"I take you to record this day, that I am free from the blood of all men, For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost bath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood."
NOTWITHSTANDING the profound humility of St. Paul, it was more than once necessary for him, in the inculcation of some great duty, and in the effort to stir up other men to- its performance, to set himself before them as an exemplar. And because his is real humility he does this without apology, and without any affected depreciation of his own labors and sacrifices, intimating sufficiently often, however, that the merit was not in himself, but in the grace of God which wrought in him.
His present language is an example. He is taking leave of the Elders of the Church at Ephesus. Before him lie the perils of a long voyage across the stormy Levant, of the unrelenting hatred of his countrymen, of the capricious ferocity of mobs, of the merciless domination of Roman Judges and Proconsuls. All these dangers he is persuaded that he shall never escape, and [3/4] that these dear spiritual, children, by whom he is now surrounded, shall see his face no more.
What then! His anxiety is not for himself, but for them. His soul yearns for their welfare, but a welfare not to be sought and found in their temporal ease and safety, but in faithfulness to their high trust in dispensing that Gospel of which they were ministers. And this faithfulness, he intimates to them, consists eminently in a full and unreserved proclamation of that truth which God had revealed to them. He reminds them once and again of his own conduct in this particular. "I kept back nothing," says he, "that was profitable unto you." And here again,--"I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." And he intimates that he could not have been without great guilt had he not done this, for the proof that he is pure from the blood of all men, is that he had not shunned, &c., conveying to his hearers and to all whom his words should reach, the fearful implication, that they whose business it is to teach religious truth are not pure from the blood of souls, if they have refused to declare the whole counsel of God.
Nor is this the only occasion on which St. Paul uses language expressive of this sentiment. Thus in 2 Cor., iv. 2, he says:--"We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." Here, manifestation off the truth means, bringing it out into clear [4/5] light, distinctly declaring it. And again, in 1 Thes., ii. 4:--"But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak;" and again, in 2 Tim., iii. 16, he says:--"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable," etc.
Reserve, then, in the communication of religious knowledge, is not a merit with this man of God, but quite the contrary. It is to handle the Divine Word deceitfully, it is even to stain ourselves with the blood of souls. Nor is any other view consistent with the primary notion of a Revelation. Does God condescend to impart, by supernatural means, certain truths to men, and must we obstruct their entrance into their minds? Dare we say that such truths are pernicious, or that they are unnecessary? What an imputation is this on His wisdom! What an estimate of our own sagacity and foresight does it imply! What irreverence towards Him!
The duty, then, of each particular minister to teach all that he is persuaded God has revealed, is one of the plainest and clearest which he takes upon himself when he enters the ministry. It need hardly be said that all truths are not to be taught with equal emphasis, and equal frequency: that, as in practical duties, there are weightier matters to be done, while the payment of the tithes of mint, anise and cummin, is not to be left undone, so in doctrine there are first principles which are to be again and again earnestly inculcated, while there are secondary truths, remote conclusions, just, but yet less weighty inferences [5/6] which may be disposed of in statements more brief and rare. And again it is certain that there are seasons, and there are hearers to whom a particular truth may not be appropriate, at least without explanations and limitations for which there may be no opportunity vouchsafed. In that sense our Saviour says, "Give not that which is holy unto dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine." These and the like are maxims which must find a place in the practical system of every wise and useful teacher of Divine Truth, but they do not militate against, still less do they nullify his great duty of proclaiming that truth openly, plainly and fully. And it is clear that this duty is not affected by the circumstance of the teacher being cleric or lay. Just so far as he is authorized to teach God's Truth, he is bound to teach God's whole Truth. Otherwise he is not the disciple and the servant of the Most High, but His critic and His judge.
In laying down and illustrating these principles, I appear to myself, and probably to you who hear me, like one who sets himself to demonstrate the axiom that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another, for it seems scarcely less self evident that he who teaches God's Revelation, should teach it entirely. But it often happens in morals and religion, that truths not considered are as if not known, and those not known are as if they did not exist; and the simple duty of declaring the whole counsel of God, which St. Paul here challenges for himself the faithful performance of, would, if practically recognized [6/7] as a duty, solve many questions of Christian rectitude, or prevent those questions from ever arising.
But to advance a step farther: it is not only the duty of individual teachers of Divine Revelation, to teach that Revelation in its entireness, but of associated teachers, for the duty pertains to the office, not the person of the teacher. If two or five men are bound as individuals to teach the whole of what they profess to teach, they are not released from this obligation by associating themselves together as teachers. Now there is one great Association upon earth, whose office it is, and whose engagement it is, to teach men the Gospel. This is expressed in the exceedingly brief commission, under the authority of which that Society was founded. That Society is the CHURCH OF CHRIST, that commission is the injunction to the Apostles, "Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
And this function of the Church will be seen to be essential from another consideration, that the final aim and object of all God's works is the manifestation of His glory, and that one necessary means of this manifestation is to communicate to His creatures a knowledge of His nature and His attributes, and when that knowledge has been lost, to restore it to those who have been deprived of it. The Church is instituted for this very end, the diffusion of the knowledge of [7/8] God, His will, His ways and His character, and though this be an end, yet is it also but a means to a higher and nobler end, the advancement of the glory of God. The Church is, as St. Paul says--"the pillar and ground of the Truth;" on it is inscribed, as on a monumental column, the Revelation which God has made of Himself for his own glory. It upholds, transmits and proclaims that Revelation. Even to the principalities and powers in heavenly places are made known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God.
It is a very narrow, and therefore very false, view of the Church, to look on it only as an instrument for the salvation of men. It is above this, and beyond this, an instrument which God has established for the proclamation of his Truth, and thereby the manifestation of His glory. For the Church, then, not to teach the whole counsel of God, is a much graver fault, not merely in degree, but in kind, than for an individual minister or Christian not to do this. The individual, by such delinquency, fails in one of his duties; the Church contravenes the very purpose of its creation. At the same time, this consideration is to be kept in view, that the Church is only bound, and indeed only authorized, to teach what it has received as a Church, not what individuals or sections in it believe, whether rightly or erroneously. There is, and there ever has been, in the Church of God, a distinct line of demarcation between doctrines which the Church herself propounds, and opinions held by individuals or parties in her bosom, which she neither condemns nor approves.
 Thus was it in the Apostolic Church. There was a diversity of sentiment as to the observance of days, and distinction of meats, nor were these altogether trivial questions, for the settlement of them involved, to a certain extent, the solution of the inquiry as to the relation of Judaism to Christianity. St. Paul undoubtedly had a clear conviction himself as to what was true and false on these subjects, yet does he permit both opinions to be held in the Church. He says, let no man judge another in these matters, but every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. How different is his language on subjects which he held to be vital, e. g., the compulsory observance of the Mosaic Law. As to this he says, "If any man preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Thus, too, was it in the Primitive Church. That body taught with the most punctilious exactness, and in the amplest manner, in her Creeds, and Liturgies, and Catechetical Lectures, whatever was essential to the Faith, and much that might be considered merely important, but she permitted great latitude or opinion among individuals on subjects not so important and did not herself either deny or affirm such minor tenets. Every branch of the Catholic Church retains and must retain this principle, or lose one note of its Catholicity; and the recent dogma of the Romish Church may be shown to be an immense step in the downward progress of that Communion, on this ground, as well as many others. Our own Church, too, shows [9/10] its Catholicity not only in what it teaches, but in what it is silent on.
The office of an individual teacher, then, is to inculcate what he believes the Scriptures reveal. The office of the Church, or of any body which is appointed or undertakes to represent the Church, is to teach what the Church has gathered from the Scriptures. It is obvious, also, that the class of persons which the Church is ESPECIALLY bound to teach, is that of CHILDREN. They are placed by God in a state of pupilage, thirsting for instruction, ready to accept it, and sure, if not supplied with wholesome food for the soul, to feed on poison or on garbage. The duty of the Church to teach all nations does, beyond controversy, include the duty of teaching that large part of every nation which is most apt to . learn, and most likely to be benefited by instruction. How, then, is this duty of instruction of the young to be performed by the Church? Mainly by catechizing. So intimate is the connection between catechizing and teaching, that in the original language of the New Testament, the same word indicates both. And indeed, when we examine the working of our own minds, we shall see that instruction, even self instruction, resolves itself into a process of catechizing. We ask ourselves, what does such a thing mean, and we reply, it means so and so. We may read or listen to discourses, but without some manner of catechizing, either by ourselves or we take nothing into the mind. It is by this process of question and answer, more or less consciously [10/11] performed, that our intellectual food is not merely swallowed but assimilated.
The Church, then, to teach, must catechize. This she does by various functionaries.
1st. By Parents. It is one of their most vital and imperative duties. Thus saith the Lawgiver of the Church of Israel to the members of that Church: "Ye shall teach my worth to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." This parental instruction is, beyond all doubt, essential to the very life of the Church, and the decay of it has been a leading cause of some of the most grievous evils under which we now suffer in Church and State.
2nd. Catechizing by the Clergy is one of the most essential of their duties. However necessary it be that they should preach the Gospel, this does not exhaust the requirements laid on them in leading men to salvation. They must use, especially for children, that more accurate and thorough method of instruction by catechizing, in which the mind of the pupil is stimulated to exert its own activity, and to reach after Truth, instead of passively receiving it. It is deeply to be regretted that this method of instilling a knowledge of God's Holy Word has so much fallen into disuse. It may be historically shown that the success of pure religion in the early days, both of the establishment and of the reformation of Christianity, was greatly [11/12] due to the diligent catechizing practised by Christ's ministers. And that unsettledness of opinion, that want of deep and steadfast conviction, that proclivity to error and to heresy, which are such alarming portents in these last days, appear in a considerable measure traceable to the difference in the methods' of instructing Christian people now and heretofore.
But after everything has been done which can be done, or at least that probably will be done, by fathers, and mothers, and ministers, for the catechetical instruction of children, there will still remain much undone that ought to be done. And this deficiency will have to be supplied by lay-catechists. Even in the time of the Apostles there appear to have been such. Aquila and Priscilla, whom St. Paul calls his helpers in Christ Jesus; Urbane, Tryphena and Tryphosa, and the beloved Persis, probably performed this duty among others. In the Primitive Church, catechists, male and female, were an established and important class of persons, whose business it was to teach the young and ignorant orally by question and answer, the truths of the Gospel. Indeed, oral instruction must, in the nature- of the case, precede and accompany the written Word. It is thus we learn its letter and. its sense, its divine authority, and its primary obligation on our faith and obedience. And it is also certain that continuous discourses like those from the pulpit, can never convey a full and accurate knowledge of the duties and doctrines of religion. A preacher must take many things for granted. He [12/13] ought, indeed, to reason, but he must reason on principles, and- these principles he must assume. Even a mathematical argument requires as its basis certain axioms and postulates. Moral reasoning, too, has its postulates. The first principles of religion must be assumed by the preacher, and he who should be continually proving them, would soon have no hearers, and ought to have none. But how shall Christian people know these first principles? They cannot know them by intuition or instinct. The Holy Spirit does not teach them, except by the use of means. These first principles, then, must be communicated by direct instruction from living mind to living mind.
In this work, parents should do their part, and ministers theirs. But parents are sometimes ignorant, sometimes busy, often careless. Ministers are few as compared to the whole flock, and were they as diligent and laborious as they ought to be, could not attend sufficiently to the oral instruction of the young of their charges. What then? Must children be left without religious instruction? Then they will grow up baptized heathen. ' Then, instead of Christianity flowing forth from us, we shall need missionaries from abroad to come among us and re-christianize our own land. It is to meet this emergency that Sunday Schools have been established. Here we have a body of teachers or catechists, male and female, who take children of every grade in society, and especially the poor and ignorant, and teach them the first principles of the Gospel--the foundation truths on which the whole structure of [13/14] Christianity rests. This may not always be done in the best manner, neither is anything else human done in the best manner. Our wisdom is not to pull down a system which is essentially primitive and generally useful, because it is imperfect, but rather to build it up to perfection.
Let me then recapitulate some of the conclusions to which we have come.
1st. That whosoever undertakes to declare the counsel of God, is bound to declare His whole counsel, and brings on himself the blood of souls, if he spare to do this.
2nd. That it is an especial function of the Church to teach religious truth, and that it too is bound to teach this in its entireness.
3rd. That the Church, or whatever body is authorized or undertakes to speak in the name- of the Church, must teach what the Church has received, and not what individuals in it, or sections of it, believe.
4th. That children have an especial claim on the Church to receive from her this ample and authoritative instruction.
5th. That this instruction for them, to avail anything, must 'be essentially catechetical.
6th. That it would appear from the history of the Church, and is probably inherent in the very nature of things, that this instruction should be given not, only: by parents and ministers, but also by laymen and women who take on themselves this office, [14/15] and that Sunday School teachers perform now this function.
If these be just views of the nature of Christian doctrine and the functions of the Church in relation to it, it is clear that that body is bound to foster SUNDAY SCHOOLS, and especially to provide for them a system of instruction in which nothing shall be kept back that, by the Word of God, as she has received it, is either essential or highly important. She cannot, then, unite in teaching children the principles of religion with Christian communions who deny her essential principles, for then she must keep back a part of what she has received as the counsel of God. How, e. g., can two communions unite in teaching children the doctrines of the Gospel in their fullness, when one believes that Infant Baptism is a leading principle of the Divine Economy, and begins its instruction for the young with the amplest recognition of their Baptism, not only as being right but highly salutary, nay, rather fraught with the richest and, most glorious blessings for them; while the other believes it to be a pestilent superstition, and the prolific source of error and misery in the Church of God?
As, however; the Church in this country has not, amid the multiplicity of her cares and labors, yet provided any manuals of instruction for those who learn in her schools, other than the Bible and the Prayer Book, including especially the Catechism, this Society, THE GENERAL SUNDAY SCHOOL UNION of our Church, has attempted to supply a want which was very deeply [15/16] felt. It has engaged itself to provide for children under the care of the Church, books of instruction which shall teach her doctrines purely and simply, but with such familiarity of illustration, and such fullness of explanation, as shall suit the capacity of children. For some years this was not done in a manner satisfactory to a large, perhaps the larger, part of the 'Church. It was believed that amid much that was true, and excellent, and profitable, in the publications of the Society, principles were sometimes maintained and sometimes assumed, that were questionable in themselves, and at least had not received the distinct sanction of the Church. The Society has, within the last two years, in good faith, from zeal, I believe, for the unity and prosperity of the Church, amid some obloquy, with, no doubt, a considerable sacrifice of feeling on the part of several of its leading members, undertaken to remove this objection, hoping thereby more effectually to accomplish its great work: It has, I trust, succeeded. The most earnest and impartial efforts have been made to take away whatever in its publications could fairly be objected to. It appeals now for support to all in the Church who wish to teach children the doctrine of the Church without addition, alteration, or diminution. Many, I doubt not, who have heretofore kept aloof from it, will now give it their cordial support; for the work it has taken in hand is among the most momentous in which any Christian or philanthropist can engage.
To assist in the more thorough religious, instruction [16/17] of the youth of the land, is to take part in supplying the most grievous want under which the Church and the country suffer. Who can read our journals, or walk the streets of our cities, without perceiving that amid wonderful material prosperity, there are, in this country, fearful symptoms of rapid moral decay? Among what other civilized people do we find authority less respected, and law less observed? Where are there more frauds, from the petty shopkeepers' iniquities, to the defalcations of men the most honored and trusted in commercial and political life? Where is there more violence? Where is human life less respected? Duels, rencontres and assassinations, meet our eyes in the record of the events of every day, and blood,--to use the pathetic language of the Prophet, touches blood throughout the land. It was not always so with us. The American people were once not less distinguished for the strictness of their morals, than the liberality of their institutions.
To what, then, shall we ascribe the deterioration? Certainly its main cause is the looser hold of religious principle on the minds of the people, and this in its turn is very much owing to the vague, and slight, and superficial way in which religious truth is taught to children. How much less stress is laid on duty, in the books out of which our American youth now generally receive their first lessons, than in the Church Catechism, or any similar formulary? How much more vaguely is Christian doctrine presented? Suitable books of instruction for children, out of [17/18] which they shall be taught the Gospel of Christ in its completeness, and their own duty to God and to man, in its fullness, to fear and to obey Him, as well as to trust in Him, to honor all that are in authority, to be modest, to be reverent, to be just, to be honest, to be obedient--these are among the things to be desired in our day and country.
This Society, The General Sunday School Union, attempts to meet this great and crying want; to teach the children of the Church, and, as far as possible, the children of the Nation, the doctrines of the Church, as to Faith and as to Life.
God grant it success! AMEN.