WASHINGTON COUNTY, MD.,
NOVEMBER 23RD, 1845,
COLLEGE OF ST. JAMES, Nov. 23d, 1845.
To the Rev. John B. Kerfoot, Rector, &c.
We the undersigned, professors and instructors in the College of St. James, cordially approving of the sentiments contained in your sermon of this morning, and believing that its circulation might at this time be productive of good, respectfully ask a copy for publication, in such form as may be thought most appropriate.
With sentiments of the truest regard, we remain, dear sir, affectionately your friends.
JOSEPH C. PASSMORE,
GEO. W. COAKLAY,
DWIGHT E. LYMAN,
SAML. H. KERFOOT,
R. G. H. CLARKSON,
JOSEPH P. CLARKSON.
NOVEMBER 25TH, 1845.
My beloved brethren:
I herewith submit to your disposal a copy of the sermon delivered in the chapel on Sunday morning last. I do it with much hesitation. Though the opinions expressed had been long and earnestly held, and seriously pondered, yet the preparation of the sermon was unavoidably made with a haste which you, who share in so busy a life as ours, may be more ready than others to excuse. Besides, in writing I had no thought beyond our household congregation, to whom I felt not only free, but in duty bound, to speak as one having authority. The sad news of the secessions from our mother Church, though not unexpected, had been a painful and absorbing topic among us. One of the seceders had long been endeared to us and to many by his stirring and heart-Beaching admonitions to deeper holiness and devotion. And though we had for no little time been learning to distrust his teachings and to reject his guidance, yet we still hoped. The utter disappointment of these hopes, though not unlooked for, was yet deeply painful. Reflections like those offered you were often in my mind, and I freely expressed them in our own pulpit. I hope, however, that my consenting to your request for the publication of such views on such a subject, may not justly expose me to the charge of presumption. Perhaps, as you hope, these remarks may be of use to some anxious minds. At any rate they will shew to those who have a right to ask it, what is the [5/6] tone of our teaching here on these points. This latter is my chief motive in acceding to the request you have made. I need not say that the unanimity with which you made it, has been very grateful to me. Praying that in this and in all our acts, we may subserve the interests of the Church for which we are here laboring,
I am, very affectionately and faithfully,
Your brother and servant in Christ,
JOHN B. KERFOOT.
To the Rev. Profs. TREVETT,
COAKLEY, &C. &C.
SERMON. ST. JOHN, iv. 22. We know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
I DESIRE to approach these words in a spirit of seriousness. They fell from the lips of our blessed Saviour Himself, and therefore, like all His words when among men, they claim a very especial reverence. They who use them and adapt them to present circumstances and needs, should take care not to wrest them from their true meaning. I trust I shall not be so doing now. I wish from them to teach this lesson,--that, born anew and living in the Church of Christ as we are, we must cherish the undoubting, the unvarying assurance, and we must constantly and fearlessly express that assurance, that our faith, the faith of the Church, is the true faith; our God, the God of the Church, the true God; and our Church, the true Church of the Living God, and the pillar and the ground of His truth.
On these points, or rather on this point, for they all make but one truth, we are to have no doubt: we are to admit no possibility of a doubt, of an error as to the fact. We are in the Church; Her teachings are truth; Her sacraments are life; out of Her, beyond Her walls, now and always, we may look for no blessing. We know what we worship.
For salvation is of the Jews. Salvation is of and from the Church. She is divine in her origin and in her guidance, and she is ever full of the Divine Presence. [7/8] Therefore salvation is within her. Of this we are to have no doubt. We are to be fully assured, not only that we may be saved in her, but that for us, there is no other way of salvation. She is to us, the one, the only appointed way and channel of life eternal. We need seek no other; we dare seek no other; nay, we dare not think it possible that we ever could seek any other. The thought of any such possibility is a temptation; if harbored, it is a sin, and one, beyond most others, full of peril.
Such language sounds positive. But how else should the Church speak? And are not we but her mouthpieces? Surely she does not doubt the reality of her own being, her own truth and authority. How then may our thoughts and our words be doubtful?
But--says the world--such language is uncharitable, it is bigoted. None, however, will dare to say this of the sacred words of our Lord. Yet what did He say? "Ye know not what ye worship: We know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews." And this to a poor Samaritan woman, who for aught that appears to the contrary, was honest in her belief. He told her that the Samaritans were utterly ignorant and wholly mistaken; that the true faith was confined to the Jews; and that with them rested exclusively the covenanted means and ways of salvation. But then, some may reply, this was true in the case of the Samaritans, and He who spoke, knew it to be true and therefore it was right so to speak; it was no want of charity to make the assertion.--Equally true is the language as applied to the Christian Church now. If it be not so applicable, then are we adrift, there is no sure foundation of [8/9] our hopes for eternity. We say this not as a matter of' private opinion, but we declare it of the Church that she so speaks of herself, and so teaches us to believe and hold regarding her. She has no doubts of her own character. She therefore permits her children neither to hold nor to express any such doubts. I am not now speaking of those who have never been in her; but of such as we, who are in and of her. She tells us that she is, and is ever to be to us, the only depository of the faith, the only channel of life: that we are to know this; to be fully assured of it, to speak as well as to feel unhesitatingly, confidently about it. We are to regard the sure foundations of our Church, as thoroughly settled as the foundations of Christianity itself. If there be any such thing among men as a Church founded by Christ, then we are in it. We are not for a moment to admit a doubt, nor for a moment to admit the possibility of our ever doubting where we are.
Yet,--is it said--that no mind can deny such a possibility--that better and wiser, and holier than we have doubted?--And what of that?--Better and wiser and holier than we have doubted and--have fallen. But shall I therefore wrong the grace of God and weaken its power over my own heart, by anticipating such an hour, such an act of woe and sin for myself? Shall I think of it as aught but sin and so prepare myself for it?--God forbid!--The question for us all is settled,--settled forever. Doubts, if they come, come from Satan. They are temptations, blessed to us if we resist them; sins, if we cherish, nay, if we tolerate them.
A very comfortable belief indeed is this, some may say,--but is it a rational, a right doctrine?--I certainly [9/10] think so for all of us here. Some of us, finding ourselves in the Church from the first, or by ways not of our own choosing, have since learned and studied, and are therefore settled. All others of us have equally good reason to be settled and to feel so, for they are where God has placed them, and where each day shows them more and more clearly, that the true Church and Body of Christ is to be found. We are thus to regard the home of our souls on earth as found and fixed. To indulge a feeling of unsettledness is a sin, for it springs from a lack of faith. If we had faith, passing occurrences, however strange, would not disturb us. It is, too, a sin of pride. We act as though we had the power and the right to know all about every point before we submit; or we assume that our hearts are holy enough and our lives faithful enough to test by our own experience the power and grace of the Church; and this is none the less pride because in some men it is satisfied by their rushing into schemes and principles which solve all their doubts by proving to them that they have no right to think. Or if such feelings of restlessness do come, though not indulged but rejected, still let us regard them as temptations. They tempt us to self-dependence in casting away our trust in Christ and His Church. And they may induce temptations to wider scepticism, for if we admit any doubt as to the strength of the pillar and ground of the truth, how long may the truth itself be safe? At any rate such restlessness, such a lack of quiet trust and confidence deadens the life of religion: It will meet us, priest and people alike, in our most solemn hours and mar our holiest acts. We must suffer from it, and therefore we ought most [10/11] carefully to resist it. We know what we worship: Salvation is in and of the Church. Thus assured, our way is clear. Let others doubt; we are quiet. Others may waste their time in battling with the unbelief they have admitted, and may fall by their sin. We refuse to doubt, and can thus bend all our energies to live and act as we should, to grow holy and heavenly as we may and ought in the home that we know our God has given to our souls.
But will not such a spirit, some again may ask, keep those who are now in error still astray from the fold? No, I think not. Submissive faith is not the spirit of those bodies of Christians which have sprung up in modern times. They teach men not to believe submissively, but to doubt and inquire boldly. With most of them the Church is no reality. Each one stands alone to think and judge and decide for himself. Among them, doubtless, are many meek spirits of submissive faith. Of such as these not a few are led by an unseen Hand, and so feel after Christ and find Him in His Church. Or if left still without, they are yet by that submissive temper shielded from most of the evils in which they seem to be involved. Having not seen they believe; and surely a blessing awaits them. And when upon any such trustful soul there breaks the light of true Church history, we think that such an one cannot well fail to see in our communion the home where faith may rest undisturbed by doubt. This change, of course, involves disturbance to such a spirit; but this can be only where one so trustful has been resting in error. What I would say is this--that such a spirit cannot, without some sinful forsaking of itself, ever be seriously disturbed in the Church; [11/12] much less be lured away from her pale. The impatient and unbelieving can no where be safe. Not even in the Church then can there be any quiet rest, any hill assurance or any vigorous growth of the soul, if there lurk within any doubt, any fear as to the character of her home. Such fears, we must believe, may naturally arise in the most humble and trustful member of a modern sect. Such societies fail to moot the wants and cravings of the soul. They offer the soul nothing on which to rely; they embody nothing, they perpetuate nothing. Tried by historic tests, too, they fail; they appear at once to be the changeful, perishing creatures of human device. Increasing piety, self-knowledge and learning will then, we believe, bring many--the purest and most trustful of the sects, over to us. Those of a different temper we should not seek; they can never prove a blessing or a gain to us; they will only bring their restless dispositions with them. And by like sound influences, do we also believe, that faithful spirits may and do come over to us from the corruptions of Rome. They have in her a Church, and this stays their souls the longer. Rome has all that the sects lack; but then she has added besides much that her Lord does not sanction. She binds impious burdens on the faith and practise of her members, from which pure spirits may well seek to escape to the easy yoke and light burden of the Saviour. Such, we know, are the yoke and burden which the Church calls upon us to carry. The deeper, then, the learning, the holier the life in our communion, the firmer the assurance of a quiet, patient spirit among us. Such an one will ever more and more realize that this Church is indeed the Body of Christ, not a mere [12/13] human society. Historical tests,--the only ones, remember, by which we are ever safe in determining where our allegiance is due, such tests will most clearly shew that the Church is apostolic in her origin and in the line of her ministry; well ordered in her liturgy and government; and efficacious in her offices and sacraments. Compare her with every rival claimant, none has claims like hers. Sects of yesterday laugh at such tests; Rome cannot endure them. We hold to the word of God as interpreted by pure antiquity; Rome claims the right to teach what she will, no matter how novel or absurd, under fearful anathemas, unrestrained by the Bible and unshamed by the truth of better days. We give both the Body and the Blood of Christ to his members as He commanded; Rome mutilates, it is to be feared, nullifies, His sacrament by denying her members His blood. We seek union and communion with all sister churches; Rome ruthlessly robs, dismembers and crushes them wherever she can. And shall such as she win, even for a moment, one longing look from me? Shall I ever so little esteem, so forget the fair beauty of the Zion where God has placed me, as to deem it possible for an instant that I could ever be at home where the beauty of God's House has been so marred and defiled? No--never; for we know what we worship; we know where and where only for us is the true salvation.
Such thoughts as these have of late been much in my own mind, and it has seemed to me a duty to express them here, in the hope that they might aid and comfort you all, my brethren; though I have addressed myself chiefly to the older portion of you. My only regret is that I have not been able to express these reflections as [13/14] earnestly as I cherish them. This is a time when Churchmen need such thoughts. Of late we have had much at home to give pain to our hearts and trial to our faith. And now sad news comes to our ears from that good old Church, which we love as the mother of our own. Churchmen may well be tried, but tempted they need not be. Let them in holy confidence even now rest and stand in their lot. They sadly need, I grant it, a more earnest practice. But how will any practice and obey fully, if they can at all imagine their allegiance to the Church to be a thing subject to the control of outward events or inward fancies? How unfair, too, are they who would leave their own duty to depend on the demeanor of others, or on their own feelings of comfort? Why should it matter how things may go on around us? With thoughts like these, we can find no difficulty in deciding how we are to act and feel, though brethren still of the same communion think and teach differently from ourselves. Are we thereby to be brought to doubt the truth of our guide, because some who ought to follow her do not so? Far otherwise. Let us honestly and laboriously study to know what the Church teaches; let us read that doctrine in our Bibles; and let us practise it. She is not responsible for the defects of her members, if only she provide them sound teaching. And certainly we are not responsible for our brethren. The Church allows us all freedom of thought; she forbids only licentiousness. Let us not be so inconsistent as to use our liberty to the utmost, while we deny that freedom to our neighbors. And let us be satisfied with the doctrines and offices of the Church as they are. It is [14/15] the part of a restless, not of a quiet, trustful spirit, to seek needless changes at the price of peace.
And what are we to say or to feel about the fervent piety of those not with us? Think and speak of such piety, on which side soever of ns found, in the same way. Thank God for what may seem the overflowing of His grace beyond its own channel. He has told us how and where to find Him. If, as the reward of faith,--greater than which He sees not any,--no not in Israel,--He meets and blesses others where we rightly believe there was no promise that he would, let us thank Him, and humbly repent that we use not better over surer promises and our fuller supplies.
And how, say you, are we to feel and speak of those who leave us, or rather not us, but the Church of Christ? [The question suggests itself, whether any can so annul their allegiance to a pure branch of the Church, as to be able to form any real connexion with another branch? e. g. can one deserting the communion of the Anglican or American Church, form any real connexion with Christ through the Church of Rome? as real in connexion even as that which we hope may exist between Christ and one barn in the Church of Rome?] We should pity them, as we pity any who err. We should pray for them, that lie against whom they sin may yet show them their error and bring them back to His fold. But shall their defection make us uneasy? Shall their--perhaps deserved reputation for piety and learning, make us think even for a moment that they may be right and the Church wrong? Never Their hearts let Him only judge who made and reads the heart. But the act itself, no matter by whom done, is sin, fearful, perilous, and, if unforgiven, fatal to the soul. We may, nay we ought to pray that,--in weakness of body or mind, or in peculiarity of temperament, or in [15/16] lack of faith--faith to suffer on and endure for the truth's sake,--Mercy may, find the palliative which shall save the unhappy wanderer from the guilt and penalty of the sin. But the sin is the same. We must not call it by gentle names; rather, lest we too might fall, we must see it and pronounce it what it is--rebellious schism. We must not judge the fallen;--neither may we pronounce them guiltless. They shall answer to their God; and so must we. Therefore should we study the melancholy history to see where the error began, that we may shun the same sad end.
And O let us pray penitently for our own sins, each one for himself. So "that when we shall have served God in our generation, we may be gathered unto our fathers, having the testimony of a good conscience; in the communion of the CATHOLIC Cnuncn; in the confidence of a CERTAIN FAITH; in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope; in favor with our God, and in perfect charity with the world. All which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord." Amen.