THE following Sermon was prepared for the Author's own congregation; and, although but one discourse, was delivered in two parts. The same ideas, substantially, may have been better expressed by others; but it is not impossible that local interest and a new publication may secure them admission to some minds which otherwise might remain uninformed. The chief design of the sermon is to communicate important truth; but a subordinate and almost equally important one is to correct some misapprehensions, remove some prejudices, and impart some useful information with regard to the position of our Church in relation to the important matters discussed. The false representations which are often made; and the erroneous impressions which are in this way industriously kept up with regard to our opinions on the subject of Tradition, and the Rule of Faith, seemed to render some explanation and defence desirable; for even our own people are in danger of being disturbed or misled. The illustration of these points, therefore, occupies considerable space in the following pages. Some allowance will, of course, be made for diffuseness and occasional repetition in a composition designed for a promiscuous assembly.
To obviate the necessity of notes, to enable the general reader the better to understand the discourse itself, as well as to remove some possible objections, the Author deems it expedient to make the following preliminary explanations, which he commends to the special attention of his readers.
When we speak of the Catholic Faith as being that which has been believed always, every where, and by all--quod semper, quod ubique, et quod ab omnibus creditum est--a difficulty may present itself to the minds of some, arising out of the extensive prevalence of Arianism in the fourth century, when, it is alleged, the majority of Christians were Arians. But this heresy was probably much less general than is commonly supposed, Although the civil power gave it a temporary ascendency in the East, the great body of the Church must have continued [iii/iv] sound in the faith. That was a period of rebuke and of blasphemy, permitted, probably, as the means of testing, defining, and settling for all time to come, the true and original doctrine of the Trinity. But taking the aggregate of the whole Church of all ages and nations, the Arian faction forms a very small exception to the general rule. Notwithstanding that limited and temporary defection, it is still true that the infinite majority of the one Catholic and Apostolic Church has been orthodox on this point. But again, if this answer to the objection be deemed insufficient, and if this heresy vitally affected the Catholicity of those who held it--as we are taught by the Athanasian creed that it does--then the Arians must be thrown out of the account, and classed with heretics and schismatics; and the Catholic Church continued sound through the whole. And this rule is not intended to embrace any except the members of the Catholic Church, otherwise it would be evidently unsound, and would imply that there never has been a sect on earth which rejected any fundamental doctrine--which no one pretends.
But we have still another answer which not only removes the difficulty in question, but establishes the Rule and proves its value:--How was Arianism finally refuted, condemned, and banished from the Catholic Church?--By the proof of the fact, from the history of "the Faith which was once delivered unto the saints," that it was not from the beginning--not always, nor everywhere, nor by all believed, but just the opposite. Up to that century it was--within the Catholic fold --believed at no time, nowhere, nor by any. The rule saved the Faith. And the application of this rule proves either that the Arians were not properly in the Church, being self-excommunicated by fatal heresy, or that they were so unsound that they are no more entitled to be taken into the calculation, than ulcers, cancers, or wens, in a description of the human species.
Further, when we say that the Catholic Faith is that which has been held always, everywhere, and by all, many persons immediately think of the corruptions, perversions, and additions of the Roman and the Oriental Churches, which (far as they have departed from the simplicity of the Gospel) our Church recognizes as branches of the Holy Catholic Church. It is imagined that these corruptions, perversions, and additions, overthrow the rule in question, by proving that this continuity, universality, and general prevalence of such a faith, is not verified by facts. But this is a mistake.--Whatever corruptions and [iv/v] perversions have arisen either in the whole or a part of the Church, and whatever additions have been made, are no parts of the Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is that which has existed from the beginning, and through all changes and time; and notwithstanding all their errors and additions, is still found entire in the creeds of these ancient Churches. They have lost no one article of this faith. Their error is that of addition and perversion, not of rejection.
But it is alleged that large Protestant communities, reject some things which the whole of the Episcopal Churches hold to be Catholic doctrines, and essential parts of the Catholic system, as, for example, Episcopacy. And m our country, especially, where the nonepiscopal and spurious episcopal sects form so large a majority of the population, this is considered a conclusive argument against this rule. But this is a fact which will work in an opposite direction--it might be used to prove that communities which differ so materially from the immense majority of Christians of all ages from the Apostles downward, and of all ancient Churches over the whole world, have but slender claims to being considered constituent branches of the one Catholic and Apostolic Church, and ought therefore to be left out of the account. Not, however, to use this argument, I shall proceed to give a calculation which will show that the sum total of these Protestant communities, compared with the Episcopal bodies, is so very small that they (numerically considered) amount only to a trivial exception to a general rule.
The Church of Rome estimates the number of her members at 200,000,000
The Greek Church within the Russian Empire, numbers about (Malte Brun) 40,000,000
In the Turkish Empire about (Malte Brun) 30,000,000
The Armenian, Syrian, Coptic, and Nestorian churches of the East, must number about 9,000,000
The Protestant Episcopal Churches of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, India, the United States, and the British Colonies cannot number less than 20,000,000
The Church of Sweden, and the Moravians may be estimated at about 3,000,000
Thus, at a moderate estimate, the number of genuine Episcopalians is THREE HUNDRED MILLIONS.
[vi] Now, if we add together the whole of the non-episcopal and pseudo episcopal sects, we shall not find them to amount to more than about Thirty millions, or one-eleventh of the whole, at the present time. But this does not give the true result.
The whole of Christendom, with the exception of this thirty millions for about three hundred years, has been Episcopal for eighteen hundred years. Allowing three generations for a hundred years, and admitting an average of two hundred millions of Christians for the whole period from the birth of Christ--a moderate estimate--we shall find the Protestant communities in question, reduced to a minority so very small that the deduction of their whole number will form an exception which in the application of a general rule need not be named, except when we descend to the most precise calculations. Not more than 1 to 60!
Nothing but the apparent and disproportionate magnitude of objects near at hand can beguile the ultra-Protestant denominations into the notion that they are a majority, or even a considerable minority, of Christendom. But such are the illusions by which many intelligent and worthy persons are liable to be deceived, unless they will open their eyes and look abroad, and make accurate calculations from facts. Such a process would dispel many a dream, and destroy many a confident assertion, and spoil many a piece of eloquent declamation! The boy who had been born in one of the narrow valleys of the Alps, and never passed the barriers, or locked from the top of one of the mountains which begirt his narrow home, and consequently imagined that those lofty eminences were the limits of the world, affords a good illustration of the position and notions of many persons respecting the magnitude and importance of their sects.
If it be asked why we attach so much importance to such matters as the Catholic Faith, the Unity of the Church, three Orders in the ministry, and Apostolic succession, and so often obtrude them upon the attention of those who differ from us on these points;--the answer is obvious--We believe them to be of God, and to be of immense importance to the interests of mankind; and that Christianity in its purity and power can never universally prevail, and the whole body of Christians become united, until they are believed by all. It must not, however, be supposed that we are hostile, or uncharitable, towards the persons whom we consider in error, while we endeavor to maintain the truth against those errors themselves. Believing as we do, Christian [vi/vii] charity requires us to use all proper means to bring our fellow men into the same belief. This is what men do in relation to all truth, and all measures and practices, which are likely to promote the general good. Common philanthropy requires this; and shall Christian philanthropy require and prompt to less? We wish to see "one fold," as well as "one Shepherd," and to bring all men to the acknowledgment of the truth."
In the Sermon, the author has spoken of the monumental institutions and memorials of the Church, and in one place denominated them by the geological expression. "Organic Remains" of Christian Antiquity. By this term he means to convey the idea that the existing structure of all ancient Churches is indicative of what all churches were originally. These ecclesiastical "organic remains" are found wherever ancient Churches still exist. We find them in all the sections of the Old World; and they are not only of great antiquity, but are evidently of the same genus--even of the same species. They are widely dispersed; and yet indicate a common origin. What are these extant bones of primeval Christianity? They are the Ministry in three orders, with the records of Apostolic Succession; Ordination by Bishops alone; Confirmation; Infant Baptism: Liturgies for public worship; Sacerdotal vestments; Ancient creeds, embodying corresponding doctrines; Authoritative Rituals enjoining periodical Fasts and Festivals; and other things of similar organic character. Now if a Geologist can from a few bones of any part of the body of an extinct race of animals, reconstruct the whole frame, and determine with certainty the size, form, structure, element and habits of one of these extinct species or genuses, why may not a competent Ecclesiologist pursue an analogous course, and with equal certainty, determine the original structure, form, clement, and habits of the Church? The discovery, examination, and witness of some long-lost Churches of the East--the Syrian, the Nestorian, and the Abyssinian--have thrown so much light on this subject, that it is no wonder that the non-episcopal sects should have endeavored to keep back full accounts of these ancient Churches. But the facts, by means of works on these organic remains, are now before the public, and can no longer be concealed. If only one of these ancient Churches could be discovered, it would as certainly prove the early existence of such a species, as the bones of a single Megatherium prove that such a race of animals existed in ancient times. But has there ever yet been discovered amid the ruins of antiquity a skeleton, or a single fossil [vii/viii] bone, of a Presbyterian, a Congregational, a Methodist, or a Baptist Church? Not one! We have no memorials of such a thing even in books dating farther back than three hundred years. So far no organic remains of such a genus, or of any such species of Church has been discovered; and there is nothing to contradict the theory that such ecclesiastical structures are the product of a new creation;--whether of God or of man, I leave to others to determine.
Finally, there is a very common misapprehension with regard to the position of the Church of England towards that of Italy, in respect to the schism which occurred at the time of the English Reformation. It is imagined by many that the schism was made by the Church of England. This is not the fact:--She only disenthralled herself from the dominion of the Pope, and restored herself to the condition of the Primitive Church. Rome, dissatisfied with this exercise of her inalienable rights, and discharge of her duty, drew off her adherents from the communion of the Catholic Church of England; and undertook to ex-communicate her. This destroyed the outward organic unity of the body; and this was therefore a schismatical act; and the guilt of schism rests upon Rome. Nothing of this kind was done by the Church of England. But had the schismatical Church of Rome the power to excommunicate the Church of England? Certainly not.--No such power over the whole Church, or the Bishops of a National Church, is inherent in any one Bishop, wherever may be his See--.No such power belongs to any Council except a General Council; and no such Council has been held for many centuries previously to the Reformation, and none since. Whatever the adherents of the Roman Church may pretend, no Protestant will allege that the Church of England had not the right to throw off the Roman yoke, and reform away errors and abuses; and if she had this right, and was bound to exercise it, it would be a most extraordinary supposition that either the Pope or a Provincial Synod, had the power to excommunicate her for doing so. Yet it is not uncommon with those Protestants who wish to have the Church of England in the same predicament with their own communities, to pretend that that Church was really and truly excommunicated by a valid act of the Pope! To maintain this position, they must adopt a theory far more Popish than was ever held by the most ultra High Churchman.
EARNESTLY CONTEND FOR THE FAITH WHICH WAS ONCE DELIVERED UNTO THE SAINTS.--ST. JUDE, 3.
THE term Faith is here used, by metonymy, for the object of faith; that is, the doctrines, precepts, and institutions of the Christian Religion--whatever required the belief of those to whom the revelation was made. I embrace in this definition the institutions of Christianity, because faith in the Church, in her ministry, sacraments, and apostolic rites, and ordinances, must not be separated from faith in the doctrines and precepts of revelation. For this reason the ancient Creeds require us to believe in "One Catholic and Apostolic Church," with her Divinely instituted and authorized threefold ministry, her holy Eucharist and rites, in the communion of saints;" and "one Baptism for the remission of sins," by which we come into that Church and blessed communion; and consequently, in her authority, constitution, and guardianship of the truth.
This Faith, which involves the "common salvation," had been "once," or formerly, "delivered to the saints." The saints referred to, are the ancient Prophets, Apostles, and Primitive Christians, who received it directly from God. This faith had come "by inspiration of God," and from the lips of our Lord himself, and was delivered to the Church--"the Pillar and Ground of the Truth"--both in writing and by word of mouth. What was written with the immediate pen of Inspiration, was to be carefully distinguished, and authoritatively separated from the numerous false and spurious Gospels and Epistles of impostors and uninspired writers, and carefully and conscientiously preserved. What had not been written at the mouth of our Lord, or by the persons who were chosen ass the immediate organs of [9/10] revelation, but was orally delivered by inspired men, was, by the concurrent witness and consent of the same authority which settled the Canon of Scripture, to be collected, carefully discriminated from the mere opinions, theories, and fancies of uninspired men, written down, and contended for with a zeal and earnestness inferior only to that with which the written communications were advocated and defended. That both the written and the orally delivered word were to be contended for, we have the authority of St. Paul himself, who exhorts the Christians of Thessalonica in these words,--"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." A passage which settles two or three important points, that is, that many things of great value were delivered by word--orally--which were not written; that these things are by the apostle placed, in some respects, on a level with the written word, and that the people of God in that age--and why not in all ages so far as they can be ascertained?--were bound to hold them fast. The same is true with regard to the organization of the Church, with her ministry, sacraments, worship, rites, and established authority--which were, and are, the visible and acknowledged monuments and embodied teachings of inspired apostles.
A portion of the ancient Faith, then, was delivered to the Church by these saints in writing; a portion "by word," that is, orally in the sermons and conversations of our Lord, and of inspired men; and still another, in the Divinely instituted and sanctioned monuments of the early Church. As regards the written word, the various documents which contained it, were to be collected, separated from the chaff, and, with discriminating fidelity, stampt with the seal of universal consent, and transmitted intact and distinct, for the benefit of all ages and nations. As regards that portion of the faith which was orally delivered, and not written down by inspired men, as also their inspired interpretations of Scripture; this was to be recalled to mind, treasured up in the memory of the faithful, recorded by those to whom it had been delivered by the Apostles, or by their immediate successors, approved by the general consent of the Church; and carefully preserved and transmitted to future generations as the truest, best, and safest light by which to be guided in the interpretation of the written word, and inferior only to it in authority; and that inferiority arising only out of the fallibility of uninspired men to whom it was it delivered," and by whom it was recorded. As respects that portion of the [10/11] Faith which was substantially and legibly written upon, or embodied in, the Divine and monumental institutions of the Church--the Unity of the Body of Christ;" the threefold ministry to be perpetuated by Apostolic succession; the sacraments, confirmation, and worship of the Church; the Christian Sabbath, Infant Baptism, and the like--these, warranted by Scripture, and instituted and observed by Christ and his Apostles, were to be believed in, adhered to, and preserved as Divine and inviolable. Where all these concur in establishing any point,-and so far as they speak they do concur--there must be an end of controversy.
Thus the kind of tradition to which we defer, and which we receive, is not, as some imagine, mere oral sayings, or unwritten legends--which are not to be relied upon for any considerable length of time after their origin--but written and monumental traditions, inferior only in authority and credibility to the word of God written with the very pen of Inspiration--recorded truths and established and embodied memorials of truths "once delivered to the saints" by Christ and his Apostles; and handed down with the best evidence, and by the most competent witnesses, in written language and imperishable institutions from age to age: so that he who rejects them must on the same principle, and for much stronger reasons, reject all past history and evidence of authorship, and scoff at the pyramids of Egypt, and the enduring monuments of ancient cities, as the productions of yesterday designed to impose upon the world. Every ancient Church, however covered with rubbish, decayed, and disfigured, is as a pyramid covered with inscriptions of truth. Every ancient creed and liturgy, are as the sublime and venerable columns towering above the crumbling ruins which they surmount. And the written remains of the Primitive Christian Fathers, concurring in their witness respecting any doctrine, institution, or fact, are as all the historical and literary remains of ancient Greece and Rome, only more authentic and credible. And the decrees of every early and Ecumenical Counsel, are as the Parthenon of the Acropolis, and the Pantheon of Rome--abiding memorials of ancient days, and ancient institutions.
These are traditions, which do not make void the written faith, but establish it; which do not supersede the records of inspired penmen, but are, with inferior authority, supplementary to them; which do not explain away the Canonical writings, but elucidate them, and give the mind of the Spirit, upon the best authority; which do not claim to be [11/12] on a par with the Canonical books, but to be the Church's understanding of them, and commentaries upon them; which do not give the opinions of individuals, remote from their origin, as to what Christ and his Apostles instituted and taught, but of many faithful and holy men who sat at their feet, and drank of Divine Truth near the fountain head, and sealed their testimony with their blood; and of the whole Church in her earliest, purest, and best days, and have been held sacred by her in all succeeding ages. Are they not infinitely more to be relied upon than the opinions of men living at the distance of many centuries? Do they not come down to us with the very same authority as the catalogue of the Canonical Books? Is there not a moral certainty that he who rejects, opposes, and is condemned by them, has a different understanding of "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints," from those saints themselves? Does not he who reviles and denounces them make a close approximation to the sin of setting up his own judgment against the declarations of Jehovah himself?
Now for this faith once delivered to the saints, thus earnestly contended for of old, and thus handed down to us, it is our duty to contend with like earnestness and fidelity. And in doing so, we are not at liberty to select and advocate merely those particulars which may be our favorites, to the neglect and disparagemement of others equally or more important. Nor are we permitted to contend exclusively for those articles of this Faith which are popular in the world, or with heretics, or schismatics, as well as in the Church, to the neglect of those which may be unpopular, and the defence on advocacy of which may subject us to odium or persecution. Nor does this solemn apostolic injunction allow us to overlook, or neglect to contend for, those institutions or doctrines which at any particular time, are assailed and endangered, or to postpone our efforts, until the storm and danger are past. On the contrary, when any part of this faith is most unpopular, most fiercely assaulted, and most endangered, then is the time when we ought to stand forth in its defence. This is the duty of all Christians, but especially of the authorized ambassadors of Christ--of those who are o set for the defence of the gospel," and stand upon the watch-towers of the city of God, and have solemnly vowed, "the Lord being their helper," to be ready with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortation as well to the sick as the whole within their [12/13] cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given." Yet this is not to be done with a bad spirit, or with carnal weapons; or from selfish and sinister motives, or in such a way as to violate the law of love.
Now, if ever there was a time since the ascension of our Lord when it behoved the ministers of religion, and all who arc interested in "the common salvation," to regard the obligation of our text, it is the present. Never has there been a period when, in America at least, there existed such a number and variety of discordant and conflicting sects, all claiming to hold and to be contending for the faith as originally delivered to the saints. And never have the minds of men been more harrassed and perplexed by the obtrusiveness, boldness, and importunity of imposture, delusion, and fanaticism, putting forth the most glaring, impious, and pernicious errors, and claiming for them the credit and the authority of the everlasting gospel itself. The dangers of the times are greatly increased by several causes, which have rarely, if ever, existed and operated to the same extent and in the same degree, and had such numerous and fatal facilities for bringing forth the pernicious fruits of delusion, error, and death. This is an age in which the minds of men have broken loose from all wholesome restraints both human and Divine. Private fancy, judgment, and opinion, in the plenitude of overweening pride and self-sufficiency, have exalted] themselves above all authority, experience, and precedent, scorning alike the dictates of Inspiration, the voice of antiquity, the admonitions of the past, and the facts of history. Liberty has degenerated into licentiousness and anarchy; and freedom of inquiry, into scepticism and heresy. The rights 'of conscience have given place to the claims of heresy and schism; and ignorance has set itself up as the rightful interpreter, of Scripture, and propounder of law and faith. Such is the state of things in our days that any fanatic, enthusiast, or impostor, self-sent, or sent by unsent men, may claim to be a divinely commissioned ambassador of Christ, and the multitude, without asking for his credentials, or for miracles to substantiate his claims, receive hint on his own word, and drink in the deadly and infectious poison of heresy, as if he were an angel of God, and his hallucinations and ravings the oracles of eternal truth. By the great mass of the people of our own country especially, the most Divinely authorized ambassador of the Prince of Peace, and the most ignorant and impious impostor who claims to be a minister of Christ, are placed on the same level, and equally despised, or equally [13/14] received and venerated as Divinely commissioned heralds of the Cross. In such a state of things Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, would--if more bold and eloquent, or entertaining, or flattering--have more admirers and followers than ., Moses and Aaron, the priests of God." Hymeneus and Hermogenes, Alexander and Diotrophes, would be more popular than the Apostles of our Lord. Meanwhile we notice the two opposite extremes, but both equally false, of utterly denying the necessity of any Divine commission; and of putting forth the most presumptuous and preposterous claims to supernatural mission, inspiration, and impulse. All that is ancient and venerable is scoffed at and rejected; and the most impious liberties are taken with the written word of God, which is garbled, suppressed, perverted, distorted, explained away, or put to the torture to compel it to yield its witness to human inventions. One of the greatest and most dangerous evils of the times is the facility, assurance, and success with which the most bare-faced impostors, and the most rabid fanatics, and the most pestilent heretics, appeal to the Bible as the standard and rule of their faith; and claim, in consequence, to be the representatives of the true Church of God, and the most faithful, disinterested, and zealous advocates and defenders of the truth. They proclaim themselves reformers, prophets, and modern apostles; and pretend either to restore the original faith; to give new revelations; or to bring up the lagging Church to "the spirit and improvements of the age." They renounce old doctrines, and advance new ones. They would demolish ancient institutions, and substitute new and patent ones. Tired of the old Apostolic methods of travelling on foot, by horse-power, oars, and sails, they would travel, in religion, by steam. And for countenance in all this they quote the Bible, of which they profess to be the only trustworthy friends. It would be hard to imagine a man so ignorant, deluded, fanatical, or wicked, that he could not, with the aid of some talent, ingenuity, eloquence, and pretension to divine impulse, and employment of the marvellous, attract followers and admirers, and set up what he would choose to call a "Church;" and his dupes and victims would regard it as the purest and best on earth. W hen in its infancy it might be called a "Society;" but when it had become a few years old, and the ignorant had forgotten its humble and pitiful origin, it would be dignified by the name "Church."
I might mention scores of such "Churches;" but I forbear. The latest improvement is that of calling all such societies--such as [14/15] missionary, tract, Bible, peace, temperance, abolition Societies--"Churches," and the purest and best Churches on earth. All this is so well known that it would be superfluous to prove it by citing facts, or arraying arguments. Such is the state of things that, except where early and wholesome religious education has been enjoyed, it is no easy matter even for the honest and intelligent inquirer after the "old Paths," and "The Good Way," to ascertain what is really "The Faith which was once delivered unto the Saints." While on the one hand, Rome, hoary with age, decrepit with the infirmities of senility, and stained with blood of martyred saints, says, "It is here!" on the other hand, a hundred heterogeneous and discordant sects, the offspring of yesterday, and many of them with scarcely a shred of Gospel truth in their creed, and not a single principle or feature of the "One Catholic and Apostolic Church" in their system, with a bold front and a confident and sanctimonious air, exclaim,each for itself, "It is here!" and holding up the Bible, say--"This is my creed!" What wonder if, in this contest, Rome with her antiquity, consistency, unbroken phalanx, boasted infallibility, and two hundred millions of members, should daily multiply her converts? It is this system of division and subdivision, and this infinite variety of errors, and their legitimate fruits, which more than any other cause, render this ancient and corrupt Church so formidable to the original and Reformed Faith. Tossed about with "every wind of doctrine," harrassed with uncertainty and doubt, and overlooking the only abode and resting place of Apostolic Order and Gospel Truth, the serious and devoutedly inclined inquirer, goes at once into the bosom of this venerable Communion, as what seems to him most likely to terminate his uncertainty, and afford him safety and repose; and once there, the shame of return, and the blandishments of that accomplished "Mother," prevent his return to a purer and safer fold.
Now, I do not say that schism, error, imposture, and fanaticism, are new under the sun; for they manifested themselves even in the days of the Apostles; and there is scarcely an Epistle which does not contain evidence of their existence in the very age of Inspiration. It was the prevalence of such evils, and the danger thence resulting to the true Faith, which prompted St. Jude to write our text--"Beloved, when I gave all diligence [literally, when I made haste] to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which [15/16] was once delivered unto the saints." And then he goes on to speak of impostors, heretics, and heresies.
The evils in question, then, are not of modem origin. They have existed from the very commencement of the Christian dispensation, and through all succeeding ages. Ecclesiastical history is filled with accounts of heresies and schisms; but no past age has in this respect attained to the "bad eminence" of the present. To counteract the design and influence of false teachers, and preserve the pure faith whole and unadulterated, our blessed Lord, who foresaw the evil, uttered his prophetic warnings. All the Apostles endeavored to set up impregnable bulwarks for the defence of the Truth. The Church, as an imperishable and everlasting obelisk of Divine construction, was inscribed on all sides with living and indelible characters, and entrusted with the witness and charge of the volumes of Revelation. And the authorized ministers of religion, were enjoined to "hold fast the form of sound words," and encouraged by the promise of Him who is "The Truth," "Lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." In the last Epistle the injunction is reiterated, "Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." And in the Apocalypse--the last of the Sacred books--"The faithful and true witness" says--"Hold fast till I clime;" and promises, "Behold, I come quickly!" And wo to him who, in these perilous times, from fear, or indolence, or love of popularity, or a temporizing spirit, basely forsakes the Ark of the Covenant; proves recreant to his trust, or compromits the doctrines of the Cross, or, without effort to prevent it, suffers the foes of the Church to defile her secret chambers with the "imagery" of superstition or infidelity; or to break down her venerable and heaven-built walls, or demolish her mighty bulwarks;
But where shall we find, and how may we identify,; the Faith which was once delivered to the saints? Arid what directions shall we give to those who "stand in the ways, and see, and ask for the Old Paths--where is the Good way?" These are momentous inquiries, which well deserve to be answered. It is not enough to say to every one who Would find this faith, and the path of life, "Go to the Bible." For although it is true, as we have seen, that the Bible is the grand, unfathomable and exhaustless source of revealed truth; and although our VI Article of Religion truly declares that "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; and whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should [16/17] be believed as an article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation;" yet who does not know that, excepting the few who pretend to immediate revelation by inspiration or otherwise, all religionists from the Romanist down to the Unitarian, the Rationalist, and the Universalist, claim to have the Bible on their side, and to be its most faithful and devoted admirers and friends; and that all Protestant sects profess to take "The Bible, and the Bible alone," as their all-sufficient "Rule of Faith?" The Bible is in fact the exhaustless store from which all heretics and schismatics profess to derive their respective creeds. Not that these false and pernicious creeds are really in the Bible properly interpreted and understood; for in this blessed and truthful book, there is neither false doctrine, nor connivance at schism. But the ignorance, the pride, the presumption, the irreverence, the superstition, the prejudice, the wilfulness, and the ambition, of vain, corrupt, and self-sufficient men, instigated too often by Satan, misunderstand, pervert, and abuse the Bible, and wrest its meaning, so as to make it speak and sanction what was never intended by God, or inspired writer--by prophet, or apostle. As the best gifts of Providence, treasured up in the exuberant bosom of Nature, and poured forth for the good of all, are often perverted to the destruction of the body; so the very volume of Truth, bearing the signature and seal of Jehovah, and containing for all the light of salvation, is perverted by wicked and deluded men to the ruin of the soul. The grossest and most barefaced heretics and impostors, pretend to admire, approve, believe, and be guided by, the Bible. It is a notorious fact that when a designing, ambitious and wicked impostor, enthusiast, or fanatic, wishes to conciliate the public favor, gain followers, and form a sect, or " a church," he commences by artfully denouncing and scoffing at all ancient Creeds and Liturgies, and decrying if he has ever heard of them--the early Christian Fathers, and showing his prowess in assaults upon the walls and bulwarks of the Church; and professing great liberality, and pretending if he has no new revelation to proclaim--to take "the Bible, and the Bible alone" as the Rule of his faith! Where, except those cases in which immediate inspiration, or new revelation, is claimed, will you find a Christian Sect, however gross or heretical, which does not profess to derive its creed from "the Bible and the Bible alone," and affect to be peculiarly devoted to the Bible? This dangerous, because pervertible, dogma, erroneously supposed to be the only safeguard against Romanism, has been so long current, and [17/18] so long identified in the public mind with orthodoxy, that none of the Protestant Sects can now either gainsay or resist it. And it is lamentable that even good men in the bosom of our own Church--a Church never committed to this bald proposition--alarmed by the dread of Popery, misguided by erroneous notions, or influenced by the Sectarian spirit, imported or flowing in from without, should indirectly and unintentionally encourage these impostures and delusions, while they even imagine that they are honoring the Bible, and doing God service. Alas! there is nothing which, in the end, tends more to the disadvantage of truth and the discredit of the Bible, than this dogma carried out to its natural and legitimate results. The very strongest and most effective argument which Romanists can bring against Protestantism, is the baneful fruits of this dangerous principle. Under the shadow of high authority and example, and acting in accordance with this license, Protestant Christendom is filled with heresy and schism in a thousand forms; and imposture and fanaticism walk abroad with an unblushing front, claiming all the truth and piety in the world!
Do we, then, deny that the Bible is the grand and infallible depository of revealed truth, and set up some other rule above this blessed Book? Assuredly not!--The Bible is the inspired document, written with the very pen of Inspiration, and stampt with the signature and seal of Almighty God; and whoever, in our days, pretends to any doctrine not found in the Bible, capable of being proved by the Bible, or inconsistent with its teachings; or attempts to enforce any opinion or proposition, as an article of faith, not found therein, or sanctioned thereby, is guilty of presumption, error and sin. For the Bible contains the infallible law and testimony, and is the treasure and the record of heavenly Truth, which none can reject, except at his peril.
I deem it necessary to be thus explicit on this point, not because the doctrine of our Church in relation to it is doubtful, but because designing men who know better, and some good, but ill informed men, who do not know better, have attempted to persuade the public that we underrate and disparage the holy Scriptures, and derive our Faith and Ecclesiastical Polity, not from this source, but from mere tradition--which tradition they represent as being like the legendary traditions of the Romish Church of the Middle Ages; or unwritten sayings handed down from generation to generation. They would identify us with the Pharisees of the time of Christ on earth, who by their "traditions" "made void the Law of God;" and in this way [18/19] artfully excite odium and suspicion. They, forsooth, are for the Bible, and we for tradition. And they confidently affirm that for whatever is peculiar in the Doctrine, Order, or Discipline of our Church, we appeal to mere tradition and human authority, and that we can find no authority in the written word of God. This, however, is a false and injurious representation. There is no Church or Society in the world, which holds the Bible in higher estimation, or does it so much honor, either theoretically or practically. Who honors the Constitution of the United States most,--he who rejects all cotemporaneous writings and evidence, and the opinions of its framers and their immediate disciples and acquaintance, with regard to its original intent and meaning, and rejecting all light and aid in ascertaining its true construction and import, relies exclusively upon mere verbal criticism and his own private judgment, employing all his ingenuity to make it support his modern Political Creed; or he who pursues the opposite course? This question need not be answered. But it illustrates the difference between the Church and her adversaries.--The Apostles are as the framers of the American Constitution: the epistles, commentaries, creeds, and homilies of the Primitive Christian Fathers, as cotemporaneous writings: the decrees and creeds of General Councils, as the decisions of the Supreme Court; the acts of Congress as the doings of the early Church; the actual structure and officers of the Government, are as the actual organization and Ministry of the Primitive Church; and the Civil Code and Rules of Order, as those ancient Liturgies ascribed to the Apostles. All authentic history throws light upon both Constitution and Government, officers and their functions.
And it is a remarkable and significant fact, that when the best writers of the most respectable Protestant Sects wish to vindicate any sacrament, usage, or doctrine, which is assailed by conflicting sects, they without scruple avail themselves of the testimony of the early Fathers, and the Creeds and usages of the Primitive Church. Thus many of these writers appeal to this evidence in favor of Infant Baptism; the observance of the Christian Sabbath on the first day of the week; and the doctrine, of the Holy Trinity. When it suits them, they venerate tradition and take shelter under the Catholic Faith.--This is a dictate of common sense; and legitimately carried out, it would lead them into the Church.
WHERE, then, lies the origin of the evil? What is the prolific source of these bitter and poisonous waters? How comes it that such innumerable and dangerous errors and heresies, and such wide departures from Apostolic and primitive institutions, have sprung up under the auspices, and been patronized by the authority, of men who profess to be instructed and guided by "the Bible and the Bible alone?" Must Eternal Truth itself be regarded as the source and spring, the parent and guardian, of all theological falsehood? If not, who, or what, must be held responsible for that hateful and pestilent brood of
"Gorgons, and Hydras, and Chimeras dire"
which in these latter days swarm over the earth like the "locusts" engendered in the "smoke of the bottomless pit," and to whom "was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power"? The answer to this question, as regards Protestant Christendom, is simple, obvious, and incontrovertible,--It is the false and dangerous principle of unrestrained private interpretation of the Scriptures. This principle is acted upon, and carried out, when each individual, regardless of the light, the testimony, and the authority of the Primitive and Universal Church, and the well known Catholic Faith of all ages and nations, goes directly to the Bible and interprets it for himself, and according to his own preconceived notions, his prejudices, his interest, or his theological system, making it speak according his own private judgment thus biassed and perverted. The same principle is substantially acted upon when the systems of particular men, or classes of men, or sects, are adopted, and individuals, with the rule and square, the rack and crucible, thus furnished, torture, garble, dilute, and wrest the Holy Scriptures so as to make them support their private opinions, or their sectarian creeds. The Bible is thus used like a musical instrument of great compass and power, upon which every man plays his favorite tune. And if the result be bad, the Bible is no more responsible than such a musical instrument for the discords produced by the performers.
Now, the experience of many centuries, especially of the last three, is amply sufficient to demonstrate that this is a dangerous, and often fatal, and therefore a false principle. The present state of the Ultra-Protestant portion of Christendom, and its evident tendencies to the [20/21] opposite and discordant results of superstition, fanaticism, transcendentalism, and infidelity, clearly proves the earthly (if not worse) origin of this doctrine of private interpretation. There have always been men--sometimes of no little talent and Ingenuity, eloquence and address--who if allowed to assume the office of teachers, and frame their own creeds from the Bible as interpreted by themselves, or men of like character and tendencies, would, like the "unlearned and unstable" of old, "wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction." And there have always been, still are, and will always be, multitudes of ignorant, weak credulous, and fanatical persons, who furnish ample and pliant materials for the plastic powers of these religious system-mongers and demagogues. While this is the case, what can be fraught with more danger to truth, order, and the interests of religion, than the encouragement of this principle? If all who undertake to teach were themselves taught of God; if all were guided by the Holy Spirit; if all were intelligent, wise, and holy, and free from pride, passion, prejudice and ambition--if all were competent to interpret the written word of God, there would be little or no danger in allowing, or recommending, private interpretation to the fullest extent. But that this is not the case, is too evident to require proof; and so long as this use is made of the Bible, it will be perverted; and heresies and schisms will continue to multiply from year to year.
Hence, the Church of England has decided against unrestrained private interpretation. And even the more ancient and conservative of the Protestant Sects have, so far as the principle is concerned, both theoretically and practically decided against it, by framing "Confessions of Faith" and "platforms" for their respective communities. But in reality they have fallen into the error itself by acting upon it in framing those Confessions without due deference to the ancient and Catholic Faith. These extended Creeds are the results of the private interpretation of a few individuals of particular ages and communities. They have retained shreds and patches of the ancient Faith; but not the entire Faith. They have what they regard as churches and ministers; but they are churches of their own devising, and ministries of their own creation. They appeal to the teachings of Christ and his Apostles; but have forsaken the "One Catholic and Apostolic Church," as organized and appointed by their authority. In all this--except so far as necessity has been pleaded--they have been avowedly guided by private interpretation.
But is there any practicable remedy for this evil? Must the Bible [21/22] be taken from the hands of the people, and be confined to the priesthood, or locked up in cloisters? Such a remedy would be as bad as the evil itself. No!--The people must not only be permitted to retain their Bibles, but exhorted to read them--to study them--day and night. But how can this be done without giving rise to the evils of private interpretation?
While the Church of England and her offspring in America teach that the Bible, in its Canonical Books, is the only and infallible document of Divine Revelation, written by inspired men, and that it contains all things necessary to be believed in order to the salvation of individuals, and that it is not lawful to require any thing else as indispensable to this great end, they, both by precept and example, teach the obligation and the necessity of believing what has always been regarded as "the Catholic Faith," that is, the belief of the whole Church as respects the meaning of the Bible, not only in respect of doctrines, but all else that is there taught with regard to the Unity, the Ministry, the Sacraments, and the Government of the Church, as founded and set in order by Christ and his Apostles. These Churches themselves did not presume to go directly and unaided to the inspired records, to deduce from them, elaborate, and construct their Creeds, or frame Liturgies and offices, or devise their system of Discipline.--Being only parts of the whole, they did not feel warranted to rely on their own judgment. They adopted the Creeds of Catholic Antiquity, consulted the writings of the primitive Fathers, and the Decrees of General Councils, examined Ecclesiastical History, and ascertained the original organization of the "Body of Christ," and embraced the Faith, Order and Discipline, of the Holy Catholic Church of all ages and nations. Regarding the Church as the "Witness and Keeper of Holy Writ," and as having "Authority in Controversies of Faith," they decided that she is the interpreter of the Bible, as warranted by the limit affixed to her judgment which must not "so interpret one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another." In accordance with this principle, and this claim, the Church of England has given to her children three ancient Catholic Creeds, embodying and expanding the same fundamental doctrines, belief in one, or another, of which she requires them to profess on every occasion of public worship. She has also laid down Articles of Religion, in which she has embodied some of the same great doctrines, and condemned and branded as heresies and evil practices, innovations and corruptions both [22/23] ancient and modem. She has set forth a Catechism, which all her children are required to learn; and two Books of Homilies, framed by the same rule, and replete with sound doctrine. She has, besides, compiled a Liturgy for Public worship, and for the administration of the Holy Eucharist; and formularies for all the "Offices" of the Church, formed after the models, and for the most part out of the materials, furnished by the Scriptures, and the most ancient Liturgies and usages of the Church--embodying the doctrines, and thoroughly imbued with the spirit and devotional sentiments of the Bible and the primitive ages of Christianity. And in her sublime, spiritual, and well ordered Ritual, she has made provision for bringing forward annually before her people, every important doctrine, fact, event, and example, that the man of God may he perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work." In all this, except the omission of the Athanasian Creed, and the Commination office, and some trivial alterations, she has been followed by the Church in the United States, her legitimate offspring.
Now, we are fully warranted by the example and teachings of our Church in affirming that, while sufficient latitude is allowed for diversities of opinion in non-essentials, and within the limits thus prescribed, she repudiates and practically condemns all private interpretation of God's written word, inconsistent with the teachings of the one Catholic Church of all ages and nations as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer and her Homilies: And, consequently, that the Bible as understood and interpreted, not by individuals and modern Sects, but by the Church herself--guided by the light of written Tradition, and the monumental memorials of primitive institutions and order, is the Rule of our Faith. Of course, he who would understand the Bible aright, and study its sacred pages with safety and advantage, and discover the Faith which was once delivered unto the saints, instead of following the inadequate and precarious guidance of his own private judgment, or the ignis fatuus and delusive light of either ancient or modern sects or heretics, must defer to the sound, severely and long tested, and often revised, judgment of our Church, expressed in this venerable Book, and hold it fast as fraught with his eternal life. He must, indeed, read the Bible; he must study and pray over its sacred pages; and examine his heart by it; and regulate his life, and stimulate his devotion, and mould his conduct, by its doctrines, precepts, and examples; but to ascertain its doctrines and mysteries, and save [23/24] himself from misunderstanding and perverting its difficult passages, and being misguided by the errors and dangerous theories of men, he must not rely upon his own private judgment, or that of any single man, sect, or age, or any modern creed or system of divinity, he must walk by the rule, and follow the guidance, of the concentrated light, and the accumulated authority, of Catholic Antiquity, and Catholic Consent. And inasmuch as but few individuals have learning, talents, time, opportunities, and industry sufficient to make this investigation and avail themselves of this aid by reading--generally in dead languages--the numerous and ponderous volumes in which the ancient and Universal Faith may be found, the Church herself, in her maternal solicitude, wisdom, and providence; and by means of her wise, faithful, and competent sons, has performed this arduous and responsible work in an admirable manner, and given us the result in plain, unequivocal, and intelligible language in her Book of Common Prayer, and her Homilies. But so far is she from forbidding the use of the Holy Scriptures to her children, that she has appointed nearly the whole volume to be annually read in all her places of worship; and recommends to them the diligent perusal of Holy Writ in their private studies. This is a fact worth a thousand volumes of profession and boasting; and one of the standing complaints against her by those who love not her peaceful and pleasant ways, is that they become wearied with hearing the amount of Scripture required to be read in her public worship. She thus not only honors the Book of God in the most wise, practical, and effectual way, but has taken care that its holy light shall not be obscured by the accumulated clouds of ancient and modern error; or its pure and living streams poisoned and adulterated by the private interpretations of misguided and misbelieving teachers, who ',resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the Faith;" and that it shall most surely accomplish the gracious design of Him from whom it came. Thus, too, she teaches her sons to be humble; docile, and obedient. And this is the reason why men of proud, factious, turbulent, and ambitious minds, unwilling to be restrained, sometimes fly off into the ranks of schism and dissent. And that her judgment is wise and her restrictions moderate, is evident from the fact that there have always been persons within her fold, who desire to have her definitions more stringent in those things in which she favors most their own favorite opinions, and her laws more relaxed where they wish more liberty to do as they please. [24/25] That such persons are not content with her as she is, affords the most convincing evidence to all reflecting minds, that she is right. That she has survived the factious efforts of such persons so long, is strong evidence of her inherent stability, as well as that she occupies the true Catholic ground.
Now, by this rule and process, the Church of England, our Spiritual Mother, at the time of the Reformation emancipated herself from the usurped domination, disenthralled herself from the additions and abuses, purified herself from the pollutions, and proclaimed her condemnation of the perversions and the novelties, of Rome; and at the same time fortified herself, and guarded her children, against the incursions of modern invention and innovation; and the seductions and insidious inroads of heresy and infidelity. She did not claim, or pretend to be, or for a moment admit the charge that she was, a new Church; or that she had found anything new in the Bible; or that she had made any advance upon the Apostolic models of ecclesiastical organization, order, or discipline; or improved upon the Church, as she was left by those inspired and holy men who sat at the feet of Jesus, or of those who saw this mystical Body of Christ in its original perfection. She claimed only to be that same ancient and venerable Branch of the ONE CHURCH, which in the first or second century was planted, if not by the first apostles, at least by their immediate successors, enthralled, reformed, purified, awakened from her long bondage and slumbers, and reinvigorated with new evangelical life. Both Rome and the Sects have ever been anxious to keep up the impression that she originated in the sixteenth century, and simultaneously with those really new communities which sprung up out of the ruins of Ancient Churches. Rome pretends that this is the case, because she wishes to establish the claim of her own schismatical adherents to be the original and true Church of England; and dissenting bodies, because they are unwilling to acknowledge that she has any advantage over themselves; and because they feel the need of the countenance and support of a Communion which they know to be powerful, stable, faithful, and honorable. But she is no more a new Church, than an Ancient Cathedral is a Modern Conventicle, when a horde of bandits or pirates is driven from its enclosures, and it is cleansed, repaired, furnished, and restored to its original purpose, beauty, and glory.--In this respect she differs essentially from all the Protestant Communities which sprung up at that period, except the Church of Sweden, [25/26] which preserved the Apostolic Succession and Ministry, and all that is essential to the organization and being of a Church. The Moravian Church is of more ancient origin, and probably genuine. Thus she escaped from the additions and corruptions which had gradually crept in during that long period called " The Dark Ages:" and, content with emancipating herself from the bondage of the Roman See, and restoring herself to her primeval purity, rights, perfection, and glory, she refused to be urged on by factious and restless minds, and the innovating and revolutionary spirit of those stormy and turbulent times, to the rejection of any thing merely because of its antiquity; or the adoption of any thing merely because of its novelty. Nothing old, which was true or valuable, was discarded merely because it was favored by the Church of Rome; nor was any thing received which was proposed by faction or false philosophy. Nothing was either rejected or adopted from motives of opposition. How different in this respect was the course pursued by other Protestant communities!
Acting upon this wise and conservative principle, the English Church rejected "superstitious vanities;" but retained decent ceremonies, and the true mysteries of Christianity. She discarded the worship of the Virgin Mary, and prayers to angels and saints;' but retained days and services commemorative and illustrative of the great events and momentous doctrines of the Christian religion, and of the lives, characters and martyrdom of the primitive Apostles and Saints. She repudiated the modern doctrine of Transubstantiation; but adhered to the ancient doctrine of the Real Spiritual Presence in the Eucharist. She rejected and condemned the Romish doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass; but retained the doctrine of a Eucharistical sacrifice, looking back to the one complete and expiatory sacrifice of the Lamb of God from which it derives all its efficiency; as the ancient animal sacrifices looked forward to that great propitiatory offering made "once for all;" and derived all their value from this reference. She renounced Masses for the dead; but restored the sacramental "Cup" to the living. She denied the existence of Purgatory; but retained the doctrine of an intermediate state, and a prayer, in accordance with ancient usage, for the perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul," of "all those who have died in the true faith." She denounced indulgences; but retained priestly absolution for the truly penitent. She resuscitated from its state of obscuration and disparagement the cardinal doctrine of justification through faith and on [26/27] account of the merits of Christ; but she acknowledges no faith as genuine and saving, which does not embrace obedience as an element, or produce as its necessary fruit, "a godly, righteous, and sober life." She retained Infant Baptism, and condemned ana-baptism. She taught "Baptismal Regeneration"--baptism "with water and with the Holy Ghost"--the "outward and visible sign" with the "inward and spiritual grace"--wherein we are washed and obtain "remission of sins," and are made "members of Christ, the children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of Heaven;" but she denied the lasting efficacy of any sacrament the grace of which is not diligently improved to our "life's end." She rejected the Pope as an usurper; but she carefully preserved the Apostolic Succession, and retained the three orders in the Ministry, which she says, "It is evident unto all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and Ancient Authors, have been from the Apostles' time." She rejected the celibacy of the Clergy; but required in them holiness of life. She discarded gaudy trappings; but retained decent sacerdotal vestments. She abandoned exorcism, and extreme unction; but she retained the sign of the cross in baptism, an office for the visitation of the sick, and the administration of the Holy Communion to the sick and the dying. She denied the power of giving dispensations to marry within forbidden limits of consanguinity; but she retained the use of the Ring in the Marriage ceremony. She continued the use of a Liturgy for public worship, and formularies for the various offices of Ordination and Devotion; but she rejected from that Liturgy and those formularies whatever is contrary to the word of God, and not sanctioned in early days, studying, as she informs us in the Preface to two of the earliest Editions of the Prayer Book, "to draw an order for divine worship, having respect to the pure religion of Christ taught in the Scripture, and to the practice of the Primitive Church." She held the doctrine of the Unity of the Church, and did not break that unity herself; but, denying that one portion of that Church has the right to lord it over the rest, or the power to create and impose new articles of faith and terms of communion upon other portions as independent as itself; she refused to submit to the dictates and dominion of the Church of Rome; and that ancient Church, grown proud, haughty, and accustomed to obedience where it was not due, unwarrantably broke the unity of the Church, and schismatically drew off her vassals into a separate communion. In nearly all these respects the Church of England [27/28] differed, and still differs, from the other Protestant Communities which date their origin from the time of the Reformation, or have sprung up in more modem times.
Now, these examples of wisdom and moderation, in the midst of the greatest trials and perils both from within and without, and when so many bodies made shipwreck of a portion of the faith, and dug and charged the mines which were eventually to explode, and wreck the whole, and lost the organic and apostolical constitution of ancient times, show that the Church of England is worthy of the confidence of her children; and that she is a noble witness and conservator of the original Faith. And our own Church, inheriting her faith, and imitating her example in this respect, is enabled to put forth similar claims.
That this is the true and original faith is a fact established by history, by testimony, by authority, and by abiding and imperishable monuments. Against this overwhelming evidence and authority, mere private judgment, opinion, fancy, or interpretation, ought to have no more weight than an inarticulate sound. All individuals are liable to en. All classes of theologians are liable to err. The whole church of a particular nation is liable to err. The entire church is subject to a sort of spiritual epidemics, some of which seem to recur again and again in almost regular cycles, and of course the whole church of a given age is liable to err. Nor am I prepared to say that it is absolutely impossible for the aggregate of the entire church of all ages and nations to err in minor and non-essential matters; but I am prepared to say that nothing is more improbable; and that as regards essentials, it is morally impossible, and for the same reason that while her Invisible Head remains immutable, and faithful to his promise, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her." Can this much be said for any of the modem sects? Have they not all changed materially, from the time of their origin? And what has preserved the Church of England and the Church in the United States from swerving for one moment from their faith? Next to their primitive organization and order, and their Apostolic ministry, and the preserving care of their Lord, it is attributable to the preservation of the true Catholic Faith, and the manner in which they inculcate it upon their children; and the pure waters of life with which she perpetually supplies them.
The fountain head of Divine Truth is in Heaven, and the waters of salvation well forth from the Throne of God. This is "a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God." This "pure river of the water of life," runs down to us through the streets of the Holy [28/29] City--the Church. The living ministry and the sacraments, are channels in the embankments by which this "living water" flows out. Turbid and poisonous rivulets of man's wisdom have often been introduced into this channel; but the pure element will not commingle with the pestiferous fluid; and a discerning eye and taste can readily distinguish them far below the confluence. Private interpretation draws off canals into private grounds, and then corrupts the water with poisonous and deadly ingredients, and the people who bathe therein, or drink thereof, die on the banks. The church guards this stream; has collected and brought down in parallel channels the pure rivulets rising in the mount of God. The witness of the Fathers as to its properties and powers; the Liturgies and Creeds of Antiquity; the decrees of Oecumenical Councils; and the consent of the whole church, enable us to distinguish the impure currents, test the vital fluid, and identify the stream with that which flowed--far back in past ages--from the eternal Throne. And the city of God and the stream together--the former the channel and guardian, the other her life, purity, and joy--are easily distinguished from all human cities and waters. Here flows the river, and here are the monuments upon its ancient banks. In this pure and tranquil stream, we see, cast by the Sun of Righteousness, the shadows of these sublime and venerable monuments. The people who dwell in this city and drink of this river, are the children of God; and, if they go not out, nor cease to drink, will live forever. Yet, standing even there, the Church is subject to earthquakes and storms.
The Puritans for a long time, by their cavils, turbulence, restlessness, factiousness, and private interpretations, and from their yearnings after what they called the pattern in the mount"--the Genevan system and doctrine--troubled our spiritual mother, and endeavoured to overthrow her fair fabric, abolish her ritual, and remodel her faith; but she long withstood their assaults and stratagems. And when at length fanaticism, aided by political faction, prevailed, and she lay prostrate in the dust, the whole nation soon became wearied and disgusted with the experiment of "the pattern in the mount," and its legitimate fruits; and the church again rose up in her might; put on her "beautiful garments;" resumed her Creed and her Liturgy; and went on as before. At a later period Socinianism and Arianism infected some of her clergy and members; but her Faith enabled her to come out of the fire unscathed. Dissent has raged around her and assailed her for centuries; but still her Faith remains incorrupt. Wesley and his [29/30] compeers, although professedly faithful to her in whose courts they had recorded their ordination vows, gave rise to a new and turbulent faction; but the Church shook off the excrescence, and went on in her purity and might. Since those days she has been troubled, and is now troubled, by opposite and antagonistic tendencies in portions of her members; but still she continues faithful, and adheres unmoved to her true Catholic Faith.
In all that has affected her since the planting of the Church in this country, she has been sympathized with by her vigorous offspring--one of the topmost branches of the immortal tree. Disenthralled and free from Rome, the mother and daughter have fortified and braced themselves against the open assaults, and the more insidious wiles, of destructionism and infidelity. The Scottish (or "the Catholic remainder" of the Scottish) and the Irish branches of the Church, have pursued the same course. And from these parent stocks are now springing up in all quarters of the globe fresh and vigorous shoots of this Tree of Life.
It is thus that, with the protection and smiles of her Supreme and Invisible Head, that noble and ancient Church, with her reformed and kindred compeers, became the great and impregnable "Bulwark of the Reformation." And this, too, is the reason, that as this united member of the Catholic Church occupies, upon the troubled ocean of Time, the intermediate space between the Scylla of Rome, and the Charybdis of ultra-Protestantism, she has all along been so violently and incessantly beaten upon by the angry foam and the refluent and relentless surges of that fatal rock, and drawn towards the opposite gulf of that equally fatal whirlpool. And while the steady Ark has repelled the assaults of the one, and resisted the allurements and vortex of the other, what wonder if some of those incautious and over-curious navigators and passengers who have ventured out too far in their little private craft to explore this rock, or this whirlpool, have been wrecked upon the one, or ingulfed in the other?
The very fact that these Churches have so long been able to maintain their position and integrity under such circumstances, is itself strong evidence not only that they are of Divine organization and construction, and contain the Faith which was once delivered unto the saints, but--to resume the nautical figure--that He who rebuked the winds, and lulled the surges and the stormy waves of the Sea of Galilee, presides over them and guides them in their heavenward voyage. [30/31] Dark and portentous clouds have often lowered; the sun has been obscured for many successive days; the angry and turbid sea of the world has been lashed into crested surges and mountain waves; the tempest has roared, and the forked lightnings have played above the horizon; angry fiends have flitted to and fro through the dark, muttering their threats and discontent; and fiery darts have been shot from the open phalanx and the secret ambush; desperate pirates have assailed; and dashing breakers have been neared; and ruin has sometimes appeared almost inevitable; and faithful hearts have grown faint, and been ready to despair. But He who rides upon the storm; and walks serenely upon the wings of the wind and the heaving billows, has as often lifted up his mighty and commanding voice above the raging elements, saying, "Peace! Be still!" and the calm of summer seas, the clear blue sky of a cloudless heaven, the auspicious gales of Paradise, and the glad song of joy and praise, have immediately succeeded. So has it ever been in times past; so has it lately been; and so, we humbly trust, it will ever be in time to come, until the conflagration of the great day, when "the elements shall melt with fervent heat;" and then the Ark of the whole Church shall ride securely upon the sea of fire, and anchor safely and triumphantly in the celestial haven.
Shall we, then, leave this Ark? Shall we sail out alone upon such a sea and amid such dangers, in quest of novelties, and in some frail and unseaworthy barque of private and modern construction, and with the vain hope of finding elsewhere more safety, and the faith which was once delivered unto the saints?--NEVER!--oh! never, while life is precious and salvation is dear! And if any have heretofore incautiously gone forth, and wandered over the troubled waters and found no rest; like Noah's dove let them return; and as the good Patriarch put forth his hand and received the weary bird into the Ark, so will God in pity receive you again into his Church!
We may be charged with pusilanimity and weakness, and told that we are not up to the "spirit of the age," and lag behind the improvements of the sixteenth, or the "nineteenth century." Be it so! We are more concerned to recover and perpetuate the spirit of the first, second, and third centuries; and to identify and retain those improvements of Christ and his Apostles which have stood the test, and survived the revolutions, of eighteen centuries; and will eventually commend themselves to every serious and judicious mind as immeasureably superior to all the inventions and improvements of uninspired men. As [31/32] regards arts, sciences, mechanics, and all things of mere human origin and device, we bow to the spirit and the improvements of the "nineteenth century:" but as respects Religion, in its doctrines, discipline, institutions, and order, as it came not from man, and was neither born nor perfected in the nineteenth century, so, disregarding the proffered counsel and emendations of man, we go up to the original source and authority; and we are not ashamed to acknowledge this our alleged weakness and servility. We seek not to be wise above the wisdom of Christ and his Apostles; or to know better what they taught than those who sat at their feet, and heard their instructions, and obeyed their commands, and saw the Church as they left it.
The question, then, is not whether we shall acknowledge the paramount authority of the Bible; or set up something else above the Bible; or put tradition on a level with the Bible so as to make the two together the joint and coequal teachers of the Faith--the one of as high authority as the other; but whether we shall take the Bible to be our guide as it is interpreted by every man's own private judgment and fancy; or those of any modern sect or party; or as interpreted by the inspiration of the Apostolic age, the Divine learning of the next age, the consentient, universal, and unbroken testimony and belief of the Church of all ages and nations, corroborated by what--to use a Geological term--may be called, the organic remains of Christian Antiquity--the universally discoverable monuments of ancient Churches planted in the East, and organized by the Apostles and their immediate successors--the bones--if you will, the "petrified" bones--of once living members of the Body of Christ--demonstrating as conclusively that those Churches were, in their ministry, discipline, doctrines and worship, what our own Church now is, as do the fossil bones of pre-Adamite creatures indicate to the intelligent geologist the general structure, habits, and element, of those extinct races.
Which of these courses is the most rational, the most analagous to what wise men adopt in respect of all temporal interests, and the most safe, it would be almost an insult to the common sense of my hearers to decide. Every intelligent, candid, and unprejudiced person may safely be left to decide the question for himself. And whenever you find a man declaiming against this cardinal rule, or against the primitive Fathers, or the position that that is the true faith which has been held always, every where, and by all, you may well suspect, either that he does not understand the subject, and errs ignorantly in [32/33] unbelief; or that his judgment is warped, and he is actuated by a party and controversial spirit; or that he is conscious that the whole body of the Catholic Church of all ages and nations is against him and his sect; and that he wishes to discredit its testimony and authority.
This rule does not suit the Romanist, whose Church claims and exercises the power of making new and additional articles of faith, unheard of for several centuries after the time of the Apostles. Nor does it suit those modern sects which have departed from the original and Catholic Order and Faith, because it condemns them, and they can only stand by the ingenuity and perversions of private interpretation of "the Bible and the Bible alone."
Let this rule be universally adopted and acted upon, and the Church will soon be restored to its primitive Unity and glory. Schism will be seen in its true character. Heresy will be immediately detected, exposed and condemned. The sacred ministry, of Apostolic Order and Succession, will be acknowledged and reverenced as in ancient times. The Holy Sacraments will be believed in, understood, and appreciated aright. Confirmation will be approved and sought by all. Infant Baptism will be universally acknowledged and practiced. The Lord's Day will be duly reverenced, and observed on the first day of the week. Wholesome Discipline will be restored and maintained. Reverence for all Divine things will be felt and manifested. Scriptural and Liturgical worship will become universal. Fanatical excitements and disorders will be disapproved by all intelligent and pious persons. No man will dare to assume the sacred office of himself, or receive it from those who have no authority to give it. Human societies, organized for the promotion of beneficence, morality, and religion, will become unnecessary, and will cease to invade the province of the Church. There will no longer be any honest doubt--as at present--as to what the Church is, or where she may be found; or respecting her ministry, authority, and powers. The original Faith, emancipated, disencumbered, and restored to its primeval integrity, will shine forth in its legitimate purity and effulgence. Superstition and idolatry, in the Church, will be repudiated and abhorred. Simultaneously, scepticism, infidelity, rationalism, radicalism, and transcendentalism, will disappear before the light of the Spouse of Christ, which will then shine forth "clear as the sun, fair as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners." All the ancient Churches on earth will hear the call--"Arise, shine, for thy light is [33/34] come; and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." And they that hear shall live; and they that will not hear shall be destroyed.--Awakened from their long and ominous slumbers, Faith, Hope and Charity, will stand up hand in hand, and go forth over Emmanuel's. Land in their primitive power and beauty. And then, with her "Holy One" in the midst of her, and leading on her embattled hosts, the Church Militant will march forward to victory, and to the conquest of the world.
Such is the end at which we aim; and as the best means of securing this glorious consummation, we regard it as of primary importance that we I. contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints;" for even personal holiness is most intimately connected with that faith. Yet no zeal, realer feigned, can justify the violation of the great law of Christian Charity. There are many pious and excellent persons who differ from us on many important points, whom we hope to meet in heaven, where we shall see eye to eye, and face to face. And we are bound by the law of love to treat all such, and indeed all mankind, with justice and kindness. Charity, however, rejoiceth not in iniquity; but "rejoiceth in the truth;" and to the acknowledgment of the truth would we lead our erring brethren. Why should they regard us as their enemies because we tell them the truth? Christian Charity says, "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others;" and if a curse is denounced against him who suffers even a dumb animal to go astray, without an effort to bring it back, who shall suffer a sheep to stray from the fold of Christ, or an immortal soul to walk in the paths of death, unwarned, and be guiltless?
Finally, let us all so believe, and so live, that when we come to render up our spirits to God who gave them, and sent his Son to redeem them, we shall be able to say with St. Paul, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord the Righteous Judge, shall give me at that day!"