Project Canterbury A Letter from the Rev. E. B. Pusey, D.D. Evangelist House,
S. Clement's, Phil.,
It is well nigh a quarter of a century since this letter was written. Twenty-four long years of struggle, perplexity, growth and blessing have made so manifest the wisdom which prompted it, that nothing need be added to it. It has been an help to many, and without doubt it will be an help to more.
O.S.P. [Oliver S. Prescott]
S. CLEMENT'S, PHIL.,
MARCH 4, 1879.
MY DEAR SIR:--I was unable to open your letter yesterday until after the post was gone--I need not say that I should be very glad to be of any use to you. You do not say what are the definite sources of your doubts whether you can remain in our Church, or if you have any. If you have any, I would do anything I could, by God's blessing, to remove them. As far as I see, you seem to me more drawn by sympathy towards the Roman Church than by any feeling of duty. But love for the Roman Church should not make us forget all the blessings which God has given us in our own, and our duties to her. We should love the Roman Church, her saints, holy teachers; prize, if we know it, everything which is of the Spirit of God in her; yet her having had very holy men, and having had high gifts, is no reason why we should leave that Church in which God has placed us. The question is not whether she have high gifts, but whether we have the Presence of Christ. Since we have (which cannot be doubted) then we are safe where we are, and we should labor, in whatever way we are called, in that part of the vineyard where we have been called.
There is absolutely no doubt that our succession is valid, that our Bishops are the successors of those through whom God planted the Gospel here; and so our Church is the appointed channel of God's gifts, and the instrument of salvation to us. This is the first question to us, antecedent to anything else without us; no gifts, no helps to devotion, no holiness, no sympathies, no beauty of system, no truths abroad, no contradictions at home, are any grounds whatever for abandoning the Church in which God has placed us. Nothing can be an adequate ground for any one except a conviction, on adequate grounds, patiently .tested, and overpowering, apart from any cause of excitement, that she is not the Church, and that to stay in her, being rent from the Body of Christ, is peril to his soul. I own I do not myself see how any one is to come to this conviction. For myself, I am accustomed to dwell upon two tests which are given in the Ancient Church. It is to be assumed as an undoubted fact, that we have the succession; that if there is any descendant of the Ancient British Church, it is our own; for no other has the line of descent, the only question that will be raised is, have we lost the gifts of the Church in consequence of our loss of intercommunion with the rest of the Western Church? Where' this has been so, it is manifest by the loss of life and of the sacraments. It has from S. Cyprian's time been universally noted that a branch really severed from the trunk, i. e., from the Body of Christ, carries with it for a time the freshness from the parent stock, and then gradually the life dies out. This has been so remarkably verified ever since, that the absence of it in any case is the very strongest proof that a branch of the Church is not severed. For life is the presence of God the Holy Ghost, through whom Christ dwelleth in it. Abroad, among Protestants, life dried up almost at once. Lutheranism and Calvinism both stiffened; then the one decayed into Rationalism, and the other into Socinianism. There is, I suppose, hardly any Protestant teacher in Germany altogether sound in essential articles of Faith. In England our course has been upward. The life of our Church has been tried in every way that it can be tried; and now, after three centuries, it has a more vigorous life than ever. Still more remarkable are the tokens of God's Providence over her, as showing His care for her; how He held her back at first when she would have injured herself; saved her, e. g., by the sudden death of Edward VI., which was then thought so great loss, and so has purified her by a succession of trials, and given her a succession of teachers such as He has bestowed upon no body except the Church. What a token of His Presence are such as Hooker, Andrewes, Laud, Taylor, Ken, Butler; each sent at his appointed time, and for his appointed office! Butler, e.g, could not have rendered his office in Hooker's day, nor Hooker in Butler's. What a phenomenon is either! Hooker, prepared secretly, and unknowingly, through his early life for the great work for which he was formed, out of the adverse circumstances of his birth led back to a deeper theology, and the instructor of every thoughtful mind since. Butler, standing (if one may reverently so speak) like a type of Melchisedec, having none before him or after him, in the said century in which he lived, insulated and little influencing his own day, yet laid up with God as His instrument, for His own time, speaking now he is dead, and acting upon numberless minds, so that we, probably, as yet see but some slight portion of the fruits of a mind, which seemed wasted on its own day, but which God stored up for His. And so of many others. God raised His instruments each in his own fitting place, and through them worked for her in each day what He saw good, and brought her through all. And now, again, He hath wonderfully predisposed things, so that the present movement could take place, and is most marvelously and most deeply working upon people's minds, and leavening invisibly the whole Church. For you, who are a younger man and did not know the former days, it is almost impossible to conceive the change which God has wrought. Those who have seen the whole could only say step by step, "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes; and so you may naturally be tempted to impatience, because you see the remaining evils, not the mighty change which God has already wrought. And this life He called forth out of herself: it was not by aid of Roman Catholics, (they were asleep around) nor by their holier books; these were known later only. It was entirely in the line of the English Church. First it came through her own more Catholic writers, then through those to whom in His Providence she had ever guided her sons, the Fathers of the undivided Church, who are authorities with the Roman Church also. And so, I trust, we may in the end unite with Rome in the doctrines of the common Fathers of us both.
The fact that I have mentioned, that the renewed life of the English Church has been entirely from within, that is, through the good Spirit of God residing in her, has much struck Roman Catholics--much more may it us! They have been amazed, from their way of looking upon us, that the life should be of us--that it came not from them; they could not understand how a life, more vigorous, perhaps, than is in many places put forth among themselves, should spring up, not in their own communion, and with no help from them, for their prayers began at a later period. Well may we give thanks in glad amazement, among whom these tokens of God's Presence are. Well may we be content to remain where He is working! we are safe where He is.
And, for ourselves individually, there are many tokens of His presence. I do not rest upon these alone, but in connection with the fact, that having the Succession and the legitimate Consecration by those to whom the Commission is given, we have undoubtedly the Body and Blood of Christ upon our Altars; we receive It, if we have faith. Its Presence has been known very blessedly by those who are His. Sacramental grace has been so marked, that even to such as had previously doubted, it has seemed sight, not faith. There have been very awful instances in which its profanation has been suddenly punished like that of the Donatists. But since we have the Sacraments, we have the presence of Christ individually; we have that precious Gift, which whoso has, He Himself, our own gracious Lord, says, "hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." How, then, are we not safe? By this again we are separated from Schismatics, in that we have the Sacraments.
Again, "the Power of the Keys" is the especial gift of the Church. You know that it is in the most solemn way given us at our ordination--"Receive the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sinsthou forgivest,they are forgiven." Our Church, you know well, gives us the most absolute form to use in the Service of the Sick, "By His authority, committed to me." This, if we had not His authority, would be blasphemy. Yet, in the last years more especially, since people have felt more the weight of post-baptismal sin, they have sought confession. It has been frequent for persons to make confession for the sins of a whole life, and thereon to receive absolution; and God has given them grace proportionate to the contrition of those who came to it; and in some cases such large and wonderful increase of grace, as to show manifestly that He Himself owned the commission He had given to His servants.
As I said, what impresses me so much in the History of our Church is this coincidence between God's Providence without, and His grace within, and both with the fact that we have the organization of a Church. Ours is a case quite per se. In all the ancient schismatic bodies, there was formal heresy also. Then, too, they set
themselves against the whole Church. We have neither rejected any formal decisions of the Church, nor have been rejected by her. We have no "terrarum orbis" against us. Roman Catholics have been fond of paralleling us with the Donatists. For myself, although 1 have, for many years, so to say", lived in S. Augustine more than in any other father, I see, more vividly, the difference of the cases, not the resemblance. They had the Church Universal against them; we have not, since the East and West are themselves divided. They rejected the rest of the Church; claimed to be themselves, alone, the Church; re-baptized those who fell away to them; interpreted Holy Scripture, as though it had been foretold that the Church was to be in Africa only. Their course throughout was one of decay. Contrast with this temper Bishop Andrews' Prayer (which has so formed the minds of our Church) when he habitually prays for "the Church Universal, Eastern, Western, our own." Such a mind, so universal, is not an insulated fact; it is the type of a temper, at least extensive in our Church. Or to take, again, our Liturgy; here, at all the most solemn times, we pray not for ourselves only, but for that whole "Catholic Church," which in our Creeds we confess, and for all its Bishops. In the daily service alone, we pray for "our" own "Bishops, Curates, and Congregations" especially; in our Litany, for Christ's "Holy Church Universal," and for "all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons;" at the Holy Communion, we intercede for "the Universal Church," and therein for "all Bishops and Curates;" in the Ember-weeks, we pray daily to Him "Who has purchased to Himself an Universal Church by the precious blood of His dear Son, mercifully to look upon the same, and at this time so to guide and govern the minds of His servants, the Bishops and Pastors of His flock," &c.--so that we are praying for the ordinations in the Greek and Roman Church, as well as for our own. This is no Donatist temper.
Again, how miserably all such bodies, as the heretical bodies of the East, have hardened in their heresy! What dreadful subtlety, one hears, there is in the Monophysite bodies! They have petrified, as it were, not to speak of their actual losses (awful as it is to write) in apostacies to Mahommedanism. With us, as I said, there has been one long eventful history; we have not been cast into one mould, as it were, and so stiffened. It has been a long probation, as it were, through rire and water, trying and purifying us, letting us feel the effect of what was evil in us, yet bringing out thereby what is good; chastening us, not destroying us; God's good Providence accompanying us throughout. And now the token of barrenness is being taken away. What a stirring of minds there has been within to remove the reproach of our Church, the religious neglect of her poor members at home! what drawing to a more devoted life, in order to relieve them! and then too the anxiety, however inadequate both yet are, for those abroad. God seems now, especially, to be putting into men's hearts to conceive large plans to his glory, and grace to execute them. Ours is the very reverse of the history of bodies really rent from the Church. They flourish for a time and decay. Ours seems like a tree, sorely shaken, which yet, after a time, takes a deep root downwards, and bears fruit upwards, and then putteth forth fresh branches and filleth the land. Of us, it seems to be said, "They bring forth more fruit in their age, that they may show how true the Lord our strength is." After three hundred years, we have a more vigorous life than ever. God is giving us a more Catholic spirit within, and extending us without, all at once enlarging our Episcopate by His Providence, and giving us devoted persons, secretly trained, to occupy the Sees He permits to be founded. And, so, again the more, He seems to be preparing our Church for some great office in his Providence, since He is spreading it everywhere, and acting by His grace simultaneously upon it.
I hope that this statement will be some comfort and assurance to you. I could not convey to you, even in a long letter, the hundredth part of the ground of my conviction, which has been growing for many years, that God has been and is working with and in our Church as a whole, and training her for some purpose of His Providence; and I am thankful to be permitted to labor for her, and to exhort others to labor with a good courage.
For myself, so far from being dejected by , any tokens which people point out, some time despondingly, sometimes rather impatiently, of past evil, even though reaching on to the present, they may be a token the more of God's great mercy to our Church. It is certain that we have life. The greater, then, our past sickness, the greater the present mercy of God that He is restoring us. His mercy and our amazement at His love had been less, had we fallen less. We may, then, in humility confess to the utmost, "our own sins and the sins of our forefathers," the lifeless, torpid state from which we have been aroused; but, so far from being discouraged by it, take courage the more, trusting that his mercy, who loved us while we forgot Him, will not leave us now that He has awakened us to remember ourselves and Him. Negligences, from which God has aroused us, should but animate individuals or the Church to more devoted service---not lead them to despond, when He, by rousing them, has given us the earnest of His foregiving love.
For yourself, as you ask me my advice individually, I should say the first thing is to prepare yourself by praying for God's gracious help for such a general confession as I have spoken of. But THE BOOK is the book of conscience. Pray God to enlighten it, and to reveal you to yourself. Then it is best to divide your life into stated periods, and examine yourself in each of them by the Ten Commandments, including the seven deadly sins, in thought, word, and deed, in commission and omission, recalling to yourself every thing that can help memory, as scenes, places, companions of any part of life, individuals to whom duty was owing, &c.; but above all, as I said, praying to God to enlighten all the dark corners of conscience. You should thus try to form to yourself some estimate of the frequency of any sin, if unhappily it lasted any time, so to bring, as well as you can, all you know of yourself before God, and then praying Him to cleanse you from your secret faults.
Then receive the Absolution as His pardoning sentence. Pray beforehand that His grace, against the power of sin, may accompany it, as well as His pardon for the guilt of it, that the chains of sin may fall off from you; and then go on cheerfully, loving Him who has so loved you, and lighting against the remains of evil.
And in this it is advised to set yourself to conquer some special sin at a time, the most besetting--directing all your attention to pluck out every root of it, examining yourself twice a day as to any trace of it, noting down its occurrence--praying especially for the opposite grace when you receive the Holy Communion, and making some definite offering to give up this or that way in which it shows itself. You should use all the means of grace within your reach, as the daily service which you have near you. Then negatively beware of speaking discontentedly against any persons or things amongst us, e. g. (if so tempted), against authorities and their acts, or against any expressions, if so be, in the Articles, or any deficiencies; knowing ns you do that we have all so much more than we have used, and what we have, formed such holy men as Bishops Andrewes, Ken, &c., and, even in very bad times, such as Bishop Wilson.
Intercede daily for our Church, as I if you have no more time) by the use of the Lord's Prayer three times daily in honor of the Holy Trinity, and with this intention: and turn all feeling of dissatisfaction into prayer. I mean, instead of complaining to men, complain to God, i.e., pray.
Do not allow yourself in any comparisons between ours and other churches, whose evils you know not; but, as I said, turn all into prayer.
Avoid whatever you think tends to alienate your affections from your Church. Do not attend services not of hers.
And now, go on as cheerfully as you can, doing your daily duties to God, carrying on the warfare against your sins, and I hope you will find rest.
For such theological study as you have leisure, I should recommend you absolutely to avoid all books of controversy (as also in conversation all disputing) and to give yourself to the study of Holy Scripture with the help of some one Father, e. g:, the Psalms, with S. Augustine, or in part with S. Ambrose; S. Matthew with S. Chrysostom; S. Luke with S. Ambrose; S. John with S. Augustine, or S. Chrysostom; or S. Paul with S. Chrysostom. This study rightly pursued, must be a great blessing to you. And now, God bless you and guide you always.
In Him, yours very faithfully,
E. B. PUSEY.
Ilfracombe, Aug. 1845.