PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY AND HISTORY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK.
PUBLISHED BY CHARLES STIMPSON.
To the Glory of God, for their Confirmation and Comfort in the Holy Faith who heard it, this Discourse is humbly dedicated.
BLESSED ART THOU! WHO, THUS TO PROVE
OUR HEARTS, SO FEEBLE FOUND,
TO SACRAMENTAL SIGNS OF LOVE
HAST OUR SALVATION BOUND!
FOR CHRIST S OWN WORD IN THEM HATH SOWN
THE BLESSING FROM ABOVE;
AND FAITHFUL MEN THEREIN HAVE KNOWN
THE POWER OF ENDLESS LOVE.
FROM THESE THY SIGNS, THUS GIVEN TO SIGHT,
NO MAN THY GRACE MUST SEVER;
NO EARTHLY POWER CAN DISUNITE
WHAT THOU HAST BOUND FOREVER.
HYMNS ON THE CATECHISM.
SERMON. ST. MATTHEW, XIX. 6. WHAT GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER, LET NOT MAN PUT ASUNDER.
BELOVED BRETHREN:--The religion of the Gospel is a religion of outward and visible Ordinances, as well as of inward and spiritual Graces. It is a religion of form, as well as of spirit. Mere formal religion is not true religion. Mere spiritual religion is not true religion. We utterly misapprehend the true system of the Gospel unless we conceive it as the union of both these elements--the external and the internal, the formal element and the spiritual element. Not more certain is it that God has appointed us to obtain salvation by Jesus Christ, than that He has ordained the Church as the visible institution and external way in which we are to attain that salvation. Not more certain is it that there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we can be saved but the name of Jesus Christ, than that we are required to be members of the Church, by Baptism, by participation of the Lord's Supper, and by the observance of all the Ordinances divinely appointed in the Church. If God has ordained internal and spiritual conditions of salvation, equally also has He ordained external and formal conditions. If we are taught the indispensable necessity of the inward experience of the life-giving power of the Holy Ghost, equally are we taught that we have no warrant to expect it, except in the use of the appointed outward means of grace. God has provided the inward and spiritual grace, and He has appointed the outward and visible means: and He has not provided the grace without appointing the means.
We are to take it then as a settled thing that God has ordained me formal religion just as truly as He has ordained the spirit of religion. He has joined together the external Mid the internal--the visible and the invisible--the form and the spirit The external exists indeed for the sake of the internal, the visible for the sake of the invisible, the form for the sake of the spirit; but still God has ordained them both. The means are indeed for the sake of the end; but by God's appointment they are indis-solubly linked together: and we should not dare put them asunder, or dream of maintaining the living spirit any otherwise than in union with the Divinely-appointed form.
Of the Ordinances of the Gospel a two-fold view may be taken. All of them are formal institutions. All of them are conditions under which the blessed grace of the Holy Ghost is imparted to the souls of the faithful; but these conditions are of a two-fold sort--partly they act upon us in a moral, and partly in a mystical way. Their efficacy is partly moral, and partly sacramental. In the former case, there is an intelligible relation between the institutions and our minds--in the moral effect, namely, which they are fitted to exert upon us, either in their own direct significancy, or in virtue of the sacred associations connected with them. In the latter case, there is no intelligible relation between the means and the end, between the outward and visible sign and the inward and spiritual grace. The relation is altogether mysterious and supernatural; yet none the less on that account are they effectual means to work the gracious end.
Our obligation in the matter of God's Ordinances is the same whether we are able or unable to discern a comprehensible relation between the means and the end; nor would it alter the case, even if the Divine constitution of the Gospel in this matter were entirely unsupported by the analogy of nature and reason. It ill befits us to circumscribe God's wisdom within our poor measures, or to refuse to walk in the way He points out, because we cannot see the whole course of the way from the beginning to the end, or because it is unlike all other ways that we have ever seen or known. Such a spirit is as unreasonable as it is unbelieving and self-willed.
At the same time, however, we need not, and should not, shut our eyes to any light which nature and reason do shed on the wisdom and fitness of God's appointments.
In what I have further to say, I will therefore consider the outward Ordinances of the Gospel, first as FORMAL institutions having more or less a moral significance and efficacy, and secondly as purely SACRAMENTAL forms.
I. First, then, let us see what we are reasonably led to believe concerning the ground on which the Divine appointment of religious Ordinances rests, considered simply as formal observances, and in what way they subserve the ends of heavenly grace.
Everything in nature, beloved brethren, accords with the idea of formal Ordinances in religion; everything in the constitution of the human mind supports the idea. FORM, it would seem, is, throughout the universe, the condition of all spiritual manifestation. It is so in the whole kingdom of life--in the vegetable, in the animal, in the rational world. No living power can act and unfold itself but in and by form. There may be dead forms--forms without any living force embodied in them: but there can be no life without form. Wherever there is active life, it will build itself a form, clothe itself in form, act and move and show itself in form.
This is the universal law. But look at it more particularly in the world of human life--the social and moral life of man. All human life--private and public, is full of forms. There are the forms of social intercourse, the hand-grasp of troth and friendly greeting, the embrace and kiss of love. Why do we see these everywhere among men? Why, but because they are the sacraments of the human heart, the outward and visible forms, in which the living spirit within spontaneously embodies and expresses what is in itself invisible. The ceremonial and solemn forms of public life--forms of civil, judicial, and military proceedings--why are these everywhere seen? Why but because the spirit must express itself in forms? And what are all these forms but the body and outward expression of the great spiritual interests of society--the ideas, the principles, the sentiments on which public welfare depends? It seems indeed the instinct and necessity of the human mind to seek to embody in some permanent external form all its great spiritual conceptions, its profounder convictions, and its heroic sentiments.
Here, too, is the foundation of all noble Art. Art is the embodied thought of the soul. Sculpture, and painting, and music, and poetry,--what is the object of these arts, but to give sensible form to that which is in itself spiritual? Every artist seeks, each in his own way--by forms, or colors, or tones, or words,--to express the ineffable, to embody the ideal in the real, and so to give external existence to the beautiful creations of his own thought. To take an instance from the grandest of all the arts of form--the art of a sacred building;--for what is the solemn cathedral structure built up in all its vastness as a whole and the infinite variety of its minute details? Merely to hold men? No: far otherwise. Pressing the earth in lowliest humility, and soaring up to heaven in hopefullest aspiration, it is the outward form and body of a Divine idea--the infinite in the finite, a link between the soul and God.
Here, too, is the foundation of the numberless institutions, rites, customs, monuments, and memorials, which in every country have been made to hand down the memory of great events, and to maintain the life and living power of great principles and national ideas.
Now, if such be the nature of the human mind; if such be the instinct which prompts mankind ever to embody their internal and spiritual sentiments in outward and sensible forms and to attach them to external supports; should we not beforehand expect that in the matter of revealed religion God would graciously adapt His institutions to the nature of His creatures? Would it not be most strange if He had gone counter to the most vital instincts He Himself has implanted in the human soul? Beyond all doubt, my brethren, in appointing outward and formal Ordinances of religion, Almighty God has graciously regarded the nature of our minds; and manifold are the benignant influences of this constitution of the Gospel.
The Standing Ordinances of the Gospel not only perpetuate the great doctrines and facts embodied in them--like imperishable monuments maintaining, amid the incessant fluctuation and decay of things, the memory and purity of God's truth; but they also contribute to a more vivid and realizing apprehension of Divine and spiritual things.
The monument reared on Bunker's Hill, catching the wandering glance of the passer's eye, will from generation to generation seize the attention, revive the recollection of the events it commemorates, and kindle the sentiments they inspire, ten thousand times more strongly than any narrative in books can do. So with God's Ordinances. They embody the unseen realities of the spiritual world, which it is ever hard for us to realize. They give them sensible form. They enable us to realize them. They are a ladder between heaven and earth. We can see the angels of God ascending and descending, and the Lord God Himself standing above and speaking to us: and like him who slept in sacred trance as he journeyed to Padan-aram, we cry with holy awe and reverence, "How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" And we rise up early in the morning and take the stone we had put for our pillow, and set it up for a monumental pillar, and pour oil upon it, and call Ihe name of the place BETHEL from that time forward, though, before, its name was but the city of Luz, and it becomes through all generations a place of sacred memories and Divine powers.
We are indeed expressly told in Holy Scripture that this was one of the purposes of God in the institution of Forms and Ordinances--that they should be perpetual memorials of great truths, and a solemn and enduring testimony against departure from the good ways of the Lord. And had we not been thus taught, a little consideration of our nature would show us the value of external Ordinances as a protection to the great spiritual doctrines and facts they embody and express. In this point of view, forms the most minute and trivial may have importance from what they defend. Like the outworks of a fortress, they protect what is interior and vital. Bowing at the Holy Name of Jesus is at once an expression and a protection of our faith in His God-head; the Cross in our churches--the signing with the holy sign--the turning reverently to the Altar--these at once symbolize and defend our faith in the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Eucharistic Sacrifice. And so long as men retain the forms they are not so likely to forget or deny the doctrines; and on the other hand, when they begin to dislike or lay aside the forms, it is a significant symptom of the decay of a living, realizing faith in the great doctrines they express.
Such, beloved brethren, are some of the things nature and reason suggest concerning the ground on which the appointment of outward Ordinances in religion rests, and the way in which we may see that they are fitted to promote our spiritual good: they are a necessity of our nature; they embody and express, they strengthen and protect, the life and living power of the unseen and invisible realities of the spiritual world. And so essential are they in this view, that if the outward forms of religion, its external services and rites and observances, were to be entirely abolished, it would be but a little while before the spiritual convictions and the internal sentiment of religion would perish away from the world. The destruction of formal religion would carry with it inevitably and in no long time the destruction of spiritual religion.
II. Let us now, secondly, consider the Ordinances of the Gospel in a stricter view, not simply as forms, but as Sacramental Forms--forms in which the gracious power of the Holy Spirit supernaturally embodies and imparts itself to the faithful soul, by an efficacy totally distinct from any moral influence which the forms, in themselves, or in the sacred associations connected with them, are fitted to exert.
This is the Divine idea of Sacramental Grace--practically one of the most important and most delightful of all the ideas unfolded in the blessed Gospel. For, beloved brethren, it is not so much important for us to know the reason why God has appointed outward Ordinances, as to know the fact that He has appointed them: and so, it is not so much important for us to discern the way in which they serve as means of grace, as to know assuredly, on the warrant of God's word, that in the faithful use of them we shall receive communications of heavenly grace.
The great benefit of the Ordinances of the Gospel is not in the moral influence they exert--the impressions they produce, the recollections they awaken, the devout emotions they enkindle, the godly purposes they inspire. All this kind of influence they are indeed naturally adapted, in themselves, or (more) in the sacred associations connected with them, to exert upon the soul imbued with devout sensibilities. But over and above all this, they are the signs, the pledges, and the means of a gracious communication of heavenly influence from the Holy Spirit, which the Ordinances in themselves, and in their associations, are totally inefficacious to impart. They are the natural signs and channels of supernatural grace. We are to observe them not merely because the observance tends, in itself and in its connected moral influence, to promote our spiritual good, but chiefly because God will therein mysteriously, but none the less truly and really, impart the Holy Spirit to our souls. This is the great significance and glory of the Gospel Ordinances. Trivial and inert in themselves, they are Means of Grace. They are Means of Grace--not merely morally, by suggesting and impressing Divine truth, but also supernaturally, as being the mystical channel through which the Living Spirit of all life, all truth, all goodness, flows to the faithful soul.
Such is the Divine idea of Sacramental Efficacy--the union of inward and spiritual grace with outward and visible signs inert and trivial in themselves--the supernatural power of God embodying itself in sensible form, and through that form acting and imparting itself to the human soul.
It may serve, by God's blessing, to help us gain a firmer hold of this most important and comfortable idea, if we consider for a moment the illustrations of it with which Holy Scripture almost everywhere abounds.
Nearly all our Lord's miracles are in point. He was most generally pleased to clothe His invisible Divine power in some outward form, to act in and through some sensible medium, to connect mysteriously His almighty energy with signs and tokens which were in themselves destitute of all significance and force.
When, for instance, He cured the man born blind, it was not by a silent invisible exertion of His all-powerful will. He made clay and anointed the blind man's eyes and bade him go wash in the fountain of Siloam. There was no natural virtue in the clay or water; but our Lord made them efficacious means of the blind man's cure. He chose them as a sacramental medium. He embodied and imparted His healing power in and through them.
So, in nearly all His miracles, there was some such sacramental medium. Sometimes, it was His word alone, as in the case of Lazarus, of the widow's son, and when He cast out devils, and rebuked the winds and the sea. Sometimes, along with His word He put forth His hand and touched the lame, the palsied, the leprous, the sick, and the dead. Sometimes, it was His touch alone, as when He healed the wounded servant's ear, or opened the eyes of the two Wind men that sat by the way-side begging. And sometimes, along with some one or other of these, there were still more external signs, as in the case of the clay and the washing applied to the blind man's eye, and when he spat and touched the dumb man's tongue.
There was no natural virtue in such signs as these: yet they were the outward and sensible forms in which He was pleased to embody, and the medium or channel through which He was pleased to impart, the otherwise silent, and in itself invisible, and imperceptible energy of His all-powerful will.
The same thing is seen in the signs and wonders wrought by the Prophets and Apostles of our Lord. When Moses stretched out his rod over the Red Sea at the command of God, whose power was it that caused the waters to divide? Was there any efficacy in the outstretched arm and waving rod of the Prophet? Not at all. But ineffectual as they were in themselves, they were nevertheless the medium through which the Most High chose to put forth His own almighty power.
So, too, the Lord might have quenched the thirst of His fainting people in the desert, by causing water to spring from the living rock by the immediate exertion of His almighty will: but He saw fit to employ the agency of His servant Moses and the Sacramental Efficacy of the Prophet's voice.
So, likewise, the mantle of Elijah dividing the waters of Jordan--the cure of Naaman's leprosy--the dead man raised to life by the bones of Elisha--the sick healed by the shadow of St. Peter falling on them, and by napkins and handkerchiefs touched by the Apostles' hands: all these are cases illustrating the idea that by God's anointment things in themselves totally inefficacious may be made to embody and impart a Divine power.
Now, in view of such facts of Holy Writ as these, how is it possible that any one can find any thing objectionable in the idea of Sacramental Grace, the idea that God should impart to our souls the inward and invisible grace of His Holy Spirit through the medium of outward appointed Signs and Forms?
1. Surely He who made the inert clay and water efficacious to cure the man born blind, through His own almighty energy therein acting, can make the waters of Holy Baptism efficacious to regenerate the soul by the same Almighty power therein embodied and put forth. The cases are essentially alike in point of principle. It is to no purpose to say that the blind man's cure was a miracle, and that Baptism is not a miracle; for the question is not concerning the nature of the effects, but concerning the mode in which God may impart His almighty invisible power: and in this respect the cases are essentially alike--in both it is the power of God working in and through a sensible medium.
2. It is idle and absurd to object, that the idea of Sacramental Grace is mysterious and incomprehensible.--So is the connection of clay and washing with the blind man's cure; the outstretched rod of Moses and the dividing of the waters of the sea: and so are ten thousand undeniable facts. The whole life of nature is full of relations which are inexplicable--ten thousand thousand things linked indissolubly together, and we can point out no intelligible connection between them. He that determines to comprehend everything, and to believe nothing that is incomprehensible, will soon come to have a creed of less than one article. To deny therefore the idea of Sacramental Grace because it is mysterious, or to explain it away into mere moral influences, is as contrary to reason as it is unbelieving and self-willed.
3. Equally groundless is the objection that the doctrine of Sacramental Grace ascribes the spiritual power and efficacy to the mere external and sensible forms and signs, and that irrespective of moral conditions on the part of the receiver. This objection, beloved brethren, is indeed no objection at all, but the grossest of all possible perversions of the doctrine of the Church. Yet it is a perversion widely made. Let but the words, Sacramental Grace, be spoken, and instantly in the minds of thousands, even of professed theologians and religious guides, you touch the spring that unlocks the cells of memory (if haply they be furnished) and evoke the shadows of the old and superstitious Past--of occult arts, of magic rites, incantations, potent spells, and charms. You are immediately charged with ascribing an operative efficacy to the mere material elements. " A mystic spell is pronounced," (so you are represented as believing,) " a charm is administered, and, without any moral or religious effect, the soul is consecrated." So gross, now, is this misrepresentation, that no one who understands the Church's doctrine can by any possibility honestly make it.
The doctrine of Sacramental Grace declares that there is "an outward and visible sign, and an inward and spiritual grace"--that the former is the condition and means of the latter: but it also declares that the sign is in itself inert and trivial--that the power and efficiency are ever that of the Holy Ghost acting mysteriously in and through the outward medium, acting neither physically, nor morally, but supernat-urally, though in union with a natural sign and form. The doctrine of Sacramental Grace no more ascribes an operative efficacy to the mere outward element or visible form of the Sacrament, than it ascribes the parting of the waters of the Red Sea to any virtue in the outstretched rod of Moses, or the blind man's cure to the mere virtue of the clay, or the leper's cure to the touch even of the Saviour's hand considered as mere material contact. It was the invisible spiritual power of the Saviour's almighty will, acting in, and with, and through His touch, that cured the leprous man. It is the same invisible almighty power of His Holy Spirit that acts in, and with, and through, the material elements and sensible forms of the Sacraments. It is the Holy Ghost that cleanses the soul in the "laver of regeneration," imparting a new Divine life to every person duly qualified to receive it--to the infant in his freedom from actual sin without other condition than that of future holy obedience when obedience shall become possible--to the grown-up man upon the further conditions of penitence and faith. It is not the water in itself that baptizes: it is the Holy Ghost that baptizes. It is not the water that cleanses and regenerates the soul: it is the Holy Ghost that cleanses and regenerates with the water. So, it is not the bread and wine, in the Holy Eucharist, that strengthens the faithful soul: it is the Body and Blood of Christ, given by the Holy Ghost and received by faith. In short, nothing can be a more monstrous perversion of the Church's doctrine of Sacramental Grace, than that which represents it as ascribing an operative efficacy to the mere material and formal elements in themselves, and that independently of the state of the receiver's soul.
4. No less groundless is another objection, made by great numbers, I doubt not through a pious prejudice of honest ignorance--namely, that the doctrine of Sacramental Grace leads to an exaggerated estimate of the Sacraments, conflicts with the sinner's reliance on the alone merit of Christ, and interposes an obstruction between the Saviour and the soul. This objection proceeds also upon a gross misconception of the true relation of the Sacraments, as means of grace, and is besides utterly ungrounded in fact, except as every doctrine of the Gospel is liable to possible abuse through the corruption of human nature, in a way which is in no sense its legitimate result. What is this which they say? The doctrine of Sacramental Grace leading to an exaggerated estimation of the Sacraments--conflicting with our reliance on the merits of Christ--and opposing an obstruction between the Saviour and the soul! Preposterous notion! As well might we feel concerned lest the poor leper should have valued the touch of the Saviour's hand more than being cleansed from his foul disease--trusted in the outward and sensible touch more than in the Saviour's invisible healing power--and so in the end have found that the outward touch obstructed the healing energy from entering his diseased system, rather than formed the very medium of connection between the two! As reasonably might the famishing beggar refuse to believe there is nourishment in the bread he receives from the hand of pious charity, lest he should value it more than the life it nourishes--or refuse to eat it lest he should be led to attribute his deliverance from starvation to the bread without reference to his benefactor's kindness in giving it to him--or, finally, should refuse to receive it from the hands of the servant by whom it is sent, or in the basket in which it is placed, because he wishes with pious self-will to take it directly from his benefactor's own hands! O my brethren, there is something quite awful in the way in which some people talk of " going directly to Christ without the mummery of a sacrament." What sacrilegious language! What self-willed presumption! As if Christ had not appointed the Sacraments to be the medium of the nearest and most direct access to Him, to all who come with humble and believing hearts. Who has told you--we might say to such persons--Who has told you that there is any more direct way to Christ than through the Sacraments He Himself has appointed for the very purpose of uniting your soul to Him? What is it but presumptuous ignorance to think so? And even if there be, who has authorized you to neglect or slight the Sacraments which Christ has appointed, in order that you may go to Him in a more direct way? What is it but presumptuous self-will to do so? Suppose that we were all dependent for our daily sustenance upon the bounty of a rich and freehearted friend; and that he had directed us to repair together on appointed hours to a common hall, there to receive from the hands of his dispensing steward each our portion of meat in due season. What a wretched, self-willed pride should we betray, if we refused to conform to our bountiful friend's regulations because we preferred to go directly to his presence, and to receive immediately from his own hands the supply of our wants! And even so, beloved brethren, nothing but utter ignorance can save us from the condemnation of self-willed pride, if we neglect or slight the Sacraments of heavenly grace through any notion of a nearer or more direct access to God.
Let us be well assured there is no conflict between God's Truth and God's Ordinances--between Christ and the Sacraments which unite the soul to Him. What God has joined together we need never fear to be incompatible or ill-joined. The more highly we esteem the Holy Sacraments, if we do so only as Means of Grace, the more earnestly shall we use all the other appointed means, the more entire will be our trust in the alone merits of Him Who is the very central life of the Sacraments, and the more closely and vitally shall we feel ourselves united to Him by the indwelling power of the Holy Ghost making Him to dwell in us and us in Him.
It is then every way untrue that belief in Sacramental Grace diverts the soul's trust from Christ, or obstructs the soul's communion with Him: and as to the rest, it is impossible to have "too high views" of the Sacraments, provided only they are right views. The danger now-a-days is altogether on the other side. Where there is one person in danger of taking too high views, (if such a thing were possible,) there are tens of thousands in danger of taking views too low.
This is a point I would, indeed, press upon your consideration, my brethren,--that in this age of boasted wisdom and the light of reason, there is far more danger that men should take too low than too high views of the Sacraments of the Gospel--far more danger of a proud and self-willed disregard of them than of a blind and superstitious reverence for them--and that precisely because of the mysterious and incomprehensible nature of Sacramental Grace, and the comparatively insignificant and trivial character of the sensible forms through which it is conveyed to the soul.
And what we might thus beforehand expect, is true in point of fact. Under the influence of the proud and rationalistic spirit that would comprehend everything and explain everything, the Holy Sacraments are explained away into mere moral rites without any supernatural efficacy embodied in them through the power of the Holy Ghost. Yet, and noticeably enough, at the same time it is quite easy to detect a want of thorough satisfaction with what God has been pleased to do in the appointment of the Sacramental Forms, even on this false and unworthy view of their influence.
This betrays itself in two ways. Among some it appears in their exalting out of all measure the moral significance of the Sacraments by unreal language, and so striving to make the very utmost of them, in this the only view they admit. Pretending to "open the mysteries " of God's grace, instead of reverently admiring them--they evacuate them of all their rich and blessed significance! and then to make up for it, they blow up their empty and flaccid conception, by the still emptier breath of their own declamatory rhetoric. Among others the same thing is seen in a slight esteem and very great practical disregard of these Ordinances of God, grounded at the bottom, I have no manner of doubt, upon a real, though, perhaps, unacknowledged and unconscious, repugnance to the forms of the Ordinances as something mean and trivial, and unworthy of the dignity of God and human reason. Such persons might not even quarrel with the idea of a supernatural power embodied in outward and sensible forms, provided these forms were noble and dignified, and had in themselves a high and rich moral significance. This was the spirit of the old Syrian warrior who came to Elisha to be healed of his leprosy. He went away, at first, boiling with rage that the Prophet should have prescribed to a man of his rank such a paltry and seemingly ineffectual method of cure as to bid him go dip himself seven times in the waters of Jordan--that despicable Israelitish stream, too, of all the rivers in the world! Why did not the Prophet adopt a style of cure more dignified in itself, and better befitting the majesty of God and the rank of the noble patient? Why did he not come out to him, and stand and call upon the name of his God, and strike his hand over the place with something of a majestic port and air, and so recover the leper? This would have been far more consonant with his ideas of what was a suitable and dignified and effectual embodiment of supernatural power.
And just so, now-a-days, the trite and trivial character of the outward forms of the Gospel Sacraments are a great shock to the pride of carnal reason, to the current of received ideas. And hence the tendency to undervalue them, to degrade them from the character of Sacraments to that of mere rites, almost as unimportant as they are insignificant--to be occasionally celebrated, indeed, because (strangely enough) they seem to be so very positively enjoined, though, otherwise, it would be far more consonant with the present progress of enlightened ideas to lay them aside. Expecting no benefit from them but a moral benefit, they receive but little even of that--and so no wonder they exalt the Sermon above the Sacrament: and whereas the primitive Christians desired weekly and even daily to feed upon their Saviour in the Holy Eucharist, these modern Christians prefer to hear of Him in pleasing discourses--requiring two or three sermons every week, but quite well satisfied with scarcely more than two or three times approaching the Holy Table in the year.
Now beyond doubt, beloved brethren, one of the reasons why God has chosen to embody a mysterious, supernatural grace in outward forms, and those forms so trite and trivial, is for the trial of our faith, our humility, our obedience--even as Abraham's faith was best tested when he went out from his native country at God's command, "not knowing whither he went." Even so should we Christians walk by faith and not by sight. Almighty God has been pleased to select the most common and familiar things in nature,-- water, and bread and wine, as the means of imparting to our souls the most blessed gifts of His supernatural grace! What a thought is this! What a trial to our faith! Reason and sense are prostrated before the ineffable mystery! But what have we to do but faithfully to obey the Divine appointment, leaving it to His almighty power and gracious faithfulness to make His own Ordinances effectual means of imparting the principle of a Divine life to our souls, and of nourishing us up in holiness unto eternal life.
I have thus attempted, my brethren, to explain, to illustrate, and to defend, the great doctrine, that the religion of the Gospel is a Formal and Sacramental Religion. And I conclude, by beseeching you to consider this truth earnestly with yourselves, and to act upon it as a truth of the greatest practical importance.
You hear much now-a-days about "spiritual religion" in opposition to the "religion of forms." Be not misled by such shallow fallacies. God has joined together the form and the spirit. You may have the "form of godliness" while "denying the power;" but you cannot have the power without the form. God enjoins both: and it is chimerical and wicked for you to dream of maintaining the one without the other--the life without the body. The outward Ordinances of God, the formal observances of religion, are as much matter of sacred obligation as the most spiritual graces of faith and love. It is not for us to pronounce any of God's requirements minor points, things indifferent; but rather to show the "obedience of faith," by "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."
Be not afraid, therefore, of formal religion, provided it be not mere formal religion. The fact that God has been pleased to connect the most special, peculiar, and glorious communications of His Spirit, not with the mere exercise of any high moral or religious affections, but also with certain outward signs and forms which are in themselves inefficacious and even trivial--this fact should make us beware of thinking slightly of external religion.
Let it be, then, your most earnest care, beloved brethren, that your religion be not only a life, but a formal life; not only a form, but a living form. A Formal Life and a Living Form--this is the true idea of the religion of the Gospel. Outward religion and inward religion were meant to go together. Do not put them asunder: simply remember that there is no value in outward religion except as it is the expression and support of true inward religion--and no merit in either: that there is no merit but Christ's, whose Spirit alone enables us to render unto God any true and laudable service.
And nothing will better guard you against separating the form from the spirit, than a deep and practical conviction that the Church with all its Ordinances is a means to an end--a means of grace to the end of your sanctification and eternal life: that there is no worth in the means apart from the end, and no securing the end without the means.
I would, therefore, shut up this whole discourse, dearly beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ, by intreat-ing you to consider most earnestly with yourselves this blessed and comfortable truth--that the Church, with all its institutions, its two great Sacraments, its Ministry, and Word, and Worship, its Ordinances and Ritual Observances, is eminently a SACRAMENTAL SYSTEM--that is, a system of MEANS OF GRACE. Means without efficacy in themselves, yet made efficacious by the Holy Spirit working in them. Means of Grace--not because they make us better in the using--not because we make ourselves better--but because God therein makes us better: means without which we may not expect the sanctifying grace of God's Holy Spirit will come into our souls--but means which, in proportion as we do humbly and earnestly and perseveringly use them, Will make our souls the temples of the Divine Presence.
Remember, therefore, that Grace and the Means of Grace are indissolubly joined together--the Grace coming from God, the Means to be reverently used by ourselves--that, therefore, we are neither to rest in the means as an end, nor to expect the end without the means. This is the mystery of our salvation. This is what I mean by calling the Gospel a Sacramental System, and all true religion eminently a Sacramental Religion.
Reverently, then, and earnestly, use the Means of Grace. This is walking by Faith and not by Sight: but that is the surest way for the Christian to walk. What though you cannot understand the mystery of God thus working in you, and cannot mark your growth from day to day; yet grow you shall, as surely (and as gently and silently too) as the trees planted by the water courses; and in due season you shall bring forth fruit to your own comfort, to the glory of God, and in the end to your everlasting salvation through the precious merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.