The election of the Jewish people from among the nations had fulfilled its promised end. Their fortunes had displayed the alliance between transgression and punishment, obedience and reward, in the temporal dispensations of God; and suggested an analogy between these and the spiritual allotments of a state future and afar. They had treasured up, with a reverence approaching to superstition, the literal language of the old inspiration, the human echo of the voice of the Lord. But the national custody of prophetic evidence and typical illustration was no longer demanded from those guardians of the oracles of God. Prediction had been fixed and identified by event, and type had expired in substantive fulfilment. The ritual also of the old covenant was one of fugitive and local designation. The enactments of their civil code anticipated miraculous support; and, had this been vouchsafed to many nations, miracle, instead of an interruption in the harmony of nature, would have been in the common order of events. The observance, again, of their ceremonial law, restricted to one temple and a single altar, was impracticable to all save those in the vicinity of that particular land; many, indeed, were merely possible under peculiar adaptations of climate, manners, and governments. Even the solemn recognition of the old morality embodied in the Scripture of Moses, and made imperative by the signature of God; inasmuch as it exacted utter obedience, and yet indicated no ceremonial atonement for defect, was another argument of a mutable creed. The impress of change, the character of incompletion, were traceable on every feature of the ancient faith. The spirit of their religion, as well as the voice of prophecy, announced that the sceptre must depart from Judah, and a new covenant arrive for the house of Israel. It was not thus with the succeeding revelation. When the fulness of time was come (that is to say, when the experiment of ages had ascertained the Gentile world that the sagacity of man was inadequate to the counsels of God), and when the long exhibition of a symbolic ritual by the chosen Israelites had conveyed significant illustration of the future and final faith, God sent his Son. Then was brought to light the wisdom and coherence of the one vast plan. The history of man was discovered to be a record of his departure from a state of original righteousness (after the intervention of a preparatory religion) and eternal existence, and his restoration thereto by a single Redeemer for all his race. For this end, the Word, that is to say, the Revealer, was made flesh. That second impersonation of the sacred Trinity "took our manhood into God." The Godhead did not descend, as of old, in partial inspiration, nor were its issues restrictive and particular to angel or prophet; but, because the scheme about to be developed was to be the religion of humanity, its Author identified himself with human nature, and became, in his own expressive language, the Son of man. He announced, in the simple solemnity of truth, the majestic errand of his birth,--to save sinners; repealed, by a mere declaration, every previous ritual, and substituted one catholic worship for the future earth. Now, the elements of durability were blended with every branch of this new revelation. Firstly, unlike the old covenant, it had no kingdom of this world, it depended on no peculiar system of political rule, interfered not with any civil right, but submitted to every ordinance of man as supreme to itself. The Christian faith was obviously meant to cohere with the political constitution of any country and all lands; to be the established religion of republic or monarchy according to the original laws, or any fundamental compact between ruler and realm; as, for example, this our Church of England received solemn recognition as a public establishment, and had assurance of the future protection of her liberties and privileges unharmed, in the Charter of King John. The new ceremonial usages again were as watchfully calculated for stability, as the forms of the old law had been pregnant with change. The simplicity of baptism--that rite of all nations--was invested with a sacramental mystery, and constituted the regenerative and introductory rite of a vast religion.
One sacrifice, and that to be offered not again, was exhibited upon Mount Calvary, that last altar of earthly oblations; and the sources of .redemption were thenceforth complete. The memory of this scene was to be perpetuated, and its benefits symbolized and conveyed, by an intelligible solemnity, common to all countries, and attainable wheresoever two or three were gathered together in his name. The moral law proceeding on the perpetuity of natural obligation entered of necessity into the stipulations of the new covenant. But it was no longer fettered in operation by a literal Decalogue; no longer repulsive from its stern demand for uncompromising obedience. Its enactments were transferred by the Founder of Christianity into .the general and enlarged principles of human action, and defect in its observance supplied by an atonement laid up or invested in the heavens. But not only was this alteration of doctrine and ceremony made from transitory to eternal: the law being changed, there arrived of necessity a change in the priesthood also. The temporary functions of the race of Aaron were superseded by the ordination of a solemn body of men, whose spiritual lineage and clerical succession should be as perpetual as the creed they promulgated.
The scene recalled by our text is that of the shore of Genesareth, whereon stood the arisen Lord, with the eleven men. Thence the sons of Zebedee, and others among them, had departed at his mere command from their occupation of the waters, and had become the followers of his path of instruction in Judaea, and Samaria, and Galilee. They had seen the supernatural passage of his life in wonder and in sign. They had gradually imbibed the doctrines of his mouth; for them he had given unto the olive and the vine the voice of instruction, and hung, as it were, a parable on every bough. From the cross of shame, indeed, they had shrunk in shuddering dismay. But then, faith revived with his resurrection, and they were permitted to identify his arisen body. And now they beheld him on that accustomed spot, the apparent Conqueror of death, from whose grasp he had returned, the Author of that second life, the breath which he breathed into his new-founded Church; the evident Lord of--in his own declaration--all power in heaven and on earth.
In the first ordination of Christian antiquity, the Son of God invested with his last authority the apostles of his choice: "Go ye into all the world, and proclaim the gladdening message unto every creature. Make disciples in all nations by baptism into the religion and worship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
Such was the tenor of that awful commission which they had to undertake and discharge. It was conferred at that hour on none beside, imparted with no lavish distribution to a multitude of disciples, but restricted to the blessed company of apostles; and by implication to those whom they in after-time might designate and ordain, save that the supernatural interference of the same Lord in the vocation of particular apostles might and did afterwards occur.
Who is sufficient for these things? must have been the conscious, though unuttered, question of every apostolic heart at that hour of awe. The fishermen of Bethsaida to arise from their nets to convert the nations! Unknown Gali-laeans to compel the homage of distant and enlightened cities to the Crucified! The Searcher of hearts, aware of their natural diffidence and usual fear, therefore gave them assurance that the purifying and instructing Spirit he had promised should descend upon them at Jerusalem, and that miracle and sign should attend their ministerial path; and then, to banish the apprehension and awaken the courage of his succeeding servants, he uttered to those representatives of the Christian clergy the consolation of our text,--a catholic promise to a catholic Church,--"Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Amply was that pledge redeemed, that promise fulfilled! After not many days, urged onward by the impulse of the descended Spirit, upheld by the conscious presence of their invisible Lord, the apostles, from the guest-chamber of Jerusalem proceeded on their difficult path. Peril and hostility were on every side. On the one hand, the Jews, haughty and stubborn, clung to the altars of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not have "that man to reign over them." On the other hand, the Gentiles, absorbed in the indulgence of a luxuriant superstition, were unlikely to forego the gods of their idolatry, and elect from among the various formularies of worship the adoration of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet mightily grew the word of the Lord, and prevailed. Not only were Jewish converts counted in vast multitudes beneath the eloquence of St. Peter and St. John, but, in Gentile countries, a tent-maker of Tarsus obtained much people in every city. The mantle of the apostles descended on early martyrs and succeeding saints, until, not four centuries after the ascension of its Lord, the yoke of Christianity was on the neck of men having authority. A vast empire was docile to its tenets, and a conqueror was found to inscribe on his banner the symbol of human redemption, the wood of shame.
These, it may be urged, were days of miracle and sign. They were so; but it was only because prodigy and supernatural proof were the chief exigencies of those times. The supply of grace--by which word I understand aidance Divine imparted to human endeavor--was not intended to be uniform or redundant, but "by measure." Thus the display of the co-operation declared in our text, and the contribution of the Holy Ghost to the structure and stability of the apostolic Church, these were to be accorded in rigid proportion to time and circumstance, and local need. When that Church, built upon the rock of a pure confession, and reared by the succeeding hands of apostles and saints, had survived the wrath of early persecution, and baffled the malice of Pagan antiquity, then, in the next section of her history, heresy and schisms within her walls tried her foundations, and assayed her strength. In this peril he was with her always,--vouchsafed other manifestations of his presence and his power. Wise and courageous champions "for the faith once delivered to the saints" appeared on the scene, clad with faculty and function obviously from on high.
The warfare of controversy produced the exposition of error and the triumph of truth. Those sound statements of the Triune Mystery and the attributes of the Second Person therein, which we confess in our Nicene and Athanasian formularies, were documents deduced from those Arian and Sabellian dissensions which they were embodied to refute. The suggestions of Pelagianism, again, in the succeeding era, tended to the more accurate definition of Scriptural doctrine on the union of Divine with human agency in the conduct of man; and the experiment of centuries afforded ample comment on the text of the apostle, that "heresies must needs be, in order that the orthodox might appear." True it is that in the following times, under Papal encroachment, a long period of lowering superstition was permitted to threaten the primitive doctrine and distort the liturgical simplicity of the Church of Christ; yet even then the fire of the apostolic lips was not wholly quenched. The sudden impulse given to the human mind by the appeal of Luther, proved that the elements of early faith yet endured,--that the former spirit was breathing still, and awaited only that summons to respond to the call. The success of that German monk, and the other lowly instruments whereby a vast work was wrought, exhibited another interference of that supernatural succor promised by our text. The fortunes of our Church of England, since that reformation, have been somewhat given to change. Once her sanctuaries have been usurped, and often her walls assailed. Evil men have "gone round about our Sion, and told the towers thereof, and marked well her bulwarks," but with hostile intent. The present days are not without their danger! Still we hitherto remain. Still we have the promise of the text sounding in our ears. Still have we the contribution of our own endeavors to sustain the spiritual fabric whereto we belong. The circumstances that originate with ourselves to impair our ecclesiastical validity appear to be, firstly, a spirit of concession. The right hand of paternity is too often extended, when the glove over Edom, the gauntlet of defiance, should be cast down, and the sword of the Spirit grasped to combat and refute. Dissent may be inseparable from religious freedom, as prejudice and error are congenital with the human mind. But the wanderers from our discipline and doctrine forget that they have voluntarily destroyed their identity with the flock; freely abandoned the pasture and refuge of the true fold; and have wilfully resigned all inheritance in its spiritual safety and in the secular advantage which may thereto accidentally belong. If, then, through some narrow gate of misconception or error they have "gone from us because they were not of us," they cannot, in honesty, look that it should be widened for their re-admittance, when that return, too, is with unfavorable design towards us and ours. Far be it from me to display unnecessary hostility towards any sect or denomination of men! but if, as I conceive, it be in supposition, that, by some compromise of doctrine or ceremony on our part, future stability may accrue to this Church of England, let us remember that Divine co-operation is not proposed to unworthy means, and that recorded experiment hath shown that it were even better that the Ark of God should tremble, than that the hand of Uzzah should sustain its strength.
One other source of future insecurity may be apprehended from the growth of vanity in theological opinion and private interpretation among the members of our own body. For example, it is matter of lamentation, that the terms "orthodox" and "evangelical" should have attained contrasted usage in a Church whose appellations, like her doctrines, should be catholic and one. As in the perilous time of the early Corinthian Church, the existence of divisions in practice extorted the indignant expostulations of St. Paul, so, in these days of danger, it behooves every sincere friend to ecclesiastical order, to deprecate the exhibition of internal diversity, either on questionable doctrine or custom indifferent, to the surrounding foe. Better it were that those energies which are dissipated on the shibboleths of party, were applied, in unison, to the vindication and honor of the general Church! The theory of ministerial operation might appear to be, that every apostolic officer of Christ should combine, with the intrepid discharge of his own duty, a corporate anxiety for the common weal; that each of us should convey his personal stability as a contribution to the strength of our spiritual structure, and regard the graces of individual ministry as instrumental to the decoration of a general edifice, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Cornerstone. To this end, the solemnity of that function which the apostolic clergy have to discharge is in itself argument and exhortation. Unto them was transferred the especial guardianship and authoritative exposition of the oracles of God. By them alone the Founder of their faith gave promise to infuse sacramental advantage into the souls of men. The pledge and reward, the privileges and hopes, of Christian Scripture, regard that Universal Church wherein they hold pastoral rank from the Chief Shepherd, to bind and loose, shut and enclose in his earthly fold. The constant remembrance of these things might both kindle zeal, and repress presumption; for, though the office be "but a little lower than the angels," how can we forget that it is intrusted to frail and erring men? The train of thought suggested by a retrospect of these remarks is, that the erection of our enduring Church was always the hopeful predestination,--the original intent of God; that three periods of revelation absorb the spiritual history of man: the simple worship of the patriarchal times; that rudiment of religion, the particular, but mutable and transitory, covenant of Moses; and the catholic faith which we confess. In this last inspiration, all doctrine and usage, stationary and complete, are final; and we approach in this concluding dispensation the threshold of eternity; and the text has announced the prophecy of the Revealer, that the official existence of its ministers shall expire only with the close of time. Local illustration of this durability is extant in our own ecclesiastical records. What changes have glided over the land since these towers of the past were set upon our hills, the beacons of the eternity whereto they lead! What alternations of poverty and wealth, of apprehension and hope, have visited those who have served at their altars! times of vigor and decay! And yet we have assembled this day to exhibit our adoration to the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent, in this surviving sanctuary "gray with his name; "but the voice of history, that prophet of the past, affords us full assurance of hope for the future continuance of our beloved Church. Vicissitudes may approach, but not destruction; external attack, but no intrinsic change! Whatsoever the hand of sacrilege may perpetrate on the temporal fortunes of the Church of England, these are accessory but not essential to her spiritual existence. Howsoever she may be despoiled of her earthly revenues, though silver and gold she had none, there would be much, apostolic and sacramental, that men must seek at her hands; and with the memory of Him who uttered the consolation of the text, we confide, that, while England shall bear that name, in the imagery of the Psalmist, "The sparrow will find her a home, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God! "Because he will be with us in the control and guidance of human events, for all power is given unto him in heaven and on earth; with us in the general anxiety of his providence and the particular interference of his aid, since the Chief Shepherd must keep the watches of the night over his earthly fold; with us in the issues common and ministerial of his most Holy Spirit, -which is in continual procession from the Father and the Son,--Lo! he is with us always, even unto the end of the world!