THE VARIATIONS FROM IT
ZION CHURCH, NEW-YORK,
Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 14, 1866,
THE RIGHT REVEREND HORATIO SOUTHGATE, D. D.,
RECTOR OF THE PARISH.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST OF THE VESTRY, AND OF MANY OTHER
ISAIAH, xlix. 6.--And He said, It is a light thing that Thou shouldest be My servant, to raise up
the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give Thee for a Light to the
Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth.
THIS is a prophecy of which the Epiphany celebrates the fulfilment. It is God the Father's promise to the Lord Christ, that He should be the Saviour, not of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also; that His redemption of mankind should be, in its benefits, co-extensive with the ruin wrought by the fall of our first parents, and with the spiritual needs of the entire race; and, the observance of the Epiphany is the commemoration of our Lord's first manifestation to the Gentiles. As Jewish shepherds had been led, by an angel, to make a pilgrimage to His lowly shrine, where He lay, in swaddling clothes, in a manger, so wise men of the East, probably a year later, guided by a strange meteor, came from their distant homes, to hail Him King, and to present to Him tokens of their homage, suited to His regal character. These were Gentiles. Their act of worship and of oblation pre-signified the future subjection to Him of the Gentile race; as the visit of the shepherds foretokened the future discipleship of the Jews; and, both together, emblemized that universal worship [3/4] in which every knee shall bow to Him, and every tongue confess Him to be Lord. Both events, the visit of the shepherds and the visit of the wise men, were brought about by supernatural causes, the mission of an angel, and the appearance of a miraculous star. They both, therefore, originated in the counsels of Heaven. God was the author of the one and of the other. And this it is which gives to both their high significancy and importance. God does nothing uselessly, or without meaning. If He called Jewish shepherds to the birth-place of His Son, by the voice of an angelic herald, one of the messengers of the court of Heaven, it was because He would show to His chosen people their Saviour. And, if He led the wise men of the East, by a new luminary, going before and guiding their steps, until they knelt, in humble reverence, by the couch of the child Jesus, it was because He would teach them, and their brethren of all lands and of all ages, that this same Saviour was, also, to be a Light to the Gentiles, and God's salvation unto the end of the earth.
Hence it is, that the Festival of the Epiphany derives its position and its value among the observances of the Church. It commemorates our right and title, as Gentiles, to the privileges and blessings of the Gospel. The old religion was for the Jews only: the new religion is for all mankind. The former was national; the latter is catholic; which means "for all." In keeping the Epiphany, we commemorate the first event which signified this great truth. We commemorate the event, for the sake of the truth which it signified. In itself, that event might have passed without notice. But, as showing that we are fellow-heirs with [4/5] the ancient people of God; that unto us, as well as unto them, is born a Saviour; it possesses for us a peculiar and striking interest; and the day which commemorates it becomes a day of singular joy and gladness, which spread themselves along through the whole of the Epiphany season that follows. For, what on earth is there to be compared with the fact, that we have a Saviour; that we are not left in heathenish darkness; that on us a Light has risen, "to guide our feet into the way of peace?" And what day rises, in significance and interest, above that day which brings this glorious fact to our minds? One would think that it would be heralded with universal acclamations of delight; that every heart which cherishes a Christian hope would sing of it as the day of days, the birth-day of our spiritual independence; the day when God showed, to our hitherto forsaken Gentile tribes, a new light, resting on the manger; a new light, gilding the Cross on Calvary; a new light, striking onward over the tumultuous waves of our human life; banishing the darkness of the grave; and illuminating the "undiscovered country" beyond, with the soft rays of peace and hope.
"When, marshalled on the nightly plain,
The glittering host bestud the sky,
One star alone of all the train
Can fix the sinner's wandering eye.
"Hark! hark! to God the chorus breaks
From all the host, from every gem;
But, one alone the Saviour speaks:
It is the Star of Bethlehem."
Ah, brethren, if that star had never risen; if the [5/6] glorious light which it shed on us had never dawned upon the earth; we should have groped, helplessly, in the shadow of death, until our feet had "stumbled upon the dark mountains."
It seems to me, sometimes, an incurable obstinacy of ignorance and prejudice which looks upon the observance of Church days as a matter of mere ceremony, or an extravagance of ritualism, or a badge of partizanship. There are, even, people professing and calling themselves Churchmen, who have no higher and better idea of the keeping of a Festival or a Fast, than this; who suppose that it denotes something more than the duty belonging to a member of the Church; that it is, in fine, an indication of a temper and disposition which are not satisfied with moderate views and practices. He who follows such observances, is called a High Churchman, if not something worse; as if he exceeded the metes and bounds within which one might be designated, simply, a "Churchman." Let me ask, What is a Churchman? Who is the man who deserves that title, without any prefix of High or Low? The question is one worthy to be answered; and, I may not have a more fitting opportunity of doing it than now.
A Churchman is one who follows what his Church prescribes, without adding to it, or deducting from it. Such a one is merely, purely, simply, a Churchman; nothing more, nothing less.
What the Church prescribes, is found in her standard and rule of worship and observance; which is, the Prayer-Book. He, then, who keeps himself, most exactly and strictly, to the Prayer-Book, and he alone, deserves to be called a Churchman. Isit not so? [6/7] No other title, whether High or Low, Puseyite or Radical, Romish or Sectarian, suits him. He alone follows no fancy of his own. He simply conforms to the rule which binds him as an honest member of the Church. He is, therefore, a Churchman; and that is all men can fairly say of him. But there are Church people, so calling themselves, who will speak of such a one as if there were something extravagant about him. He rises above their level, that is certain. But what is their own position? It is one which allows them to neglect almost every thing which the Church, of which they profess to be faithful members, has provided for their use; provided, of course, with the desire and intention that they shall use it; almost every thing, I say, beyond the keeping of Sunday, and two or three of the great Festivals and Fasts. And yet they, forsooth, call themselves Churchmen; while him who does more, they call High, or suspect of Romanizing. It is hard to keep patience with such defamers. Unfaithful themselves to the Church; neglectful of most that she has set forth and appointed for their spiritual benefit; they make their own delinquent practice a standard of right; and him who exceeds it; though it be in simple obedience to the requisitions of the Church to which they are faithless, they consider as excessive.
They may say, that theirs is the common practice; and this may be true enough. But, so much worse for the multitude. The common practice is not the rule; the Church's prescriptions are the rule; and this rule every one is bound to obey, so far as may be in his power, in order to be a true, sincere and loyal Churchman.
Brethren, the question has lately been agitated, is [7/8] now agitated, with regard to Church observances, especially in the department of Ritualism. I will venture the prediction, that developments in this line will not cease; but, on the contrary, will open into still broader and higher developments. At least, I know that plans are in motion to this end. It becomes every Churchman to know his ground, and to take it; to take it considerately and wisely; not in passion, or evil speaking, or hasty denunciation, or bitter prejudice against brethren who may be considered as erring, in the one direction or the other; condemning them, perchance, without knowing the truth of what they are doing; but, with such attention to law, to prescription and to authoritative usage, that he will not find, when calmer reason prevails, the ground on which he has planted himself sinking away from beneath him.
There is but one position that a Churchman can take that he may be sure of; which will keep him safe against every aggression; and that is the Prayer-Book; and, by this, I mean the whole Prayer-Book, and nothing but the Prayer-Book. There is no other possible ground for union; and this is the authoritative ground for us all. But we see the Prayer-Book departed from, and that in two directions. While one rides over Rubrics, appointed usages, aye, and Canons, too, in utter indifference to the Church's law; another, while he keeps the whole law, goes beyond the law, and adds to it ceremonies, forms and practices hitherto unheard of. How is the balance to be cast between them? I say, with an unhesitating sense of justice and fairness in the matter, if the one is to be tolerated, so is the other. The Church's liberality of allowance must be equal towards the two extremes. I do not like either. But [8/9] one, I see, is permitted, and has always been permitted; and that extreme would fain judge and condemn the other. It is doing so, most bitterly and virulently. I do not see the fairness of this treatment. "Thou hypocrite! first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." At present, thy vision is all distorted and jaundiced. Thou hast no more right to judge thy brother than thy brother to judge thee. A Rubric violated by diminution, is quite as bad as a Rubric violated by excess. So far, then, I am prepared to defend the new Ritualism. In all fairness, Churchmen should have as much liberty in one direction as in the other. Liberty seems to be established, on the one hand; then concede it, equally, on the other.
But, for myself, and for my parish, I would choose neither. I have but one rule; and by that I abide. Whatever the Church has appointed, I fulfil; and, wherever, (as is true in some matters of form,) the Church has given no direction, I follow the usage which is approved by the best authorities. Has the Church appointed daily Morning and Evening Prayer? I have it. It is her rule; therefore, it is mine. Does she give me a table of Feasts, and say, they are "to be observed throughout the year?" and, does she provide services for that observance? I say, it is manifestly my duty to keep those Feasts, and to give my people an opportunity of doing so. Does she set out a table of Fasts, and say, that on those days, she "requires such a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion;" and, for many of them, does she appoint special [9/10] forms of service? It is enough. The days are to be kept as she appoints. And, so of other things; for, I need not carry you through all the rules and Rubrics and Orders of services written in your Prayer-Books; a book, by the way, which very few Church people have ever carefully, thoroughly and minutely studied. No; I have but one ambition in this matter; and that is, to keep myself and my Church to the exact observance of what she has appointed, to whose voice, as that of our spiritual Mother, we are all bound to listen. This, I say, is the position of safety; it is more; it is the position of duty; and it is the position to which we must all come at last, if we are ever to have perfect union and uniformity in the Church.
I have said what I intended to say when I began, though I have departed from the subject with which I began. I now return to it. Brethren, how many of you kept the Feast of the Epiphany, or took any note of it whatever? I will venture to say, not one in ten. And yet, you call yourselves Churchmen; and, perhaps, would be somewhat offended if any one questioned the fidelity of your allegiance. By what standard do you judge yourselves? Not the Church's standard, surely. And, what other standard is there, conformity with which can entitle one even to the name of Churchman? A Churchman is one who follows a certain rule of religious practice; and that rule is the ordinance of the Church. He who does not conform to it, is no Churchman, whatever he may call himself. Some one may say, that his only endeavor is to be a good Christian. True; that is, or ought to be, the main endeavor of every one. But, none can be a good Christian without some method and order of growth. The Methodist [10/11] has his method; which is, conformity to the religious rules and practices of his denomination. What he is as a Christian, he is by the training which these give him. So it is with the Roman Catholic. So it is with every species and style of Christian. And so it must be with the Churchman. All that the Church appoints is merely as aids and instruments of spiritual growth. All has this intent; no more. It is not for form, for mere outward observance, that she ordains any thing. It is, simply, her way of training her children for the Kingdom of Heaven. And, if her way is neglected, they cannot, possibly, be such Christians as she would make them. To be Christians at all, we must follow some course of religious life. To be a Churchman is, simply, to be a Christian who follows the Church's course of religious life. And, if you do not follow that, you follow none, but one of your own devising; most probably you have no settled rule or system of growth at all.
Now, see how the Epiphany comes in, as a single item in the Church's order of religious culture. It is not the mere keeping of a Festival. It is not the mere performance of a ceremony. It is the expression and celebration of a truth; a truth by which you are to be nourished, both in religious doctrine, and in your personal hope of salvation. The Saviour is set forth before you, on that day, in a most attractive form; the Saviour of the Gentiles as of the Jews; your Saviour, as being children of the Gentiles. This takes hold of the New Covenant of God. It shows you what that covenant is, and how you are embraced in it. It reveals the very source of your hope. It nourishes that hope. It confirms your individual title to salvation. Is this [11/12] mere form, and ceremony, and idle formality? or, does it touch the very springs of your life? Therefore, you keep the Feast; therefore, the Church appoints it. And, if you would yield to her guidance in every thing that pertains to your Christian course, you would see, in the end, what manner of Christians you would become; for there is nothing which can excel the richness of doctrine, the fulness of teaching, or the quiet, steady and orderly perfection of practice, to which she would bring you. You must be Christians of one stamp or another. You cannot be of any other stamp than hers, as you place yourselves under no other impression. And hers you will not, fairly and fully, receive, unless you yield yourselves, fairly and fully, to it. Then, indeed, you will find how, by being perfect Churchmen, you may come to attain the highest perfection of a. Christian.
Keep, we beseech Thee, O LORD, Thy Church with
Thy perpetual mercy; and because the frailty of man
without Thee cannot but fall; keep us ever by Thy
help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things
profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.