IN DAYS OF CONTROVERSY.
BISHOP OF MORAY AND ROSS.
AND 377, STRAND, LONDON:
JOHN HENRY AND JAMES PARKER.
"Foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, (or forbearing,--margin,) in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves."
ON an occasion such as this on which I am invited to address you to-day, I find my thoughts reverting, not unnaturally, to that time when, many years ago, I was, as you are at this moment, standing on the threshold of the Christian Priesthood, awaiting that imposition of Apostolic hands which was to separate me for the work to which God had called me, and listening to words of warning, counsel, and encouragement, which might guide and cheer me along the awful and responsible path of the Christian ministry. It was not then, as now, my brethren, a time of confusion and controversy. There were indeed differences of views, diversities of sentiments; there were then the representatives of different schools of theology, but their differences did not prevail to the disturbance of the general atmosphere of the Church; these differences engendered no suspicions, and the youthful [3/4] Priest, going forth to his ministerial work, had no misgivings that any were watching to make him an offender for a word;--real earnestness in work, and devotion to his sacred calling, commanded at once the confidence and esteem of his flock, and the sincere respect of those of his brethren whose theology might be of a different cast from his own. The great privilege, and, I will add, the inestimable advantage, of friendly intercourse and communion with brethren who did hold different views, was not then, as now, alas! too often, interrupted and marred by theological bitterness.--A calm and tranquil atmosphere, however, pleasant as it may be, may contain, and even engender, as in the natural, so in the ecclesiastical world, unhealthy and dangerous influences, which can be dispelled only perhaps by a conflict of the elements. That such was the case in the days of which I speak, I have no doubt whatever. And as this is, I believe, the true, so is it the most cheering, way of accounting for the theological conflict which has succeeded the calm of former years. God foresaw days of approaching danger to His Church in this land; He would have Her to prepare Herself for the danger, by forcing Her to examine the weapons of Her warfare. It was only as the danger thickened that Her eyes were opened to discover wherein Her weakness lay. She had trusted too much to man,--to Her ancient prestige as the Establishment; She had rested on the conviction that traditionary respect for Her, as the Established Church of the land, [4/5] would not suffer the foundations of Her Establishment to be shaken. She was not only not aware that Her enemies were closing Her in on every side, but that the help on which She had too fondly re lied was about to fail Her. The first tokens of the coming storm were certain great Constitutional changes, which, it was dear, in their results, must touch Her very closely as an Establishment. These were quickly followed by an act which proved only too evidently how little Churchmen had been taught, that the Church was not on]y a faith, but an Institution,--that it was not only a National Establishment, but a Divinely constituted organization. How few, comparatively, were able in that day to give a right answer to the scoffer's question,--'What need is there of any bishops?' when it was argued that no damage would result to the Church from the suppression of ten of Her bishoprics! It would not be true to say that none were taught, but it would be quite true to say that the great mass of the people, both rich and poor, were alike untaught, in some of those great distinctive principles which, because Divine, are essential to the very existence of the Church. So little, for instance, had men been taught of the nature and necessity of the Episcopate, of its Divine origin, of its unbroken succession, as essential to the validity of the Orders which it conferred, and of the Mission which it gave, that it seemed to many as though we were teaching some new thing, when circumstances had now compelled the Church to bring into greater prominence [5/6] than formerly, and to inculcate with a clearness which should not be misunderstood, these first principles of the doctrine of Christ. But when first principles have been lost sight of for a time, their revival has ever been accompanied with the penalty of such neglect,--doubt, misgiving, controversy. It is not a pleasant thing to be out in a storm, even though we may feel convinced that the storm is purifying the air; nor is it pleasant to live in a time of controversy, even though we feel convinced that God is thereby disciplining and purifying His Church. We should not choose that painful cross for our selves. But we may be well content to bear it when our Divine Master Himself lays it upon us; and when we find how He makes all things work together for good. For, in looking back to the ages which are past, we find that no truths are so firmly established as those which have been the most controverted; and even now He has permitted us to behold with our own eyes, how truths, which have been controverted in our own days, are establishing themselves more firmly and intelligently in men's minds. Twenty years ago, when men understood little of the nature of Episcopacy, they knew not how to resist when it was attacked,--they acquiesced in ignorance. But to-day, when a yet bolder attack is made, it has been successfully resisted--resisted upon the truest and highest grounds, and men acquiesce in the preservation of Diocesan Episcopacy because they know it to be essential, not to the preservation of an Establishment, but to the very existence of [6/7] the Church. Diocesan Episcopacy may be fostered by the state, as in England; it may be repudiated by the state, as in Scotland; it may be left to itself by the state, together with every other form of Christian worship, as in America. But in every land where the Church of Christ has been planted, whether fostered, persecuted, or repudiated, whether established or unestablished, She has ever borne Her testimony, and ever must, to that Divine organization which, transmitted to Her from the Apostles, connects and unites Her directly with Him from whom they received their mission and apostleships, and will connect and unite Her to the end.
Very different, then, now is the state and condition of the Church at Whose altars you are called to minister, from that in which It was when I was called to the same ministry. And you must be prepared, my brethren, accordingly,--prepared not only to give a reason for the hope that is in you, and, as scribes well instructed, be able to bring forth out of your treasures things new and old; not only to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints;" and to defend the truth against all novelties, whether clad in the specious form of developments, or vaunted as the wisdom of the nineteenth century; prepared to contend, not only with the wisdom of a well-instructed scribe, but, which is far more difficult, to strive, if strive you must, with that gentleness and forbearance which should ever characterize and distinguish "the servant of the Lord;" "in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves."
 Now, although then, in the providence of God, your lot is to be called to the holy ministry in days of controversy, yet let me solemnly and affectionately remind you, that it does not therefore follow that you are to seek for controversy, or that you should provoke it. A mind which loves controversy is seldom a very spiritual mind; and not less true is it, that those who are the most spiritually-minded are invariably found to avoid, as much as in them lies, all striving and contention. And I am sure that those who have carefully studied, as I trust you have all done, those Epistles of the blessed St. Paul which he addressed to Timothy and Titus, with the view of catching the true spirit of a Christian minister, can scarcely fail to have observed how earnestly he deprecates the spirit and practice of controversy, and how urgently he presses upon the Christian minister the duty of plain, dogmatic teaching of the faith, and of the practical duties winch should spring therefrom.
At the very commencement of his First Epistle to Timothy, when bidding him to charge some that they teach no other doctrine than that which they had received, he bids him to caution them not to "give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith;" adding, "The end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned." [1 Tim. i. 3-5.] When exhorting Timothy to teach and exhort the converts to all [8/9] practical duties, he describes those who teach other wise as "not consenting to the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness," but, as being "proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railing, evil surmisings." [1 Tim. vi. 3-5.] "O Timothy," he exclaims, as he concludes his first letter, "keep that which is com to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called." [Ibid. 20. 21.] Again, in his Second Epistle he says, "Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers." [2 Tim. ii. 14.] Again "Flee also youthful lusts but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace but foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes,--and the servant of the Lord must not strive." [2 Tim. ii. 22-24.] And in the very same spirit does he write to Titus when charging him to affirm constantly that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works," he adds, "But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain." [Titus iii. 8, 9.] These, remember, are the exhortations, this the instruction, given to the first Christian bishops, by one who was himself a perfect master of controversy; who, when occasion required, could dispute daily in the [9/10] school of Tyrannus, could dispute in the synagogue of the Jews, and in the market, and on Mars' Hill, but who has left on record his inspired charge to every "servant of the Lord, that he must not strive, but avoid all vain and foolish questions which only tend to strife and discord,"--thus discouraging unnecessary and profitless controversy; while he has at the same time taught us in what spirit we are to meet those who oppose themselves,--not with pride and contempt, not with violence and harshness, but gentle, patient, and forbearing, "in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves."
While, then, I would urge it upon you, my young friends, as a rule, to avoid questions of controversy, for your own peace of mind, and, so far as in you lieth, to prevent strife in others; yet must you be prepared by diligent study of God's Word, and of such authors as will best help you to a right under standing thereof, to defend your faith with meekness if it be attacked. And it may sometimes happen that objections may be raised against your faith as English Churchmen, which you may find yourselves unable at the moment to meet; but do not therefore suppose that such objections are un answerable. There is nothing new under the sun, and certainly, as far as we at present see, nothing new in the objections which in the present day are urged against our faith. A loving son will be loth to believe a calumny against his mother; and rest assured, my brethren, that if you will only honestly [10/11] study the writings of those fathers of our Church who, in former days, as faithful sons have defended their Holy Mother, you will find that modern calumnies are only the repetition of those of former days, and that they have been again and again triumphantly refuted. But should you ever be forced into controversy, follow some such rules as these:--First, look up silently to God for wisdom and grace, and then bear gently with your antagonist. So far as you believe him right in his views, join him, and go with him; if you would do good by what you say, oppose and contradict as little as it may be possible; make all allowances, and take in the best light the things which he may say. Avoid all reproachful language, all that is sarcastical and biting: this never did good, and least of all can it do good from the pulpit. The softest words make the deepest impression. [Sch. Arm. vol. i p. 277.] In controversy thus conducted you may not, perhaps, convince by your arguments, but you will have done harm neither to your own soul, nor to that of your antagonist.
And while I am upon the subject of controversy, let me offer you one further caution against a too prevailing custom of the day. I allude to the practice of introducing controversial subjects in sermons, and stating points of difference between ourselves and others, in villages, and other places, where no such subjects or such points of difference would be even known, unless we had mentioned them. The best protection against error to common minds [11/12] is an intelligent knowledge and conviction of the truth. Preach God's Word to the poor,--preach His Cross plainly, faithfully, dogmatically; let your teaching carry with it the conviction that you yourselves perfectly, and without any doubt, believe it; and, if you will not yourselves raise a doubt, your people will believe it too. The best of all preaching to this end I myself believe to be the Catechetical; it is that which best informs the understanding of the adult, no less than of the child, and if well done, will touch the heart too. How often, of late years, have those words of the good Bishop Andrewes pressed themselves upon me,--"if ever the Romanists shall get the advantage over us again, it will be from their more frequent Catechising than ours." The public Catechising of our children will do more to supplement the neglected education of the last generation in religious matters than ten thousand sermons.
You will perceive, my brethren, that the drift of my words to-day has been, in accordance with the instruction of my text, to exhort you to avoid foolish and unlearned questions which may gender strife, since "the servant of the Lord should not strive." Nor shall I, I think, be departing from the spirit of my text, if, as a father in the Church of God, and as one who has had his share in the work of a parish priest in England, I venture to offer some words of counsel and caution to my younger brethren who are now entering upon the same work, and who may be disposed to receive [12/13] counsel and caution which are the result of the experience of nearly thirty years;--that counsel is, Take heed that you do not thoughtlessly and un necessarily provoke controversy.
"The servant of the Lord must be gentle, and patient," that is, forbearing. [See margin.] Carry this thought with you from your very first entry on your parochial ministrations. Your work from henceforth is TO SAVE SOULS,--souls for which "the Blood of God" has been shed. And as I would fain hope that no precious soul, entrusted to you, would take hurt by your negligence, so let me most earnestly caution you, that none take hurt through your want of a sound judgment. If you are to do good, you must first acquire influence; but you may lose all hope of acquiring this by some false and injudicious step at the very first commencement of your ministry. It is very possible that some of you may be going into parishes where you may find that matters have not been carried on in the way in which you believe they ought to be. No daily service, for instance, infrequent communion, the rubrical directions for conducting divine service laxly observed. Of course it would be desirable that it should be otherwise. And if such is your desire, and if recovery of what is lacking be your aim, let me advise you at first to do nothing,--nay, more, to say nothing. You have first to learn why things are so, for you are bound to assume that your predecessor could give some reason for the existing [13/14] state of things. You will lose no advantage by first making yourself thoroughly master of the real state of feeling in your parish, you will lose no time by such delay. Never be in a hurry to make a change. Before you attempt it, thoroughly explain to your people the nature of it, and the reason for it. They have a right to expect this of you. Be patient and forbearing with them, if you find that you cannot at once carry them along with you; such tenderness and forbearance will go very far towards conciliating them; and if you will combine ''aptness to teach" with "gentleness" and "patience," you will, believe me, accomplish your object with the concurrence and good-will of your people. You will gain access to their understanding through their affections, and will be able to remove prejudices without shocking them. A different course of proceeding will infallibly lead to a loss of that influence which is essential to your usefulness; it will provoke opposition, when you might have disarmed it, and the one great work to which you are sent by your bishop--the salvation of souls in that parish, will be interrupted, and you yourselves will not be guiltless! Meaning well is a sorry excuse for losing souls. Be content if you are permitted only to pave the way for better things; your wisely-directed efforts will be accepted by the Master Whom you serve, but there may be causes for His not allowing you to see those efforts crowned with success. Hence I am led to exhort you never to be discouraged by any failure. You must expect [14/15] disappointments,--many and sad disappointments,--but you must never be discouraged by them. They are your trials, seek to be purified by them. They are the Christian minister's special cross, take up your cross, and still follow on. You are responsible for your work, in which you must never relax,--not so for your success, unless you have failed in prayer. But the most hopeful work of every parish priest is in his school; there, then, let his daily care be; it will well repay the most unwearied toil.
I could find it in my heart to say much more to you on such an occasion, in order to help and en courage you, my younger brethren, in the difficult but delightful path on which you are entering,--but time will not suffer me. The lengthened services of the day demand brevity on my part, and compel me rather to throw out subjects for your future meditations, than to expand and enlarge upon them myself. I will only add my most earnest entreaty, that you cultivate in yourselves, for your own sakes and for your flock's sake, a constant spirit of prayer. At least three times a-day let God see you on your knees in your chamber,--"in the evening, in the morning, and at noon-day." I cannot tell you how very much of strength you will derive from mid-day prayer; it comes in the midst of active toil to strengthen and refresh. When you have acquired this habit, the neglect of mid-day prayer will seem to operate as did the loss of Samson's locks; you will find too late wherein your great strength had lain. [15/16] "Be instant in season, out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort," but "with all long-suffering;" "be gentle unto all men," "take heed unto yourselves and to your doctrine;" be firm and faithful unto the end, that when that dear Master whom you serve shall come, He may find you faithfully watching; and in that day when He makes up His jewels, may he give you the beautiful crown of an imperishable life--the reward of eternal rest after a life of faithful toil.
GOD, Who as at this time didst teach the hearts of Thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of Thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. AMEN.