THE USES OF THE CHURCH:
IN THE ANGLO-AMERICAN CHURCH AT PARIS,
ON THE 27TH DAY OF OCTOBER,
Being the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.
RIGHT REV. THOMAS ATKINSON, D.D., LL.D
BISHOP OF NORTH CAROLINA.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.
Text courtesy of Margaret B. Smith, Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut
1335 Asylum Avenue; Hartford, Connecticut 06105
THE following Sermon was preached in the Anglo-American Church at Paris, on the last day during which services were held in it. A number of persons, including some of the members of the Committee of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, asked that it should be published. The Author at first declined, because portions of it had been spoken extemporaneously, and he had not time to prepare it carefully for the Press. Having, however, afterwards yielded his own opinion and wish on the subject; he fears that, besides its other faults, it will need indulgence on the score of haste and undue preparation; for, in some particulars, he is quite well aware that the argument would be clearer and stronger if more expanded than it now is, and than it could be, consistently with the limits of time allowed a Preacher in the Pulpit.
EPHESIANS iii. 10.
"To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places
might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God."
IT has already been announced to you, my brethren, that the services of this day will conclude the series held in this Anglo-American Church. I rejoice that they have been held. They have been valuable, besides whatever other good they may have wrought, as both a sign and a cause of increasing unity and growing affection between the two great branches of the Anglican Communion.
I must say that I look on that Communion, as being now, under God, the best hope and the strongest bulwark of Christianity itself, in this its hour of peril and of trial. Wherever else I turn my eyes, there seems to be the greatest cause for anxiety and discouragement to all who value the Faith of Christ as the [3/4] treasure which is beyond all price. In one direction we see human additions, which are necessarily human corruptions, superimposed with increasing frequency, and increasing audacity, on "the faith once delivered to the saints." In another, we see that Faith more and more questioned, carped at, mutilated.
Both of these evils, no doubt, exist also in the Anglican Communion. There, too, we see Superstition on the one hand, and Rationalism on the other; but we see them with veiled faces and bated breath, asking to be tolerated, and denying their own nature.
And there we see, what we look for in vain elsewhere, the ancient creeds of Christendom neither mutilated nor swollen by unwholesome accretions; the ancient liturgies of Christendom substantially reproduced, and giving utterance to the deepest feelings of myriads of devout worshippers. We see, in that Communion, a body of wonderful expansiveness, of wonderful power of adaptation to varying political institutions, to varying intellectual conditions; yet acting beneficently on all, teaching the savage, elevating the negro, and giving additional refinement and a higher grace to the most advanced civilization. We do not see it brutalizing, demoralizing, and degrading any population; but wherever it goes, liberty, order, and prosperity follow:
"Glory pursue and generous shame
The unconquerable mind, and freedom's holy flame."
 But yet the Anglican Church has not all the power it might have, and might exercise for good; and among other causes of this lessened vigour, one is the prevalence of defective and erroneous views of the nature of the Church itself.
In England, this appears to have been a result mainly of the connexion of Church and State, a connexion attended with many benefits to both, but with this incidental drawback, that not a few persons are thereby led to look on the Church as a department of the State, the creature of the State, and therefore properly the slave of the State.
In America, on the other hand, the Church is numerically small, and is therefore regarded by a portion of its own members, as well as by the multitudes out of its pale, as only one sect among many--the best and most venerable, perhaps, but having no special authority above others.
To consolidate Church unity, then, which has been one object of these Anglo-American services, it seems not inappropriate to consider the subject of Church Authority; and thereby, if it can be done by him who now undertakes it, to deepen the impression which these services have made. Consider, in this view, the words of St. Paul: "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God."
 Before we can safely draw inferences from any passage of Scripture, we must ascertain the precise meaning of the passage itself. It is certain that the Apostle here teaches, that the Church makes known the manifold wisdom of God, not only to us mortals, who daily watch its operations and feel its influence, but even to the celestial intelligences, who from their exalted thrones gaze on it with wonder, and though far off, yet recognize and adore in it the grandeur and variety of the methods by which Divine Wisdom exhibits itself.
What, then, is this august spectacle, which so attracts the eyes and occupies the thoughts of Angels and Archangels, and bows them down in admiration and in awe at the exhibition therein made of the vast and happy counsels of the All-wise God? It is the Church!
But what is the Church?
Passing by all other interpretations, as manifestly inadequate and unsatisfactory, there are, I conceive, but two senses, in which the word "Church" can here be taken: one is that popular, and perhaps not altogether unscriptural, idea of the aggregate of believers, the sum total of persons who heartily accept Christ as their Saviour; the other is that of the organized society, appointed by God to train saints for Heaven.
Although I have already admitted that the word [6/7] Church may be sometimes used in Scripture in the sense first indicated, yet no intelligent and candid student of God's revelation can well doubt that the last is its ordinary sense in the inspired volume, and that the Church of which our Saviour and the Apostles speak, often called by him, especially, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven, is an organized society of human beings, constituted by God himself, designed to be co-extensive with the world, and durable as the world, into which young men and maidens, old men and children, mothers and their offspring, bond and free, learned and unlearned, are to be received as plants into a vineyard, to bring forth fruit unto everlasting life; as seed into a field, to grow up for the garner of the Lord; as fish into a net, to be borne to the shore of the eternal world. And this is the obvious sense of the word, as St. Paul here uses it. For He is speaking of the union of the Gentiles with the commonwealth of Israel, of their being thereby made fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, and being builded together into a holy temple in the Lord; being fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of God's promise in Christ by the Gospel.
Now, all these metaphors or analogies, so profusely poured forth by the ardent and exuberant mind of the great Apostle--a political community with its rights of citizenship, a family, a temple, a human body--[7/8] indicate organization, a correlation of part with part. A community is not a mere mob; a family is not an accidental assemblage of young and old persons; a temple is not a heap of lumber or a mass of stone; a body is not a collection of separate bones and distinct particles of flesh laid together--but each of these is an organization, has in itself an unity: the columns of the temple rest upon the foundation and uphold the roof, the bones of the body are joined together, bone to bone, and flesh and skin cover them. So, then, the Church, which is like all these, is not a mere aggregate of individuals, but an organized body, having its own unity, its laws of life, its members mutually aiding each other, its officers and organs performing their proper functions. This Church, then--this Divine society, this spiritual temple, this living body of our glorified Redeemer--is not, as many imagine, a very simple and obvious arrangement, which man can make, or man can improve on: nay, says the Apostle, it is a high, a palmary instance of the manifold, the diversified wisdom of God; it is a master-piece of His creative skill, by observing which the very Angels are enabled to see more clearly, and to adore with more profound admiration, the amazing riches of that wisdom. God forbid, then, that we should be found among that unhappy number who look with contempt on a spectacle on which Angels look with awe, of that erring multitude who lightly esteem the Church of God.
 Consider, then, I pray you, some of the particulars in which the Church displays and makes known the manifold wisdom of the All-wise. But perhaps it may be well to dwell for a moment on the meaning of the expression "manifold wisdom." It means varied skill, a power of diversified, appropriate, and efficient arrangement. It may be exhibited in two different forms: first, by using one instrument to effect many objects; or, secondly, by combining various powers and agencies to accomplish a certain result. Both of these proofs of wisdom are wonderfully observable in the works of God. As an instance of the first, consider how many beneficent purposes God brings to pass by one instrument of His power--that Sun which He has hung up in the heavens. There it shines, a lamp which never goes out, and never becomes dim, to rule the day, to illuminate the Earth, and the boundless regions of space.
But does this exhaust the uses which its Creator made it to subserve? No, it is only one out of many. That same sun, which gives light, diffuses warmth also. Furthermore, by its attractive power, it keeps the Earth and the other planets in their orbits, and prohibits them from wandering over the pathless regions of outer space. Then it contributes to the tides, preserving the ocean from stagnation; by rarifying the air, it produces the winds, without which the Earth would be almost or altogether uninhabitable; while, by [9/10] exhaling the vapours, it generates the clouds, from which are distilled those rains that give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. And so men of science could go on to teach us of innumerable other benefits which the wisdom of God achieves for us by His use of that one instrument, the sun. And yet, while we admire this Divine economy of power, guided by skill, let us at the same time observe how this admirable wisdom is shown in combining and concentrating various agencies to accomplish a single object. This is, perhaps, even more wonderful than the first method of operation, by which His wisdom is displayed. See how many causes unite to produce one effect. Before a single grain of wheat can be formed, how many devices, if I may so speak, have to be adopted by the Author of Nature? There must be heat, and there must be moisture, and yet so tempered and regulated that there shall not be too much either of heat or moisture; there must be food congenial to the plant, and even that must not be excessive; there must be minerals to strengthen the stalk and to give firmness to the grain; there must be security from violent winds at certain seasons, and from innumerable destructive insects at all times. If you look at what is necessary for the life of a plant, the wonder would seem to be--not that so many die, but that any can live. How much more, even, is this the case with animals. Before a child can walk, how many things must exist and must concur? How [10/11] many pullies must be drawn, how many levers raised? What a nice balancing there must be of opposite forces? What thoughtless men call the simplicity of Nature, is a veil that covers the most intricate and complicated machinery.
This varied wisdom of God, which works so marvellously in the material world, is, the Apostle here teaches us, still more conspicuous and adorable in the spiritual world. There we see results more various, and incomparably more important, brought about by single agencies; and there we see still more extensive combinations of forces to accomplish some purpose of the All-wise God. Such an instrument, so skilfully framed, so wisely adapted to manifold uses is the Church. The Church is not an ideal, but an actual existence. It is a great historical fact; its history reaching through more than eighteen centuries, and it has now its members and its officers labouring in its behalf; its ordinances regularly and publicly administered; its temples open for public worship; its missions penetrating the masses of heathendom; its charities soothing the miseries of mankind, and diffusing light over the dark places of the Earth; its literature influencing opinion without as well as within its own pale. This is the instrument framed by the wisdom of God: see how various and how grand are the purpose it accomplishes.
In the first place, it is the keeper, and witness of [11/12] Holy Writ. To the Jewish Church were committed, as St. Paul teaches us, the oracles of God. However delinquent in other respects, most faithfully did that Church perform this trust. It preserved and transmitted the Sacred Scriptures, then given to mankind, uninterrupted, unmutilated--even watching over every jot or tittle. Those prophecies, in which the Jews were most sternly rebuked, and their apostacy and rejection by God most plainly foreshadowed; those painful and humiliating messages from God; those terrible denunciations which even now, when read, make our flesh to creep and our blood to run cold, were in no manner suppressed or softened by the Church of Israel. To the Church of Christ was entrusted a much more ample and perfect revelation. In its custody God has placed the whole of Scripture. The Apostles and Evangelists addressed their writings, not to the world directly, but to the Church, and through and by the Church to the world; those writings were read in it, were most carefully preserved in it, and were handed down from generation to generation of that great community. Suppose that God had appointed no such agency; that, during the ages of persecution, the ages of barbarism and of superstition, it had been left to individual piety, or interest, or caprice, to booksellers, to voluntary societies, to watch over the purity of the Scriptures, and to multiply the copies of them: is it not most certain that they never would have come down to [12/13] us, or at any rate have been mutilated and corrupted during those dark ages? Remember how eager and how persevering were those fierce old Roman tyrants in their efforts to procure and to destroy all the copies of the Scriptures; then think what likelihood there would be of their being foiled by unconnected individual believers, or voluntary associations of such believers. But in the custody of the Church they were safe, for its worship could not be carried on without them. The Scriptures were the charter of the Church; and the society must die if its charter perished. To its ministers, then, and to its people, the preservation of the Scriptures was a matter of life or death. And so it provided, and was obliged to provide, that they should be transcribed and that they should be accurately transcribed. And, for ages, this was one great part of the work of the clergy. The Church then was the guardian of the Scriptures. It is, not extravagant to say, that had there been no Church, there would have been, before this time, no Scriptures.
Again, the Church is the witness attesting the truth and inspiration of the Scriptures. Let a man ask himself, why does he believe that our present canon of Scripture, our Bible, is the very message of God to man, neither more nor less; that is, contains no book that is not inspired, and contains every book that is inspired? It is a collection of many books, written in different ages, in different countries, in different languages, by men in [13/14] different classes of society. Why, e.g., does a man believe the Song of Solomon to have come from God; but the Book of Wisdom, or that of Ecclesiasticus, not to have come from God? Why does he accept the Book of Revelation as Divine, but reject the Gospel of St. Peter? Not, certainly, on internal evidence altogether. For to most persons it would appear that the internal evidence is stronger in behalf of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, which we reject, than of the Song of Solomon, which we accept. And internal evidence, although many times very weighty, can hardly ever be received as conclusive. Its weight depends on the taste, knowledge, and spiritual condition of him who reads the book. To one reader a passage appears sublime, which to another seems trivial or unintelligible. It is especially on internal evidence that the Mahometan rests the claims of the Koran to be inspired, a book which to us seems tedious, puerile, and sometimes immoral. There must, then, be some surer test than this. Is not the true and the sufficient ground of our assent to the canon of Scripture this, that the Jewish Church accepted our present canon of Old Testament Scriptures, that our Saviour ratified its decision, and the Primitive Church adopted it; and, as to the New Testament, that the same Primitive Church, having the aid of Apostles, and of apostolic men endowed with miraculous powers, did, with great care and circumspection, weighing the [14/15] evidence in behalf of each book, adjudge which were given by inspiration of God and which were not?--and that the Church has ever since adhered to that decision; and that, because the Church so believes, we as individuals so believe?--The Church, then, is both the guardian and the witness of the Scriptures.
The Church is also the interpreter of Scripture; or, as our article expresses it, has Authority in Controversies concerning the Faith. We must not confound Authority with Infallibility. Authority carries a presumption that the teacher clothed with it does not err; Infallibility assumes that the teacher endowed with it cannot err. A parent has authority in instructing his child, but he is not infallible. A judge has authority in expounding the law, but he may err. The Church, then, in claiming authority, does not claim infallibility. An infallible interpreter destroys the right of private judgment, and takes away, by necessity, our responsibility. An authoritative interpreter assists and guides our judgment, and thereby meets and provides for one of the most urgent wants of our nature. Man is not, and cannot be, perfectly independent in his faith and opinions: he needs the help of authority, and he receives it during his whole journey through life. The child that stands on its mother's knee, and listens to its mother's voice, and believes its mother's words, does instinctively rest on its mother's authority. Could it live on any other terms? Suppose it insisted on [15/16] exercising its private judgment, unbiassed by authority, as to whether arsenic would poison, or fire burn, or water drown: how long would such a young philosopher live? How do we learn any thing? Is it not on authority? Our teacher tells us that a certain word in one language means the same thing with a certain word in another: if this does not satisfy us, can we make any progress in our studies? It is amazing, when we think of it, how much of all we know we receive from authority. It is not from experience, nor observation, nor any individual lights, but from authority that we believe that Julius Caesar or Charlemagne ever lived, that there is such a place as Pekin, or Timbuctoo, that salt is the chloride of sodium, that coal is never found below certain strata, and so on indefinitely.
Of the wide circle of human knowledge, we may say that nearly the whole is traced for us by the hand of authority; that, except new discoveries, which very few men make, and except what we learn by the senses and by mathematical deduction, what we know is taught us on the authority of others. In this sense, as in so many others, it is true that "no man liveth to himself." Since, then, this is true as to the revelation which God makes of Himself by Nature, ought we not to expect it of the revelation which He makes in Scripture? We certainly cannot understand the first without an interpreter: may we not reasonably anticipate [16/17] that we should need an interpreter to understand the last? And is it not so in point of fact?--Set any man to master the Scriptures without a commentary, without oral explanations, without any previous knowledge, without any religious system by which to harmonize what he reads, and how certainly must he say with the Ethiopian, "How can I understand what I read, except some man guide me?" It is certain that every man who has an opinion about the meaning of Scripture, that is, not of any single passage, but the general sense of the entire book, has had the aid of some guide--it may be a favourite commentator, it may be a favourite preacher, it may be the commonly received doctrine of the sect to which he belongs.
The true practical question for us all is: since we must have some guide, where shall we look for the right guide? Who is the best interpreter of Scripture? Is it some individual in whom we have confidence, or the little circle to which we happen to belong? These, surely, may mislead; almost all certainly do mislead; as is evident from this consideration, that where four or five or four or five hundred differ, only one can be right and all may be wrong. We need, then, an interpreter of Scripture, and we ought not to trust any one individual, or any one sect out of many. Where, then, can we look, but to that majestic body which has existed ever since Christianity has existed, and which is diffused wherever Christianity has extended, i.e. the [17/18] Church?--for that is a society which Christ Himself established; and it is susceptible of historic proof that that society has propagated itself to this day, and may be found, not merely in this or that country, but generally throughout Christendom. And that the Church has authority in controversies concerning the Faith, is manifest from another consideration--that it embraces within it the great body of devout and enlightened Christians.
The judgment of the Church, then, may be called the common sense of spiritual men. The voice of the Church, then, when the Church has spoken as one body, as in the Creeds, the "quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus"--that voice is the voice of the Spirit. Therefore, says St. Paul, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. And he elsewhere says, that the ministry of the Church was given for the edifying of the saints, until we all come, in the unity of the Faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man. Perfect unity in the Faith, and perfect knowledge of the Son of God, are the results designed by the Most High in the establishment of the ministry of the Church. And our Saviour says, If any man neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. It has been indeed denied that these words of our Saviour bear on the subject of doctrine. It has been said that they apply only to discipline. [18/19] But they who speak thus must fail to perceive that discipline implies doctrine. Doctrine must first be settled, before discipline can begin; a man cannot be convicted of breaking the law, until it is first decided what is the law. A man cannot be adjudged a heretic, until it is first decided what is heresy. These awful words of our Saviour, then, do apply to doctrine. If any man will not hear the Church, let him be as a heathen man and a publican; and, in point of fact, you will see that any man who discards the authority of the Church is on the high road to heresy and unbelief; he may not go all the way, but his followers will. See, then, in this, another most important use of the Church. It interprets that Divine word, which it preserves, transmits, and attests. God constitutes a body embracing within it the wise and the good of every age; a body wide as the world and durable as the granite mountains; a body in which Christ especially dwells, of which His Spirit is the animating Spirit; and He bids us revere its authority, and look away from individual teachers and little sects, and gaze on that stately pillar on which Truth is inscribed, and by which it is upheld.
But when we have admired all these noble and gracious uses to which God applies that one instrument, the Church, and thereby makes known His manifold wisdom, we are far from having exhausted the benefits it confers on us. The Church not only [19/20] teaches, it likewise governs, for the same end, the training souls for Heaven. Men are naturally undevout, irreverent, and distrustful towards God. The Church has not only her sundry services, but an order of daily prayer, by which she persuades men to worship God every day, and teaches them how to pray, providing for them the fullest, simplest, lowliest, most reverent, and most loving methods of addressing Him. Her system provides fasts, whereby her members may learn self-denial; and calls on them at Holy Communion always, and often at other times, to remember the poor and the heathen, to do them good; and thus seeks to cultivate, in us who give, the grace of charity; for she teaches, what indeed is most certain, that giving is, like praying, a means of grace. Then, by her festivals, she keeps fresh in the minds of her people the great events in the life of Christ and His first and holiest followers, His Nativity, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection, His Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Ghost, the Conversion of St. Paul, the Martyrdom of St. Stephen, and the like. In these festivals, the most important facts and doctrines of the Gospel are preserved and embalmed, as it were. They can never be lost sight of while the system of the Church is maintained. Thus does she, in innumerable ways, promote the salvation of men, and at the same time use various agencies for that one object. And thus is the manifold wisdom of God declared by it, [20/21] made known, not to us only, but to the principalities and powers in heavenly places.
The greatest gift of God to man is, beyond all doubt, that of His dear Son. The next greatest is that of His Spirit, purchased for us by the Blood of His Son. But, after these, His most wonderful proof of love is the gift to us of His Church. The gift of the Scriptures and of the Sacraments is not to be brought in comparison with this, for this includes them both. The Church does not come to us empty and destitute, but with her hands filled with precious gifts--Scriptures and Sacraments, Prayers and Creeds. It may seem to some of you an extravagant assertion, but I appear to myself to utter only the words of truth and soberness when I say that no such calamity has occurred to mankind, since the fall of Adam, as the loss of the power of the Church, produced by its loss of unity. And that it may rest on something more solid than my opinion, I will quote the judgment of Lord Bacon, perhaps the wisest uninspired man who ever lived. He says, in his essay on "Unity in Religion," that "Heresies and schisms are of all others the greatest scandals, more so even than corruption of manners, as in the natural body a wound is worse than a corrupt humour; so that nothing does so keep men out of the Church, and drive men out of the Church, as breach of unity. When profane persons hear of so many discordant and contrary opinions in religion, it averts them from [21/22] the Church, and makes them sit down in the chair of the scorners. On the other hand, the fruit of unity towards those within the fold is peace, which containeth infinite blessings: it establisheth faith, it kindleth charity. The outward peace of the Church distilleth into peace of conscience, and it turneth the labours of writing and reading controversies into treatises of mortification and self-denial."
It is observable that our Saviour makes the unity of His followers the condition of the conversion of the world. And it may be further observed, in illustration of His words, that during six centuries, while His Church was One, and had therefore power over men, it made nearly all the progress which it ever has made on Earth; that during the subsequent twelve centuries of division it has lost in one direction nearly or fully all it has gained in another. It has gained in Northern Europe and in America; but what has it lost in Eastern Europe, in Asia, in Northern Africa?
If the Church were now, with us, what she was when her Founder gave her to the world, she could grapple successfully with innumerable forms of evil which now go unrebuked; she could heal the disorders of society, and reconcile the now conflicting principles of liberty and order, and, I may add, of capital and labour.
Fragmentary and feeble as the Church of Christ now is, she is still, under God, the greatest benefactress of our race [22/23]--worth far more to men than cotton, or Californian gold, or steam, or railroads, or Magna Chartas, or Declarations of Independence; these are the shadows which the full-grown children of Earth amuse themselves in chasing, in their hasty journey through life--the true and solid blessings are laid up for us by God in His Church. If, then, the Church of Christ were established on earth, such as she was in her unity and her power, when she subdued Rome and tamed the barbarians, and checked the oppressor, and rebuked kings, and lifted up the down-trodden, and sent her light and her glory into the dark places of the Earth--what would it be but, as St. Paul says, "life from the dead?" No man can well pray more wisely and devoutly than in praying for the unity and power and prosperity of the Church of Christ. It is, under God, the last, best hope of mankind.
No man can labour with greater benefit to his fellow men and himself, and with more acceptance to his Master, than in labouring for these objects. And there is no work of God on which it is more honourable to Him, or more profitable to ourselves, to meditate, than on His Church. There are innumerable glorious works of God which it is profitable to meditate upon: it is profitable to go out on a starlit night, and look upon the expanse of the heavens, strewn over with shining worlds, each moving on in its appointed [23/24] course in silent majesty, its path laid out, and every movement ordered by the skill and power of its Creator; it is profitable to behold the sun rising in his splendour, and rejoicing as a giant to run his course, dispelling cold and darkness, and pouring from his golden urn a flood of light and warmth on all nature. But yet more profitable is it to consider the glories of God's moral creation; to admire the wisdom which He has shown in the constitution of His Church; to trace its history as a golden thread in the tangled web of human affairs, and to observe its beneficent operations among men. This is the delightful employment, even, of the Angels; for "unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places are made known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God." Far more should it be ours, for whom this rich provision was made, to whom and to whose children its benefits are offered, its sacraments and its ordinances administered, its Divine instruction bestowed, its covenants and its promises granted.
And now to God Almighty be ascribed, All glory, &c.
GILBERT AND RIVINGTON, PRINTERS, ST. JOHN'S SQUARE, LONDON.