OF VIEWS RESPECTING THE PRAYER-BOOK OF
THE PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH,
MINISTERIAL LABORS IN THE
GOSPEL OF CHRIST.
JAMES A. MOORE, 1222 AND 1224 SANSOM STREET.
The following letter, addressed to Bishop Cheney, was the last effort of the pen of its lamented author, and therefore carries with its utterances the most touching and serious interest, and for the same reason attracts, as it deserves, thoughtful consideration. In its nature, the production is a personal explanation of the grounds and reasons of diametrically opposite views held and advocated by the writer, while as an illustration of that prompt compliance with duty ascertained, by what is believed to be Divine teaching, which ever characterizes the true Christian, the matter is capable of indefinite application.. The mental disquietude, the reluctant eviction of Ecclesiastical instincts and prejudices in favor of standards not sufficiently and critically examined, and the establishment of a new principle and a new experience in the understanding and heart, the necessary endurance of consequences unavoidable in the carrying out into practice of conscientious convictions, all these things have been realized by thoughtful men who have eventually proved to be leaders. History is full of the records of such epochs and crises in prominent and influencing characters, and such history will ever repeat itself while "there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding."
The Apostle Paul says, in Galatians ii, 10: "If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor." Yet, in the first chapter of the same Epistle, he says the disciples [3/4] of Judea not having seen him, heard only that he "now preached the faith which once he destroyed," but instead of being esteemed a transgressor "they glorified God in him." Now, while he was a carnal Jew, in his unregenerated state, he was building salvation by works, and destroying salvation by grace. When, in after years, he wrote to the Galatian Church, he was building salvation by grace, and destroying salvation by works. In both courses of conduct he was entirely sincere, honest and conscientious. "I verily thought within myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth;" and again, "For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ." Nothing can be more marked and strongly contrasted than the Apostle's experiences, behavior and teaching. Both courses of conduct were inconsistent with previous or subsequent courses, but one was happy and praiseworthy, the other was sorrowful and deserving of condemnation. Of one course he says, "I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief;" of the other, he says in triumph, "I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness."
It is believed that the thoughtful and attentive reader of the following effort of Bishop Cummins will be able to trace many points of agreement between his conduct and that of the Scriptural example set for the admonition of all who believe through his word. The writer has indicated the course which he pursued at different periods of his life, in both with equal fervor, in consistency with the knowledge possessed, and with transparency and simplicity of motive, though, owing to true Christian modesty, he has not cited the case of the inspired Apostle in connection with his own similar conduct.
In the issue of August 26th, 1876, of the Hartford Churchman, a journal which has spoken frequently in a very censureable manner of Bishop Cummins, a few pertinent remarks will be [4/5] found relating to another specification, but illustrating the general subject of consistency. The paper referred to says,
"A Wesleyan minister, in speaking of the Bishop of Lincoln's proposals for reunion, objects distinctly to what he calls 'reordination,' on the ground that it would be a confession that he had not been ordained, and a tacit acknowledgment of years of previous false pretense. This is an illustration of the way in which very good and well-intentioned men confound two things perfectly dissimilar. Of course, if this or any other Wesleyan minister considers his present orders to be perfectly valid, he is not expected to seek any other. But that his ordination in the Church would imply any previous insincerity or false pretense is entirely another matter. Suppose, for the sake of argument, this minister becomes convinced, by reading or study, that his past orders are not valid. What then? He is convinced that he has been acting under a mistaken belief. Any false pretense would begin only at the moment when, being satisfied of the invalidity of his title, or even doubtful of its validity, he insists upon continuing his old status, because to change would reflect upon his past acts. As Holmes wrote,
"Don't be consistent; but be simply true."
* * * The gist of the matter is just this: Whether I have been wrong or right in the past, to own that I have been wrong is to make me an original wrong-doer. Suppose the Wesleyan minister should find his ordination invalid according to Wesleyan rules, would he not correct it? If not, the feeling that governs him would be not unwillingness to be in the wrong, but to confess it."
According, then, to writers of this school, Bishop Cummins is worthy of commendation for the consistency with truth as he came to understand and hold it, though they may think him to have been in error. He was simply true when he held and [5/6] advocated the Protestant Episcopal Prayer-book as a basis of unity among Christians; he was equally and simply true, when he held and urged the revised Prayer-book adopted by the Reformed Episcopal Church as that basis of unity. Which standard will prove such a foundation, and will promote and secure the outward unity of the Churches, time alone can demonstrate. Certainly the old Prayer-book has not done it after a trial of three hundred years under the most free institutions the Gentile world has ever seen. For in England, notwithstanding all the advantages arising from social influence, prestige, most powerful associations, and connection with the established Church, one-half of the nation has rejected it. The additional fact is to be stated that in this country, where the Liturgy of the same Prayer-book has had free course, and has been unfettered by any connection with an Establishment, it has made but little headway. Christian Churches and denominations are more dissevered than ever. The revised Prayer-book has taken a wonderful hold of the thoughtful minds of the various Churches. The former seeks to unite men in a visible unity in the Church through a priesthood and sacraments: the latter seeks to unite true disciples in Christ, through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit of truth. May all have the eye opened to see the light, and have grace and power given to follow its beams.
C. W. Q.
LETTER OF BISHOP CUMMINS.
MY DEAR BISHOP CHENEY
I have just learned that a reprint of my sermon on the Prayer-Book is about to be issued in Chicago, at the expense of a single individual, with the title page as follows, the sole purpose, doubtless, being an attempt to hinder the work of the Reformed Episcopal Church, by placing in contrast my fervent eulogy of the Prayer-Book in 1867, with my earnest advocacy of revision in 1873. ["The Prayer book a Basis of Unity." By the Rt. Rev. Geo. D. Cummins, D. D., Assistant Bishop of Kentucky. Published by resolution of the Convention of the Diocese of Kentucky, Louisville, Ky., 1867. Reprinted in 1875, by a Communicant of the Protestant Episcopal Church.] This is only one of the many reprints of this Sermon which have been published and scattered freely in all parts of this country by the opponents of our work of reform. I think as many as six different editions have been published, one Bishop alone circulating four thousand copies.
The time seems to have come, in my judgment, to break the silence which I have kept when taunted with inconsistency, and, to justify myself from the imputation, at least, in the minds of the dear friends whose good opinion I so highly esteem. To do this, I am compelled to obtrude myself and my personal experience before others in a way that I have heretofore shrunk from doing. Justice to myself and to the cause of our dear Church demands that I should keep silent no longer.
In the year 1860, when Rector of St. Peter's Church, Baltimore, I was invited to preach at the anniversary of the Bishop White Prayer-Book Society, in Philadelphia, and delivered the sermon which has just been reprinted in your city. It was preached again, revised and remodeled, before the Convention of the Diocese of Kentucky, in May, 1867, and published by order of the Convention. In both years, 1860 and 1867, the Sermon [7/8] expressed the deepest and most honest convictions of my soul The Prayer-Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church was very precious to me, and I longed to see it become the heritage of all Protestant Christendom. The music of its words was like the music of old songs, of which the heart never wearies, or like the memory of sweet-toned church bells heard in childhood, and forever echoing in. the ear of the wanderer from home. I was not of the number of those who advocated Prayer-Book revision, for I did not see the necessity for it. I accepted the teachings of the Prayer-Book on baptismal regeneration, a human priesthood, the real presence and apostolic succession, in the sense in which Evangelical men received them, denying the plain literal meaning of the words, and giving to them an interpretation utterly unwarranted. I had watched the rise and spread of the Oxford tract movement until it had leavened, to a vast extent, the whole English-American Episcopal Churches, but I firmly believed that this school was not a growth developing from seeds within the system, but a parasite fastening upon it from without and threatening its very life.
This was my position toward the Prayer-Book, up to the year 1868. That year brought with it a thorough change in my views of the Prayer-Book and its relation to the rise and growth of the sacerdotal system in the Episcopal Church. How, then, were mine eyes opened? By two instrumentalities, working together under the good providence of God.
I. In the year 1868 appeared in print a modest pamphlet by an unknown author, entitled, "Are there Romanizing Germs in the Prayer-Book?" The author was ascertained afterward to be the Rev. F. S. Rising, Secretary of the American Church Missionary Society, a saintly man whose early death and loss we have not yet ceased to deplore. A copy of Mr. Rising's tract reached me by mail, and I well remember the repugnance which the very title awakened, and with which I began its perusal. That simple agent was the first instrument for awakening my mind to the truths I had so long ignored, and to the facts of history, into the investigation of which I had shrunk from entering. The whole subject was reconsidered under a new light, from unimpeachable facts, and these were the conclusions in which my mind firmly rested.
1. That the Reformation in the Church of England was never [8/9] perfected, on account of the failure to secure a thoroughly purified prayer-book, a prayer-book in entire harmony with the Word of God.
2. That the failure was not the fault of the early reformers, but arose from causes over which they had no control, chiefly from the subjection of the Church to the State. Under Edward yr the work of revision was begun nobly and earnestly, but was cut short by the early death of that monarch, and the restoration of the Papacy. Yet so zealous were the Edwardean Reformers, that within three years two prayer-books were set forth, that of 1552 being much more distinctly scriptural and anti-Romanistic than that of 1549.
3. "That the most prominent and essential difference between the Christianity of the New Testament and the Christianity of Church tradition, and therefore, between the Christianity of the great Reformers and the Christianity of Romanism, is to be seen in the rejection or recognition of sacerdotalism," and yet in each revision of the Prayer-Book since 1549, the changes have all been in favor of sacerdotalism, and not against.
Thus the third Revision of 1559, under Elizabeth, restored the sacerdotal vestments of the ministers, expunged the rubric explaining the posture of kneeling at the Lord's Supper, so as to free it from any sanction of eucharistic adoration, and provided a' formula to be used in distributing the bread and wine in the Communion which a Romanist could easily interpret as teaching his doctrine of the Real Presence.
The fourth Revision of 1604, under James i, added to the Calendar a large number of Saints' Days, and constructed a catechism which favored the Sacramental teachings of the unreformed Church. The fifth and last Revision of the English Prayer-Book, in 1662, under Charles Ix, was marked by very decided retrograde or anti-reformation changes, such as the substitution of the term "Priest" for "Minister," the changing of the prayer in the Litany for "Bishops, Pastors and Ministers," to "Bishops, Priests and Deacons," and the manual consecration of the material elements in both the sacraments, which had been discontinued in the Reformed Church, from the time of the second Prayer-Book of Edward VI, a hundred and ten years before.
The American Revision of the Prayer-book, in 1785, by the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, purified [9/10] the book from sacerdotalism, but that good work failed to receive the approval of the subsequent Convention of 1789, which restored the word "Priest" instead of "Minister," the thanksgiving for the regeneration of the infant in the baptismal office, and substituted the Scotch communion office with "the Oblation," in place of that of the English Church.
4. Since the year 1868, I have never doubted wherein lay the strength of the sacerdotal system, which has gained such overwhelming preponderance and influence in the English and American Episcopal Churches. I could then answer the question why, at the close of three hundred years of the history of the Reformed Church of England and of her daughter in this land, the mighty struggle should still be going forward, which is to determine whether the future of that Church shall be Protestant or Romish, faithful or unfaithful to the teachings of the earliest and purest reformers? It was because the design of those reformers had been frustrated by statecraft and priestcraft, and their work, begun so nobly under Edward vi, had been suffered to remain unfinished, unperfected. The strength of sacerdotalism in these Churches, the very "hiding of its power," is in the, Prayer-book itself, in the germs of error which have never been eradicated, and which have now borne so baleful a harvest on both continents.
II. But another instrumentality arose in my pathway, to aid in producing this profound conviction.
In the same year, 1868, a Ritualistic service was introduced for the first time into the Diocese of Kentucky, and the unspeakable trial was placed upon me of being compelled to discharge my official duty in visiting this Church and taking part in its services. Within a year or two, a second service of the same order was established in the city of Louisville, and this time by one who had been a youth in my first parish in Virginia, and who had been personally very dear to me as a friend.
The terrible evil, so much dreaded, was brought in immediate contact with me in my highest and most solemn duties. I was compelled to stand in the presence of altar and super-altar, of brazen cross and candlestick, and to behold priest and people -turning again and again toward that altar, and bowing in profound adoration toward it, while to my own soul such acts were idolatrous, dishonoring and insulting to Jesus, the Church's only Altar, Priest, and Sacrifice.
 These men claimed to stand on the Prayer-book, to be satisfied with the Prayer-book as it is. They had been ordained to the "Priesthood" by a formula which said "Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Priest now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whosesoever sins ye forgive they are forgiven, whosesoever sins ye retain they are retained." If they were made "Priests," they must have something to offer, a sacrifice, and an altar on which to present the oblation. The service provided for their institution into their office declared them invested with "Sacerdotal functions," inducted into "sacerdotal relations," and appointed to serve at the "Holy Altar."
I felt it in vain indeed to attempt to oppose the encroachments of this system, while these and other offices of the Prayer-book remained unchanged. If remonstrated with, these teachers could answer that they stood upon the Prayer-book, that the plain, literal meaning of the words of that book were on their side, and that, as a great leader of the school, Dr. Pusey, had said, they had made their way by the Prayer-book. If told that their interpretation was wrong, they could reply that a great company of bishops, clergy, and laity held to the same interpretation and claimed to be loyal Prayer-book Churchmen.
How was this evil system to be met and overthrown? Not by the administration of discipline. Alas, the Church seemed to have lost the power, inherent in a healthy organism, to cast off the disease. The courage was wanting; to grapple with the evil. It is a startling fact that up to the year 1875, no two Presbyters of the Protestant Episcopal Church were found willing to present for trial one of the men of this school, and the effort in Baltimore last year, resulted in ignominious failure. Legislation, too, had utterly failed and after a long and earnest effort of the General Conventions of 1868 and 1871 to check the system, every plan, including even a canon forbidding eucharistic adoration, met with utter defeat.
A mighty change came over my views of the Prayer-book, and I could not have preached the sermon of 1867 one year later. If there be any disgrace in such a confession, I am content to bear it. For eight years past I have held the conviction most strongly, and never for a moment waveringly, that there is but one cure for the evils that afflict the Episcopal Church in England and America, and that is the purification of the Prayer-book, the thorough eradication from the offices of every word and phrase [11/12] which gives countenance to the sacerdotal system. If ritualism and High-churchism be indeed of God, if the teachings of the Oxford Tract School contain the very "truth as it is in Jesus," if the Christian ministry be a priesthood invested with supernatural powers, empowered to forgive and retain sins, if justification and regeneration are by baptism, if the real body and blood of Christ are present in the Lord's Supper, and received with the bread and wine by the communicant, if the Holy Ghost be transmitted by and through human hands in an order of a hierarchy, and thus only can men have fellowship with the Apostles, and with Jesus, if these be the doctrines which Jesus taught by the Sea of Galilee and in the streets of Jerusalem, if they constitute "the unsearchable riches of Christ" which St. Paul rejoiced to preach among the Gentiles, then verily the Prayer-book needs no revision, no purification. But if the dogmas of apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, the real presence, and a human priesthood be "another Gospel," as all Evangelical men hold and have ever held, then is it their highest and most solemn duty to cast them out of the Prayer-book, whatever may be the sacrifice. If freedom from the use of offices and formularies which in the plain literal sense deny and prevent the truth of God, can be secured in no other way than by rending the ties of a lifetime, and "counting all things but lost," there cannot be, there must not be any hesitation. "We ought to obey God rather than man," is the only and the ultimate appeal.
III. I became, therefore, in 1868, an earnest advocate of revision, and co-operated heartily with all efforts to secure that great object by the legislative authorities of the Church. You are thoroughly familiar with all those efforts. We went before the General Conventions of 1868 and 1871 with petitions signed by hundreds of clergymen and laymen from all parts of the land, asking relief for Evangelical men. We asked but three things, the use of an alternate phrase in the baptismal office for infants, the repeal of the canon closing our pulpits against all non-Episcopal clergymen, and the insertion of a note in the Prayer-book, declaring the term "Priest" to be of equivalent meaning with the word Presbyter. We were met by an indignant and almost contemptuous refusal. I was present when a report was made by the chairman of the Prayer-book committee of the House of Bishops, to whom these memorials had been referred [12/13] in 1871, and that report was to the effect that it was not expedient to consider further these petitions, followed by a resolution forbidding the printing of them in the appendix of the Journal. And this was the deliberate reply of the authorities of the Church to the deep and almost agonizing cry of hundreds of burdened hearts and consciences. The door was closed in our faces. The hope of relief was utterly lost. I left the General Convention of 1871, feeling that a revision of the Prayer-book as Evangelical men desired, was an impossibility in the Protestant Episcopal Church. I returned to my work with a heavy heart, knowing that every effort to suppress the Sacerdotal system by legislation had failed, and that I was more powerless than ever to resist its influence. Two more years passed, in which I was compelled to give an indirect sanction and support to the false system by participating in services which, to my soul, were treason to Christ, and to bear this heavy trial with no hope of deliverance. The burden was indeed intolerable.
But deliverance was nigh at hand, and when least expected. "Then they cried unto the Lord, and Re delivered them out of their distress, and He led them forth by the right way, and He brought them unto the desired haven." The Reformed Episcopal Church became the haven of rest to many souls.
The two years and a half which have elapsed since the organization of the Reformed Church, have more than justified the conviction which led us forth, the hopelessness of reform within the Protestant Episcopal Church. The General Convention of 1874 almost contemptuously, and by an overwhelming vote, rejected the petition of five hundred clergymen, asking only for relief in the use of certain phrases in the Baptismal office for infants, and, as Bishop McLaren has told us, that question is settled finally and forever, and the Church holds to baptismal regeneration as one of the most precious jewels committed to her trust. In the short period we have existed as a separate branch of the visible. Church, we have seen the rapid and unchecked progress of the Sacerdotal system in the old Church. You, in Illinois, have witnessed the election of a Bishop holding, all the extreme views of Seymour and DeKoven, and the whole Oxford school. We, in Maryland, have lived to see six Ritualistic churches established within the limits of a single city, with altars and candles and strange vestments, with idolatrous prostration before material things, with [13/14] auricular confession constantly practiced without rebuke; with prayers for the dead openly offered and the mass celebrated at funerals, and with even the error painted upon the windows, in the legend, "Pray for the soul of sister ———— of all saints." Evangelical men have made the effort to bring to trial the offenders in the single point of offering prayers for the dead, but even this effort has failed, and the false teachers find themselves receiving the sanction and support of a large portion of the clergy and laity. Steadily and surely advances "the tidal wave," as Dr. Mahan characterized this advanced movement in the General Convention of 1868, sweeping away one after another of the old Evangelical landmarks, separating the Church of our fathers, each year more and more, from all the families of Protestant Christendom, and assimilating it more completely to the unreformed churches of the Greek and Latin communions.
Faithful and true men among our old teachers and co-workers, men like Andrews and Sparrow, lift up a trumpet note of warning and alarm, but they fall at their posts, fighting in a most unequal and hopeless struggle, and there are no successors like minded to prolong the conflict. Each succeeding year the dogmas of apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration and a human priesthood are held and taught by a larger number of ministers and people. While the men who reject the jure divino claim of episcopacy, and hold the Episcopal Church to be only one among sister churches of equal dignity and validity, who cling to justification by faith alone as the very heart of the Gospel, and who abjure all idea of priest, altar and sacrifice in the Christian Church, except as they are swallowed up in Jesus, these men are rapidly diminishing, and in another generation will scarcely be found in the old Church. What a significance was there in the cry of Dr. Sparrow when he heard of the declaration of a number of the Evangelical clergy of Philadelphia, expressing "profound sorrow and no sympathy" with the effort to organize a Reformed Episcopal Church. "That declaration!" he exclaimed, "the life for long years of its signers proves the reverse of that disclaimer. All Evangelical Episcopalians have had and professed the same grievances, and have contemplated the possibility of secession in consequence. How, then, when one of their number makes possibility actual, can they, in a moment, reverse the engine and move backward? The Protestant Episcopal Church needs only to be liberalized and rid [14/15] of Romish germs to overspread this Continent, at least in the upper and middle state of society."—(Memoir of Wm. Sparrow, D. D., page 352.)
The "Romish germs," as Dr. Sparrow calls them, will never be eliminated from the Protestant Episcopal Church, for nine-tenths of her clergy and people deny that there are any "Romish germs" within the Prayer-book, and hold the dogmas thus designated as the most precious truths of the Gospel. How, then, will they ever consent to have them eradicated?
That work has been done in the Reformed Episcopal Church, thoroughly, yet wisely done, and now with a new meaning, we may take up the title of my sermon of 1867, and claim the revised Prayer-book as a most important step toward the union of Protestant Christians. Retaining all that has made the Prayer-book precious to devout souls for three centuries, and rejecting all that has been a burden to the consciences of Evangelical men during all that period, it presents in the "'clearest, plainest, most affecting and majestic manner," the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as it is in Jesus.
In the serene confidence that our work is built on the one sure foundation, the tried and precious corner-stone, "Jesus only," I am, faithfully and affectionately, your brother in the Lord,
GEORGE DAVID CUMMINS.