RT. REV. JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, D. D., LL. D.
BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE OF VERMONT.
S. HANMER & CO.--CALENDAR PRESS.
MR. DEAN AND GENTLEMEN OF THE HOUSE OF CONVOCATION:
In surveying the present condition of the world, there are many thoughtful and sober-minded Christian men who believe that they behold various signs of a close approach to the end of the present dispensation. They think that the last days predicted in Scripture are passing over us, in which there should be "scoffers walking after their own lusts and saying, Where is the promise of His coming"--"perilous times when men should be lovers of their own selves; covetous, proud, boasters, despisers of government, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy"--when there should be "wars and rumors of wars, and the powers of the earth should be shaken"--when it should be "as it was in the days of Noah. They ate, and they drank, they bought and they sold, they builded and they planted, they married and were given in marriage, and knew not, until the flood came and destroyed them all"--when "men should run to and fro, and knowledge should be increased", and yet the life of true religion should sink so low as to give a fearful emphasis to the mournful question [3/4] of the Saviour: "When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?"
But methinks I hear you say, that this is a strange introduction to an Address on such an occasion as the present. For are we not assembled to do honor to the Annual Commencement of your admirable College? Have we not come together to enjoy a literary feast! Do I not stand before the members of a noble Institution, on a day of appointed Jubilee? And why should the dark clouds of prophetic warning be cast over the horizon of your prosperity, instead of the cheering light of hopeful encouragement, which your successful labors have so well deserved? Why should the bright and glowing atmosphere of such a season be chilled by the freezing breath of stormy anticipation. There is a time for all things. But surely no time could be so inappropriate for a theme like this.
I am quite sensible that there is much plausibility in the objection. And yet I think the choice of my subject, peculiar as it is, may be vindicated without difficulty. First, because this is an eminently Christian College, to which the warnings of Scripture should never be unseasonable. Next, because the occasion is not all of joy, but is intermingled with not a little of doubt and sorrow. For now is the time when the pleasant bonds of College intercourse must be severed. Now the successful graduate must leave his cherished circle of literary association, to face the world. Now he must abandon these honored halls, the kind preceptors, the daily religious service, the welcome and regular routine of [4/5] lectures, and declamations, and societies, and pure intellectual exercise; and enter in earnest upon the stern and actual struggle of life. Therefore, it cannot be amiss that he should hear somewhat of the true condition of that world, where he is so soon to become an actor in the scene. And, as a Christian scholar, it cannot but impress him more deeply, if it be set before him under the view which many good men take of divine revelation. Nor can the lesson be given with more propriety, than by one who has almost finished his own course; and from whom, as well by age as by office, the sober words of religious counsel may rather be expected, than the exciting strain of high earthly hope, or vain glorious ambition.
And therefore, although I do not mean to stand committed to any school of prophetic interpretation, yet I propose to shew how close a correspondence may be traced between the predictions which I have cited, and the actual state of the world in our own day. And then, let the question of time be settled as it may, I shall proceed to prove that the only true ground of safety is in the promise of the Gospel, inherited by the Church, and secured in its strongest form, by a thorough Christian education.
1. I commence with our own country, which we all esteem, with justice, as the most privileged portion of the habitable globe. Those eminent sages and patriots who settled the government of these United States some seventy years ago, came to their task with the knowledge and experience of the old world to guide them. They improved upon all their [5/6] models, by adopting the good and avoiding the evil, in every previous system. They struck out a new and admirable scheme, by which each State might fully provide for its own internal administration, while the whole were bound together in all that related to war, and peace, and general commerce, and mutual rights, by a grand federal Constitution. They guarded against despotism, by making the rulers elective. They excluded the pride of aristocracy, by prohibiting all titles of nobility and the entailment of estates. They cut away the roots of religious intolerance, by giving equal rights to all religious sects, and refusing a special establishment to any Church or denomination. They made the people sovereign by the law of universal suffrage. And by these and other provisions, framed in a kindred spirit, they earned the praise of being the wise master-builders of the noblest republic in the world.
But no system of government can execute itself. Theory is one thing, and practice is another. Assuredly it is impossible to frame a more faultless Constitution than ours, if men were what they ought to be. We all know that the rulers of a Christian nation should be men of Christian character, wise and patriotic, just and disinterested, conscientious and pure. And when the choice of these rulers depends on the people, it results, evidently, that the voters must have intelligence and virtue to select such representatives; and therefore the whole practical working of the system rests upon the assumption that the nation at large must possess these qualities. How do we abide the test, after the seventy years of our brief experience?
 First, then, we hear, on every side, the charge of political corruption. Bribery is practised in all our elections. The spoils of office are expected, as a matter of course, by the victorious party. The President of the United States dares not to be impartial; for if he were, he would lose the confidence of his friends, without gaining the confidence of his enemies. The oldest statesmen and the most prominent, cannot follow the dictates of their own judgment and conscience, without being reproached as if they were laying a trap for the Presidential chair. The very laws of Congress are set down as the results of personal venality or ambition. The House of Representatives, and even the Senate Chamber, are disgraced every year by fierce passion and violent denunciation. The barbarous and unchristian duel is anticipated as quite inevitable, unless it be averted by explanations which may satisfy worldly honor, in utter contempt of all religious principle. And no member of either House can go to the performance of his public duties with any security that he may not be insulted by coarse invective, before the day is closed. Yet our rulers are never weary of lauding the character of Washington; as if they were quite convinced that the time had passed by, when they might be expected to verify the language of praise by the act of imitation.
When we look into the other classes of the community, the same charge of venality and corruption meets us again. Our merchants are accused of all sorts of dishonest management; our brokers, of stock-jobbing; our city aldermen, of bribery; our [7/8] lawyers, of knavery; our justices, of complicity with the guilty. The same worship of Mammon seems to govern the whole, and the current phrase "the almighty dollar" is a sad but powerful exponent of the universal sin which involves the mass of our population.
There are some specific evils, however, which demand a more pointed notice, as characteristic of our day. The feverish excitement which pushes forward our citizens to such wonderful results--the headlong haste to be rich and make a fortune--the reckless boldness which embarks in every scheme of danger, if it only promise profit or victory--all this affords no sign of principle or prudence, though it certainly displays full often a surprising amount of daring energy. That this same daring energy has produced innumerable examples of admirable heroism in the service of humanity, is not to be denied. But when we see it rising up against the majesty of the laws, at Erie, Milwaukee and even Boston; and mark its workings in Cuba, in Sonora, and not long since in the preparations of South Carolina to destroy the Union and deluge the nation with the blood of civil war, we behold an element of fearful power, which refuses to be restrained by any authority save the proud impulse of an imperious will.
To this source we may attribute the wild excesses of the abolition spirit, which openly tramples upon the Constitution, and would not hesitate to gain its object, at the sacrifice of peace or government or life. A kindred temper manifests itself in our "woman's rights" Conventions. But most of [8/9] all, we see it in the awful blasphemy with which the Bible is denounced, by male and female lecturers; while statesmen and politicians stoop to pander to this public outrage upon all religion and decency; totally forgetful of their high official duty as guardians of the faith and morals of the people, and ready to give their countenance to the most sacrilegious and wanton attacks upon the Word of God.
It would be strange, indeed, if we did not find, at such a time, the loudest complaints of the increase of juvenile depravity. It is well known that there are thousands of children, in our large cities, who are taught to live by crime: young in years, but old in wickedness. That beyond this most vicious circle, there is a universal relaxation of the Scriptural rule of filial obedience. That the wives of our age have no notion of submitting to their husbands, and that sons and daughters are accustomed to throw off the yoke of both the parents, and do precisely as they please. That the reverence for magistrates, ministers and teachers, which marked the early days of the republic, is generally exploded as obsolete. So that the apostle's description of the world, when men should be "heady, high-minded, disobedient to parents and despisers of government," is, unhappily, but too well verified, in the prevailing temper of our rising generation. Democracy has extended from the public rights of the citizen to the private relations of the family and the school. The sacred authority of the master and the father is merged in deference to the will of the majority at home. And the political privileges which the Constitution intended [9/10] to be exercised by intelligent and virtuous men, are practically assumed in every other department by fools and children.
That intemperance should abound in such an age, is only in accordance with its other attributes. It seems that men are no longer able to trust themselves or one another with the use of stimulants, which, operating on tempers and passions so sadly prepared, produce the most fatal consequences. What a frightful commentary does it afford on the increasing proclivity to evil, that the legislatures of this free country should find it necessary to bind the liberty of the citizen in a form unknown to all previous history? That the arguments of health, reason and religion have confessedly so lost their force on the masses in our country, that sobriety can only be expected by making the means of drunkenness inaccessible! But alas! It is not intemperance in drink which is our greatest danger, for men are now intemperate in every thing. Intemperate in the pursuit of wealth; intemperate in luxury and pleasure; intemperate in political ambition; intemperate in language and deportment even on the floor of Congress, with the eyes of the civilized world looking on. The old rules of temperance in all things have vanished from the common mind. The sin of intemperance in speech and action takes to itself the honorable names of manly self-respect and personal independence, and vice passes current in the mask of virtue.
The Press, of necessity, has its full share in the general deterioration. Party spirit there finds its [10/11] convenient organ, to scatter poison throughout the land. There is the ready instrument to manufacture a spurious reputation for one candidate, or vilify the worthy fame of another. There is the beguiling sophistry which praises the duellist in the national robe of the ambassador, and lifts the freebooter to the rank of a revolutionary hero. There is the daily trumpeter of every nauseous deed of individual villainy. There is the retailer of every jest which may provoke a laugh at the expense of religion. There is the prolific fountain of licentious books and pamphlets, cheapened and illustrated to entice the lovers of exciting fiction. There is the willing adjunct of infidelity, profanity, rebellion, false morality, and every form of assault, direct and indirect, upon the principles of law and order. And hence it is another mournful index to the character of the age. Because the publishers print only what they know will sell, and their work would soon cease, if the public taste did not support them.
And when, from all this, we turn to the state of religion, how little do we behold to animate, and how much to deplore! On every side, we hear complaints of the rapidly decreasing reverence for the Christian Sabbath. On every side we see an alarming falling off from the number of candidates for the ministry. The population of the country is growing with wonderful speed, and the teachers of religion, instead of multiplying in an equal proportion, are actually less than they were twenty years ago. The divisions of sect, instead of diminishing, are increasing. Denominations, once united and [11/12] apparently prosperous, are splitting up among themselves, and the numbers of faithful professors are so far from enlarging, that they are notoriously dwindling away. The Bible, though liberally distributed in every quarter, is studied little and followed less. Romanism lifts up her imperious head, and laughs at the general confusion, and boasts that she possesses the only panacea for all these evils. And yet her Bishops and priests know full well that their power is waning day by day; that their pope stands upon a volcano of revolutionary violence, ready to break forth at the first opportunity; that half of their people who swell the population of the United States desert their corrupted Church; that they are rapidly losing ground in Ireland, in Italy, in South America, and really gaining nowhere. In fact, the Christian religion, in every form, is attacked with more open boldness than at any former period. False philosophy, pretended science, spiritualism, rationalism, are all busily at work; and the light of the world is growing more and more faint, as the clouds of scepticism multiply and thicken around it.
When we look to the state of foreign countries, we see a general mustering of the hosts to battle. The Russian and the Turk are in arms. England and France are in the field, and there is scarcely a power in Europe that may not be forced into the contest, which promises to be the most universal, the most complicated, and the most desolating that the world has ever seen. But the warlike elements at work are not now of the usual character. The [12/13] existing governments of that mighty continent have their most dangerous enemies amongst their own subjects. Republicanism, Communism, Agrarianism, are all existing in the hearts of their people, and they are only waiting for the opportunity to rise against their masters, and throw the internal state of every monarchy into wild confusion. Italy and Spain are ready for revolt. Hungary and Poland are panting for the deadly struggle. Even China is far gone in revolution. As to morals and religion, the progress is downwards towards indulgence and infidelity; and the influx of foreigners amongst ourselves is too generally seen to be of the most unprincipled and profane character.
And how are the elements of anarchy, at this moment, operating, in our own highly privileged country? We behold a new and vigorous combination at work, to correct, by a secret society, the real or supposed evils created by our foreign population. Disunion is threatened more loudly than ever. The North and the South are again excited against each other, while the master-spirits who controlled the last storm are passed away. Cuba, Japan, and Mexico are but too likely to furnish us with elements for bloody strife. And some already talk of the right and the policy of our nation, now grown so great, to assert its power in the wars of the Europeans. To what period of the world's history, then, may we apply more surely the awful words of prophecy, than to that which seems now to be not only approaching, but actually begun?
And, in the midst of it all, we see the fulfilment [13/14] of the other prediction, "that men should run to and fro, and knowledge should be increased." This is verified to an extent utterly beyond all former example. The last thirty years stand pre-eminent for immense improvements in the arts. The earth is traversed with a speed which exceeds the most extravagant anticipation. Intelligence is transmitted on the wings of electricity. Men converse together with ease across mountains and continents, and even along the bottom of the ocean. The number of travellers is multiplied more than a thousand fold. Inventions have sprung up in every other department, as if some new and unaccountable energy was urging the human mind to its ultimate earthly developments. Nothing is too vast to be undertaken--nothing too strange to be believed. Mortal ingenuity and power have become accustomed to talk almost in the language of omnipotence. But the tendency of the whole is not to lead their hearts to God. This vast advance gives no correspondent influence to morals or religion. On the contrary, it only helps to inflame the lust of gold, to confirm their proud self-confidence, and lead them farther than ever from the knowledge of the Saviour.
Such, then, is the melancholy array of facts, to which many religious minds appeal, in applying those warning predictions of the word of God, to our nineteenth century. I confess, however, that the picture may be exaggerated. The outlines may be too sharply drawn. The coloring may be too dark. The expression may be too repulsive. For [14/15] it is certain, and I rejoice to acknowledge it, that with all this evil, there is still a large amount of good. I know, and am devoutly thankful, that we have still a multitude who revere the Bible--who are constantly occupied in plans of piety and Christian benevolence--who are busy in missions to the heathen, and missions to the poor--who mourn over the divisions of Zion, and the growing ungodliness of the age; and long, with earnest yearning, to contribute their share in the improvement and regeneration of the world around them. I know that the Press is used, in their hands, for the best interests of humanity--that we have still Churches and ministers, to proclaim the tidings of salvation--still, editors and statesmen who boldly maintain the truth--still, a mighty host who are honestly determined to read, and hear, and courageously sustain them. Yet it must be admitted that there is evil enough to justify alarm. There is reason enough to rouse our attention to the dangers which surround us. And no thoughtful believer can deny that the aspect of the times calls most loudly upon the soldiers of Christ, "to contend manfully under His banner, against the world, the flesh and the devil."
2. And here, when I look around me for an ark of safety, you will not be surprised at the frank avowal that I can only find it in our own favored Church--that Church which I hold to be, pre-eminently, the Church of the Bible--the Church of the apostles--the Church of Christ--the only Church in the world which, after cleansing herself from the defilements [15/16] of Popery, has remained the same--firm, united and unbroken--to the present hour. What other Church of modern times has secured to such extent the constant and regular teaching of the Scriptures by the lips of her ministers, on the Lord's Day? What other Church has established the great duty of divine worship, as the common and responsive work of the pastor and the flock? What other Church represents so faithfully the primitive government of "apostles, elders, and brethren," in the legislative function? What other Church has put her whole system of teaching, worship and discipline into a shape so easily accessible to all her members? What other Church stands, at this day, so strong upon the Rock of Ages, with the sure promise that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her"? And what other Church has so many proofs of increasing favor from all candid and reflecting men, in the midst of the general discord and confusion?
For if we look to our advance in the United States, under the weighty disadvantages of the Revolutionary war, which placed us, for many years, under a cloud of political odium, we find that we have grown, from a very humble beginning, up to 35 acting Bishops, and 1650 clergymen; while every State and Territory is partially supplied, and we have extended our work to Africa and China. Our numbers, indeed, are still far below those of several Christian sects, but our ratio of increase has gone greatly beyond them. The character of our people stands in the highest rank for position and intelligence. [16/17] Witness the fact that out of the 13 Presidents of the United States, Washington, Monroe, Madison, Harrison, Tyler, and Taylor, were Episcopalians. Witness the fact that Calhoun, Clay, and Webster, were the same, to say nothing of the numerous living lights of the nation. It is also certain that our services are the most acceptable, because they are the best adapted, to the army and the navy. And the movements of our Church are regarded with much more general interest throughout the land, than those of any other.
But our American Church is only a fraction of the whole; for we belong to the vast communion of the Church of England, which we acknowledge as our mother. There we behold a mighty establishment, with its two Archbishops, and twenty-six Bishops in England and Wales, comprehending more than half the population; while the rest are divided and subdivided into sects, and all feeling, more and more, the evils of causeless disunion. We see, next, the Church of Ireland, with her two Archbishops and ten Bishops, growing in prosperity, and making large inroads upon her old and inveterate enemy, the corrupt Church of Rome. We see the Church of Scotland, with her seven Bishops, rising in importance, while the Presbyterian Kirk is torn by internal distraction, and becoming weaker every day. We see twenty-eight colonial Bishops, engaged in planting the Church throughout the world, in the East Indies and China, in Africa, in North America, in Australia, in the Islands,--all the additions of the present century, and all indicating an expansive [17/18] growth of increasing power. The sum total of the whole gives us one hundred and eight Bishops, with nearly thirty thousand clergy and assistants;--a grand sacramental host, firmly united by the same faith, the same apostolic ministry, the same system of worship; and commanding, in the intelligence and social elevation of their millions of laymen, the best and highest influence for the religious and moral renovation of the world.
When the thoughtful Christian surveys all this, in connexion with the alarming aspect of the age, it seems impossible to evade the conclusion that it is the special work of God, for a special purpose. For it is the language of the divine promise that "When the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him." And here, my respected friends, I must ask your kind attention to the reasons which lead me to adopt this view of our subject.
First, then, I pray you to observe that this extraordinary growth of the Church of England and her offspring is not, in the slightest degree, the result of a spirit of propagandism. It has indeed been made a subject of reproach, that our Church has had so little of a proselyting or aggressive character.--Constantly attacked by Rome on the one hand, and the various Protestant sects upon the other, her ministers have often been compelled to justify their principles in self defence; but, for the most part, they have been busied in their proper work of preaching the Gospel, without seeking to interfere [18/19] with the free choice or personal preference of those around them.
We may observe, secondly, that this recent and remarkable growth of the Church has had no connexion whatever with the acts of secular government, but the contrary. The rulers of Great Britain have done much to favor Popery, by the admission of Romanists to Parliament, by the endowment of the papal colleges, by cutting off ten Irish bishoprics from their own Church, and by the general tone of their policy in every part of the empire; while they have done nothing to encourage their national system of religion, but rather prefer to treat it with a jealous severity, in order to gain favor from its declared enemies. In Ireland, the Church has had to contend under every disadvantage, crippled by the power which ought to have sustained her. In Scotland, she has had to encounter the established weight of Presbyterianism. In Canada, she has been robbed of her old parliamentary grant, of her first college, and of a large portion of her Clergy reserves; while the most delicate consideration was displayed towards every claim of Romanism. So accommodating was the course of the British Governors, that their soldiers were obliged, in the East Indies, to turn out in honor of the festivals of Juggernaut, and, in Malta, to kneel down at the passage of the Host, which the law of English faith pronounces to be flat idolatry. These grosser errors of indulgence, I presume, are now corrected; but still the whole tenor of their policy continues to prove that the increase of the national [19/20] Church has no place in their scheme of official duty.
In the United States, indeed, the government is at least impartial, and there is nothing in its action of which we have any special reason to complain.--But the Church in this country has been compelled to struggle against a vast preponderance of popular ignorance and prejudice, regularly misrepresented at the anniversaries held in commemoration of the Plymouth fathers, and industriously set forth as the friend of that very Popery, of which she is the most uncompromising antagonist. On the whole therefore, we are obliged to confess that we stand indebted, not to the encouragement of government or people, but to the special hand of God, for our advancement and our increase, throughout the world; and we see that in the history of the Church, as well as in that of her divine Founder, even "the wrath of man has been made to praise Him, while the remainder of that wrath has been restrained."
And, in the third place, it is worthy of our especial observation that the Church, during this exciting century, has been subjected to a large share of trial, not simply from the secular opposition which she has been called on to endure, but from the more dangerous influence of internal agitation. New and perilous doctrines have been advocated within her own bosom, and by men of acknowledged eminence, for learning and for talent. New and painful issues have been raised, which excited the most alarming fears for her peace and unity. Her adversary, the devil, who never chooses fools for his [20/21] instruments, had stirred up a dangerous spirit of strife and discord; and her enemies on every side were universally anticipating a formal division, in which Rome should triumphantly carry off one party, and the rest should be absorbed among the various forms of Protestant sectarianism. But what has been the result? "He that sitteth in the heavens, has laughed them to scorn. The Lord has had them in derision." The deluded men who hoped to unprotestantize the Church, were compelled to abandon their treachery in despair; and, for the most part, have gone to their proper place. In the United States, one Bishop and several clergy, all of whom were brought in at first from other denominations, have granted us a good deliverance from their pestilent teaching, by departing to Rome.--Two others, after leaving Presbyterianism for the Church, have returned to Presbyterianism. In England, about the same clerical proportion of one per cent have abandoned our communion. And while there may possibly be some remaining who have caught more or less of the same infection, the great body of the Church has been proved to be sound to the core, and stands forth, at this day, stronger and brighter than ever in the unity of truth. A more manifest proof could not be desired, that the hand of God has led us to victory; nor can we render too much gratitude and praise to His mercy and goodness, for such a happy demonstration of His guardian care.
On this portion of my copious theme, I might enlarge, but time forbids me. Yet enough has [21/22] been said to justify my conclusion that this singular prosperity of the Church is a special work of the Almighty, for a special purpose. And what, with reverence I ask, is that special purpose? Let me venture to suggest the following reply.
It is, then, in my humble judgment, to manifest the Church AS THE TRUE CENTRE OF RELIGIOUS UNITY; for, on the broad surface of the earth, I see no other which is entitled to this character. Rome pretends to claim it, but it was Rome which burst the bonds of the primitive unity of the Church, by her papal ambition, and her love of image worship, in the 8th and 9th centuries, and afterwards forced the Reformation of the 16th century upon the most enlightened nations of Europe, by her abounding profligacy, and her multiplied abominations. And since that glorious era, the Church of Rome has been constantly growing weaker, and the Church of England has been growing stronger, year by year. The increase of Romanists in the United States, though rapid, is no proof to the contrary; because it is almost entirely produced by foreign immigration. And they are obliged to confess that one-half of those who crowd our free shores become lost to them forever; while the rest soon acquire a far more liberal character, so that the priests can no longer govern the laity as they would fain desire, nor do they even dare to exhibit their religion in the same aspect that it wears in Spain, Portugal and Italy. Every addition which they gain here, therefore, is a loss of twice as much from the strength of Popery in Europe, while, in Ireland, 60,000 Romanists [22/23] have abandoned their corrupt communion for our own, within a few years; and the work is still advancing. The same operation is proceeding to considerable extent, in every other quarter. And hence their boasted accession of some 200 clergymen in England and the United States is hardly to be named in comparison with the continual defections from their body, all over Christendom. In truth, Rome is manifestly dying by inches, while the Church of England is increasing in herself and in her numerous offspring, and going on, in the might of God, "conquering and to conquer."
Setting aside, therefore, the vain glorious boast of Popery, where, but in our own favored Church, can we find a centre of unity? Where is the Church, which deserves so well to be called the Church of the Bible--the Church of the apostles--the Church of God? What other Christian community can prove, to the same extent, its harmony with the early age of primitive purity and devotion? What other can bid defiance to every assault of heresy and schism? Look at Protestant Germany, torn into fragments, under the baneful influence of neology, and rationalism, and pantheism; while a small minority are struggling to find their way back to the Augsburg confession, without any security that, if they could succeed, this celebrated confession would keep them together any better than it kept their fathers. Look at the pulpit of Calvin, filled by such Socinian teachers as Calvin himself would have committed to the stake. Look at the constantly multiplying divisions of all the sects in [23/24] Protestant Christendom, and they tell the same melancholy tale of incapacity to hold fast the "faith once delivered to the saints." Is there any centre of unity to be found amongst these? Alas, no! There is but one Church which presents the aspect of steadfast, immoveable, scriptural and apostolic constancy, which these distracted times require; and that is the privileged Church of our own happy communion.
I say not this in the spirit of pride or boastfulness. God forbid! It is not our work, nor the fruit of our wisdom and piety. It does not bear the name of any human instrument. There is no ground, in such a claim, for self-applause nor self-complacency; but rather a solemn call for self-abasement, that we have not been more worthy of our position--more alive to our responsibility--more careful to commend the Church to our Christian brethren, by our pious zeal and personal devotion--more anxious to be, ourselves, the "epistles" of the Holy Spirit, in our lives and conversation. But yet, notwithstanding our personal demerits, the broad facts of the case remain, indisputably certain. The wise Providence of the Almighty has stamped upon the Church those great marks of scriptural truth, of apostolical ministry, of primitive worship, of unbroken communion, of firm stability, and of steady advancement, which can be found nowhere else, in the whole length and breadth of Christendom. And I assert them in the strongest confidence of deep sincerity, because they seem to manifest the true function of the Church, as the only centre of unity, to the jarring, [24/25] unsettled and storm-tossed divisions of our Protestant brethren.
And next to this unity of the Church, with regard to the various sects around us, I claim an unspeakable value for her influence on the UNION OF THE NATION. For there is no other religious body which is perfectly free from the perilous hostility between the North and the South; and which, from the happy structure of her Constitution, can never be drawn aside to ally political or sectional issue. There is no other so thoroughly trained to reverence the authority of law and order. There is no other which is so secure from the spirit of dangerous excitement. There is no other so thoroughly imbued by the love of unity, of harmony and peace. And therefore, in her clergy and her intelligent laity scattered all over the land from Maine to Oregon, the Church furnishes a constantly growing instrumentality of steadfast and noble principle, against all the disorganizing tendencies of this eventful age; and there is none besides on which the true patriot can rest, with such well-grounded trust and confidence. I need hardly add, that the same office which the Church is thus qualified to fulfill amongst ourselves, she is equally qualified to fulfill in every other quarter.
Here, then, and here alone, as it seems to my mind, can a satisfactory reply be given to the question, for what special purpose has the glorious Redeemer so distinguished the Church of England, and her offspring, by the singular tokens of His favor. It is to afford a centre and a principle of [25/26] religious unity, amongst the discords of sect, and the conflicts of social disorder. No Christian man can seriously believe that the Lord, who is the Prince of Peace, can bestow His blessing on any system but His own. I do not deny that He may bless the individual pastors and members of any religious society, who desire to take His word for their guide, and have a true and living faith in His divine character, in His gracious atonement, and in the influence of His Spirit for the regeneration and renovation of the soul. This, however, is a question for individual believers. But the Church is something more than an aggregate of individuals, because it has a corporate character as a DIVINE INSTITUTION. The Church is the kingdom of Christ, set up by His authority in the world, though not of the world. And as He himself declared that "a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand," so it is certain that He never could have willed His kingdom to be divided. Hence we find that divisions came in, as the consequence of corruption. So it was in ancient Israel. So it was with the Church of Christ, when the idolatry of saint and image worship consummated the first great schism, which the ambition of the papacy began. But when the Church of England, in the reformation of the 16th century, shook off the accumulated errors of Popery, and returned to her first pure faith, like the penitent Jews from the captivity of Babylon, she took the example of the inspired Ezra and the faithful Nehemiah for her model. For just as those reformers of Israel did not presume to cast aside [26/27] the original system of the Mosaic economy, but, on the contrary, restored it, in all its primitive authority, even so, the English reformers took the rule of their work from the inspired Apostles, and the primitive Church of their planting; and gave no heed, much less encouragement, to the well-meaning, but mistaken advocates of modern innovation.
And therefore, the Church is the Church of Christ by pre-eminence, because it alone has faithfully preserved the form established by His own Spirit, in the beginning. I refuse not, indeed, to the Orthodox sects, the name of Churches in an imperfect sense; because I hold the same ground with Hooker, and Andrews, and Bramhall, and the whole stream of the great English divines, who would not "deny those to be Churches in which salvation may be had." But the experience of Protestant Christendom, since their day, has demonstrated the fact, that there is no other Protestant and reformed Church, besides our own, which can hold fast the faith, with steadfast constancy. I grant that the faith is the essence of the Church, and that the rest is only form: but does it follow from this that the form is of no value? Did not the same Almighty Creator who made the soul, also make the body to contain it? And can we injure and mutilate the body, without inflicting pain and suffering upon the soul? In like manner, did not the Holy Spirit, through the Apostles, declare the faith of the Gospel, and also regulate the order of the Church to which that faith was committed, and by which it was to be handed down to the most distant posterity? [27/28] Hence the Church, though it be only "the body of Christ," may not be wounded and maimed in the house of His friends, for that very reason, because it is His body. It is His work, and may not be marred by the hand of wanton innovation. And hence, too, we see, by the history of the last three hundred years, that there is a special blessing appointed to the form of His divine institution, which can no longer be claimed for any other system--a strength, a harmony, a unity, a power of endurance and steady increase, which we may seek elsewhere in vain.
With these views, then, my respected brethren, I hail your admirable College, which, bearing the adorable name of the Trinity, is devoted to the noblest interests of mankind by its faithful adherence to the Church of Christ. Education is the great instrument for training men to usefulness. And that education, rightly conducted, must provide not only for the intellect, but for the immortal soul. "What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." Here, you lead the mind to its best acquisitions; the heart, to its highest affections; the conscience, to its purest rule; and the spirit, to its loftiest destiny, by the means dictated in His own Word, and the system to which He has promised His effectual blessing. O, si sic omnes! Slowly, but surely, you have won your way to confidence and honor. Like the progress of the Church herself, in the face of difficulties, you have gained a prosperous and honorable position, by the blessing of the Almighty on your consistent course, and your faithful perseverance. [28/29] And you enjoy the well grounded assurance that there is no similar institution, which can aspire to a higher instrumentality in the all-important work of supplying the future clergy, lawyers, physicians, authors, and statesmen of the land; on whom we may rely, under God, to check the increasing tide of evil, and strengthen the influence of good, throughout our great and growing country.
But in this sublime and sacred effort, your graduates will have no holiday pastime. The world on which they have to act, is full of disorder; and yet the elements are only muttering their premonitory warning, like the gusts which herald the approaching storm. It is indeed probable, to say the least, that we are entering upon the last great period of the final commotion. I pretend not to decide whether the consummation may be near at hand, or delayed for more than another century. No wise man would venture confidently to predict the time. But be this as it may, the soldiers of Christ, whatever may be their position in the ranks, must gird themselves to the task of duty, with a lofty aim, and a hardy resolution. They must oppose, in the strength of God, the spirit of infidelity, of lawless innovation, of selfish cupidity, of political intrigue, of social disunion, and of reckless immorality. They must stand firm as the defenders of true religious principle, against the dishonest arguments of mere popular expediency. In a word, they must infuse the principles of the Church into their whole line of conduct, by reverence for the Word of God, reverence for His Sanctuary, reverence for the [29/30] Christian Sabbath, reverence for the Constitution and the laws, reverence for established authority, reverence for truth and justice, reverence for the influence of pure example in all the relations of life. And thus, they will be able to exert their powers with the confidence of the Divine blessing. Thus they will do honor to the Christian training of their Alma Mater. Thus they will strengthen the sacred claims of conservative unity in the Church and in the State, and secure, through the grace and favor of the Most High, the sure rewards of their faithful course, FOR TIME, AND FOR ETERNITY.