As this Sermon is going through the press, I see advertised "Two Sermons" on the same subject, and, I trust, advocating the same views, as regards the Offertory, by the Rev. C. W. Le Bas, and the Rev. J. C. Stafford.
It is satisfactory to observe that the subject is gaining notice in different places; and it is hoped that the publication of this sermon may not be deemed superfluous, as tending to excite, in new quarters, attention to a very important portion of the Church service.
A SERMON. 1 CORINTHIANS xvi. 1, 2.
"Now concerning the collection for the Saints, as I have given order to the Churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no collection when I come."
IT is very observable, though, at the same time, not at all to be wondered at, how certainly any departure from the prescribed rules and ordinances of the Church, involves a corresponding departure from the sound doctrine and practice of Revealed Truth.
As members of the Church, which the providence of God has planted in this land, we rejoice to be able to look upon her, as [5/6] in all essentials, pure and sound. I trust that, as regards this point, I may speak confidently for you, my Brethren, as well as for myself. We feel a dutiful attachment to our holy mother Church. We desire nothing more than that the Reformed Church of England may be upheld in her integrity and purity, and be made effective to the edification and salvation of her children. We do not care so much to enter into the bye-gone circumstances of her history, as to accept gratefully her present benefits. Henry the Eighth may have been instigated by unlawful passions in his quarrel with the Pope. Protector Somerset, and the rival faction, may have plundered the Church under the plea of reform, and some of the leading ecclesiastics, of those days, may have leaned too much to the opinions of foreign divines. Still, whether it was that a strong undercurrent of religious feeling existed in the nation, or whether the result is to be ascribed to the immediate agency of an over-ruling Providence--a great and beneficial work was wrought, which, while it purified our Church from many corruptions, left it, in all [6/7] essentials, a living branch of the Church universal--perhaps we might not be over boastful in saying, one of the purest branches existing in the Christian world. By the results of this reformation we desire to abide, because we are certain, that if the doctrines of our Reformed Church are upheld, and her ordinances obeyed, she affords to her children abundant means of grace in this world, and the certain hope of glory in the next.
And the more we love our Church, and the more humbly satisfied we are with the condition in which she was settled at the Reformation, so much the more uneasy must we be if from inadvertency, or presumptuousness, or lapse of time, any of her doctrines or ordinances have been again corrupted or set aside. The best followers of the Reformers of the sixteenth century, surely are they who desire to maintain their work entire. If any serious departure from her doctrine or discipline has taken place, or any palpable corruption of her purity, surely they are the best members of the Church, who gladly lend their aid to restore her to her true character. It is very possible for men so [7/8] imperceptibly and gradually to have departed from the truth, that they shall not be aware of their error, and if any one remind them of the fact, they shall look upon him as an innovator and disturber of the peace, and it shall require much perseverance and lengthened labour of love to convince them of their false position, and induce them to return to the standard which they have deserted.
Such departure from the standard of our Reformed Church, and consequent corruption of divine truth, has, I fear, been more extensive than many of us imagine. If, in proof of this assertion, I were to advert only to doctrines, there are so many ways of evading, or explaining away the force of words, when men are disposed to do so, that the truth of my assertion might be denied. But if I bring forward palpable and evident facts, then what I assert cannot be gainsayed.
Now, first, let me notice the office of Holy Baptism. The Church directs that "the people are to be admonished that it is most convenient that baptism should not be administered but upon Sundays and other [8/9] holydays, when the most people come together: as well for that the congregation then present may testify the receiving of them that be newly baptized into the number of Christ's Church, as also because in the baptism of infants, every man present may be put in mind of his own profession made to God at baptism. * * * * The godfathers and godmothers, and the people, with the children, must be ready at the font, either immediately after the last lesson at morning prayer, or else immediately after the last lesson at evening prayer, as the Curate, at his discretion, shall appoint. [See the beginning of the Baptismal Service.] Now no one can for a moment doubt, that if this order of the Church were attended to, great good would be likely to result. We should be continually reminded of the sacred vows by which we are bound, and we should hear what the true doctrine concerning baptism really is, as set forth by the Church of which we are members. But from strange inadvertence, or other causes, this order of the Church has fallen into almost universal neglect: and what is the result? Not only are [9/10] congregations never put in mind of their baptismal vows; but, as might naturally have been expected, a very prevalent ignorance has grown up as to the doctrine of baptism, which Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, enumerates amongst the principles, and foundations of the faith. ["Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptism, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment." Heb. vi. 1, 2. 'Tis strange, indeed, that in these days, many should have swerved from the first principles of Christian Truth, and doubt or deny the great practical doctrine of "one baptism for the remission of sins."] The true interpretation of the numerous and important passages in Scripture, relative to baptism has faded from men's minds. Many persons are not aware of the spiritual efficacy of this Holy Sacrament. Some call the Lord's Supper the Sacrament, as if there were no other. Others, most irrevently, speak of baptism as the mere "naming the child;" and not a few omit it all together, and resort to mere civil registration, insomuch that it is greatly to be feared that a large number of children in this country are never admitted into the Christian fellowship at all. Is [10/11] it not evident, that all this ignorance or neglect, of what St. Paul declares to be a fundamental doctrine, and what the Church has always set forth with especial prominence, is to be attributed, in no slight degree, to the disuse of public baptism, into which all of us have more or less fallen?
A second instance, of almost equal importance, is the non-observance of the Ember days, and disuse of the prayers which are directed to be made for those who are about to be admitted to Holy Orders, by the laying on of the hands of the Bishops. The Reformed Church of England, following the practice of the Church universal, and the example of the Apostles themselves, provides, that the ordering of Priests and Deacons should take place with great solemnity, on special days, and that prayers should be offered up by the whole Church, that God will be pleased to direct the minds of the Bishops in their choice, and strengthen, with His grace, those who are by them ordained to any holy office. To what, but the very general neglect of this ordinance, can we attribute the widely-spread ignorance on this subject,--which [11/12] has arrived at that pass, that very many persons, as it is well known, have actually taken upon themselves to minister in sacred things, and even pretend to administer the Holy Sacraments, without having received a divine commission; to their own great danger, and to the confusion and disarrangement of the ancient unity of the Church. Surely the Church itself is not free from blame, for having suffered this state of things to arise.
The next instance to which I shall advert, and which, in fact, is the principal object of my remarks, is the almost universal omission in most Churches, of that portion of the service called the Offertory, which consists of the reading certain passages of Holy Scripture, during the time that the people are contributing their alms, and then presenting or offering them with prayer on the altar of the Lord. Now the directions given in the prayer book are as plain and positive on this as on any other part of the service. A minister or congregation are no more justified in leaving out the Offertory than in leaving out the lessons from Scripture, or the Psalms. After the Nicene creed, as you [12/13] will see by turning to that part of the prayer book, the minister is directed to declare unto the people what holy days or fasting days are, in the week following, to be observed,(another instance, by the way, in confirmation of what I have advanced,--for in consequence of the neglect of this direction, it has come to pass that many people are scarcely aware that there are such observances as fasts or festivals in our Church, but believe them all to have been abolished at the Reformation.) When the minister has given notice of these and other matters, then, it is directed, shall follow the sermon; and "then shall the priest return to the Lord's table," and begin the offertory. There is no option or discretion left to him. The words are plain and peremptory.
But here, perhaps, some will say--these are mere petty ceremonies, which have fallen into disuse by lapse of time, and which may well be suffered to remain as they are. Times are altered, and we must suit our services to modern notions. Such, however, is not the language of a consistent son of the Church, who desires dutifully to follow in the [13/14] path which she enjoins. Such is not the language of the humble minded, and most truly enlightened Christian, who considers that there may be reason and value in institutions, even though the present age discerns them not, and believes that the Church of Christ was established by its divine Founder, in order that it might mould the hearts of men by its influence, and not itself yield to the caprices of this or that particular age.
Yet, in truth, it needs not even the exercise of so much faith as this to make us lament that this portion of our service has been so generally disused. A very slight attention may be sufficient to convince us of its value--and to shew us, that as the present forgetfulness of the primary Christian doctrine of "one baptism for the remission of sins," may be traced to the disuse of the Church's injunction concerning the public administration of this Holy Sacrament; and, as the unsettled state of men's minds, and fearful ignorance as regards the office and duties of the Christian priesthood, and the consequent mass of schism, by which the land is vexed, may be supposed to be, in no slight measure, [14/15] connected with the disuse of the public solemnities of ordination, and the neglect of prayer and fasting, on the part of the congregations, for those who are about to be ordained as their ministers,--so, to the neglect of the Offertory, may be attributed, in no small degree, the lamentable decay of Christian charity: and want of knowledge as to its true nature and requirements.
In the text of Scripture which I have chosen, St. Paul adverts to certain directions which he had given respecting the collection of alms. "Now concerning the collection for the Saints," he says, "as I have given orders to the Churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week, (that is, of every week) let every one lay by him, in store, as God hath prospered him." This has all the appearance of being a general injunction. It is not given to one congregation only,--nor on one occasion,--but as a general order, apparently intended as a constant practice. We can scarcely doubt that it was in pursuance of this injunction of the Apostle, that the Offertory was adopted in the ancient services; and at the Reformation of our own [15/16] Church, when the Bishops restored the services to harmony with Scripture and primitive practice, we find the same custom enjoined, and occupying a prominent place in our Reformed Liturgy. We can scarcely have more convincing evidence that the Offertory is an ancient, and, in all probability, a divine institution,--sanctioned by the authority of the universal Church, and founded on the basis of God's Word. Nor, if we look to its reasonableness and propriety, can we conceive a more fit method of yielding to God that portion which is His due, than that the poor man, out of his weekly earnings, and the rich man, according to the proportion of his income, should set apart a weekly sum, and reverently offer it, as a part of his religious worship, upon the altar of the Lord, with a humble prayer, that God will be pleased to accept it at his hands.
Only contrast with this pious and reverent mode of making our alms, the common methods which men pursue. We fling a few shillings, it may be, to the importunate mendicant, or what is worse, sternly turn our backs on all applicants indiscriminately. We distribute a [16/17] few pounds amongst our poorer neighbours. We give our guineas to swell some subscription list, and grudge if our names be not duly registered in the annual catalogues, and if we have not our votes and influence for our money. Some, no doubt, (many, I would hope and believe) do, in secret, bestow much more abundant alms, and in a manner more accordant with Christian duty. Still, I would venture to assert, that not one twentieth part of the alms are given, which ought to be given in this most wealthy land. If all men gave, as they ought, of their substance for the glory of God, we should not see thousands and millions of our countrymen without religious ordinances, without Churches, in which to worship God, or teachers to instruct them. We should not even now be obliged to withdraw our missionaries from foreign stations, for want of means to maintain them. We should not see around us so much poverty, nor hear so much complaining in our streets. It is not the want of means, but the want of will, that is the cause of the manifold evils which shock the Christian heart to witness; and so long as almsgiving and charity remain [17/18] on their present footing, as matters of caprice, or ostentation, or party influence,--instead of being performed as a solemn and serious religious duty, so long, I fear, we must not look for any great improvement.
It will be said, perhaps, that the revival of the Offertory would not certainly remedy these evils;--yet, assuredly, a plan recommended by St. Paul, adopted by the Church, of all ages, enjoined by our own Reformers, may well deserve, at least, a reverent trial. In ancient days, these offerings were so considerable, that they were divided into four portions; one was given for the relief of the poor, the second the Bishop retained for his own maintenance, the third for the maintenance of the Church, and its ornaments, and the fourth for the support of the Clergy. Already a trial of the ancient practice has been made in several parishes. I will advert only to the case of a Church in London, the name of which I need not mention, where the service of the Offertory has, for several years, been renewed, and a collection made every Sunday. The annual amount collected is £1300. "From these funds," it is stated, [18/19] "the clergyman has been enabled to accomplish many important objects. Free Church accommodation has been extended; instead of three clergymen, four are constantly employed; the poor rates have been lessened; and, in addition to these benefits, it may be mentioned, that all other modes of collection for the ordinary purposes of the Church, or parish, have been done away with altogether. All modern means of soliciting Christian alms are dispensed with; there are no plates, with persons of quality, male and female, presiding over them, placed at the doors; no subscription papers circulated, with the names of the donors emblazoned thereon; no searching after popular preachers, to stimulate into an occasional fit of charity, by highly wrought pictures of distress; nothing of all this: but a return to the ancient, simple, and sober practice of the weekly collection, encouraged and increased, not by flights of human eloquence and oratory; but by the only true, religious, and right-principled stimulant, the solemn declaration and exhortation, the blessed promises and awful denunciations of Almighty God himself--for such are the [19/20] sentences that are read at the Offertory service." [The True and Scriptural method of raising pecuniary supplies, in support of the several Congregations of the Reformed Church in Scotland; suggested in a letter addressed to the Congregation of St. Paul's, Dundee. By their Pastor, Heneage Horsley, M; A., Dean of Brechen, &c.]
I do not imagine, Brethren, that I have sufficient influence or authority to induce you, at once, to adopt this Scriptural and primitive practice of making your offerings.
However, I have thought it right to set forth what both the Bible and the Church have sanctioned, and what one's own feeling must acknowledge to be a most pious and proper custom: and I am not without hope, that what I have said may, at least, prepare you for a return to the practice of the Church; when, as I feel very sanguine, examples of so doing shall spring up around us, in various quarters; and men shall begin to acknowledge that if we are ever to restore our Church to its efficiency, as the teacher of the nation--if we are ever to have schools of religious instruction, adequate to the wants of the people--if we are to send forth offshoots from our Church, sufficient to make any permanent [20/21] impression on the Heathen--if we are ever to accomplish these great works, for which Divine Providence has raised us up as a nation, and for which alone, perhaps, we have been so long preserved, it will be by a return to the neglected practice of our own Churchthe adoption of the weekly Offertory.
Meanwhile, let us praise God whensoever an opportunity presents itself of conforming to this pious custom. With regard to the particular call which is made on you this day, namely, for the building of Churches in populous and destitute places--surely there is no need for me to endeavour to excite your feelings, or convince your understanding. Is there anything I can say which you not heard hundreds of times before? Is there one amongst us who is not aware of the utter destitution of spiritual instruction and Christian ordinances, in which multitudes of our fellow country-men are plunged? Alas I these lamentable facts have been so many times re-iterated that the recital of them has almost lost its effect. When first Christian people were told of the destitution of the country, they would turn one to another in surprise, [21/22] and wonder how these things could have been suffered to grow up. But now, I fear, many are but little moved by them. We are like men living amidst vineyards and olive groves, on the sloping sides of a volcano, who have grown, by long habit, indifferent to the constant danger of their position, and even when they feel the ground quaking beneath their feet, pay little heed to the ominous warning. We have learned almost to contemplate this state of things as a necessary evil, which we cannot remedy. And yet it is most certain, that even yet a comparatively small effort, a moderate sacrifice of our comforts and luxuries, if only it were made perseveringly and heartily, might be sufficient to remove in a brief space, at least that one great and crying evil, the want of Churches in which to worship God.
Let us then, my Christian Brethren, all of us gladly contribute, according to our respective abilities, to this most urgent and important work; let us look on it as a part of our religious worship, as acceptable, as necessary, as beneficial to our soul's health, as our offerings of prayer and praise. And if we are unable by our individual exertions to make any [22/23] great impression on the evils which surround us, still let us remember that "our prayers and our alms go up for a memorial before God, that our Heavenly Father will, through the mediation of his Son, accept our humblest offerings, when made in faith and charity,--and will not "forget our works and labour that proceedeth of love," seeing that "with such sacrifices he is well pleased."
NOTE.--There may be objections of detail to the general revival of the Offertory; but not such as may not easily be surmounted. Some persons, for instance, who have been accustomed to give their alms to particular charities, may wish to continue the practice. To meet this object, notice might be given that the offerings made on certain days would be appropriated to particular objects or Societies. Nor does there appear any reason why those who make offerings, especially of any considerable amount, might not give direction, in writing, to what object they desired them to be appropriated. It would also seem desirable that an annual statement should be published by the Clergyman of the manner in which the offerings had been applied; because, in these days of contradiction, any misappropriation, or even suspicion of misappropriation in a single parish, might have a most prejudicial effect. If an account were published, there would be the same security for a proper application of the funds, as there is in any of the existing Societies. In like manner, other objections of detail might easily be obviated.