Instances are so few, as to be almost solitary, of minds so singularly exempt from prejudice, and providentially occupying a position so favorable to large observations before and after, and endowed with such high capabilities of generalization, as to take in all parts of a great subject, like the Christian Religion, for example, in points of view equally favorable for a just appreciation of every truth, and each shade and bearing of every truth. Far the greater portion, even of highly gifted minds, have early received some bias, owing to which, some one striking view of the vast and magnificent scheme, has been contemplated with such exclusive attention, as to leave wholly out of sight, portions as vast and important. And thus, a part of Christianity has been mistaken for the whole; often, wholly distinct portions have been thus exalted; sometimes, an insignificant fragment; occasionally, that which, taken alone, might be regarded as absolutely deformed and dangerous. For the most part, however, minds really highly gifted, are incapable of these grosser perversions, and seize instinctively upon one leading idea or truth, but often, alas! in total oblivion of its countervailing or antagonist truth, and just in proportion to the intensity of its conceptions, and the ardor of its impulses, running that one truth into the wildest and most dangerous extremes. It must be a truth, or the honesty of such minds would revolt from embracing it. It must approach at least to the importance of a central truth, or minds of this order could not become enamored of it. But the more central, and the more truthful, if, after all, it be only partial, the more melancholy will be the spectacle which such a mind will infallibly make of itself, the further it follows its idea.
 Perhaps no generalization upon the Christian scheme could be more vast or more perfect, than that, which resolves it into two leading and all-controlling ideas, which, for want of better terms, I shall designate as the SACRAMENTAL THEORY, and the EVANGELIC PRINCIPLE.
To define and contrast these, to point out the experienced and prospective evils of running either at the expense of the other, into its greatest extreme, and to try to turn the whole subject to profitable account, will form the subject of the present CHARGE.
The Sacramental Theory.
Means to an end, is not a more universal law of Providence, than complex means to a simple and single end. "The perfecting of the saints--the work of the ministry--the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto perfect men, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," is the blessed END at which the Gospel aims. All the appliances and instrumentalities of the Bible, of the ministry, and of the Church, are directed to this one end. Revelation recorded, the truth preached, sacraments administered, ordinances observed, organizations carried out, and prayers offered, all form separate, necessary, and well adapted portions of the complicated means employed to this one grand, yet simple end.
When, after a process of rigid induction, employed upon each of these particulars, we at length begin to generalize the SACRAMENTAL THEORY which covers the entire ground, with the sole exception of the Evangelic Principle, swells into the most grand proportions, and seems invested with celestial perfection and glory. A covenant between God and man; a glorious God--Man-Mediator, to carry out himself, in part, the provisions of that covenant, and, in part, to commit it to the energy and the mighty working of God, the Holy Ghost, seals to this covenant whereby its promises are assured to us and to our children, individually--and the glorious results of that covenant in every case where its provisions are complied [4/5] with, and the promised grace actually bestowed--what truth, adaptation, harmony, and divine glory there is, in a theory like this!
A Church divinely instituted and organized, as a new and visible society amongst men, in which the provisions, appliances and results of this divine covenant may all be realized--baptism as a seal of the promise of the forgiveness of sins--the Lord's Supper, the seal of the promise of the supply of daily zeal and strength for the soul's nutriment--a ministry ordained of God to dispense these seals--to gather, to feed and to govern this flock of the great Shepherd; who can doubt that this is a true outline of the Church of the living God, "the pillar and ground of the truth?"
Thus far we may well call in question the correctness of the phraseology, which denounces this as a Sacramental Theory. It is correct generalization upon divinely attested facts and data. But how almost irresistible is the tendency of the human mind, to expand it into a Theory of vast dimensions, and tremendous import.
A ministry clothed with the authority of God's vicegerents upon earth--sacraments in which the power to make the heart better is inherent;--how naturally and spontaneously the theory of such a ministry and such sacraments, would seem to flow, from the mere fact of their divine appointment. Shall the Great Head of the Church send out Ambassadors, and not clothe them with plenary powers? Shall he authorise them to pronounce absolution upon the penitent, and not ratify in Heaven the pardon authoritatively pronounced in the Church? Shall he invest them with authority, and yet leave them powerless to exercise it? And so, also, with regard to the sacraments, shall he make them the channels of his grace, and yet that grace not uniformly flow through the channels of his own construction? Shall he invite us to draw near to him, by these means, and yet suspend their efficacy upon our caprice, our faith, or our will?
Plausible and fascinating as all this may appear, it is not argument. It is the expansion of a theory. Of this no [5/6] reasonable doubt can be entertained by the correct reasoner, when he comes to apply the usual tests by which truth is distinguished from theory; that is, how the theory squares and tallies with other well ascertained and established truths.
Thus, the analogy of Providence falsifies this theory, there being no means to an end, not dependent upon a right use of them--the laws of Hygeia never proving effectual, by a servile routine adoption of them, without regard to the spirit and genius of the healing process. The fruits of the earth will not bestow upon those who blindly use the means, but only upon those who wisely and skilfully employ them.
Again, the facts contradict the theory--those whom authorized ministers have cursed, have not universally experienced a curse--those whom they have blessed, have not invariably received a blessing. The holy sacraments have not always been attended by their appropriate fruits--the baptized have not invariably lived the lives of pardoned sinners--nor communicants constantly grown in grace.
But again, the Scriptures are against any such theory. "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams"--"neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God."
And finally, all experience is against this theory. Were it truth, the more perfectly carried out, the more perfectly it would subserve and realize the end in view--the conversion of sinners, and the edifying of the body of Christ. Instead of which, the world has never witnessed a scheme so strangely and sadly fraught with the results of demoralization, than the Sacramental Theory, when, as in some of the Oriental Churches, and some of the Italian States, carried out to its extreme.
The Evangelic Principle.
The impress of the working of the Sacramental Theory, at the period of the Reformation, stood out boldly upon the face of European society. Its evils were enormous, and [6/7] loudly did they call for a remedy. How natural to invoke the aid of the antagonistic Evangelic Principle! The preaching of the Gospel, the enforcing of the truth upon the heart and conscience of every baptized person, that would impart vitality to all the parts of the covenant scheme of salvation. Whilst unpreaching Prelates were confessedly amongst the Church's worst and most mischievous drones, an Hierarchy and a Priesthood, devoted chiefly to the faithful preaching of God's pure word, would become the Church's glory and crown. The watch-care of the appointed shepherds of the flock extended to every individual lamb, the careful instruction of the young, under the Church's care in all the doctrines, duties, and devout practices of a holy life, so that they should come to Confirmation well instructed in their christian duties, and prepared for their first communion, under the constraining influence of the love of their Redeemer, were remedies of existing evils as evident, as they were primitive and scriptural. And then the building up of the great body of mature christians in their most holy faith, would depend mainly upon the sustained soundness, ability and ardor of the Christian Pulpit. And accordingly, for a time, it came to pass, that prescription and long habit giving a sustained vigor to the Church System, a large infusion of the zeal and piety of faithful evangelical preaching being poured, realized perhaps, the most perfect example of the proper union, and stupendous power of the two, well and wisely combined, of which the world has been witness since the times of the Apostles.
Considering the infirmity of human nature, and its proneness to run into extremes, this due medium was not likely to be long preserved. Men's minds revolted so violently from the abuses of the Church System, and the exhorbitant evils of the Sacramental Theory, that they soon yielded themselves with a sort of fury, to the tendency of things to exalt the Preacher above the Church; the Pulpit above the Altar; instruction above discipline; exhortation above doctrine; and, in the end, feverish excitement above sober practical godliness. The moment preaching came to be considered [7/8] the chief thing, the pastoral office sank into comparative disrepute. An inward call to be a Herald, without ordination, was maintained to be not inconsistant with profound veneration for the anointed Priest. But the self-called Preacher, exalted by acclamation as the people's idol, soon assumed all the offices of the Priesthood without rebuke. And so Sects became almost as numerous as the gifted Leaders who were disposed to set them up. After awhile, sincere inquirers were really perplexed to ascertain where was the Church, and who were its Pastors. Under such influences, confusion, misrule, discord, and contention, naturally grew to enormous dimensions. The Evangelic Principle stood forth, absurdly caricatured. The over-wrought nerve became first influenced, then languid, and now callous and insensible. The preaching of the Gospel in a rational, sober, and earnest manner, up to a point, which, in other times, would have been characterised as ardent and glowing, now falls upon ears, so accustomed to more stirring notes, that it has lost its power. The major part, seduced by the flattery and thrilling excitement which follow the popular orator, cater to the taste which has already become morbidly vitiated, and stimulate the appetite for excitement, which has already grown into a frenzy. Even the sober and chastening influence of the much of the Church System embodied in our Liturgy and Ritual, and the warning of the desolation wrought by the maddening torrent all around, fail in deterring many of our own younger Clergy, from directing all their energies and studies in the direction of pulpit oratory; and such is the vitiated state of the public taste, that if they would attain to eminence, they must abandon the simplicity and modesty of nature, and strut and foam with histrionic fury.
The Sacramental Theory run to excess, gives birth to those stupid monsters, Superstition and Formalism. The Evangelic Principle hurried to its extreme, imparts vitality to those ferocious fiends, Fanaticism and Party Spirit. Tempered, united, christianized, they give to chastened piety its hallowed glow, and to seraphic devotion, its fruits of charity. [8/9] Apart, neither is pure truth, nor unmixed error. United, the tendency to error in either extreme, is so controlled, that the blessed results proclaim their union to be divine: "and those whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
The more delicate and difficult, but by far the most practical part of our subject remains, which is, to settle how this happy medium is to be ascertained, and then, far more difficult still, how it is to be preserved.
The scriptures are the chief and grand authority in the case. By comparing spiritual things with spiritual, by a laborious induction, collecting, and combining all the parts and the various connections and bearings of all the parts of the Church System, and the Evangelic Principle, it would seem to me that no well regulated mind could fail to repose with the utmost confidence upon the results best exemplified in the Apostolic Age, during the early days of the Reformation, in the most religious periods of the prosperity of the Church of England, and amongst those most primitive of all living christians, in the estimation of many, our Moravian Brethren.
The forms of the Apostolic Church were strict, but they were not slavish. Holy Days were few, but they were much more marked by devotion, than worldly gaieties. The sacraments of the church were venerated, but they were not idolized. The ceremonials of the church were simple and few; not cumbersome and ostentatious. The supervision of the Clergy was intimate and constant, but it was mild and paternal; not dogmatic or austere. The instruction of the young, and indeed of the whole Rock, was thorough, expository, and conversational; not doctrinal and inflammatory. The piety of the people was pains-taking, good-doing, fruitbearing; but it was neither overlaid with the ceremonious, nor inflated with the enthusiastic. Penance and the confessional were as entirely unknown, as the anxious seat and the camp-meeting. There were few formalists, still fewer fanatics, but a great company of common-sense, honest, upright, straight-forward, practical christians, alike versed in [9/10] the devotions of a holy life, and the dull practice of every day homely duties; ever feeling, and occasionally exclaiming; "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." More fit words could hardly be found for describing the state of things amongst the great body of Lutherans and Calvanists upon the continent, during the first fifty years of the Reformation. They apply prominently to our own blessed martyrs, during the Marian persecution, and the Hall's, Usher's and Leighton's of a later stormy period; because, perhaps, the Church of England more perfectly and beautifully than any branch of the Reformed Church, united and combined the Church System, with the Evangelic Principle. And were it not for the unfortunate feature of socialism, which so sadly impairs their influence, where could we look for a happier blending of these two systems, than to our Moravian Brethren; where the profoundest sentiments of early piety, the sweetest and most gentle restraints of parental and pastoral supervision, and the inwrought, pervading spirit of veneration and subordination, is quickened into such spiritual vitality, by the most simple and affecting exhibition of a Saviour's dying love, in the most unaffected of all gospel preaching, as to form a staple of christian character, natural, patient and firm, whilst at the same time it is exalted and sublimated by all that is persevering in prayer and in suffering, and all that is seraphic in devotion--and both consecrated to the best interests of benighted and suffering humanity.
By position and circumstances, we, brethren of the Clergy, are imperatively called upon, to concentrate our best efforts, upon the revival in these ends of the earth, and in these last times, of the Church System, which, almost utterly forsaken by the best of those excellent christians by whom we are not merely surrounded, but vastly outnumbered, has left the Evangelic Principle to be stretched amongst them to its utmost tension. If vociferous, or pointed, or pungent, or even personal preaching, has any where been carried to a wilder or more ruinous extreme, with wonder we may well exclaim--when, where? If the terrific, the exciting, or the [10/11] sympathetic, can be wrought into a more perfect system of appliances, or into wilder phrenzy, then, the capabilities of poor human nature, when mischievously directed, are almost infinite. For this state of things, there can be no cure, save in beginning with the young, with the very young, and with an entire generation of the young. As we are permitted to operate only upon a very small portion, the value and efficacy of the Church System, will be very imperfectly felt. But so much the more strenuous should our efforts be, earnestly to restore it. And as our energies will not be injuriously subdivided, they may, and ought to tell the more powerfully upon the few. And if wisely directed, could we have our own schools and colleges, as well as our own Sunday schools, I feel confident that an auspicious commencement could be made even in our day. But beware of embracing this system with disproportioned ardour, or of exalting it, at the expense of the preached word. Nothing is easier than, unconsciously, to be driven into the extreme of one error, from our vehement dislike of the extreme of an opposite error. Beware of the Sacramental Theory. It will eat out the life of true piety, like a canker. It will stifle the voice of faithful preaching, by the incessant mutterings of a superstitious devotion. It will soon introduce amongst us, a form of godliness, without the power thereof. It will cherish a spirit of intense self-righteousness, marvellously humble in its forms of expression, but full of the most deadly spiritual pride. It will lead to a Formalism and. a Superstition which are not religion, and to an adorning of churches and of altars, which bear no resemblance to true charity, for the poor of Christ's flock.
And the more surely and thoroughly to avoid this extreme, give yourselves heartily to that first and chief work of the Ministry, the faithful preaching of the glorious gospel of the blessed God. At this day it is true, and to the end of time it will remain true, "that it pleases God by the foolishness of preaching, to save those that believe."
At the opening of this Charge, I stated that the end of the [11/12] Incarnation of the Son of God--of the descent of the Holy Ghost--of the ever blessed Gospel--of the Church with her sacraments and her ministry--was, "the perfecting of the saints, and the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto perfect men, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." But I did not point out then, as I do now, that whilst this is true of all these means, the Apostle here says it of the various ranks and gifts of his ministers--nor only that "he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers" for these general ends, glorious as they are, but also for this special end, "for the work of the ministry." In other words, this only, in the gospel system, is alike cause and effect--ministers, for the work of the ministry, and the work of the ministry for ministers. This only is at once centre and circumference--a gospel to he preached, thereby to raise up ardent, devoted gospel preachers, and these preachers sent forth in order to spread abroad and impart to others the knowledge of the same life-giving Gospel.
Low views of the Gospel, and those coldly or languidly entertained--a poverty-stricken, sacramentalized scheme of gospel doctrine--a dumb, or frigidly formal ministry, will slowly, but as surely conduct us back to the dark ages, as the suppression of the Press, or the burning of the Bible.
"I charge you, therefore, before God and our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and dead at his appearance and his kingdom--Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine."
"And now, may the God of Peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of his sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever." AMEN.