PASTOR AND SUPERINTENDENT OF ST. LUKE'S HOSPITAL, N.Y., AND OF ST. JOHNLAND, L.I.
T. WHITTAKER, NO. 2 BIBLE HOUSE.
As one of the Councillors of the Evangelical Alliance, I cordially approve of its object, and sympathize in its spirit; but not with entire satisfaction as to its "Basis." Instead of its nine articles, I could wish it had been the Apostles' or Nicene Creed, with an enunciation of the Bible as containing the inspired Word of God, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, Regeneration by the Holy Spirit, with an acknowledgment of the divine institution of the Christian. Ministry, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.
But I am content with one of the declaratory resolutions prefixed to the Basis, as summing up its substance, viz.
"We propose no new creed; but, taking broad, historical, and evangelical catholic ground, we solemnly reaffirm and profess our faith in all the doctrines of the inspired Word of GOD, and in the consensus of doctrines as held by all true Christians from the beginning. And we do more especially affirm our belief in the divine-human person and atoning work of our LORD and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST, as the only and sufficient source of salvation, as the heart and soul of Christianity, and as the centre of all true Christian union and fellowship."
THE LORD'S SUPPER IN RELATION TO CHRISTIAN UNION.
PERHAPS I ought to apologize for not keeping, in what I am about to say, to one of the themes allotted me in the programme; yet my only apology is that I am strongly moved to speak on another--one, however, not wholly irrelevant to the general topic of the day, nor inappropriate as one of the concluding papers of the Conference.
Proceeding with my subject, which I can treat only in the plain words of a worker rather than a speaker, and not after the scientific method of the able and scholarly men who have preceded me, I observe, we should think it strange, were we not accustomed to it, that among Protestant Evangelical Christians there is so little socialness, if it may be so designated, in the observance of the highest social act of their religion. Their unity in the faith and in the cardinal doctrines of the Gospel is certainly not obvious in their relations to the great Sacrament of unity--the Lord's Supper, their observance of which being so isolated within their own ecclesiastical [1/2] bounds. They meet each at their own, but rarely at a common, Communion-table. Now this, as an ordinary rule, could not be otherwise. The communicants in a neighborhood of any size could not form a single congregation. Nor, if they could, would it he desirable. They have their Church Homes, Sc) to call them; where, under their own pastors, and amid their families and friends, they feel it a good and pleasant thing so to participate in the sacred feast. They have an indisposition to go for it beyond these companies of immediate brethren. Nor is this unsocial if it be only a natural preference for their own associations, for the sacramental modes and customs to which they, like their fathers before them, have been accustomed. But when they do it on religious grounds, when they make it a matter of conscience, when they would forego the communion altogether rather than partake of it outside of their own connections, then it is that unsocialness, to call it by its mildest name, which it is hard to reconcile with aught of hearty realization of membership in the one body of Christ Here I pray not to be understood as adverting to any particular body of Christians who feel constrained to close communion, from consistency with their special creeds. There are true brethren in that category, at whom I would not be aiming words, and at a time like this. I refer to what is common among all Protestant Christians--their avoidance of one another's communions; an [2/3] avoidance the more remarkable since they practise it on scarcely any other religious occasions. They do not refuse to worship in one another's sanctuaries, they listen to one another's preachers, they go hand in hand in works of piety and benevolence, in the name of their one Lord; but when it comes to communicating together, there they halt--they are ready for any act of brotherliness but that; and so the extraordinary and not less unworthy thing comes to pass, that the last place at which they should be willing to separate, is the last place at which they are willing to meet.
Were I now to add what has been fearfully worse than such alienation, the wrathful controversies, the bitter theological strifes, the mutual excommunications, of which this blessed ordinance has been the occasion--the centre of peace the very centre of war--we should say, how true the paradox of Our Lord, "I am not come to send peace on earth, but a sword." Such fierce zeal for opinion, magnified into essential faith, has, however, been for the most part confined to religionistic combatants, who, of all combatants, least know what manner of spirit they are of. Happily, too, it is rather a thing of the past; but not without leaving a remainder in that which is the same in kind, though less in degree--sacramental exclusiveness, the veriest opposite of what would seem to be a matter of course, sacramental comprehensiveness. That also, thank God, [3/4] is passing away. A happy change has of late years been going on. The fencing in of God's board by man's devices is one of the old ways which we are discovering must not necessarily be good only because they are old. We are coming into a clearer and freer atmosphere. The night is far spent; the day is at hand. The icy barriers and frostwork of ecclesiasticism, congealed in the dark, are melting under the beams of advancing light. We have had Union Communions. Christians have acknowledged a becoming and solemn significance in forgetting awhile their diversities, and in enjoying their agreement in the supreme and precious truths embodied in the sacrament. Loyal to the Churches in which Providence has set them, giving them due preference and support, they own a yet higher allegiance to the law laid upon them in common: "This do in remembrance of me." It is one of the encouraging signs of the times, an ascendant harmony of Gospel concord amid the jar of churchy discord, and as such not unworthy the observation of a Gospel alliance. So, at. least, it seems to your speaker, who begs to offer some thoughts upon it as his contribution to the Conference.
With regard to these Union Communions, I submit that the time has come when they should be systematized and regulated, and that mainly in order to their having a representative character. Accordingly they should not be extemporary gatherings of all [4/5] and any good people moved to attend them, but companies of persons chosen by their brother communicants of their respective congregations--not, of course, to the exclusion of all others; but these elected delegates or proxies should form the main body of the communicating assembly, which would thus witness not only for itself, but for all its constituents, to Unity and Union in Christ.
To that extent it would be a representative Holy Communion, but let it be extended farther--let it embrace more than only certain local congregations, however numerous. The great object in view is the union of the different branches of the Protestant Church--even Inter-communion. And mark how easily that could be effected--by what a simple process. Those different branches in their highest councils, their synods, their conventions, and so forth, would only have to adopt resolutions approving of such communions, recommending their members to join in them, giving counsel concerning them, with the prayerful hope that they might become a new and blessed pledge of brotherly peace and good-will in the widest and best of bonds. Let us suppose their action went beyond this, and that they appointed delegates immediately from their own bodies, to meet in a stated, say annual, Holy Communion, coinciding in time with one or another of the local celebrations. Here would be a general Church Union. Here would a concordat, not of theological dogmas or of [5/6] ecclesiastical policy, yet of fundamental Christian doctrine, withal of Christian amity. Here would be a compact without diplomacy, without settlings of precedence, without mutual concessions--a compact signed with Christ's own seal. Here would be an (Ecumenical Council that might claim, as confidently as any ever held, the presence of the Holy Ghost. Here would be a universal confraternity, having that mark of divine creation, variety in unity--Lutheran and Calvinist, Zuinglian and Moravian, Episcopalian and Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, all within the limits of a sound Faith; of all ranks and conditions, too,--the orthodox Emperor who sent us so cordial a greeting, and the pietist schoolmaster, the Primate of all England (so be it) who spake friendly words to us through Ms Dean, and the dissenting Bible reader, side by side in the equality of the one Faith, the one Lord, the one Baptism, the one God and Father of all, partaking of the one bread and the one cup given to them, as brethren, by their God-brother at his own table of all-embracing love. Let that come to pass, and who will say that our evangelic Christendom is destitute of all unity, a chaotic aggregation of confused and inter-repellent parts?--yet withal, the objection may be made, destitute of any organic union. Nay, nay, who was the great organizer of the Church? And when by any positive external act of his own did he ever organize it, if not when he instituted this [6/7] one bond of fellowship for all his disciples through their fellowship with him? if not, too, when by the hallowed wine-cup he signified the only organism of which he ever spake, "I am the vine, ye are the branches."
Such an evangelic, catholic, and representative holy communion all will admit is a goodly ideal. But we may doubt its practical realization--aye, we may more than doubt--unless we can assume for it a widespread and longing desire--unless from all earnest hearts and voices there goes forth the response, "Amen, in the name of the God of Peace, Amen." Trusting for that, I see no great difficulties in the way of the tribes of our Israel thus gathering for a high Christian Passover. I say great, for there might be minor ones, arising out of the divers modes of celebration prevalent among the different bodies of Christians, each naturally adhering to its own; but respecting these there could be only universal agreement that they are mere accidents, not of the essence of the ordinance. They are extrinsic forms, variable, while the substance is untouched. In the solemnity proposed we must look at the Holy Supper as it is in itself and exclusively as we find it in the pages of the New Testament. There, it is simply a company of disciples partaking together of the elements of the meal ordained by their Lord and Master in sacred and grateful commemoration of the sacrifice [7/8] of his death for their redemption---the Communion of his Body and Blood. This is the amount of Scripture fact and teaching concerning the Eucharist. It is one of the agenda, not credenda, of our religion. The doctrines concerning its nature, efficacy, and the like, are inferential, the Bible argument for which we may weigh for ourselves, having due regard for ancient and traditional consent in the premises. They do not affect the minimum of agreement, beyond all question scriptural, which must exist among ourselves in order, with our manifold views and sentiments, to our intercommunion. That minimum, considering the amount of Gospel truth it involves, is enough. So of the various sacramental rites and ceremonies; they are more or less agreeable to Scripture, they have more or less value in their way; but none of them are invaluable. They do not approach to an essential.
Thus looking at the institution solely in the New Testament exhibitions of it, we are struck with the absence in it of one feature which is very extensively thought to be indispensable to its integrity--or, as some would say, to its validity: I mean administration by an authorized administrator. Herein might lie the greatest obstacle to intercommunion, but of this we discover not a trace in the inspired records In the first instance, our Lord was the institutor rather than the administrator, and so far as He was the latter, certainly He appointed no [8/9] successor in the office. Had He done so, we could not have been left in the dark concerning it. Inequality, except that of "Primus inter pares" for order's sake, is at variance with the chief idea of the communion. It was to his first communicants our Lord laid down the law ignoring all precedence among them--" One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." Turning to the Pentecostal Christians, we find them keeping the Least in their private houses, where certainly the Apostles, who as yet were the only ministers of the hew dispensation, could not always have been present to give their authoritative benediction. When St. Paul preached to the disciples at Troas, where they had met on the first day of the week for their "breaking bread," the opportunity was his for a farewell discourse to them, not their opportunity for a communion, which would have taken place whether he had been with them or not. When the same Apostle rebukes the Corinthians for their shameful behavior at their sacraments, if the clergy were among them as celebrants or consecrators, they certainly would have come in for a share of his lecture for allowing such scandalous disorder. "The figment of anything like sacerdotal consecration of the Eucharist by transmitted power," says Dean Alford, "is as alien from the apostolic writings as it is from the spirit of the Gospel." To this quotation let me add another from a high-churchman, Bishop Cotterill of the Episcopal [9/10] Church in Scotland. "This Christian rite," he says, "the highest expression of communion with Christ and with one another, was celebrated at first with little of that formal observance which afterwards attended it, not in the temple where the disciples still met for formal public worship," not in the temple, that place devoted to priestly service,--"but at home, probably in such of their houses as were used for their gatherings;" where, I may add, as I have already implied, the Apostles must have been ubiquitous, to be at every sacrament, absorbed as they were with their work as ambassadors for Christ, especially as the service at first seems to have been a daily one. Again, remarks the Bishop: "It is a significant fact that the one representative ordinance of the old economy for which the office of the Levitical priesthood was not needed (the Passover being a household institution), was selected by Jesus Christ as the rite out of which the great representative ordinance of the new should grow." [In justice to the Bishop I should mention that in another place he requires an authorized celebrant, but pretending no scriptural precedent. See his Genesis of the Church.] If an officiating ministry was not required for the type under the old dispensation, surely none can be demanded for the antitype under the unpriestly dispensation of the new, save on the ground of custom not to be needlessly set aside. Accordingly, to speak as we are wont, of one's administering the [10/11] communion, of giving and taking the sacrament, is not scriptural, though the language is unobjectionable as conformable to the long existing modes of celebrating the Supper. So the various ritual observances which have been added to it are of course to be reverenced according to their age and significance, so long as they do not touch the elementary nature of the institution, or prevent or interfere with its main design. We all have a strong attachment to our own Eucharistic modes. Nothing here said would in the least disturb it. It is a pious attachment which it would be well-nigh impious to violate. Communicating within our own ecclesiastical households, we should be disorderly if we did not conform to their established order. Never in the main could I part with that of the liturgy enshrined in my heart, as it enshrines all catholic and evangelic truth. But when we come out and hold a communion on common ground, we. forego all that marks our dissimilarity, and we confine ourselves to that wherein we are alike. We merge our various species in the genus Christian. We can afford to lay aside badges, though worn by our ancestors, content to appear only with the one sign of the cross. As the Eucharist was ordained before ecclesiastical order, so in partaking of it in its primitive form we must be pre-ecclesiastical. We put ourselves on a level, clergy and laity, one of necessity presiding, and he, for obvious seemliness, a [11/12] Brother in the ministry. We fall back upon our status of simple discipleship in Christ, and keep the feast, as far as may be, after the manner of its first occurrence in the upper room at Jerusalem. And could it be otherwise than refreshing and enlarging and strengthening to the soul thus to return from time to time to a primordial Christianity?
I will not detain you by enlarging upon the probable happy consequences of a divinely constituted Evangelical alliance, but will conclude with one or two additional remarks.
For all practical movements towards greater union among Christians there must he some central ground. Overtures from particular quarters might not be met in the spirit with which they would be made. Yon cannot start from any of your old harbors; you must take a new departure. And from whence rather than from the broad midland of a catholic, holy communion? If you cannot begin there, you can begin nowhere.
Again, such "Love feasts" would be an exhibition of the Church in her normal character as the Divine Brotherhood--the character which she needs to make good, and to manifest more and more if she is to make headway in the world. In that she will not fail to be appreciated. Men understand brotherhood. They desire it, and will have it in forms which they invent for themselves, as in their fellowships, their lodges, their fraternities. Let them see [12/13] fellowship in the Church--aye, socialism, communism too. Let the Church recognize in these that which, in their true forms, she should supply, by taking a lead, with her concerted strength, in all beneficently social movements, all philanthropic enterprise; by her concern for the down-trodden and oppressed, lifting them up in their redeemed humanity; by her advocacy of the righteous rights of man; by her not winking at the complacent notions of wealth and power, that the Dives and Lazarus of the: parable are the normal condition of social Christendom, that in the conventionalities of life there must needs be an impassable gulf between the rich and the poor--by her not leaving plans for the melioration of the humbler classes wholly to the State, as if no business of hers; by proving that the interests of humanity are therefore hers; by her doing justice--dare I say it?--to her Christ, by giving men to behold Him the supreme Philanthropist--the Christ not of her theologues and scribes; the Christ of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the Christ that now is, the Liberator--the Emancipator from slavery, tyranny, from the grinding of Mammon, burying the children of poverty in the pits and mire of earth, as well as the Almighty Redeemer from the bondage of sin to the glorious liberty of the Sons of God. So let the Church demonstrate Christian socialism, Christian communism. So let her, too, declare for Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. To such ends let is Congress charge her--for [13/14] who has a better right to?--bid her make full proof of her profession as the Benefactor of the world, and not unfit herself for the high vocation by dissensions within herself. Remind her, with line upon line and precept upon precept, that union is strength. Of every barrier that keeps her people from joint co-operation in her common work, that withholds them from inter-communion at the blessed feast, for the uplifting and invigorating of their souls--of all such ramparts of separation, say to her, as the prophet of old did to Zion, "Take away the battlements that are not the Lord's." So adjure the world-wide Zion you here represent to the sacred obligation of peace within her own borders, as she would be worthy of herself, and do earnest battle with her foes all thick and united around. So let her hope for successful conquest with the world, as she then may when she fulfils her prophetic type, "Jerusalem built as a city, at unity with herself."
But one word more, referring to Union. Let the American churches unite, as some of them already do, in the practice of nearly all the churches abroad, of observing the great historic days of Christianity, which commemorate the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection and the Descent of the Holy Ghost, and on these days, making all sanctuaries to resound with the universal creed, the Te Deum, the Glorias, the common heritage of us all--so demonstrating both present union and the [14/15] oneness of the church of the past with the church of to-day.
But all, nothing, nothing,--Communions, Alliances, Hospitalities,--all nothing without larger outpourings of the Holy Ghost, in the love of Christ constraining us, in unselfishness, in the spirit of conciliation and forbearance, in self-sacrifice, in the affection of hearty Brotherhood in Christ. Who will not pray for that in the invocation of the Church for more than a thousand years--Veni creator.
COME, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.
Thy blessed Unction from above,
Is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Enable with perpetual light
The dulness of our blinded sight.
Anoint and cheer our soiled face
With the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far our foes, give peace at home;
Where thou art guide, no ill can come.
Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And thee, of both, to be but One.
That, through the ages all along,
This may be our endless song--
Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
IN speaking of the general indisposition of Christians to communicate outside of their respective churches, I should make further allowance for it in their fears, that in departing from the ways to which they have always been used in their communions, the solemnity of the ordinance in their minds would be impaired. "I could never take the sacrament," more than one has said to me, "sitting down at a table, it would not seem like the sacrament at all." There must be forbearance with such feeling--charitable construction of what seems only narrow prejudice. So of some of the sectarian terms of admission to the communion--they are designed to protect its sanctity. Once when I was inviting the communicants of different denominations, in a ward of St. Luke's Hospital, a devout old Scotchman wondered I could be so loose. I told him that in my church all who desired to come, unless they were openly unworthy, were welcome to her Board; and that, I added, I thought was to her peculiar credit and in the spirit of her Master, "Nay," he rejoined, "for the honor of the Lord, we must hedge in the Table of the Lord." When we remember how much excommunicating there has been by the wise and learned for "the honor of the Lord," and in defence of human dogmas decreed to be his truth, we can excuse the old Scotchman. With growing light, let us hope there will be less and less of mistaken zeal. It is only among enlightened Christians, to be found among the lowly as well as among the high, that we can expect much affection for united communions. These occasions, let me finally observe, would of course be extraordinary occasions, and should [16/17] not be lacking in anything of order or circumstance that would increase their solemnity and make it proportionate to their solemn object. Without a sacred care on part of those who regulate them, they might degenerate, and be less edifying than ordinary communion.
The Dean of Canterbury, the assistant Bishop of Kentucky, a chaplain of the Archbishop of Canterbury, partaking of the communion in three different Presbyterian churches, the pastor of each presiding at the service, has been a significant and encouraging fact--not the least of the good fruits of the Evangelical Alliance.