The Use of Holy Garments, Especially of the Surplice, in the Performance of Divine Worship: A Sermon, Preached in St. Mark’s Church, Le Roy, N.Y. The Last Sunday in Advent, 1832.
By the Rector, F. H. Cuming, A.M.
Le Roy, Genesee County: E. Starr, Printer, 1833.
TO THE READER.
The Surplice having hitherto never been used in the Church in Le Roy, on account, as was supposed, of prejudices which were entertained by some respecting it, and the present Rector having intimated a wish that it might be introduced, the congregation very promptly procured one. The following Sermon was preached by him on the day when it was first worn. He has since heard no objection to it. He believes that no parish, or individual will be opposed to it, when its design is duly considered. He therefore publishes the Sermon in the hope it may conduce to a better understanding of its use, and avail somewhat towards securing its adoption where it has not been introduced. It is due to himself to state, the Sermon was commenced very late in the afternoon previous to the day on which it was delivered.
Let thy Garments be always white.—Ecclesiastes, IX. 3.
It is delightful to behold the mind freeing itself from the prejudices by which it has been influenced, and candidly listening to the reasons which are given, yielding to its honest convictions of truth, and to its persuasions of the fitness of things. It is then that man proves himself in some degree worthy of the discernment, freedom of will and power of choice with which his Creator has blessed him.
He surely knows he is entitled to but little confidence or regard, and is making but a miserable return to the Giver of all good, the universal Mind, for the faculties he has received, who will not exert them for the purposes for which they were imparted, but is content to think and act as others propose to him; or who, notwithstanding his own perceptions of what is right and proper, permits his preconceived opinions, or his attachment to individuals or sect, to keep him from renouncing error, or from embracing what commends itself to his better informed judgment, even though it be what he once thought he ought to oppose.
He once thought so, because he did not, perhaps, then understand the subject, or had not endeavored to make himself acquainted with it, or was indebted for all he knew, or imagined he knew, to those whose interest it was to keep him in ignorance. But having subsequently seen the matter in an entirely new light—having yielded to the enlightening Spirit’s power so far as not to close his eyes to the contemplation of it, and having discovered that more could be said in favor of it than he once believed, finding himself, now, “by the same spirit” better disposed to have “a right judgment in all things,” how can he exhibit more magnanimity, than openly to acknowledge his objections were ill-founded; and ceasing to oppose, manfully to espouse the once repudiated cause.
Thus it was with Paul, when the light from Heaven revealed to him the natural darkness of the soul without Christ: and henceforth he boldly preached Christ, the “only name under Heaven given unto men whereby they can be saved.” Thus it was with Luther, when God’s “quick and powerful word, that discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” found its way to his inner man, in spite of the traditions and absurdities and thick veil of superstitious observances, under which he had been growing about in monasteries and cloisters; and henceforth he feared nothing from the mightiest power on Christendom, while he attempted to bring others out of their spiritual thralldom.—Thus it was with Cranmer and Ridley, when he same light from heaven, the light of God’s word, enabled them to perceive the sinlessness of that light being hid from the people; and they despised not the raging flames so that they could be instrumental in causing others to see the Light of Life.
 And my brethren, may we not add that thus it has been on the part of many, with respect to what these two last named holy martyrs had recommended as edifying and godly practices in the Christian Church?
Time was, when the signing of the baptized with the sign of the Cross was decried as Popish. But now, when what is signified by it is understood, all must admit that it imparts to the baptismal service additional interest, and is calculated to awaken in after-life, in the person on whose brow it has been impressed, a more lively and affecting if not abiding sense of the obligation thus created, not to “be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, but manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world and the devil, and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier unto his life’s end.”
Time was when even kneeling to receive the consecrated emblems of our Redeemer’s death, and the affecting pledges of his love, was the subject of bitter animadversion. But now, no one who has ever witnessed the administration of this holy sacrament, can refuse to admit the greater solemnity our form has over every other, and the peculiar propriety of sinners falling low on their knees, when they commemorate this great mystery, and seek at the sacred altar to be permitted to renew their covenant to serve the Lord, and to receive here more of the grace necessary to enable them to be “faithful unto death.”
Time was, when even to kneel during the hallowed exercise of prayer, was represented as improper, and the whole assembly stood erect, when they thus professedly presented themselves before God. But now it is remembered that David and Solomon and Paul kneeled when they prayed—that in reference to the public congregation it is said, “O come let us worship and fall down and kneel before the Lord our Maker,”—that the Savior kneeled when he prayed,—that Cherubim and Seraphim prostrate themselves before God’s throne, a throne of grace to them as well as to us; and those who once deemed standing the better mode, for the most part adopt our own more scriptural posture, in their smaller circles, while by others of them it is recommended to be used on all their occasions of public worship.
Time was, when the introduction of instrumental music into the sanctuary, was esteemed almost the very essence of abomination, and the organ, which by its infinite combination of sounds, its noble swell, its soft and deep and powerful tones is found so much to assist us when we would send up from our souls, the anthem of praise to our Creator, had applied to it the most opprobrious epithets,—But now its loud, enlivening and spirit-stirring peals are not unfrequently heard from temples, not our own indeed, but whose pointed windows, and Gothic arches, once considered as peculiarly indicative of an Episcopal Church, show us that even in the style of sacred edifices, good taste has triumphed over prejudice, and furnishing us some grounds to hope that the conformity will yet be even [6/7] more perfect, and that as the name Church is no longer objected to, but claimed by those who formerly denied the correctness of its application to the building, so there will eventually be the same services in every particular, the same ministry, the same worship, and if possible, the same doctrine.
Delightful thought! who is not disposed to dwell upon it, and to pray that thus it may be—Thou, O Lord, hasten it, in thine own time. Make thou the multitude of believers in our day as they were of old, “of one heart and one spirit.”
Let us, brethren, be superior to our prejudices and then so it will be. Let us look at truth in her own heavenly brightness, each one with his mind’s own eye, not through the dense medium of long and fondly cherished systems, or with the darkened glass, the interpretation of the bigotedly attached to their favorite theories. Let us not wish for novelties among the truths of God’s revealing or fancy it is necessary for us to differ from others, or that we cannot and ought not to coincide with them, even after we are convinced they do receive and teach and endeavor to live up to the Gospel in its purity—are built upon the Apostles and Prophets, and have Jesus Christ for their foundation. Let us be content to “walk in the old paths,” as to doctrine, form of worship, and ministerial commission. Let us be truly, and with single-heartedness under the influence of “the power” of Godliness, and to any “form” that is decent and appropriate and edifying, we will cheerfully comply; not desiring that the form should be in accordance with each individual’s peculiar opinions, or fancies, but content, and sincerely endeavoring to conform to what those who have been burning and shining lights in the Church, have prepared for us; not ambitious even in this particular to be “wise above what is written,” but “esteeming others,” especially the ancients, “better than ourselves.”
But I commenced my discourse, with intimating that men were now flinging from them those chains of prejudice with which various causes have contributed to bind them.—I have stated a few facts out of the many that might be offered, to justify the assertion. I have ventured to hope, the mind would become more free than it is from this blinding and soul contracting power; But let us be cautious how we charge others with being influenced by that from which we ourselves may not be wholly free. Let each individual “so judge,” not his brother, but “himself,” that he be not judged of the Lord.” I have not forgotten, my brethren, that I have not yet mentioned, what use I purpose making of my text, “Let thy garments be always white.”
The words are found among the exhortations which Solomon addressed to those who feared God, and with whose spirit, the spirit bore witness that “God accepted their works.”
Such persons were not to despise the bounties of Providence, and with ascetic indifference refuse to their animal nature the least [7/8] indulgence. They were to partake of them in that cheerful and happy frame of mind which flows from a realising sense of GOD’S goodness in providing them. Nor were they always to be clad in the habiliments of woe.—Let thy garments be always white, indicative of the joy and peace they had in believing they were so highly favored of God.
But I wish to apply this direction of the royal preacher to the robes generally worn by the Clergymen of the Episcopal Church, especially to that in which you have seen for the first time in this Church, the minister this day arrayed. Towards this there has ever been more or less of prejudice entertained by the dissenters from our Church.
I purpose calling your attention, 1st To the propriety of the minister’s officiating in other than his ordinary attire.
2d. To show why we think the custom cannot be contrary to Scripture or offensive to God.
3d. To state the reasons why one of such material, form and color as is the Surplice has been selected as appropriate to the desk, and why a different one is used in the pulpit.
4. To derive from the whole subject what it is humbly conceived it will be found to furnish, and what our text will assist us in applying, matter for practical use.
1. How is it, my brethren, when we present ourselves before our fellow creatures, even on the visit of ceremony; when we meet them in the social circle; when we go into the presence of those filling high stations, petitioning for any favor? In all these cases some attention is devoted to our personal appearance—some change made in our apparel.—It is agreeable to the fitness of things that it should be so. Comeliness suggests it. Comeliness requires that our dress should comport as far as practicable with the company and the occasion which may have called us forth.
But a minister’s work is different from that of all other persons. Why then should not, yea ought not his dress also while he is specially engaged in it, to be different? Why ought not his dress to indicate the nature of his work? He has been separated in the most solemn manner for his work. The place where he performs it, has, in like manner been separated. Let him have, then, a dress in which to execute it, that also has been separated “from all unhallowed and common purposes.” Let him not do it, in his ordinary attire.
But it is a holy work in which he is engaged. It is to a holy God that he is to address himself, and to whom he is to endeavor also to lead the minds of the congregation. And he is a man, a sinful man. As a man you may know much in him that is wrong, much calculated to prevent him from being instrumental in raising your souls towards the seat of the Holy One. But his office is holy; his unworthiness cannot vitiate his official acts; with his office alone, have you to do on the occasions of worship. How important [8/9] then that there should be something about him which should at once draw your attention to the station he fills, and away from himself, in his character of man.—He is indeed a sinner; but lo, the holy garments are upon him. Though he is a sinner, he is a servant, and he stands before you, in the livery of his master. He is a sinner, but he is besides an ambassador, and his robes of office are upon him; let these prevent you from thinking of him otherwise than in his official capacity. He may not in your opinion deserve to wear the sacred dress: he may have dishonored, as you suppose, his high and divine calling—Ah do you, do any of us deserve, in any dress, to appear before “Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity?” Has not each one of us dishonored his character as a creature of God; degraded himself in his own and his Maker’s eyes, and made himself unworthy any kind notice from the Being who constituted him “a living soul?” Who in this way, shall judge his brother, or hurl at him ‘the first stone?’ Who shall point to the black spot on another’s white garment, while he knows his own has lost so much of its original brightness?
2. But independently of the propriety of there being a suitable dress in which the minister should officiate, there are considerations drawn from the word of God which will warrant, if they do not directly authorize it. There is nothing in the word of God prohibiting it. There is the general direction of the Apostle, “Let all things be done decently.” There is the declaration of the Psalmist, “Let thy Priests be clothed with righteousness,” in which evidently there is an allusion to garments peculiar to them. God always required his ministering servants to perform the duties of their office in some appropriate dress: witness the Baptist and the Prophets. There is the linen Ephod which the mother of Samuel made for him, in which he ministered before the Lord. And have we nothing more? Much more my Brethren—more than we have time to quote.
What was done when God first set apart a distinct family for this Priesthood, and confined it exclusively to them? Among the very first directions given respecting them, were those relating to their robes. ‘Thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for glory and for beauty.’ Numerous indeed, as well as glorious and beautiful were they, my brethren. Read the whole of the 28 ch. of Exodus, and note with what particularity every part of each was described, and the gold, the precious stones, the fine linen, and the embroidery which were put upon thorn; and as you behold Aaron and his sons arrayed in their ‘splendid attire, and learn that it was ‘for glory and beauty’ they were commanded thus to appear before the Most High, who will say that the nature of the divine Being has air much changed, that now an Ephod on the Christian minister will be his abomination? Shall we be told such things were intended only for the days of Jewish worship? Be it remembered that this worship was in all its parts, prescribed by, rendered to, and was acceptable when performed aright, to the God of Heaven, Remember [9/10] it is to Him, the Christian minister presumes to offer the simple services of his ritual; and be not offended yourselves with the becoming dress in which he performs them, unless you can persuade yourselves God before whom he presents himself will take offence.—Listen to what the celebrated commentator, Adam Clark, of the Methodist denomination observes upon this passage from Exodus. ‘The garments,’ says the sacred historian, ‘were for honor and for beauty.’ They were emblematic of the office in which they ministered. 1. It was honorable; they were the ministers of the Most High, and employed by Him in transacting the most important concerns between God and his people; concerns in which all the attributes of the Divine Being were interested, as well as those which referred to the temporal and eternal happiness of his creatures. 2. They were for beauty; they were emblematic of that holiness which characterizes the Divine nature; and which is necessary to all who wish to serve him in the beauty of holiness here below, and to behold his face in the realms of glory. Should not the garments of those who now minister in holy things, be emblematical of the things in which they minister? Should they not be for glory and beauty, expressive of the dignity of the gospel ministry—and that ‘beauty of holiness’ inculcated thereby.
The white surplice in the service of the Church is almost the only thing that remains of those ancient and becoming vestments which God recommended to be made for glory and for beauty. Clothing, expressive of office, is of more consequence than is generally imagined.’ These are the remarks, you will remember, of a dissenter, of a Methodist.
Was it exclusively for the use of the Jewish Church that these were prescribed? The Jewish Church at that period, was as truly ‘the Church of the Living God,’ the Being who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, as the Christian Church now is ‘the Pillar and Ground of the Truth.’ Was it indeed, exclusively for the Jewish Church and times that such things were intended? Why,’then have we representations of similar things in Heaven? How was the ‘Great High Priest of our profession’ beheld ‘by St. John arrayed? ‘In the midst of the seven Golden Candlesticks I saw one, like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about with a golden girdle.’ Daniel also beheld ‘the Ancient of days, with his garment white as snow.’ How is it, that the angels are represented as clothed when they minister to man? It is in ‘pure and white linen.’ And how is it that the armies of saints are described as they follow their King? It is ‘clothed in linen white and clean.’—Surely, after this we shall not be told, that the minister standing before Gad in the Holy place on earth, in his Surplice, or Ephod of linen, is provoking by his dress the wrath of Jehovah, or ought to be to any one either a stumbling block, or an object of ridicule. Surely the conscience that is offended by it, must be acre easily pained, and more poorly instructed in what becometh [10/11] times, and places, and duties, than man or woman would be commended for acknowledging was the fact.
Perhaps it might somewhat avail towards removing the objections which are professed to be entertained by some, to the Surplice, for them to know, that neither Scot, or Newton, or Martyn, ever scrupled to wear it. Nor will it, I trust, be considered out of place for me here to record a testimony in its favor, from a quarter where it might have been least expected. It is from Doctor Stiles, formerly President of Yale College, and one of the most distinguished of the New England (Congregational) clergy. In a conversation with Doctor Hubbard, that man of sainted memory, in whom even sectarianism could find nothing for which to reproach him, who was the universally beloved Rector of Trinity Church, New Haven, the former remarked, ‘there is one thing in your Church, which I wish was introduced into our own, I mean the white Surplice, it is so very becoming.’
Say not we have borrowed it from the Church of Rome, and that it is ‘a rag of Popery.’—You will thus give to that Church, an argument for its antiquity to which it is by no means entitled. It was a garment peculiar to the Christian Priesthood long before ambition sought to convert the kingdom of Jesus into, a kingdom of this world, or any christian Bishop arrogated the title of Sovereign and Infallible Pontiff. The fathers, Cyprian, Gregory Nazianzien, Jerome, Chrysostom and others, martyrs and confessors like these; men who lived before Popery was ever dreamed of, give unequivocal evidence of its being used in the Church in the times of her greatest purity. Saith Jerome, ‘divine religion hath one kind of habit wherewith to minister before the Lord, another for ordinary occasions.’ ‘What offence can it be,’ he asks, ‘for a Bishop or a Priest to proceed to the Communion Service in a white garment.’ This was in reply to the arch heretic Pelagius, the first person pretending to be a christian, who found fault with the Surplice.
3. This garment is of linen, because this is the most seemly of all white fabrics for such a service. It admits of a more pure and snow white color; the original brightness is more easily preserved; it is less liable to excite perspiration or to retain or catch the dust which may be floating in the air. It is made of linen, because under the law, God commanded linen to be used for this purpose.—‘And it shall come to pass, that when they enter in at the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments, and no wool shall come upon them, while they minister in the gates of the inner court within, they shall not gird themselves with any thing that causeth sweat.’—Ezek. 44. 17. 18.
Under the law, the Ephod was made of gold, of blue, of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, thereby indicating the number, the variety, the costliness of the offerings which were to be exacted of the people. This was drawn close to the body, by means of the ‘curious girdle,’ of the same materials and workmanship, thus very aptly signifying the bondage which was imposed upon the worshippers;—a bondage which it was intended they should feel, that they [11/12] might keep in mind, and sigh for the promised dispensation of greater freedom, and more simplicity, and with which there should be nothing mingled with the fine twined linen.
The Christian minister’s Ephod, is large, full, loose, and flowing: Then let us rejoice for the larger mercies of the gospel, the free access of Jew and Gentile to the throne of Grace, the freeness of the grace itself, revealed to us by the Gospel, the fulness which is in Christ for every man’s every want, and the precious fountain of atoning blood, flowing to us from the one all sufficient sacrifice offered in the person of the Son of God, ‘the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world,’—Yea, to that fountain let us in faith go, and worship. It is that alone in which the soul can be cleansed. Jewish sacrifices availed only ‘to the purifying of the flesh.’ They only qualified the offender to appear again before God in the earthly Sanctuary. They could not make ‘the comers thereunto perfect.’ ‘But the bringing in of a better hope, did.’—Even they whose ears have not been favoured as ours have, with the Gospel’s note of Jubilee, were required to have their services accepted and blessed to their soul’s enduring good, to possess faith in the promised Messiah. That ‘better hope’ we enjoy.—O let the bright and glorious star, lead us to him who inspired it, and who ‘is the substance, author and finisher of our faith, Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, to-day and forever.’ For who are they who will hereafter be permitted to walk the streets of that ‘Jerusalem which is holy, which has foundations,’ which reflects from its streets of gold, and gates of pearls, and walls of precious stones, the immediate glory of our once crucified but now ascended Lord? And whose glory is it that thus is thrown over the blissful abode, the Temple not made with hands?’ Listen to the Son himself declaring, ‘Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, the glory I had with thee before the world was.’ For whom then, do we again enquire, will those ‘everlasting doors be lifted up,’ when the world to which we now live will have been succeeded ‘by the new Heaven and the new Earth?’ Listen to the entranced seer during his exile in Patmos. ‘After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne clothed in while robes, and palms in their hands, and cried with a loud voice, saying, salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb. And one of the Elders answered, saying unto me, what are these that are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said unto me, these are they which came out of great tribulation and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his Temple: And he that sitteth upon he throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more; neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat: For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them [12/13] unto living fountains of water, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’
Do you, Brethren, despair of being exalted to such honor and felicity—and is it a sense of sin which excites the feeling?—Behold the minister of the Altar: “A vestment of white is upon him. This is an emblem of peace the world over. Even hostile armies, engaged in the work of death and mutual destruction will suspend the bloody contest on the appearance of the white flag. So this white vestment of the priest seems to admonish us of the errand of the wearer, and say, in the words of inspiration; ‘As though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ stead, be ye reconciled unto God.’ It is for reconciliation we are here met, if we know our errand: and the sensible objects that presents themselves to our view call upon us from without, and preach to us of the peace making Jesus and all the royal benevolence of his compassionate heart. How can we look upon the white robe, and not remember its signification? And how can we hold back the spontaneous surrender of our hearts to that Saviour who is thus beseeching us by so many sensible means and so many alluring motives.” [From the Auburn Gospel Messenger, for Nov. 12, 1831.]
4. But while the white Surplice is so well calculated to allay fear and encourage hope, let it also preach to us, as well and pointedly it may, what is the burden of the whole gospel—‘Except a man be born again he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ Man is depraved, is unclean, consequently is not meet, not fit ‘for the inheritance of the saints in light.’ He must be a new creature, in Christ Jesus, ere Jesus will permit him to come near his now glorified person. His heart must be freed from the bad passions, impure desires, unholy tempers and polluting thoughts which his corrupt nature prompts and loves to cherish, and it must be changed.’—Blessed,’ says the adorable Redeemer, ‘are the pure in heart, for they shall see God: And what better emblem is there of this indispensable qualification than the snow white garment in which the minister has stood before you in the sacred desk? Is this a fancy of our own devising? Listen to what is said in holy writ. ‘The fine linen is,’ that is, represents, ‘the righteousness of the saints.’
Garments were indeed commanded to be used of old by the priesthood, full, rich and magnificent—but conspicuous upon every part of them, was to be the inscription, ‘holiness unto the Lord.’ Let us, rejoicing in the glorious liberty wherewith ‘the Lord has made us free,’ and sensible of the privilege of drawing nigh to God, in the simplicity of the heart’s true and spiritual desires, see that we do thus worship, as the Surplice is designed to instruct us we should; ‘in the beauty of holiness.’ Remember that in this emblem of purity, the minister arrays himself, because he would have you think, for the time at least, not of him as a man, but as ‘a preacher of righteousness, and as one, appearing for himself, and in behalf of you, before that Being ‘who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity;’ [13/14] on whom, instead of himself, he would have you fix your minds. Render not vain, then, the intention of the holy garment, by yourselves loosing sight of and striving not in the least for that without which, ‘no man shall see the Lord.’
Are you disposed to contract a formal habit in the performance of your devotions? Lo white is an emblem of sincerity: and the appearance of the man of God in his vesture, without spot or stain, says to you, let your worship be that ‘of sincerity and truth: draw not nigh to God with your lips, while your heart is far from him; wash your hands in innocency and so go to his altar;’ realize that you are in the presence of Him who ‘cannot be mocked,’ ‘who decketh himself with light as with a garment,’ and let the heart as well as the body bow before him; ‘show forth his praise not only with your lips but in your lives.’
Are you tempted to cherish any self-righteousness, to take to yourselves credit for the service you have rendered, and to deceive yourselves, that your worship ever can be worthy the divine regard? Behold the black scarf, always resting upon the white robe. Black is an emblem of sin. By this then be admonished that ‘iniquity cleaveth to your most holy things,’ and ‘be not high minded, but fear.” Look upon yourselves in your best estate, as corrupt before God, as carrying about you the remains of sin, polluting your best offerings and rendering them unworthy the divine acceptance.
Terrified by this humbling fact, will you despair of ever finding a place in your heavenly father’s love, or having your ‘prayers go up as a memorial’ before him? Look once more to the Surplice. Consider its name. It is derived from two Latin words, signifying ‘a covering for other garments.’ When you, behold it then, think of that ocean of mercy in which repented sins are covered, of that clothing of a meek and quiet spirit, in the sight of God of great price; of that unspotted righteousness of Christ, which is ‘upon all them that believe’; of that infinite merit of the son of God, under which your own demerits may be hid, and an interest in which is freely tendered to all who, feeling their need of it, will apply to him for it. This, my brethren, the righteousness of the Redeemer, be assured, is a garment without which none will be able to stand before Him without trembling: And, blessed be God’s grace, in so permitting it, this is a garment adorned with which, the vilest sinner will have confidence in the day of his Son’s final appearing:—a garment which every time we look upon the Surplice, we are reminded we must have, and are exhorted to seek;—a garment which if obtained here, my brethren, we shall hereafter find our selves, like the Savior transfigured on the holy mount, with our ‘garments exceeding white, so as no fuller on earth can white them.’
O my brethren, if ‘to whom much is given, of him much will be required,’ how ought we of the Episcopal Church to fear, lest the punishment of being ‘beaten with many stripes’ hereafter fall upon us! These is nothing appertaining to any part of our singularly well-framed ritual; there is nothing in the whole of our ecclesiastical [14/15] economy; no day set apart in our callendar, to be commemorated by us; no posture to be adopted; no form to be observed; even no dress to be worn, which may not be considered as specially designed for edification, to promote religious improvement, to minister to our growth in grace, to remind us of the indispensable necessity of our having and keeping ‘clean hands and a pure heart,’ and of serving God with fervency of spirit. In vain may we laud our Liturgy, lauded though it deserves to be, higher than even yet it ever hath been; in vain may we exultingly speak of our wisely arranged services; in vain may we trace, as trace undoubtedly we can, our ministerial commission, through saints, confessors and martyrs, up to the very days of the apostles, and through them to Him from whom they received power to send others as he himself had been sent by God, if we become not what our Church has been appointed, as the nursery in which we might, in which we ought to become, children of God, accepted in his beloved son; Christians not simply by outward profession, but in heart and mind; not only naming ‘the name,’ but having ‘the spirit of Christ’; departing ‘from all iniquity,’ walking ‘religiously in good words,’ adorning the ‘doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.’
Shall we not, then, give diligence ‘to make our calling and election sure’? Shall we, resting contented, like the Jews, in our distinctions and our privileges, and because to us ‘pertain the giving of the law’ of the priesthood, the authority (if it is to be rightly given) to minister in holy things, and because ours ‘are the fathers,’ (the early Christian patriarchs,) settle down in the belief that the mere possession of these, will secure for us membership in ‘the general assembly and church of the first born whose names are written in heaven’? Ah! then shall we only prepare ourselves to hear, in reply to our plea, ‘Lord we have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets,’ the appalling answer, ‘I know you not whence ye are; depart from me all ye workers of iniquity.’ Depart we must then, my brethren, and as the door is shut; within which we have beheld the redeemed ‘clothed in white robes,’ O will there not then be a most agonizing recollection of the white robe, the Surplice in which the Christian minister so often stood before us, reminding us by that appropriate sign, as well as by his instructions, of the ‘manner of persons in holy conversation and godliness’ which we ought to have been, and of the purity of heart without which it is impossible to be recipients of the divine favor?
Of this let us be warned.—Of this we are warned by the vestments of those who as ambassadors for Christ, are continually beseeching us in Christ’s stead, ‘to be reconciled unto God.’ Do they lay aside the white and appear before us in a robe of black? Neither is this destitute of meaning. Not only is this significant of office, every year more of those assuming it, who once railed against its use, but it preaches to us most important lessons. This also, is [15/16] open, full, unbound, free; thereby indicating that the gospel message which is now to be delivered and enforced is to be opened to the whole race of man; that the will of God, as revealed in it, is not to be communicated simply to one people, but that the glad tidings are to be proclaimed to all; that it is full of instruction and comfort to all; that the ‘word of God is not bound,’ must not be attempted to be bound, or kept from the people, and cannot be bound, but will go forth, ‘until all shall know the Lord, from the least unto the greatest;’ and that it is a free salvation which is now offered, and which all may have ‘without money and without price,’ who will thankfully receive ‘the engrafted word which is able to save the soul.’
Is it not thus received? Do men turn from the ‘holy commandment given them’? Will they not work out their salvation? Will they not strive for purity of heart and conformity to God’s will? Behold, the preacher is arrayed in black; black is an emblem of sin. Let then the impenitent be by this admonished of that ‘blackness of darkness’ in which they who go on still in their wickedness will hereafter be left. Black is also the insignia of mourning; let those then, who here never have mourned over and forsaken their sins, fleeing by faith to the atoning blood of Jesus in which to have them washed away, be by this robe of the preacher induced to think of that same Jesus, who hereafter shall come ‘with clouds,’ whom ‘every eye shall behold’; and let them conceive, if they can, how they will ‘wail,’ who here by their sins have ‘pierced him.’
My brethren, let us all have our minds drawn to that time so full of woe to the disobedient, and prepare in our hearts the way of the Lord. ‘Behold he cometh.’ Assuredly, as he once appeared in our world, instructing us in ‘the things which belong to our everlasting peace,’ will he one day come to judge and reward us according to the deeds done in the body. Of this truth, the Church throughout her whole season of Advent, admonishes you, warning you of your danger if destitute of an interest in Christ, and intreating you, not to allow your Lord’s second coming to find you among the unprofitable servants who then will be cast ‘into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.’ What remains then but that we be ‘clad with zeal as with a cloak’ in his service, and that our ‘garments be always white,’ that we be sincere in our professions, and constantly endeavor to maintain uprightness of conduct, innocency of life, and a conscience void of offence towards God and towards men. Let us see that our religion is not one of mere form, but a principle enabling us to keep ourselves ‘unspotted from the world.’ Let us consider ourselves, Christians certainly ought to consider themselves, as clothed in a white garment, but nevertheless compelled to live in a world filled with pollution, with temptations assailing us at every step, and let us walk circumspectly, being ‘girt with truth,’ bearing before us ‘the shield of faith,’ and wielding ‘the sword of the spirit.’ ‘Blessed, says our Lord is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments.’ He shall walk with me in white.’ He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.’