DEAR BRETHREN OF THE CLERGY AND LAITY OF THE DIOCESE OF SPRINGFIELD:
The Church enjoins it upon her Bishops as a duty, from time to time, to address to their flocks "Pastoral Letters upon some points of Christian doctrine, worship or manners." (Digest, Title I, Canon 16, § 9, p. 70.)
The course of events in the history of our Church during the past few months, seems to suggest the propriety of our issuing such a Pastoral Letter to you, our beloved in the Lord, in order to allay any doubts which may have arisen in your minds, or to quiet apprehensions which may naturally have been occasioned by the assaults which have recently been made upon the faith once delivered to the saints.
Brethren, there are closed questions in the Church of God--questions which have been settled directly by divine authority, or indirectly by the same authority speaking through the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. These questions, which are comparatively few, relate to the doctrine, polity, sacraments and worship given by the Apostles to the first believers in Christ as the legacy bequeathed by the Master to be received and held and guarded and handed on from generation to generation to the end of the world.
From the outset the matters embraced in these subjects were to those, who received them, beyond debate, because they came to them by inspiration from God. They belonged to the sphere of supernatural knowledge, about which man knows nothing and can know nothing, except in so far as God wills. St. Paul states this fact explicitly in his letter to the Church of Corinth, (1 Cor. xv, 3, 4) when he says: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." The Apostle here quotes three articles from the body of the creed, couched in the very phraseology which we still repeat, and gives them as a sample of "the Gospel, which," he says, "he preached unto them." Moreover, he expressly declares that he received this sacred deposit of faith, which he communicated to them. It was not his own. He had no power over it to mould it and fashion it, to abridge it or enlarge it. He gave it, as he received it, and He bids them, as they valued their salvation, to maintain it in its integrity.
From the very beginning this was the same. The first believers, who were baptized on the day of Pentecost, "continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers." (Acts ii, 42.) The faith, the polity, the sacraments, the worship came from the Apostles, and they had received them, as we know, from the Lord, and were commanded by Him to communicate them and to provide for their continuance forever. (St. Matt, xxviii, 18-20.) He, the risen Lord, just about to ascend in our humanity to the throne of God, gave His solemn pledge and promise, as He invested the eleven with their official commission, that He would shelter them and their successors in office with his divine presence throughout all time. "Lo!" says He, "I am with you alway even unto the end of the world."
Brethren, the Church is a divine institution, not a mere human association. It is constituted by God, not made by man. Its representative on earth is the family. The divine Master weaves the family idea into His teaching about the Church, as He does no other. We breathe it when we say the prayer, which He taught us to repeat, "Our Father." He roots it in the sacrament which makes us His members, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." (St. John iii, 5.)
Man can no more alter the character and essentials of the Church of God than he can contrive substitutes for father and mother, and invent some new method of entering the world to supersede natural birth. He seeks to do this, and his efforts are on exhibition all around us. He depraves the divine organization into a voluntary association, and lowers his language about it accordingly. To him entering the Church is joining it as one does a club. To the divine Master it is being born into it. The idea of joining the Church of God is utterly abhorrent to the mind of Christ. It is an utter impossibility. On might as well talk of joining a family as of joining the Church. The idea of the Church is a closed question. Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has closed it in His holy word. All the essentials of the Church in faith, polity, sacraments and worship are closed questions for us, who are within the fold. They may be and are to those without open questions about which one may think one thing, and another maintain the opposite, and this must always be the case with them, while they refuse the divine authority of the Church, and degrade her to the level of a voluntary association, depending for her existence and continuance upon the accidents of human opinion and preference.
There is no greater mercy for which we have cause to thank our heavenly Father through Christ, beloved Brethren, than this, that it is not our sad condition to be in such an evil plight, where nothing is settled, nothing is fixed, but everything in a state of flux, without hope of relief.
It is true that there will often be within our ranks of laity and clergy those, who are disloyal to the faith and polity of the Church. This is incident to human infirmity, and may arise from many causes, ignorance, perverted judgment, ambition, self conceit, as well as downright wickedness. Be the cause what it may, such persons are self condemned. The Church of God is an open book which may be read of all men. Pier faith, her polity, her worship are published to the world. The fact that they are closed questions is self evident. No man in his senses can honestly think otherwise. There is not and there could not be in the very nature of the things concerned any provision made for the revision of the government, or the creed, or the sacraments of the Church of God with a view to alteration. The bare thought of such a thing is ruled out forever.
The unhappy men, who fall thus into error in denying the principles of the Church, whether they live in the fourth century with Arius, or the fifth century with Nestorius, or the seventh century with Honorius, or the nineteenth century with the false Brethren of our own day, must be for a time endured. The Church is strong and can afford to be patient. But the time comes at length when delay is no longer mercy, and judgment must be pronounced, and Arius and Nestorius and Honorius, and nameless ones must be cast out, and become the subject of the Church's prayer on her knees beneath her dying Saviour on Good Friday, when she entreats that He would fetch them home with Turks and infidels.
See, beloved, as touching the faith, for example, with which we are now more nearly concerned, how it is made for us a closed question to all honorable men.
When we are baptized, each and everyone is severally asked, "Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian faith as contained in the Apostles' Creed?" and he answers, "I do." When he is confirmed, after due and careful instruction, he is asked whether he still holds and affirms this belief, and again he replies, "I do." On this condition, with others, he is admitted to the Holy Communion, and virtually renews the vow every time he presents himself at the Lord's Table. If one goes forward and receives Holy Orders, he is obliged to present testimonials which commit him to the faith of his baptism. This he must do again and again, when he is admitted a candidate for Holy Orders, when he is to be ordained a Deacon, and once more when he is ordained a Priest.
Prior to his ordination as a Deacon and as a Priest, he must subscribe the following declaration: "I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the Doctrine and Worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States." When he is ordained Deacon, he is asked, "Do you unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testament?" And he makes answer, "I do believe them." He is asked again, "Will you apply all your diligence to frame and fashion your own lives and the lives of your families according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make both yourselves and them as much as in you lieth wholesome examples of the flock of Christ?" And he answers, "I will so do, the Lord being my helper." These questions are substantially repeated to the Deacon, when he presents himself to be ordered Priest, and in addition he is asked other questions, which close him in absolutely, if he be an honorable and true man, from contravening and forsaking the faith, while he retains his orders. Thus the Bishop inquires, "Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the doctrine and sacraments, and discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church hath received the same according to the Commandments of God, so that you may teach the people committed to your care and charge with all diligence to keep and observe the same?" And the candidate responds, "I will so do by the help of the Lord." On these conditions, a man is made a Christian in Holy Baptism, and advanced step by step to the privileges of the Lord's Household, at each stage renewing his profession of acceptance of the creed of the Universal Church. On these conditions, if the layman becomes a Priest in the Church of God, he has been admitted to Holy Orders, and advanced to the high and sacred office which he holds; on these conditions only, the compliance with which he has acknowledged, with his own lips, at intervals with years between, again and again, could he have gained this awful dignity and honor. It might reasonably be anticipated that no man who was thus voluntarily bound by his own oft-repeated pledge and promise, and had in consequence of his reiterated declaration of fidelity obtained a position as a trusted minister of the Church, could trifle with, much less deny the faith, and if by chance he was so unfortunate as to cease to believe any or all of the fundamental verities of the Gospel as summed up in the creed, it might be expected that he would at once, as soon as he knew his own mind, renounce his orders, and leave the ranks of the Priesthood in which he could no longer honorably remain.
Self evident as this seems to be, it is not always the case, nay, it is frequently otherwise. All along the line of heretical perversions of the truth, from Arius down to Colenso, the inventors and advocates of error have been found, as a rule, unwilling to abandon their positions in the church, which they obtained on the condition of holding and professing that faith which they have brought themselves in whole or in part to deny. Heresy seems to cast a blight upon the moral nature, and to deaden and paralyse the conscience. Its victims, though shut out from such a course by their own voluntary and oft repeated pledge and promise to the contrary, seem to think that they are called to stay in a body whose faith and principles they repudiate, and reform it. They seem to fancy that to them all questions are open, as though they had not entered a system, the very essence of whose stability lies in the fact that within its bounds certain questions are finally and forever closed. When such men are called to account for their perfidity and dishonesty, they respond with the charge of persecution and bigotry, and the world echoes their cry. Often such men occupy positions which enable them for a time to defy the Church and proudly to cast contempt upon her. It was so in the fourth century when Arians occupied the chief sees of Christendom and were supported by the wealth and influence of the Empire. God is no respecter of persons, but men are, and hence the heresiarch in a lofty place, supported by the rich and powerful, sometimes escapes, while his obscure follower, with little or no adventitious help from social position and surroundings is called to account and cast out. This is not the fault of the Church, but is due to the weakness and pusillanimity of those who happen at the time to administer the affairs of the Church. In the end God takes care of His own; the gates of hell do not prevail against his Church. Donatism, though possessing at one time all North Africa, vanished away; Arianism, with which St. Jerome said "the whole world groaned," was crushed; Honorius, Patriarch of Rome, and his Monothelite associates in the Eastern Patriarchates were placed under the ban of Anathema. As in the past, so it will be in the future, those who despise their spiritual birthright and scorn God's promises and blessings, will always ultimately share in the ruin and obliteration of "the lost tribes."
Possess your souls in patience, dear Brethren, be not affrighted at the apparent boldness, nay, audacity of misguided men who deny the Lord that bought them, and repudiate the faith by the profession of which they gained the places which they occupy, and acquired the influence to do evil which they possess. God will bring all such into judgment. Be not afraid. The Church is "the pillar and ground of the truth." She upholds it by the authority of God. He hath spoken, and because He hath spoken and for no other reason, doctrine and fellowship, and sacraments and liturgy are closed questions, questions forever settled, beyond debate for us, who believe. Be not surprised at our language about closed questions as though such statements implied limitations upon human freedom. What we say is no new thing, with which you are unfamiliar. Every science has its closed questions for those who accept its teachings, while they are not closed for those who have not mastered its elements, or refuse its conclusions. Thus the cause of a solar eclipse is a closed question for Europeans and Americans, but it is not a closed question for the native tribes of darkest Africa. Their astrologers and necromancers and medicine men still indulge in high debate as to what causes the sun at high noon to drape himself in black. So precisely for us, who believe in God and accept Christianity, there are questions forever closed. They are settled by divine authority. On that we rest the creed of the Universal Church, which is older than the Scriptures of the New Testament, on that we rest the same Scriptures as the word of God, on that we rest the polity of the Church, on that we rest her sacraments and liturgy. These are closed questions for us who believe in the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. They are not for those without, for the unlimited right, as it is called, of private judgment, leaves everything open. Every one is free to pick and choose as he pleases in a sphere, where of necessity of himself he can know nothing, the sphere namely of the secret things, which belong and must forever belong to the Lord our God. In this regard he is like the African savage in his relation to natural science. The poor negro knows nothing about nature's phenomena, and he can in consequence adopt and proclaim whatever theory he pleases in reference to everything. He is nature's freeman. So those who are ignorant of the Church or reject her authority, may roam over the field of spiritual and ethical speculation at their pleasure, and adopt and lay aside opinions and views as they choose. They are more than nature's freemen, they are the freemen of the universe. They rise above all authority, and own allegiance to no law outside of themselves, and this condition, so deplorable, they call freedom.
Brethren, be not envious of this boasted freedom. It is in reality wretched slavery. There is no freedom away from Christ. In His school we are under authority, and we learn obedience, a hard lesson, but most salutary, and as we advance in our spiritual training, continuing with the first believers, steadfast in "the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers," the conviction gains upon us more, as we lift our eyes to the cross, that the service of Him, Who died upon it for our salvation, is "perfect freedom."
Commending you, dear Brethren, to the grace of God, I remain, in the fellowship of the Gospel,
Your Chief Pastor and Servant for Christ's sake,
GEORGE F. SEYMOUR,
Bishop of Springfield.
MONDAY IN HOLY WEEK, 1891.