to Secure Its Recovery.
RECTOR OF TRINITY CHURCH.
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY,
MUCH surprise has been expressed that I should have preached in the Broadway Tabernacle; and curiosity has been felt, by persons not present on the occasion, to know what I said. It seems proper, therefore, not only to publish the sermon, but also to state very briefly the circumstances which led to its delivery.
It was on or about the 28th day of December last that a gentleman called upon me at my residence, and after introducing himself informed me that a course of sermons was about to be preached, or had already been commenced, in the 28th Street Baptist Church; and he also stated that the design was to show that notwithstanding the dissensions now prevailing in the religious world, there exists among Christians a real and essential, though invisible, unity; and there upon he added that he had been authorized to invite me to preach one of the sermons in the proposed course. I replied that the invitation, however gratifying, must be declined; and that I could not take part in the plan, because I did not agree in the view which he had expressed; and further re marked that, according to our way of thinking, Christian unity, to be worth any thing to men in this life, must be a visible unity; that there cannot be a visible, unity without points of cohesion; and that the only bases of such unity are the Apostolic Succession, the Nicene Creed, and the Institutions of the Historic Church. I thought it best to come at once to the real questions at issue, since it is but loss of time to talk around a subject when nothing can be settled until the centre is touched; and because I shun a misunderstanding on points so momentous as these. However, after some friendly conversation, my visitor said that there would be no objection to the presentation of the views which had been expressed, if it were done in a kindly spirit; he thought that they would be heard with much interest; and thereupon he renewed and pressed the previous invitation. After some consideration I stated that if the invitation should be presented in writing, and signed by responsible names, it would be most respectfully received and weighed; but that for the present I could say no more upon the subject.
Toward the end of January I had the honor of receiving the following letter:
"NEW YORK January 21, 1864.
"To the Rev. Dr. DIX:
"DEAR SIR:--Having heard of your sermon on the 'Nicene Creed,' as the basis of Christian union, and feeling an interest in the series of sermons now being delivered in the 28th Street Church by clergymen of different evangelical denominations, having reference to some proper basis of Christian unity, we cordially unite in requesting you to deliver it as one in this course.
"Yours very respectfully,
S. D. BURCHARD, Pastor of the 13th Street Pres. Church.
JOS. P. THOMPSON, Pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle Church.
HENRY G. WESTON, Pastor of the Madison Av. Baptist Church.
H. B. RIDGAWAY, Pastor of St. Paul's Meth. Episc. Church, 4th Av.
HENRY KIMBALL, Secretary of Course on Christian Union."
To this letter I returned the following reply:
"January 26, 1864.
"Rev. Dr. BURCHARD, Rev. Dr. THOMPSON, Rev. Dr. WESTON, Rev. Dr. RIDGAWAY, and Rev. Dr. KIMBALL:
"DEAR SIRS:--Your very kind and courteous letter is at hand. You invite me to preach a sermon on the Nicene Creed, as one of a course now being delivered in the 28th Street Church. Upon very careful consideration I have reached the conclusion that the sermon in question would not be suitable for use in the manner proposed. It would, however, give me pleasure to prepare a special discourse, and preach it at the church named in your letter, if the time of delivering it could be deferred. I am so pressed, with engagements and appointments to preach, with the preparation of a special sermon upon a very important subject, as well as with the preparation of a course of six lectures to be delivered during Lent, that I could not for a month at least find time to carry out my wishes in regard to your invitation. In conversation with Mr. Kimball I have already learned that the use of the Episcopal Service would be expected; as that would be a necessary condition to my ministering in 28th street.
"Believe me that the receipt of your letter has awakened very deep thoughts, and that no effort on my part shall be wanting to promote, so far as I can consistently, the cause of the Visible Unity of Christ's Church on earth.
"I remain, reverend and dear sirs, respectfully your servant in Christ,
To this letter the following reply was received:
"NEW YORK, January 29, 1864.
"REVEREND AND DEAR SIR:--Yours of the 26th is received. Will you accept our grateful thanks for your kindness in suggesting the possibility of acceding to the spirit of our invitation, and name at your leisure, on any Sabbath evening after the fourth Sunday in February, both your time and subject, and direct to address of Secretary, &c.? Every thing in our power shall be done to suit your form of wor ship.
"HENRY KIMBALL, for
"Drs. BURCHARD, THOMPSON, WESTON, and RIDGAWAY."
My reply to this note was as follows:
"January 30, 1864.
"Rev. HENRY KIMBALL:
"DEAR SIR:--Your note of the 29th is at hand. In reply, I would name as the day for the proposed discourse, the first Sunday in March; as the hour, 7 o'clock, p M. My subject will be: 'Thoughts on the loss of Visible Unity among Christians, and on the steps necessary to secure its recovery.'
"I shall be glad to confer with you a week or so before the appointed time, as to the order of service which I propose to conduct on that occasion.
"I remain, very truly yours,
Subsequently the place and the time were changed. It was decided that the sermon should be preached in the Broadway Tabernacle; and the evening fixed upon was that of the second Sunday in March. There, and then, the ser vice was held, and the sermon preached. The service was that one which is commonly known in this diocese as the "Third Service;" and the permission of my bishop had previously been sought and obtained, to use it upon that occasion.
Whether any substantial good has resulted from that which I did, remains to be seen. The only objects proposed were the greater glory of GOD and the good of souls, through the statement of views respecting Church Unity which differ from those entertained among the Protestant denominations around us, and which might not otherwise have been fairly brought to a hearing before any consider able number of those who need them most. The signs of our times indicate a tendency toward a reunion of Christendom upon the historic basis, and upon Catholic principles; all attempts thus far having failed because that basis was ignored, and those principles were overlooked. To such a consummation multitudes are looking, as to a last hope; considering any other unity to be a fiction and a dream. I could not, therefore, decline to go and speak "the things most surely believed among us," when promised an attentive hearing; but the result, like all results, must be humbly left to the hands of GOD. One thing I can never forget--the very remarkable friendliness and consideration with which I was received--and especially by the excellent pastor of the congregation of the Broadway Tabernacle, Dr. Thompson--when approaching, with an anxiety that cannot be described, a novel and dubious work;--a friendliness and kindness so great as to leave but one regret in my mind, that there should be any variance between us in our views, respectively, upon a subject so deeply interesting to us all.
New York, April 22d, 1864.
"Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Sion: for it is time that thou have mercy upon her, yea the time is come.
"And why? Thy servants think upon her stones: and it pitieth them to see her in the dust." Psalm 102: 13, 14.
"Tu exsurgens misereberis Sion: quia tempos miserendi ejus, quia venit tempus.
"Quoniam placuerunt servis tuis lapides ejus: et term ejus miserebuntur." Ps. 102: 14, 15.
I HAVE come hither this evening, brethren, by invitation, to preach to you; and my subject is the unity of the Church. The words which have been read to you from the 102d. Psalm will indicate the point of view from which that subject is to be regarded. It is not of an existing unity that I would speak: but of that outward and visible unity, which once was; which now is not; for which we pray that it may be given us again; which, sooner or later, the Lord will restore to His Church.
But are not Christians one? Is there not, in spite of all that we see, a substantial unity among them in spirit and in heart? And is not that enough?
These questions may be separately considered. To the first, I reply, that such a unity may, perhaps, exist; but if it exist, it exists to the Eye of God. By human eyes it cannot be discerned, and therefore it is not enough. It is from man's position that we have to regard this subject; not from God's. And to man's eye, as he views the Christian world, no unity exists which can satisfy the desire of the heart, or meet the deep need and necessity of our tunes. There is small comfort to be drawn from thoughts of a hypothetical unity which no one can discern, in face of that actual disruption which all our enemies cast in our teeth. The mighty nation of the past, the universal Church of God, is cloven in twain. Each of these parts is again subdivided; each holds and nurses in its bosom divers sects. The lives of these separate religious bodies are lives of isolation; their voices form a Babel of diverse sounds; their habit of mind, is suspicion, and the manner of their existence is war.
I dwell upon this point at first, because of a theory which has sprung up in the latter days. It is, that this divided state of Christendom is a good and healthful state. For they argue, who maintain this theory, that the existence of distinct sects leads to watchful ness, provokes to emulation, incites to a rivalry productive of divers valuable results. I respect the motive which impels to such a view, and am assured that there are those to-day who hold and maintain it in perfect good faith. But yet, originally, it could only have been framed by the brain of Despair. It must have come of the effort to see some good in evil. It was the expedient of desperation. But no such theory will mend the matter. The case is a very bad one. We shall gain nothing by glozing it over. This divided and distracted Christianity is not what God designed, what Christ desired. Men would not have ventured to praise it, but that they despaired of curing it. They would not have begun to speak of it as they have clone, if they could have discerned any available mode of relief. They have defended their cause with secret misgiving; they have praised it with faint heart and trembling lips. I have such trust in the better feeling within them, as to rest assured that these very men, who now advocate division on utilitarian principles, if they could but have time opportunity of coming together once more, with a good conscience, as one united household, would be the first to fling that their theory to the moles and the hats, and to embrace one another with loving arms, crying meanwhile, "Behold how good and pleasant a thing it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity!"
Dear hearers, let us be agreed on this first point; and, to that end, let us hear the Lord, and His Apostles. And, first, our Lord thus prayed, in that intercessory prayer before He suffered: "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as we are. That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me. That they may be one, even as we are one: I in Thee, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me." Awful words for us to hear, to repeat, in days like this. Shall we apologize for a divided Christianity, as a thing to be desired? Shall we point out advantages in it, as a thing to be by all means retained? Ought we not, then, instead of laboring and praying for unity, to strive to perpetuate our divisions? Ought not He to have said: "I pray for them, that they may all be parted asunder; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they may be broken up into innumerable sects; that the world may believe, in view of their end less divisions and subdivisions, their controversies, their strifes, their emulations, that Thou hast sent Me. I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in variations on every point of doctrine, discipline, and worship, that the world may know My mission, and Thy love!" Again, let us hear the Apostle Paul: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment, for it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, that there are contentions among you." But why should he thus have spoken unless the principle of schism and separation be destruction? Why should he not rather have said:
"Now I beseech you, brethren, that ye all speak and think diversely, and that divisions be multiplied among you; and that ye be never joined together in mind, save in the mind to differ and to stand apart perpetually. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, that there are contentions among you, and I rejoice that it is so, for the excellent fruit of emulation and rivalry and mutual jealousy will abound." Were not this a marvellous speech for an apostle to hold? And yet is it less strange to-day in the mouth of Christian men? Alas! my hearers; there is no support in Holy Scripture for the theory which we are discussing. There is no apology for our condition as though it were a sound, a wholesome, a normal state. If we have the mind of the Lord and of His apostles, we shall feel that Sion is not flourishing, that she is in the dust.
And, brethren, does not daily experience confirm the argument drawn from the Word of God? How slowly does Christianity grow! How feeble is the work of Foreign Missions, and how small are the results! How terrible the advances of Free-thinking and Infidelity! Why should these things be, less because of the divided state of Christendom? Reflect how we are crippled, at home and abroad. I have seen, more than once, a case like this: a little village, with some few hundred inhabitants, enough to form one good, strong congregation, and not too many for one faithful man to minister unto in holy things; and yet shall this village have its three or four different places of worship, each thinly attended, and its three or four nerveless and uninfluential ministers, each starving on a pittance, and no one with half nor a quarter enough to do to keep him out of mischief Meanwhile the infidel sneers, and says, as he looks at the vanes on the spires all pointing different ways:
"See how these Christians love one another!" And, meanwhile, the heathen are saying, across the seas, to rival missionaries: "First agree among yourselves; and then come and talk to us." Ah! brethren, this can not be what God meant, what Christ designed! The Lord prayed for unity, that the world might know His mission. The world is slow to receive Him be cause His Body is rent asunder. Can a house be divided against itself, and stand? Can we preach to the heathen with power while we are wrangling among ourselves? Can men stay the growth of infidelity at home, while they tolerate and encourage that license in thought and act upon religious subjects which leads, logically, to contempt for all authority over mind, and heart, and will?
And yet, once more, my hearers, think how many souls are perishing because of the terrible task at which they are set of choosing, among all these religions some one in which they may rest. Imagine a conscientious youth, growing up into life, without fixed principles on this subject. Think of the work which, passively, is assigned to him. He sees a chaos of sects and forms. He is told to choose among them all. He must investigate and decide, in view of eternity. He must do this, with temptation closing him in; with sin embracing him; with the whirlpool working all about him. No voice of authority commands him; no claim is made to him as peremptory. He is told, you must choose; for anywhere you will be safe, if sincere. And so, ere yet he have made choice of a religion, his youth, wherein especially the discipline of religion is needed, passes away; and the chances are that he remains unsettled, weak in faith, cold in spirit. This has been the story of many a wretched and lost life. The man believes nothing, because he judges from the interminable variations of religious people, that it makes no matter where he goes or what he believes, and therefore he ends in going no where and in holding vigorously to nothing at all.
I argue, as well from Holy Scripture as from experience and practical results, that the principle of Religious Division or Dissection is wrong. It is not what time Lord designed, and its results are those of calamity to man. And yet, let me be understood. I would not say, even of this terrible evil of our day, that it is without circumstances of mitigation. For the Good God, whose hand is over all, and whose love is toward all, allows no unmitigated evil to exist: He knoweth how to bring good out of evil, everywhere; some good out of the worst. But let us not deny that a thing is evil, because good may come of it. Let us not deny that the lion is a dead lion, because honey may be found in the carcass. Let us not say of the corpses in the burying-ground that they are wholesome and sweet, because the daisy and the violet are made of that sad decay beneath.
Nor yet would I doubt concerning the existence of God's Church, the Holy Church throughout all the world, nor of the sureness of His promises to her, albeit she be, as now, rent asunder and dismembered. The Church may exist, and still exists, notwithstanding her disrupt condition. But she is not in a state to put forth her power; she can but feebly exercise her functions. There is, in practice, among anatomists, a cruel process known as vivisection. It is that of opening and dissecting living animals. These creatures may live with portions of them removed. Thus, a bird will live, after having been by vivisection deprived of its brain. But it staggers, and is blind, and dull. It lives, but with diminished vitality, with reduced powers. So, the Church, though cut up alive, may survive the operation. But how much has she lost! She cannot; rule the intellects of men; she cannot discipline for sin; she cannot lift up the voice with strength against growing corruption. Because the voice is an uncertain voice; and the muscles and tendons have been severed; and the limbs divided, one from another.
Nor yet would I deny that souls are saved, even now, in each one of these unsocial and distinct communities. For God can bring good out of evil, and is more merciful to us, by far, than are we to each other. But, dear hearers, the work of saving our souls is not the only work for which God put us into this world. Nor does it mend this terrible condition of Christendom, that souls may be saved in each portion of the dislocated frame. There is an immense selfishness in the idea that the one work for each to do here is to save his soul. Suppose a man should say: Why talk to me, why trouble me, about Church unity? Enough if I can stay where I am, and save my soul, and get to heaven. Ah, brother, you are wrong. That is not enough. That is not all your work. There are things into which, if a man will throw himself, his soul will be saved, as a matter of course, while he is working for other people's souls, and lets God take care of his. And there are men, who, wrapped in thought of self, do miss the path which leadeth unto life, because they shut up their compassion from their brethren. Look about you. Upon the sins of the age. Upon the vice and corruption which are rotting into the very bones of the people. Upon the Rationalism which cries clown the Bible and curses the Lord Jesus Christ as an Impostor. Think, that, though more than 1800 years have passed since the Gospel was first proclaimed, the Heathen now on the earth are 950,000,000, against the 330,000,000 all told, who profess belief in Christ. It is an awful picture. What do we in face of these things? What can we do, while the ways of Sion do languish as now, and while her walls are broken down? Alas, for the contrast between the present and the past! Of old, the Church was visibly and externally, as well as invisibly and in mind and heart, one. The vine was planted, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedar trees. She stretched out her branches unto the sea, and her boughs unto the river. Let us think of the past; of the Great Household of former time, all one; of the voice of Power; of the burning and shining Light. And let us cry: "Return, we beseech Thee, O God of Hosts, cause Thy Face to shine, and we shall be saved."
Yet, beloved hearers, God doth nothing alone. He ever worketh with us. And men must do their part, and put the shoulder to the wheel, or ever He can aid them according to His Promise. And since we have thought of the evils of division, and looked upon this thing as now it stands before the eyes of men, let me, in continuance of the evening's theme, bid you a step forward, that we may take counsel together of the causes which hinder the removal of this wide-spread ill. Of course it is assumed that, in the main, the preacher and the hearer agree thus far. To assume that, will not, it is hoped, be assuming too much. The age is in labor. It is feeling after Unity. That implies dissatisfaction with the actual state of the Christian world. The preacher is here, simply to speak to that point. And, therefore, he has commenced, by stating what evils flow from a Divided Christianity, and by saying, that no hypothesis of an unseen Unity can, in his opinion, palliate the miseries of the visible disorganization; and that he cannot accept a theory framed with a view to justify this condition, much less one by which it should be attempted to prove that it is fraught with advantage to men. We will grant much, but we can never grant that. We will allow that there are mitigations. We will concede that some good has resulted; that souls may yet be saved; that the Church still lives. We will grant, concede, allow, all save one thing: that this is right, that this is what God meant, what Christ smiles upon, what the Spirit moveth to, what the Apostles would approve were they among us now. This we can never grant. And hence, we hold it a work of vast importance to know what hindrances exist to forestall the attempt at curing this disease in the system; what local causes must be removed; and what are the remedies necessary for return to soundness and health. On which points let me speak to you with entire frankness, as secure of your respect for sincerity; with modesty, because I speak here upon your invitation; with awe, as speaking in the presence of God, and in face of wide-spread sorrows among the children of men.
If unity be from God, and if Division come by Man, then may we regard Unity as the child of the Divine will, and Division as the offspring of the will of Man. There are divers causes of this Dissected Christianity. There are, e.g., Causes of Origination, and Causes of Continuance. To Originating Causes it is not necessary to allude; it might lead to recrimination. But to Causes of Continuance we may refer, because the adversary will let and hinder until they be taken out of the way. May the preacher speak his mind, in charity? If so, he would suggest one cause of continuance, one leading cause, in self-will. Reflect how self-will is fostered and stimulated by some prevailing ideas about Religion and the Soul. Thus, it is held, by great numbers, that every individual is, and ought be, free to give to the Holy Scriptures that interpretation which his private judgment suggests; to believe what seems to him reason able; to worship in the mode which suits him best; to attach himself to that denomination which, upon the whole, he prefers. I do not speak reproachfully: but in the dispassionate way of one who investigates the phenomena which form the subject matter of study in one particular department. These are patent facts: that, in this country, the Right of Private Judgment is asserted, and carried to its extremest point; that it is held, that a man may interpret the Scriptures as he will, and may sec rest in his private views of their meaning; that each of us is free to select his Creed, his Church, his Minister; that all are safe, for time and for eternity, if in their lives they be moral, and if in their religious convictions they be sincere. But principles like these must cut up all hope of Visible Unity: where the law is Choice, the result can only be Separation. I class them all under the head of Self-Will: not invidiously, but as holding that to be their best and most truly descriptive term: since the Criterion of Truth, the Rule and Test of Doctrine, the Object of Submission, the Form of Devotional Life, are all determined by the man's own self and within himself. And must not the principle of Independence and Individualism in Religion, produce, increase, and multiply Dissension? Hold, that every man is free to select, to choose, to decide: and why might there not be as many religions as there are individuals in the world, and as many interpretations of the holy Scriptures as there are pious readers thereof? Why, but for that gregarious instinct which God has implanted in the spirit of man; which protests against solitude, and leads him ever toward society in thought, and act, and life? I am sure that they who hold the principles under consideration, do so conscientiously and in good faith. But do they know what these principles imply? Do they not cover all that the Deist claims? What is the theory of Deism? This, that there is no one revelation authoritatively binding on intellect and soul and life. That there is no visible church, save that church whose roof is the blue sky, whose aisles are the leafy woods, whose worship is heard in the voices of the natural world. That there is no creed which a man must believe to be saved. But now, if you say that everyone is free to believe, to worship, to think as he likes, you grant all that the Deist asks. He says that he believes in God, but it is not as we think of Him. That he admits a revelation, but it is a revelation in the material universe, and to his own mind and spirit. Doth not the principle of Individualism logically involve the correctness of that position? To say that any sense which the individual student of the Scriptures may draw from them is good and sufficient for him: is not this to deny, in substance, that there is in them but one, one only sense, and thus to make revelation a mere variable thing? To say that any creed will do for a man, if he be sincere in holding it: is not this to admit that there is no creed binding on us all? To say that it matters not how, or where, or when, a man may worship: is not this to exclude the idea of a visible fold of Christ, wherein His Faithful may be seen gathered together? Dear brethren, I may be mistaken, but it seems to me as though, if I dismiss the idea of one sense of the Holy Scriptures, in which sense alone they constitute to all men without distinction the Revelation of God; if I dismiss the idea of a ministry having divine and exclusive commission to preach the Word and minister the Sacraments; if I dismiss the idea of a Visible Church on earth, to which all men should belong; if I concede that every man may believe what seems reasonable, and obey whom he pleases, and worship where it suits him best; if I concede all this, it seems as if I could not logically stop, but must go on, and must admit that a man may worship, and think, and live, as acceptably as any one else, though he never enter a church, nor keep a Lord's Day, nor honor a fast or festival, nor read the Bible, nor recite a creed, nor frame and utter a prayer. I fear that there are others, multitudes, who make that same argument; that this is the argument which the twenty or thirty thousand have, who spend each Lord's Day in yonder park, and live on from year to year in utter neglect of Religion. And I fear that they build themselves up in their semi-atheistic positions, the more confidently from hearing among Christians the views expressed, that there is no Religious Authority to which a man must submit, in heart, and thought, and act, if he hope to be saved.
It may be urged, however, that a Religious Authority is recognized; even the authority of the Holy Scriptures and of the Revelation contained therein. So that whosoever believes the Bible to he inspired, concedes the existence of a Rule of Thought and Act, an Authority external to the intellect, and a Law outside the members. There is force in this argument. There would be more, if Christians were agreed about the meaning of the Bible. But their variations as to its meaning are interminable. Be cause that same wretched principle has crept in, to make Private Judgment the Rule of Scriptural Interpretation. The moment you admit that each man may interpret the Bible as he likes, and that he may rest in his own opinion as to its sense, that moment its Authority is gone. The claim to Individual In fallibility is as gross an error as that to Papal Infallibility.
One only sense does the Word of God contain. If a man know that sense, then lie has the mind of God; if he read, understanding the Scripture in any but the true sense, he is not reading the Word of God. To claim, however, that each one of us ought to search for himself; and receive the Bible in the sense in which he understands it, is to remove the authority from out side his mind and to lodge it within himself. What a man then submits to is his own opinion of what the Scriptures mean. And thus their supremacy over him is confounded with his own ratiocinations, and so lost.
But, brethren, the subject in hand is a vast one, and the time is short. We can but skim the surface. What has been done thus far? 1st. Your attention was called to the loss of Unity. 2dly. One cause was referred to which blocks the way toward its recovery. Now, in the 3d place, let us suppose that cause, Self-Will, to have been removed, and let us ask of the path of return. I approach this part of the subject with great anxiety, foreseeing that we may not agree; yet, at least if we differ, let us differ in kindliness of spirit. I was asked, nearly three months ago, to preach one of these sermons; and told that I might freely speak what was in my heart. That if it were said in charity, it would be heard with patience and weighed with care. The evil has been exhibited. It remains to suggest a remedy, if there be one. I would, there fore, present some considerations bearing on the case; not surely in a dogmatizing spirit, but rather as one who would offer materials for thought. And these considerations shall be but the expression of views actually held. Let me tell you how we think, where I came from; what are the professed convictions of a respectable number of Christians, who make their daily prayer to Almighty God that lie will draw all believers together into one fold again. Their ideas would run as follows:
1st. They believe that the Church of Christ on earth is a visible Institution; that it may be as clearly seen by him who looks for it, as any civil government; and that it has functions to perform, which cannot be discharged by any spiritual or abstract agent, or by any institution which had no other than a secret and hidden existence, invisible to the eye of man.
And 2dly. Since this is so, they believe that Christ made a Body for His Church when He gave her a Soul; so that it was not left to men to determine under what form she should exist. The outward organization they think to be as certainly divine of origin as the inner spirit. Hence they do not admit that men, at any time, have the right to change, or substitute, or invent, in aught that relates to her polity. The number, the grades, the powers, the offices of her Ministry; the forms of initiation into her; the rites, the type of instruction, the ordinances:--all these, they think, were determined and prescribed in the beginning by Christ Himself, or by the Apostles acting under His authority and under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. And they suppose that every thing which was thus ordered and settled, must have been considered as integral and essential to the existence of the Mystical Body of the Lord.
But, 3dly. They hold, that as the Gospel was never to be changed, and as the Church was to remain the same even unto the end of the world, and as the out ward frame and polity of which we have been speaking constituted an integral part of the scheme of salvation; therefore all that makes up essentially the organic structure of the Church, must he traceable in history from the First Age down; or from our age back to the First. So that, whatever was in the beginning, must have continued all along; and that whatever can be shown to have been continuing all along, i have been from the beginning. This they make their historical test. If aught was ever once universally prevalent and so held as essential, that, they think, must be of divine obligation. A creed which at any past day was everywhere professed, cannot have been false. A form of ministry which in any one age was everywhere established, cannot have been an usurped and illegal form. Conversely: a creed, a tenet, a rite, a form of polity, which hath not the witness of history to its universal acceptance or recognition, lacks the sufficient evidence of authority from God.
Wherefore, 4thly, they think of the Church as a great Visible Fact, in the world, in all ages, even in the darkest, and of her existence as a historic existence.
So that, from the first, descending to our day, the same fixed and rigid outline, the same massive frame may be seen, conspicuous among the kingdoms of the Earth, and constituting the Kingdom of God. Regarding the Church as, in the common sense of that term, a Body, and not as a mere spiritual influence, and deriving all their thoughts of her from contemplation of Him who said, "Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me I have,"--they think of the Church of Christ as an institution, an organization, which has, and shows all things pertaining to a body. It must have a head: it must have a spine and ribs; a respiratory apparatus; the power of audible speech; members and limbs. If its existence be an outward existence; if its maker were God; then must the vast frame be traceable through time; discernible as a historic fact; perpetually the same in all essential things, before the eyes of men. These views are held, by some whom I could mention, as firmly as views can be held; and while I state them with modesty, I desire to state them with plainness; for they may go to make up the material for that full investigation which the subject is undoubtedly about to receive from the thoughtful and religious of our day.
Now, it is evident, that men who hold these principles must hold analogous views respecting the recovery of Unity. Considering the Church to be, and to have been, in essential particulars, always the same, they must look to existing institutions as the means of rebuilding the present desolations. Visible Unity can only be restored by agencies already in existence. So that we have not to invent new expedients. The centres of cohesion are where they ever have been. All that needs to he done, is to clear away the rubbish which hides them; and thus to restore their attractive force. We cannot make a new church; it would not be Christ's, but our's. Nor can we remodel the old Church; we have no right so to do. The points of contact, the foci of attraction, are all in sight; our part is to discover them, and to rally around them as one man.
This is not an unpractical theory. Let me illustrate how it would work. I will assert nothing; I will but frame two or three hypotheses. I will merely suppose that certain things were true.
As, 1st, in the article of Belief. Suppose that there were now in use certain brief formulas known as creeds. Suppose that they were of very great antiquity; one so old, that the memory of man runneth not contrary to the time of its use; another having the authority of a General Council representing Christian people through all the world. Suppose that these Creeds were held to express exactly the real sense of the Holy Scriptures; that they were anciently valued for that reason, and for that reason taught to young and old, to all children born in the fold of Christ, and to all converts applying for en trance. Suppose that for many hundreds of years they had been universally received among Christians as symbols of Faith; that they had never ceased to be so regarded by a very large majority; and that they were in use generally, to-day. Supposing these things to be so, might we not consider those Creeds as having a kind of sacred authority? And could there be a better centre about which to unite, if men wish to believe together, alike, and as one?
Or, 2dly, in the article of Church Government. Suppose that among many and diverse forms of ecclesiastical polity, one could be found, in substance, almost universally prevalent, among the 333,000,000 of Christians now in the world. Suppose this to be, when reduced to its simplest conditions, a three-fold order, the lowest of which has the duty of ministering and serving; the second of which has the duty of preaching, baptizing, and celebrating the Lord's Supper; the highest of which holds and enjoys alone, the right to ordain to the ministry and to govern the Church. Suppose that 300 years ago no Christian community existed except under that Three-fold order of regimen and governance. Suppose that it may be traced back to the Apostles' time, as everywhere existing, and that the attempt should fail to prove from authentic records that it was a novelty and the off-spring of the spirit of innovation. Supposing all this, might we not consider that ministry as having a kind of sacred authority? And could there be a better centre about which to gather, if men would externally unite and form one Household of Faith, one visible community again?
Or, 3dly, in the article of Ordinances. Suppose that there had been, and now are practiced, certain rites, each being considered to have a more than common power; as, e. g., a rite of initiation into the Body of Christ, and another rite of strengthening in the Christian Life, and a third of devout commemoration of the Great Redeemer; and that, so far as we can learn, men in all ages have, for the most part, attached to those rites a significance, and attributed to them an influence transcending aught that can be explained on physical grounds. Supposing these Rites to cover the life of man, his infancy, his youth, his mature age; thus hallowing that life, in all its periods, with visible signs of God's wonder-working power. Might we not, again, regard these forms as having a kind of sacred authority? And might not men accept them as means and outward signs of unity in the manner of their daily walk with God?
I have offered these hypotheses, brethren, and have cast these questions into shape, not as one un certain what to reply, nor as doubting of the way in which they might be answered. But this has been done with the view of presenting, in a kindly spirit, some few considerations to those earnest and religious minds who weigh, and pray over the question of Unity in these distracted days. Reflection on them may prepare the way for the general conclusions, which must be announced as the term and end of all my own thoughts. They are these: That if any man desire the recovery of Christian Unity, he must seek for it in the region of universal things. He must make this quest in the line of history. He must search, through history, for whatsoever hath been from the beginning and is now, convinced that such shall be to the end. He must inquire for the things which have been most surely believed among the people of Christ. He must ask for the Rites, the Forms, the Words, the Orders which have been received, professed, uttered, admitted, always, everywhere, and by all. If the Church be visible, it is also historic. If the things of Christ's be anywhere in history, they must be traceable all along. The quest, I repeat it, must be made in the line of history; let it lead us whither it will. We cannot mend the matter by invention, by reconstruction. The true things are in the Past and in the Future. In the Past let us seek, what in the Future we may enjoy. We must come together upon a historic platform, or we shall never come together at all.
My beloved brethren, it has been the intention in this discourse to indicate a line of thought which might haply aid toward a full examination of the subject. This, and this only, was proposed. He who addresses you has no plan to offer in this place; no scheme of reconstruction, which he regards it as probable that you would accept. Rather has he endeavored to speak as one among an entire suffering community; to speak, not as the representative of any one portion, or section, of Christ's Heritage, hut rather as from the heart and centre of the Great Family of the Baptized; to speak, as knowing that the interests of Truth can never suffer even from the fullest discussion, but that such discussion will promote them. It has not been the design to make converts to a particular communion. The idea has not been entertained, that the branch of Christ's Church which the speaker represents is perfect in every particular; still less is it imagined that all the great world should ever come to be precisely, and in each point of doc trine, discipline, amid worship, like ourselves. In the Catholic Church of Christ there has been from the first, Diversity in Unity; local peculiarities have marked each part of the Church, just as each one of the inspired writers retained his individualism even under the afflatus of the Holy Ghost. But yet certain things have always been regarded as essential; and with reference to them, the attitude of the mind must be that of submission. To those things I have desired to refer; to convey an idea of certain Principles of Authority, Order, and Law, as opposed to other Principles of Independence, Disorder, and License; to set forth the Church, as a system divine of origin, and intended, by Christ, to rule our souls and hearts, and not as a Rite which man may make and unmake at pleasure. We appeal, not to men's opinions but to God's commands; not to the shifting hour of the present, but to the settled age of the past; not to Self-Will, but to Self-Renunciation. But chiefly are we bound to cast away forever the principle of Individualism in Religion, because it is, and cannot but be, the breeder of eternal discord. How is it possible that any man here, and in this age, can hold that principle? Consider its parentage and its affinities. Of what does it remind us, in the mere enunciation? You know that theory of the State, rife some years since, the theory of the Social Contract; that the Commonwealth is formed by the consent of the individuals composing it, and. that at any moment any individual has the right to break off, and secede, and depart. For us, that theory of the State is exploded forever. It has been blotted out, in needful blood: and we deny, with all the energy of a great people, the right of the section to break the peace of the whole body by wayward private action. But I believe the theory of Individualism in Religion to be no less odious, no less fatal, than that of the Social Contract in Politics. The age, and the events of our period, are pulverizing the Political Falsehood to atoms; would that its twin-sister, the Sect-Principle, could be as thoroughly cut up and cast out! There is in a nation a life, greater, higher, and nobler than the life of any separate member of that nation; a life to be held sacred, and guarded from all assaults. Because the nation has a substantial and objective reality, and is not merely au abstract and purely imaginary name. And so the Church at large, has her own wide life, her own grand existence, her own positive and real nature; she is not. a merely imaginary or ideal abstraction, nor an agglomeration of units, which may arrange themselves in such forms as they please, and combine, and separate, and come together, and secede, at will. In the Church, as in the State, Secession is Suicide and Death. They, therefore, who desire and pray for Unity, must set their faces against that right to divide, and split, and break to pieces. They must look for the means of a strong and united organization. If the world is ever to be one again, there must be a centre of cohesion. If the dry bones are ever to come together again, there must be a spine to hold them. together. We must search for conservative power; for systematic consistency; for cohesive forces; and we must place ourselves beneath their influence. Above all, we must school our hearts to faith and patience. We must be ready for God's time. We must feel that, in the main, the work of reconstruction will be His work: and that what we have now to do is to be studying, and thinking, and praying, and biding the hour; laying aside, day by day, passion, prejudices, self-will, and ready, when we hear the thrilling voice, to say, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth!" There are signs of great changes abroad. The war has stirred society to its depths. After this is over, there will be great and glorious days, as the days of them that are made perfect through suffering. Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and for the recovery of her power to the Church, as one of the fruits out of that grave which our transgressions have digged. What we need, and must have, and shall have, is a Visible Unity. It must come, before the world can be subdued to Christ. It will come in such a way that the Past, the Present, the Future, shall all be connected, and shall merge together into One. The Church of Christ, like His Gospel Message, is, and cannot but be but One. Therefore, there can be no new Church, any more than there can be a new Gospel. And so, the Church of the Future will be no new Body; but the old Body arisen from sleep. The Creed of the Future will be no new Creed, but the same which was from the first, and has been, historically, all along. The Ministry of the Future will be no new Ministry, but the same that it hath been and is; so that, along the shining line, Apostle shall answer to Apostle, and near to far, as deep answers to deep. The Sacraments of the Future shall be no new Sacraments; but the same that ever have been in the Christian House. Gloriously does her light arise and dawn upon the way, the clear light of the reconstructed and united Church of the Living God. How much of ours will be swept away when the great flood comes, no man can foretell. But whatsoever is merely local and peculiar, will probably go: and the denomination which has most that is new, and least that is old, will suffer the most evident change. Whatever is truly historic, and primitive, and therefore pure, will stand: what was from the beginning, shall be to the end, living on: but new rites, new dogmas, new ministries, new inventions, will kindle as tow before the fire. The specialities of the Presbyterian, of the Baptist, of the Episcopalian, of the Romanist, of the Congregationalist, will burn, beyond all hope of rescue. That only which is Catholic and Primitive will stand; that only will survive which was, of old, by the institution of the Lord and His Apostles; since that only has the Seal of Divinity and the Root and Principle of Immortal Life.