OF A BISHOP:
AND THE FALKLAND ISLANDS,
RIVINGTONS, WATERLOO PLACE;
HIGH STREET, | TRINITY STREET
Oxford. | Cambridge.
"The grace of God that bringeth Salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority."
THESE words, addressed to Titus, are one of those exhortations, carrying with them a statement of doctrine, which occur so constantly in St. Paul's writings, and condense into a few vivid sentences almost the whole spirit of the faith in which he lived, and which he taught. They are, for the most part, brief and clear; they do not care to set before us a long list of truths which we must believe,--they even leave out many points which St. Paul thought important; they fix our [3/4] gaze almost wholly upon One great object, "One Lord, in whom we have Redemption through His blood, and who is the Son of that One God, who is above all, and through all, and in us all." And yet how much does such a believe as this imply; and how much does St. Paul himself enjoin his disciples to draw from it! A belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and therefore a belief in the great miracle of the Incarnation; a belief that he has been declared to be the Son of God with power, and therefore a belief in the great miracle of the Resurrection; a belief that He acts upon us still, and therefore a belief in that Holy Spirit which He promised as our teacher and comforter; a belief that he will come again to judge and to save, and therefore a belief "That we shall all one day appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, to receive the things that we have done in our bodies, whether it be good or evil"! And why are these solemn truths brought before us again and again so emphatically? Simply that they may be our one incentive to earnest Christian action; simply that they may make us, as ST. Paul afterwards adds, "be careful," or, as the Greek word more forcibly expresses it, "stand foremost" in all good works; simply that they make the chief Christian pastors feel that they are indeed "a city set upon a hill," the very light of the world, the very salt of society. So all-powerful is Christ's truth [4/5] to make believers, heroes, saints, if we use it as He bids us, and remember that its one test is devotedness, its one security humility and prayer.
I deduce, then, from this passage, combined with the whole tone of St. Paul's teaching, three points, which I believe to have been always characteristic of Christ's religion, and on which I propose to dwell to-day. First, that it professes to be a very definite, distinct Revelation, to be accepted by the conscience, and held confidently and unambiguously. Secondly, that in its fundamental doctrines it is simple. And, lastly, that by reason of this very simplicity much is left to the conscience and judgment of every man, as to the course he may thin it right to follow in advancing Christ's cause in the world. On this last point the Apostle dwells more strongly on some other occasions; and it is in passages where he exhorts "every man to be fully persuaded in his own mind," and yet reminds us that "we have no right to judge another man's servant," that we recognize the large wisdom of true Christian teaching, and the principles which have best guided Christ's Church in its progress through the world. Firmness in a distinct faith, which is the child of prayer and conscience; a large and generous tenderness, nay, confidence, towards many with whom we may disagree, but of whom their works show that they "stand to their own Master, and that He will hold them up;" and absolute indifference whether [5/6] they agree in minor matters, provided we are assured that they do so in love towards their Lord and ours;--these I believe to have been principles which have animated the best Christians in every age, and by which alone, in these days, Christianity can retain its ascendancy over the hearts of a thoughtful people. Well, and I may even venture to go farther, and to say, that as these principles have always marked that portion of the Church to which we belong more than any other body of Christian men, so also they are eminently those requirements which alone make it possible for the bulk of men in a thoughtful country to unite in a joint worship and belief; and without which, therefore, any thing like a National Church would be, especially among ourselves, an impossibility. Can you conceive any greater calamity to happen to a Church than that those who are eminently men of "love and of power" should be debarred from at once ruling and serving their brethren, unless they agree with every word of some human and exacting Creed? or can you, on the other hand, conceive a greater blessing to any Church than this,--I put it very simply,--that when she has such devoted Christian men in her service she should know how to use them? It is on these accounts that I shall bring these thoughts before you on an occasion when three of our brethren are about to be consecrated as chief pastors over so large a [6/7] portion of Christ's Church, and at a time which, as much as any other since His religion came into the world, demands that our teachers should be men of "power and love, and a sound mind," gifted with that largeness of heart and mind which may at once win souls to Christ, and adapt His truth to the ever new wants of men.
I. In the first place, then, I say very plainly that no man, and still more, no pastor of Christ's flock, can ever hope to do any thing for Christ unless he starts with a firm belief in Christ Himself. Christianity has been from the very first, and above all religions in the world, the most distinct in its claims. There are, indeed, and always have been, men in the world who hold that any such thing as religion--i.e. any knowledge of the relations in which we stand to our Maker--is not attainable by man. There are sincere lovers of truth, and more perhaps (from various reasons) in this generation than in any other, who unhappily hold this opinion; and them we can at least understand, however we may deplore their convictions. But I am persuaded that I shall find such men agree with me in principle, when I say that any religion, professing to be a revelation from God, must be distinct in the fundamental truths it asserts; and that, at all events, Christ's claims and those of His Apostles admit of no mistake. "If this were not so," indeed--I use the words of Dr. Arnold--"if [7/8] the sense of the Scriptures (on any important point) might fairly be doubted by honest and sensible men, it is no better than a mockery to call them our rule of faith,--it is imputing an obscurity to God's revelation such as attaches to the words of no philosopher and no human legislator? Now the one fact of Christ's religion, which is implied in almost every word which He or His disciples have written, is simply this, "that Christ is God." He Himself says, if we are to credit the report of His nearest friend, that "He and the Father are One," He Himself said (as we are reminded by this morning's service), "All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth." He Himself, when He added, "Lo, am with you alway, even to the end of the world," sanctioned to-day's solemn Commission, "Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Bishop in the Church of God, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost;" and the one great truth to which His chief Apostle is never tired of recalling his hearers is this, that "if Christ be not raised, our preaching is vain, and your faith is vain." This, I repeat, is indeed the one theme of every discourse and every letter of St. Paul, from the first words spoken at Antioch down to the last epistles written in, the prospect of immediate death, Is he speaking to the inquiring Athenians? he sums up his argument by saying that "God has appointed a day in which [8/9] He will judge the world by that Man whom He hath ordained, whereof He halt given assurance to men in that He hath raised Him from the dead." Is he addressing his own converts? he bids, in the words we have heard this morning, "those who are set over his flock to remember that the Holy Ghost has made them overseers to feed the Church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood." Is he stating his own case before Festus and Agrippa? the conclusion which makes Festus pronounce him mad is still the same, that Christ should suffer, and should be the first to rise from the dead." In a word, whether he is beginning or ending every letter, he does it uniformly in the "Name of Jesus Christ, declared to be the Son of God with power;" of "Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that sleep;" of Christ whom God has raised from the "dead, and set at His own right hand in heavenly places." So certain is it that, if words have any meaning, no man can truly call himself Christ's disciple who does not accept this all-containing doctrine of faith in Him, and will tot say with Peter, "Thou hast the words of eternal life, and we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
This thought, then, is the first to which the service of this day invites us, my brethren, that those who come here moved, we doubt not, by the Spirit of God to receive a call, and to undertake [9/10] a work which, rightly thought of, tasks (alas! we have lately had many proofs that it does so) all the best energies of heart and head, come only in the name of Him who "out of weakness can make strong," and by whom now as of old they pray, not with high hopes, nor with thoughts of high place and rank among the children of God. "They come," permit me here to use the words of one for whom we are soon to pray, "not in the strength of a firm will and of a determined purpose; but they come saying, O Lord Jesus Christ, do Thou cleanse us as we kneel to-day before Thee; draw us with cords to the foot of Thy Cross under the shadow of that Cross may we live all the rest of our lives, and there we shall be safe." They come, if I may add the more exulting words which immediately follow, "to proclaim to men that the work of Christ's Resurrection was the news of a great victory, the assurance of a great triumph; that it crowns the work of Christ; that it exhibits the love of God that it was expected by prophets; it was witnessed by Apostles; it is the foundation of Apostolic doctrine; and that the chief purpose of the Apostles office, and we may well add the bishop's office, as St. Peter declares, is to bear witness to the Resurrection of Christ." [Sermons by the Rev. F. Temple, D.A. (Sermons on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.)]
I know not that we can have truer words to give [10/11] the first key-note to our prayers to-day, or make us feel that in the farthest islands of the South, as in the apparently easier, but far harder work of England,--
"The life, the tool in every part,
The pulse of the regenerate heart
Is the true love: of Christ the Lord,
As man believed, as God adored."
II. But then, in the second place, as it is essential to the reality of Christ's religion--essential to its power in the world and to its influence over every thoughtful mind--that its claims and credentials should be distinct, so I venture to say that it equally belongs to Christ's teaching, that its essential and necessary character should be simple. I cannot pause to ask why this should be so; though I believe, that if you examine both the character and the motive of every work done for Christ,--it matters not by whom, be it by foreign or by home pastor, be it by Roman Catholic or Moravian Missionary, be it by Wesley or by Xavier, or by the honoured revivers of religion in the last century in England, or in our Universities thirty years ago,--it has always been simply in the name and in the power of love to the Redeemer of man. But it is not my object to dwell on this now. What I care to urge is simply that Christ and His Apostles do not demand, as of necessity, a belief in any doctrine which does not spring immediately--which is not [11/12] made by Scripture to spring immediately--from that Divine character of the Saviour on which I have dwelt already. This may seem to some to be asserting too little to others, perchance, too much. But I am urging this point now simply as expressing the convictions of the Christian Church from the very earliest ages and regarded thus, I am persuaded that to all thoughtful and sensible Christians it is a matter demonstratively certain. What are the most certain records of the early belief of Christianity for three centuries? It will hardly be denied that, they are to be found in the two great Creeds, the Apostles' and the Nicene. Now let me remind you shortly, that there is scarcely a great writer in antiquity, or in our own Church, who has not spoken of the Apostles' Creed very much in the language of Hooker, as "that brief confession of faith which has been always the mark of the Church and badge whereby to discern Christian men from Infidels;" or who has not, added, with Pearson, that "whatever is delivered in the Creed we therefore believe it, because it is contained in the Scriptures." Perhaps I might go farther, and might say with the greatest of our preachers, Jeremy Taylor, "that, we have no other help in the midst of these distractions than to be united in that common term, which, as it constitutes the Church, so it is the medium of the Communion of Saints, and that is the Apostles' Creed;" but I will rather [12/13] ask you to observe how little, how almost nothing, is mentioned there which does not spring as the most necessary and unavoidable consequence from the two cardinal truths of our religion, that Christ is the Son of God, and that He rose again from the dead. Will it be answered that the Divinity both of the Saviour and of the Holy Spirit are asserted in the Nicene Creed in language more distinct than we find in Scripture? Even if I were to allow this, which I certainly do not, it would only strengthen my argument by showing that the early Christian Church, even when it went beyond the language of Scripture, did so only when it spoke of the Divine character of Christ and the Holy Spirit. And the conclusion seems to me irresistible that when we are speaking of the true test of belief in Christ (if any can be more true than a Christian life), we have no right upon any grounds of revelation, of reason, or of Christian practice, to ask more than was asked in those great days when suffering and martyrdom still offered the best security for the soundness of Christian faith.
Nor can I allow it to be said--permit me to anticipate this objection--that such an argument as this slights or ignores the largo amount of Christian doctrine which has met the wants of successive generations, and is still a noble inheritance of Christian thought, and (in great measure) of Christian truth. No honest thinker can refuse [13/14] to acknowledge that if Christianity was constantly to influence the world, it follows as a matter of course that it should have fresh thoughts to meet the fresh questions of every age, and that the wisdom of the Church should be treasured up at least as eagerly as we treasure tip the wisdom of great human teacher. If we did not acknowledge this, we could scarcely maintain that Christianity had had any history at all. But I am not one of those who believe that the earnest thoughts of great Christian men, the thoughts which in past ages have been the life of millions of believers, ever perish. No, we can thankfully cherish the deep doctrinal truths which the almost inspired genius of Augustine or Bernard has preserved for us; we can rejoice that in an age of deadness the Church was awakened to life by the fresh preaching of justification by faith; we can be grateful that the great men of later ages, Hooker, Pascal, or Butler, have each left their legacy of truth to strengthen the body of Christian doctrine we can believe that no earnest teaching of' the Atonement or the Sacraments is ever lost, but serves, by putting truth in new lights, to enkindle anew the faith of the Church. To say this is no derogation from the essential simplicity of Christian teaching, it is only to believe that the scribe instructed to the kingdom of God is ever bringing forth from his stores "things new and old." The great Hooker declared boldly that he would not believe that the souls of [14/15] our forefathers in the faith had perished and we, whose; duty it is to study the noble records of Christian life and thought, may take a pride in believing that the teaching of every age of Christianity still lives among us, that we are indeed the heirs of all the Christian ages, and that our paramount belief in Christ as the foundation enables us reverentially to study, to revere, or to adopt those thoughts and practices by which Christ's Church, "fully framed together, has grown into an holy temple in the Lord."
III. I have dwelt thus far upon certainty and simplicity of Faith as alike essential to Christianity because I believe that it is only by the union of these qualities that it can hope to hold its place in the world. But before I close, let me refer to another characteristic of its spirit, of which I have spoken as being no less essential, I mean the large variety and freedom which it allows to sincere believers in the different manner by which they may work out, by which they always have worked out (some loving more the doctrinal, others the moral side of Christian truth), their great first principle of belief and love to Christ. Would, indeed, that I could speak of this as an obvious and elementary truth; for, alas! we know too well, my brethren, that it has never been so, and that we have still to ask St. James's sad question, "From whence come wars and fightings among you?" What is sad is, not that we differ--differ largely even in [15/16] the same body; differences, repeat it again, are inseparable from the activity of thinking minds, and as such they are even a true part of the Providence of God,--but our fault is (and let no man here accuse his brother, it is the fault of us all) that, even in our differences, we cannot combine in "keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace." And yet I believe it has always been the best men who, while standing most earnestly to their own convictions, have still striven most to realize this unity of charity, and have aspired to that great beatitude of being peacemakers among their brethren. Bear with me for a short time longer, while I show you that this desire to give free and fair play to their brethren has ever marked the best men; and how, among ourselves, it offers us almost our only hope that our Church may be still God's instrument for doing His chief work in England.
First, then, I maintain earnestly, that in the earliest and best days of the Church the greatest men were largely tolerant of differences of opinion, and were ever ready to put the hest construction upon the language of those whom they saw to be truly serving Christ. One single instance is enough to show my meaning. We all know that the greatest conflict of early Christianity was against Arianism, and the one man to whom we have perhaps, owed the most since St. Paul was Athanasius. St. Basil, the greatest name [16/17] in the Greek Church, and who, as Dr. Newman has observed, owed the success of his great Episcopate to the support of the Laity, was constantly harassed through life with the charge that he was an unbeliever at heart. He was in communion with the opponents of Athanasius, he had resolutely refused to separate himself from his early friends--and he was denounced to Athanasius as unfit to be a Bishop. How did Athanasius act? Did he exact from Basil some fresh assurance beyond the adoption of the Nicene Creed? No: he, the great father of orthodoxy, simply wrote to enjoin Basil's diocese to obey him, and added that he had but condescended to the infirmities of the weak, and that they might well be happy to have received for their Bishop a man so full of wisdom and of truth do not rely too much upon historical parallels; but this is one from which I believe that even in these days we may learn a lesson. What Basil did, and Athanasius commended, we need not be afraid to imitate.
And, lastly, this temper has in great measure marked the past history, and is an absolute necessity for the future history, of the Church in whose service we meet to-day. I cannot indeed deny that there are some passages in the history of our Church, as there are in the history of every Church and every nation, which we might well wish to be blotted out, when the errors of her rulers [17/18] have obscured the large principles and the charity on which she is founded. But no fair mind can fail to see that in the very fact of having been for three centuries the Church of a free people, the Church of England, if she has had a great, has also had a difficult part to play. And this we may at least add, that in that which alone is permanent, the language of her formularies and of her great writers, of Hooker, Taylor, Barrow, Butler, she has been more than any other Church the Church of learning and of toleration, as well as of firm faith. A Church so constituted, which I dare to say is eminently the Church of a thoughtful laity, and for which, if it were destroyed, such men would find no other substitute, will never, we may be sure, take a narrow view of Christianity; it will endeavour while it holds fast to Christ, both to meet the demands of growing thought, and to adapt itself to the religious wants of a great Christian people; and we may well le thankful to God, when He places amongst its chief Pastors men capable of stirring the very depths of Christian conviction and of Christian practice. And certainly such a position may still be made, by one who esteems it worthily, one of the noblest which a man can occupy. No doubt, like many other great positions, it has been often degraded by sloth and selfishness; it still has its temptations to ease, to pride, and to worldliness. And yet have we not lately felt, [18/19] when we have seen two prelates (prelates, too, who may have thought they differed widely, but who are now surely united in the love of one Lord) die in the prime of life, and one whose wise words of counsel are still in our minds to-day struck down by his abundant labour,--have we not, I say, felt that to be a true Bishop of the Church of Christ in England is a reality and not a name? Surely, to a man with the noblest objects of Christian duty before him, there is still no other place in the whole land which has such great opportunities, or which so completely possesses the key to the respect and affection of every class in the country. Take a Bishop of real self-devotion, of a genuine and manly enthusiasm in whatever he undertakes, of large sympathies, of entire disinterestedness, and what nobler place can be given him by God than one in which all men will gladly take him for their example if he proves himself worthy of being so? Such a man's heart may possibly beat with what our great historian attributed of old to one of England's noblest sons, "an absolute spirit of popularity;" [Clarendon speaking of Hampden] and if so, he may well attain great social objects, for he is indeed the natural friend of every class in society, and experience has shown us--most of all in these last thirty years --that no men are so ready to pour out their money with boundless generosity as those who have won it by their own labour, if they are but [19/20] once under the spell of a real man who has found his way to their hearts. But he may also achieve great objects for the Church of which he is a minister. He will find it divided to outward appearance, but with an abundant zeal and energy which a just and kind ruler may know how to combine and harmonize, so that it may tend, by different means, towards a common end. If he is too large-minded to be what is called a party man, his study will be to be above all things just, to be kind and sympathetic to every thing like earnest belief and feeling; and such justice and such kindness always makes itself felt, because it is the surest evidence of that reality of character, without which all other gifts are as tinsel. In this way he will soon rally all men round him, because he will make them feel that he has a heart large enough to understand and to love them all. Any man, indeed, to do this must be a man of self-command, of Christian prudence, above all of prayer for that humility without which the greatest natural strength may change to weakness. But one or two men of this earnestness and of this self-devotion are enough to save a Church or a nation. God grant that we may see these hopes this day realized, and that such true servants of Christ, endowed with the spirit "of power, of love, and of a sound mind," may renew the strength of our rulers!
We shall assist, then, by our prayers at the [20/21] consecration of three men to God's more special service to-day. Of two of them I will only say that they have both served God zealously--one by labour both of heart and brain, the other by that training which will best fit him for a self-denying work. Of the third I dare not speak more directly, though you may think I have spoken already, so much have I longed, who have known and loved him from early youth, so much have many here longed, for the sake of England and of England's Church, that he should occupy that very post to which, in God's providence, he has now been called. May the Lord of all strength and power, the Author and Giver of every good gift, strengthen and perfect them one and all, and so make them the means of strength and perfection to the Church of Christ, through the help of Jesus Christ our Saviour!