenderly, touchingly expressed in chapters ii and iii; their sorrows under bereavement, and of his sympathy with them; his careful removal of difficulties on this and other points about which they were perplexed:-these are the main subjects upon which he speaks with more strong personal feelings, than even, with all his warmth of heart, he usually manifests. It may be, he wrote amidst present troubles of his own--amidst some more marked display of Jewish malice; or during some inconsistency and unsteadfastness amongst the converts of Athens or Corinth, whence he wrote; and that he turned to these of his flock at Thessalonica, for that comfort which the consciousness of their faithfulness and love would so naturally afford him under his trials. He had heard too of their trials, and had sent Timothy to them "to know their faith," and to "stablish them," lest (as he says) "by any means the tempter had tempted" them; and speaks of the comfort he and his fellow-labourers had received by hearing of their faith and firmness.
There is so much, I say, of this personal matter in this epistle, that it may surely be taken as a precedent to excuse those occasions which sometimes arise, when they whose office it is at this day to labour amongst you, and to admonish you, address their flock on subjects of some closer and more particularly personal interest.
It is much after the manner of St Paul to the Thessalonians, that it is in my heart to speak to you, my "brethren beloved," at this time,--a time surely both to you and me of trouble and perplexity.
When they who lately walked with us in the house of God as friends, waited at our altars, ministered in the Word and Sacraments in their holy office of priesthood, contending for the same truth, partaking of the same fountains of grace with us, bound to us by all the holy ties of Christian fellowship, standing among us or kneeling beside us as brethren in everything that makes us brethren, in the faith and defence of the same pure gospel of Christ,--when, I say, such as these, who for zeal and learning and piety were well and justly accounted of by us, have, by a violent effort of their own wills, torn themselves from us, renounced both us and all that as Christians we hold dear; prepared to rise up against us perhaps as foes and rivals; casting off their office of priesthood as not of God's calling; accounting the sacraments whereof they have been partaking, as, in our hands, worthless and empty signs; receiving as truth what we have been ever taught by God's Word to believe is error; giving themselves to a spiritual dominion which we know is unlawful; worshipping God after a manner which holy Scripture not only does not sanction, but rather most plainly condemns; forswearing us in every thing of Christian fellowship, as outcast and heretical; recanting every vow and obligation they have undertaken, every trust to which they had given themselves in our sight;--when we speak of fear and trouble, "is there not a cause?" Is it nothing to be wounded thus "in the house of our friends?" Is it nothing that they who have eaten bread with us have lifted up their heel against us? Is it nothing to have the nearest ties and sweetest intercourse of friendship broken up; that we must make ourselves strange to those whom we have loved as our own souls, and that, because they have come to deny what we (and once they with us) have believed, and do believe; and to receive as true what we dare not for the truth's sake but deny? Truly we now know by the saddest experience, the force of that prophetic saying of our blessed Lord, "I come not to send peace on earth, but a sword;" and that sword of division, wielded by "the unruly wills and affections of sinful men," has of a truth pierced some of us also with bitterest anguish.
We are sorrowful for what we believe to be the terrible loss to those who have left us; we are indignant for what we cannot but in some respects (even with all charity) esteem an act of betrayal and unfaithfulness. We are perplexed and distressed on every side. Scandals to the weak; scoffs from the profane; triumph from the hostile; doubts and misgivings from the unstable, are all about us. "Without are fightings, within are fears;" our good is evil spoken of; our name is a reproach.
And now, brethren, I turn to you, somewhat in the same mind in which St Paul addressed his Thessalonian converts;--to you, on whose behalf I have "been allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel," to you "who are witnesses, and God also, how, according to mine office, I have in time past exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory." To you, I say, I turn, that while remembering and taking comfort in "your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ," I may, God helping me, "establish and comfort you concerning your faith," that ye may not be moved by these afflictions; lest by some means the tempter should tempt you, and our labour be in vain. In my own sorrows, and trial, and perplexity, I think of yours, and speak to you out of the abundance of my own heart.
Here, then, in our text are words which seem to meet our present want. We may be under the present evil sorrowful or indignant; but we must rise from our sorrow, and cast aside our indignation. We must stand up and "see what God shall say" concerning us. We must go as they used to do in Israel of old, in the hour of trouble, and day of rebuke, and "inquire of the Lord." We exhort you then, brethren, in His name, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from every appearance of evil."
The first of these exhortations seems exactly to meet that perplexity of mind into which, at a time like the present, even the best and the strongest, as well as the weakest and most unstable, may be apt to fall-"Prove all things"- let error direct you to truth; let failures of individual men amongst us make you more intent upon the good and the right way. And first of all I would say, with respect to this error and failure which is now troubling our Israel, that, however highly any might account of those who have erred, for either learning or blamelessness of life, we must ever bear in mind the TRUTH itself does not depend for its being truth upon the worthiness or unworthiness of those who hold it. Holy David's Psalms and Prophecies, zeal for God, and fulness of faith, have none the less worth because in an evil hour he "went wrong." Solomon's teaching by Proverbs, and other fruits of his inspired wisdom, lose none of their weight because in his old age he fell into idolatry. Indeed God has, it would seem, prepared us by such instances as these for the discouragement and trial of faith, which the failure of those whom we most trust must be apt to produce. Is it not written--"Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm?"--and why? because "the heart of man is deceitful above all things." Prove then their error. They have "put darkness for light, and light for darkness." That truth which once they defended they have given up; that error which once they joined us in rejecting they have accepted. They have not thereby changed the truth itself, nor lessened the falsehood of error. "The Word of the Lord endureth for ever," and that "Word which by the Gospel" they once "preached," cannot be turned aside by any of the misgivings or strayings of their own minds. We are not to be "moved or shaken in mind" by that they have done. "We have not followed cunningly devised fables;" "we know in whom we have believed;" our holy faith is not to be tried by the unfaithfulness, or inconsistency, or unstable course of two individuals. We still have our Bibles, our creeds, our sacraments and Liturgy, and wholesome order of divine service; we have still the same regular course of Christian duty to run. These are our safeguards; these witness unceasingly against the errors which those persons have embraced; these offer the most effectual and continual protest against whatever claim of an usurping authority, whatever false teaching or corrupt usage may arise against us. And it is because they have left these that they have left the truth. They have reaped according to that they sowed; they sought truth, in the face of warnings long since given, and in one of the instances at the risk of partial estrangement from friends, from the unlawful sources of Romish literature, and they became wise in error. Under the plea of seeking fuller means of holiness that our own Church provided, they sought devotional helps amongst books of the same kind. And thus they were ensnared into familiarity with, and at last into the approval of and preference for, the unscriptural falsities of the worship of Rome. From reverence for the widely-extended empire and wonderful resource of the Papal See, they rose to submission to it. From wonder, which no truly believing mind should feel, at the divisions in the rest of the Christian Church, and ignorant of the disunion and divisions actually, though more covertly, existing in the Church of Rome, they rose, or rather let us say fell, to seeking a false, and hollow, and unpromised unity in the communion. Thus may be traced now, by those who have had opportunity of watching their course, their gradual progress downward from the "simplicity of Christ." Let it not be said that it is through the doctrine, or through any rigid conformity to the ritual of our own Church of England, that they have come to their sad end; let it not be said that she whose post of service in the world seems to have been, not within the last 300 years only since the Reformation, but 1300 years back also, particularly that of defending the faith and the people of Christ against the aggressions of the Papal power, has now delivered them over to that power. When the first Roman missionaries, sent by Gregory the Great, arrived in England (Under Augustine, AD 597), the British Bishops asserted their independency, and protested against the claims of usurping Rome: and that same office which our Church then exercised continues to this hour. "Her foundations" are on those "Holy Hills" of Divine grace and truth, which cannot be moved. She is built, and every hour she lives she proves she is built, upon that foundation of the apostles and prophets, whereof Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, and which was laid on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. She preaches that message of "repentance towards God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ," which, "beginning at Jerusalem," has since gone out into all the world. She claims to be compared with God's Word, by providing in her daily lessons for the continual searching of the Scriptures. She rejects all things as articles of faith which "are not contained in the Holy Scriptures, nor can be proved thereby." It seems specially her office to preserve the truth equally against those who would add to it and those who would take from it.
"Prove all things," brethren. Prove the very nature of the error we are sorrowing for, and observe, I beseech you, what is the grievous moral fault of unfaithfulness in which it had its beginning. Prove by it, also, what is the truth with reference to that error: that you have it each in your own keeping, in the careful and prayerful use of your Bibles, in the frequency of your private devotions, in the devout use of all the ordinances of the Church;--in the careful abstaining from all sources of instruction, from all helps to devotion, which our own Church does not sanction. "Prove your ownselves whether ye be in the faith." "Behold how great a fire a little matter kindleth." Observe how one little false step in doctrine, as in practice, leads on to others, until at last there comes some grievous fall. Cleave to the truth more eagerly; do not heed the doubts and assaults which the wicked and profane are ever ready to force upon you. Do not be drawn into controversy, in which it is often easy, through want of learning or weakness of advocacy, to be overcome, and needs more than common skill and quickness to get a victory. Do not let the jeers and scoffs of those who would now triumph in this time of our trouble shake you from your confidence, or terrify you from your steadfastness. We have the promise of such trials as the present--of false brethren within, as well as assailants from without. "To keep the faith," "to hold the truth," and to contend for it, would not be so spoken of as it is in the Bible as depending upon the earnestness and faithfulness of Christians, if it were not a matter of difficulty. This we must do, then, amidst all gainsayers.
And here we come to that other exhortation--"Hold fast that which is good." Having proved all things-the error of the erring, the truth wherein ye stand, and your ownselves- "hold fast that which is good," least any pervert you, by their word or example; lest ye yourselves pervert it, by any false step or act of presumption of your own; lest God take it from you. The last is the greatest subject for fear; for it seems commonly as if the members of our Church thought they had nothing to hold fast, and every thing to give up, as if there were no words of truth, no definite form of doctrine, no order of Divine worship, no regularly authorised ministry, no sacraments, no discipline; and so it is that every opponent gains some advantage over us. Those who boast of unity, scoff at our divisions; those who depart from us on the other side, at all times gain a ready hearing against us; and thus it is that the weak, and unstable, and unwary are led astray, some to one, some to another form of error. "Shall I not visit for these things?" said the Lord to his people of old, in some such time as this. Shall He not "cut us short," and bring us low, and in time take from us even that which we have, or seem to have, of truth and the means of holiness?
Hold fast, therefore, I say, brethren, that which is good; and let not your good be evil spoken of by your own misuse or neglect of it. Believe me, bethren, the lifelessness that is in us, the indifference to our own doctrines and privileges, the liberality with which first one great doctrine of the faith, and then another, is given up to gainsayers under the plea of tolerance; the slackness in providing for our own spiritual wants; the aversion that is so generally shown to self-sacrifice as a duty; in these things is sometimes laid, in weaker brethren, the root of "offence," which grows up into gradual estrangement, and at last perhaps endangers their very salvation by driving then into some such desperate act of sin, as we believe has in the recent instance been committed.
Those two great dangers of superstitious corruption of doctrine on the one hand, and infidelity on the other, lie, let us remember, on either side of all who are prone to error. When, therefore, to the evils already spoken of we add those of suspicion, and mistrust, and slander, and party spirit, and whisperings, and backbitings, as so often in these days harassing and troubling the Church, we may well enter into the Apostle's meaning when he says "Abstain from all appearance of evil." "Needs must that offences come, but woe unto him by whom the offence cometh." Woe then, surely, to every one who, by bad example or evil teaching, leads astray the unstable and unwary! Woe to all who call evil good and good evil, who lay to the Church's charge the sins of her individual members; who cause any to say God is not in Her; who bring upon Her, by their own sins, the reproach of unfaithfulness and unfruitfulness!
Finally, brethren, let us see the hand of God in our present trial: doubtless it is permitted in order to make us prove all things, to make us hold fast that which is good, to make us circumspect against evil. I have shewn you that the great act of unfaithfulness in these misguided men, whose sin we are deploring, began in the lesser act. Now, therefore, that we see in what sad rents and severings of all closest and holiest ties these small beginnings issue, let us who remain be drawn into closer brotherhood, into firmer fellowship in the Gospel, into more consistent and worthy use of the great privileges we enjoy, into a more steadfast maintenance of those doctrines and principles which we profess to hold. Let us love one another more truly; help each other more readily; pray for each other more fervently; let us shew that in us "Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity in itself." Let us abstain from harsh and railing words-from violent party spirit; "let all our things be done with charity," and so "strive together with one mind" for the faith of the Gospel, we shall "put to silence the ignorance of foolish men," we shall, it may be, cause men to say that God is in us of a truth. We have yet our great trial to bear,-- that of maintaining our steadfastness against the storm of rebuke that is now sure to fall upon all who love the Church. I, who was for many years united in close friendship with one of the perverted, am to be falsely suspected as myself too perhaps unfaithful; and you, to hear an outcry against the doctrines and usages of the Church, as if they had led to that error, from which, I verily believe, the more I examine them, and the longer I live amongst them, they are the most effectual safeguards. No true son or daughter of the Church of England can be led into the erring communion of Rome, if they will attend dutifully to their mother's voice teaching them the way of truth, and preaching to them the words of eternal life; and if they will but reverently use those means of strengthening and refreshing grace, and of instruction and comfort which she provides in all time of tribulation and wealth, from our birth to the hour of death, and in preparation against the day of judgment. Her every act and word; her every ordinance is, indeed, a protest against the corruptions and superstitions of the Church of Rome.
Let us prove this, however, as I have said, not in word only, but in deed and in truth, by "holding fast" her "good." "If God be for us, who can be against us; it is God that justifieth, who is he that condemneth." "Fret not yourselves because of the ungodly, seeing we are compassed about with the great cloud of witnesses, those holy men of old who, through faith, and in contending for the faith, obtained a good report." Men may seek counsel against us, but there is One greater than man in Whom we may trust and not be deceived. "Hold thee still in the Lord, and abide patiently upon Him. Commit thy way unto the Lord and put thy trust in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall make thy righteousness as clear as the light, and thy just dealing as the noon day.