THE PRIMARY CHARGE
RIGHT REVEREND ABRAM NEWKIRK LITTLEJOHN, D. D.,
Bishop of Long Island,
DELIVERED BEFORE THE
Second Convention of the Diocese,
Church of the Holy Trinity, Brooklyn
September 29th and 30th A. D. 1869.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2009
"Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves and to all the flock over which
the HOLY GHOST hath made you Overseers to feed the Church of GOD,
which he hath purchased with his own blood."--Acts xx. 28.
Brethren beloved in the Lord:
In conformity with the custom familiar to you in the mother Diocese, it was my wish that one of your own number should address you on this occasion. In appearing here for this purpose it is, perhaps, proper that I should say that I have done so in compliance with the request of several of the most venerable and influential among you. And before proceeding to the duty of the hour, let me say, that on this the first occasion of our meeting together in the solemn and momentous relation which binds a Bishop to his Clergy and People, it is my earnest prayer that the HOLY SPIRIT whose presence among us we have especially invoked will, besides conferring all other needed gifts, awaken within us a due sense of the common interests, the common hopes, the common labors and responsibilities which that divinely ordained relation was intended to create and foster. And as we believe we see upon it the seal of GOD'S appointment, so may it prove in our hands instrumental in bringing forth the fruits of righteousness which are by JESUS CHRIST unto the glory and praise of GOD.
Reserving for another and early occasion the discussion of topics which more immediately concern this Diocese, I shall, for the present, confine myself to such as concern the whole Catholic Body.
The words of HOLY SCRIPTURE which I have cited as the ground of my thoughts, are familiar to you as part of the memorable address which St. Paul delivered at Miletus, to the elders of the Church. Upon the circumstances which clothed the Apostle's language with unwonted power, I may not dwell. Indeed, the single sentence before us suggests vastly more than [73/74] there is time to consider, and I shall, therefore, confine myself to that one part of the exhortation "to feed the Church of GOD."
However general the duty toward all mankind laid upon the Christian Ministry in other parts of Holy Scripture, as in the Great Commission to go forth and teach all nations or in the Parable, which declares the field of its labor to be the world; here the duty is made specific, and is limited to the Church, to those already gathered out of the world, already baptized and brought to the knowledge of Christian privilege. Whomsoever else we are to feed, it is especially required of us to feed the Church of GOD, purchased by his own blood; to teach, and by teaching to edify the Body of Christ, composed of such as are members of Himself, and therefore members one of another; each drawing separately the life principle from the LORD and Giver of life; each fed upon food convenient for it, and yet all united and compacted by the bands and joints of an organic life and fed from the common bounty of GOD, conveyed in the Revelation of his supernatural grace. Of those thus joined together in CHRIST by the Spirit, GOD says that they are his people and the sheep of his pasture; and for them in ways above nature he maketh the grass to grow upon the mountains and the green herb for the service of men. The food he provides grows in the Heavenly places and reaches his flock through His Eternal SON, the chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls, by the Spirit working through the written Word and Ordinances of grace.
Generally, then, it is clear that they who are set in all lower ministries to feed the Church of GOD may dispense no other food than what He has provided, and in no other way than what He has ordained. But if this be so, then all who are commissioned to speak for GOD must find the source, the material and the rule of their teaching, solely in the Revelation of His will as contained in Holy Scripture. And this plainly is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Church. I need not stop to show in how many ways and with what solemn urgency she asserts this truth. It is among the foremost of her Articles. It is wrought into the Ordination vow of each Order of the Ministry. It reappears in her Offices of devotion, in her Songs of praise, and in the chief of her Sacramental Rites. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Holy Scripture for all things needful for salvation, tones the whole atmosphere of her life and teaching, and [74/75] speaks sublimely from all the controversial chapters of her history. It is a doctrine which, as many recent developments and many existing tendencies in the Religious world show, her clergy cannot teach too boldly or enforce too often. It is the only rock which will hold our feet in the battle with the open rationalism of "Free Thought," and the more dangerous because more subtle and disguised rationalism of Popery:--modes of thought, which however antagonistic in all else, agree in the effort to bring the Scriptures into captivity to human reason. Wherever this doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture with the correlated doctrine of the Church as its pillar and ground, its witness and interpreter, be held in its integrity, it will leave no room for that perilous dogma--that wretched fancy of the modern intellect which finds, either in the whole Church or in the individual reason, a power of discovery which transcends the first afflatus of the Divine Spirit as communicated by the pens of the Inspired Writers. Wherever, on the other hand, this doctrine be tampered with, diluted or denied, mankind will be left to that accursed liberty of choice which will force upon them any one of an ever shifting series of bastard religions.
But there is one very practical question arising out of this Doctrine, whose importance forbids that it shall be passed over without a word. Admitting the doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture in all things needful to salvation; who, it may be asked, is to be the final arbiter in cases of disputed meaning? When the word of GOD'S prophets is challenged, and a doubt arises as to whether they are feeding the Church from the grass and green herb, the wine and oil, and the finest of the wheat, which the Chief Shepherd has furnished from the Heavenly places, who is to decide? I reply by citing the rules adhered to with uniform consent in this Branch of the Catholic Church. (1st.) Scripture must be interpreted in harmony with the teaching of the Primitive, Undivided Church. (2d.) If this fail to satisfy, then Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture; particular passages by the analogy of faith. Neither individuals nor the Church may lawfully "expound one place of Scripture so that it be repugnant to another." So the Scripture thus treated must be the last and highest appeal of the individual conscience. But it may be answered, this is the method of handling the Scripture, which has peopled Modern Christendom with conflicting sects [75/76] and utterly destroyed the faith in many souls. Not so. The ultra Protestant sentiment has seized upon one-half of the rule and cast aside the other. It has practically withdrawn all limitations and restrictions from the right of Private Judgment. It has declared the individual reason to be not only the supreme arbiter in all disputes, but to be healthy and free only when emancipated from all external guidance, in the form of ancient tradition or living ecclesiastical action. Logically it enforces upon every man the duty of treating all things connected with his belief, as either disputed or open to dispute; and even refuses to allow his assent to the very axioms of Revealed Religion, until they have been established by reasoning, and catalogued among the controverted and doubtful matters of human thought. But all this is as wide of the position of the Church as the poles. She teaches the right of every soul to appeal to God's Word as the Supreme authority, and that no dictum of her own can, beside it, enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation. But along side the right, she sets rules and limitations indispensable to the safe exercise of the right. She affirms that to each individual she hath authority to interpret Holy Writ, and consequently authority in controversies of faith. She warns him of the grave peril of gainsaying, that which has been taught "semper, ubique, et ab omnibus:" or of setting his own judgment, warped by the influences and accidents of the hour, against the Catholic Creeds, built out of Scripture by the sanctified, collective reason of the whole Church, working under conditions assuring an exemption from all error, as nearly absolute as will ever be possible on this earth. She declares that the tradition of Christian doctrine, which beginning in the Apostolic age, and running on through many denials, corruptions and restorations; often challenged, but never overthrown; sufficiently disputed to deprive it of universal consent after the Primitive age, and yet sufficiently affirmed to show that it embodied the general mind of the Church;--this she declares that no man may despise or overlook in his own inquiries and appeals, without awful risks of error, and just impeachment of the validity of his own reasoning.
And yet it is her principle that every man must be persuaded in his own mind. She asks no man to rest his faith on blind and passive submission to external authority. She sets no value on a [76/77] Religion that is not rooted in honest conviction, and fed by the strong juices of an obedience which is manly and true, only because it is free. She scorns to receive into her keeping, as a warehouse receives a bale of goods or a safe receives private treasure, any man's reason or conscience. She is their guide, their teacher, and within the law of Scripture, their ruler; but never their substitute. She favors as little the license mistaken for liberty, as the servitude mistaken for obedience. Nowhere on the fair walls of our Zion can be found a cleft within which may rightfully lodge the noisy, lawless, self-will of individualism, or the blind and slavish submission engendered by over strained authority.
But if in the Scriptures, we find the source and the rule of the faith on which the Church is to feed, so in the same green pastures of eternal truth we find, gathered into one bright focus of life and power, the very substance of all true teaching of the Flock--even CHRIST who is all in all to the Church purchased by his blood, as He is all in all, the beginning and the end, of Revelation. Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of GOD; and this every word is gathered up and vitally embodied in the WORD made flesh--the incarnate LOGOS, in whom dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and if the fulness or pleroma, then the infinite wisdom, grace and power of the GODHEAD. And so, He was made unto us of GOD, not only the centre, but the sum of all teaching--even wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption. It is certain then, that they who rightly feed the Church of GOD, will feed it not on abstract doctrine, or ecclesiastical tradition, or human glosses of the truth; but on the living, ever present and eternal personality of CHRIST, working now as heretofore and for ever, in the word He uttered, in the offices He performed, in the sacrifice of the cross, in His triumph over death, in the ordinances He instituted, in the ministries He commissioned and the kingdom He established, unto the end of the world. As for ourselves, brethren, if this be not the key note and governing aim of our teaching, we are without excuse; for upon nothing is the mind of this Church more definitely expressed. In all her nurture and guardianship of souls, nothing is more clear than her effort to supply this living food, to keep men close to the one MEDIATOR and INTERCESSOR, to interpret the letter of scripture by His life, to breathe [77/78] into all hearts the magnetic power of His example and to transfigure all sacred acts, services and ministrations in the blaze of the central glory. CHRIST is the substance of her teaching and the food of her children, at all times and in all places. Systems of divinity bearing the prestige of great names, the carefully fashioned methods of her ripest scholarship, the new measures and new opinions evolved from the teeming brain of the hour, the spirit of the age, the clamor of accumulating powers, in the sphere of physical progress, all eloquent though they be of the hopes and aspirations of dominant races and spreading empires and coming eras of human glory, she has but one balance in which to weigh them all, and that is the extent of the service they render in advancing the work, and making known the name and presence of the SON OF GOD. Inquirers and critics are often offended at our order of Worship--our Prayer Book, because they cannot compress its pages into a severe dogmatic unity, or fasten upon them the shibboleth of a school or a party; but no one ever faulted it for dropping a veil before CHRIST; rather have all impartial readers wondered at the more than dramatic vividness with which He is there reproduced in all the plenitude of His Divine character and Redemptive work. And this is our strength, the very rock of our refuge, amid the wild tumult of living unbelief, and against the subtle speech or the open menace of living corruption, or living heresy. Here is our safeguard and defense amid all the shifting winds of false doctrine in this land and this age, both so prolific of perilous novelties touching the deep things of GOD. No churchman, whether priest or layman, can, without criminal negligence, or equally criminal ignorance, acquiesce, for an hour, in the view sometimes cunningly foisted in by the secular thought around us, that because it is the duty of the "Priest's lips to keep knowledge," therefore, the Priesthood may dwarf the Gospel to the range of a metaphysic or philosophy which aims to answer the questions and solve the difficulties of the speculative reason. He will not fail to see that though, incidentally, the Gospel is the very highest philosophy, because it is the wisdom and the power of GOD in CHRIST; yet, that in essence and form, in scope and purpose, it immeasurably transcends any possible philosophy, however true: for that at best offers only knowledge, while this offers a life in which knowledge is only one ingredient.
Nor, again, will any child of the Church, even tolerably trained in her ways, permit the Gospel to be pared away and starved down to the dry bones of any system of mere morality. It contains, as a vital part of itself, the only real and efficient system of morality, but only as an incidental and subordinate part.
"Moral teaching, by itself, with no insight and sanction from without, sundered from the fountain head of all moral being, is amongst a fallen race little better than mental and spiritual anatomy, a purblind poring into the nauseous revelations of disease and death; a groping darkly into the mechanism from which life has fled. Christianity is the bringing of the SON OF MAN into contact with the dead and saying, in the strength of His omnipotence, 'Young man, I say unto thee, arise.' "
But another consequence of the system of doctrine and life and worship in which we have been reared, and through which we believe we are required to feed the Church of GOD--(a system on whose every fundamental principle of teaching, discipline, worship, organization, we may trace the very image of CHRIST, or the word of those who first went forth at His command)--is that all who are faithfully trained under it will be saved from both the ever recurring extremes in times of religious activity; from the religion of faith without works, and the religion of works without faith; from the religion that is too emotional, too subjective and therefore too capricious and fluctuating, too much given to morbid, gloomy, self introspection, and from the religion that is rendered hard and dry, cold and formal, by an absorbed and tenacious grasp of the objective in creed, sacrament and ritual.
Again, a system which, in all its parts, visibly revolves about CHRIST, as its central sun, insensibly supplies to the Ministry and the Flock, a living and flexible Theology, which is positive without the stiffness of artificial unity, and definite without an unhealthy multiplication of special dogmas. For the uses of practical instruction, Divine truth must take a form and be taught with method. This form, this method, must be comprehensive of the contents and visibly pillared on the facts of Revelation. But, in order that the life, the freshness and power may not be taken out them, they must be kept abreast of, and more or less colored by, the ever changing phases of human thought and knowledge, and yet not allowed to petrify into scientific formulas, which are nothing unless they are supreme, and which are always [79/80] ready to sacrifice the life of spiritual truth to a hard, unyielding precision of statement. Now such a form and method of feeding CHRIST's sheep can be secured and maintained only under such a system as we possess--a system which, moving around CHRIST, as its unchangeable pivot, informs worship with doctrine, and vitalizes doctrine by worship, which "preaches what it prays and prays what it preaches." In all, save refractory and exceptional temperaments, such a Theology will prevent the narrowness and one-sidedness which, seizing upon some one member of the body of truth, converts it into a wedge for splitting asunder and destroying all the rest. Alas! in how many quarters this power is needed, to widen out the narrow brain and correct the partial eye which, with the whole field of truth before them, insist upon omitting from their scheme "regeneration, lest it should be put in the place of conversion; or conversion, lest it should gainsay regeneration; or the remission of sins, lest it should make men trifle with sin; or perseverance, lest it should make men presume; or reprobation, lest it should make men despair; or free grace, lest it should make men immoral; or the need of watchfulness, self-discipline and obedience, lest they should make men legal and self-righteous."
"Feed the Church of GOD." I have endeavored to show what it is to obey this command by showing (1st) that we are to feed the people of GOD out of the Scriptures and by the Scriptures; (2d) that we are to feed them on CHRIST, as the one only food that can nourish unto eternal life; and (3d) that we are to gather up this food, for the current uses of instruction, into a Theology, living, practical, balanced, and comprehensive; a Theology which, in all its essentials, is the ripened tradition, the finished inheritance of the Christian ages; a Theology which begins and ends with the God of Revelation and which, by declaring the Persons and Offices of the ever-blessed GODHEAD, throws all necessary light upon man's inmost nature--his sin, his need, his sorrow, his loss, his redemption; a Theology, finally, which may welcome, nay, may require the service of human reason, but can never become its creature or its slave.
I had hoped for space to briefly allude to one more very important topic connected with my theme. I will merely suggest it, without any attempt to discuss it. If what has been said be [80/81] true, it follows that no Pastor can feed the flock as he ought, that is on CHRIST, who does not cause every particle of that living food to strengthen and compact the Church, which is the Body and the Spouse of CHRIST. Every redeemed individual life attains its end, does its highest work, only as it utters forth the glory of GOD. But this it can do, in needed measure, only as it becomes an organic part of an organic Body, the Church, which is the product of all individual salvations. For the Gospel is preached chiefly for this end, (1st) "to make all-men see what is the fellowship of the mystery which, from the beginning of the world hath been hid in GOD, who created all things by JESUS CHRIST;" and this (2d) "to the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of GOD, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in CHRIST JESUS our LORD." So that there can be no true life in the soul which is not tributary to the life of the Body; and that cannot be the bread of heaven which, in nourishing the individual member, does not, through him, nourish the whole Body. Estrangement is weakness, isolation is death.
Brethren, it is one of the sore trials of the Church that in every age she has been tempted to feed on bread which is not of heaven, to sit down at other tables than that spread by her LORD, to accept other guides than those whom He commissions. It is one of the strange things of history that the human mind should have labored so hard to adulterate or to supplant the only food which can build up in the soul the life that abideth forever. But never, perhaps, was so much of genius, learning, toil and ingenuity devoted to this end as now. And never were the children of the Church so tried and perplexed as now in separating the true from the false, and generally in maintaining intact the foundations of the faith in the hearts of the young, in the nurture of the household, in the life and discipline of the parish, and in the moral habit of communities. Bread, such as it is, is everywhere offered so cheap that all may have it--bread wrapt in the leaves of the modern Press and stamped with great names in Literature, in Science, in Statesmanship and Religion--bread now composed largely of the chaff of human speculation and leavened with the bitter herbs of human folly and conceit, and now the fruit of adroit mixtures of GOD's word and man's additions; now made by unfaithful, if not traitorous hands within the Church, and [81/82] now by openly hostile ones without the Church. In view of the perilous drift of the time in all matters affecting Religion, not one of us set apart to feed the Church of GOD but should dwell with searchings of heart upon the duty laid upon him not only to teach what is true, but to banish from CHRIST'S Fold what is false; and consequently not only to study GOD'S message, but man's errors. And as for both there are abundant facilities, so there ought to be abundant time even amid the pressing cares of a laborious Pastorate.
Whether we heed it or no, Pantheism in all its protean shapes and smooth lipped professions; subscribing to all creeds, and ready to minister for all Religions, from Fetishism to Christianity; holding all doctrines as they manifest religious intuitions; denying all doctrines as they fall below the culture of the present inward light; regarding exclusiveness as the only heterodoxy, and dogma as the only curse; affirming the supernatural in Religion to be impossible, inspiration to be the common inheritance of the wise and good of all ages, as well as of Holy men of old, and revelation to be no special, isolated act, but something continuous, progressive and universal; demanding, as appears from a recent manifesto of its disciples, a Church without priesthood or pastors; a Religion without catechism or religious teaching; a worship without mysteries or sacraments; a morality without theology; a GOD, but without a system or a definition; a general right to the nomenclature of Christianity, as exemplified by the changing caucuses of Free Thought:--whether, I say, we heed it or no, this huge error which floats around modern thought like an atmosphere, subtle, elastic, ubiquitous, has its bread everywhere in the market, and on such terms as will profit the seller though the buyer be poisoned.
There, too, is the materialistic Gospel of perverted Physical Science, which accounts an unclassified bone of more value than the Cross of JESUS, and, under the assumed reign of law, empties the universe of its GOD; deprives Him of the power to answer, and the human heart of all motive to utter prayer. In league with this is the boastful Humanitarianism of the hour, which sees all possible glories and perfections in the yet undeveloped capabilities of man, and promises to end all evils by the shifting expedients of special reforms in the industrial, domestic and social arrangements of the world. And then passing within the [82/83] precincts of Christendom, we are met, on the one side, by the rivalries, anarchies and disintegrations of the Sect principle, which scouts the existence of the visible, historic Church of CHRIST, holding our Religion to be an idea, a force, an influence, whose organization is shaped by circumstances; not an Institution of GOD, the same in its essential features in all ages and among all races. While, on the other side, we are confronted by Popery, which falsely arrogates the title of the mother and mistress of churches--with her untold millions of souls entangled in the meshes of chronic and incurable corruptions; with her infallibility, virtually superseding the authority of the HOLY GHOST; with her sacrifice of the Mass, putting the natural body of CHRIST at the disposal of priestly power and nullifying the one propitiatory sacrifice on the Cross; with her Confessional dropping a veil of darkness before the Throne of grace. And now the same so-called mother and mistress, as though she had learned nothing from her repeated failure to discredit and cripple all that is characteristic in the life of the last three centuries, threatens to invade once more with her dogmatic assumptions, not only the Faith once delivered to the saints, but the whole sphere of rational progress and regulated liberty, as represented in Ethics, which she has corrupted by her casuistry; in Politics, from which she has been driven by every State in Europe; and in Science, which she dreads with instinctive horror.
Such are the chief of the false and alien pastures into which the Flock are tempted to stray. I may not here speak in detail of the means by which they are to be warned and saved from the coming evil. Certain it is that the rescue will not be achieved by trimming to catch the popular gale; or by compromise either with the Unbelief and the Latitudinarianism, or the Superstition and Idolatry of the hour; or by voluntary Societies organized to attack special errors or to defend special truths; or by discussions teeming with the angry tempers and the noisy platitudes of times of controversy. There is but one road to safety. "Feed the Church of GOD" on the Faith once for all delivered to the saints. The Gospel in the Church, which once converted the world, can alone regain and save the world. Holding firmly, preaching boldly, this Gospel; abandoning no one truth which it enjoins; yielding to no one error which it forbids; neither consenting with one School "to rationalize the Church, that it may become [83/84] broad and great by an amalgamation of diversities of sects and opinions," nor with another School of the hour, to bring the Church, by ingenious compromise or open betrayal, into captivity to the spurious and usurping headship of the Bishop of Rome;--doing this, let us proclaim it everywhere that, setting aside all accidental peculiarities, we are ready to commune with all who would have communicated with the Bishops of Nice, or who stand to-day by the creeds, neither more nor less, of the once undivided Church.
Overseers of the Flock, Stewards of the Mysteries of GOD, Deputies of CHRIST, after this manner feed the Church purchased by His blood. Though others turn away their ears from the truth and be turned unto fables, I charge you before GOD and the LORD JESUS CHRIST, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine; so shall you, and those who feed upon your doctrine, be strong in the LORD and in the power of His might.