The following chapters, dealing with the seven sacraments in association with the seven petitions in the Lord's Prayer, may fairly claim a word of introduction from me, since the idea of such association the author modestly says was due to me, and not original with himself.
The suggestion came in this way. In an address delivered to candidates, who had just received the imposition of hands in Confirmation, I pointed out the connection, indeed the interpretation, given to the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit, by the things for which our Lord bids us ask in the prayer which He has prescribed for our use:
1. Thus we ask for the gift of "Wisdom." its constant supply and increase, when we pray "Hallowed be Thy Name." "The fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.'' And he who learns to hallow, make holy God's Name on his lips, in his conduct, and in his heart, is the truly wise man.
2. We ask for the gift of "Understanding" when we pray, "Thy Kingdom come," since the faculty which enables us to discern the signs of the times, to read the handwriting upon the wall, is God's gift, it is a knowledge, a prescience, which, as the Prophet Daniel says, cometh from the Almighty.
3. We ask for the gift of "Counsel," when we pray. "Thy will be done." He gives himself the best advice, and most wisely guides others entrusted to his care, who follows in so doing the will of God.
4. We ask for the gift of "Ghostly Strength," when we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread.'' Spiritual strength like physical comes through means. The earthly bread nourishes the body, and the Bread which came down from heaven nourishes the soul.
5. We ask for the gift of "Knowledge,'' when we pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those, who trespass against us." The knowledge of ourselves as we really are, as God sees us, is contemplated alike by the spiritual gift, and the fifth petition in the Lord's Prayer.
6. We ask for the gift of "True Godliness," when we pray. "Lead us not into temptation," since man is most like God, when he resists and overcomes temptation, and so places himself beside our Blessed Lord in the wilderness, when the devil left Him, and angels came and ministered unto Him.
7. And finally, we ask for the gift of "the fear of the Lord," when we pray. "Deliver us from evil." inasmuch as evil is the only thing, which can break down and destroy that awful and salutary reverence, which is inspired by the Holy Ghost, and is the gift of Holy Fear.
When once evil gains dominion over a man, then God is far above out of his sight, and the fear of God dies out in his soul, and disappears from his life and conversation.
This is the outline of our course of thought, and the association became the suggestion of the bringing together by the author of this volume of the so called seven sacraments of the Church, and the sevenfold asking in the Lord's Prayer.
Should there be any who feel inclined to demur to the expression, "seven sacraments," as being in conflict with the twenty-fifth article, I would say that if their objection lies no deeper than the phraseology, then their difficulty will speedily disappear, since the article in question, loosely and inaccurately as it is drawn, does nevertheless distinguish between "the two sacraments ordained of Christ in the Gospel," and the five, "which are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel." The term "Sacrament" may, therefore, be lawfully used of holy rites and functions other than Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, under the shelter of this very article, provided they be not termed, "sacraments of the Gospel."
It would not do to build an argument in any direction on this article, as a foundation, since theological statement is impatient of inaccuracy, not to say direct and positive error, and both confront us in this formula or thesis.
It is inaccurate to assert that Confirmation, Orders, Extreme Unction, for example, "have no visible sign or ceremony ordained of God," unless it be contended that whatever is not commanded or prescribed directly by God in His own Person, as the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, and our Blessed Lord's injunctions in the New Testament, is not "ordained of God." If this position be assumed, then there is swept at once into the same category with the five sacraments all that is enjoined by prophet and Apostle, and very much of what orthodox Christians of every name cherish to-day as of the very essence of their systems.
Again, the twenty-fifth article affirms what is positively erroneous. It divides the five sacraments into two classes, which are exhaustive, namely, first, those "which have grown of the corrupt following of the Apostles," and secondly, those, which are "states of life allowed in the Scriptures."
Now Confirmation is not a state of life allowed in the Scriptures, and hence, the Article forces us to the conclusion that Confirmation is the "corrupt following of the Apostles."
The truth is, the thirty-nine articles were provisional in their purpose, designed to meet the exigencies of the age when they were drawn up. Indeed much of the matter in them can only be understood by those who are familiar with the fanaticism and errors in religion of those times.
It may be sharply asserted that if these articles are to be presented as a theological statement of the position of the Anglican Communion, then they must be revised and recast. We are not disparaging the Articles; on the contrary we are defending them, since to place them in their true position, as provisional, drawn up in a period of intense religious excitement to guard against errors which were then prevalent, is their true, their only defence. To allege that the thirty-nine Articles are a finality, to take their place beside the Creed of Christendom, is to commit the Anglican Communion to a position, which would be fatal to her Catholicity.
The very men who shared in the labor of framing the thirty-nine Articles, did not hesitate to employ the term sacrament in the broader sense in which it was then commonly used, and since that day our ablest and most learned theologians have followed the example of our Book of Homilies, and called other functions than Baptism and the Eucharist, "Sacraments."
It is worth while to remember that our Church took her departure from the Church of England, without the thirty-nine articles, and endured to live for twelve years without them, and thus gave practical proof that this venerable formulary, valuable as much of its matter is, since it traverses the same ground as the Creed, is nevertheless not essential to the Church even in her national character; and still further as she subjected the thirty-nine articles to criticism and revision, before she adopted them, she proved that in her judgment they are provisional, and not final, and may be modified and altered to meet the exigencies of the times.
We feel sure that while the contents of this little volume may not command universal acceptance, still its perusal will prove a lasting benefit to all who read it, since the spirit which breathes through it will, in association with its excellent and exalted aim and purpose, win souls to love Christ and His Body, the Church.
G. F. S.