PUBLISHED AT THE BOOK DEPÔT, 14 JERVIS STREET.
THE "Rector" of a "Northern Parish" published an address to his flock on New Year's Day last, on the subject of "Our offerings to the Lord." It contains a little about "giving," but is very emphatic as to "the way" in which this is to be done. J. F. believes the principles implied in the "address" to be very dangerous, and he warns his "friend" accordingly.
RITUALISM IN ULSTER. By J. F.
King's Cross, 1877.
MY DEAR FRIEND,--I have read carefully the Address of your minister to his flock, and I shall give you my opinion of it candidly.
Some time ago it was counted rather vulgar, in your Church, to preach about money. It seems to be one of the benefits of recent changes that this subject is now largely discussed in the Pulpit and the Press, by your pastors, where ministers of other churches used to be held up to ridicule because they taught the truth of God regarding it. I must say, however, that the lessons on Christian liberality in this address are very general, and very elementary.
I do not exactly know what your minister means by taking as his motto the injunction of our Lord, "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." Is it that a Christian, in giving, is not to know what he is giving? That would be contrary to Scripture. He is to give, "as God has prospered him" (1 Cor. xvi. 2); and he ought to be sure as to what share of his prosperity he is contributing for religious and benevolent objects, otherwise he may be "robbing" God. If we do not know whether we are denying ourselves in order to give, can our offerings be acceptable?
Or, does he mean by his "motto," that a man is not to let his neighbour know what he is giving? Many have good reason for concealment in this matter. The "left hand" may well be ashamed of what "the right hand" is doing, if, in the case of one not very poor, it is searching in the pocket for a halfpenny to give at "the Offertory." A man may give in secret, God only knowing of it; but it is also Scriptural for him to let another know what he is giving, and, I think, that in the case of some large donations, it is not objected to in your parish. As to Scripture on this point, we know that Jesus sitting by the Treasury, in the Temple, saw the rich casting in much, and He also saw the poor widow casting in two mites, and she had no reason to be ashamed of what she was doing. Under the Old Testament dispensation, every neighbour [3/4] and fellow worshipper knew whether was a bullock or a turtle dove a man brought to the altar, and if a rich man had brought the latter he would have been rejected by God. We should have no absurd talk about not letting it be known how much we give. As your Pastor says, "the poor give by far the greater portion;" and it is mostly the rich who have reason to conceal the amount of their offerings. The "motto" as it stands in Scripture, means, that we are not to give for the purpose of ostentation or show, or with a view to exalt ourselves. It aims at the motive in the mind, but what it has to do with "the Offertory," I know not, except that a Christian should give there as liberally and heartily as if the amount of his giving were proclaimed aloud to the public.
I feel surprised and sad, however, to find a Protestant minister, in an address printed for circulation among his people, twice calling himself "a priest." He quotes this term, it is true, from the Prayer Book, and varies it with the term "minister;" but, knowing as I do, the danger of using unscriptural terms, and knowing also how the Ritualists are carrying on in England and elsewhere, I detest such a title as descriptive of a New Testament Pastor. It would not have been borne by your townsmen in other days. Your Pastor is not "a priest" in any other sense than you are "a priest." All God's people are "priests," according to the New Testament (see 1 Peter ii. 9; Rev. i. 6). They are a "royal priesthood," that is, a company of people who are both "kings and priests." Every one of them is "a priest;" every child among them is "a priest" as much as your minister. He is "a priest" only as one of the believers, and in no higher sense. He offers no sacrifice such as the "priests" did under the law. Christ has come and offered one sacrifice for sin, and that is enough (Heb. x. 12-14); and now when we have not the sacrifice, we should not have the official "priesthood."
That is the way they work over the water. They begin by calling themselves "priests;" and they say they really do absolve the penitent from sin, and that they are the only men who keep strictly by the Prayer Book, which teaches the minister, after the sick man has confessed to him, to say, "I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." Of course you, as an Evangelical Protestant, have your own way of understanding that and other passages of the Prayer Book; but the Ritualists take them as they stand, and gradually they bring about their congregations. It takes, they say, ten years to turn a Protestant Church into what is really a Popish chapel. They begin by calling themselves "priests," and [4/5] speaking of "altars" and of "offerings;" and after a little, if all this is tolerated, "lights" and "incense" are introduced, and then they land literally, or all but in name, in Rome.
Look into a Church in Ulster, the walls of which used to echo to the purest (as was supposed) and most pronounced Protestantism. The "service" is, of course, read in a surplice. This is changed for a black gown during the "sermon." So soon as the latter is ended, the preacher hurries to the vestry to get on the surplice once more, that in the "priestly" robe he may present "offerings" to God; and Protestant people look on, only amused at these changes of dress, and reckoning them merely ridiculous, little thinking that they are being quietly trained to the Romish idea of "priest," "sacrifice," and "altar."
You may say there is no danger of anything of this kind in the case of your Pastor or parish. I beseech you to beware. There is that in this Address which makes me tremble for the Ark of God among you. Have you and your neighbours looked at the way in which the "priest" quotes (or rather misquotes) the Rubric of the Communion Service, regarding alms and devotions? I could not have believed it if I had not examined it carefully. That Rubric is the following:
"Whilst these sentences are in reading, the deacons, churchwardens, or other fit person appointed for that purpose, shall receive the alms for the poor, and other donations of the people, in a decent basin, to be provided by the parish for that purpose, and reverently bring it to the priest, who shall humbly present and place it upon the Holy Table."
I beg of you to read this Rubric once more, and compare it with the version which your "priest" gives of it. He leaves out in his address the words--"in a decent basin to be provided for that purpose," he puts "bring them" instead of "bring it;" and "present and place them" instead of "present and place it." He then makes this comment, "the direction to the minister is not only to place the alms on the table, but first to present them to God." (The italics are mine.) Observe that the name of God is not, in the Rubric, either expressed or implied. "Present and place" just means "to put forward and lay" the alms on the table. The worshippers, if rightly exercised, have already presented them to God when putting them in the basin. They present them to Him immediately and directly without the intervention of "Minister" or "Priest." The offering is made by them, not by him. What saith the Scripture? "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, that ye present your bodies"--that is, yourselves, body and soul--"a living sacrifice (Rom. xii. 1); [5/6] and if Christians can thus present themselves, they can, surely, without the intervention of a "Priest," present their substance. Read again--"By Him, therefore"--that is, by Christ, not by the Minister--"let us" (the people--believers) "offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually" (Heb. xiii. 15), and not only when a minister is at hand to come between. Oh! my friend, watch against this "priestly" presumption. Contend for the doctrine that the saint and the sinner have both immediate access to God. Believers through Christ present for themselves sacrifices of praise and prayer, and "alms and devotions," without the mediation of man or angel. This is the very heart of the Gospel. "The offering is made by the Minister," says the address. "The offering is made by Christ's people, now the only true Scriptural priests," says the whole word of God.
And what, you will say, can our ministers mean by all this? Well, my opinion is, that they (that is, those of them who sanction this sort of thing) are trying to keep up the idea that they are still, in some way, quite above other ministers of the Gospel. They offer to God offerings of some kind for the people. They stand between Him and them. The idea would be ridiculous if they spoke of presenting "a basin" to God; but, as they must be "Priests" with superior sanctity, they change "basin," as it is in the Rubric, into "offerings," and it is they who "offer," and the people are called upon to take "a deep and solemn interest" in "this act," and "reverently to join in it" (see Address). In some "churches," it seems, "the people stand and sing a hymn during the collection and subsequent presentation, whilst in others the people stand during the presentation." This is all very exalting to the "Priest," and very pleasant to man's pride, but it is contrary to the simplicity of Gospel worship, and it has much in community with the "Mass" of Rome. The "motto" of Protestants in these matters should be "Obsta principiis," that is, "Oppose the beginnings," of evil.
Is it not a fact that in former times the collectors in your church brought the "basins," or plates, and presented or put them forward, and placed them on the table inside the communion rails? But now that sacred enclosure is shut in and carefully guarded. A "priest" takes the alms from the collectors with solemn face, and perhaps hands them to another "priest," and he "presents" them, as the address says, "to God," and the people are to look on in solemn awe, and reverently to join in this act of worship! What reason, I ask, is there for reverence here, more than in any other part of the service? "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of His saints" (Ps. lxxxix. 7); and this special solemnity attached to the offering of gifts to God by the "priest," is ritualistic in a very high degree.
 My dear Friend, you may think lightly of these things, and try to shut your eyes to them. You will live and die a Protestant of the old type. But what of your children? It is fearful to have them trained in anything approaching to the mummeries of the Man of Sin. Be warned. Listen to the language of a clergyman of the Church of England, as to the state of things there:--"It is a positive fact that many thousand clergymen and laymen have essentially adopted the Roman Catholic religion." . . . "Eleven hundred clergymen recently petitioned for union with Rome." . . . "In the earlier stage of the movement a number of clergymen, estimated at 500, left the Church of England and became Roman Catholics. This was found to be injudicious, as their example did not promote the spread of Romanism within the church. Romanists are now required to continue in the Established Church as ministers of its congregations, and gradually to Romanize the people." . . . "While holding the office of clergymen of the Church of England, they avow that in heart as well as in faith they are Roman Catholic Priests," &c., &c. Surely you need to guard against the semblance of this system beginning in Ulster. It may come to nothing very bad in your time, but what of the next generation?
This clergyman further says--"The Romanizing ministers constantly affirm that they are bound by their ordination vows to observe the ordinances of the Prayer Book." He shows how in it they are called "Priests." They "received the Holy Ghost" for the work of a "Priest" at their ordination. They got power to "forgive sins." The "Catechism" teaches the Real Presence. Every child baptized is declared to be "regenerate" by the Holy Spirit, &c., &c.
Do read the Prayer Book carefully through--a thing you have never probably done--and see if you can wonder that Romanism in the Church of England asserts that that book is its stronghold. See, also, if real Protestantism can continue among Episcopalians if that Prayer Book is not thoroughly purged.
Is there one of your neighbours, who is a Protestant at heart, and who really approves of the language of that book in "the Ministration of Baptism," for example? What think you, when you look at them seriously, of the words that are used respecting every child that is baptized? "We receive this child into the congregation of Christ's flock, and DO SIGN HIM WITH THE SIGN OF THE CROSS." &c. ("Here the PRIEST shall make a cross upon the child's forehead.") The "Cross" and the "Priest"--where is the authority in the Word of God for the use of the one as a symbol added to a divine ordinance, or of the other as a name for a minister of Christ?
Then, a little further on, the "Priest" is directed to say to God [7/8] in prayer:--"We yield Thee hearty thanks that it hath pleased Thee to regenerate this infant WITH THY HOLY SPIRIT," &c. I tremble when I think of a mortal man uttering these words at a throne of grace regarding every baptized infant.
The late Dr. James Hamilton, of London, who loved the Church of England very dearly, in a pamphlet which I have before me, says:--"Surely the heads of the church are scarcely aware of the effect which the retention of this dogma of sacerdotal magic or mechanical regeneration is producing amongst the laity. Frequently have I been entreated by intelligent members of the Church of England--by barristers, medical practitioners, and other men of education--to relieve their consciences by baptizing their children, as they could not even tacitly countenance the doctrine of their own Baptismal Service."
The times are ominous. The efforts of Rome are increasing. The people of God must keep more closely than ever by the motto--"The Bible alone is the religion of Protestants." We must search the Scriptures and bring every doctrine and every form and mode of worship to the test of divine truth. For the glory of Christ, the only "Mediator," and for the sake of unborn generations, watch the "Priests," and guard against their pretentions.
I know well how earnest you are for the spread of our common Protestantism, and how you sigh and pray for the time when, in Ireland at least, love to the Saviour shall supersede sectarianism. I entreat ,you to consider whether this time can come, so long as many of your clergy speak and act on the principle that theirs is the only true CHURCH, and that all other denominations are mere sects--so long as they write themselves down "Priests," with power to forgive sins, and to "present" offerings for the people to God--so long as they refuse to open their pulpits to ministers of other churches, as learned and as godly as themselves, and to officiate in the churches of these ministers in return--so long as they stand apart in solitary exclusiveness, refusing to join in united prayer or effort for the promotion of our common Christianity;how, I say, so long as these things, and things like these prevail, can we say that Christ is not wounded in the house of His friends, and that Ritualistic dogmas and ministers and practices are not among the most potent obstacles to the spread of the Gospel in our beloved country?
I am, sincerely your friend,
To Mr. O. P. E., Sionhill.