Grace be to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
NOT as a text, beloved brethren, but rather as a holy salutation befitting this hour, would I adopt these words of the Great Apostle. It is with greetings and congratulations that we would welcome you to-day, and not with the bare formalities of pulpit discourse. The season itself is full of brightness. The Easter gladness is unspent in our souls. The inspiration of these services--the freshness and interest of this our first annual assembling--the communion and fellowship of brethren around one altar of our most holy faith--all conspire to make this an occasion of special thanksgiving to Almighty God, and of honest, tolerant, hopeful, fraternal communications one with another. And yet; dear brethren, I need not remind you, that we require such sources of comfort, and all the tender assuagements of Easter-tide, to console and cheer us, in view of losses which, like shadows, have already fallen athwart the infancy of our Union. These shadows blend with the sunshine of this day. The late presiding Bishop--our first patron--honored and beloved!--has entered into rest. His recent visit to England, and the energetic, influential part he took in the weighty and blessed conferences at Lambeth, seemed to us tokens of great physical and intellectual vigor. He appeared equal to every demand, and won for himself admiration and honor on all occasions, and in all circles, during his sojourn abroad. Upon his return, as if refreshed by the change, he [1/2] entered laboriously upon his high official duties, and was encountering terrible exposures, on behalf of the noble Bishop of this diocese, in bleak wintry weather, when God called him to "put off this tabernacle." He had more than filled the allotted term; and yet, compared with his venerable predecessor, he possessed, at the time of his departure, such freshness and beauty of countenance--such majesty of bearing--such apostolic grace--such force of will--such mental activity and power, that it would almost seem as if the sun of his existence had suddenly gone down at noon.
In like manner, on Palm Sunday, while receiving the alms and oblations of the faithful, the Rev. Francis J. Lundy was struck with mortal illness, and, after lingering a few hours without consciousness or the power of speech, was dismissed to Paradise. He was a Doctor of Canon Law, a man of culture and varied erudition, and but for this sudden termination of his life and labors, would have been summoned, ere this, to a high position in the service of the Church. Numbered among the earliest members of our Union, we recognize his worth, and mourn his departure thankful that those who have gone from us into the world of light--prelate and presbyter--have gone directly from the posts of duty--have fallen in the light.
So fell Heber, on the path of earnest toil, and the lion-hearted Hobart, the saintly Griswold, and Bowman, and the beloved Croswell.
And so hath God appointed it. One goeth away, and another cometh. The torch is handed on. Men die--the truth lives. Apostles and pastors sink by the way. The Church moves forward. Human agencies fail. The Great Deliverer is forever on His course, finding helpers, and filling up His broken ranks, from year to year, from age to age.
Oh God, Our Saviour! they shall perish, but Thou remainest and they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.
God grant, beloved, that when, in the Divine order and time, we are called to go the way of all the earth, we, likewise, may be found seeking the salvation of our own souls and the souls of our fellow men, and pressing, with all earnestness, towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
From these brief tributes of respect to the holy dead, I proceed at once to those living interests which naturally engage our thoughts [2/3] and sympathies to-day. As has been intimated, there is a marked significance in this assembling of ourselves together, and in these solemnities of holy worship. We meet as members of the Protestant Episcopal Church, or, if the phrase would better please any individual ear, of the Reformed Catholic Church, with a well-known character and object, and, for the first time in one communion and fellowship, we unitedly invoke the blessing of Almighty God--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. May that blessing descend and rest upon us!
You well remember, brethren, that at an early stage in the history of the American Church Union, it was thought proper to address the Clergy and Laity of the Church throughout the United States, in a paper or narrative which should exhibit the reasons for such an Association, together with its advantages, and invite general co-operation.
The great ability of this paper--the clearness of its statements--the strength of its positions, and its pervading tone of earnest, yet dignified and fraternal remonstrance, in view of existing and threatened disorders, gave to it a marked influence, and secured for it, in various unexpected quarters, the highest commendation.
In its limited purpose and scope, we regard this paper as unanswerable; leaving nothing to be said on those points which were chiefly set forth and considered.
It was not to be expected, however, that a preliminary address, prepared while the Church Union was in the hands of its founders, and anterior to its organization, would present all the bearings of the movement, or anticipate all the objections which might deserve notice, at a later period.
Happily, and with unlooked-for expedition, the Church Union has passed from its formative condition into the compactness of a body, thoroughly ordered; and with a complete adjustment of agencies, and a large and increasing membership, is already engaged in carrying out some of its more important objects.
This will be a fitting moment, then, to set forth, with a little more definiteness, the broad, equal, and impartial views which gave birth to the Church Union, and which, it is hoped, may continue to regulate its life and action.
It will also fall in with our present purpose to consider, briefly, one or two of the more weighty objections which have been urged against us, and which, owing to their source and wide currency, [3/4] have, doubtless, restrained honored and excellent brethren from uniting with us in the bonds of confidence and fellowship. Giving these objections our first attention, we begin with that which ascribes to our association an unchurchly character, and ranks it with those combinations and alliances which, bred of partisanship or of a revolutionary spirit, disturb the old quietude of the Church, and bring in divisions. This most injurious statement has been made in quarters where we might have looked for generous consideration, if not for an eager espousal of our interests and proposed measures; and on this account we are the more wounded by it and careful to vindicate ourselves against an imputation which even a partial acquaintance with our real ends would surely have restrained. A multitude of random criticisms, inspired by prejudice or malevolence, might be readily overlooked and forgiven; but a charge like this is the more misleading because of its source, and, for the same reason, should receive a more emphatic denial.
The American Church Union is not at variance, in a single feature, purpose, or aspiration, with the conservative and orderly spirit which pervades our ecclesiastical system. It is not an organized faction bent upon the subversion of settled usages and laws. It is not an irresponsible society of malcontents, devising new theories, and aiming at control by undervaluing authority. It is not an inquisitorial cabal, planning schemes for the detection of ecclesiastical insurgents or the exposure of runagates. Nothing of the kind. It is a body of Church members, holding each other by the hand in token of loyalty--an association of brethren, drawn from divers points, varying in shades of opinion and feeling, differing somewhat in practice, but united in veneration and love for the Church and in the filial desire to promote her peace and welfare in every quiet, dutiful, well-considered, lawful way.
It may be regarded as a positive misfortune that the Church Union should have been founded during recent ephemeral excitements and disorders, since the impression may obtain that our organization had reference solely or chiefly to these, rather than to an arm of defence which should be serviceable to the Church at all seasons and under any of the assaults to which she is exposed. The necessity of such a rallying point, for intercourse and concerted action among brethren, has long been felt. The evils of selfish isolation have long been deplored. Almost strangers to each other; scarcely ever meeting on any common ground of interest or [4/5] even of good fellowship receding more and more from the old-time customs of social interchange and hospitality, the Clergy, especially in our larger communities, have been completely thrown asunder, and all proper fraternal relations, in a manner, suspended. Individuals composing such a cold and unsympathizing body, might be of accordant minds, and walk together; they might be most efficient and admirable in their respective fields of labor; as Rectors and Pastors they might signalize themselves by eloquence and assiduity und abounding success; and in the exercise of their own gifts or the prosecution of their own objects, might indirectly serve the behests of the Church; hut, for the defence of common principles, or the encounter of hostile and embittered assailants,--in a word, for prompt, energetic action in great emergencies, there was no organized union, and, therefore, could be no harmonious action. There was no dwelling together in such unity, as would admit of systematic conference or a determined attitude on the part of brethren in any hour of the Church's humiliation or peril. And while we recall this absence of centralized sympathy and communion almost with wonder, certainly with regret, we at the same time are disposed to refer to it as a very positive evidence that those who may now unite upon the principles of the Church Union, have hitherto been free from the spirit of partisanship, even to the verge of culpable inertness and unconcern. For it is perfectly well known, that while the great body of the clergy have been exercising their ministry in a loyal and peaceable spirit, chiefly intent upon the furtherance of the Gospel and the welfare of souls--unpledged to anything except their ordination vows and the interests of their respective flocks, a small, but truly zealous and evangelical party, composed largely of brethren whose talents and piety are worthy of the utmost consideration, have found occasion to combine against the established institutions of the Church and the unity which should, if possible, govern one household of faith, until they hold, at length, a distinct and opposing interest in nearly every department of that great and extended work which aims at the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, both at home and abroad. In no such spirit, with no such disorganizing intent, has the American Church Union been established. It is not to divide, but unite--not to rend, but to keep entire--not to alter, but preserve--not to overthrow, but maintain, that this confraternity humbly seeks to discharge a bounden and filial service in defence of the church, and the support of sound, accepted, catholic principles. If the [5/6] legitimate and churchly character of such an auxiliary can be questioned, then, surely, all other casual helps and agencies must be disallowed. If a Christian Unity Society, seeking the fusion of so-called Orthodox Christian Denominations, and their assimilation with the Church, can be sanctioned and upheld by eminent Bishops and Laymen, then, by a stronger claim, should the Church Union, which aims to unite brethren of the same household in holy bonds, receive the hearty and unanimous recognition of the Church.
We pass to another cavil which has been industriously used against us, viz. that the Church Union has assumed a position not only officious and meddlesome, but in conflict with existing ecclesiastical authority. To the fathers and founders of the Union, such a charge might seem almost farcical; for if one palpable and acknowledged fact, more than another, conspired to its formation, it was the impotence of Church authority unsupported by collective and well-directed Church sentiment. So far from thwarting or invading the rights and prerogatives lodged with our Chief Pastors, or encroaching upon any recognized authority whatever, a leading aim was, to honor those who had the rule over us, and extend to them such timely and dutiful assurances of sympathy as would strengthen their hearts under the responsibilities and occasional perplexities of their holy office. I take it upon me, therefore, boldly to repel the charge of undue assumption, and of sinister and secret interference with ecclesiastical affairs. We desire no share in the judicial discipline of the Church. We do not intend to act as spies or informers; accusing our brethren, prying into breaches of law or irregularities of practice, or thrusting ourselves into a province not our own, as though our spiritual leaders were forgetful or indifferent. The instincts of Christian charity should have spared us the necessity of such a disclaimer.
Maintaining our individual rights and consciences in full exercise, as a Church Union we propose to follow, not to lead; to sustain, if need be, but not to originate cases of Church discipline. It must be evident to all--for the most signal illustrations of the fact have recently been supplied--that where the tone of high ecclesiastical authority has been gentle and paternal to the lat degree, envenomed prejudice could discern nothing but malice and persecution and the grounds of fresh rebellion, while the sympathy of the unreflecting world and of popular religionists is largely with the offenders. In such cases, we ask permission to offer those bishops [6/7] who may become patrons of our Union, the full measure of our moral influence, and of our hearty co-operation in any way they may suggest, as most conducive to the ends of order and truth. We would do what lies in our rightful province to maintain the distinctive feature in our Church polity, of obedience to the Bishop, and to aid him in exposing the wrong and in vindicating the right; and whether the alleged offence be chargeable upon men of one extreme, or class, or name, or upon those of another, we would be equally jealous of canonical and doctrinal deflections, and steadfast in maintaining the true ground and conservative character of the Church. While thus ready to deal with internal violations of immemorial law and usage, allow me to add, that a further object of our association is to furnish the Church with means of repelling attacks from without. In the present condition of things, when our Church forms so small a minority of our whole population; when the press is almost entirely indifferent, if not hostile to our distinctive religious position; when we are liable to so many ignorant slanders and plausible misrepresentations, it is but to act the part of wisdom, which our Lord has assigned us, to place the principles of the Church in their true light before the community; to defend her claims, and rebuke her adversaries. Quiet men, hard at work, as most of our Clergy are, shrink from the notoriety, and do not feel the responsibility of putting themselves publicly forward to parry blows and refute slanders. It, therefore, very properly devolves upon the Church Union to supply this pressing want. Its methods of defence may not always be judicious; and individual members, through the news press or in the pulpit, may, in strength of language or opinion, possibly exceed the sober teaching of the Church and fail to carry with them the unanimous approval of the Union; but the work will be undertaken in a loyal spirit, and with an honest desire to vindicate the truth, not by sophistries or exaggerations, but through the testimony of incontestable facts and unchallenged witnesses.
Passing now from all reference to current misconceptions, we devote a few words to a more distinct exposition of those principles which form the basis of our Union, and which clearly indicate the terms of membership. These principles are in nowise exclusive or narrow. They are liberal and catholic, such as the whole body of faithful and loyal members in the Church might heartily accept, and do, for the most part, conscientiously avow. We gladly and [7/8] advisedly repeat the declaration contained in the introductory address, viz., that "we are not party men: we combine for the advancement of no one set of interests or views our platform is that broad one upon which all consistent Churchmen can stand." Those who have joined us at this date represent three distinct schools of thought and practice. Nor should this be deemed matter of surprise. It is enough to disquiet any thoughtful member of the Church, cleric or lay, whatever may be his individual leanings, to find that what he supposed fixed and stable, and forming a part of the foundation on which he stands, is lightly regarded and set at nought by those of his own household. Extravagances on the one hand, and irregularities on the other, alike alarm him, for they alike disturb the blessed calm and equipoise of the Church. And I do not hesitate to speak for nine-tenths of the intelligent members of the Episcopal Church in the United States, when I declare that, irrespective of shibboleths or party affinities, they are utterly opposed to a reckless invasion of our Church system, whatever the motive or pretence may be. I am well persuaded that our people are nearly unanimous upon the points involved in the question whether the integrity of the Church shall be preserved; whether her use, her customs, her authorized standards, her apostolic functions, her comprehensive spirit, her wise and gentle rule, shall remain unaltered, Except on the part of a very inconsiderable number at two extremes, no change is desired which shall essentially alter the outward aspect or the interior provisions of the old Church which they love. They are satisfied, nay, they deprecate the first approaches to a subversion of her accepted usages and methods, or to an effacement or a disguise of any of her well-attested marks as a living branch of the Church Catholic. At the same time it is equally true, that a large proportion of those who protest against unwarrantable changes and novel practices in the line either of excess or defect, are in nowise averse to a higher and healthier church life. They long for it, and would hail a reinfusion of power into her practical work and liturgical offices. It should be matter of devout thanksgiving, that seeds which were sown during unhappy and mournful controversies, and in the midst of notable perversions, have ripened throughout the Church into a more earnest spirit of sacrifice and devotion. "Reverence for the remoter past of the Church's life; the sense of communion and fellowship with the saints of God in all ages the belief that the history of the Church of God is a surer witness of a [8/9] divine purpose than any apologies for the Bible; that the Creeds and Prayers of the Church are not older only, but better than the formularies of modern systems of theology,"--all these, and other verities, have spread as by an unconscious diffusion, and prepared the Church for a great awakening and a wider usefulness in her relation to the vast multitudes whom she ought to influence. It is not, therefore, with a hard and stubborn aversion to progress, or with a blind affection for routine, that we have to contend. The almost universal demand of the Church is only that the sources of renewed life and earnestness and power, especially so far as public worship is concerned, should be hallowed and accredited; and hence, steeped as it is in Holy Scripture, and containing the essence of Catholic antiquity, the Book of Common Prayer is held to be the safest and most reliable guide in everything tending to spiritual revival and unction in the Church. The people love that Book. It is grafted on their hearts and woven into all their associations. Whatever it allows, the Church at large will accept. Nor can it be questioned for one moment, that the Prayer Book contains and allows that
variety and adaptability which, if wisely expressed, would transfigure the Church with beauty and fill her with intense and glowing life, bringing multitudes together, of all classes, in full responsive worship, elevating them with the simple but majestic forms of ecclesiastical art, admitting hymns which would swell their voices and stir their souls, and giving them, through divers channels, that consciousness of a spiritual and supernal home which so few, comparatively, enjoy at present.
Perfectly content with the Prayer Book, doctrinally and devotionally, with its principles, its confirmed use and golden chain of offices, we ask no other platform. It is possible that individuals among us may demand the liberty of holding and advocating very flexile views even of that formulary; but as a Union, we plant ourselves upon the Book of Common Prayer, in its simplicity and in its accepted interpretations; in its letter and in its spirit in its permissive breadth, and in its honest and obvious limitations.
Standing here, in the humbler offices of the Church, our task is a plain one, and yet most weighty and solemn. It unites us with the fathers and rulers of the Church in the desire to hand down, unimpaired, to others the treasure of divine truth which we have ourselves received, and of which we are the stewards and trustees.
It unites us also with the faithful laity of the Church, who, [9/10] while they work with us, may well remind us of our holy ordination pledges, viz., "to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word, and to minister the doctrine and sacraments, and the discipline of the Church, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church hath received the same."
Faithfulness to such pledges, demands honesty and impartiality. It will not permit us to rear a formidable and rebuking front of adverse opinion against one offender, or one class of offenders, but insists that all, in every quarter and at every point, who, upon any ground of private judgment or by any forcing of obsolete precedent, vex and trouble the Church, shall be equally held as proper subjects of disapprobation and censure. The evils of sinking her claims or pushing her pretensions beyond all scriptural warrant, are alike to be deplored. The fancies and refinements of symbolism may disturb and rend the Church as effectually as the license and self-will of radicalism. False doctrine may lurk under the drapery of advanced ceremonial and sacerdotalism, as well as under any other disturbing element foreign to the principles of the Church and contrary to her laws; and we hold it to be our clear duty, therefore, to repress, as far as we may, all dangerous tendencies in whatever direction they may appear.
In conclusion, we are perfectly aware that the power of the American Church Union and its permanence as a wholesome centre of influence, will depend, under God, upon its wise, sober, conservative action. It will attract or repel, just as it cultivates or stifles a large and comprehensive spirit. Our desire is, that such a spirit should prevail and abound, opening wide the arms of cordial welcome and fellowship toward all who love and honor our Holy Apostolic Church. She is capacious enough in her spirit and obvious intent, to furnish room for all lawful differences of thought and practice; for all needful liberty of action and utterance. It will only be when we reach the One Church Triumphant, that we shall see eye to eye. Meantime, it should be enough that we belong to a Church which God Himself ordained to be not only a Home and Refuge for His children, but the conservator of peace, the bulwark of sound doctrine, the witness and dispenser of the truth as h is in Jesus. And let us not fail to remember, that this Church, in her relations to the American Republic, has a distinct existence and a specific mission. She is an entity, with a history [10/11] and a record. Recognizing her vital relation to the Church Universal, and cherishing all the sacred bonds of catholic unity, her heart beats, and should beat, when any acknowledged member suffers and it is a marked and most engaging feature of this our first annual solemnity, that the offerings to be received to-day attest our sympathy with the desolate and espoiled, but orthodox Episcopate and Diocese of Natal. We join our voices with the voices of our brethren of the English Church Union, in one prolonged and unwearying protest against false charity and unholy fellowship and tardy excision, as in the case of Colenso, who, in the lawn of his consecration as a Bishop in the Church of God, strives not only to bring discredit upon the oracles of God, but pronounces the worship of God's co-eternal Son, our Saviour, to be idolatry. Well may every artery, vein, and fibre of the "holy Church throughout all the world," throb and leap with intense violence, as if to throw off a fatal malady, as long as even a show of judicial or ecclesiastical recognition is extended to presumption so abominable and blasphemy so impious as this. But, while thus hound to the whole body, and keenly sympathizing with every suffering member, we ought not to be "hindered in running the race set before us" by a servile reverence for all the ancient eccentricities or necessities of the body to which we belong. We ought not to be imitator of exploded forms and obvious incongruities--dragging after us the impedimenta of all the ages--clothing ourselves with cast--off raiment which once had fitness, but is entirely out of keeping with this hour of time. The most venerable churches of Christ on earth, as we believe, are yet to be "unclothed," in order that they may be "clothed upon" with life and power. The disencumbering process has begun in our dear Mother Church of England. Let it go on. May she, in God's set time, find full deliverance from the body of death. Then, and not till then, will she "mount up with wings as eagles; and run and not be weary, and walk and not faint." Meantime, freed from such entanglements, and with a hemisphere to penetrate and redeem, let us be alive, let us be united, striving together for the faith of the gospel and the edification of the Church. Never was she so well prepared for a glorious work; never were her opportunities so grand as at this passing moment; never was she so respected or desired among the honored Christian bodies around her; never were her Bishops so truly primitive in their bearing; so free from arrogancy or assumption, since a more earnest, [11/12] unpretending, hard-working body of learned men can nowhere be found; never were her Presbyters and Deacons more unremittingly occupied in the discharge of their holy calling; never were her Laity more zealous, wakeful, liberal; never was the field so ample or white unto the harvesting, or the cry for help so loud, or the prospect for the kingdom of our Redeemer so inspiring.
Adorable Lord! give us grace to be more entirely Thine; more completely surrendered to Thy will; more zealously devoted to Thy work. Gird Thy standard-bearers for their toils. Give them wisdom give them ghostly strength. Bless Thy people, Lord; visit them with Thy salvation. While unto the holy, blessed and glorious Trinity--Three persons and One God--be ascribed honor, thanksgiving and praise, forever and ever. Amen.
MR. TRACY R. EDSON,