Project Canterbury

A Voice in the Wilderness
Being a Plea for the Restoration of Primitive Christianity
Addressed to the Bishops of the Anglo-American Communion
And through Them to the English-Speaking People throughout the World

By Algernon Sidney Crapsey

New York: James Potts & Co., 1897.




Doctor in Divinity
Doctor in Laws
Doctor in the Humanities

Bishop of Central New York

My Dear Bishop:

In the early days of book-writing and book-making it was customary for an author of little note to publish his book under the patronage of some noble and celebrated name; hoping to overcome his own obscurity by adding to it the celebrity of his patron.

Following this ancient custom, I venture to bring out this little book under the cover of your distinguished name and to beg for it the patronage of your high office and the support of your venerated and beloved personality.

I make this appeal for help the more urgently because what I do in this book may seem to savour of presumption, and may bring upon me the reproach justly due to one who "exercises himself in great matters which are too high for him."

I, who am less than the least of all saints, who am but a parish priest with nothing to distinguish me from the thousands who hold and exercise the same office, venture to speak to those who are over me in the Lord. I address my words to the Bishops of the Anglo-American Communion.

In so rash an undertaking it is necessary that I fortify myself in every possible way so that I may secure a fair hearing and a just judgment.

I can think of no better method of gaining the favor of those with whom I wish to plead than by placing myself under the protection of some eminent member of their sacred order.

I have chosen you as my sponsor because for more than twenty years it has been my privilege to think [5/6] of you as a father and a friend. From my earliest manhood you have followed my life with affectionate interest, and I have looked upon yours with reverent admiration.

It is that life which has inspired me with the hope that we may have with us once more Bishops in the Church of God, who shall revive among us the primitive Christian life: simple-hearted men, living simple lives in the midst of a simple people; men who care least of all for their honors and their dignities and most of all for the Church of God which He has purchased with His own blood.

You have been to me and to many the ideal of what such a Bishop should be: your austere life: your sanctified learning: your devotion to God and your sympathy for man, give hope to all who are praying for the restoration of the primitive life of the Church.

There is a scene in my memory which I will never forget. I had occasion to visit you a year or so ago. It was in the winter time and the day was cold and stormy. As I passed through the country I looked out upon a white and desolate world. When I alighted from the railway car and walked down the station, I saw an old man coming toward me, bending under the weight of a heavy bag. No one took notice of him. My heart was full of pity for the old man because he had to be abroad on such a day of wind and snow. But when he came nearer pity was changed to admiration, for he lifted his head and there flashed over his face a smile of recognition and I saw it was the Bishop of Central New York. He was coming home from his northern visitation.

That sight was to me a confirmation of Faith. It proved to me that the men of to-day are as devoted as any men who have lived and labored in the Church of [6/7] God. It assured me that we not only have Apostolic succession, but that we have Apostles.

I would not dare to write such words of you did I not know that you have passed beyond the reach of the praise or blame of man. "For now are you ready to be offered and the time of your departure is at hand; you have fought a good fight, you have finished your course: you have kept the faith." [II Timothy iv, 6, 7.] You are still with us and are working for us, "but it is toward evening and the day is far spent." [S. Luke xxiv, 29.]

You are no longer

"With the reapers reaping early
In among the bearded barley,"

but you are where

"By the moon the reapers weary
Piling sheaves in uplands airy." [Tennyson, Lady of Shalott.]

listen and wait for the Voice that calls them home.

Already, though you know it not, there has come over you that change which comes at last to all the children of God: you no longer " bear the image of the earthy," you "bear the image of the heavenly." [I Cor. xv, 49.]

Your age, your learning, your well known devotion to the truth as it is in Jesus, make you of all men the one whom I would have for my advocate with the men that are your fellows. And so, without your permission and without making you responsible for a single word that I say, I beg you to help me with your sympathy and your prayers.

And I ask this favor the more boldly because I have in your sacred office the reason and the excuse for all I wish to say.

[8] The Christian communion to which you and I belong is separated from all other Christian communions by the fact that it is Episcopal.

We do not eat and drink at the Lord's table with other Christian men and women, because we think that they have no right to spread any table at all. We think of them as Israel thought of Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh: [Joshua xxii, 17, 18.] as brethren who have builded altars for themselves, and who no longer worship at the true altar of God.

We claim that they are separated from the Church of God, which is the object of His love and to which He gave the promises. We assert distinctly that He " has promised to be with the ministers of the Apostolic succession to the end of the world." [Office for Ordination of Deacons.] And we hold that ours is that ministry of Apostolic succession.

It is our belief in the fact of an Apostolic ministry which isolates us and forbids our full communion with millions round about us, who call themselves Christians.

And when these separated brethren call upon us to justify our isolation, and ask us what good the Apostolic ministry has done for us, we answer much every way.

In the first place, the simple fact that it is Apostolic is a great blessing. It is a ministry which we did not create for ourselves, but which was created for us. It is a ministry " which is not of men, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead." [Galatians i, I.]

This ministry, as we believe, is the creation of the Breath of Jesus Christ. As God of old breathed into the nostrils of Adam and he became a living soul, so Christ our God breathed upon His Apostles and [8/9] they became a living, organic body with special faculties for their special work. And we hold it to be self-evident, that this organic body, called into being by the breath of God, was gifted with that wonderful power which God gives to every living creature, which is the power of reproduction.

The ministry to which we cleave is, we believe, as directly the descendant of the Apostolic ministry as we ourselves are the descendants of Adam.

And this ministry has had a long and eventful history. It kept company with Jesus; "beginning with the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from them." [Acts 1, 22.]

As soon as the promise of Jesus was fulfilled and power came upon them from on high, the Apostolic ministry went forth and preached everywhere, "the Lord working with them and confirming the word with signs following." [Mark xvi, 20.]

For more than three hundred years this Apostolic ministry "suffered persecution for the Cross of Christ." It was by the very fact of its existence, separate from sinners. It had no communion with the great religions round about it. It was isolated alike from Jew and Gentile. "It had an altar whereof they had no right to eat who served the tabernacle." [Hebrews xiii, 10.]

When the Church had peace, then this Apostolic ministry rose, the center of unity and the principle of order in the midst of a wild and chaotic world. That civilization in the midst of which we live, which we call the Christian civilization, is due to the presence and work of the ministers of the Apostolic succession.

We English-speaking people owe all that is best in our lives to the charity of S. Gregory of Rome, to the missionary labors of S. Augustine of Canterbury, [9/10] and the devotion of S. Cuthbert and his fellows of Lindisfarne, and these were all members of the Apostolic ministry.

Beside these there have been a host which no man can number, who have subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions; quenched the violence of fire; escaped the edge of the sword; out of weakness were made strong; waxed valiant in fight; turned to flight the armies of the aliens. [Hebrew xi, 33, 34.]

It is to us a controlling thought and one from which we cannot turn away, that in the Apostolic ministry, to say nothing of the Apostolic Church, we find more than anywhere else in the world the heroes of Christianity; the men who have lived and died for it; the men who have made its history. To forsake that ministry is to cut ourselves away from our own past; it is to deny our parentage and to lose our heritage.

This, then, is our first reason for holding to the Apostolic ministry. We love it because it is Apostolic, because by means of it we are of the household of God, and fellow-citizens with the saints.

And to the Apostolic ministry we owe that mode of Divine worship, than which we think there is no other in the world.

It is the tradition of the Church that we owe those wonderful liturgies, or forms of divine worship, by which to-day we approach the mercy seat, to the inspired labors of S. Peter, S. James, S. John, and S. Mark. But be this as it may, we certainly owe our sacramental worship to the Apostolic Church, of which the Apostolic ministry was the head.

And having once entered into and enjoyed this worship, we can be content with no other. We find in it the full satisfaction of all our spiritual desires.

[11] Who that has worshipped after the manner of the Apostolic Church under the guidance of the Apostolic ministry; who that has gone the round of that wonderful Christian year; each day and hour set in its place, ordered and regulated by the Presence of Jesus Christ, the Sun of this world of righteousness as the days of the natural year are set in order and regulated by the presence of the sun of the natural world; who, I say, having once lived in this country of spiritual beauty, with all its wonderful variety, would care to forsake it for the barrenness of what lies without; to go where every Sunday is simply Sunday; where worship is at loose ends and haphazard; where men pray each out of his own shallow heart and not as the Apostolic ministry, out of the deep heart of the Church?

For this gift of a sacramental worship, making us one with Christ as he is one with the Father; we are grateful to the Apostolic ministry from whom it comes. For this we will cleave to it forever.

And moreover to this Apostolic ministry we are indebted for a knowledge of God, which is the light of our intelligence and the stay of our souls. From the very first it has been one of the great functions of the Apostolic ministry to know the Lord.

This knowledge of God in the heart of the Apostolic ministry is the rock upon which rests the Church of the living God.

It was at Caesarea Philippi that the Blessed Lord Jesus sounded the heart of the Apostolic ministry for the foundation of the Church.

He said, "But whom say ye that I am?" And when S. Peter, speaking for the corporate body said "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God;" then Jesus rejoiced and said, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed [11/12] it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee: thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." [S. Matthew xvi, 15-18.]

And from that day to this the lips of the Apostolic ministry have kept knowledge. That vast body of Divine truth with which we feed our intellect and enrich our souls is, in a large measure, the work of the Apostolic ministry, of the Bishops, the Priests and the Deacons, of whom that ministry is composed.

Much work has, in these latter days, been done by men outside the Apostolic ministry, and for this we owe them thanks. But these workers are themselves only hewers at the Apostolic quarries.

The material for their work comes from the Apostolic ministry; from Peter and from Paul, from Clement, and from Cyprian, from Basil and from Gregory, from Augustine and from Jerome, from Bede and from Anselm, and from the long line of doctors from Apollos down to your honored self, who have confirmed the Divine word by their holiness and illustrated it by their wisdom.

And, moreover, that form of sound words which we call the Apostles' Creed, and which is the all-sufficient expression of our faith and our love, we derive from the Apostolic ministry.

When we think thus of our history and our heritage, we say surely ours is a blessed fortune. We have riches in possession. Other men have labored and we have entered into their labors, and as is the habit with prosperous people, we have an unconscious feeling of scorn and pity for all who do not share with us in the privileges of our spiritual birth.

But when we turn from the contemplation of our possessions to think of the use which we make of [12/13] them; when we think of what we have and then of what we do, our soul is filled with strange and sad misgivings.

We have the Apostolic ministry, worship and creed, and from these ought to follow the Apostolic life. Having these notes of the Church, we ought to be the Church of God in this land of ours.

This is indeed our claim. We like to call ourselves the American Church. But our claim is not admitted by the great mass of American Christians, and as we have no way of enforcing our claim, it must be on our lips either a boast or a prophecy.

If we say that we, the members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, are the only Christians, the only people of God in this land, then our claim is not only an idle boast, it is a cruel and shameful boast.

We are in danger of falling into the sin of Pharisaism. For upon what do we rest our claim that we are the chosen of God? Is it upon the fact that though we be few in number we are great in life? that we are the most Christ-like of all the people of the land? Is it that while others are followers of God in name, we are followers in reality?

Both you and I have heard our Church likened to the Apostolic Church, not only in its ministry, doctrine and worship, but also in its comparative strength. The Apostolic Church was a little one; our Episcopal Church is a little one, and this resemblance is another proof of our Apostolic character.

And so it would be if our membership were in quality as well as in quantity like the membership of the Apostolic Church.

The members of the Apostolic Church were the choice and heroic spirits of their age, who were ready to, and actually did, hazard their all upon the venture [13/14] of their faith. They were few in number, because they were the chosen of God. But they were in fact the greatest of all people. In them was the promise of the future: they were the seed of the Kingdom of God.

Now if this be our character, we need not fear to stand by our claim to be the people of God: His true and only Church in this land.

But I have heard it said: I do not know if the saying be true, that our Church is the church of the wealthy and the fashionable of this world, and that the men and women do not in any way forsake their wealth or their fashion when they come into the Church, but bring it with them and make the very House of God the scene of their pride and the place of their vain display. We are told that the members of the Church are in no wise to be distinguished from the people of the world in the use and abuse of their wealth.

I have been told, what I cannot believe to be true, that we have rich and fashionable churches, churches in which no poor person is ever seen, churches that are the gateway to the most corrupt and fashionable life in our great cities.

It is asserted that our places of worship will for the most part be found in the neighborhood of the rich and the well-to-do.

A distinguished priest said to me a few days ago: "We have never succeeded in making the poor at home in our churches."

If that be true, or in any measure true, then we cannot base our claim to be the people of God upon the fewness of our numbers.

We are few in numbers, not because we are the chosen of God, who are always the few among the many, but because we are the chosen of the world, the [14/15] rich, the fashionable, the powerful, who are likewise always the few among the many.

Now I do not assert that this charge against us is supported by the facts, but the charge is made, and it is for us to see how much of truth there is in it.

We must admit, for it is our pride and boast, that we have a larger proportion of the wealthy and important people of the land in our churches than there are in any other Christian community.

This fact of the wealth' and importance of our membership is an immeasurable advantage, if our wealth be consecrated and our importance humbled to the service of Christ.

But if our wealth is used for our own ease, comfort and luxury; if we make class distinction in our very churches, having churches for the rich and chapels for the poor, then our claim to be the Church of God in this land fails in a most important particular. We have Apostolic ministry, doctrine and faith, but we have not Apostolic life.

Nothing is more certain than that our holy religion came into this world as a way of life. "Go," said the Holy Spirit to the imprisoned Apostles, "and stand in the temple and preach the way of this life."

It was not the doctrine of the Church in and of itself, nor the worship of the Church alone, nor the fact of an Apostolic ministry that brought about the conversion of the ancient world. The great power of God for the accomplishment of that work was the Christian life.

That life had three marks or characteristics by which it was distinguished from every other life in the world. These marks were devotion to Christ, personal purity and brotherly love (which brotherly love found its expression in social equality.) I dwell at [15/16] large on these elements of the Christian life in a portion of the book that follows this letter.

I wish here to call attention to the fact that these elements are related to each other by way of cause and effect. Devotion to Christ produces as its natural effects personal purity and brotherly love.

The very word Christian implies personal purity and brotherly love. We cannot conceive of a Christian character without them.

In the days of the Church's greatness, these forces of devotion, purity and social charity were practical and operative, and were the cause of that greatness.

The saving grace of God in Christ Jesus manifested itself in turning every man from his iniquities, and it swept away all artificial and worldly distinctions. In the presence of the great fact of man's salvation in Christ Jesus, all differences between man and man were lost sight of. There were no longer rich or poor, high or low, bond or free: all were one in Christ Jesus.

In the first wave of Christian enthusiasm, Christians that had lands or possessions sold them and laid the price at the Apostles' feet and they had all things common.

And while that method of expressing man's devotion to Christ and the brethren did not, for obvious reasons, long continue, yet the principle that prompted it was the ruling principle of the Church during its formative period, and is and ever will be an essential element of the constitution of the Christian community.

Every Christian man and woman holds life and property subject to the needs and will of the community.

If it was necessary for a man to die for the faith, he died willingly and gladly. If the welfare of the [16/17] community required the property of a man, then he made of that property a willing sacrifice upon the altar of his love.

The first preaching of this doctrine of fellowship or community life, produced the most important social revolution in the history of the world. It destroyed the institution of slavery in the Roman Empire.

In the treatise which follows I have called attention to the fact that the Roman world found its lost manhood in the Christian Church.

Now when we think of this great life of the Christian Church, with its devotion to God, its personal purity, its brotherly love and its social equality, we dare not boast before God or the people.

We must see that as a Church we are far gone from our original righteousness. We have sinned and our fathers.

If our claim be not a boast it must be a prophecy. We may believe that we are in this modern world what the children of Israel were in the ancient world: a rebellious and stiff-necked people, and yet for all that a people chosen of God to be the ministers of His Providence.

Our Apostolic ministry, doctrine and worship are a trust committed unto us until all His people are ready to use them.

Already the people outside the Church in the great Christian denominations are taking from us one by one our catholic possessions. We no longer keep the feasts of Christmas and of Easter alone. We keep them in company not only with catholic Christians, but also with the vast majority of those who are outside the formal pale of the Church.

Our forms of worship are commending themselves every day to the devotion of all who would worship decently and in order. One does not need even to be [17/18] a believer in the atonement to feel their force and beauty. A woman, the wife of a Unitarian pastor, once said to me, "There is nothing in the world so helpful to reverence and devotion as that service in your Church which you call the Holy Communion." And if we had the Primitive and Apostolic episcopate we would find the world almost ready to receive it. "We feel painfully the need of a Bishop," said a Presbyterian pastor to me a few days ago.

Now if we can only give with Christian doctrine, worship and ministry the Christian life, then that Christian unity, for which we all pray, will come quickly to pass.

And there are signs of the times which indicate that out of this Church, which has been the Church of the wealthy, the cultured, and if you please, the fashionable, is to come forth a force for the converting of the modern English world.

It is no longer true of us, if it was ever true, that we are indifferent to the people. We are the first in all this land to insist that the House of God must be free to all the people of God, and open always for prayer, public and private. More than eighty per cent, of our churches are free and open churches.

And those parishes, against which the charge of wealth, fashion and exclusion might be brought, are spending their wealth most freely in works of charity and devotion.

We think much remains to be done before we come to Christian perfection. We cannot rest satisfied until "the poor are at home" in all our churches. But that also is coming. In our great cities some of the strongest churches are the homes of the poor.

And may we not think it providential that we have in our communion so large a proportion of this world's [18/19] wealth? Does not God mean that wealth to be consecrated by us to spiritual uses?

As we preach the doctrine of Christ more perfectly; as through the operation of our ministry, the influence of our worship, the power of our doctrine, men and women become more and more devoted to Christ; then will they come again and lay the price of their possessions at the feet of the apostles.

This is not simply a prophecy, it is a measure, a fact.

Already we are beginning to feel the first drops of that refreshing rain which God is about to send upon his inheritance "when it is weary."

Never have more princely gifts been given to God and to humanity than have been given by Christians of our times and by churchmen and churchwomen.

Not only do men and women give their property, they give themselves; men and women are following the Lord Jesus; as He left His heavenly home and came to keep company with sinners, so these have left their earthly homes of ease and luxury to live with and for the poor, keeping company with them.

And here is our opportunity. Now is the time for the bishops and the priests of the Church to show themselves the very first in this movement to bring in a higher and a better form of Christian life than the world has ever seen before.

It is for us to lay aside all thought of worldly greatness or social pre-eminence, to be seen and known as simple men, brothers among brethren, ourselves the equals of all men, greater than the greatest, less than the least.

If we are not careful, the people will go before us in this great movement to bring in the kingdom of God.

[20] It is because I believe we are at the turning of the tide that I am so anxious that we be ready to take it at the flood.

The forces that have made the world what it is are spent. The desire for division is now giving place to a longing for unity. Worldly wealth is ready to devote itself to sacred uses, and a knowledge of nature is seeking for a higher synthesis in a knowledge of God.

And this Church of ours, with its history and its heritage, may, if it will, lead this movement and guide it to a happy and a prosperous conclusion.

And it is for this I plead. I want this Church to be at once what it claims to be, the Church of the people, not waiting for the people to come to it, but going itself to the people.

And if any man ask who I am, you may answer: "I am a voice crying in the Wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord."

And I ask of you who have stood so long and so bravely in the forefront of this movement, and who are now so near to your rest and wyour reward, to pray for us, that we may go on with the work, and be as brave and strong and devoted in our day and generation as you have been in yours.

Assuring you of my reverent affection, I remain

Yours in Christ Jesus,


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