Bishop of the P. E. Church, in the Diocese of Ky.
KING & BAIRD, PRNTERS, 9 SANSOM STREET.
"To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God."
THE main VOCATION of the Church of the living God, is essentially the same in every age, and in every country. It is to testify to a world lying in sin, and under sentence of condemnation, the pardoning mercy of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is to apply the seal of the promise of that gracious pardon--it is "to make known" to higher orders of intelligence (for so we interpret the "principalities and powers" mentioned in the text), "the manifold wisdom of God," and it is "by the foolishness of preaching," through the power of the Holy Ghost, "to save those that believe." And it is somewhat unaccountable, and very much to be deplored, that these high themes, the common property of our glorious inheritance, are precisely those which education and habit have rendered stale and common place; so that, whereas, they acted at first upon the Christian heart as the highest and most salutary stimulants, they are now regarded more as anodynes and soporifics; and if the graces of an eloquent diction, and a fervid delivery, cannot be added to them, from the very facility with which we yield our unreserved assent, they fail to impress and move us as deeply as they ought.
On this and many other accounts, it often becomes desirable [3/4] and necessary that we should select themes less grand and comprehensive, but for that very reason more pertinent and interesting.
That theme, on the present occasion, shall be the special and peculiar Vocation of the Protestant Episcopal Church in these United States.
I. It is, first, to re-assert the doctrines of Grace, wholly apart from the dogmatical, controversial, and metaphysical formulas by which they have been too much trammelled and degraded, since the early days of the Reformation. "The history of opinion would almost seem to prove that truths, like Kings, will bear no rivals near the throne. It seems to be the tendency of the human mind when it grasps a truth to make it exclusive: to seat it upon the throne: and to cast out all other truths as usurpers, and pretenders. Calm, and deep, and protracted thought, is necessary to connect all truth: and to assign to each its proper place of supremacy or dependence in that well-ordered hierarchy in which, while some wear the crowns, and others, badges of subjection, all minister to each, and each ministers to all." This remark is especially applicable to theological opinions. If, for instance, the grand and awful truth of the sovereignty of God enter the mind, it is apt immediately to assume the sceptre, and drive out the other great truth of man's freedom and responsibility. If, on the other hand, the sense of man's obligation, and his free-will, be strong in the mind, it is apt to exert its strength in driving out its brother truth, (in union with which it would be still stronger,) that we are altogether dependent upon the grace of God for the power to exert free-will aright, and to discharge obligation. With extreme slowness the era seems gradually approaching, in which opinions which have torn and devoured each other, shall, like the lion and [4/5] the lamb of the millennium-day, lie down peacefully together, in the mind of man. [Rev. Dr. Butler's Old Truths and New Errors, p. 95.]
To this, many and various causes are powerfully tending--re-action from such idle and interminable disputations, amounting, where they have longest existed, to positive disgust--the ascendency gradually being accorded to the inductive, as the only legitimate method of respect for the testimony of the early Fathers, who, confessedly before the age of Augustine, were profoundly ignorant of such metaphysical niceties--but chiefly, it is believed, the moderation of our branch of Christ's Holy Church, which so states, limits and teaches these great doctrines, and has done so for so long a period as to have comprehended good men of almost opposite sentiments, till at length their very collisions have rounded off the rough and salient points of their antagonistic theories.
It is beautiful and refreshing, to contrast the vain jangling and disputations of others upon the points of original sin and native depravity, the effects and consequences of the fall, the divine method of man's recovery through the meritorious death and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the blessed work of the Holy Ghost in the regeneration, renewal, and sanctification of all true believers, with the calm, coherent and faithful testimony, upon the same subjects, of the Doctors and Bishops of our admirable mother Church of England. And basely untrue to the high vocation of our branch of the Church in this Country, are all they, whose teaching renders it doubtful, or at all questionable, whether the doctrines of Grace are held amongst us, in their truest and most unexceptionable forms. In many parts of the country we seem especially set for the defence of the primitive doctrine of election, of original sin, of spiritual regeneration, of future eternal retribution upon the souls of the [5/6] wicked and impenitent, and of justification by faith alone, without the works of the law, or the efficacy of the sacraments. [The blessedness of the sacraments, and the necessity of good works, are not at all disparaged by affirming that neither is instrumental in our justification. All sound protestant divines must hold that the meritorious cause of our justification is the Death and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ: the instrumental cause, faith alone; and the final cause, the sanctification and salvation of the souls of believers, and the glory of the Eternal Trinity. Preaching, Prayer, and the Holy Sacraments, are of inconceivable importance in their place, not as instruments of justification, but as means of grace.]
II. It is a part of our calling to restore the Primitive Order of the Church. Amid a thousand causes tending to the discredit and the destruction of ancient land-marks,--the one, that no State authority in this country gives strength and stability to any one form, has occasioned the origination of a greater number of sects, fashioned in obedience to circumstances, or "graven by art and man's device," than anywhere else upon the face of the earth. Nowhere else is a standard and a witness to the ancient, the primitive, and the true, more imperatively required. No wonder that this position, and these circumstances, have constrained our Clergy to investigations of this class with a thoroughness and an energy, not exceeded since the dawn of the Reformation. And little wonder, considering the frailty of human nature, that some of them have been driven to take extreme and untenable positions. The tendency of these, in early times, was to the vindication of our admirable mother, whether she agreed with the more ancient Church or had been led into slight deviations. But when a few of the modern lights of that Church began to upbraid her for these slight deviations, some have arisen amongst us, to whom the more ancient than the Reformed Church of England, seems the more venerable; and who, being called upon to bear witness to [6/7] the primitive and the true, have been strangely seduced, into a foolish admiration of the novel, the meretricious and the human. Too many of us have thus strangely forgotten our true vocation, which is to bear witness to that, than which there is nothing earlier, more apostolic, more simple, or more Scriptural.
And unluckily, this has happened just when a re-action was becoming very manifest on the part of those whose departures for the longest period, had been widest from the primitive and the true. For it is a curious law within the life of the Church, that human appliances to give a more puritan character to its members and its ministers, than at the first, very Soon mar what they were sincerely designed to amend. And this soon gave intensity to the working of another great law, that evils thus originating are seldom cured by the application of the remedy direct, but by the pains and penalties inflicted by the very magnitude of the evils themselves. Thus, the evils of the feudal system were not, in the first instance, abated by the cordial reception of the modern doctrines of the true social system. But the Great Barons were tolerated, as an evil minor to that of the Lesser Barons; as, afterwards, the domination of the king was chosen, as an evil less intolerable than that of the Great Barons. And as now Absolutism in Europe is tottering to its downfall, not because the people are at all prepared for free, popular governments, but simply because the curse of Absolutism has become intolerable. So with regard to man-made Churches, the remedy of their almost insupportable evils, is likely to be found, not in the inculcation of correct Church principles, but in that healthy re-action occasioned by the curse of discord; which will [7/8] render any peaceful refuge unspeakably welcome. [Reference is not made here to all who are destitute of the Episcopal Succession, but exclusively to those whose ministry is without ancestry, and whose Church is without history.] All that is wanting, is that that refuge be near by, its doors wide open, and living witnesses to testify that it is none other than the "House of God, and the Gate of Heaven." Clamor, importunity, exaggeration in setting forth the claims of the Church, are not what are wanting, but an Apostolic Church, always at hand; its doctrines calmly stated, and its affairs mildly and moderately administered, and men will flock to it, as to an Ark of safety.
III. It is a further part of the calling of this Church, to bear witness to the importance of its unity.
Of all strange notions, one of the very strangest seems to be that the division of the Church within the same realm, is a blessing--that by invoking the spirit of party, it invokes a more active and potential spirit than the spirit of love and concord; that emulation can enlist more partizans, and accomplish a greater work in a shorter time, than union animated by the highest motives of duty and of gratitude.
If an illustration were attempted to be derived from the Medical Profession, it might well be doubted, whether, in the long run, the cause of science and of suffering humanity, have not been fearfully hazarded, and greatly retarded, by the dissensions of rival schools of the healing art. But when the illustration is drawn, as, in many respects is more apt and proper, from the other learned profession, it is easy to see how it would work if every Country Town had its half-dozen rival courts of law, and sets of judges, lawyers, clerks, and sheriffs. How would the ends of justice, or the common purposes of social life be subserved by such "imperia in imperio." Each, separately, might do its office well enough--but the misrule, the waste of energy, the loss of strength, the looseness of the compact--the failures, between so many discordant agents, of the work's being [8/9] done at all--the dislocation of the most sacred ties of life, the dissension, discord and strife,--who can conceive anything more ruinous to the social state! And yet when we consider the greater delicacy of our sacred ties, and the vastly wider and more complicated ramifications of our Church relations--who so tend as not to see, that a Church within a Church, within the boundaries of the same realm, is an anomaly by much more monstrous, and working upon man's spiritual and higher nature, by far a greater amount of mischief. It is not that some little diversity may not be admissible between the polity of one realm, and that of another. Within certain limits, National Churches have a right to decree rites and ceremonies, though never doctrines, for those are ever the same, since they are founded upon the sole warrant of God's word. But for Dioceses within the same realm, or Parishes within the same Diocese, to undertake to do this, where would be the end of the discord that would ensue? How much more for Christians within the same parish to build a separate Church, set up a separate Lord's Table, and ordain to themselves their own Minister! Just as if of the citizens of the same village, of the same lineage, of the same tongue, some should adhere to the constituted authorities, and repair to the courts of law, established by the State; and others should build Court Houses, and appoint officers of their own; whilst they still professed obedience to the same laws and allegiance to the same higher authorities? And yet, in the Church, this is what is done daily, by the best of men, without reflection, and without compunction.
Against all these monstrous perversion of the true idea and office of a Church, it is our vocation to protest. It is ours to hold up to just reprehension the idle notion of a union amongst Christians consisting of a union of sentiments and a union of heart, amid all these outward and visible arrangements for the [9/10] perpetuation of disunion. And it is equally ours to expose the enormous fallacy of that ideal and romantic conception of unity, which has been developed in the progress of the culmination of the hierarchy, from Bishops to Metropolitans, from Metropolitans to Patriarchs, and from Patriarchs to Popes.
Independent Dioceses and independent National Churches are of the very essence of that liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. A full and strict Union within the Dioceses; a looser compact as National Churches; and a mere fraternal Union with Christians of other lands,--stand out very prominently as the only Unity of the one only Holy and Catholic Church of which Apostles and apostolic men had ever formed any conception.
To affirm, define and defend the ground upon which this Union can be restored, is one of the highest and most sacred offices reserved, probably, for our branch of Christ's Church Catholic. The means, in God's Almighty hands for accomplishing this, I have already pointed out to be a re-action from the enormity of the evils which divisions in the Church have occasioned. But the means, in the hand of man, seem to be, the settling, by common consent of learned men, the laws of evidence which apply to this class of questions, and the cultivation amongst all Christian People of a spirit of mutual and infinite forbearance and hopefulness. This Law of Evidence seems to be, that whatsoever "in the outward order of the Church is first, is true, and that whatsoever is subsequent is spurious." We can only continue in the Apostles' fellowship by receiving the CHURCH in its embodiment, even as we can continue in their doctrine only by receiving the TRUTH in its record. [We hear much of late of the church as an Interpreter and Teacher. She is neither. She is only a Conveyancer and Witness. Only by regarding her thus, can we vindicate the claims of the Inductive as the only method of arriving at Truth in the region of Facts. The Logical is the true method of arriving at principles and conclusions, employing the well known for the purpose of coming to a knowledge of the less known. All the egregious errors of the illustrious Archbishop Whately, proceed from applying Logic, of which he is a consummate master, to a department of truth with which it has no more to do, than in ascertaining the properties of a Gas, or the class and order of a Plant. The entire circle of the doctrines, duties, sacraments, order, rites and ceremonies of our holy religion consists of a series of facts and as such they are demonstrable by Induction alone. The early facts in the history and progress of the church can be used inductively, to prove what the teaching of the church was, and her witness is unimpeachable and deserving of the highest respect. But as a Teacher, she has no authority aside from that of the Word of God.]
 IV. Another, and a very special part of the vocation of this Church, is the revival of the true notion of the Church's care of little children. Theoretically, it would indeed seem that all who receive and practice the dedication of little children to the Lord, in Holy Baptism, would recognize the paramount obligation of so bringing them up, as that they should be likely "to lead the rest of their life according to this beginning." But, besides that this is one of the most pains-taking parts of our holy calling, and therefore most likely to be imperfectly performed, or altogether neglected--the descendants of many of those who commenced with even extravagant ideas in this direction, have of late, very generally, adopted such a theory of emotional religion and sudden conversion, as the general experience of our turning to God rather than as excepted and signal cases, that the Church's watch-care over the Lambs of the flock, has been almost wholly postponed to the more diligent feeding, and the more dangerous stimulating of those of riper age. Abating the pernicious stimulus, the one ought to have been done, and the other not left undone. If Pastoral and Parental neglect and surrounding intense worldly influences have hindered the early formation of a decided religious character, we should never "cease our care and diligence," by plain and pungent preaching, to bring all such as are committed to our charge to a true [11/12] knowledge of God, and of the power of His grace. But the Church will forever remain comparatively childless,--or filled with more of an unhealthy or distorted spiritual growth, until such time as our children are practically treated and trained as if they were really "the children of God, the members of Christ, and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven," in such a gracious sense of covenant mercy, that it will be chiefly the fault of pastors, parents, sponsors, and teachers, if they do not fully become such, in all the tempers and dispositions of renewed and sanctified hearts. In the nursery, by the fire-side, in the day-school and Sunday school, in our colleges and in our churches, we should so endeavor to fill up all the measure of their capacities with the sound grain of God's true word, that no place shall be left either for the darnel or chaff of infidelity or irreligion.
V. A very marked particular in our vocation is to bear testimony to the principles of a just toleration upon matters of mere opinion, and to set an example amongst ourselves and towards all around us, of an infinite forbearance where perfect unanimity is plainly impossible. This has been taught us by the bitter experience of more than a century of misapprehension and unkind treatment on the part of the dominant many. We have learned--or ought long since to have learned--in the hard school of experience, to respect conscientious scruples, how little apparent soever their justness may appear. But if not thus taught, our principles ought to lead to such a practice. We justly claim to be, by way of emphasis, the comprehensive Church--comprehensive!--and yet intolerant of slight diversities?--how absurd! We do actually, more accurately than others, distinguish between matters of faith, and matters of theory, and of mere opinion. All Christian people are fully entitled at our [12/13] hands to the benefit of this distinction: but not to extend it to brethren of our own household of faith, is absolute shocking. And yet how many amongst us are accustomed to resort to the vulgar expedients of wholesale abuse and denunciation upon those very points upon which reason, the Church, and the great and compassionate Head of the Church have made forbearance our duty. Were this done away with--did every minister and private member of the Church, in his vocation and ministry, practice this cardinal virtue of our holy profession, and honor this glorious feature of our wise economy, by corresponding practice, surely no place would be left amongst us for discord or heart-burnings. [Uncompromising firmness with regard to cardinal end essential doctrine; and free toleration even to comparative indifference with regard to decidedly minor matters, is very easy, on all sides. But there are certain transition truths--and a certain way of undervaluing and undermining important truths, and of exalting and elevating matters not exactly not exactly trivial, which render the practice of any rule of forbearance exceedingly difficult. But in any case of denunciation, sweeping censure, and irritating and bitter remarks are very unchristian weapons. Where proof of heresy or schism would fail before an ecclesiastical court, there it is wisest and to apply the law of infinite forbearance.]
If this discussion needed an apology, it could easily be found in the fact, that the efficiency of the Church in any given age or country depends upon the unanimity and vigor with which the various orders of the clergy, and the great body of the laity then and there comprehend and fulfill its peculiar vocation.
Even diversities of apprehension as to this point will work badly by preventing unanimity and resulting in a misapplication and waste of strength. But opposite conclusions cannot fail to operate even more injuriously, since the resources which otherwise might have been concentrated upon some common evil, will be worse than wasted in internal conflict. On this ac count, to the calm and dispassionate observer, no madness can [13/14] appear more mischievous, than that which has so strangely mistaken the special vocation of this Church to be, to receive the obsolete dogmas and puerile ceremonials of that period of the Church's melancholy history, when the really spiritual and divine was, in theory, as much mystified by the ideal and symbolical, as in practice it was degraded by the gorgeous and ceremonial within the Church, and by the palpably hypocritical and immoral, in social and domestic life. After the Apostles' times there are but two eras in the Church's History which a sane and well-regulated mind could wish to have restored--that of Cranmer and that of Cyprian; and not even these without very considerable measures of expurgation, in which the unadulterated Word of God, and the Apostolic plainness and simplicity should be employed very considerably to abridge Episcopal prerogative, and to strip of meretricious ornament, some of the Apostolic rites.
In the creed of the Optimist, (and I see not why it may not well consist with the creed of a sincere believer,) all this progress, change, discussion and conflict in the actual, are necessary to the ultimate working out of the ideal and the perfect: perfect, that is, as far as it is possible or intended that the Church in any age, even in the millenial, should be perfect. The ultimate more perfect condition of humanity is to be wrought out by the progress, in parallel lines, of the two principles, an old and unalterable religion and a new and ever advancing civilization; the old religion, in every particular, directly or indirectly, giving a like birth and direction to the new civilization. Sometimes the one will be a little in advance, some times the other; but this progress is ever the most rapid where that advance is in like measure and with equal steps. If in some things the old civilization of the middle ages was in advance of our own, in all those respects, it is wise and well that [14/15] we should borrow the lessons of their experience. But whatsoever of it was puerile or superstitious has passed away forever; and its phantoms can be introduced upon the stage of modern civilization only to be hissed off with scorn or execration.
One good thing, however, is undoubtedly called for, by the new civilization--and it is, that, in every respect, the Clergy should be in advance of it. By a wonderful providence, not a whit less remarkable than if it had been miraculous, corrupt as many of the Clergy have often been in principles and morals, the men at the head of the advancing civilization have always been the wisest and best of the Clergy. Philosophically the exponents, actually the agents of that old religion whose doctrines are the elements of progress, they have been in the forefront of the battle for human rights and liberty on the one hand; and for a salutary submission to law and constituted authority, on the other.
And, in enforcing an exhortation for the desirable and the possible, let it be, that we may not only be taught of God what the true vocation is of our branch of the Church in this our country and generation, but that we may be able to accomplish it.
And how powerful is the appeal which this law of progress addresses to the Clergy. In everything which adorns, exalts, or sanctifies our common nature, we are expected to be decidedly in advance of the generation in which we live, to whose highest and most exalted interests we are devoted; and which, along the path-way of time, we are expected to conduct one stage nearer the wisdom, the refinement, the benevolence, the happiness, and the holiness of the Millenial period, whose glories inspired the harp of prophecy so many thousand years ago;--and visions and glimpses of which, when they come in their poetic, rather than in their real forms, are found sufficient to turn the heads of hair-brained enthusiasts, and visionary [15/16] philanthropists; whilst a living and realizing faith in which is quite enough to cheer the hearts of the whole army of martyrs and confessors, whilst they bear upward and onward the blessed Cross, one stage nearer its final and glorious triumph over ignorance, sin, and misery!
To the younger Clergy especially, in what a startling and trumpet-tone does this law of progress speak. How little are you fitted to seize the banner with enthusiasm where we, your elders, are about to leave it, and to bear it still upward and on ward, unless you far excel us in humility, in faith, in patience, in wisdom, in zeal, in piety, and in every attribute not only of a true soldier of the Cross, but of its standard-bearers, file-leaders, and chief champions. We call upon you not only to follow us, even as we have endeavored to follow Christ--but far more closely, devotedly, and lovingly. We implore you not merely to imitate us, in so far as we may have succeeded in catching His spirit; but we want you to excel us, as far as the early exceeded the later fathers, and as far as the Apostles excelled either; to excell us, as far indeed, as the occasions and the emergencies of the rising generation and the coming age shall exceed in urgency those amid which we entered upon our work. And so may that long succession run, from the point of the Church's most extreme depression through ranks successively more sober, more patient, more devoted, and more successful, along the whole course of time, "till all the ransomed. of the Lord shall come to Zion, with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads;" and then,
"Unto Him who hath redeemed us; and washed us in us own most precious blood, and made us kings and priests unto God, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, shall forever be ascribed such praise, honor, and glory, and power, as through the ages all along have been ascribed to Him by all His Sacramental Host."--AMEN, AMEN.