PRINTED BY JOHN LOVELL, ST. NICHOLAS STREET.
WHEN I was asked to address you this afternoon, I felt that this service had an attraction for me, not because it is a choral one, though that assists my devotion, and connects me in association with the glorious services of the Mother Church, but because the public notice of the service contained the words, "Seats Free." Let me, then, brethren, explain myself as plainly, as practicable, and as briefly as possible.
Why do we go to church ourselves, or invite others to go there, is a question worth answering. It is not a sufficient answer to say that the Apostles (inspired men) instituted the practice. Why did they command such observance? Why not say our prayers and read our Bibles at home, at all events on all occasions when Holy Communion is not celebrated? There surely must be some sentiment or emotion of our nature acted upon, and used to promote religious ends, because we fail to see at first sight how God is honoured more by a man's prayer in the church than by the same prayer at home. The fact is that the gathering of people in masses for the public worship of God is intended to intensify religious earnestness by eliciting that mysterious sympathy which [3/4] pervades and even electrifies a multitude animated by a common purpose. Loyalty is fostered when with heart and voice a multitude sing the National Anthem. The wild cheer or the measured tread of an assembled host infuses a common courage to meet the enemy. A mass meeting intensifies political feeling. The assembling of Christian people is therefore intended to inflame religious feelings by working on the emotional part of our nature. Just so far as sympathy in hopes and fears binds worshippers together, so far and no further is religious feeling promoted "when we come together in the church." It is to give expression to this sympathy that so many people long for prayer meetings. Everything, therefore, that tends to diminish the "Brotherhood" feeling among members of the assembled church, so far neutralizes one great object of public worship. St. Paul accordingly intimates that in order to "provoke unto love and good works" we should "not forsake the assembling of ourselves together." For many ages every church during the celebration of divine service was, as far as possible, a visible manifestation of the Communion of Saints. The church is a training school for Heaven. It is divided into nave and chancel. The one symbolizing our common destiny to pass through the waves of this troublesome world, the other our common haven to which we should in heart and soul ascend--The Heavenly Temple. This training power of the Church the Devil was resolved to frustrate, and accordingly he infused into the minds of the primitive Christians "a respect of persons" in the church. So early did this seminal principle of evil creep into the Church of Christ, from the synagogue of the Pharisees. In vain did the Saviour rebuke the vanity of the frequenters of "the upper most seats in the Synagogues." In vain did S. Peter insist on the maxim that God is no "respecter of persons." The canker spread till it called forth the scathing rebuke of the first Bishop of Jerusalem. S. James in his Catholic pastoral [4/5] letter, commands the Church "not to have the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." His illustration of this principle took a very practical turn. Let me react it for you, as you can, find it written in the second chapter of his Epistle: "For if there come into your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in, also, a poor man in vile raiment, and ye have respect unto him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool; are ye not, then, partial in yourselves and are become judges of evil thoughts?" I shall not attempt to make this passage plainer; it is to be feared that any laboured exposition of it would but weaken its force, by diluting it or toning it down. No one, however, will have hardihood enough to deny that S. James wrote as though he were living in our times, and his remarks being confessedly part of the word of God, demand that we ask ourselves in what consists their inspiration? Let us see to this question, brethren, for we have, when our prejudices oppose our principles, an unaccountable repugnance to understand our own religion. As members of the Church of England we avow our readiness to apply the touch-stone of Scripture to" our principles, that is, in many cases--only when it suits us. But evasion is here impossible, for the inspiration of the passage consists in its containing an intimation to us of God's will regarding a certain practice. There is a deep principle involved. There is a protest and a warning against the introduction of class distinctions in the House of God. In that House, Jesus Christ is present when two or three are gathered together in His name, and in that august presence let there be no recognition of wealth, or birth or rank. What! assert the privileges of wealth before His presence "who, though He was rich, yet for our sake, became poor." What! acknowledge the prerogatives of birth before Him, the Jewish peasant, the carpenters son. [5/6] What! admit the claims of rank while addressing Him Whose Majesty was meekness, the friend of publicans and sinners. No, says the Apostle, "Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons;" and no one, perhaps, knew the mind of Christ better than "James, the Lord's brother." How has the Church carried out the spirit of this great scriptural principle? I shall not undertake to answer for any branch of the Catholic Church but our own, and the truth must be told, no Church has been more untrue to this principle than' the Church of England. In reviewing the past, and as we approach the times of the Reformation, the appropriation of seats was becoming an abuse. There is something significant in the complaint which the poor Commons addressed to Henry VIII. in reference to his decree, that a Bible should be in every church, at liberty for all to read, because "they feared that it might be taken into some pew." But if these poor people had been able to look forward a century or two they would have seen the Church seized with a spirit of insane and unscriptural exclusiveness. The area of those churches, to which, by common law, every parishioner had an equal right, was subdivided into a number of square boxes, so high that people unobserved might defy the rubrics, and so impenetrable that they only needed lids to complete the exclusion. I need not prove that doors, and locks, and keys and monopoly were not the agents to promote Christian sympathy, or increase devotional fervour in the profession of the same faith and the adoration of the same Lord. The solemnity of this place forbids my dwelling on this abuse. Ridicule and the holding the mirror of Scripture and reason before men til "they see themselves as others see them," are perhaps the best instruments of correction. Indeed there is no need of denouncing an obsolete practice. A movement to build a new church on the old principle of high square pews would excite doubts of the mover's sanity. [6/7] I shall only dwell upon the awful results of two centuries of disobedience to a first principle of the new Testament. As the first fruits of parcelling out the Parish Churches to the most influential and wealthy parishioners, or building new ones the area of which was subdivided into lots to suit purchasers, the poorer sort were obliged to sit in the aisles or back part of the galleries--in short, they were told, as in S. James's day, "stand thou there." Thus were the feelings of the poor wounded in their tenderest part, and being poor they had no redress. But there was another class, ever increasing, who were neither rich nor yet poor, for whose accommodation no provision was thought necessary. This class looked on and wondered. A large portion were young men, who had come up to city life, clerks in offices, stores, banks, students in colleges, apprentices to trades, who could not, even if they were so disposed, hire a pew. Pewholders were and are proverbially selfish in the exercise of the right to exclude, and so it came to pass that many young, unmarried men were furnished with a pretext for absenting themselves from the Church, or for wandering off to those places of worship where, whatever else they missed, they found a welcome. They may have thought it strange that there was no room in God's House for them, though the House was not half full. They had Bibles, and if they read them, they must have remarked the contrast between what they saw, and what they read about "the poor having had the Gospel preached to them," and "the common people hearing Him gladly." They saw and wondered that the principles of Gospel teaching had been reversed. The few pewed sheep were the object of the pastor's care, the lost sheep did not cost a thought, and yet the "general confession" might have suggested the idea that there were such in the parish. They knew, too, that Heaven would have rejoiced more over one erring or lost sheep restored to the fold, than over ninety-and-nine that went not astray; there [7/8] would have been more joy in the presence of the Angels of God, had the shepherds gone out into the highways and hedges, and compelled them to come in, that God's house might be filled. Many an honest pastor grieved over the growing alienation of the people from their Mother Church. In vain did they strive to persuade the "lower orders" to take the lower seats, or the "middle classes" to occupy the middle aisles. A natural spirit of independence resisted the appeal that they should sue in Church as is done sometimes in chancery, in forma pauperis. The "Stand thou there," or "sit here under my footstool," was, they thought, rightly or wrongly, a badge of inferiority. They did not want the patronage but the sympathy of their fellow-worshippers, and so they sought and found it in the meeting house, on being square-pewed and cold-shouldered out of the Church. Thus it came to pass that the alienation of one-fourth of the population, and the wickedness of another fourth, at last roused the Church to repentance and restitution. The astounding fact was brought to light that in the cities and towns of Christian England, not two percent of the operative classes frequented any place of worship. The Church was allowing the masses to fall away into practical heathenism. In former days persecution only nerved her energies; martyrdom could not extinguish her; but what neither could do, exclusiveness was well nigh effecting--she nearly died of respectability. Of course, during this period of abuse, we look in vain for missionary effort. The heart was paralyzed, and so the extremities were not warmed into activity. Charity had not begun at home, and so was not to be expected abroad. The sarcasm was almost literally true, "the Church of England was as local an institution as the Court of Common Pleas." In that great revival of practical religion, that began about thirty years ago, it became evident to the leading actors in the movement, that those hindrances which prevented the masses from worshiping must be removed. [8/9] The evil was traced to its true source, and accordingly, never did Puritans labour more zealously to break down with axes and hammers the carved work of our Sanctuaries, than did Churchmen to level the deformities that disfigured and emptied our Churches. The truth flashed on earnest-minded men, that they were bound as Christians "to look not on their own things, but also on those of others." They discovered that the uneducated and poor members of the Church have yet a strong vein of common sense, which they are not slow to use when they can expose the absurdities of their betters. The mechanic and labouring man might see selfish monopolizers of more room in God's House than they needed, giving their money to circulate the Bible, and thus circulating their own condemnation. They read of Him, who once "made a scourge of small cords," and who has granted a dispensation to no one for making "His Father's House a house of merchandize." Churchmen woke up to see all this, and the result is that they came to the conclusion that the act of consecration gave the Church to God and not to pew owners, and that a joint proprietorship with Him was not only blasphemous in theory, but ruinous in policy. Hence, the wonder-working spirit of Church-building, now so prevalent. Hence, the establishment of a society for promoting freedom of worship, and restoring the Church to the people; and hence, blessed be God, that catholic spirit of sympathy for the poor at home, and the spiritually destitute abroad, so that the Church is now a witness, and a faithful one, to the truths of the Gospel in India and in Africa, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
And now, brethren, what is our immediate concern with this subject? It is this: since experience has proved that a fatal defect has been found and a remedy applied in the Church at home, let us be wise in time, and allow the light to beam upon our own path. In proportion to our population, the abuse of the pew system has been as destructive to the [9/10] best interests of the Church in Canada, as it has been in England. Let me tell you the case of many an immigrant Churchman from the Old Country. He lands in Canada, and feels, perhaps, on landing, a greater love for the Church than he ever felt before, because he fears that he has been severed from her ministrations. He seeks for the House of God, and instead of meeting with a welcome, and a seat, and a kind look, he too often finds discouragement and a frown. He feels that he is an intruder; he meets with the bye-word, immortalized by S. James, "Stand thou there," and he goes away sorrowful, and never returns. Thousands have abandoned our communion, not because they disbelieved our doctrines or disliked our ritual, but because they found no sympathy where they had a right to expect it. Their defection is directly traceable to the freezing effect of the pew system. And who is to blame? The Clergy, it will be said; perhaps so, because they did not labour for the true remedy, but the main fault rests with the laity. The Clergy will in vain expostulate with the profaner of the Lord's day, or invite the absentee to the Lord's House. They are met with the reply, where shall we sit? We do not wish to be eyed as intruders, or frowned upon as interlopers. We may avail ourselves of a friend's invitation once or twice, but we cannot permanently occupy his pew. There are a large number of us, young men, unmarried, and we cannot afford to pay pew rent, and if we could it is absurd to appropriate a pew to an individual. To such language, and much more like it, a faithful minister has no reply; his mouth is shut, and he returns home sad to find that his labours must be considered as thrown away. His Church is as full as it ever can hope to be, that. is, it is half empty. Every pew is taken, more apparently for the purpose of keeping people out than inducing them to come in, and thus the maximum of success is attained, and measured more by the renting than the filling of the pews. What, then, is the remedy? Why, of course, [10/11] such services as the present. If we cannot have Free Churches let us have the next best thing, free services once on Sunday. Until God puts it into the heart of the wealthy to build free churches, and so become benefactors of their race, let us utilize the churches we have by holding free services in addition to the conventional ones. It will entail more work upon the clergy, but in these days when all work is done at high pressure, let not the children of light be less wise in their generation than the children of this world. Agitate the question whether the mighty may not consent to "be put down from their seats" once each Lord's Day, and allow "them of low degree to be exalted." Even if pew-owners attend such services they will find by experience that habitual attendants will not be much incommoded by such freedom of worship. There will be the same courtesy in the Church, it is to be hoped, which is found in the concert room, or drawing-room. The great point gained will lie that instead of the assertion of exclusive rights, and hindrances to attendance on God's worship, we shall extend a welcome to all, and thus deprive absentees of all excuse. There will be no loss in revenue, and there will be great gain in popularity. Many will come to church from curiosity, but some of them coming to scoff, may remain to pray. Oh, I know not a more melancholy exhibit of strong delusion stupifying the faculties of Churchmen than was presented to view in theatres crowded with worshippers in the neighbourhood of empty Churches--the one was free, the other was barred. Theatres and concert-rooms taught Cathedrals their duty, and who, that has long witnessed the effect of free services in those grand buildings, could imagine that the same service he was enjoying had proved for ages unattractive, if not repulsive, till the talisman of welcome sanctified the services, and filled to over-flowing the Temples of the Lord. Can we, brethren, hope for similar fruits? I know not, but it is our duty to test the matter. I am quite content to be considered [11/12] an enthusiast, because no one ever accomplished much for either man's good or God's honour, who did not feel strongly, and no one ever felt strongly without being an enthusiast; and my heart and conscience persuade mc to believe that so long as a property qualification is required from Church worshippers, it will be in vain to attempt to quicken the brotherhood feeling in the Church, to give anything like a true expression to Church-membership, or to exhibit the beauties of common prayer. A property qualification may suit a House of Commons, but not the House of God. Let public worship, then, be open to the public once at least on Sunday. Let us see the effect of forgetting in God's House the petty distinctions of time and earth. They are right in their place, but the Church is a great leveller. She deals with the soul, and as all are immortal, all arc alike. Li the Church, rich and poor should meet together, God is the maker of them all; in the church-yard they must lie together, God will be the judge of all. Study your obligations, then, brethren, in the full light of Scripture, and uncontradicted experience, so that "the word of God may have free course and be glorified." Consider that isolation is no characteristic of that heart which is daily renewed by the Holy Spirit; such a heart embraces all for whom Christ died; its motive power is love to all men for Christ's sake. The Christian, who, in the earthly temple, would prefer to worship alone when he might induce others to accompany him, is like one who would wish to go to Heaven alone, but such shall never go there. It is inconceivable that it would have gratified them that asked the question: "Are there few that be saved?" if our Lord had replied in the affirmative, and blessed be God, the glimpse we have got of Heaven, gives us reason to hope that the number of the redeemed will be innumerable, a host that no man can number. "In the House not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens," we shall for ever enjoy that Communion of Saints for which the Church is now [12/13] educating her faithful members; then let our life and conduct illustrate the aspirations of the man after God's own heart, whose most exalted idea of friendship was "walking in the House of God, as friends;" whose enjoyment of holy worship was increased by its being shared by others; whose psalms are both an expression of praise and an affectionate invitation to all to unite with him in the happy service of the sanctuary. Strive to realize the power of united hearty worship, to kindle devotion, to quicken our aspirations, and to enlarge our sympathies. There is a depth of affection unknown to the world springing from common prayer to our common Lord. Never is the wound caused by the removal of a loved member of a family so painfully re-opened as when we revisit the place where we knelt together and poured forth our united supplications; but such grief has the truest of all consolations, for,
The Saints on earth, and those above
But one communion make,
Joined to their Lord in bonds of love,
All of His grace partake.
One family we dwell in Him
One Church above, beneath,
Tho' now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream of death.
Assimilate, then, your earthly worship to that celestial employment which will be ours for ever, in proportion as we realize here on earth the Communion of Saints, and prepare ourselves for the society of the just, made perfect, by doing good unto all men, but specially to them that are of the household of faith--loving your fellow-men for Christ's sake. AMEN.