THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY
DELIVERED BEFORE A
PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH
DIOCESS OF CONNECTICUT,
TRINITY CHURCH, NEW-HAVEN.
ON THE 3d DAY OF AUGUST, A. D. 1813.
BY THE REV. PHILANDER CHASE.
PUBLISHED AT THE REQUEST OF THE CONVENTION
A SERMON &c.,
EPHESIANS iii. 14, 15.
I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
of whom the whole Family in heaven and earth is named.
IF I rightly understand the design of sermons at ecclesiastical Conventions, it is to stir up the minds, and unite the hearts, of both Clergy and Laity, in the ways of Godliness. To this end, the words of the text, when duly considered, are well adapted. They exhibit all, and every portion of christians under the idea of a Family. God is their Father; the Church, with her holy sacraments and ordinances, is their Mother. Jesus Christ, the true and ever blessed Son of God, is their "Elder Brother," "the first born among many brethren." Their christian names were given them, when they were born into this Family by the sacrament of "Water and the Holy Ghost;" wherein they were made brethren of each other; "members of Christ; children of God; and heirs of the kingdom of heaven."
From this figure of our spiritual condition, many reflections may be deduced, useful to us all.
I will not now attempt to prove the obligation of children to obey their parents. God hath placed between the parent and the child, a relation whose high behests demand obedience. Without this, moral society soon must terminate. The world, "wise in its generation," knows this; and therefore has always enforced filial obedience; and consented to condemn the [3/4] wretch, who can treat the authority of his father with contempt, or bring reproach upon the honour and laws of her, who gave him birth. Hence we argue:
If God be our Father, not only by creation, but in the endearing sense of christian adoption, there must be, from our relation to him as such, corresponding obligations incumbent on us: and these extend to the Church, called in scripture, "the Mother of us all;" so far as her will, her laws, and her ordinances, accord with those of our Heavenly Father.
From God we receive our being; but having sinned, and "being alienated from the life of God, through ignorance," "a new and living way" is opened "by the washing of Regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost," in "the Church, which is Christ's Body" and Bride. "He that hath the Bride is the Bridegroom;" and this Bridegroom being God, as well as man, "we are begotten by him again unto a lively hope;" a hope, which nothing can shake, being confirmed "by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ" from the grave. The Bride, then, whom God hath adorned with his word and ordinances, with his grace and heavenly benediction, is our Mother, in a mysterious and heavenly sense, which prompteth our tenderest love and most constant obedience.
Born into this new world, on this bosom of redeeming mercy we recline. Breathing the pure air of God's holy Spirit, we are "fed with the milk of Gods holy word." Cherished by "the nurture and" warned and guided by "the admonition of the Lord," our holy Mother, ever strives to train us to his glory and honour. With a tender solicitude, which the love of her Lord alone could prompt, she hath disposed all things, both of nature and grace, for our instruction in holiness. She opens the book of mysterious nature, and, pointing to the sublime and wonderful works of Divine Providence, she illustrates and confirms our holy faith. The sun does not shine, but she teaches us of the "Sun of Righteousness," [4/5] who once "arose with healing in his wings," to give light and life to a fallen world. The moon does not pour forth her borrowed light, but the Church tells us, how all her own brightness is borrowed from her Lord of Glory. The wind does not blow, but the Church tells us of the Spirit of Christ, the holy Ghost, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. From the bread that sustains our bodies, she draws our minds to that heavenly Bread, which nourishes the soul unto eternal life. From the water which we drink, she makes us mindful, that there is a fountain of Mercy ever open unto those, "who thirst after righteousness," "springing up unto everlasting life." Time itself she divides, not by the shadow, but by the substance. Her Gnomon is her adored Redeemer; and all his deeds of mercy are marked on her faithful dial. Her year commences with his advent in the flesh, and looks forward to his coming again to judge the quick and the dead. Here she begins her course of annual instruction; and with her bible open, she speaks, she reads, she sings, of redeeming mercy; how the everlasting Son of God, by whom all things were made, laid aside his Father's glory; how he came down from heaven, and dwelt, without sin, in our frail mansion of clay; how he was "God manifest in the flesh;" how he was born among the poorest of the poor, that his power might shine only to the honour and glory of the everlasting Godhead. Hence she leads us to the Epiphany; how our blessed Lord manifested the grace and truth of his glorious gospel to the gentile world; how all nature obeyed his voice; how, in the promulgation of the gospel, he chose, "the weak things to confound the things that are mighty, and the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;" how his meek disciples, like their once humble but now glorified Lord, prevailed by suffering; and how a proud world bowed to the power of truth and love.
 Returning from the Epiphany, she dwells on the sufferings of her Lord. From the page of prophecy, she tells us, what was the decree of condescension infinite, that the Lord of life should suffer; that to make atonement perfect, Immanuel should "tread the wine-press alone, and of the people there should be none to help;" that he should be the Lamb, on whose meek and spotless head, "God should lay the iniquities of us all;" that he should stand in the place of the culprit; "be wounded for our transgressions; be bruised for our iniquities; and that with his stripes we should be healed."
To the prophecy, the Church adds, from the second Lesson, the fulfilment. She rehearses, what angels once wept to see, what the sun himself could not behold without a midnight veil, and what the earth could not feel, without trembling; that our Jesus, her Lord, was mocked and scourged, hung upon the cross, groaned and died, for us. Here she bids us weep. Here she calls to our minds the remembrance of our sins, which caused his sufferings; and our proud natures she humbles to the will of God, and to the cross of Christ.
Her Lord entombed, she reminds us of the power of the grave, which nought but Jesus can subdue; of the state of souls departed; of Paradise, where are the faithful, as Lazarus, in Abraham's bosom; and of Gehenna, or burning lake, wherein the wicked "lift up their eyes in torment"; how the former is attained by faith in Jesus; and the latter is the just reward of unbelief and sin.
Easter next is the theme of her instructions. Here we are taught how Jesus burst the bands of Death, and deprived the Grave of his dominion. What tidings are these to a fallen world! When all around is Death, when the darkness of the grave broods o'er the face of all the earth; when Corruption sits on her mouldering throne, and the worm we tread on triumphs on triumphs over us.—over us the proud lords of all terrestrial things;—who would not listen and be aroused at things [6/7] like these? Our great foe laid prostrate at our feet; and our hopes raised from the pains and sorrows of time to the joys of eternity; from the despair of the tomb to the hope of immortal life.
Weeping is now turned to joy. "The Lord is risen, and become the first fruits of them that slept." "Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more." To all her children, therefore, the Church rejoins, "likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
From Easter to the Ascension, the Church converses with her risen Lord; imprints on our minds all that he said and did: How he opened the scriptures and showed the consistency of all God's revelation to man; how he commissioned his apostles to preach, to baptize and to perpetuate his kingdom; how he endued them with his own Priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek," to offer unto God the lively representations of his body broken, and of his blood poured out, for the sins of the world; to receive the same bread and wine back blessed from the Lord; and with it, in his name, to bless the faithful, as Melchizedek blessed Abraham and his followers, returning from the conquest of the kings of this world; how he covenanted never to leave nor forsake them; but to be with them and their commission, till time should be no more.
Cheered with such reflections the Church bids all her children attend her Lord to the mount of Olives, and there behold the cloud of glory, ever the figure of God's holy presence to the Jews, "receive him out of their sight"; and hear the promise from his angels, that he "will come again, in like manner, to judge the world." This sacred theme dwells on her tongue, and warms her heart, by faith, in frequent prayer, in fervent praise, till Whit-Sunday, the Christian Pentecost, when she commemorates all the mercies, all the celestial [7/8] gifts of God the Holy Ghost. Here their songs of praise reach their zenith; for here she sees, and here she teaches us to see, that the work of man's redemption is complete; that God the Holy Ghost now doth sanctify, what God the Father did create, and what God the Son did redeem; and that these are the Eternal Three in One, of whom, in primeval days, it was written, "and God said let US make man, in OUR image." The following Sunday, therefore is dedicated to the profession of that essential doctrine to the Christian Faith, of the Holy Trinity in Unity, "acknowledging the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the divine majesty worshiping the Unity"; and fervently does she pray, that "He, who lives and reigns One God, world without end, would keep her stedfast in this faith, and evermore defend her from all adversities."
These are the lessons of heavenly wisdom, which, through the livelong year, the Church, in her militant state, pours o'er the minds of all her children; and to make these lessons most impressive, all her Rubricks tend. In all her laws, the glory of God and the praise of the great Redeemer, are her object. To obey these laws, therefore, is the bounden duty of all her sons. By their baptismal vows, by the spirit of that covenant in Christ Jesus, on the strength of which, they were admitted into the family of God, they are obligated to act in concert, in building the spiritual walls of the Heavenly Jerusalem. The very idea of God's family supposes all this. A family is a society under government, and regulated by order, aiming at improvement, by the lawful means of industry: and when a divine establishment is presupposed to this family, all its laws become obligatory, in a sacred sense. When, with a reference to the whole, the duty of each is fixed, that duty must be performed, or the divine displeasure ensues. So is the fact, and so we argue in the Church of Christ.
 As it respects the Clergy, who are, in this family, "the stewards of the manifold grace of God," the duty of observing rule and order, time, place, and proportion, as designated by the laws of the Church, is doubly binding. God, our Heavenly Father, having given, and the Church, the Bride, having apportioned the spiritual food of the Gospel abundant and appropriate, woe be to us, the stewards, if we do not in its due season administer it. If this be plain from the nature of the thing, how much the more so is it, when we turn our thoughts to the vows, which we took upon us when we were called and ordained to this ministry! To the obligation of general duty, inferred from God's word, this august transaction adds all that can be added from the sacred nature of voluntary compact. After strict examination into the state of our own hearts, after duly weighing and comparing with the word of God, every article, rite, order, form, and rubrick of the Church; professing to be "called according to the will of Christ," we voluntarily sought the order and ministry of the Priesthood, in the household of God: and thus, knowing beforehand what would be demanded of us in our ordination, we of our own free will and accord, vowed, "with the help of the Lord, to give our diligence always so to minister the doctrine, sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church hath received the same."
Nothing can add to the solemnity or perspicuity of this vow. To the order of the Church, therefore, in all her ritual service, we are bound, by a tie which nothing can dissolve, but a full conviction that such order is contrary to the express word of our Heavenly Father. The right of indulging private convenience, or of exercising private opinion, contrary to her faith and practice, while we remain in her communion, is not to be named. Common integrity, our sacred vows, and the laws of God, forbid it. If God [9/10] be the Father of this Family, he must have his honour in our obedience; or we are none of his faithful children. If the Church be the true Bride, our Mother, her laws and ordinances, for the good of God's household, must be obeyed, or we are not named among her faithful stewards. And when our Father proves our foe, and our Mother casts us from her tender bosom, where is our refuge? Cast out from the presence of the Lord and his Bride, we should be, as Cain, "fugitives and vagabonds"; and our punishment, in this and a coming world, would be, like his, greater than we could bear.
Again; the Church being Christ's family, and endued, in his personal absence, with his delegated power, to make, under the direction of his revealed will, her own laws and to order her own government, there must be times and seasons for the convocation of her officers and members, duly qualified for this purpose. Such time is now present; and you must see the propriety of saying something touching the duties hence arising.
This should have come from one, whom, under Christ, the Church ever has acknowledged the head of every diocess; one "placed over us in the Lord," our father in God. But, of such a blessing we are now deprived; and must content ourselves with such mutual advice and consideration, as shall serve the blessed ends of unity of design, and harmony of effort; till, by our prayer through Christ, God be pleased to look upon our bereaved state, and provide another faithful Bishop, to advise, to guide, and govern us.
Could we behold the gathering together of many faithful stewards of a lawful and well-established family, for the regulation of common concerns; could we see them all sensible of the heart-searching presence of a just, holy, and common Father; sensible of the important duty incumbent on them, and of the consequences, good or ill, which must flow from each and all of their deliberations to the common [10/11] household; could we see them under the influence of such impressions, proceed to business;—we should have a good example for us to follow. From this their state of mind, and from what we may suppose would be their actions, let us gather what should be our thoughts, and what our conduct, on the present occasion. We first notice, what is of so much importance, that they are deeply sensible of the restraining, yet animating, presence of a common and revered Father. And is not our Heavenly Father with us;—even He, who ruleth in the armies above, yet, by his Holy Spirit, is present with his Church, here on earth, searching the hearts, and trying the reins, of all her members? In his presence we now stand; and open to his all-seeing eye are our hearts, and our most secret thoughts. Who, therefore, will not "stand in awe and sin not," under the influence of this awful truth? Who would not "put off his shoes from off his feet," repress every emotion of corrupted nature, and, to the glory of God, and the good of his Church, sanctify the very fountain of all his motives? how can selfish, envious, or sinister intentions, be suffered, for a moment, to dwell in our hearts, when feelingly alive unto the omniscient presence of the Holy Ghost?
Interest would be added unto the solemnity of our picture, were we to suppose these faithful children, humbled by reason of their manifold imperfections, to look up with guileless solicitude to their common Father, for the light of his countenance, and for the inexpressible blessing of his smiles, on all their deliberations and efforts. With such a disposition, above all others, should we, now and ever, strive to be found; for, with such is our Heavenly Father well-pleased. Except we become as little children in this respect, all our labours are in vain. "God resisteth the proud, while he giveth grace unto the humble." What, therefore, are we, that we should, for a moment forget by whose grace we stand; by whose [11/12] power we are sustained; with whose authority we are clothed; and through whose blessing alone, our proceedings can prosper. It is of God's undeserved favour, that we are, by baptism, admitted into the number of his family; and emphatically so is it, that, by the laying on of hands, we are numbered among his stewards. What more powerful motive, therefore, can there be exciting each and all of us, both now and ever, to "bow the knee to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family, triumphant, in heaven, and militant, here on earth, is named?" Our faith, as was that of all the saints departed, is in the redeeming mercy and goodness of God. As with Jacob, the Lord our God hath made a covenant with us. Like Jacob, therefore, we should "wrestle with the angel of his mercy," the adored Jesus, till his blessing descend upon us: and, though this should be, in us as in him, but to discover the weakness of human nature; that we are, as he was, among the lame, the halt, and maimed, to be healed by his power alone, yet this, and all other instances of his mysterious providence, will work together for the honour of God, and the good of those, who are "Israelites indeed."
The next thing mentioned, in the supposed meeting of faithful stewards, for the common benefit of a well ordered family, was a deep sense of the importance of their deliberations to the household in which they minister. And let us suppose this has respect unto both the manner, and matter, of their proceedings.
Few things could occupy our thoughts, and influence our conduct, on this occasion, with more propriety, than the spirit of this reflection.
As to the manner; we should remember that "we are a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men." And as our conduct is, such it will be supposed, are our principles. It is in vain to talk of the order, regularity, and dignity, of the [12/13] Church of God, if these do not manifest themselves, in our deportment here. A tree will be known by its fruits; and the Church of God will receive, honour or dishonour, a good or ill report, according to the manner, in which we conduct her public affairs. This is a solemn truth; and should have its due weight on us all. There is a dignity of manner, which makes the matter more impressive: there is a comeliness in outward order, which makes the things ordered doubly productive of good effects. In the family of God, the spiritual Jerusalem, this dignity and this comeliness should ever be found incorporated with all her proceedings. In the old Jerusalem, the type of that "which now is," we are presented with a pattern for our imitation, in edifying the Spiritual Temple of our Lord. "God's house was built of stone, made ready before it was brought thither; so that there was neither hammer, nor axe, nor any tool of iron, heard in the house while it was in building." What can more forcibly impress on our mind, the imperious duty of weighing every matter, and canvasing every measure, before we presume to present it here; and, when so presented, of "laying judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet;" and, if found worthy, of adopting it without "noise or confusion." Let the world find their example in the building of Babel. But in the Church of God, the preparation, the order, the harmony, and the dignity of the Temple, rising to the glory of God on Mount Zion, should fill every eye, and engage every heart. Let the wisdom and prompt decision of Solomon beam forth from the chair of Divine authority. Let the faithfulness and harmony of the priests and levites actuate every presbyter and deacon; and among the laity, let there be united the sanctified workmanship of Hiram, with the zeal and labour of all Israel.
And here, may we not ask, if the manner of conducting affairs thus demands the solicitude of the Stewards of a well [13/14] ordered family, how much more the matter? If the material Temple was built only of the choicest things, of the goodly "cedars of Lebanon," of "costly stones" from the quarry, and of "fine brass," what care should be used in chusing materials for the edification of the spiritual Temple of God! Shall hay, and stubble, and untempered mortar, be incorporated in the walls of that divine edifice, whereof Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the chief corner stone? Far be from us such debasing inconsistency. Of us the stewards, our Heavenly Father requires a different course of conduct. The precious talents of the christian ministry are not to be expended for things of no value. Every measure proposed here should bear a stamp of heavenly origin, and beneficial tendency; should evidently appear to have arisen from christian principles, and that it tendeth to Godliness.
It is thus only we can prove, what is so necessary should be manifest, that we are "faithful workmen," "lively stones, built up a Spiritual house," "an holy priesthood," "a temple," "a body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working, in the measure of every part, making increase to the edifying of itself in love."
Thus, my dear brethren, have we from the figure drawn in the text, considered the Christian Church, as a Family; —the divine Jesus, the Bridegroom;—the Church, the Bride, decked with delegated powers from her Lord, to whose honour and glory all her institutions tend; and thus have we considered ourselves, as Children and Stewards, bound to parental obedience, to rule, and to order.
One more consideration still remains: this is that "we are Brethren": brethren, in a sense the most tender and endearing; uniting every tie of fraternal relation in one common bond; not only created, but begotten anew in Christ Jesus, by the same spiritual and Heavenly Father; born of the [14/15] same spiritual Mother; fostered by the same means of spiritual grace; fed from the same table; eating of the same bread; drinking of the same cup, of divine bounty; travellers together in the same road, through a troublesome world, to, and through the common valley of the shadow of death; agitated by the same fears, and cheered with the same hopes; assaulted by the same enemies; sustained by the same angel of mercy; looking forward to the same eternal judgment seat, whereon will sit one common judge; who once lived in our common nature; once suffered and died for all; and with whom there never was, nor ever will be, any respect of persons;—nothing can add to the strength and tenderness of the tie, which should bind us, each to the other, and all in one common band of fraternal affection. Should this ever be dissolved, it must be by the same enemy, who, delighting in human misery, once severed man from his Maker, and introduced sin and death, where once were innocence, peace, and eternal life. To impress this sentiment on our minds, let us pray God to make us ever mindful of the truth of his holy word—"that in this the children of God are manifest and the children of the Devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother"—"He that loveth not his brother abideth in death."
"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?"
"Therefore, beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God."
My dear Brethren; the time allotted me now demands a close of this discourse. I cannot do it, however, without applying what has been said more particularly to the object, for which we are now, in God’s name, assembled. This being no less than the consideration of the choice of a Bishop, a [15/16] father in God, to preside over us in the Lord, it must readily be perceived, that, if ever there were a time, which, in an especial manner, should call for the practice of all the duties we have noticed, it is the present. On this occasion, therefore, let the laws of our Heavenly Father, and the rules of the Church, the heavenly Bride, be most scrupulously and religiously obeyed. Let us, above all things, "set God before us." Let our hearts be impressed with a lively sense of the awful and heart-searching presence of the Almighty Jehovah. "Let us bow the knee, and lift up our hearts, in fervent prayer to him, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," for his directing and assisting grace, for his heavenly blessing, on all we say and do.
Let us be deeply sensible of the important consequences, good or ill, which our present deliberations must have in the family of Christ. Both in manner and matter, therefore, let them be such as God and all good men will approve.
Last, though not least, of all! Let that brotherly love, which is essential to the character of all true christians, unite our hearts in one sentiment, and our hands in one effort, for the common good of our beloved Zion. Let us say to every worldly motive, to every selfish interest, and to every unhallowed desire, word, and deed, as Abraham said to his young men, "tarry ye behind, while we go and worship yonder."
And do thou, O Almighty Father of the faithful! vouchsafe to meet and bless us, as thou didst him. Bless thy family, O Heavenly Father! and multiply thy faithful seed as the stars of Heaven, and as the sand, which is upon the sea-shore, innumerable. "The glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us: prosper thou the work of our hands upon us: O prosper thou our handy work."
Now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, three persons but one God, be ascribed all honour and glory, all power, might, majesty, and dominion, now, and forevermore. AMEN.