PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL SOCIETY FOR THE PROMOTION OF
3 BIBLE HOUSE, NEW YORK.
House of Clerical and Lay Deputies,
October 8th, A. D. 1868.
On motion of the Rev. Daniel E. Goodwin, D. D., L.L. D., of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, it was
Resolved,--That the Secretary be directed to request a copy of the sermon preached by the Right Rev. Alfred Lee, D. D., Bishop of Delaware, at the opening of this Convention; and that fifteen hundred copies of the same be printed for the use of the Convention.
From the Journal,
William Stevens Perry,
Secretary of the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies.
The Epistles to the Seven Churches of proconsular Asia, at the opening of the Apocalypse, are an exceedingly impressive portion of Holy Writ. The glorified Jesus himself is the speaker, and his words are indeed quick and powerful--the words of Him out of whose mouth goeth a sharp two-edged sword. Our Lord is shown to us clothed with divine majesty, so that the disciple whom he loved, and who had once leaned upon his bosom, fell at his feet as dead. The messages then delivered are entitled to our most careful and earnest attention, in whatever aspect they are regarded. Are the Epistles of Paul, Peter and John of surpassing interest and importance? These are the Epistles of Him, the latchet of whose shoes they were not worthy to unloose! Are the words of the incarnate Christ a treasure beyond all price? These are the words of the glorified Christ! Does every thing that fell from his lips during his sojourn upon earth, to whomsoever spoken, or upon whatever occasion, claim our reverence and study? Here [3/4] Jesus is not arguing with enemies or teaching, the multitude, but addressing his own heritage and flock. He speaks to the Church, not to the world. Do we close the last gospel with a feeling of regret that the Evangelist should not have left us an ampler record of those many things which Jesus did and taught? Here we listen to new and sublimer words spoken by the Lord after the heavens had received Him. The Son of God comes forth from the most holy place that he may again instruct His people. The voice which had made our hearts burn within us with its lessons of faith and love, which had spoken, as it seemed, its farewell upon Olivet, which we expected not to hear again until it summoned the dead to judgment, that voice again calls, but it is no longer a still, small voice, but as the sound of many waters. Well may the Church catch every tone and syllable with open ear and bended knee.
Is it not to be regretted, fathers and brethren, that these sublime epistles are never read among our appointed Scripture lessons? Why, when the other books of the New Testament are read over four times a year, and portions oftener, are these entirely omitted? The reason assigned for not reading the prophetic portion of the book, supposed obscurity, whether a valid reason or not, does not apply in this case. Neither is it considered as justifying the passing by of many of the prophetic portions of the Old Testament. But these Epistles are not predictions of the future, but pertain to the actual spiritual condition, dangers and duties of those addressed, as much as the apostolic letters. They are not obscure, but eminently practical, hortative and searching; full of rebuke, warning and consolation. [4/5] And though immediately addressed to the seven Churches of Asia, they bear on their face a general superscription. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches." Why, then, should the book itself, distinguished from the other books of the New Testament by the announcement of a special blessing upon reader and hearer, be almost excluded from church services, and specially for what good reason are our people never permitted to hear in public worship the words of Jesus Christ, meant, as He tells us, for every one that hath an ear? Whether we regard the author of these epistles, their manner of delivery, their subjects, their sanctions or the commendation of them to the ear and heart of every disciple of Christ, this disregard of them seems unaccountable. If in ages of darkness and false doctrine this grand and solemn book was unwelcome to the rulers of Christendom, why should our reformed and Protestant Church banish it from her public services? Is not this a cogent argument, and it is by no means the only argument, for a revision of our Calendar?
We suppose then that our Lord, in these seven epistles, (the number seven indicating completeness), whatever force of immediate application they had to those particular bodies, is addressing the whole company of believers. I could not think on the present occasion of going into an examination of the several epistles. Every line of them overflows with holiness and wisdom--glows with light and love. My present object is to call your attention to the conclusion common to them all, connected with the revelation which is here made of the Lord Jesus in his well-known three-fold character. The regal, the prophetic, and the sacerdotal office of the Son of [5/6] God are here brought out with exceeding grandeur and power. It is a glorious, majestic figure indeed which stands forth in the foreground of the marvellous delineations of the soul-stirring Apocalypse.
I. Jesus here appears in his royalty. He is resplendent with the divinest majesty. On his head are many crowns, on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the opening vision he is exhibited as King in Zion, and Head over all things to his Church. He walketh in the midst of the golden candlesticks, and holdeth in his right hand the seven stars. He speaks as one exercising actual authority, and the government is upon his shoulders. He hath the key of David. He openeth and no man shutteth. He shutteth and no man openeth. He is continually present in his Church--inspector, law-giver, sustainer, defender, punisher and rewarder. His eyes are as a flame of fire, piercing all disguises and reading the secrets of every heart. He calls his servants, the angels of the seven Churches, to a strict reckoning. To him they are amenable for declensions, abuses, false doctrines and negligencies. The kingly office of Christ is here presented, not as a mere dogma, but as a mighty reality. He is not a remote sovereign, wrapped in Oriental state and seclusion, indifferent to the constant exigencies of his kingdom, committing all actual rule and direction to human vicegerents and representatives, but he is himself the immediate, present superintendent and governor. His royal prerogatives have never been deputed. No vicar has been commissioned to govern the Church during his absence and to be "another god upon earth." The mystical body of Christ, the blessed company of all faithful people, [6/7] hath not a frail, sinful, mortal head. No! Jesus reigns--and will reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet--reigns in spite of all the confusions and disorders of earth and of all the rage and enmity of hell--reigns over the Church militant as well as the Church triumphant--reigns now in the darkness and conflict and tempest, as certainly as he will reign in the light and peacefulness of the everlasting kingdom--reigns over loyal, loving, believing hearts, whatever errors, contentions, discords and apostacies vex the outward, visible Church. And the persuasion and acknowledgment of this great and precious truth, Christ's actual presence, living headship, immediate rule and sovereignty, is a vital matter. It is the walk by faith not by sight. It is to be kept ever in mind by individual Christians, by pastors, by bishops, by synods. When it is duly remembered love and peace will prevail and the bonds of charity be unbroken. The elders will "feed the flock of Christ, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind, neither as being lords over God' s heritage, but ensamples of the flock." Instead of a compulsory, hollow, outward uniformity, there will be the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ecclesiastical legislation will be conformed to the rule of Christ's word, and arrogate no dominion over the faith and conscience of men. Laws and enactments will be brought to the test of Christ's supremacy, and there will be no attempt to impose human edicts under pretence of His authority. One way of robbing the Lord Jesus of his headship is by direct denial and contradiction--by renouncing his claims and defrauding him of his glory as one with the Father in everlasting Godhead. Another mode, less open, but [7/8] not less perilous, is when man ostensibly magnifies the nature and offices of Christ, but arrogates to himself the exercise of these offices. The most dangerous Anti-Christ is he who assumes to occupy the Saviour's place, to speak in his name, to exercise his authority, and who makes Christ's royalty a cloak for his own self-exaltation. What is this but to repeat the mockery of Calvary--to clothe Jesus with the purple robe and put in his hand a reed for a sceptre--and bow the knee and cry, Hail! King of the Jews! All the prerogatives and honors of the Son of God are thus abused to the inflation of human pride and the domination of the mortal over the Lord's flock. Ah, Jesus hath never delegated to man his sovereignty! His sceptre is not a reed. No living man or company of men are deputed to exercise His headship. The laws and enactments of the Church must be within the limits by him prescribed. And only sure, stable and blessed is that communion which ever recognizes Jesus as its Head, and is careful to ordain nothing that accords not with his sanction.
II. Jesus is here revealed as the great Prophet--the divine teacher of his Church. His Prophetic office is as abiding as His Regal. In these epistles He instructs, admonishes and warns. We listen to the Searcher of hearts, the Reprover of sins and errors, the Foreteller of things to come, the Denouncer of judgments, the Promiser of blessings, the Reveal er of truth. We find nowhere, in the Old Testament or the New, more impressive exhibitions of the prophetic character. "Never man spake like this man!" Jesus discharges his prophetic office, both personally, by his own mouth, and by the Holy Spirit. As He was not to remain visible upon [8/9] earth he hath sent his Holy Spirit to be the Paraclete, Guide, Enlightener and Sanctifier. This blessed visitant and Divine representative of the ascended Lord, proceeding from the Father and the Son, glorified Christ by receiving of his and shewing to his Apostles. And as He glorifies Christ, so Christ glorifies Him. And, even here, where the Redeemer appears in such majesty and speaks with his own voice, he glorifies the Holy Spirit by claiming attention as to the Spirit's teaching. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches." As there is a oneness in Father and Son, so that whatsoever the Father doeth, the same doeth the Son likewise; so with the Son and the Spirit. And especially does Christ, through the Spirit, convey to all generations the knowledge of his salvation.
The Spirit speaks unto the Churches. He speaks, not merely in these seven epistles, but throughout the Scriptures, and especially those of the New Testament. Evangelists and apostles are entitled to reverent acceptance of what they deliver because selected and set apart by the Holy Spirit to declare the truth of God. And whenever we hear or read the holy volume the same voice repeats, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."
This voice of the Spirit we now hear in his lively oracles, the Holy Scriptures. In them we have the complete sum and system of Christian doctrine and duty. In the words of our Sixth Article, "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, [9/10] or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." God "be thanked for a testimony so strong and explicit. Here is the axe laid at the root of every tree of error and falsehood, every noxious growth in the Lord's vineyard. Here is the sheet anchor to prevent the ship from being drifted upon rock and quicksand. Here are we referred to the sun by which the clock is to be regulated. In the volume, breathed upon by God, the Spirit speaks, and speaks intelligibly. The Scriptures are their own best interpreter. They do not need the key of traditional supplement or the interpretations of an infallible Church. The same Spirit, who spake by holy men of old, is ready to guide the humble and candid reader. "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and it shall be given him." No reader, looking in prayer and faith for divine guidance, hath fallen into errors so gross and fatal, as the masters in Israel, men of great learning, lofty position and high pretensions, who have trusted in tradition and Church authority. Under each dispensation the result has been the same. The Scribes and Pharisees relied upon the traditional principle, and with what severity did Jesus rebuke them and charge them with making the word of God of none effect by their traditions. Under the clearer radiance of the gospel the leaders of the visible Church made the same unhallowed substitution of the human for the divine, and with consequences even more disastrous. Hiding the light and groping in darkness, they fell into one delusion after another, until the very Church was made a temple of idols, and the Bible was buried beneath a load of corruptions and superstitions. "We see," says our Homily, "what vanity the school doctrine [10/11] is mixed with, for that in this word they sought not the will of God, but rather the will of reason, the trade of custom, the path of the fathers, the practice of the Church." (Homily for Rogation Week, third part.)
The language of our Articles and Homilies, upon this vital point, is clear and decisive. The trumpet gives no uncertain sound. Our Church constantly makes her appeal to the oracles of God. Even the Creeds, the most solemn and weighty statements of our faith, "are to be received and believed," not for their antiquity, not because framed and set forth by councils, not because widely accepted, but "because they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Writ." Here there is implied the duty and privilege of every man to bring even the most authoritative standards and symbols to the one unerring test. The hearer is directed to do, what the Bereans were commended for doing when the gospel was preached to them by the Apostles themselves. A Church, conscious of the scriptural character of her doctrines can confidently do this. She can take her stand boldly upon the firm rock of divine truth and challenge the fullest and most searching scrutiny. To rely upon tradition and Church interpretation is a betrayal of weakness. A doctrine, plainly revealed in the word of God, gathers no additional sanction from human testimony. "That," says our Homily, "which is once confirmed by the certainty of His eternal truth hath no more need of the confirmation of man's doctrine and writings, than the bright sun at noontide hath need of the light of a little candle to put away darkness and to increase his light." (Second part of Homily against Peril of Idolatry.) We freely admit, indeed, [11/12] that the opinions of wise and godly men of every period are entitled to respectful consideration. The testimony of antiquity as to the outward government and polity of the Church is plainly distinguishable from definitions of doctrine. And the office of the Church as "the witness and keeper of Holy Writ" is highly important. So was the Jewish Church the appointed guardian of the Old Testament. Unto them were committed for safe keeping the oracles of God. And, yet, while the Jewish Church kept this trust with scrupulous fidelity, it was not therefore the safe interpreter thereof. The Sanhedrim kept vigilant guard over each letter and syllable, but they were, so far as their own opinions prevailed, blind leaders of the blind, and rejected Him of whom Moses and the prophets did write. They who argue that, because the Church witnesses to the apostolic origin of the books of the New Testament and transmits them unimpaired from age to age, she is to be regarded as an unerring interpreter of the same, are bound by their own principles to acquiesce in the decisions of the Jewish Church respecting the meaning of the Old Testament. One obvious reason why divine revelations for ages to come are Scriptures, is to guard against the inevitable mistakes and perversions incident to oral transmission. The claim is sometimes put forth that we can obtain the mind of the Spirit from the decrees of General Councils. Although Article XXI. of the Church of England was not reenacted by our own Church, this was not from any questioning of its statements. According to the strict definition of a General Council, an assemblage of all the bishops of Christendom or their proxies, no such assemblage has ever [12/13] convened. All that have assumed the title have been minorities. If convened, the question is more easily asked than answered, Who gave the bishops, without concurrent voice of clergy and laity, the power to decide all controversies? What evidence that they are the mouthpiece of the Holy Ghost? Something more is required than their own assumption. They cannot bear witness of themselves. "And when they are gathered together (forasmuch as they be an assemblage of men whereof all be not governed by the word and Spirit of God) they may err, and sometimes have erred in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority unless it may be declared that they are taken out of the Holy Scriptures." [Art. XXI. of Church of England.]
In truth, the history of Councils is a humiliating chapter in ecclesiastical annals. We are reminded of the prodigious disparity between the Apostles and those who claimed to be their successors. Ambition and intrigue, prejudice and passion, rancor and bitterness, prelatical rivalries and secular dictation deform their deliberations, and detract from the weight of their conclusions. The old father, Gregory Nazianzen, conspicuous in one of the most esteemed of the councils, so lamented the corruption, ambition and contention which prevailed in them that he heartily desired never to see another. For any good that has flowed from these assemblages, for the fact that at a critical period the fathers of Nicaea bore a noble testimony to the supreme Godhead of the Lord Jesus, instead of being imposed upon by crafty errorists like those at Ariminium, we may be devoutly thankful. But the pretensions of Councils [13/14] to be oracular and unerring become from age to age increasingly preposterous, until, at Trent, it was in the mouth of scoffers that the Holy Ghost was sent down from Rome in a post-bag. "To the law and to the testimony. If they speak not according to this rule there is no light in them." The remedy for errors, falsehoods, strifes and divisions is renewed and more sincere, submissive application to the heaven-kindled light. The evils complained of, whatever they may be, have arisen from ignorance or rejection of the teachings of God's word--plainer in their own transparent clearness than labored and perplexing and perverse comments. And the only safety against shipwreck is to consult again the chart and the compass. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches," not his self-elected interpreters. Why make our appeal to Councils and fathers, to patristic or mediaeval or modern definitions, when we have veritably infallible guidance--the guidance of the men upon whose heads rested the cloven flames at Pentecost, and whose names are on the foundation-stones of the new Jerusalem? The Apostles, the only unerring guides and governors of the Church, live as perpetual witnesses to the truth. They speak now, as they spoke of old, with decision and clearness. We can consult them with greater convenience than could their own contemporaries. For they are not now dispersed over the earth. Their testimony is combined and complete. Points which they have not settled never will be settled under the present dispensation. And, where they have spoken, there is no appeal. An eminent divine, identified with the movement that has for so many years distracted the Church of England, avows his readiness [14/15] to defend "the real objective presence, the Eucharistic sacrifice, and the adoration of our Lord truly present under the Eucharistic symbols as being the teaching of the whole Catholic Church from the time of the Apostles." He does not defend it as the teaching of the Apostles themselves. Then we say, even if the claim could be substantiated, to what does it amount? The whole Catholic Church, from the first century to the twentieth, cannot establish a doctrine unrevealed in scripture, respecting which the Apostles are silent, or which contradicts their teaching. This is our Rock from which nothing can move us. The Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone, and our confidence is firm and unwavering that by them no important question is unanswered--no vital truth undiscovered--no divine requirement left in obscurity or doubt.
III. Jesus presents himself in this vision in his sacerdotal character, the great High Priest. He is emblematically clothed with the long priestly garment, and walketh in the midst of the golden candlesticks as the minister of the true tabernacle.--His is a royal and everlasting Priesthood, after the order of Melchisedec. In him the patterns of heavenly things, presented in the temple service, have their antitype and reality. His humanity the living temple, his cross the altar of sacrifice, his death the sacrifice itself--his ascension the entrance within the veil to perfect the atonement, his intercession the burning incense, his pardon the benediction. All the shadows of the ceremonial law find in him their substance. He concentrates in himself all the typical offices of the Aaronic priesthood, and [15/16] hath absorbed them in his own glorious ministration. And those shadows, having served their purpose, vanished. Neither have they been ever re-enacted and restored. The gospel dispensation is no mere echo and repetition of the Mosaic. If so, we might look back with envy upon the privileges of ancient Israel. It is a poor degraded copy that the modern priest gives us of that grand and divinely ordered ritual. Where is the ever-burning fire upon the altar first kindled from heaven? Where the ark of the Covenant and the Cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat, and the Urim and Thummim, and the indwelling Shechinah? Is this pitiful mimicry the substitute for the Aaronic priesthood--these tawdry vestments the garments of glory and beauty--this bowing and bending and crossing before a gaping crowd, is this the solemn and reverent ministration of anointed Aaron and his sons? God forbid! No; we are not abandoned to mockery like this. "We have such a High Priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens: a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man." "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the High Priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many." "This [16/17] man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God. For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified."
The language of the Epistle to the Hebrews tolerates no longer a sacrificing mortal priesthood. Jesus Christ is the one everlasting, exclusive Priest. The phraseology of the New Testament is precise. The Holy Spirit guided the pen of the writers. Now it is a marked and deeply significant feature of their style never to give to the Ministers of the gospel the title peculiar to the Priesthood. Such an omission can only be explained by the overruling direction of the Spirit. The writers, left to themselves, would naturally have fallen into the ideas and language familiar to them as Jews. In fact, no religion prior to Christianity was without sacrifices and a sacrificial order. Jew and Gentile would alike look for such institutions. But, never, not in a single instance, do the New Testament writers give to the Christian Minister, as his distinctive title, the word appropriated to the Aaronic Priesthood. Officially, he is never the Hiereus. The word itself occurs frequently. It designates Jewish and even heathen priests. It is given to the whole body of Christians. All the faithful are "a holy nation, a royal priesthood." As such they offer unto the Lord spiritual sacrifices, the sacrifices of prayer and praise, and their own bodies to be a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, as their reasonable service. Ministers and people constitute, with perfect equality, this Basileion Hierateuma. But when the Ministry are specified and discriminated the word is invariably omitted. A diversity of names and titles is applied to them: Pastors, teachers, stewards, [17/18] evangelists, overseers, ambassadors. We have Apostolos, Angelos, Episkopos, Presbuteros, Diakonos; but no where, Hiereus. In the Epistles, specially addressed to the Ministry and wherein their duties are enumerated, there is no mention whatever of the offering of sacrifices or of sacerdotal mediation. The work of the preacher, pastor, expositor of the Scriptures is prominent, in the case of presiding officers, of government, discipline and ordination, but not a syllable of sacrificial and mediatorial offices. Now, in every religion that has a priesthood and sacrifice, they constitute the central and principal feature--stand out in the very front, engross the greatest attention and chiefest reverence. The whole system takes shape and coloring from this controlling element. How then could the inspired writers more impressively convey the entire abolition under the gospel of a priesthood offering propitiatory sacrifice? It is a low and disparaging view of inspiration, to treat such silence as unimportant; an unwarranted tampering to foist into the gospel economy a dogma, which the writers of the New Testament virtually repudiate. Rationalism is chargeable with taking no more audacious liberties with the word of God than this.
This error cannot be justified by an appeal to the early fathers, even if such appeal could be fully sustained. Antiquity had no more privilege to impose articles of faith or to add to the Scriptures than any subsequent age. But we little doubt that if some of the venerable fathers, who were ornaments of the early Church, could have foreseen the abuses that would result from their unguarded expressions, and the portentous fabric of error and spiritual despotism that would be built upon their departures [18/19] from the language of the Scriptures, they would have wished their right hands to wither before writing, and their tongues to cleave to the roof of their mouth before uttering, such words. We read them now instructed by the lessons of ages. Long centuries of darkness and bondage have manifested the noxious growth that has sprung from seeds incautiously sown. And for us to be drawn away from the simplicity of the gospel by reverence for human authority, will be utterly inexcusable. A review of the progress of this seminal error, until it produced its natural development in the Romish system, is the best comment on the avoidance by the writers of the New Testament of aught that in the least degree could sanction or favor it.
The assumption by the ministry of the gospel of the sacerdotal character is an invasion and usurpation of the exclusive priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The priesthood and propitiatory sacrifice are inseparable. The one cannot long be disjoined from the other. And, therefore, when the minister is transformed into a priest, the ordinance that commemorates the death of Christ is transmuted into a sacrifice. The Eucharist is represented as an offering up of the Lamb of God as he was once offered upon the Cross. So that the atonement made by the death of the Lord Jesus no longer suffices for men's salvation. It is not, what the Epistle to the Hebrews declares it to be, of perpetual efficacy; nor, in the words of our Church, "the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world." The arrogant mortal pretends to repeat the awful transaction of Calvary, and to perfect what the Son of God left incomplete. If the intrusion of men, not called of God, into the offices [19/20] of the Aaronic priesthood, was under the old dispensation a sin so heinous, what must be the guilt and peril of intruding into the peculiar, sublime and awful office of the great High Priest of the everlasting gospel? Well may it be for those claiming such powers to enquire who are in danger now of committing Korah' s sin.
The unhappy influences of this corruption upon the religious interests of men have been shown wherever it has prevailed. There is produced a sacerdotal caste, encroaching and self-exalting, claiming to grasp in their hand the keys of the kingdom of heaven and usurping dominion over faith and conscience. And men, ignorant of the way of life, love to have it so, because it favors a religion of substitution and proxy--the priest transacting for the people, and his supposed sanctity or sacerdotal offices relieving them from the necessity of personal holiness. This I maintain to be the tendency of the system. Other influences may occasionally prevent the full development. But, almost invariably, in place of the reasonable service which pertains to the gospel, grateful consecration to Christ, intelligent faith, affectionate obedience, the worship of the Father in spirit and in truth--light, and trust, and peace, and liberty, and love, there will be the spirit of bondage, and inquietude, and multiplied outward forms which bring no rest to the soul. The penitent sinner is drawn away from the one Mediator between God and man, and debarred immediate access to the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of beholding as with, open face the glory of the Lord, entering into the holiest by the blood of Jesus by the new and living way--deriving pardon, grace and life eternal directly from the great Head, he is thrust aside by the [20/21] self-styled priest. 'Come to me. There is no access to Christ but through the Church, and I represent the Church. Your sin remaineth until washed away by my baptism and remitted by my absolution. The sacrifice made upon the Cross avails you not until I offer up Jesus again upon my altar.' Is there, dear brethren, one Mediator between God and man? Or are there ten thousand?
This theory, that the Christian Ministry is a sacerdotal caste, is not countenanced by the Protestant Episcopal Church. No marvel that the word, Protestant, upon our banner, is an offence to those who favor it, and that such attempts are now made to disparage and vilify the men of the Reformation. The Church which affirms (Art. XXXI.) "The offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual, and there is no other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore, the sacrifices of Masses, in which it was commonly said that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits"--the Church whose reformers gave their bodies to be burned for this very testimony, could not certainly maintain the kindred error. When the sacrifice is swept away the sacrificer goes with it. To argue from the use of the word Priest, as the title of one of the orders of our Ministry, is unworthy of a man of intelligence and candor. I need not say to an audience like this that the word is the old English form of Presbyter. By lapse of time the popular apprehension of words varies, and priest has come to be taken by many as if it were the translation of hiereus or sacerdos. We do not admit the argument [21/22] brought against Episcopacy from the use of the word, bishop, in the New Testament, as synonymous with Presbyter or elder, and with equal justice we deny any force whatever in the attempt to argue from the contracted form of the word Presbyter.--We find no warrant for this assumption, where, if it had the sanction of our Church, we might expect to find it, in the Communion service, or the Ordinal. Contrast our mode of setting apart the Presbyter to his work with the consecration of a Priest in the Church of Rome. Our Bishop delivers into the hands of the person to be ordained the Bible, and says: "Take thou authority to preach the word of God, and to minister the holy sacraments in the congregation where thou shalt be lawfully appointed thereunto." To the candidate for the Romish Priesthood there is delivered a chalice with wine and water, and a paten with a host lying upon it, and it is said: "Receive thou power to offer sacrifice to God, and to celebrate masses as well for the living as the dead." (Ordo Romanus.) As to the intended application of the words of our Lord (John XX., 22, 23), introduced in one of the ordaining formulae, we have the advantage of contemporaneous interpretation. We know from the writings of our Reformers how they understood these words, and we deny the lawfulness of putting upon them a different meaning, and one wholly opposed to the views of those Reformers. There is no more authoritative exposition than Bp. Jewell's Apology, a book that may be deemed well nigh symbolical.--"We say" are his words "that the office of loosing consisteth in this point that the minister, either by the preaching of the gospel offereth the merits of Christ and full pardon to such as have lowly and [22/23] contrite hearts, and do unfeignedly repent them selves, pronouncing unto the same a sure and undoubting forgiveness of their sins and hope of everlasting salvation; or, else, that the same minister, when any have offended their brothers' minds with some great offence, or notable and open crime, whereby they have, as it were banished, and made themselves strangers from the common fellowship and from the body of Christ, then, after perfect amendment of such persons doth reconcile them and bring them home again and restore them to the company and unity of the faithful. We say also that the minister doth execute the authority of binding and shutting as often as he shutteth up the gate of the kingdom of heaven against unbelieving and stubborn persons, denouncing upon them God's vengeance and everlasting punishment; or else, when he doth quite shut them out from the bosom of the Church by open excommunication." "And touching the keys wherewith they may either shut or open the kingdom of heaven, we with Chrysostom say, 'They be the knowledge of the scriptures,' with Tertullian we say, 'They be the interpretation of the law;' and with Eusebius we call them, 'the word of God."' [Jewell's Apology, page 60, Parker Ed.] Accordingly, Bp. Jewell's Jesuit antagonist charges the Anglican Church with confounding the offices of preaching and absolution. "If," he objects, "the great benefit consist in pronouncing or denouncing the gospel, then why might not every layman, yea, women, yea, young boys and girls assoil sinners. Yea, why might not every man assoil himself!" [Defence of Apology, page 354.] III. Abp. Seeker, quoted by Bp. Brownell in his commentary on the Prayer Book, [23/24] remarks: "The Bishop does not pretend to grant, by uttering these words, all the powers which the Apostles had in this respect. They had the discernment of spirits, and could say with certainty when persons were penitent and consequently forgiven, and when not. They were able also to inflict miraculous punishment on offenders: and to remove on their repentance the punishments which had been inflicted. These words will convey nothing of all this to the person now to be ordained. But, still, when the Bishop uses them, they give first, an assurance, that according to the terms of that gospel which they are to preach, men shall be pardoned or condemned: Secondly, a right of inflicting ecclesiastical censures for a shorter or longer time and of taking them off; which, in regard to external communion, is retaining or forgiving offences. "The commission, therefore, intended to be conveyed by this form of Ordination, is the preaching of the gospel, the embassy of reconciliation to sinners, and the exercise of godly discipline within limits elsewhere prescribed. To put another sense upon it is to go counter to the whole tone and spirit of the Ordinal and to suppose that it permits the Ordainer to choose between two forms, which, instead of being equivalent, are wide as the poles apart. The solemn charge and questions addressed to the candidates are equally conclusive as to the nature of the office which the Church confers. Not a word concerning the duties of sacrificing, mediating, hearing confessions, &c.--an omission as significant as that which has been referred to of hiereus in the New Testament. The Church emphasizes the work of the preacher and the pastor--requires a special promise of diligence in the study of the holy [24/25] Scriptures, and urges the necessity of prayer and personal holiness. The Communion Office, with its careful avoidance of the word altar, witnesses with equal distinctness. How different an office would be framed by men who esteemed the Eucharist a propitiatory oblation and the minister a sacrificer? To the attempt to extort an argument in favor of this objectionable dogma from the incorporation with the office in the American Book of certain parts in the prayer of consecration, not found in the present English Book, we may let the venerable Bp. White answer: "If," he says, "these forms could have been reasonably thought to imply that a Christian Minister is a priest, in the sense of an offerer of sacrifice, and that the table is an altar and the elements a sacrifice, in any other than figurative senses, he would have zealously opposed the admission of such unevangelical sentiments as he conceives them to be. The English reformers carefully exploded everything of this sort, at the time of their issuing the first Book of Common Prayer, which contained the oblation and invocation." And the language of our Homily, "Of the worthy receiving and reverent esteeming of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ" is no less decisive. "Make Christ thine own, and apply his merits unto thyself. Herein thou needest no other man's help, no other sacrifice or oblation, no sacrificing priest, no mass, no means established by man's invention." [Memoirs of the Prot. Ep. Ch. p. 154.]
I might apologize for occupying so much of your time with statements which a few years ago would scarce have been questioned. But at the present day our weight of responsibility is heavy indeed. There is too much at stake to permit the feeblest [25/26] voice to be silent. We have been wont to glory in being a Communion, reformed, scriptural and pure, which had contended manfully for the truth of Christ and glorified the Lord in the fires of martyrdom. Peradventure we have been too confident and boastful. It is easier to build the tombs of the prophets and to garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, than to inherit their faith and follow their footsteps. Now, we contemplate with anxiety proceedings which tend to undermine the well established principles of our Communion and to bring in, little by little, the errors once abjured. The eye and ear are to be gradually accustomed to a sensuous and superstitious ceremonial. Many of these innovations may appear trifling. If so, we ask, why such persistence in introducing and pressing them with the certain effect of producing scandals and divisions, destroying peace within our borders and strengthening prejudice and hostility without?--These are strong enough already. And has not the minister of Christ enough to do, in his legitimate and noble work, as ambassador from the living God, sent to dying men on an errand of unspeakable moment? Was he ordained to be a mere master of ceremonies? Can he find nothing more deserving his attention than the cut and color of garments, postures and bowings and crossings, rinsings and wipings of cups and vessels, theatrical parade and paltry pantomime? But, No! There is more in this than empty ceremonial. These things are valued and urged as parts of a system--a system which we see full-blown elsewhere, and which we are fully persuaded dishonors Christ and robs his precious gospel of its heart and life. To this we give place by subjection, no, not for an hour. We should be [26/27] bound to withstand it, if need were, as the men of the Reformation withstood it. And we can only withstand it successfully, at whatever stage of development, whether newly fledged, insinuating and apologetic, or audacious and imperious, by going back to the pure fountain head of truth--"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches."
In denying the possibility of repeating the sacrifice of Calvary, and in resisting the claim of the Christian ministry to be sacrificing priests, we are bearing our humble witness for the Lord Jesus Christ, contending for his sacred prerogatives and protesting against attempts to usurp his high and peculiar office. It is his controversy, not ours.--We claim for the humblest and weakest of the people committed to our charge the privilege of direct access to a reconciled God, through Jesus as THE WAY--and of immediate, complete justification through faith in him, without sacerdotal intervention. In maintaining the word of Christ to be the complete rule of faith and practice, tolerating no human addition, in affirming the priesthood of Christ to be the only real sacrificial priesthood, and his death upon the cross, the solitary propitiation for guilt, and his intercession the only intercession that procures peace with God, and his blood applied by faith the alone cleansing from sin, and his word of love and power confidingly heard, the sole absolution, and his presence not a degradation in material elements, but a spiritual presence in the hearts of the faithful--we are contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
I have thus spoken on the present occasion from profound conviction that, upon no other principles [27/28] than these, can our Church be a joy and praise and blessing in this land. As these truths are obscured or renounced the salt will lose its savor and the light will grow dim. Only as we honor Christ will He honor us. Only as we are true to the principles of the Reformation can we justly challenge confidence and adhesion. If not a thoroughly Protestant Church we have no right to be a Church at all.--Upon no other principles can our distinct ecclesiastical position be vindicated. If we are not justified in the protest made by our Articles, the Reformation was an indefensible schism, and we are guilty of rending the body of Christ. And we live in an age and among a people too intelligent not to discover such contradiction. If they want sacerdotalism or mediaevalism, man's pardon and not God's, they know where to find them in ripe perfection. We can only prosper, and only deserve to prosper, as we stand upon the broad, firm platform of apostolic Christianity, and make Jesus himself the Alpha and Omega, the sun and the centre, the author and finisher of our faith.
A bright vision has oft risen before my mind of a Church pure and primitive, combining the early organization, zeal and love, with the freshness, energy and progressiveness of the times--gathering from past ages experience, wisdom and liturgic treasures, while discarding utterly all corrupt additions and cleansing the temple from all profane intrusions--conservative without being narrow and bigoted--liberal without being lax--a true interpreter of holy writ and yet referring all men not to her own interpretations but to the living oracles--rebuking with power, worldliness and wickedness, sympathizing with all that is good and heaven-born--a rallying [28/29] point for those who are weary of sectarian strife, a candlestick of the Lord, whose radiance should illumine our cities and forests, our mountains and plains. Is such an ideal never to be realized? Is it but a dream and cloud picture?
What a work might we perform, dear brethren, if we were all of one heart and of one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel! How wide the field! How white the harvest! How pressing the need of the leaves of the tree of life which are for the healing of the nations! Has our Church in her structure and standards advantages for such a part? True to her Lord and to her faith might she exert a most potent and blessed influence, attract and mold the mighty and seething elements of this Western world, and head the phalanx in the grand warfare against the kingdom of sin, Satan and death?
It is a noteworthy fact that at the present time many thoughtful and earnest minds are turned to the important subject of Christian unity. There is deep dissatisfaction with the divided and distracted condition of our Christianity. Many, whom I address, sincerely sympathize with this feeling.
In what direction then shall this desire for unity tend? Shall it waste its force in reachings after fellowship with Communions remote in position, superstitious in practice if not unsound in doctrine, encrusted with prejudice, stiffened by unchangeable habits? Or shall it seek its satisfaction among Christians near at hand, bound to us by ties of language and lineage, of country and custom, reverencing the same Bible, not only in substance, but in letter, and deriving therefrom the same great fundamental doctrines? Shall we knock with fruitless importunity at sombre moss-grown portals to be [29/30] coldly repulsed; or, if permitted to enter, compelled to leave behind us what is precious and true; or shall we extend fraternal greetings to those who might value them and respond? Shall we embrace the dead past or the living present? Go back to the cloister? Or press into the highways and thoroughfares? Shall pure, holy, life-giving truth be the magnetic force--gently but irresistibly attractive?--Or outward uniformity of ecclesiastical structure be the iron band and compression? Should we not enquire earnestly, brethren, what are our pressing and peculiar duties to the land in which God hath placed us--among a people who are making such gigantic strides in knowledge, wealth and power? What is our responsibility for the future of America? I speak to those in whose hearts there is deep conviction that we, as a Communion, possess peculiar and great advantages for consolidating the elements of truth, combining the fragmentary masses and spreading throughout our nation the knowledge of Christ. If this be so, then "Unto whom much is given, of the same much will be required." Talents are not bestowed to innate the possessors with pride and vanity, but to be honestly and diligently improved. How far an outward unity among Protestant Christians is essential or possible is a question involving difficulty and diversity of opinion. But surely mutual respect, confession of brotherhood in Christ, and kindly interchange of views are exceedingly to be desired; and, if unity be attainable in any degree, thus must the way be prepared. Can we do nothing to facilitate such an object? Can we remove no barriers and stumbling-blocks from the way? If there be expressions in our formularies, which, through [30/31] ambiguity or misinterpretation, have been the fruitful source of internal discord and external prejudice, and which might, without sacrifice of truth, be so worded as to obviate the difficulties of thousands of honest hearts, and wonderfully extend our fold--are we under no obligation to consider the matter? Has our dear Lord, so often wounded in the house of His friends, no voice to be heard in our solemn assembly? It would seem to me the deeper a man's conviction that his pattern of Christianity is the pattern shewed on the mount, and the stronger his sense of the evils of division, and the more elevated his views of the origin of the ministry and polity he advocates, the more ready he should be to impart and extend them, by any concessions that compromise no essential doctrine.
And if we are bound to enquire what we can do to facilitate the approach of those without our borders, surely not less is the obligation to promote peace and harmony within. Mutual forbearance and fraternal consideration are imperative duties. To prevent discords and conciliate differences is no less important than to heal separations. The spirit of schism may be rife where outward bonds are unbroken--may be as real and bitter in overbearing intolerance, as in unreasonable complaint and impatience of mild and rightful authority. Sincere conciliation involves no evasion of duty or concealment of truth; no sacrifice of conviction or compromise of principles. True unity is not a hollow truce--an armed neutrality--the fire covered over but smouldering beneath the ashes. It can be attained only by speaking the truth in love, by amicable discussion, by fervent prayer, by bowing to God's own word, and by the influence of that blessed [31/32] Spirit who is the author not of confusion but of peace in all the Churches of the saints.
Through the good Providence of God we meet again as representatives of one Communion, extending over this broad land from ocean to ocean, and from the lakes to the gulf. We rejoice that every Diocese is represented and that each of our legislative houses is full and complete.
For this answer to many prayers and this consummation of many devout wishes, God's holy name be praised.
May the God to whom we ascribe this happy reunion vouchsafe unto us His favorable presence, so that all our deliberations may promote the advancement of that kingdom which is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost--and we may be found an acceptable people at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be glory in the highest, now and forever. Amen.