St. Peter's Church, in the City of Albany,
PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH
STATE OF NEW-YORK,
AND PUBLISHED AT THE DESIRE OF THE CONVENTION.
BY THE REVEREND
ISAAC WILKINS, A.M.
Rector of East and West-Chester.
A SERMON &c.
1 CORINTHIANS xiii. 13.
And now abideth Faith, Hope, Charity, these three;
but the greatest of these is Charity.
ST. PAUL, in that part of his Epistle to the Corinthians from which my text is taken, had been reprimanding them for their divisions and dissentions, and for their disorderly conduct in their religious assemblies. He tells them, that all those spiritual gifts and graces which had been severally bestowed upon them, were the operations of the same Spirit, and ought, therefore, to be employed to the same end and purpose--the edification of the Church, and the preservation of its unity in the bond of peace; that as members of one and the same body (the Church and Kingdom of Christ), there should be that perfect harmony and co-operation among them which are always found to exist in the members of a natural body; that, therefore, there should be no dissention, no schism among them; but that the members should have the same care one of another; that when one member suffered, all the others should suffer with it; and when one member is honoured, [3/4] all the members should rejoice with it. "Ye are now, says he, the body of Christ and members in particular: and God hath set some in his Church; first, Apostles; secondarily, Prophets; and, thirdly, Teachers; after that miracles, then gifts of healing, &c. But all are not apostles, all are not prophets, all are not teachers, all are not workers of miracles, all have not the gifts of healing"--Every member hath his proper place and office assigned him for the good of that one body the Church, which cannot subsist without order, subordination, and unity; without a mutual co-operation for the general benefit; without a sincere and cordial love and affection for each other and for the whole, suffering with those that suffer, and rejoicing with those that rejoice.
From the general tenor of this whole passage, it evidently appears, that this is the temper and disposition which the Apostle recommends to the Church at Corinth, as a cure for their dissentions, and the disorders among them. And it is also clear from what immediately follows, that by this temper and disposition he meant to designate that great and peculiarly Christian virtue CHARITY. "Ye covet earnestly, says he, the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of Angels, and have not Charity, I am become as sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains [4/5] and have not Charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not Charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; Charity envieth not; Charity vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up; doth not behave itself unseemly; seeketh not its own; is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things; endureth all things. Charity never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth Faith, Hope, Charity, these three; but the greatest of these is Charity."
That Christians in general have but a very low and inadequate idea of this most exalted virtue, and, in some instances, an erroneous, and dangerous one, will be apparent to all who duly consider the sublime and animated description which the Apostle hath here given us of it. He has considered Faith, Hope, and Charity as the three great and abiding graces of the Christian [5/6] Church, and has decidedly pronounced Charity to be the greatest of the three. Faith, as it is the full and implicit belief of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is the foundation of the Christian Church. Hope, which is a steadfast reliance on, and assurance of all its promises, is a superstructure built upon that foundation. But Charity is the crowning and completing of the edifice, without which the foundation and the superstructure would have been to no end, and have answered no purpose. Or, to use another similitude and illustration, Faith is the root, Hopethe branches, and Charity the fruit. These three are the great and essential virtues of the Church or Kingdom of Christ, while it remains in this world; but in Heaven, Faith will terminate in vision, Hope in fruition, while Charity shall remain and continue for ever, glowing with increasing ardour and fervency through the endless ages of eternity. Well, then, might the Apostle declare it the greatest of the three: And well and nearly doth it concern every one of us who calls himself a Christian, to be clearly and fully informed what this highly pre-eminent virtue is; and to regulate our lives and conversations in the best possible manner in conformity to it; that we may bring forth that good fruit, without which, like every useless and unprofitable tree, we shall be hewn down and cast into the fire.
Let me, therefore, claim your serious and unprejudiced attention, while I endeavour to illustrate it to your minds; and to animate your hearts to the constant, habitual, and ardent practice [6/7] of it; as becomes the faithful disciples and followers of Christ.
Charity, in its full and complete acceptation and meaning, is the united and ardent love of God and man. It is that great and leading principle of love which, through Jesus Christ, unites us to God, and to each other in the same spirit; and is in the Church of Christ what the perfect harmony and consension of the members are in a natural body--it constitutes peace and unity. Charity is, therefore, peculiarly a Christian virtue, and can exist, and of course is to be found only in the Church and Kingdom of Christ. The faith mentioned by St. Paul in my text, is a Christian faith; the hope is a Christian hope; and the charity is a Christian charity only.
To enable us to understand this perfectly, we must advert to that great and marked distinction which subsists between the world and the Church. The world are those who have not known nor embraced the faith and Gospel of Christ. The Church are those who, acknowledging Christ to be the Son of God, and the Saviour and Redeemer of man, have been baptized in his name, and have submitted themselves to him as their Lord and Master, their Captain and their King, devoting themselves to his service, and living in obedience to his commandments. Those who are of the world are in a state of sin and condemnation, under the penalty of original and actual transgression, alienated from the knowledge and love of God, at enmity with their Creator and with each other, without any [7/8] centre of unity and peace, without faith, without hope, and, consequently, without charity. On the contrary, those who are of the Church, and are its true and faithful members, are in a state of sanctification and grace through the Holy Spirit; are in a state of deliverance from original and actual transgression through the merits and mediation of a crucified Redeemer; are brought to the knowledge and love of God by the Revelation and Gospel of Jesus Christ, and restored by him to the favour of their Creator, and to the love and fellowship of each other. He is their centre of love, peace, unity. They have one baptism, one bread, one table; they are all guided by the same spirit; they have one faith, one hope, one principle, of universal charity filling, pervading, and uniting the whole, and assimilating them to that God who is love, and whose goodness and mercy are over all his works; to that Saviour who died to redeem them, who constantly went about doing good to the souls and bodies of men, whose meat it was to do the will of his heavenly Father; and to that Holy Spirit of love, and peace, and concord, which animates and upholds the universe of God!
To have Christian Charity, therefore, we must be of the Church of Christ. For as Charity is the love of God, and the love of man originated and founded on the love of God; so we cannot love God unless we know him as he is, in his attributes, and in the relation in which he stands to us, as our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier: nor can we love each other, [8/9] until we know and feel our affinity to each other; that we have all one common Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, one common interest, and are all united under one head, in one body. Now, this knowledge exists and is acted upon no where but in the Church of Christ; the world knows it not, or disregards it.
It is upon the full belief and assurance of this knowledge, revealed to us in the Gospel of Christ, that the Christian faith is founded; and upon this faith is fixed the Christian hope; and thence is produced and perfected Christian Charity.
Having thus traced this great and pre-eminent Christian virtue from its source, and considered
it in its principle; let us also examine it in its acts and operations, as it exerts, or ought to exert itself in the breast of every true and faithful member of the holy Church of Christ.
And here we cannot but observe, that its first and principal exertion must be made to preserve the peace, the order, and the unity of the Church; knowing, as our Lord and Master hath assured us, that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. To divide, to disunite, and by that mean to destroy the Church and Kingdom of the Redeemer, is the object and aim of the great destroyer. By him every engine, every artifice and device is unremittingly employed to effect that purpose. And it should be the great, the steady and conscientious endeavour of every disciple of Christ, of every member of the Christian Church, to counteract and [9/10] defeat his insidious and deadly design. This, therefore, is the first and great work of Charity--of that Charity which, thus operating, will cover the multitude of sins. And it very nearly concerns all those who are causing, and abetting, and continuing divisions and schisms in the Church of Christ, seriously to consider what they are doing; lest by following their own vain imaginations--the prejudices or perversities of their own wills, and minds, and understandings, they be found not doing the work of Christ, but co-operating with the great enemy of God and man, in the destruction and misery of the human race.
Whenever this bond of Charity is broken, there must be confusion; as we see there is: And where there is confusion, there must be every evil work; as also we see there is.
The divisions, the dissentions and schisms, originating from those professors of Christianity who have burst asunder this bond of Charity, have well nigh destroyed the Christian Church. The variety and multiplicity of sects and parties which they have occasioned, have so confounded and obscured her faith and doctrines, her discipline and government, that she is now hardly any longer known, and that even her existence is doubted by many.
Amidst this confusion, every man either becomes his own Church, and his own lawgiver, presumptuously marking out and prescribing to himself his own path and method of salvation, or plunges into downright infidelity and [10/11] Atheism; renouncing at once all religious and moral obligation, all regard and subordination both to God and man.
That such are the fatal effects of this great breach of Christian Charity--this rending and dividing the Church of Christ, the most careless observer must be convinced, if he will only for a moment cast his eyes around him, and take a view of what has actually come to pass, and what is daily and hourly passing in the Christian world. And if he be not totally insensible to the impressions of that Charity which is the bond of peace and of all righteousness, he cannot but lament it with the deepest and most heartfelt sorrow and concern, and endeavour to remedy it to the utmost of his power.
Next to preserving the peace and unity of the Church inviolate, it must obviously be the earnest and anxious desire of Charity to bring all men into it, that they may be made partakers of that salvation which is offered and assured to them there, and there only; for God's covenant of mercy and peace is only with the Church of Christ. This is so necessary and indispensable a work of Charity, that no man can deserve the name of Christ's disciple, who does not studiously and diligently exert himself in the accomplishment of it, within the sphere of his talents and influence. If he has any regard to his great Lord and Master, to the honour and glory of God, or the happiness of man, he cannot be cold and indifferent in a work like this. To be cold and indifferent here, is to be devoid of Charity, is to be without the [11/12] love of God or man, is to be unconcerned for the highest and best interest of his fellow creatures, and for that great and wonderful work of redemption and salvation which has been wrought for them.
The third operation of Charity is an earnest desire and endeavour to bring men to holiness and virtue, to render them worthy of their profession, to make them faithful and obedient members of the Church and Kingdom of their Redeemer, that they may be there sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and qualified for that felicity and glory which is prepared for them in Heaven.
The fourth and last operation of Charity is a hearty endeavour to promote the temporal welfare and happiness of men, by relieving their wants, alleviating their sorrows, and by doing them all the personal good we can, in proportion to our abilities and opportunities.
Such is Christian Charity, considered in its principle, and in its effects and operations. In its principle it is assimilated and conformed to that infinite love of God which is over all his creatures; which has been displayed to us in the works of creation and redemption, and brought down to our hearts, and minds, and comprehensions, in the death and sufferings of Jesus Christ, who gave himself a ransom, and suffered the agony of the cross for us, and for our salvation. In its operation it is a cordial, ardent, and unremitting endeavour to imitate the example of Christ, and zealously to co-operate with him in promoting the peace and [12/13] unity of his Church and Kingdom, and the advancement and glory of it; in raising the human nature from its fallen and corrupted state to righteousness, holiness, and perfection; that we may be qualified for a better world, and be made, through him, partakers of glory and immortality. And, lastly, in soothing the sorrows of man's pilgrimage through this vale of tears; in alleviating each other's burthens, and sharing each other's joys; in doing all possible good both to the souls and bodies of men; and in promoting to the utmost both their temporal and eternal welfare.
This, my beloved brethren, is the perfection of Christian Charity: this is that imitation of Christ to which every one who professes himself his disciple, who has been made a member of his Church and Kingdom, is required as nearly as possible in our weak and imperfect state to conform. It is by this practice alone that we can render ourselves, through Christ, acceptable to God, as it is by this practice alone that we can conform to his will, and to his final and mysterious purpose--the eternal felicity of his intelligent creatures.
It was to accomplish this purpose that Christ came upon earth; that he lived, died, and suffered in our nature: It was to this purpose that he established his Church, ordaining and constituting it the mean of bringing men to the knowledge of God and of his will, to the obedience and love of God, and to the love and fellowship of each other; that they might be [13/14] one with him, as he is one with the Father; that God might be all in all.
The Church of Christ upon earth, as modelled, constituted, and established by him, is the image and representation of the Kingdom of Heaven: It is, indeed, the Kingdom of Heaven extended and brought down to this world, and accommodated to the nature and state of man. Christ is its head--its sovereign Lord. To him all power is given both in Heaven and in earth. Its ministers, its sacraments, its ordinances and institutions, are of his appointment; all ordained by his wisdom, and goodness, and mercy, as means to accomplish the eternal purpose of the Father to bring men to the knowledge and love of God, to the love of each other, to holiness and righteousness, and to everlasting felicity and glory. The spirit of this his Kingdom is the spirit of order, of peace, of love, and unity. To confound this order, to disturb this peace, to break this unity, is the highest act of disobedience and presumption in man. It is direct and open rebellion against Christ, (who came to restore order, to establish peace, and to unite us in love to God and to each other) and is, therefore, the greatest and most deadly breach of Charity.
Would to God that this sacred and important truth were as seriously and solemnly considered by every man as it ought to be: and that you in particular, my brethren of the Laity, would let it sink deeply into your hearts and minds; that you might be guarded and fortified against [14/15] all those delusions of the fanatic and schismatic by which such numbers have been, and are daily seduced from the true faith and fold of Christ!
As members of his Church, as subjects of his Kingdom, is it not clearly and manifestly your indispensable duty to endeavour to preserve the peace and unity of it? And is it not obviously your duty also, in conformity to the end and design of that Kingdom, to labour for the increase and advancement of it, and for the promotion of virtue, piety, and holiness among all who are admitted into it? And is not every Christian who neglects, by his example, his influence, and authority, to promote these great and important ends, to perform these great and necessary duties, guilty of a breach of Charity--of that Charity without which he is unworthy of being called a disciple of Christ, and without which he is in danger of forfeiting forever his title as an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven?
It is, I know, a fixed and settled sentiment of many (so improperly have men conceived of this highly distinguished Christian virtue) that the whole of Charity consists in alms-giving, in relieving the temporal wants and necessities of the poor and indigent. I mean not by any means to decry this very necessary operation of Charity--it is a great and indispensable duty, and I wish it were more generally and liberally attended to, whatever the motive to it may be. But I assert it with confidence, that unconnected with the principle which has [15/16] been established, it is not Charity: "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, says St. Paul, and have not Charity, it profiteth me nothing."
There are others, again, who confine the work of Charity to thinking favourably of men and of their opinions; who pronounce it a breach of Charity to condemn the sentiments and practice of any man or sect of men, however contrary to the faith, and doctrine, and established government of the Church of Christ they may be found; thereby making opinion, prejudice, ignorance, and presumption, each in their turn, as occasion may serve, the test and standard of Truth, instead of the Gospel of Christ, and the inspired doctrines and practice of his Apostles. How well this can be made to agree with the terms of salvation established in the Gospel, with the strait and narrow path that leads to life, with the sameness and preservation of the faith, with the unity of the Spirit, and the bond of peace so strictly enjoined upon all Christians, must be left to those who can reconcile contradictions. "Broad is the way, says our blessed Saviour, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go therein: But strait is the gate, and narrow the path that leadeth to life, and few there be that find it." According to these men, therefore, it is a breach of Charity to call those who are in this broad way of error and destruction into the strait and narrow path of truth and salvation. They must not, it seems, be told and warned of their danger, nor by any means cautioned against that [16/17] destruction to which they are evidently exposing themselves in the way they are going. In every other case of error and danger such conduct would be deemed the most unequivocal proof of inhumanity, even towards an enemy; and why in religion, where the salvation of the soul is at stake, it should be denominated Charity, is past the comprehension of reason. It is one of the fatal delusions of the great enemy of man and of the Church of Christ, and can only originate from that pride, self-conceit, and presumption which he inspires.
It is our main business, my fellow-labourers in Christ's vineyard, as his ministers and servants, to call men from the darkness of error to the light of truth; to lead them from the broad way of destruction to the strait and narrow path of life marked out in the Gospel; from this sinful, miserable, and condemned world into the ark of Christ's Church, where they are promised remission of their sins, and restoration to the grace and favour of God; where they will be sanctified by his Holy Spirit; and where, being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in Charity, they may be enabled to pass through the waves of this troublesome world, to that land of everlasting rest and glory prepared for them by their ever blessed Redeemer.
Our great work, therefore, my brethren, is Charity. We are, blessed be God and our Lord Jesus Christ, the dispensers of his mercy and blessings to a lost and degenerate world. However the world may conceive of us; in [117/18] whatever estimation it may hold us; we should never, for a moment, forget who we are nor the great and important purposes for which we are commissioned. As the ambassadors of Christ, as his ministers of peace and salvation, and with his example before us, let us endeavour to discharge our trust with that dignified humility and boldness, with that meekness and disinterestedness of mind, with that united fervency of love and zeal which so eminently become our station. The task assigned us is difficult and arduous.But our Lord and Master hath assured us, that his strength is sufficient for us; that his Holy Spirit, if we are not wanting to ourselves, will always accompany us, to supply our deficiencies, and to enable us to perform all things whatsoever he hath commanded us, and required of us. Let us, therefore, in no instance shrink from our duty, be the consequences what they may. Let us perform the part assigned us with fidelity, and leave the issue to our Lord and Master.
The Christian faith, and the Church of Christ which is the conservator of that faith, were never exposed to greater hazard of being destroyed than at the present alarming period. The times of heathen persecution had a natural tendency to unite the disciples of Christ, and to bind the members of his Church more closely together in the unity of the Spirit. But in this age of Christian apathy, of luke-warmness, of coldness and indifference to all religious principle and practice, of pride, self-will, and self sufficiency; when the love of novelty, of wealth, [18/19] and pleasure, and the unrestrained indulgence of the passions and sensual appetites are the only
ruling principles and motives among men; the danger is extreme, and calls for all the exertion and energy of the most zealous and ardent Charity.
That these evils have, in a great measure, if not altogether, arisen from the disunion of Christians, and been produced by the schisms and separations from the constituted government of Christ's Church, no one, as I have observed before, can doubt for a moment, who will trace the events of Christendom through a little more than the two last centuries, or who will only attend with even the slightest observation to what is now passing in it.
The unwarrantable and presumptuous departure from the Episcopal form of government established by Christ and his apostles, and the substitution of an equality of ministers, first broke through and destroyed the order and the unity of the Church, and lessened and degraded its dignity. The assumption of the priesthood by mad enthusiasts who fancied themselves called and inspired by the Holy Spirit, or by wicked and designing hypocrites who wished to increase the disorder, or to accomplish their own selfish and sinister purposes, followed in close succession. The power and authority of Christ and his apostles were, at last, boldly and openly assumed by the people. And what was of divine and heavenly origin, and designed and adapted to inspire men with reverence and awe for their Redeemer, to bring them to [19/20] the love, and fear, and obedience of God, and to peace, and unity, and concord among themselves, was deemed to be the device and contrivance of man; to be altered, and fashioned, and modified as the whims and caprices of his heart and imagination should dictate to him.
The effects of these whims and caprices are daily before our eyes; they are marked in such bold and legible characters, that he that runs may read. Do we not see the Church and Kingdom of Christ rent asunder? Do we not see churches, as they denominate themselves, opposed to churches, refusing fellowship and communion with each other, and striving to supplant and counteract the designs of each other? Do we not see, in consequence of this, the faith corrupted, the holy Scriptures of God falsified and perverted, to justify the most erroneous and contradictory opinions? Have not discord and animosity taken place of the spirit of love and unity? Is not the bond of peace and charity and of all righteousness broken? Is not the zeal of party and sectarism almost the only zeal that is to be perceived among us? Do we not see the sacred character of priest and ambassador of the Most High God assumed by ignorant and profligate hypocrites? And do we not see the sacraments of Christ's Church daily profaned by their unhallowed administration? Do we not see the office and ministry of the Priesthood rejected as the devices of Satan, and the sacraments despised as vain and superstitious symbols, unworthy of the Spirit? Do we not hear the holy Scriptures of God, those sacred [20/21] fountains of truth, and knowledge, and salvation, pronounced to be but a dead letter, and regarded no further than as they appear to conform to the inspirations of a false and fanatical spirit? Do we not see this, and much more, among the professors of Christianity? Do we not see such madness and folly, such irrational and contemptible principles and practices adopted by men, who yet call themselves Christians, as throw disgrace and ridicule upon the very name?
It seems impossible to descend lower in this scale of debasement and degradation than Christians have done, without throwing of all acknowledgment of a God and Saviour, all belief and expectation of a future state, and all regard to moral and religious principle. And is not this indeed the issue? Has not the departure from the original and apostolical form and government of the Church of Christ, and a renunciation of its divine authority and discipline, led on to a departure from the faith, to irreligion and infidelity, and to an almost boundless immorality and licentiousness? When the will, and wisdom, and authority of man are substituted for the will, and wisdom, and authority of God, what else can be expected? When order, peace, and unity are broken, what but confusion, variance, emulation, strife, and every evil work can ensue?
Surely, my beloved brethren, we may assert that an enemy hath done this. And from whom could such enmity proceed, but from the accursed author of all confusion, that arch [21/22] adversary of God and man, who knowing that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, hath applied this engine of deadly malice to the Church of Christ, that he might rend and desolate that kingdom which is one day to overcome and finally destroy his own.
While an enemy so armed and actuated is ravaging the fold of Christ, shall the shepherds, the guardians of the flock, be inattentive and regardless of their danger? Shall they, like faithless watchmen, slumber and sleep, while the utmost vigilance, caution, and activity are necessary? If they do, where is their loyalty to their Lord and Master? Where is their zeal for his Church? Where is their love and charity for their brethren?
The Church of Christ is surrounded with enemies on every side; and we are commanded by the great Leader and Captain of our salvation, to watch, and to be constantly upon our guard against all their assaults. And I know of no quarter from which danger is more to be apprehended than from schism and dissention. They bring with them, as appears from what has been said, every evil in their train; and render every caution, every exertion necessary. They are in their very principle hostile to the Church and Gospel of Christ. They destroy unity, peace, charity. Having their origin in pride and self-conceit, they extinguish humility. And exercising a power in opposition to the will, and wisdom, and authority of Christ, they banish that awe, and reverence, and submission, which are due to him and to [22/23] the majesty of his government. They turn the current of the human heart from religion and piety, from love and charity, to party feuds and animosities, to hatred and contention. They distract, bewilder, and confound the minds, and understandings, and consciences of men; and, contrary to that spirit of light and truth which is given to the Church, they necessarily lead to darkness and error, to delusion, infatuation, and a total subversion or renunciation of the faith.
If, in any civil government upon earth, a set of men should arise, and, in opposition to that government, claim to themselves a right to exercise authority, to alter and re-model the form and constitution of it agreeably to their own fancies and opinions, what sentiments should we entertain of such men? and what would be the consequences to that government? Could such men, by any subterfuge of argument, be deemed friendly to that government, or have any claim to praise or remuneration from it? What but anarchy, discord, and confusion would ensue? Could unity any longer exist? Would not the bond of peace and concord be effectually broken? And would not that government be in danger of entire subversion? If, added to all this, a great and powerful enemy were at hand, watching to destroy it, could a more favourable opportunity be given to effect that purpose, or a more certain mean of destruction afforded?
Exactly in this situation is the Church of Christ. Its great enemy is unremittingly upon [23/24] the watch to subvert and destroy it; and our schisms and dissentions present the fairest prospect to his hopes, and put into his hands the most effectual instrument of success. What, then, is to be done, and what conduct ought to be pursued? Let us see what the wisdom and conduct of the civil government would be. Would they not, by every means of authority put into their hands, endeavour to reclaim and bring back the refractory and disobedient to a due submission to the laws and constitution? Could they, in any sense, be said to discharge their duty, if they did not? Could they be justified by any principle of policy, of reason, or common sense, in suffering every man to follow the dictates of his own mind, and the suggestions of his own passions and imagination un-restrained? Could the end and purpose of civil government, the security of national and legal liberty, of life and property, be obtained by such conduct? Could either order, or peace, or unity be promoted by it? And shall the governors of Christ's Church and Kingdom, to whom the rule and authority have been given, neglect to do what is so obviously and certainly their duty? Shall they tamely and passively look on, and see the kingdom of peace rent by discord? Shall they see its unity broken, and the enemy coming on to lay waste every thing therein, without opposing themselves to the breach, and endeavouring to ward off and repel the impending danger? Shall they suffer the delusive and discouraging cries of the want of candour, of forbearance and charity, [24/25] which are echoed around, to deter them from the exertions of their station, from the highest and noblest act of charity; a resolute endeavour to preserve the peace and unity, and integral existence of the Church of Christ?
To temporal governors is committed the temporal sword; nor is it given in vain. To the governors of the Church and Kingdom of our Redeemer, which is a spiritual kingdom, and not of this world, is committed the sword of the Spirit. We have no power, no authority over the bodies of men to control or compel them: but it is our duty to exhort, to admonish, and to persuade, to warn them of their guilt and of their danger, and to denounce the threatenings and judgments of God against every wilful and hardened offender, that he may be reclaimed and brought back to a sense of his duty and of his obligation.
Every institution of God ought to be held most sacred and inviolate by man. This surely is a proposition which will not be controverted by any human being. Did Noah, that preacher of righteousness to an abandoned world, presume to alter the form of that ark which he was directed to build for the preservation of himself and the righteous remnant of men? Did the meek and obedient Moses, who brought forth the chosen people of God from the slavery and bondage of Egypt, though invested with the supreme authority, either add to or diminish aught from the pattern of that ark and its surrounding tabernacle which was dictated and shown to him by God? Did he suffer his own [25/26] wisdom to intermeddle with the wisdom of the God of Israel, in any of the divine institutions appointed for that people? Who, then, shall be so hardy as to innovate in the Church of Christ? Who shall presume to alter the form and constitution of its government? What sacrilegious hand shall attempt to re-construct this appointed ark of our salvation? Is it possible that Christians can be guilty of such presumption, of such open and direct impiety?
The ministers of Christ are designed to be the lights of the world, to lead men to truth, to guide them to the Church and fold of Christ, that they may there be sanctified and qualified for immortality and glory. And shall we not suffer our light to shine? Can we, consistently with our duty and with our own salvation, suffer the heretic and schismatic to put forth their light to confound and perplex mankind, and to seduce them into the paths of error and delusion, without warning both the seduced and the seducers of their guilt and of their danger? Shall we not assure them, in the words of our Lord himself, that if the blind lead the blind, they shall both fall into the ditch?
Can either length of time or number of adherents sanctify error, or make that right which was originally wrong? Or can error be less dangerous and fatal upon those accounts? And if we see the error, if we know the danger, is it less our duty, is it less the indispensable obligation of charity, to endeavour to rescue them from it? Shall we suffer a weak timidity, a [26/27] false delicacy, a mistaken candour, a counterfeit charity which has gone forth into the world to deceive it, to restrain us from that bold and resolute assertion of the truth which becomes the ministers of Christ, and the preachers and publishers of the terms of salvation? God forbid!
The Church of Christ is the only ark provided for our salvation. It is there alone that pardon and peace, that life and immortality, are promised and assured to guilty and fallen man. God's covenant of mercy through Christ (and it cannot be too often repeated) is only with his Church. The means of salvation are there only provided for us. To this Church, therefore, we must resort for light, for life, for glory and immortality. We must enter into it; we must unite ourselves with it; we must be made members of this spiritual body of our Redeemer, before we can be made partakers of his inheritance. We must become one with him, through the spirit of sanctification and unity given to his Church, before we can be joint heirs with him of the Kingdom of Heaven.
This Church of Christ is but one. It is denominated his kingdom, his household, his body. And can Christ be divided? Unity is essential to it. Christ is its head, its supreme Lord. All its powers are derived from him and him only. All the means of grace and salvation are instituted by him, and derive their efficacy from his appointment. His ministers, his sacraments operate only through him. His sacraments are the sacraments of his Church; [27/28] and they must be administered in his Church, and by his ministers duly authorised and commissioned by him, and sent by him, as he was sent by the Father. If not administered in his Church, and by his ministers, they are evidently not his sacraments. And the conclusion is obvious and easily drawn: They cannot be considered as effectual to salvation, unless it be by some unknown and uncovenanted mercy, of which we have no promise, no assurance; and which the ministers of Christ are, therefore, most certainly not authorised to offer.
We can be saved with assurance and certainty, only by the means and method of God's appointment. We can do nothing of ourselves. To deviate from his directions, to alter or abrogate his laws and institutions, to prescribe our own terms, to presume upon our own wisdom and understanding, to follow our own hearts, and wills, and imaginations, our own whims and devices, is exposing our hopes of salvation to the utmost hazard, and going to the extremest verge of madness and impiety. Guilt and condemnation, not salvation and glory, are the clear, the natural, and obvious consequences of such presumptuous conduct.
We must wash in the waters of Jordan, when God prescribes the remedy, however preferable and more salutary we may deem the rivers of Damascus, or our leprosy must remain. We must enter into the ark prepared for our salvation, or we must expose ourselves to the consequences of the flood. It is the law of God; it is his appointment; it is his will; it is [28/29] his word; and his word alone is health, and life, and salvation.
We, therefore, my brethren, plainly see the path of our duty marked before us. To bring men to the faith of the Gospel, to the true Church and fold of Christ which is prepared for their salvation, is evidently the great and principal work of that charity which is the end of our mission. To neglect this is to abandon our charge, to betray our trust, and to endanger our own immortal hopes.
We cannot but be sensible of the fatal consequences of schism and dissention, and of the infinite train of evils that flow from the breach of unity in The Church and Kingdom of Christ: and we cannot but know that to prevent these evils we must remove the cause. While discord, schism and dissention exist among the professors of Christianity; while the Church of Christ is rent asunder by sects and parties, and divided against itself, how shall it stand? Will not its enemies triumph? Will not infidelity, vice, and licentiousness gain the ascendency? Until communion and unity are restored, there can, indeed, be neither peace nor order, discipline nor authority; without which, our faith, our hope, and charity, like clouds driven about by the wind, will have neither stability nor certainty, and must finally be dissipated and lost.
Let us, therefore, with boldness and confidence in our Redeemer, endeavour faithfully and zealously to perform this very essential part of our duty. Let us not cease to hold forth [29/30] our light, that, amidst the darkness and confusion which schism and heresy have occasioned, the sincere and pious Christian may be led to the true faith and fold of Christ, and not forfeit his hope, and make shipwreck of his faith, by following the devious and dangerous ways pointed out by self-willed, ignorant, or designing men.
Let us, to the utmost of our power, exert ourselves to counteract and destroy that libertine and latitudinarian spirit which is fatally prevailing in the world, and which, like a dark and wide-spreading mist, is obscuring the Church of Christ; leaving neither light nor mark to guide the wanderer on his way, and obliterating every vestige of religion and piety, of virtue and morality.
Let us, upon every proper occasion, by our public discourses, by our private instructions and admonitions, endeavour to impress the minds and hearts of our respective flocks with a due and solemn sense of the necessity of unity and communion in the Church of our Redeemer; of the divine and sacred authority of its discipline and government; of the extreme danger of separation from it; and of the fatal and deadly nature of schism: constantly reminding them how strictly they are enjoined to cherish a sincere and firm belief in the one holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and in the communion of Saints, as main and necessary articles of the Christian faith--of that faith which was once delivered to the Saints; to which we are directed steadfastly to adhere; and in the [30/31] unshaken continuance in which, our hopes of salvation are founded.
Let us warn them, with the utmost zeal, cautiously to beware of those intruders into the fold, who say they are Apostles, but are not; and whose purpose is to scatter and divide the flock. Let us endeavour to make them deeply and duly sensible of the guilty and impious conduct of these self-willed and presumptuous men, who, despising the sacred ordinance of Christ, have assumed to themselves authority to minister and govern in his Church and Kingdom; and who, in the spirit of Antichrist, have placed themselves in the place of God, and would be as God! Assure them (for it is a serious and solemn truth, and must not be withheld) that if they unite themselves to such men, they will unavoidably be partakers of their guilt, and will be in danger of finally perishing with them in the gainsaying of Korah.
I am well aware, my brethren, that, while employed in this painful, but necessary and charitable work, (so corrupt and totally disordered is the state of Christianity) we shall meet with nothing but obloquy and reproach from almost every quarter. But as this consideration lessens not the obligations of our duty, so it should not deter us from the performance of it. Obloquy and reproach will but evince the malignity and inveteracy of the evil, and the necessity of the remedy. And we must remember that our Lord and Master, while upon earth, was himself reproached and vilified for the truth; that his doctrines were opposed by the [31/32] prejudices and perversity, by the pride, the selfishness, and corruption of those he came to teach and to save; and that, through the hardness of their hearts, he was, finally, for that truth, and for those doctrines, put to an ignominious and cruel death. Nor must we forget (and it should animate our zeal) that he hath forewarned us what we are to expect, and commanded us to take up our cross and follow him. Let us, therefore, in obedience to his command, and in imitation of his example, resolutely pursue the path pointed out by our duty, and follow him through honour and dishonour, through good report and evil report, through reproach, and want, and poverty, through death and martyrdom, if it shall be God's will.
But, while we are carrying on this our spiritual warfare against the prince of the darkness of this world, let us take heed, my brethren, that we fall not out by the way. Let us bear in our remembrance the affectionate and oft-repeated injunction of our beloved Lord, that we love one another. Let us cherish it sacredly in our hearts; and, by setting the example of love, and peace, and unity, show to the world that we, indeed, are brethren of the household and family of Christ. Let us, in conformity to that sacred and inviolable rule of order which he hath established in his Church, look up with filial reverence and affection to our spiritual Superior, whom the goodness of God hath placed in authority over us. Let us pay him that cordial and ready obedience [32/33] which is due to his sacred character and high commission; and which his learning, his virtues, and his piety so justly merit from us all.
And here I would cease to intrude upon your time, and, I much fear, your wearied attention, if a sense of duty forcibly impressed upon my mind by this occasion, and by the subject of this discourse, did not urge me to request yet a moment's indulgence, while I address myself particularly to my brethren of the Laity, the Delegates to this Convention.
What I have to say to you, my brethren, is of importance to yourselves, and to the Church of our Redeemer. I, therefore, entreat you to hear me patiently, and with that serious and candid attention which it justly demands.
All innovations are dangerous, but more particularly in so weighty and momentous a concern as religion, and should, therefore, be very minutely and scrupulously examined by everyone concerned in the consequences of them. The introduction of laymen into the government of Christ's Church is an innovation. It is a practice unknown to the primitive ages of Christianity, and hath never been admitted, from those times to the present, into any ecclesiastical government, but by such innovators only as, having rejected the Episcopal form, and separated themselves from the original and apostolical constitution of the Church, found it a necessary expedient to countenance their defection, and to give weight and popularity to their schism and separation. By what means, [33/34] and for what purpose, it has been introduced into this portion of the Christian Church to which we belong, is best known to those who were concerned in the ordering of it. What will be its effect among us, time and experience alone can determine. It wears, however, a most portentous aspect; and I much fear it cannot come to good. It is a dangerous novelty, unwarranted by Christ and his Apostles, and by all the succeeding governors of his Church; and ought to be very deliberately and seriously considered by you.
Remember, the constitution and government of Christ's Church are of divine, notof human authority. His Kingdom is a spiritual, not a temporal one. Its powers are derived from Christ alone, not from the people. He is its supreme Lord and King. To introduce a popular principle into it is treason against his authority. It is an insult to his government. It is destructive of the peace, the unity, and majesty of his Kingdom; and contrary to the very nature, and end, and design of it.
While you act as friends and advisers only, affording the aid and assistance of your wisdom, your experience and observation to the regular and lawful governors of his Church, ye will do well: ye are within the circle of your duty, and ye may be eminently useful. But to assume authority in it; to exercise power there, without right, or title, or commission from him, is, to say the very best of it, most disorderly conduct: it is, at least, of the nature of that disorderly conduct of which the Corinthians [34/35] were guilty, and which St. Paul so decidedly condemns: it is expressly contrary to that charity which he prescribes as a remedy for it--to that charity which confines every member to its own place and position in the body, and to the exercise of its own peculiar functions and operations.
Step not, therefore, my beloved brethren, out of the proper rank and station assigned you in the Church and body of Christ. Beware of the guilt and presumption of Korah! and say not with him, in the spirit of revolt and impiety in which he spake--"are not all the congregation holy?" Reverence, I beseech you, the sacred authority and institution of your Redeemer, and have respect for yourselves. Touch not the ark which is committed to the charge of the Levites alone, with unhallowed hands. Touch it not, though it be to save it from falling, as did the rash and inconsiderate Uzzah; lest, by imitating his error and rashness, you subject yourselves, like him, to the anger of God!
I have now performed what my heart, and my best informed conscience assured me was an incumbent duty. I have borne my honest testimony in favour of what I am most certainly convinced are sacred and important truths. I have done it explicitly, and with that boldness and decision which becomes a minister of the gospel, zealous for the truth; and, I trust, with that sincere and fervent charity which ought always to be his chief and principal characteristic.
 What has been said most certainly deserves the serious, deliberate, and dispassionate consideration of every one; and I flatter myself will be received by this audience in the same spirit in which it was uttered.
May the God of peace be with us! may the spirit of our Lord and Master be among us, to guide all our consultations and endeavours to his honour and glory, and to the advancement of his Church and Kingdom.
And now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, the one infinite and adorable Jehovah, be all honour, and glory, and praise, might, majesty and dominion, henceforth and for ever more! AMEN.