MY REVEREND BRETHREN,
THE custom of our Church requires that now, after an interval of three years, I should address to you what is commonly called a Charge. It may appear that matter can never be wanting for addresses succeeding one another at so long an interval; and perhaps it is this very plenty of matter which now oppresses me with a sense of the difficulty of selection. While I trust we have all one faith, I cannot but be aware that there exist among us considerable differences of opinion; and as our unanimity in respect of faith renders it needless for me to address you on those points which a Christian must know and believe, to his soul's welfare, so our differences in opinion may render it hazardous for me to speak on points where the opinions of some among you, formed on careful consideration, may differ from [5/6] my own. Still, Brethren, if it be not generally considered as any mark of arrogance for a minister of the Gospel to express his opinions, and endeavour to impress them upon others, I do not think that I can justly be accused of presumption, if now, not volunteering my advice, but acting under the necessity of an official obligation, I address you on some points, not of the essence of religion, but yet, as seems to me, of grave importance to the good order and efficacy of our ministry. Your obligation, on the other hand, is to accept my opinions, not as dogmatic, but as suggestive; and considering that they are offered not obtrusively, but officially, to give them a patient hearing, a candid construction, and serious mature consideration.
In the first place, then, I would observe, that, neither as a body of clergy acting corporately, nor as individuals, can we carry out our mission; unless we not merely possess, but are possessed by a clear conviction what that mission is, in its essential nature--that is, as distinguished from all its temporary accidents and accompaniments. Our mission is simply to baptize and to evangelize--"Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." And this teaching is not merely the inculcation of dogmas, but the enforcement of the law of Christ; fur the original commission goes [6/7] on to say, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And what He had commanded them was, at any rate, not characteristically rites and ceremonies; as Moses had taught his disciples, but rather the internal discipline of the will and affections; so that living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present life, they might at last attain and be capable of enjoying the life everlasting.
This being our mission, as it was the mission of the Apostles at first, it remained for the Church to determine by what regulations and accessory instruments this great work might be carried into full effect. I say accessory instruments, because I am convinced .that the primary instruments were fixed unchangeably by Him who gave some apostles, and some prophets; and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. And the authority for determining these subsidiary means still remains with the Church, and with each portion of the Church, within its own limits; for the great changes which are produced by political revolutions, by the progress or decay of national education, by change of language and of manners, may render instruments once indispensible to be no longer of any use, and may occasion a necessity for the invention of new instruments hitherto [7/8] thought of. This state of the case renders it necessary that the minds of the clergy should often be engaged about such secondary matters, and renders it probable that there will be much discussion and difference of opinion as to the giving up of that which is old, and the introduction of that which is new. Now, that such discussions may not degenerate into angry and factious disputes, it appears to me necessary that the one great purpose, edification, should be steadily kept in view, and that no argument should be either advanced or listened to which may not readily be resolved into this: that which we propose to remove has been proved by experiment hurtful to the spiritual interests of the Church; that which we propose to introduce has been proved, when and where it has been used, to maintain and advance those interests; or, if it be absolutely new, that there is something in the character of the instrument proposed or objected to, which renders it very probable that its introduction will, on the one hand, produce a higher tone of religious feeling, and a holier course of life; or, on the other, that it will tend to deaden religious feeling, and diminish the inducements to a godly life.
It cannot, I think, be doubted that these are the only considerations allowable in a debate upon the rejection or adoption of secondary instruments [8/9] in religion. But if I be right in this, then it must be wrong to allege antiquity as a reason, either for maintaining or again introducing any practice. The antiquity of a practice proves, that for a long time it has been at least tolerable to those who practised it; but if its influence was bad, and if the minds of Christians were, in fact, made worse by it--then the practice and the minds of those who practised it being in unison, it would, of course, be tolerable, and might be delightful, while, at the same time, it was weakening the foundations both of faith and of morality. Of the plea of novelty, we cannot speak in the same terms, for the advocates of a new practice never assert its novelty as an argument in its favour: they feel themselves bound to prove that it will probably work well; and if the work which they have in view is not the work for which Christ's Holy Catholic Church was instituted--if it be not the making unto God a peculiar people, zealous of good works--their argument must soon display its own shallow purpose, and save us the trouble of any farther inquiry.
In uniformity with these views, my Reverend Brethren, I cannot but lament the ignorant admiration of the middle ages, which forms so prominent an element in much of the religion now current in the world. I call it ignorant, not intending to disparage the learning and research of [9/10] those who, by history or fiction, labour to nourish this mediaeval sentiment. What I mean is, that they are ignorant of that on which alone their. inference could be reasonably grounded: they do not know (to fix a point) that in the year One Thousand the population of Great Britain afforded a greater proportion of men and women living soberly, righteously, and godly, than may be found in the same country at the present day. Could it be proved that at the former period there prevailed a far more general regard, not to something called religion, but to the religion taught in the Gospels and Epistles, then I fear we should be driven to the conclusion that godliness was not profitable for all things; and that we are not to expect from it any improvement upon the state of the world that now is. Look to the atrocious penal code then enacted and long maintained in every Christian country; death on every proof, and torture on every suspicion of crime--look at the perpetual occurrence of international and civil wars--look at the treatment of God's ancient people the Jews--count up the proportion of sovereigns who died a natural death, and those who were assassinated by brothers or cousins--and then say, whether the building of fine churches, and the endowment of rich monasteries, is to be held as a sufficient counter-weight to all [10/11] this--whether the age in which such things were usual, was in reality the Age of Saints.
But we, shall go very far wrong if we turn such a view of the middle ages into a ground of vague admiration for the age that now is. The abundance of violent crime in any age proves that it was not characteristically a holy age; but the infrequency of violent crime does not prove the existence and prevalence of positive holiness. Men who are living utterly without God in the world, may see and feel that it is not for their temporal interest to seize their neighbours' lands, to murder their rivals, to rebel against their sovereign, to oppress their dependents. All this may prove that men now are more reasonable than they were of old, but much more is requisite before we can conclude that they are more holy. But still it may be said, whatever was the case with the mass of professed Christians, still it is upon record that in those days there were saints, and that now there are none, none at least among ourselves. When we hear any such assertion, it is good to inquire, what do you mean by this word Saint? Do you mean, in the Romish sense, a departed human being, respecting whom that portion of the Church has dared to forestall the judgment of God, and to say on her own authority, Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy [11/12] Lord? Or do you mean, in a popular sense, men and women remarkable for their piety above the ordinary run of Christians? Or, finally, do you mean, in a Scriptural sense, not comparatively but positively, by the word saints, all those who, having been grafted into Christ by baptism, live in accordance with their baptismal promise, repent them truly of their past sins, steadfastly purpose to lead a new life, have a lively faith in God's promises through Christ, and are in charity with all men? Here are three' very different definitions of the word saints. In the first sense, we have none; and God be thanked, that, though we cherish with affectionate reverence the memory of those who, as far as human intelligence can judge, have fought the good fight manfully to the end, and have departed in the faith and fear of God's holy name, we do not canonize, because we dare not assume to ourselves the incommunicable prerogative of God.
In the second sense--that is, in the sense of superior comparative holiness--it can never be the ideal perfection of a Church that it should possess saints; for the purpose of Christ's coming was to make unto himself a pure and undefiled Church, not a few undefiled individuals; and were the Church what it ought to be, there could be no saints in this comparative sense; and [12/13] the nearer the Church comes to the attainment of its purpose, the less room is there for the exhibition of any such comparative sanctity.
In the third sense, which, as it is the Scriptural, must be the true and proper sense of the word Saints, in the sense of men and women who fear God, keep his commandments, believe in Christ, and are guided, enlightened, and comforted by the Holy Spirit, it is false to affirm that there are no longer saints upon earth, and very hazardous to specify when and where their production has been most abundant.
Another term much used in the theological discussions of our time, but without due attention to its precise meaning, is the term Church. When we are told that the Church teaches--that the Church has authoritatively enacted certain ceremonies, formularies, or dogmatic propositions--we cannot always be certain that we understand by the word Church that idea which the speaker intended to convey, nor indeed whether he had in his mind any precise idea. He may mean that the particular communion to which he is attached has so ordained; or he may mean that the universal Church has, by common consent, continued through all ages, sanctioned the ceremony or the doctrine; or, thirdly, he may mean that this common consent has been fixed and confirmed by the legislative enactment of some official organ, say an [13/14] Oecumenical Council, qualified to judge and to decide in the name of the Church.
There can be no doubt but that this word Church has in Scripture one definite meaning--namely, the entire society of baptised believers in Christ. And it was called, not in Scripture, but at a very early period, the Catholic or. Universal Church, because, with its one Lord, its one Faith, and its one Baptism, it was essentially one and the same wherever the Gospel: was preached and received. This idea of essential unity is as true now as it was at the beginning; but the idea of formal unity which grew up as soon as Christianity was favoured by the civil power, arising from the circumstances, not from the essence of the Church, may be rejected, or at any late, must be received with caution and limitation. The formal unity of the Church was modelled upon the formal unity of the Roman empire, and was broken into duality when the empire was divided between the East and the West. When the Western Empire was completely broken up by the permanent dominion of the northern invaders in all its southern provinces, this formal union would have disappeared; but for the rise of the new or Germanic Empire, which, holding itself out to Europe as the legitimate successor of the former Empire, made Rome its ideal centre, and encouraged and legalised the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome. With the [14/15] complete independence of the several European nations on any supreme political head, arose the idea of the complete independence of national churches on any foreign Pontiff; and the modern political phenomenon of Europe, as a great Confederation of states differing in laws, language, manners, and constitution, but united by a Common law of nature and nations, is very parallel to the ecclesiastical phenomenon of the same Europe viewed as a collection of national churches, different in rites, constitution, and symbolical books, but bound together by the common name and - by the common law of Christianity. Over the whole of this political confederation, there prevails more or less a reverence for the authority of the old imperial law, and in. like manner over the whole of Christendom, there prevails a reverence for and a submission, more or less explicit, to the doctrinal and ceremonial enactments of the Church in the earlier centuries, when she was not only in essence, but in form, one and undivided. But as respect for the Roman law by no means implies dissatisfaction with the existing division of Europe into independent empires, monarchies, and republics, nor an uneasy longing for a central emperor to govern the world; so neither does a reasonable reverence for the testimony of an early age, or for the authority of Councils, imply any longing for a perfect uniformity of ceremonies and of ecclesiastical [15/16] constitutions and formularies throughout the whole of Christendom, governed by one central and universal Pontiff.
Moreover, it is certain that for the due performance of political and social duties, God has given to man a reason and conscience, by the due cultivation of which he is enabled to determine what is good and evil, true and false, as far as regards the business and the interests of his temporal existence; and the conclusions of this reason and conscience, as embodied in the maims and laws of all ages and nations, with essential sameness though with formal diversity, we may properly call Catholic truths of morality and law.
As regards religious duties, God has given to us, besides reason and conscience, a revelation of his will, and that which every conscientious reader has learned from the Bible, because it was there written in letters of light, must be considered and spoken of as Catholic truth. But then it is not to be spoken of as truth because it is Catholic, that is universal--the truth is in its essence; the Catholicity is accidental. Any individual man may, for anything we know, read the Bible unfaithfully and unconscientiously--whole national churches may hold and authoritatively enact heresy. We have no certainty that a numerical and preponderating majority, has in all past ages held the truth whole and undefiled, or that there will be such an orthodox [16/17] majority in all future ages to the end of time; and we may still ask, without being able to obtain an answer to the question, When the Son of Man cometh, will he find faith upon the earth?
When, therefore, we speak of submission to the Church, we must, if we have any practical meaning, intend to speak of submission to the laws and officers of that particular portion of the Church whereof we are immediate members, as they exist at the present day. In the Church as in the State, it is the powers that be, not the powers that have been, which are to be considered as ordained of God for our direction. When, again, we speak of the religious truths which we hold as being Catholic truths, we should remember that it is our duty to receive and maintain them, not because they are Catholic, but because they are true. That the insertion of the epithet can only mean that these truths, which we consider as the basis of our faith, have not been discovered by our own ingenuity, nor adopted from the probable reasonings of some ingenious theologian in the present or in past ages--among the Fathers or among the Reformers--but that God has declared them, and therefore they are true--that he has declared them so clearly as that the great universal body of Christians have at all times seen them in his word; and that thus they are not peculiar opinions, but Catholic truths.
I venture to hope, my Reverend Brethren, that [17/18] you will not consider all that I have been saying as vague generalities. Some generalities we must attain to before we can deal satisfactorily with practical realities. We must possess some general notion of the true and the good, before we can say of any particular proposition this is true, and therefore I will believe it; or, of any quality this is good, therefore I will seek to cultivate it in my own mind, and I will love it wherever I find it existing in others. Our business, then, Brethren, is, like that of all other human beings, to do our duty in that station of life in which God has placed us; to speak more particularly, it is to do our duty as Ministers of that particular portion of the Universal Church, in which the Providence of God and the concurring dictates of our own reason and conscience have placed us. And that duty is to work earnestly and faithfully with such instruments as are afforded us, for the purpose of working out our mission, which is the turning of the hearts and souls of men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to the service of the living God. As the existing organization of our communion (and the same may be said of every other) is in a great degree a result of human counsels, it must be imperfect, and must consequently be improveable by those to whom God has granted the wisdom to devise improvement, and the power to enforce it. But such wisdom and power are not granted [18/19] to all. In a well-ordered manufactory, there may be some men of profound minds, who, while using thq instruments provided for them, conceive and invent others more convenient and more powerful; but if all the minds, whether profound or shallow, were turned from the practical application to the conceived defects and possible improvement of the existing machinery, it is manifest that the work of the manufactory could not be effectively carried on. And so it is in the Church. God, by all the manifestations both of his word and providence, has shown that it is his will the great majority of mankind--subjects and sovereigns, laity and clergy; should be conservators, not reformers; should do their duty in that state of life in which he has placed them, not create a new and better state of things, in which they may place both themselves and others more advantageously, for working out the great purpose of their being. When the mechanism of a church or of a state (for we must not forget that the God of Grace and the God of Providence is one and the same)--when the mechanism, I say, is so bad as to be absolutely unfit for its purpose, then God sends a Reformer, and commissions him by an impulse which he cannot disobey, and by powers which others cannot resist. But such impulses and such powers are rare, and are given only to those who by an earnest conscientious use of the existing machinery, have found [19/20] out experimentally and certainly, what it can and what it cannot do.
I now, Brethren, approach a practical question, the consideration of which has been forced upon my attention, and probably upon yours also. It is our business, as Ministers of .Christ, to administer the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. But if, as must, I think, be allowed on all hands, we are not to do this indiscriminately; as cases may arise when a minister not only may, but must refuse; the question which any of us may be called upon to answer for the satisfaction of his own conscience, and the direction of his own conduct, is this--by what characteristics shall we distinguish those whom we ought to receive, and those whom we ought to reject?
Now, before we can arrive at anything like a satisfactory answer, we must consider attentively, both the law of the case and the nature of the case. The law must be looked for in Scripture and in the Rubrics and Canons of our own Church. In Scripture, I do not think that we shall find much to our purpose; the minutiae of ecclesiastical discipline are not there specifically laid down; and I think it would be very rash to conclude, that all the enactments of an age succeeding that of the Apostles were simply continuations of Apostolic rules, and were in no degree affected by the circumstances, or even by the prejudices or errors of [20/21] the age. That there was an ecclesiastical discipline in the first century is manifest; but that the ordinary punishment for offending Christians was suspension of the privilege of communion, I cannot discover. One of the strongest passages that can be advanced in favour of such a supposition is Titus iii. 10. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject. But paraitou, avoid or flee from, is far from implying the infliction of this highest penalty. The eleventh chapter of 1st Corinthians is directly adverse to this supposition. The Corinthians were in the habit of eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord unworthily, and that, not by the indulgence of secret mental sin only, but by public riot and debauchery, such as would not now be tolerated in any sect professing to be Christian; and "for this cause many were weak and sick among them and many slept." And what was the remedy proposed by the Apostle for this crying scandal? Not excommunication, but self-examination. "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged."
Let me, in the next place, point out to your notice the directions given by the law of our own Church; and in doing so, I must presume that you admit the Rubrics prefixed to the English Communion Service, to be law to us who use that [21/22] office, and that compliance, with their spirit at least, is required also from those who use the Scotch office, seeing it is declared in our XXth Canon, that every Clergyman shall pay attention to the spirit and design of the Rubrics prefixed to the order for the administration of the Lord's Supper in the Book of Common Prayer.
This Rubric then declares, "that if any man be an open and notorious evil liver, or have done any wrong to his neighbour by word or deed, so that the congregation be thereby offended; or if malice prevail between any two parties, such persons shall by the minister be prevented from communicating, until they have made profession of repentance and amendment." For the full understanding of this law we have only to examine what the framers of the Rubric must have meant by the expression notorious evil liver, and this we must explain by the aid of the Exhortation. For as the Rubric states for what crimes the minister shall repel from communion when the crimes are notorious, and the Exhortation states for what crimes the offending Christian shall withdraw from communion when the crimes are not notorious, we must needs suppose that the crimes alluded to in the one are the same as those expressed in the other. But in the Exhortation we read, "If any of you be a blasphemer of God, an hinderer or slanderer of God's word, an adulterer, or be in malice or envy, or in any [22/23] other grievous crime, repent you of your sins, or else come not to that holy table." Here the words "any other grievous crime" being directly connected with envy and malice, appear to be restricted to moral offences, and to be equivalent to the expression in the Litany all uncharitableness, which immediately follows the same specified crimes--, "from envy, hatred and malice, and all uncharitableness, good Lord deliver us." The offences which, as distinguished from moral, we may call spiritual or ecclesiastical, are blasphemy, and the hindering or slandering of God's word. Unless, then, a man be a notorious evil liver, in the sense of being openly immoral or uncharitable--or unless he be a blasphemer, a hinderer or slanderer of God's word--I cannot see that by this Rubric we are authorized to repel him from the table of the Lord.
The only other law on the subject binding upon us is towards the end of our XXth Canon: "And because strangers, &c. cannot always be so well known to him (the minister) as to enable him to judge whether they be meet to be partakers of those holy mysteries, such persons, if required by him, shall produce from the clergyman to whose congregation they formerly belonged, &c., an attestation that they are regular communicants in the Episcopal Church."
This law refers to those who, having been [23/24] members of a Scotch Episcopal congregation, seek to be admitted to-communion in a congregation where they are personally unknown; and its purpose evidently is to prevent one who, as an evil liver, has been rejected in his own congregation from being received in another. It implies also, I think, that habitual absence from the Lord's table is evil living in the eye of the Church, and therefore a disqualification for admission to communion, when sought on rare occasions. But I can see nothing in it commanding the rejection of those who, not having been members of a Scotch Episcopal congregation, have no minister to whom they can apply for a certificate.
Having thus far examined the Law which appears to give considerable latitude to the discretion of the minister, we must proceed to consider the Nature of the case. The question is, whom ought we to admit to the Eucharist? and the answer to this question must depend in a great degree upon the answer to another question, what do we understand to be the essential nature of the Eucharist? Now, I presume we all understand it to be an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof: and that this inward grace is the strengthening and refreshing of our souls by the body and blood of Christ, as our bodies are by the bread and wine. [24/25] Now, when an ordinance is thus held to be necessary to salvation, the great law of charity dictates, that those who are entrusted with the dispensation of it, should dispense it to all those who apply for it, and are not manifestly incapable of profiting by it.
And who are they who are incapable of profiting by it? Who are they who, in eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man, eat and drink their own condemnation? Not surely all those who are erroneous in religious opinions, or faulty in practice; for in that case what man who knows himself could venture to approach the table of the Lord? No, it is the hardened sinner, the denier of Christ, the man who is living without God in the world, the dead in trespasses and sins. Wherever there is spiritual life, there the body and blood of Christ work to the strengthening and refreshing of the soul: where the spiritual life, that is faith, love, and holiness, are absolutely wanting, there, and there only, are they the savour of death unto death.
Having said so much upon the Law of the Church, and the nature of the case, as affecting the openness or restrictedness of communion, I leave this important subject without venturing to lay down any distinct precise rule. By the constitution of our Church, it is my office, not to enact laws, but to enforce those which have been enacted [25/26] by the proper authority. I have laid before you, according to the best of my knowledge and belief, what are the laws binding upon us in this matter, and have also endeavoured to explain what is the spirit of that English Rubric to which every Scottish clergyman is, by our XXth Canon, required to pay attention.
If, my Reverend Brethren, it should occur to the minds of any of you, that there are many more important subjects on which I might have addressed you, and which I have passed over in silence, I may answer, that I had no reason to suppose you either ignorant or negligent of the doctrines or the duties which, I trust, we all agree in considering fundamentally important; and that, in consequence, I thought it right to make a different selection of topics in addressing you, from what I might have properly made in addressing a class of Students of Divinity.
One suggestion as to the ordinary course of your ministerial duties I will venture to make. You are all frequently called upon to visit the sick and the dying, and you know what are the topics on which they require you to insist--what are the topics which you yourselves are desirous to force upon their attention, even when they exhibit no desire to hear of them. Now, my Reverend Brethren, a conviction has long been growing up with increasing force in my mind, that these topics [26/27] ought to occupy a more prominent place in our own thoughts, and in all our ministerial discourses, than they actually occupy. I own there is much apology for the choice of different subjects. The minds of our hearers are afloat upon a sea of speculation: they are assailed by captious arguments, and they almost demand answers from us. I do not say that we are to pay no attention to this unhealthy state of things; that we are to do nothing to quiet a troubled mind, even when the trouble arises from some futile and unnecessary cause. But while we do endeavour to allay doubt and anxiety upon trifling points, we ought, at the same time, to endeavour to produce a conviction that they are comparatively trifles, and that the too frequent and too earnest consideration of them must withdraw the attention from determining those points, the determination of which is essential to our peace and our safety. And if, in our ordinary ministrations, we find it difficult to distinguish between these two classes of essential and non-essential things, the difficulty springs not from any similarity in the things themselves, but from the troubled haziness of the atmosphere by which we and they are surrounded. Out of this atmosphere we must, I think, be conscious that we generally escape when we kneel by the bedside of one who, to all appearance, is about to appear before God. We do not then speak as advocates for [27/28] Christ, but as ambassadors sent from him. We do not maintain our own opinions, but we deliver the message which we know he has delivered to us. And I am convinced, my Brethren, that the nearer we can approach to the same tone of feeling, and the same line of conduct, in our ordinary ministrations, the more effectively shall we carry out the work of our ministry, and the more reason shall we have to believe that God will grant a blessing to our labours.