MY REVEREND BRETHREN,
When I addressed you in this place last year, my unacquaintance with your local circumstances compelled me to confine myself to general considerations. My main topic, therefore, was suggested by that standing constitution of our Church, which calls the Archdeacon's especial attention to the observance of the two sacraments, and bids him examine whether the clergy duly minister, and rightly understand them. That to which I directed your thought was Holy Baptism. Desiring, in my public situation, to avoid all theoretical expressions, respecting the propriety whereof sincere Churchmen may fairly be divided, I confined myself to such doctrinal statements as might be conveyed in the express words of our service. These no minister can deny without subjecting himself, if his superiors do their duty, to prosecution and punishment, even if he be not withheld by common honesty from asserting one thing at the font and another in the pulpit. But my main object was to convey to you His Grace the Archbishop's disapprobation of a practice which had in some places insinuated itself, and which has doubtless contributed to those low and Socinian views respecting the Sacrament of Baptism, too prevalent around us. My thanks are due for the cheerful acquiescence which was in general rendered; and I rejoice that the more regular celebration of the Baptismal Service has in many cases been introduced with less difficulty than was anticipated.
 Your ready concurrence in this particular encourages me to bring before you another subject, which may be attended with considerable difficulty, but of which the results, I am satisfied, would be proportionably beneficial. I refer to the practice of catechising. By those who are untaught in the spiritual meaning of Christian Baptism, it might not, perhaps, be surprising if catechising were held of inferior moment, but to us, who affirm respecting every child whom we receive into the Church, that this child "is by Baptism regenerate," (I quote the words of the Prayer Book) it cannot seem immaterial whether we teach it to esteem duly of the grace received--whether we early acquaint it with the privileges and obligations of an heir of glory. To do this is the great use of catechising. It is a consequent on the doctrine of Baptismal Grace. Until it be duly regarded, we shall never see a generation grow up with any lively sense of their Christian privileges.
From the answers last year returned, I fear that this important duty has, in some cases, been insufficiently regarded. Often I find it stated, that "there is catechising before the confirmation." Sometimes I am told that "this is done in the Sunday School." One set of churchwardens aver that they "never saw the clergyman instruct the children." On the whole, it would appear that this duty is frequently left entirely to a schoolmaster, and that when performed, it is seldom brought, as the Rubric directs, before the notice of the congregation. In some cases this may be unavoidable, but it is sufficiently manifest, that as catechising will not be adequately performed unless you give it some measure of your own attention, so will not its effect be complete unless the parents of your young Christians hear at times from their infant mouths those truths, with which themselves are often unacquainted. I know indeed the great difficulty of procuring the attendance of the older children at our Sunday Schools; I know that for this purpose we need the concurrence of the laity,--we want your help, my lay brethren; and in a printed address, which I am about to put into your hands, I have stated, to the best of my ability, how urgent is the claim which we prefer upon your assistance. What I ask of the [6/7] Clergy is, to do their part, to commend this subject with one voice to all their parishioners, to show that they do not grudge their own labour for the general good, and by their personal exertions to give full interest to Sunday Schools, and to public catechising. I will add but one further remark on this subject--that to our Sunday Schools we must look to overcome the lamentable indisposition of many congregations to take their part in the Church service. When the minister offers up the people's prayers, when he calls on them to join him in magnifying GOD's name in the spirit-stirring language of ancient psalmody, one would have thought, to use our Lord's words, that the very stones would immediately cry out. How disheartening is it then, to see men sit silent as though they had nothing to ask, and took no interest in GOD's praises. This is what makes our inspiring and devout prayers appear cheerless and frigid. Too many of our people come as spectators, not as worshippers, into the House of GOD. Now a Sunday School affords you a means of correcting this evil. The simple and accessible dispositions of children will not be insensible to the sublime attractions of prayer and praise. If their elders choose to sit unmoved amidst every variety of appeal and invitation, you can show them at all events that out of the mouths of babes and sucklings there is perfected praise. To form this habit is one of the most material objects of a Sunday School, and one which will especially repay your personal attention.
I pass to another of those subjects, which the answers of last year have suggested. Among the Articles of Inquiry was one which respected the due celebration of the Holy Communion. The replies indicate that in some parishes this ordinance is not offered to the people more than four, sometimes not more even than three times in the year. Now this is scarcely a compliance with the letter of the 21st Canon, which orders that the Holy Communion shall be ministered so often as every parishioner may communicate at the least three times a year. Every parishioner may be unable to attend on each occasion, and if each is bound to communicate at the least three times a year, he is certainly designed to be a more frequent attendant, Exiguum est ad [7/8] legem esse bonum. But those who only offer this feast to their Parishioners four times a year can hardly be said to render a legal obedience, much less do they yield an enlarged compliance to the spirit of the commandment.
But this is a subject of such fundamental importance, that I trust I shall not weary you if I enter into it at large.
There can be no doubt that during the earlier ages of the Church's history, the Holy Communion was not offered only, but accepted by the whole Christian congregation at the least once a week. I speak not now of the first few months of the Church's wonderful existence when the ordinary laws of society were suspended by its infant energies, but of a period beginning when the laws of GOD's kingdom had been more fully revealed to the Apostle of the Gentiles, and not ending till the sceptres of Paganism had been humbled before the Cross. During this long period of near 300 years, to join at least weekly in the Holy Communion was the practice of all Christians. According to the ancient rule, known as the Apostolical Canons, those who came to church, but refused to take their part in the Holy Communion, were expelled from the society of the faithful; and the same command was given by the Council at Antioch, in the year of grace 341. These rules shew the practice of that early age, which our Church declares in the Homilies to have been "most holy and GODLY." For as yet, the opinion prevailed which had been introduced by St. Paul. In his days, even an Apostle's exhortation was esteemed a less material part of the weekly solemnity than the spiritual participation of the Lord's body; and when the Christians of Troas assembled, it was not chiefly to listen, even though the preacher were St. Paul, but the disciples came together to break bread.
And this usage continued until after the empire had become Christian. We approach the age of St. Chrysostom, about 400 years after Christ, before we find it abandoned. In the corrupt city of Constantinople, where luxury and superstition were alike predominant, this holy martyr complains of the impiety of those who, coming as idle spectators of the devotion of their fellow-christians, turned their backs upon the sacred banquet. Persons [8/9] there were, who deemed it enough once a year, or twice, to approach the Lord's Table, pretending that this sparing use of the means of grace would be attended with greater preparation. As yet, however, the subterfuge was not admitted. It was reserved for the Church of Rome to devise a system which might reconcile the appearance of ancient zeal with the reality of modern indifference. This was effected by those Private Masses, so justly condemned in our 31st Article. When it was once admitted as a sound and orthodox principle, that men might derive full benefit from the Holy Communion without being communicants, that it was sufficient for the clergy to celebrate the Eucharistic feast, while the laity were spectators of their devotion, the abandonment of the ancient usage was soon looked upon as no fatal evil. The Fourth Council of Lateran, therefore, A. D. 1215, (the same which first affirmed the recently devised tenet of transubstantiation,) by enjoining on the laity a yearly attendance on the Lord's Table, gave virtual sanction to its weekly desertion.
Such the practice continued till the time of our Reformers. Their avowed principle of reviving primitive usage led them not only to abolish private masses, but also to restore public communion. The change grew naturally out of that deep feeling in which the movement of the age originated, that there needed a fresh outbreak of inward zeal to quicken the whole mass of external observances--that religion was a private and personal as well as a public and social duty--and that Gods grace must find a living home in each man's bosom.
It was little, therefore, to sweep away private masses, without bringing back the public Eucharist. Their object was not merely to extinguish superstition, but to rekindle piety. "Our Church," says Bishop Beveridge, "requireth or at least supposeth the Holy Communion to be administered every Lord's day and every holiday throughout the year, as it was in the primitive Church: for that is the reason that the communion service is appointed to be read upon all such days, and to be read at the communion table, that so the minister may be there ready to administer it to all those that desire to partake of it."
 I pause to express my hope, that, unless unavoidably prevented, you all comply with this last order of the Church, and offer up the communion service at the communion table. The point might seem immaterial, but for the reason which Bishop Beveridge suggests, that the Church's service is imperfect unless crowned by that Eucharistic offering whereby we enter into union with Christ our Lord. And in a positive institution like the Church of Christ, no one can calculate the full consequence of deserting the rule of order and the practice of his brethren. It is from no groundless jealousy, therefore, that the rulers of our Church have lately inhibited all capricious derelictions of established usage. Suppose that the novel custom complained of be, that a company of singers is allowed to enter within the altar rails, or that the Lord's table is employed when names are to be inscribed in the register-books. Some may pronounce this a matter of indifference, and may distinguish, as was done of old, between the altar and the gift which was upon it. But the Church's command for setting apart the Holy Table, and for its seclusion from all profane uses, is conclusive of itself against such indecent innovations. And to those who look deeply into the matter, their mischievous effect is sufficiently manifest. "The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper," to quote again from Bishop Beveridge, "being the highest mystery in all our religion, that place where this sacrament was administered was always made and reputed the highest place in the Church." Now can men feel towards it in this way, who, when they enter GOD's House, think the Lord's Table the fittest place on which to deposit their superfluous garments? Is it a seemly use of GOD's Board to employ it as a writing table? These remarks have been suggested by complaints made to me respecting the irreverence which in some places has been allowed to gain head. They will deserve especial attention in the Parochial Visitations, which, GOD willing, I shall make during the present summer. GOD forbid, indeed, that I should suppose such irreverence general. But where it has appeared, what wonder if faith has grown cold, if men have first disbelieved and then forsaken the sacraments, if the promises annexed to our public worship, and the [10/11] sacredness of our ministers are alike forgotten, if men have been satisfied with appearing once a-year at the Holy Table, and that rather as notifying their own profession than from any true "discerning of the Lord's Body?"
How different the feeling avowed by our Reformers, and discernible even in their rules respecting the place and manner of public worship. The slightest inspection of our earliest prayer-book confirms Bishop Beveridge's remarks on the order for reading the communion service at the Lord's Table. The Rubric of 1548 not only enjoins a celebration of the Lord's Supper on every Lord's day, but it adds, as though contemplating a further revival of Apostolic practice, "the Priest on the week-day shall forbear to celebrate the communion, except he have some that will communicate with him." But the superstition and carelessness of the preceding age had unfitted the people for an immediate return to primitive usage. This rubric, therefore, was abandoned at the next recession of the Prayer Book, A. D. 1552, and those words were introduced which have ever since continued to be law: "in Cathedral and Collegiate Churches, where be many Priests and Deacons, they shall all receive the communion with the minister every Sunday at the least, unless they have a reasonable cause to the contrary." In country parishes, no command was given respecting the frequency of celebration, but whereas a single participation had been formerly binding, the new rule was that "every parishioner should communicate at the least three times in the year."
You see how far was this order from limiting the administration of the Eucharist. The Church had begun by reviving the primitive custom of at least a weekly celebration. The times were found unsuited for such strictness. But had any less satisfactory arrangement been prescribed, as, for instance, a monthly communion, she might have seemed to sanction a deviation from the practice of the Apostles. To such accommodations she would give no currency; but by increasing the attendance which every individual was bound to render, she prepared the way for what at present it was found idle to command. A weekly celebration she laboured to restore, and till it could be enforced, no less perfect enactment found place among her statutes.
 The population at that date was thin; the number of clergy deficient. Compare the attention bestowed on other parts of public worship, and you find an injunction in the first year of Queen Elizabeth, that "Parsons shall preach in their churches one sermon every month of the year at the least." And had it been thought seemly to sanction any other than a weekly communion, as much as this would obviously have been required; indeed, so much seems indicated by the provision in the Prayer Book of 1548, that where the communion was daily ministered, notice should still be given once a month. Now it cannot be disputed that knowledge has since increased, and that instruction by sermons, however useful, is not grown more necessary. On the other hand, no man can suppose that the gifts of GOD's grace are less wanted than of old. How shall we account, then, for the phenomenon, that while sermons have increased, sacraments have diminished? I blame not, observe, the augmentation of the one, but the subtraction of the other. Yet are exhortations beneficial, except we obey them? Is guidance of avail, unless it leads to the means of grace? Other circumstances might be adduced as illustrating the same tendency. Queen Elizabeth's ordinal for the celebration of the Holy Communion at funerals, A. D. 1560, a custom, says Strype, then prevalent, though now disused, shows one specific diminution in the occasions of ministering this holy rite. While increasing population and a more numerous clergy have led in other respects even to voluntary exertion, in this capital particular, when our Reformers desired to revive primitive usage, there has been an actual declension from what they affected. So far from carrying out their designs, we fall short even of their attainments. What a change does this imply in the spirit of the age. How greatly do we need to return to the principle of our Reformation. How grievously have we forgotten its fundamental maxim.
Having considered this subject on the ground of history, let us view it for a moment on the side of argument. Is it not our bounden duty to set forth our Lord? To know nothing save Jesus Christ and Him crucified? And how is this to be done? [12/13] Is it by the mere reiteration of a certain phraseology? Is not action the most effective preaching? And does not St. Paul assure us that the truest manner of setting forth Jesus Christ is by the holy rite which He has himself ordained: "as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death, till he come."
Again, observe its absolute necessity for our brethren's welfare. The Holy Communion is the grand means of union with Christ our Lord. That we cannot serve GOD of ourselves is manifest; we need His grace. And. His grace is given to men not as individuals, but as members of that mystical body, which the twelve gathered together in His name. For this body our Lord especially prayed; it inherited those encouragements and assurances, which were given to the Apostles. Now it is by Holy Communion, that men are members of this mystic body. As they are admitted to it by one sacrament, so is their union cemented by the other. Therefore does the English Church teach us to thank God for the Lord's Supper, "in that He doth thereby assure us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of His Son." In short, unless men are habitual communicants, they have no claim to be called Christians. Other means are useful in their way, but this is essential. For what gives to other ordinances their effect is, that those who participate in them are members of Christ, and Church-membership is bestowed through the Lord's Supper. Prayer and preaching are not effectual through their own vigour, but because they can claim the fulfilment of those promises, of which by communion with Christ men are inheritors.
Now when these truths are stated to your people, will not some of them naturally reply, if such benefits attend the Lord's Supper, how comes it that you so seldom invite us to its participation? Are you so indifferent to our spiritual welfare, as to think it enough that at some quarterly periods we should draw near to God? Can you be contented yourselves to forego a blessing, which you esteem so important? Can you allow your families to forfeit it? What answer could those return who [13/14] are satisfied some three or four times a-year to celebrate this holy mystery? And this, probably, is one reason why the number of communicants is usually so small where the ordinance itself is infrequently solemnized. How can the minister dwell as he ought upon the benefits of a rite, which his own conduct shows that he undervalues? Depend on it, my brethren, that the first step towards drawing more of your people to the Lord's Table must be to invite them to be more frequent guests. At present, one impression passes away before the next quarter of a year gives another opportunity of especial communion with Christ. The impulses are not sufficiently repeated to bring the nature and importance of the ordinance before their minds. Indeed, it need scarcely surprise, if you meet with the refuted objection, that its sparing use leads men to approach it with greater reverence,--that persons who come often will come with less feeling to the Lord's Table. This is one of those arguments which shows with what ease Popery and Puritanism ally themselves against the truth. The practice of approaching so rarely to the Lord's Table originated, as you have seen, in the Popish abuse of private masses; and men find its apology in the Puritan error, that it is not as a peculiar means of grace that the Sacraments are valuable, but merely because impressing upon us by apparent acts that which otherwise addresses itself to the understanding alone. On which tenet a sufficient censure has been passed by our great Hooker. "It greatly offendeth," he says, "that some when they labour to show the use of the Holy Sacraments, assign unto them no end but only to teach the mind by other senses, that which the word doth teach by hearing." Whereas, he adds, "Their chiefest use and virtue consisteth herein, that they are heavenly ceremonies, which God hath sanctified and ordained to be administered in His Church, first, as marks whereby to know when God doth impart the vital or saving grace of Christ unto all that are capable thereof, and secondly, as means conditional which God requireth in them unto whom He imparteth grace." "Christ and His holy Spirit, with all their blessed effects, though entering into the soul of man we are not able to apprehend or express [14/15] how, do notwithstanding give notice of the times when they use to make their access, because it pleaseth Almighty God to communicate by sensible means those blessings which are incomprehensible."
Now if this be the object of the Lord's Supper, can we approach it too frequently? Can we have too much of the incomprehensible blessings of God's grace? Were the Eucharist valuable merely because by its outward efficacy it affected the mind, it were wise, perhaps, to reserve it for some especial solemnities. We might fear to grow too familiar with its use, to wear out the means of excitement. But if it be indeed the "means conditional, which GOD requireth in them to whom He imparteth grace," then the more frequently we have rightly used, the more anxious shall we be for its future participation. The very existence, therefore, of such an objection, shows that the nature of this holy ordinance is misconceived by our people; that our Reformers have not attained their full purpose, because Puritan unbelief has come in to the aid of Popish superstition.
An error of such standing you cannot expect that even the due celebration of the Lord's Supper will at once remove. But if you offer the Holy Communion to your people at the least every month, as I strongly recommend to every clergyman, if you duly urge its importance, if you show them why it is essential, and that without it they cannot be considered Christians, you may expect, under GOD's blessing, to see your communicants gradually increasing, and supposing they come duly, to find all Christian graces flourish. And as a practical suggestion, I would advise you to keep a regular list (for your own use) of those who communicate. This will bring before your notice every occasional defalcation, and enable you to trace it to its cause. It will show who are really members of the Church, and thus guide you in the grand duty of intercession. It will impress on you with greater clearness the lamentable state of those who never approach the Lord's Table. They too are included among the number over whom we have cure of souls; yet which of us is adequately impressed with their miserable condition? They mix with us in the intercourse of life. They [15/16] enter occasionally into the House of GOD. Their bodies will sleep like ours around its walls. Yet they are strangers to the means of union with Christ. He has been made manifest among them, but they either disbelieve or disregard Him. They come not to His Holy Communion while they live: they ask not for it when they die. The glorious privileges of the Christian kingdom are to them like a sealed volume. They see no significance in St. James's command, that if any be sick he should call for the elders of the Church. The prayer of one man is as valuable to them as that of another. That the ordinances of the Gospel supply any especial assurance of GOD's goodness and favour, or any peculiar claim to be heirs through grace of His everlasting kingdom, they either deny or forget.
Now it cannot be immaterial that you should fully understand the situation of those, over whom you are called to exercise a pastor's office. Your pulpit addresses will thus be more searching, your private expostulations more pathetic. The absence of Church discipline, our most signal disadvantage, will in some measure be corrected. Our people have too much reason to complain of a certain vagueness in our manner of teaching, which may be traced to the unhappy restrictions under which the state has placed us. We can hardly abstain from applying the threats and promises of scripture in too loose and indiscriminate a manner, because many whose open sins separate them from the inward communion of the Church, are not separated by any public sentence from her outward fellowship. This is an evil which we, who discharge inferior duties in the Church, can only lament, and which it belongs to the Apostolic office to reform. Our task is to administer the Church system, not to change it. But none are more likely to appreciate whatsoever tends to the practical amelioration of this complaint, than those who come into frequent contact with the adherents of independent and mutable societies.
You must not suppose, however, that the Church has altogether overlooked a difficulty which in her public formularies she confesses and deplores. That difficulty, as all must acknowledge, arises from the sinfulness and waywardness of her [16/17] children, who will not submit to those wholesome rules, which Apostles enjoined, and which are designed merely for their own benefit. But the Church has not failed to protest against the disobedience which she could not punish. She has appealed from the corrupt course of this world to a higher judgment. She has exhorted her true sons to exercise over themselves that watchfulness and restraint, which the laws of this world prevent her from enforcing. For this purpose, she has appointed an especial day and specific service, in which the deficiencies of her discipline may be annually confessed, and an appeal be made to men's individual conscience. They are warned not to let the present impunity of their sins conceal their deformity; to remember that GOD's curse impends over those, who though outward adherents of the Church are not living members of the Lord's body. This is done at the beginning of Lent, that those who are conscious of the burthen of sin may at that season "turn to GOD in weeping, fasting, and praying," and intreat him to "spare his people, and give not his heritage to reproach."
Now can anything be conceived more fit than this Commination Service, to abate at least the evil which has been described? Here is a declaration of the expediency of such "Godly Discipline," as might act as a charitable warning towards careless sinners. Again, until the said discipline may be restored, here is an expostulation with those, who though they enter the Church's outward Courts, are not living as Christian men.
It might be expected, that in a place and season wherein the want of Church Discipline is a popular argument against us, this service for Ash-Wednesday would be impressed upon our people with the most overwhelming solemnity. It supplies, you see, the only answer to the reproaches of our opponents. They object that the Church system does not supply full means for a growth in holiness, because there is a want of that spiritual communion, which is the means and test of grace. We answer, that on the contrary, it is in Christ's Church alone that real communion is attainable, for that Christian communion is not a mere carnal consequence of excited emotions, such as the [17/18] presence of their fellows produces in the beasts, but that living intercourse with our incarnate Saviour, which is vouchsafed to the faithful in the Lord's Supper. And those of you who invite your people to "the often receiving" of the Holy Communion, and show that you yourselves value the sacred feast, may make this answer effectually.
But then they reply, that men, whose sins show them unworthy, may take part in the Holy Eucharist. We answer, that it is for GOD alone to read the heart, but that it is the minister's crime unless, as the Rubric directs, he repels open offenders from the Lord's Table.
Yet still they add, men may profess themselves Churchmen, and frequent our courts of worship; they may be reckoned among the Church's children while living, her ministers may consign them to the tomb, and yet if they have kept aloof from the Lord's Table, and thus escaped an open repulse, there may be nothing to intimate that in the blessings and privileges of the Church of Christ they have had no real share. This objection, I verily believe, is deeply felt. Because careless persons call themselves Church-people, therefore more zealous men suppose that something else is needed if they would be good Christians. And what reply can those render, who neglect that especial portion of our system, in which the Church has given her answer to such complaints. She has set forth the commination service as her protest against this very error. She will not have it believed that those are her true children, who "take man for their defence, and in heart go from the Lord." She is not so wanting in charity as not to apprize men of their danger--as though to be warned of a disease were worse than to perish by it. And if her protest had been duly heard, if the laity had been taught the full meaning and purport of this part of our service, if it was enforced during the succeeding season of Lent, to the services whereof it gives the key, that effect might, perhaps, have been attained, which the Church declares so desirable, and some more perfect discipline might have been restored among us. This can never happen, till a due use of such instruments as we possess leads men to discern the [18/19] expediency of more. How idle were it to propose even that more frequent use of the commination service, which the Rubric contemplates, when the annual use of it, to which men are positively bound, is often intermitted. But when the clergy are at their post on Ash-Wednesday, when they explain the full purpose of its service to their people, we may then hope for a revival of that ancient order, which our Reformers desired.
I would, my brethren, that you would lay this thing seriously to heart. I know that many of you view with deep regret the deserted condition of our Zion. But however we may regret, how can we wonder at the conduct of those who invent for themselves substitutes for such ordinances of the Church, as have not been set before her children. They desire Christian communion, and seek it in means of their own contrivance. What wonder, when the means of communion which Christ has ordained are so sparingly administered. They are impressed, by the dangerous condition of insincere Christians, and invent names and distinctions not very consistent, perhaps, with Christian charity, or with due reverence for the means of grace. But has the Church's yearly witness against the hypocrisy of her unworthy members been brought prominently forth? Has Lent commenced with her service of commination? Again, they feel the need of seasons of peculiar devotion, when men's callous hearts may be awakened, and the earnestness of their spiritual emotions may be revived. Such times of revival they find for themselves. But has their attention been drawn to the Church's annual season of repentance and humiliation, when she seeks by especial devotion and self-denial to rekindle the graces of all her members? Have the fasts and prayers of Lent been more heeded than the office which commences it? Now if Christ's church be fitted, as we believe, to the wants of man, what marvel if the very show and likeness of her institutions should have their charm? And yet these things, after which men wander from the Church, the Church herself could best afford. But then they must be written, not merely in her books, but on the hearts of her people. They must be known and read of all men. And why is it otherwise? Is it because [19/20] carnal men call all observances Popish, against which their nature rebels? You, my brethren, at all events, will have no concord with those who regard the Prayer Book of the Church of England as a Popish legend, or think that it was for a superstitious usage that such men as Ridley laid down their lives. The present year has seen his works reprinted with new honour, and his statue exalted over the very spot where his ashes were consumed; would that men may remember, that to deck the martyrs' tombs has not always been held the most genuine mark of approval, and that no eulogy of the Reformers can be so real a proof of respect as obedience to their laws.
And in what awakening words do they address those who are solemnly devoted to the service of the altar. "Have, therefore, always printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which He bought with His death, and for which He shed His blood. The Church and congregation whom you must serve is His spouse and His body."
This statement deserves the more attention, because correcting an error, unknown indeed in that age though now not infrequent, that Christ's mystic body consists of an aggregate formed by abstraction from various sects, and bound together only by an imaginary bond. In contradiction of which theory, the Prayer Book reminds you that the Church and congregation whom you must severally serve is Christ's spouse and body. Those rich treasures of grace which are her spiritual dowry, those incomparable blessings which follow from union with Him,--with these privileges must you deal. Now, without estimating them highly, the pastor will do small justice to his work. Unless he has deep faith in GOD's gifts of grace, how can he encounter the opposition of the world? Without a firm conviction that in the ordinances of the Church, Christ bestows them upon mankind, how can he bear up against an age of irreverence and unbelief? And were it otherwise, yet unless he felt his true place in Christ's kingdom, his efforts would at best be the insulated energy of an individual; there would be no fixedness in his designs; none would continue or extend [20/21] them; it would be a single assault against the strong-holds of Satan, and not the carrying on of that mighty warfare, whereby to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, is made known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.
But never can a man form that high estimate of the blessings of Christ's Church, which may render his attempts thus enduring and systematic, unless he is himself deeply possessed by that spirit of personal religion which she demands of her servants. Without individual holiness, attachment to the Church is but an unmeaning name. There may, no doubt, be a carnal zeal, and a party affection, but there will be a worldliness which will taint the one, and a hollowness which will disgust men with the other. But when zeal for Christ's Church has its root in an awful sense of those evangelical gifts which in this holy society He bestows upon mankind, when it is evidenced by a devout and self-denying life, spent in obedience to her laws, then may we hope that GOD will bless our efforts, and that Satan's empire will be shaken by our assaults. On the other hand, of all the enemies from whom in our day the Church suffers, the greatest is a worldly, self-indulgent clergyman. Does he stand to minister at the Lord's Table? How many will he invite vainly to its awful mysteries because of his own irreverence. Does he kneel in the dusk to present the people's prayers? With what feeble and languid accents will he offer up addresses, with which his own heart does not concur. Does he speak to them from the pulpit? How tame and unmeaning his enforcement of truths, whereof he has no practical discernment. Or follow him into his daily duties. The Church in her indulgence allows him to be absent from his post, either at once or severally, during ninety days in the year--till this is exceeded he is not liable to presentment or penalty. But how little does she anticipate the indifference with which such a man, his Sunday duty provided for, will leave his flock uncared for in the wilderness. As if a priest had not as real duties during the six, as on the seventh day; as if there were no daily duty of intercession; as if the careless would not need expostulation, the sick comfort and advice, the dying to be reconciled to the Church by the Holy Eucharist. [21/22] Again, should he be asked to bear witness that some neighbour is fit either for the general ministry of GOD's word, or for the care of any individual flock, how lightly does such a man set his hand to the most awful and cogent expressions. Whence this laxity, but from supposing that the ministry of Christ's Church is an easy, creditable employment, which requires no peculiar dedication of man's powers, but which any one of tolerable decency may adequately discharge. Whosoever they be that form this estimate of things, I confess that I envy not their present feelings, nor look with complacency upon their future doom. "Oh! my soul, come not into their secret: unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united." What meant the answer to that solemn inquiry, amidst the assembly of Christ's Church, and in the presence of God, "Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministration to serve GOD, for the promoting of His glory and the edifying of His people?" Was it in this spirit that you were reminded, that "if it shall happen the same Church, or any member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment which will ensue?" I say not this, my brethren, as meaning any individual application thereof--GOD forbid it should be required--but if in anywise it should be applicable, would to GOD that men would make the application to their own consciences.
And this is the more needful, because while every other class has its monitors, it is reserved for our office to be monitors to ourselves. This renders our situation more dangerous: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. And this is the great reason for regretting that those rules for our guidance which the Church has embodied in the Prayer Book, are so imperfectly observed. Were it only that we lose an argument which might tell upon our lay brethren, and can expect from them little deference for a rule of which we are ourselves unmindful, this were, no doubt, to be lamented. Yet is this a small thing compared with the practical loss under which we suffer. By bringing before us a course of daily worship, by associating the several seasons of [22/23] the year with those great events which ended in the establishment of the Church, and which form the central point in the world's history, by prescribing seasons of peculiar humiliation and self-denial--our formularies are calculated to infuse that devotional spirit, which GOD's grace only can give, but which is not to be expected except in an habitual use of the ordinances of His worship. If this were needful even for Apostles, if they found it essential to give themselves to prayer as well as to the ministry of the word, then cannot these laws, as inscribed in our Church's statute-book, be judged superfluous. What effect might follow if they were better observed, if the clergy were again intercessors for the people in the full manner which the Prayer Book contemplates--what blessing we might expect from Him who answers prayer, and is present in our public solemnities, what advantages we should gain for our congregations, what solace in our own hearts, I will not at present observe. I take lower ground. I confine myself to a more restricted object. I ask you once a month at all events, to give your people the opportunity of sacramental union with Christ. I entreat you to impress upon them its necessity. I beg that you will give to the season of Lent at least, that decent observance which your promises demand, which your situation makes so important. Let the Church's protest on Ash-Wednesday be no longer unheard. Let its meaning be enforced and illustrated. So shall we be free from the blood of souls, and acquit our own consciences in the day of Judgement.
SOLD BY R. SUNTER, 23, STONE GATE, YORK.