WHEN we lay the corner-stone of an edifice to he devoted to the worship and service of ALMIGHTY GOD, we do it solemnly, "In the Name of the FATHER, and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST!" thus making at once our profession of Faith, and our appeal for Divine protection and "blessing to the Triune God,--the ever-blessed and adorable Trinity. And then, immediately upon that act, standing over that new-laid corner-stone, in the free open air of heaven, we proclaim to all the world the one sole Foundation, on which we propose to erect, not only that sacred edifice, to be composed of earthly materials, but all our works of piety and charity, all our endeavours for personal sanctification and holiness--the whole superstructure of means and agencies for promoting the greater glory of GOD, in the extension of His kingdom and the salvation of His redeemed, immortal creatures--"Other Foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ!"
And on this most interesting day, the dawning of a new era for you, my dear brethren, when we begin to put together the frame-work and to erect the superstructure of a new diocese, we say over all the words of faith, devotion, earnest prayer: "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," and we proclaim to all who have ears to hear, the one only Rock on which we mean to build, whether in the work of our personal salvation, or in the work of this now-to-be-organized diocese, this definite [5/6] and independent portion of our branch of the One Holy Catholic Church: "Other Foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
We utterly disown every hope for our own souls, every hope for the Church of God, which does not come from our dear, all-merciful adorable Lord! To His precious Death and glorious Resurrection we cling for life. His one full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world we plead for pardon and cleansing from sin. To His heavenly grace--the grace which He purchased for us, and which He sends forth to us in the gift of the Holy Ghost,--to the grace which flows forth from His divine Person into all His members--the members of His mystical Body--we look for spiritual regeneration, renewal, sanctification, for spiritual life, light, strength, comfort, peace, joy. We do most gratefully and adoringly acknowledge that from His gracious influences ''proceed" "all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works." Our nature, made in the image of God, but mightily defaced and changed, retained only just enough of its original excellence to be capable of a new creation, capable of receiving a heavenly gift. And now, behold, all things are made new in Christ Jesus. If we have any hope that works of ours are acceptable in His sight, it is because we humbly trust that they are prompted by His Spirit and bedewed with His most precious Blood. Have we a most comfortable assurance that our prayers in private and our worship in the Holy Place are not in vain? It is because we know that there is One Who helpeth our infirmities, enabling us to worship in spirit and in truth, and that there is an all-pitying Mediator and Intercessor, Who, with prevailing pleas and merits, bears our supplications and praises to the Mercy Seat! What is there to prevent even the read and preached Word of God from falling dead upon our stony, human hearts? What but the enlightening and sanctifying Spirit of grace which may accompany that Word, making it sweeter than honey, more refreshing than heavenly manna in the [6/7] wilderness, or else quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and laying open to the light "the thoughts and intents of the heart."
It is of the infinite mercy of God in Christ Jesus that even the motions of our outward life are hallowed and made efficacious; that, for us, things common and earthly are changed into things supernatural and divine; that outward and visible instrumentalities, used in faith and love, arc means whereby we reach Heavenly blessings. These solemn assemblies in the Holy Place--the waters of Baptism to which we bring our little children--the laying-on of hands for the sealing-gift of the Spirit--the oft-repeated ceremony of the Eucharistic Feast--the benediction that hallows the nuptial union--the final office that remits the mortal remains of the faithful departed to the glories of the resurrection morning--Oh, they are not empty ceremonies; they are not heathenish rites; they are not impotent trifling, without God and without hope, leaving the soul uncheered, unprovided for death, judgment, eternity! Oh, no, thanks be to God! In His unspeakable goodness He hath graciously instituted and ordained all these outward and visible things for our use in faith to the health of our souls. He hath cleansed and hallowed them; He hath superadded to them His effectual blessing; He hath made them channels of His grace. In condescension to our weakness and misery, they are given to us to be helps to devotion, aids to faith, means through which divine gifts may be imparted to us, and by which we may receive them--most comfortable, visible pledges, when rightly used, that our dear Lord and Saviour unites Himself to us, and that our Heavenly Father accepts and blesses us in Him.
We do indeed, my brethren, as taught and commanded by our blessed Lord, hold to the outward and visible, as well as to the inward and spiritual. Let other men speculate and dogmatize as they will; let them, in proud self-confidence, build up their vaunted systems out of only one part of the [7/8] truth of God; but we hold to our adorable Head, and accept the whole truth, in all its divine mysterious fulness, just as He delivers it to us--just as it was once for all delivered to the primitive saints, and by them authenticated and handed down to us. Our salvation is all of Grace, a free, unmerited gift, the purchase of the passion and death of our Saviour Christ; but it comes to us on conditions--conditions essential to the regeneration and sanctification of our souls: first, faith in that Saviour as our Prophet, Priest, and King; and second, sacramental union with Him in and through His mystical Body, the Church. He commands the good news of salvation to be proclaimed in all the world, with the gracious promise, "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved;" and His great apostle, in his very first sermon, exhorts those whom he hath brought to believe in Christ, and who, stung with a sense of guilt, are crying-out to the Apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"--he exhorts them, "Repent, and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Such was the spirit of the Apostles and first preachers of the Gospel. No undervaluing of the outward and visible things of Christ's institution; no keeping of them out of sight; but, on the contrary, as in the case of these three thousand brought into the Church in one day--as in the case of the jailer of Philippi--as in the case of the Ethiopian Eunuch--they hurried men, so soon as they became earnest believers, into the ark of Christ's Church, through the door of Baptism, and their children with them.
In other words, Christianity is not a mere sentiment; it is not a mere doctrine, opinion, or feeling. It is a divine institution, duly organized; its faith, its ministry, its sacraments, all alike unchangeable, and all alike derived from its Divine Author and Head. It is a holy society, a spiritual body, the very mystical Body of Christ, filled with His Presence and grace--a living body, of which, if it be accessible to us, we must become members, and in and through which we must [8/9] find nourishment for our spiritual life, and work out our salvation. Fallen man is too weak and dependent to live alone. Without society, his intellectual and moral nature deteriorates and runs to waste. And much more is it impossible for him, without society, to rise above evil, to erect himself above himself, and to grow to perfection as a spiritual being, having a soul to be sanctified and saved for ever. It is only as he is surrounded and buoyed up, and kept steady to the truth by a body having a fixed, unchangeable creed, that he is secured from those vagaries of thought that take possession of the solitary mind, and hurry it into fatal error. It is only amid the supports and safeguards of a holy society that the individual soul can be kept so imbued with the faith, and so fastened to it, as never even to think of changing it. It is only in such a society that the evil in man's nature can be repressed, and the good effectually excited, exercised, nourished, strengthened, perfected.
It is, then, in condescension to the weakness of our mortal nature--it is to meet the necessities of our spiritual life--it is that there may be a visible Power in the world, unitedly working for its salvation, that Almighty God hath been pleased to set up His Church on earth, that our adorable Redeemer hath filled it with His spiritual life and grace, hath garnered up in it His means and pledges of salvation, hath required us to become members of it, to dwell in it in a living spirit of faith and devotion, and hath promised to abide with us in it to the end of the world. We hold that the faithful use of these visible means and pledges of salvation, as ordained of Christ, in loving communion and fellowship with His visible Church, where they may be had, are vital, indispensable, in order that the benefits of Christ's death may be applied to our souls; but we hold with equal intensity of grateful, loving-conviction, that all grace, all mercy, every spiritual gift, whether coming directly from on high, or in conjunction with the use of visible means, is from Christ, is the purchase [9/10] of His meritorious work. Our whole spiritual life, and the Church of GOD, in which we have it sustained, are built up from Christ, as the one Foundation: "Other Foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
It may be thought that we consume too much time, and use too many words, in reiterating and emphasizing truths familiarly known and universally acknowledged. But the circumstances of the time are peculiar and extraordinary. A new diocese has just sprung into existence, and is now about to be organized and to commence its work--to take its bent and its tone for perhaps ages to come! We address a body of Clergy and laity who have long been part of our spiritual charge, who may yet be said to belong to it, but who are passing away from us to take form and shape in another hour as a separate spiritual household. At such a moment we cannot but speak most affectionately in a most paternal spirit, and we are bound, in all conscience, to speak plainly and pointedly; and in so doing we wish to exclude the possibility of any mistake as to our feeling about the sacred fundamental truths just stated, which we hold as we hold our life. We desire to declare to you all our mind, so far as we may do it in the very brief space of time to which we are limited.
And we wish to speak of others as little as possible; our business is with ourselves. What, then, are we as a religious body? Are we merely a casual, imperfect, ecclesiastical fragment, thrown violently off from some great primal body amid the revolutions of ages, having no organic connection with the past, and within ourselves no unquestionable powers for legitimate reproduction, control, development? In plain terms, are we the offspring of time and chance, as men speak, new-born three hundred years ago, amid the convulsions of the Reformation period, with a new ministry, not after the primitive pattern, and not connected by unbroken succession with Christ and His Apostles, and with only such narrow and partial systems [10/11] of belief as may be generated out of men's partial onesided minds, when they set themselves to interpret Holy Scripture purely in the light of their own private judgment, without consulting the witness of the primitive, undivided Church? Are we only such a body? or are we a pure branch of the One Holy Catholic Church, with an unbroken existence from the day of Pentecost, with a duly constituted valid ministry, handed down from Christ through an uninterrupted succession, and holding all the great fundamentals of the Faith, not as matters of opinion, but as matters of fact, resting upon the plain letter of Holy Scripture, and the unanimous judgment of the whole company of primitive saints and confessors?
To ask these questions is to answer them. If we know anything of our own spiritual Household, as we ought to know, we know that it is not the work of men's hands--that it is not a product, late in the Christian ages, of new-formed judgments--not a product of casual associations of men placed in narrow circumstances, and swayed, for the time, by narrow passions.
When the English Reformers found themselves impelled to deliver their branch of the Church from its thraldom to a foreign usurping power, and to free it from the dust and rubbish of the Middle Ages, they did not revolutionize, as was done on the Continent, but they reformed the Church, and, without breaking the integrity or the continuity of the ministry, without touching one single vital element that could plead Catholicity or universality, they simply cast off the superstitions and cumbrous ceremonies of those unhappy previous centuries, and restored the Church, in all essentials, to a strict conformity to the primitive Church. Nor did they attempt this in the light of their own unaided judgment; but they took the Holy Scriptures in one hand, and the witness of the primitive Church in the other, and so, by God's help, made all things pure, and established them upon the "foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the [11/12] Chief Corner-stone." Their Church, and ours after it, was Protestant, as witnessing against the corruptions in doctrine and practice of the Church of Rome, and Catholic, as retaining all the vital elements of the Primitive Church--all those elements, which were intended to be, and have been, perpetual in that Church in all ages, as they shall be to the end of the world.
Such is our branch of the Church. It is a pure branch of the One Holy Catholic Church--its Ministry, its Faith, its Sacraments, its credentials, derived uninterruptedly from Christ, and having for its seal the witness of the whole Primitive Church for three hundred years! Of this branch of the Church your diocese is to form a part. And now, my brethren, I come in all seriousness to ask a question, the answer to which very much concerns you. How may you best promote the growth, the unity, the prosperity of your diocese? What kind of teaching will make the ministry of the Clergy most effectual for the permanent good of the people? How shall the laity of this Diocese become so rooted and grounded in the Faith, that they shall not be liable to be blown about by every wind of doctrine? How shall they be so stablished, strengthened, settled in their attachment to the Truth, as held in this Church, that their continuance in the Church shall not depend upon any mere accident, such as the attractiveness of the present Pastor, or liking or disliking for some phase in the ongoings of the Church, here or there, to-day or tomorrow? How shall the Church in your Diocese do its part toward meeting a craving which is every day growing-more restless and more intense in the world?--a craving for broad, genial, satisfying, well-authenticated, well-settled truth--a craving for a broad and solid foundation for belief--a craving for deliverance from shifting and conflicting opinions, from the grotesque and impotent exhibitions so often obtruded upon the public by heterogeneous assemblages of professed seekers after Truth--crude, self-confident thinkers, who are forever learning and never coming to the [12/13] knowledge of the Truth? How shall your Church be made to appear to the multitude of weary, tempest-tossed wanderers, as the very Ark of the Lord, in which peaceful, heavenly rest may be found forever amid the immutable precious things of God? Need I answer! Under the Divine blessing, these objects are to be attained by regarding the Church, by treating it, by teaching in it, by living in it, as that which it really is--not a sect, not a respectable religious body, for whose order and doctrines a plausible argument can be constructed out of Holy Scripture, but as a pure branch of the One Holy Catholic Church, divinely handed down to us, and, as to its faith and order, resting upon the immoveable foundation of Holy Scripture, rightly interpreted, according to its letter, and according to the faith and practice of the whole early Church. Nothing-short of this will give to the members of this Church, whether Clergy or laity, an adequate sense of the greatness of their privileges, of the extent of their responsibilities, or of the strength of their position. Nothing less will inspire them with the greatness of soul, the Christian faith and courage necessary for their comfort and for their work! Nothing less will enable them to cultivate a true spirit of unity--broad, comprehensive sympathies--in spite of minor differences of opinion, or to estimate at their real worth those ephemeral ebullitions which sometimes awaken groundless alarm in the ill-informed and unstable.
Let it not be thought, my brethren, that my words imply any the least impeachment of your views or your teaching in the past. Nothing could be further from my intention. I think you know how I have loved you, and how I have honoured your ministry. I speak altogether in the abstract, as if I had never known you in former years, and had no thought of knowing you in the future, and had only in view those great elements of life and strength which must be everywhere alike needful to the well-being of the Church. Some excellent persons, even in the Church, think it enough to say that our one [13/14] only appeal for the support of every alleged truth of God must be to Holy Scripture. Undoubtedly. We are to "teach nothing as necessary to eternal salvation, but that which we are persuaded may be concluded and proved by Scripture." But "the Scripture," how interpreted? Surely not every interpretation offered by a partial, ignorant, self-confident expositor is to be accepted as the infallible truth of God. Were it so, we must accept the most contradictory propositions, and hold them to be equally infallible verities. It is a mistake to suppose, as some do, that orthodox Christians are the only persons who profess to rely on Holy Scripture for the support of their doctrines. They who deny the real and proper divinity of our blessed Lord profess to go by Scripture. The Seventh-Day Baptists profess to go by Scripture; the Universalist professes to go by Scripture; the Romanist quotes Scripture for almost every feature of his system. They have their interpretation as we have ours. We maintain, indeed, that from Holy Scripture alone, the truth, as held by us, is abundantly apparent; but they, from bias, from education, think differently. Now, my brethren, must the truth of God be held only as a probable opinion, only as having the prevailing weight of evidence and argument in its favour. And in individual and local controversies, where truth and error stand confronted, is everything to be left dependent upon the skill of the disputants, so that the victory, or the appearance of victory, shall be on the side of the most dextrous advocate? Is there no way of reaching certainty in so vital a matter? Is there no sovereign arbiter to whom we may appeal to decide which of these conflicting interpretations is the true one? The answer to these questions has been several times referred to in the observations already made. When we find that every essential feature of our Branch of the Church, its faith, its order, its view of God's grace, is not only supported by the plain literal meaning of Holy Scripture--in most cases by a vast amount of Holy [14/15] Scripture--but is also in strict accordance with the faith and practice of the whole early Church wherever planted for three hundred years (we might say much more), when we see that, we think that in all reason and judgment there is an absolute end of all controversy. "The faith of God standeth sure." It is not matter of opinion; it is not left to cunning argumentation. By this appeal to the unquestionable facts of primitive faith and practice, the truth of God in Holy Scripture is effectually protected from modern false glosses and false interpretations. Every great and vital truth is taken out of the province of mere opinion, and carried over into the domain of absolute fact. There remains not a shadow of uncertainty as to what we are to believe, or what we are to do; and this appeal to the Primitive Church is as fatal to the "Romanist on the one side, as to the denier of Christ's Divinity on the other, because, upon a searching scrutiny, we assure ourselves that in the first three hundred years of the Church of Christ, not a speck of Romanism is to be found. These corruptions came gradually into the Church, amid the thickening gloom of later ages.
To all the doubting world, then, we are enabled to say: to the serious, unbiased mind, Holy Scripture, so far as concerns great leading truths, is plain. And if in any of these points you consider the meaning of the written Word doubtful, you ought to be satisfied with the assurance evident to all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors, that the truth, as received from Holy Scripture by this Church, is the truth as received from Holy Scripture in the early Church--the best possible evidence, that we have truly the mind of Christ. Oh, that these things were duly understood and appreciated by all the members of our own Church! Oh, that they all adequately comprehended the length and breadth and depth of the everlasting foundations on which the truth of God and the whole order of His Church securely and immoveably rest! How steadfast and tranquil they would [15/16] be amid the perturbations of the daytime and the chimeras of the night! How impossible would it be to turn one of them from the glorious old faith, once for all delivered to the primitive saints, and through them to the Church, to be kept to the end of time! How large would be their hearts toward their brethren, and toward all good works!
And O that these views of the evidence, and of the certainty, of the Truth of God, could be made palpable to all the wavering, beclouded, wandering youth of this land! O that for them the murky darkness and the phantoms of misbelief and unbelief might be forever dispersed, that they might see very near to them the Holy City of Refuge, and, entering gladly in, reach the end of miserable doubts, and the beginning of everlasting repose!
But what is to be inferred from all this? Do we wish to see the Christian Pastor often turning away from the great, central, spiritual Truth of God in Christ, to engage in polemics, to deal with controversial divinity? Do we wish to see the pulpit forever occupied in building up the outworks and defences of the Truth, instead of labouring in the power of the Holy Ghost to send that Truth itself home to the hearts and consciences of the hearers? Oh, no! God forbid! Undoubtedly is it the right, and the duty, of every Minister of God's Church, to give to the people waiting upon his ministry a reason for the hope that is in him, and that ought to be in them, to explain the grounds on which the Truth rests. But many discourses, exclusively devoted to explicit teaching of that kind, are neither necessary nor expedient. The wise, well-instructed Christian Pastor, will know how to mingle evidence with the most pungent and tender enforcements of the Truth of Christ; how to conduct the instruction of the young; how to converse with his people in private, in such a manner, that his flock shall be thoroughly indoctrinated, shall be rooted and grounded in the whole Truth of God, from foundation to top stone, almost without perceiving or remembering how they came to be so established. He will have [16/17] been always preaching Christ, but so preaching, that while the heart was touched and made better, the convictions and the faith were established on sure foundations.
Or, once again: Do we wish to see our Christian Pastors instilling into the minds of their Christian people, unkind, supercilious, or scornful feelings toward the members of the religious bodies around them? Oh! no. A hundred times no! God of Truth and Love forbid! Through providential circumstances, they are attached to religious organizations which are very defective, as compared with that primitive and Apostolic Church, which is the "Pillar and ground of the Truth;" by education and by social influences they have been prevented from seeing things as we see them but, in their position, they have "done what they could." Beautiful traits of Christian character often appear among them. The mercy and grace of God have reached them, and have produced many good fruits, in works of piety and charity, for which we bless God. There are those among them at whose feet we would be glad to be allowed to sit in the kingdom of heaven. These are no good reasons for undervaluing our own superior privileges, or for attempting those false unions, which always involve some sacrifice of principle, some suppression of truth, as they always tend to run into confusion and bitterness. But they are reasons for cherishing, for the individual Christian brother, feelings of respect and esteem, of warm affection, if there be worth to command it, and for making such feelings manifest in every fitting token of kindness and office of love. Personal respect and kindness, in private and in social life, are what is always due from us to a Christian brother, and they should never be withheld. They are all that can be properly required of us. To call upon us to unite in organized religious services and efforts, when there can be no real unity in principle or in ecclesiastical order, is to urge an unreasonable claim, which a just sense of duty, and regard for truth, will hardly admit of our conceding.
No! The greatest exercise of Christian charity for us is, [17/18] in private, to be kind to all, and in public, to proclaim "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the Truth," and to live and work in the spirit of that Truth! Are we, indeed, a branch of the One Holy Catholic Church? Are we of the same school as the primitive saints and confessors? Let us prove it by our lives and by our works! O blessed Saviour of the world! O Thou adorable Lord and Head of the Church! Pour out Thy grace upon us, and cause to spring up among us more abundantly the glorious fruits of Thy Cross and Thy Passion! Kindle anew in us Thine own Spirit of self-sacrifice and self-devotion! Bring back to us the days when believers were in love with a life of voluntary poverty for Thy sake! when houses and lands were joyfully sold that the price might be devoted to the uses of Thy service--when opulent estates were employed in erecting and endowing institutions for ministries like Thine own, and when the donors, delicate women, not content with the entire offering of their worldly goods, were seen on their bended knees in those "houses of mercy," ministering by day and by night to Thy suffering members! O touch the hearts of our youth that they may offer themselves willingly for Thy service--that they may esteem it enough to be signed with Thy Cross and accepted for the ministries of Thine holy altar! Draw near to Thyself the Christian men and women, whom, by Thy providence, Thou hast exempted from domestic cares, bereft of worldly comforts, and fill them with the joys of Thy presence and Thy love, while they live wholly unto Thee in caring for Thy little ones, in imparting light and knowledge to the ignorant, in seeking out the miserable and afflicted, in raising up the fallen!
Brethren beloved! the day hurries toward the evening. Yet a little while we labour for Cueist in the building up of His kingdom! His work was to succour the miserable, to instruct and save the perishing, to point and lead the way to the heavenly rest. Be it yours also! You assist to-day at the organization of a new diocese. You stand at [18/19] the fountain head of a stream which is to flow on for ages. It is a great thing to be present at the beginning of a new agency which is to grow and develope, perhaps, for centuries to come! The plans you form, the conceptions you embody in organized effort, are to be followed by those who come after you. Trust to no temporary expedients, to no popular platform excitements for strength to do a great work! Denunciations of error go but a little way toward advancing the Truth. Clamor against the abuses and the pretensions of a stealthy, hard-working body, contributes little to the building up of a great Kingdom capable of standing as a Bulwark of the Faith.
Positive teaching and positive work, organized work, systematic work, permanent institutions, associated labour on a principle of absolute self-consecration for Christ's sake, in a body having corporate life, capable of large extension and wide ramifications, fitted for all works of piety and charity, among others, for Christian education on sound principles--these means, steadily and faithfully employed, in humble dependence upon the assistance of the Blessed Spirit, in pure, loving devotion to our dear Lord and Saviour, will make you and your Church so "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might," that the gates of hell shall never prevail against you. Is it too much to hope, dear brethren, that you will live and work together "in unity of spirit and in the bond of peace." If only you may be made by the Spirit of Grace all one in Christ Jesus--a holy loving brotherhood--helping on each other's work, dealing tenderly with each other's infirmities, striving together with one mind and one heart for the truth of the Gospel, how mightily your power will be increased for good! God, in His great mercy, grant it! And may He, by His Blessed Spirit, guide your choice to a good man--a man full of faith and love and of the Holy Ghost, to be a chief pastor over you. May that pastor's love for you, and your love for him, be even more tender, more devoted, than the love which has made our [19/20] communings together so sweet and pleasant. My spirit will be always with you, my prayers will follow you; and no greater boon, no dearer service of love, can your former Bishop entreat of you, than that you will fervently pray for him, that he may be enlightened and sanctified and strengthened for every duty and trial--that his errors and shortcomings may be pardoned for Christ's sake; and that, at last, his soul, washed in the Blood of that Immaculate Lamb that was slain to take away the sins of the world, may find place among the humblest of the accepted servants of God. May we meet to renew and to continue for ever our thanksgivings and praises in that glorious temple, not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens. Amen.