Project Canterbury

Dancing before the Lord
and Other Sermons
Preached in St. Ignatius' Church, New York

by the Reverend Arthur Ritchie

Reprinted from "Catholic Champion."

New York: The Guild of St. Ignatius, 1892.

Sermon X.
Duty in Church Crises.

"Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you." St. John xv., 16.

Most observers of nature are astonished at the apparent waste they find in her. Milions of insects come into being, exist for a few hours and then perish, without having performed, so far as we can see, the least useful function in the world. In the vegetable kingdom we find the same thing. Myriads of plant creatures have their short span of life, their leaves upturned to heaven, their flowers sweetly blooming in the uninhabited places of the earth; then they are blotted out and other green things take their places and that is all. No doubt there is an explanation of all this had we but the wit to find it out, but is there an explanation of the waste of the love of God? All mankind created with the possibility of eternal joy, yet the melancholy fact remaining that numbers are lost, in hell. Many are called out of the world to be of the number of the redeemed, yet but few are chosen because a few only of those called respond to that call. If the waste in nature be a strange and wonderful thing, how mysterious is this waste in the precious love of God! The Saviour hangs upon the Cross; His holy blood streams from all His wounds. One drop were enough to cleanse all the whole world from all its guilt, yet He pours forth drops innumerable, so lavish is He of His grace. The holy stream flows forth for every sinner in all this sinful earth, yet there are probably millions for whom it flows in vain; they will not wash in it and be clean. He was careful of the fragments of bread that were left after the multitudes had been fed, "that nothing be lost," yet who shall gather up the unheeded drops of His most precious Blood that none of them fall in vain?

Indeed I think we can hardly be too frequently reminded that our salvation and the gifts of grace bestowed upon us are the undeserved mercies of God, and not things we have any right to. Have you never known so-called Christians who were not ashamed to put themselves in the attitude of contracting with God. If He will treat me well, I will serve Him; but if I find that my religious practices do not help me in my world life, if I find that my prayers are not answered and my affairs not prospered, then I shall stop serving God. Perhaps most men would shrink from putting it so frankly as that, but it is the spirit that seems to undertake a good deal of the religion of Christians. It may be our own lives have caught something of this very spirit for too-often most of us seem to look upon our religious exercises rather as amiable concessions to God on our part than as obligations of the most imperative nature under which we lie. We seem to think we merit some sort of return for our righteousness, and that God is not just when He does not make us the kind of return we look for.

When we are in such a frame of mind the words of the text may read us a useful lesson: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." They are the words spoken by our Lord to His Apostles, and for them had peculiar and most impressive meaning; but they may with perfect reasonableness be applied to every baptized person, and have for him edifying interpretation

For what has God chosen us? For redemption and sanctification. You may go back further and say also, He chose us first for creation, willing that we should come into being as human creatures, and not as beasts, or plants, or lifeless stones. As human creatures He has chosen us out of the rest of mankind--for you know that the majority of the human race know not Christ--for salvation by the Cross, for sanctification by the Holy Ghost. As we realize our position in the Church, sharing in her blessings, sustained by her heavenly hope, we cannot make little of our Lord's words "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you."

Why then has He chosen us? The Apostles were chosen that they might go forth into all the world proclaiming the message of Salvation to their fellow men and ministering to them the heavenly things of grace and truth according to His word "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." As the Church grew others were chosen through the agency of the Apostles to fulfill the several duties of the ministry; bishops were set over dioceses, priests established in parishes, and deacons provided to assist in the functions assigned them. Had the laity no part in this choosing by the Master for the work of His Kingdom? Aye, surely, they too were chosen to help in the work of its glorious Coming. Do not all right-minded Christians recognize the duty of supporting the Church and her work by their alms, for example? This is the most obvious part of the layman's duty, just as the most obvious part of the priest's duty is the preaching of the Word and the administering of the Sacraments. But we shall miss the truth unless we perceive that everyone, bishop, priest, deacon or layman has his own part, in everything pertaining to the due ordering of the affairs of the kingdom of God, which is the Church.

You will easily see what I mean if you think of the Church as an army, the earthly host of God. It is taught us over and over again in Holy' Scripture that we are to be soldiers of Christ. In an army the guidance of the host and the directing of their movements belong to the general; under him colonels and captains have their several commands; the business of the common soldiers is to obey, but it is also to fight. Suppose they are patriots, warring to to save their country from a powerful foe; does not the feeling of patriotism, the sense that they are fighting for homes and families make them conscious of individual interest and responsibility in the issue of the war? It is true that it is the duty of the officers in their several stations to look after the welfare of their men; the general must have oversight of all his force, the commissary of the temporal needs of the troops, the quartermaster of their housing, the colonels and the captains of the general needs of their respective commands; but the privates are not in the army to be taken care of, as so many children by their parents or guardians, but to fight and die, if need be, for their country.

How often, however, one hears Church people speak as if the whole aim and purpose of the ecclesiastical organization was to minister to their spiritual necessities and cravings, and that they had no corresponding responsibility on their own part.

To grasp the full meaning of this responsibility we must set before ourselves the various purposes for which our Lord established His kingdom in the world. He established it (i) to preserve and to proclaim the truth which He had revealed from heaven, (2) to guard from corruption and to duly administer the Sacraments of Divine grace, (3) to maintain the solemn worship of the Most High as He had ordained it in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar.

Now laymen cannot escape their share of responsibility for the carrying out of the Master's plan in every one of these particulars.

I. To preserve and proclaim Divine truth. The layman may not be empowered to preach, he may not have the gift of writing in defence of the truth. But he can refuse to listen to false teachers, he can encourage and maintain those whom he knows to be true teachers, and in such a Communion as our own in this country he can make his influence felt in the councils of the Church by casting his vote on the side of orthodoxy.

2. To guard and duly administer the Sacraments. A layman may not administer any Sacrament, save baptism when there is imminent peril of death and a clergyman cannot be found, yet in choosing priests when parishes are vacant, in respectful but earnest representations to the priest where the Sacraments seem not to be given their true place, most of all by zealous use of them and reverent treatment of them can every layman glorify the Sacraments in his own sphere, and by his generosity see that all things are provided for their orderly and dignified administration.

3. To maintain the Christ-ordained worship. Personal influence and personal example give the layman a power for God in making the worship of the Church glorious in men's eyes, and the munificence of laymen enables fair buildings to be set up, and noble Altars erected by means of which the worship of the Most High can be given the place it ought to have in the world.

You will say, perhaps, that is all very well, but who is to be the judge of right doctrine, of the lawful administration of the Sacraments and of the due ordering of public worship? Is each layman to set up his own opinion upon such matters and assert his individuality against bishops and pastors of the flock? Certainly not: that were to produce anarchy instead of order. Nevertheless there is a standard, and the layman of moderate education is as well able to know what that standard is as bishop or priest. Suppose the whole House of Bishops of our own Communion should put forth a declaration upon Episcopacy that it was not essential to the existence of the true Church. Would that commit the Church in this land to such a view? Not while the Ordinal remained unchanged. The only way in which our national Church could be committed to heresy upon this point would be by the alteration of the Prayer Book through constitutional action of the Dioceses declared in General Convention. Then we might say the Church had lost the Faith, but not until then.

Suppose the whole House of Bishops should declare unanimously that priests had no power to forgive sins and that Confirmation was unnecessary as a qualification for Holy Communion, would the Church thereby be committed to heresy concerning Absolution and Confirmation? Certainly not so long as the Prayer Book remained unchanged and the rubric at the end of the Confirmation service.

Suppose the whole House of Bishops to declare unanimously that the Body of Christ is not given, taken and eaten in the Lord's Supper, would such declaration commit this Church to heresy concerning the Real Presence? Certainly not so long as the constitutional action of the Dioceses had not eliminated the 28th Article, of Religion from the XXXIX.

This Church of ours has an authoritative voice. It is found in her Prayer Book with the Articles appended, in her Constitution and Canons. Nor are any of these beyond the understanding of men of ordinary intelligence and education. The House of Bishops cannot make doctrine for this Church nor can their action, however unworthy and time-serving, commit her to false doctrine.

But what is our duty when our pastors fail to stand up for the right? In answering that question we shall do well to remember that we are the soldiers of Christ, fighting for our fatherland which is His kingdom. If in time of war the generals of the army be found weak and vacillating making dishonourable truces with the enemy, practically though not intentionally betraying the fatherland, what is the duty of the privates in the ranks? Not to mutiny, unless indeed there be evident and conscious treachery on the part of their chiefs; not to throw down their arms and go back sullenly to their homes; certainly not to go over to the enemies of their country on one side while their generals are trying to conclude a disgraceful peace with enemies on the other side. No, you say, but honestly and devotedly, as true patriots to do everything that lies in their power to overcome the blunders of their officers, to refuse to accept the shameful treaty, to resolutely set themselves to fight to the death for home and honour.

It is not very difficult then to know what is our duty when such unhappy crises as that we are now passing through come upon the Church.

Our leaders may be fainthearted and pusillanimous, ready to make unworthy terms with the enemy, but they cannot officially commit the Church. We are neither hopeless nor helpless.

1. We must not mutiny. Our bishops are our bishops still, though they stand not up manfully for the Faith. We are ready to yield them still all reverent obedience according to the Canons of the Church, and where they admonish or urge us to join in uncanonical action, or such as is against the plain teaching of the Prayer Book (as in the matter of admitting unconfirmed people to Holy Communion) we have simply to fall back upon the Prayer Book and Canons and say we cannot obey here for so doing we should disobey a higher authority than yours, that of the Church herself. So doing we shall strongly check their disloyal action and yet remain altogether loyal ourselves.

2. We must not throw down our arms, and say It is of no use to try to fight for the Church when her chief pastors are unfaithful to her, and then sulk in our tents until things have changed for the better. There could not be greater folly than this, nor a more unworthy course. Those who would act so forget the Master's words "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." We are bound, as His soldiers, to fight for His kingdom, our fatherland, at all times, notwithstanding any unfaithfulness on the part of others, and to die for the cause if need be. Nothing is more unchristianlike than for the soldier to refuse to do his duty because the general or the colonel or the captain has failed to do his.

3. We must not desert to the enemy. You may ask me Is it necessary to say this also? Alas that it should be! Yet there are Christian minds so constituted as to see no other solution for troubles in our own Church than secession to Rome. Because a majority of those in authority have betrayed their trust in a broad-church direction, priests and lay-people have been heard to say, There is nothing left for us but to go over. What then has happened? Has the Anglican Church denied any article of the Faith? No, the old Prayer Book remains as it was with a few trifling changes in the direction of a truer Catholicity. But, says our faint-hearted layman, the Church solemnly consecrates to her highest order one who does not truly believe in her Ministry, and she fails to try and condemn the heretical pastor.

It is certainly a most unhappy and humiliating thing that a man can be made a bishop who does not believe in the Apostolic Succession, yet when one considers that according to our system in this country it requires only a majority of the Bishops, and not the whole bench to elevate to their order a priest, this anomaly may occur. The Catholic Church has never decided questions on the majority plan, and some of these days we may come to prefer her ways to those of political bodies. Under the circumstances we are met by a difficulty the Church has always had to meet in one way or another. Who shall guard the guardians? That must ever be left to God.

We who believe that He rules over His Church, and that His Holy Spirit ever abides in her, need never fear that He will permit evil guardians in high places to work her permanent mischief. The majority of our bishops intimidated by popular clamour may act in a way unbecoming their high prerogative, yet they are but so many individuals, they do not and cannot commit the Church to their courses, they have their day and pass on and more courageous pastors take their place, and the faithful--save only such timorous ones as have themselves proved recreant--have suffered no hurt.

As for the trial of heretical teachers we have had evidence enough already to show that no man in this Church can wilfully deny any article of the Creed and not be silenced. If there be still teachers in her pulpits who seem to teach heresy we may be sure they will be called upon either to show that their opinions do not controvert the statements of the Creeds and Articles, or to depart from the communion of the faithful. But suppose the broad-church bishop to be duly enthroned, and the heretical teacher allowed to go on unsilenced, would these things justify any Churchman leaving his own communion for that of Rome? Has the loyal soldier no alternative when his generals conclude a dishonourable peace with the enemy in the rear but to desert to the enemy in the front? Are we in the Church, as the soldiers of Christ to please ourselves, or to do battle for Him? "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." The Church of Rome is quite as deadly an enemy of our own Communion as is broad-churchism. In her pride and self-sufficiency she acknowledges neither our Sacraments nor our Orders, she does all she can to destroy us as a Communion, and to draw away from us our people. Is it to her then that we shall go, as spoiled children, to spite our poor Anglican mother who has claim enough on us surely for help and for love? "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." For what has He chosen us? To be His soldiers, to fight for the kingdom, our fatherland. Our ancestral acres may be no fairer, no more fertile than those of our Roman neighbours, yet they are ours and methinks we ought to have some pardonable pride in defending them and maintaining their good name. What idea can he have of his obligations to his Anglican mother that can allow a disappointment, a discouraging action on the part of others, to make him desert her for the home of her deadliest enemy! Ponder for a moment the sort of language used by seceders to Rome: I could not find the peace or comfort, or the certainty I longed for in the Anglican Church. Was it for that God put us in the Anglican. Church, do you think, to find peace and comfort and certainty? "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." He put us there to work for Him to fight in His cause, not to please ourselves.

When you show me that the Anglican Church has in her Prayer Book, Canons or Articles denied one single vital doctrine of the Catholic religion, or forbidden in her Prayer Book, Canons or Articles one single practice important to the right maintenance of the old Faith, then I shall admit that you may without treason talk about leaving her. Yet even then I do not see how going to Rome could be the alternative. Has Rome not perverted the Faith with her Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which however romantic it may be is contradicted by all Catholic tradition, and by her Infallibility of the Pope, proved false alike by Catholic tradition and by history? Could you accept the Mariolatry of Alphonsus de Liguori and the Indulgences of Tetzel, not to speak of Holy Communion administered in one kind only? Surely one must be very wrong-headed indeed who could swallow such camels as these while straining at the gnats of broad-churchism in his own Communion. Do you ask me What then are we to do when our own Church proves false? Rest assured that time will never come. If it ever should come no doubt God will show us all what we ought to do, but there is no human probability that the Anglican Church will prove false to her great trust. She has made too great strides in the realization of her Catholic inheritance for us to have any doubts upon this score. She will be faithful unto the end.

Only let us not forget our own responsibility. He, our Master, has put us here, in our own Church, to fight for her, for so we fight for Him. We can pray for the Church, harder than we have ever prayed before; for her rulers too, and those in her who do not appreciate her Catholic character. We can stubbornly by our words and by our votes resist every proposed change in Prayer Book or Canons looking towards laxity in faith or practice. We can persistently and unflinchingly denounce all faintheartedness and disloyalty on the part of those in authority. Public opinion is a power in these days, and when men's teachings and practices are brought to the bar of the Prayer Book, Articles and Canons, and found to be false to them, the world itself will shame the traitor into repentance or flight. Above all we can live Catholic lives; nothing tells like that. When men find that we believe in the whole Prayer Book, and use every part of it, and plainly carry out all the Church's intentions, they will be persuaded that we are her loyal children, and when they find that our loyalty makes us more Christlike they will say These the Master has chosen, and they are fighting for Him, and for the heavenly fatherland, and they will prevail.

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