Project Canterbury


The Living Church.







Convention of the Diocese of Connecticut,


JUNE, 1857.













It is a happy occasion, brethren of the Clergy and Laity, which every year reminds us of our union in the commonwealth of Christ. Although our immediate care may be of this nearer household, yet the bond, is not of a narrow Diocese, but of that Body, whose pulses beat from one great heart, and whose circulations feed the farthest veins. At such a time, and before such an assemblage, I have felt an earnest wish to pass beyond the usual topics of the pulpit, and to weigh some of those larger questions, which now fill the mind of Christendom.

The solemn Whitsuntide, so lately passed, has brought before us that subject, which always renews the prayers and hopes of the Church. We look again across so many centuries, at the image of early Christianity, as it stood in its living unity, one mind, one heart, one fellowship. But it is with a painful feeling we turn from that primitive picture, to gaze on our discordant Christendom; a world of sects, battling each for its narrow opinion, and many more to whom the religion of Christ is an unfathomed riddle. On every side the question comes from sceptic and believer, from the man of letters, from the lover of social good, from the [3/4] perplexed Christian, "waiting for the consolation," where is the reality of that kingdom of Christ? Art thou He that should come, or look we for another? We stand to-day amidst this world of confusions; and are called to know how we shall satisfy its wants. In such a view, I have chosen that passage from the first chapter of Christian history, which gives back our inquiry, and its answer.

ACTS, I, 6, 7, 8.--Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And He said: It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father bath put in His own power; but ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.

This promise, fulfilled at the Pentecost, reveals the truth, which addresses us as truly as the early believer. The spirit of Jesus Christ was made manifest in the Church of God, the Body of redeemed men. There is no new Gospel to come, as modern unbelief dreams, but the kingdom of Christ is the same Divine reality, present in those features that knit us through all ages to its Head, yesterday, to-day, and forever. But it is that kingdom revealed now, as then, in its spiritual power, in its unity of faith, of fellowship, that shall restore the world. It is the living Church that Christendom demands. I devote the hour to that subject; the living. Church of Christ; its aims, its hopes, its duties in this century of grace.

Let us, then, brethren, take up anew that record of the Pentecost, which gives us the Divine constitution of our religion. It is not the fact of a few extraordinary gifts that we read. The cloven tongues and powers of healing were not, as some have dreamed, the essential thing; these were passing signs; but the true miracle was in that supernatural life, which Jesus Christ has promised for all time, as the law of His Body. The Church arose at once, when the Holy Ghost was poured upon it, out of the unformed mass, one whole in faith and fellowship. It was not the calling of this [4/5] or that individual, not the up-springing of fifty Christian denominations--no Pauline or Petrine Gospel, but an harmonious unity. Nor was it, again, reared by any mechanical work of creed and ordinance; its belief, its communion came out from the living mind, as in that Temple, where there was "neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building." There was one Body, because one Spirit. It was a Divine reality; it was a faith that wrought righteousness; it was the bond of social brotherhood, of rich, and poor, of all in that sacred commonwealth.

And such it is in every time, this living yet embodied institution. The religion of God is not, as the mind of this day dreams, an abstract doctrine, or a moral sentiment, or an individual life of Christ in the soul, but a kingdom of men, baptised into Father, Son and Holy Ghost; and as each living thing, which the Divine mind has made from the highest to the least, has its organic structure bound with its life; yea, at once the offspring and the guardian of its life; "as every seed its own body," so is the Christian creed the utterance of its common truth, its communion the bond of its internal unity. There can be no severance between them. It is that profound conception of the Church, which St. Paul re pests so often, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

But the condition of all its action must be in the living heart, beating within the body. The Church keeps with due reverence the heritage of the past, its creeds, its worship, its usages; but the Holy Spirit acts freely on the spirit of believers, and pours in always His new life. The Church is not a mere tradition. It is a unity of faith; it is a communion of worship, of holy action. Let that life stagnate, let there remain only the visible frame-work, but the mysterious power which dwells not in the forms, but in men--spiritual men--creep through only a plethoric or palsied body, and there is [5/6] death. The Word is killed by a barren theology. The sacraments, meant to be ceaseless signs of a present Christ, become empty shadows. As the Church loses its power, a lawless radicalism arises, that rejects not only the dead, but the true body; and religion becomes a sectarian fragment, or the mysticism of here and there an isolated mind, or farther on, an utter unbelief. Formalism and division are the two states that create each other; and between them the Church oscillates, until it returns to a living unity. But where that life exists in healthy action, the pure word preached, the visible communion a reality of Christian hearts, there as of old the Holy Ghost is manifest, and the Church the source of all the powers that regenerate and bless.

We accept then this truth as given for our learning in this day of strife. The history of Christianity is the long commentary, written over the page of centuries, and still writing itself in all the movements of to-day. I can give only a passing glance at the causes, which produced the present state of Christendom. There is nothing strange in it, however mournful, to him who reads its principle. The Church of dead tradition was broken in pieces by the re-action of a living power; sectarian division rent the body, until at length all faith in any organized Christianity was lost. But we may as well rebuke the Nile, when its overflow swallows the frail landmarks, forgetting that it leaves behind the quickened soil, as lament the evil of the past; we should see in it rather, if we read calmly the signs of the time, the very secret of that restoration which Christendom seeks. If we look beneath the surface, another and a better spirit seems already awakened. Discord and unbelief yet exist. But these fifty years have witnessed the most powerful of those movements, ever and anon occurring since the reformation, the ebb of the mighty tide of Christian thought; a [6/7] movement gathering its strength since the infidel triumphs of the last century. It is a great error to regard only the vagaries of a few converts to Rome; for that is but one misguided extreme of a world, wandering every where, seeking rest. There is an inextinguishable yearning of the best minds and devoutest hearts after Catholic unity. Even an "evangelical alliance," imperfect as it is, declares that men are wanting somewhat beyond the invaluable liberty of inventing a new religion every year. Church history is read with clearer eyes. Sacred art is gaining votaries. The striking liturgical movements, seen in so strange quarters, are signs of a deeper want than a passing fancy. Protestantism is conscious of its need. Nor will I refuse to see a hearty meaning in those questions of social organization, which have stirred so wildly the mind of Europe; for what is it but the demand of that kingdom of Christ, the bond of rich and poor, of social as well as religious brotherhood? And can any doubt, who ponders these things? I recognize in them all the expression of one want; a living Christianity, one in truth, one in fellowship, complete in its activities, as it was meant to be by its Author.

And here I reach the question of questions;--what shall fulfil that want? I see, on either hand, the direction of modern thought; life without organization, and organization without life.

The favorite theory of many, who are seeking a living Christianity, is that which regards it as a spiritual truth, apart from its forms of belief or ordinance. We hear from one class of our modern teachers, an eloquent protest against all creeds as a "lapse of the spirit." But the sure end of such a view must be a vague mysticism, that admits every shade of error, and may mask unbelief. The dogmatism that kills the spirit is false; but it is not the dissolution of all creeds, that can restore a spiritual faith. If there be a [7/8] Christian truth, it must be one, and must have one voice for its believers. What Christianity needs, is to rest no longer on the particular creed of Calvin or Luther or any other, but to have the common symbol of a living faith. There is no refuge in the undefined sentimentalism of the day. Nor is there, again, in that popular religion, which would find unity in what is styled evangelical doctrine, and sink all externals; for it is under a more religious guise, the same tendency of the time to make Christianity an abstraction, and its Body a mass of mere traditionary rites. But the religion of Christ is one in all its parts; each ordinance has its inward meaning; its baptism is the root of its whole system of growth: and to lop a limb, if it destroy not life, destroys sound symmetry. This plausible eclecticism is therefore vain. To "agree to disagree" is but a make-believe unity after all. This mosaic of sects is not the lively stone of the temple. This mixture of all ingredients, however stirred by kindly hands, will precipitate itself at last. There can be no real unity in any weak compromise; but only when every sect shall leave its fragmentary notion, and stand on the basis of a defined Catholic truth. I say this in no scornful feeling. I rejoice even in the desire of unity. We should recognize every fragment of truth in every system, surrender all needless difference, and manifest a hearty love for all who love the Lord Christ; but we must leave to God and time, and Christian labor, to bring the full agreement. And one word I add to those among us, who are saying; "Give us Christ, but let alone the Church." Our silence cannot stifle such questions. Yes, I agree that we want no Church instead of Christ, no dead form, no despotic yoke; but we want the Church of Jesus Christ, spirit and body, truth and order, head, heart, and every limb. The sick heart of Christendom wants it, and we must show them that it is a reality indeed.

This, then, is our position, who call ourselves members of [8/9] this communion. No vague, no imperfect notions of Christianity can satisfy us; but we seek all its harmonious features, inward and outward, its spirit, its creed, its sacraments, its order, one and indivisible. It is therefore we revere with filial pride that Church of England, which bare and nursed us. And when I open the volume of her history, age on age; when I regard her Catholic character, witnessing to those truths that lie not between, but above the errors of Rome, and the errors of a lawless freedom; her stately worship, tree from superstition, yet rich with the wealth of all the gathered past; when I see the long line of wise and saintly men, who have adorned her, her Ridleys and Latimers in the day of early battle, her Hookers and Fields, her Herbert: who have breathed her spirit in sacred song; her Taylors and Donnes, of whom I know not if their writings or the living eloquence of their characters more embodies their piety; her Leightons and Wilsons, and Hebers since, all of one family likeness, wearing the sober grace of their mother; when I remember with what dignity she has stood unbroken amidst the crisis of all times, always foremost in the work of Christ, planting the Gospel abroad, and rearing a people sound at heart and reverent in habits; I cannot but believe that God in his rare wisdom has set her in this high place, as keeper of His Church in its dangers, and the center of that union, for which we yet look of a broken Christendom. But it is no narrow position we thus hold. We call not this "the Church," but part of that Church Catholic, not of England only, but throughout all the world. We love it, because it stands on the broad platform of an Apostle's Creed, and knows no Calvin, no Arminius, no Zwingle; we love it, because it witnesses to the essential principles of Christ's kingdom.

And therefore, again, we can have no faith in that traditional tendency of the time, the opposite of its vague spirituality. It is the error of men, anchored to the past; or the dream of those [9/10] who in despair at modern confusions, are seeking their "ideal of the Church," when they should labor in the real one. I shall name briefly two of the most striking instances, the one just dying out, the other newly risen.

Perhaps it is yet too early to give or hear without prejudice a just criticism of that movement, born at Oxford, which has shaken the English communion, and our own. It was in its origin the aim of men, who felt the evil of the Church, crippled by secular ties, and longed to plant it on that spiritual rock, where it could breast the tide of modern error. That effort at first was noble, awaking the clergy to their high calling, kindling the fires of devotion, inspiring art, and preaching the Gospel to the poor. But it became soon the theory of a few ecclesiastics; they mistook the figment of a perfect Ante-Nicene era for the Catholic truth; they narrowed it to one past type of a scholastic and ascetic piety; they exhumed every relic of early Anglican tradition; until at length wearied with vain strife, they retreated into the deep shadow of that Church, which, under the guise of antiquity, is a Tridentine novelty, under the guise of Catholic, the narrowest sect, which puts infallibility for law, sensual fancy for worship, and slavery for Christian reverence. It is a sad, yet not strange example. If it have taught us, no longer to seek the Risen Christ among His grave-clothes, it is well.

The later movement of which I speak, is that called Irvingite, calling itself Catholic Apostolic. Far be it from me to name with scorn, with any thing save kind regret this dream of many earnest souls, who would restore the Church of Pentecost. But their visionary zeal has mistaken the outward and transient form for the living law; and its end can only be insanity. The exact type of that or any age cannot return. We need not the twelve Apostles, the cloven tongues, or the wonders of old time, but the apostolic mind, the apostolic heart, the apostolic action.

[11] This truth, then, we must learn, that the attempt to heal a broken Christianity, must be a deeper one. The unbelieving age must be taught the principles of the Church of God, the harmony of law and liberty, of faith and worship, of all these ordinances with the growth of piety. Now as at first, "the spirit" must "come upon us," before we "receive power," and the life within mould the outward unity. This is the work of the living Church. It must, while it holds the Divine system, bring into action its practical forces, and be the reality of that apostolic faith it holds. "Go show John the things thou host seen and heard; how the blind see, and the lame walk, and the dead are raised," is the great testimony still. I cannot span in these feeble words, that mighty field of thought and action; but I will strive to touch its main directions.

And this, then, is the first, highest aim of the Church, to implant the spirit of a living faith, in distinction from all forms of speculative opinion. It has come to this, in the confusion of theological tongues, that Christianity with the vast number is a theory instead of a life; the sacred mysteries of God are changed to wrangling notions; we discuss the idea of a Trinity instead of dwelling in the truth of the Incarnation; we speculate of atonement, free will and grace, instead of accepting the redemption of Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost. It was not for this the truth was given. There is a Christian theology; but the relations of science and of faith, must not be inverted. It is doctrine in its simple, practical influences that comes home to the conscience and heart of man. The Christian truth does not win its greatest triumphs in polemic strife; it is to redeem men from sin to holiness; it is to mould a Christian thought, a Christian life. That faith inspired the first believer, when to he baptised into Father, Son and Holy Ghost was the acceptance of no theory, but of a real truth, a real communion; [11/12] when his system was embraced in one great article, Christ the Incarnate God, the Redeemer, the risen Intercessor, the present Life of the Church; that faith dwelt in those great ages, when all were of one mind, one heart, "one lip;" when an Apostle's creed, and a Nicene creed rose as a hymn to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And this is the note of the Church Catholic always. It is not any blind faith in the dogma of an infallible priesthood, as Rome teaches; but the common heart-felt truth of all believers. We are witnesses of that principle. We have our articles of theology for the divine, but for the body of believers we have these Catholic symbols; and it is, because we have held them, have allowed all lesser differences of Calvinist or Arminian, and clung to the great truths of the Gospel, that as a communion we have been most scriptural, most practical in our teachings. We should cherish that as our best heritage. We repeat that creed; we should carry forth its spirit. This living truth alone can root out the error and vague opinion of the times. And when that day comes, that all the sects shall give up the guerilla warfare of private creeds, and say with one voice, "I believe in one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ," there shall be no more, an unbelieving world.

The next aim of a living Church is to make its visible communion felt as the sphere of a sound, and healthy piety. A wild individual life is the disposition of the time. But the Church carries out the great principle of growth from the font to the altar, and educates the young in all Divine means as real members of Christ's household. If any system can be a practical one, it is this. It is the folly of too many that we weary ourselves with this ceaseless jangle about the nature of baptismal regeneration, when we should simply accept the ordinances of God, and use them in their harmonious and complete meaning. The best argument the Church can give in a day when the very idea of Christian nurture has faded, and [12/13] the loosing of all habits shows the rottenness of the prevailing system, is in her results. If we can teach that Christian godliness is no morbid life, no form without life, but is based on a whole minded, whole hearted character; that to be a member of such a Body is to be most pure, most upright, most active in charity, most ripe in all virtues, all graces, the visible fellowship of Christ will be felt to be one with the spirit of His Gospel. It is here the Church has its power, as it links itself with all the sacred ties of the heart, "a pure religion, breathing household laws," and rears in its reverent communion one holy family.

But the principle has the same application to the question of Church authority. This age confounds all law with despotism, and asks a purely individual freedom in religion. But that is folly. There is a law of Christ, and it must learn to recognize that truth in the society of God as of men, to reverence the rule of faith, and the sacred office of the ministry. The ambassador of Christ has been too long degraded to be the hireling of men, and the pulpit the arena of popular rhetoric. But the aim of those, who will bring back the world to its just view, must be to prove in living example, the union of law with liberty; to furnish in our happy organization, our well balanced and distributed rights the type of the Christian state. I believe there is no freer, yet no better ordered system than our own, in its main features; and let us remember that this is our power. Theories of Episcopacy and priesthood are well, but we need somewhat beside them. We have far more, busied in writing treatises on the Aaronic order, than in being Christian workmen. We want the commission in the character as well as the pedigree. Nor need we in blind fear indulge any mock notions of sacerdotal power. The priesthood is of God, but its chief strength rests and will always rest in its moral influence. We cannot make men obedient by [13/14] pretending to any inherent gift of absolution, or building confession boxes. Not only should every right be yielded to the laity without jealousy, but they should know that they are in their true function, active members of the Body. When our diaconate is not, as now, a theory of one, but does its original work; when our Dioceses are no longer vast kingdoms, but our chief shepherds multiplied; when we have a ministry to meet all classes, to fill all poorer fields, we shall have taken a long step toward convincing a jealous time, that we have the pattern of the primitive, God-made Church. If we claim it, it must appear in no empty arrogance, but in greater diligence, and love, and action. Never was there a day, more needing such a ministry--not the Roman priest--not the popular hireling,--not the smooth ecclesiastic, immaculate in vestments and manner,--but servants of Christ, full of the Holy Ghost and of power; learned, sober, yet abreast with the active thought of the time; the brain, the heart, the right hand of the living Body.

And, again, I name, as the note of a living Church, a living worship. I regard this as one of the most glorious aims of such a day, to find the true alliance of religion, and Christian art. Rome has debased the spiritual truth. Puritanism has left it bare. But as surely as that religion lives in the affections of men, so surely is worship the craving of the heart, the utterance of its faith, its hope, its reverence; and its spirit hallows the fair world of nature or human life. It loves the charm of music. It asks the majesty and grace of the visible temple. I rejoice to see that the better feeling of Christian men is now seeking, instead of pulpit rhetoric and metaphysics, the worship of God. It is our part to answer that want. We have the chaste forms of liturgical devotion; we are linked with all the saints of Christ, who in every age have breathed these prayers, and uttered these chants of praise; but it must be our effort to make this [14/15] liturgical taste the outgrowth of a spiritual faith; no dead excrescence; no form, fair and cold as marble, but beating with the life-blood of Christ. There is a fantastic foppery among us, as fatal as a bald Puritanism, which would mimic every faded custom of an early art, in its zeal to regenerate the irreverent world. And there is another, more general danger, that we too often make our worship the badge of an exclusive class, rather than use it as the Common Prayer of all. I say nothing here in detail of late efforts for the modifying of our services; but I welcome, with all the conviction of my mind and heart, any wise plan, to make cur worship more flexible, more rich to meet the present wants. Nothing should, nothing can mar the great proportions of that Liturgy. But if any sees only evil in every least change, and has no pulse beating under his coat of mail, let him enjoy that self-complacency. Such churchmanship, may be a dull idolatry. I believe that the Prayer Book is made for man, not man for the Prayer Book; that we are not to worship the Liturgy, but in it to worship God. There is one rule; not a pedantic uniformity, but a Christian piety combined with Christian taste. We should seek such improvement; we are dead without it. Whatever can knit the religion of Christ with the emotions of the heart; whatever can carry its truth among lettered or ignorant, rich or poor; whatever can lift the age out of its cold indifference into devotion, is the aim of the living Church. This is the true union, so long severed, of spirit and of form.

I pass to our last topic; and that is the work of organized benevolence. It is a time of a myriad activities, true and false. The Church of God can have no sympathy indeed with the philanthropy, which divorces itself from faith. It has its own domain. Its stream rolls deep in the old channel, while a thousand brawling rivulets dash themselves upon the rocks. It does not create a new social organization; it heals the world by the power of that truth, those institutions which [15/16] Christ has blessed. But it was sent to do that work indeed; not to be the keeper only of creed and worship, but the real power of society; to rebuke social exclusiveness; to scourge the money dealers from the Temple; to gather poor and rich in one, and make the world as at the Pentecost, a human, because a Divine fellowship. And such should it be now. Let it be remembered that its duty is not to rail idly at the false movements of others, but to do "more than others." I doubt not that Christian backwardness is the cause of half our unchristian philanthropy. There was an age, when the Church was the mother of all the institutions of charity; the teacher of Europe in those "fair humanities," that have left their stamp on its social and religious life; but the long centuries of polemic strife contracted its action, and robbed it of its influence, until men grew weary of a Christianity that only disputed about its creed. That season is passing. It is alive in its work of missions, of schools, of free chapels, and every like effort. But there are yet too many, who hold its faith, and have no conceptions of its present, its real duties. I speak it at the full risk of being called overbold; but while your missionary treasury is just at the point of starvation, while your parishes hardly pay their petty quota for your Diocese, while your Trinity College cannot find fifty whole hearted men to sustain it, you may boast of Connecticut Churchmanship, but your boasting is not wise. We may well learn from Rome her secret of power; not that men love her heresies, but they see her in the front of enterprise, building college and hospital, educating her youth, planting her thousand missions; and they accept it as the proof of life. I would we had more, who instead of itching after her follies, were coveting that best gift. Even our modern philanthropy too often shames us; it pours its heart into every enterprise, good or bad; its abolition or total abstinence movements have their martyrs and their [16/17] millions. What answer shall we make to those who preach the Gospel of to-day, if we remain the Church of faith and apostolic order, without the apostolic action? Christendom asks the working Body. One such institution as St. Luke's Hospital, is better than fifty volumes of ecclesiastical polemics. It is this Christianity, foremost in every field of labor, proving its mission like the Christ by giving eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, and the Gospel to the poor, that shall win the conviction, the love, the homage of all. The fitful aims of the day shall vanish; and the world shall see in the kingdom of Christ no ideal, but a reality, the true society of temperance, of freedom, the true social bond, as it was, when "they who believed were of one heart, and had all things common."

But I must stay with these outlines of a vast subject. It is enough if I have been able to breathe into you its spirit; to set before you the character, the duty of the Church of God in this day of doubt. There will be those, who turn away in indifference, and others in rebuke. I have not one word of apology to offer for my views; for I am not here to preach smooth things, but the truth. I speak not to the timid, the exclusive, or the self-satisfied; but to all, who are hearty believers in the living Church; and to many I know that I shall not speak in vain. It is because we can glory in such a communion, built on no narrower foundation than of Jesus Christ, because we are partakers of this rich heritage of faith, of worship, that we are to put on our strength. There is no hope in a vague and disorganized Christianity; there is no hope in a Church of mere tradition; but if we can make manifest this union of spiritual life and outward order, we shall not fail. I call you as a body to your peculiar duty. I call you to accept the task that lies before us in all its grandeur; to breathe a living soul into an age of unbelief; to be the true "center of unity" amidst [17/18] the discords of Christendom; to kindle anew the spirit of worship, and reverence, and loyalty. Who will not look forward to such a future with hope? who will not thank God that he lives in this day of faith, not yet fulfilled? It is not by any sudden revulsion that a broken Christendom can he restored. Ages have brought these evils, and ages must heal them. We sow the seed; but others shall reap our harvest; we shall lie down to sleep, and leave our work to the better resurrection. Is it' a dream that the kingdom of God is yet to be one in mind, and heart and action? Then let us live, and labor, and die in that dream. But it is no dream. I read it in the promises of Christ; I see it, but not now; I behold it, but not nigh; I behold it, through the clouds of the present, the dawning of that Sabbath, when God and man shall rest from their labors. Let us labor, that we may enter that rest. The day of Pentecost is fully come. Let us go forth, and preach that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand;" here in its spiritual truth, here in its ordinances, here in its mighty works of holiness; and Thou, Spirit of God, once present at the Pentecost, baptize ns anew with Thy seven-fold gifts; let the cloven tongues like as of fire rest on us, and the perpetual miracles of wisdom, of love, of Christian power attest the living Church of the living God.

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