ST. STEPHEN'S AND TRINITY CHURCHES, NEW YORK.
OF THE FIOCESE OF NEW YORK.
106 WASHINGTON STREET:
"And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish."--St. Luke, 5:37.
THIS is one of the homely and familiar illustrations in which our blessed Lord was used to wrap up the principles of His saving knowledge; thus tying His lessons to the most common and everyday objects, to the end that His hearers might be the oftener reminded of them. I suppose you will hardly need to be told that the bottles, in use at the time these words were spoken, were made of skins, specially prepared for that purpose, and therefore of a kind to be weakened by age. Such being the case, the unfitness of the old vessels to the new vintage is more obvious than to require explanation.
The immediate occasion of our text was this: The enemies of our Lord were wont to reproach Him for departing in some respects from the ancient customs of the Jews. Now it was an old custom of the Pharisees to hold frequent fasts; which custom was observed by St. John the Baptist and his disciples. And because he did this, but in some other things did not do to suit the Pharisees, they said, "He hath a devil." But when Another came eating and drinking, and therewith al teaching some things which they would rather not know, He [3/4] escaped that charge indeed, but incurred a worse. Our Lord had just been seen at the house of St. Matthew, eating and drinking, and that, too, with publicans and sinners, on the ground that they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." His enemies, therefore, came to Him asking, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast often; but thine eat and drink?" Which question He first answered by asking them another: "Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?" which was as clear a reason as they could bear; for they would be sure to fall out and quarrel with any answer which they could fully understand. But as a still broader and deeper reason for the difference they had noted, He afterwards gave the illustration which forms our text. An answer which, dimly foreshadowing the New Dispensation He came to make, they could not comprehend till after His work was done. It had been vain to tell the Scribes and Pharisees, that He came with power and authority to change ancient customs; to do away old forms and observances, and substitute new ones; to abolish the whole ceremonial of types, and bring into its place the things typified: for, though He wrought visible miracles in attestation of His authority, they were cunning to find out such ways of explaining His miracles, as would not bind them to receive His teachings. So that no reasons could be given them for His acts but what they, possessed as they were with a spirit of contradiction to Him, could not fully understand.
 I have spoken of the text as foreshadowing the new order which our Saviour came to establish. Doubtless the text may have other applications; but this, I think, may be safely set down as one of its meanings. The new wine of a larger and fuller dispensation could not be put into the old bottle of the Jewish economy without endangering the loss of both. There must needs be a certain proportion and correspondence between the outward form and the inward life. The organic structure must be suited to the vital principle which it enshrines. This rule holds good in civil matters: as the spirit of society changes, there must be a corresponding change in the social institutions; and to keep the latter fixed while the former is changing, is apt to draw on a civil explosion, as history has often shown. On the same principle a new Revelation required a new and fit embodiment; new doctrines must be clothed in appropriate ordinances; with the coming in of another Testament there must come in another Church. You will observe that our Lord's doctrine was neither to be embodied in the ancient forms nor left unorganized and without form; but was to have a body suitable, fit and correspondent; one adapted to protect, preserve, and transmit the indwelling life. The new wine was neither to be stored away in old bottles nor left unbottled, but to be put into new bottles, suited to its nature and quality. It was for our Lord to provide fit vessels for the storing and preserving of His new and heavenly vintage; as He was Himself the life of the world, [5/6] so it was for Him and His apostles to prescribe and appoint the forms and ordinances whereby men should come into a living union with Him.
Such are the principles upon which the Christian Church was apparently framed and built. We may not be able in all cases to perceive and appreciate the correspondences between the spirit and the body of Christianity, but such correspondences undoubtedly there are. As our Lord and His apostles best understood the nature of the new life and doctrine, so they knew best the right methods and conditions of its propagation; by what forms and visible ordering to body it forth, so as to meet the needs and capacities of men. We, not seeing the reason of what they did, may mistake our ignorance for insight; and think ourselves competent to reform and improve their work up to the spirit of the time, and so bring in our fond inventions, calling them new developments of the same old life and doctrine; and, when we perceive the life waning and growing dim, and finally going out, being smothered by our kindlings and quenched by our help, we may assume our course to have been right, and set down the failure of our schemes as the failure of Christianity; being willing to believe any thing rather than our own folly, or the folly of those to whom we have committed ourselves:--all this, I say, we may do, for something very like it has been done; but in doing thus we shall probably have some such end as usually comes from beginnings that are at strife with the principles of nature and the methods of divine [6/7] appointment. There is, indeed, neither religion nor reason in such a course: it falls in with nothing but human pride; and, falling in with this, it naturally has all the powers of truth and Providence arrayed against it; so that the further we proceed in it, the weaker we are. On the other hand, if we begin with faith in the Church, as our Lord and His apostles ordered and left it, and go on to act accordingly, perhaps we shall find in process of time, that where we at first saw the least of reason in their work, there was really the most; for here, as elsewhere in religion, obedience is the way to knowledge; and to learn the wisdom of the Church's ordering we must walk in the path of her laws.
The lesson, then, which I propose to draw from our text is this: That the apostolic doctrine and the apostolic Church are every way suited to each other; that the life and immortality which have been brought to light are to be sought for in the form and organization where they were put by those who brought them; and that in forsaking either we are in the way of losing both. As we may not presume to put asunder what God, in the time of the apostles and by their ministry, joined together, so neither may we undertake to bring together what He hath thought fit to keep asunder. Of Christianity we may safely say, no other form is capable of the life, no other life is communicable in the form. If we undertake to decant and draw off the spirit into a body of our own making, how much better soever we may think that body to be, we shall secretly contract a repugnance to the spirit itself; [7/8] because, in doing so, we shall be indulging such a love of our own inventions as will grow upon us, until we come to be as impatient of the original spirit as we were at first of the original body. For thus it is that men, going, about to reform a thing, often get bewitched and enamored of their schemes, and, forgetting that "to innovate is not to reform," conclude that the thing cannot be reformed but by destruction, and the substitution of something of their own in its place. And, on the other hand, if we go to bringing a new spirit into the body, in order, as we may think, to awaken the latter into greater vigor and activity, first we know, we shall have some feeling of unfitness and discrepancy; and, still preferring our workings or choosings to what has been prescribed, we shall presently fall out with the body; we shall grow restless, captious, wrangling and disputatious, and finally conclude to forsake or demolish the old body, and hunt up or get up such an one wherein the new spirit will be more at home.
It was upon some such principles as these, I apprehend, that the Reformers of that branch of the Holy Catholic Church, to which we belong, proceeded in their great and glorious work. Presuming that things were rightly joined together at first, they did not undertake to originate and invent, but to recover and restore. To the original doctrines of Christianity, the faith once delivered to the saints, they had a pretty sure guide in the books of Holy Writ and the voice of Catholic interpretation. For the original order and organization [8/9] wherein that faith was embodied, they had both the Bible and the wise, though uninspired records of the primitive Church. To these sources they professedly went, and this their profession has been made good. Whatsoever may be thought or alleged of them as Christians or as men, they were, at least some of them, men of unquestionable learning; and they were thought good enough to be promoted to the highest places in the Church by the powers that then were. I say they did not profess to go by any theory as to how the Church ought to be, which had been to make their own opinion the rule and measure of divine appointments: the question with them was one of fact, as to how the Church was, in the period of her greatest purity and vigor. Such at least was their profession; and even if they had been inclined to deviate therefrom, it was impracticable for them to do so: the dictates of prudence and self-interest, to which they could hardly have been insensible, must needs have been a pretty stringent check upon them here, since, working as they did for public ends, it was only by having and by showing that they had the authority of primitive antiquity, that they could hope for a public acquiescence in their work. What they did was more than acquiesced in, it was approved; and approved on the same grounds as it had been professedly done. It is not difficult to impugn their motives; it is easy to rail at their characters; but who, what shall break down their work? It has now stood three hundred years, still there are no symptoms of weakness or decay [9/10] upon it so far as we can perceive, it is stronger and healthier at this day than it has been at any former period. Ever since it was done it has been subject to the most searching scrutiny of the most intelligent nation on the globe. The noblest and richest literature that the world has ever seen is all filled with its life and spirit. It has written itself indelibly into the history of our race; and its arms are now encircling the, earth. Its genius is interwoven with all the best triumphs of modern civilization; order and virtue and prosperity have sprung up in its footsteps; and in its passage it has everywhere built itself into monuments as lasting as beauty and thought. The sanctity of its bishops and pastors, the learning of its doctors, the piety of its children, have never been surpassed. All kinds of war have been made upon it from the first by all sorts of enemies, and it has always grown stronger by their attacks. The Reformed Catholic Church, trusting in the solidity of her claims, has freely spread open the Bible to all her children, and not only allowed, but exhorted them to search the Scriptures," the whole Scriptures, and see whether she is right; and century after century has more and more approved, to the satisfaction of reason, her conformity to that infallible and unchangeable standard. Men, wishing to procure the adoption of their opinions, are wont to urge that "truth is mighty, and will prevail;" whereby they do not help us at all, it being just as hard to know what will prevail, as to know what is true: but of the reformed Catholic Church we may say, it has [10/11] prevailed,--prevailed over the most potent of all antagonists, Time. Where, where is the power that is going to crush it? [I suppose, of course, that these remarks, and others like them, will be so understood as not to conflict at all with the statement of Archdeacon Wilberforce--a statement amply borne out by all our best authorities on the subject--that "the professed purpose of the English divines was to reform an old Church, not to constitute a new one." The effects which I have in some sort ascribed to the Reformation, were doubtless more correctly set down to the preexisting efficacy of that which was reformed. It is Christianity, as originally instituted, that has wrought all these things; and I would urge, with all possible emphasis, that the work of the Reformers, in all its parts and purposes, consisted in removing the clogs and corruptions which had been superinduced upon the original Institution. In every right view of the matter, the continuity of the Church was left untouched; only there was a clearing away of the supervening obstructions which had greatly thwarted or perverted its action. This clearing away of obstructions is the work of the Reformers, which has stood, and stands.]
This permanency of what the Reformers in question did certainly is not owing to the excellence of their characters, but to the justness of the principles whereon they proceeded. It is not the virtue of the men, but the virtue of that which they took as their pattern and model, that has made their work immortal and inexpungible. They did not appeal from the Church to their private judgment and reason, but from the Church as she then was to the Church as she was at first, when Inspiration itself presided over her counsels. And because they followed, not their own opinion, but the sentence of primitive antiquity, therefore they were kept from letting into their work a principle of change; tying up and binding their successors to follow the same authority which they followed. [11/12] For opinion is always changing; and to make this the standard of appeal, is to shut off all stability. And whatsoever begins with this method, no matter how good it may be at first, contains within itself the seeds of its own dissolution: its very life is change; and so it goes on changing, and thinks it is progressing, until it changes itself into death, which is the only permanence it is capable of. Hence it is that so many other reformers, perhaps as wise and good, perhaps wiser and better than those I am speaking of, but either from choice or from constraint following their own opinion, have given little or no stability to their work: their successors claiming the right to follow the same guide that they did, the work has kept on improving until it was all improved away. Thus their standard of appeal has acted as a sort of original sin pervading what they did; and their work, even if able to withstand external assaults, has been torn to pieces by the divulsive energies wrapped up in its being and infused at its birth. But history changes not; facts remain the same; and in appealing to these, and proceeding upon them, our Reformers began with a principle of permanence, which principle is found to pervade their entire work. That they had, at least some of them, great faults, may be admitted; but their faults were mostly those of the age, and without which they would hardly have acted upon it as they did: nor, after all the searchings and siftings of the most determined hostility for matter against them, does it appear that they had such a measure of frailty as that we may [12/13] justly look down upon them, or set at nought their counsels.
But, whatsoever they may have been, we cannot take our ideas of them either on the one side from those who burnt them at the stake, or on the other from those who of their successors worried Bishop Jewel into his grave, and murdered Archbishop Laud, and persecuted Bishop Hall, and imprisoned Jeremy Taylor, and called the heavenly-minded Leighton a papist, and exacted fines for celebrating the birth of our Saviour, and made it a penal offence to use those divine collects in which had been breathed the piety of forty generations of Christians. Neither of these are good authority against them, because both have special reasons for wishing them to have been bad men; and it would not be strange, if in some measure the wish were father to the thought with them: for surely hatred disqualifies the judgment quite as much as love. At all events, we believe their method the right one, their work a good one; and it matters little whether they were drawn to it by their own wisdom and virtue, or by the necessity of their position, or by both. For we are ignorant indeed, if we do not know that necessity is often our best tutor, conducting the best men to nobler results than they would ever come at by their own choice; that the wisest men often work to better issues when doing as they must than when free to do as they would, because in that case their wisdom has Providence for its director and guide. And as, on the one hand, we believe that the work of our Reformers, in all its [13/14] main parts and purposes, was wise and good, and every way justifiable, so, on the other hand, we also believe that the field in which they worked is the only one where the Reformation has not proved or is not proving a failure; the only one indeed where it has not drawn or is not drawing on worse evils than any it has removed.
But it is not my purpose to vindicate the Reformation; time will take care of that, if indeed it be not already taken care of. Suffice it to say on this head, that the experience of the noblest people on earth for three hundred years, seems to give us tolerable warrant for regarding that event as one of the most glorious in human history. And it seems worth remarking again and again, that the work in question remains to this day substantially the same as the Reformers left it; and that, too, while every thing has been changing about it, both those who reformed on wrong principles and those who did not reform at all. Nor is it inconsiderable, that as our Reformers proceeded in the manner and upon the principles I have stated, so they involved in their work a power of vitality, which promises to throw off in due time some diseases that could not then have been reached without endangering the life of the patient. By this I mean, not that there have been or are to be any developments either of doctrine or of discipline within the Church herself, but that she will gradually work clear of certain external alliances and entanglements which have doubtless somewhat crippled her energies, but which she was then too closely knit up with to be detached from.
 The conclusion from all which is, that our Reformers, recurring to the teachings of Scripture and primitive antiquity, aimed and endeavored to restore the old wine of the apostolic Doctrine, into the old bottle of the apostolic Church. And all the vast learning and scholarship of their successors, for three centuries, have only served to show that they were both right in their aim and successful in their endeavor. That their judgment herein cannot easily be shaken, appears in that of the two opposing parties the one has altogether ignored the sentence of antiquity, the other erected an authority that supersedes it. And thus both sides virtually claim the prerogative of perpetual change; the one, because it acknowledges no authority but opinion; the other, because it acknowledges an authority that cannot err. In opposition to both of which our Reformers planted themselves upon the ground of primitive history and facts; and their very method was, not only to throw out the changes that had been afterwards brought in, but to cut off the principle upon which those changes were made. Their sole business was, to ascertain what the primitive Church was, and to restore it as it was. If any further proof of their success in this undertaking be wanted, we seem to have it in that the bottle still contains the same wine, the wine is still content with the same bottle; in the lapse of three hundred years the one has not burst, the other has not been impeached, and neither has been changed: whereas those who would do nothing, and those [15/16] who would leave nothing undone, have from time to time had occasion to change the one, or the other, or both.
In the Church whereof we are members, this bottle and this wine are still preserved for us, just as they were three centuries ago, and, as we believe, and as they believed who then restored them, and as our fathers have ever since believed, just the same as they were in the primitive times. Through all this period thousands of our brethren have been drinking of this wine from this bottle to their souls' health; and the more they have drunk of it and compared it with others, the more they have become satisfied that it really is what it purports to be. And many, who, like the great and good Richard Baxter, have begun by renouncing this wine for some other, as they gradually outgrew the spirit of contradiction which they at first mistook for a better taste have been constrained to acknowledge, that it was purer than they could find anywhere else, and to regret that they had ever forsaken it. Upon the whole, I think we have as much reason as is compatible with a due exercise of faith, to rest assured, that it is the genuine apostolic wine, kept until now in the very bottle that was originally made for it. At first we may not relish it so well as some other; for new wine is apt to strike new beginners as being better: but having drunk it awhile we shall be apt to lose our relish for any other: for "no man having drunk old wine straightway desireth new; for he saith, the old is better." That so many about us are frequently changing [16/17] their vintage, and thus approving some fault either in their wine or in their taste, only confirms us the more in this our persuasion.
But the more especial purpose of this discourse is to urge, that neither the new wine of Rome, nor the newer wine of Geneva, can be put into the old bottle of the primitive organization with safety to either. If in the unripeness and inexperience of our taste we get to drinking of those vintages, we shall very likely be taken with them; and whether ours be the true apostolic wine or not, if we fall to drinking or sipping of those, we shall lose our relish for this; if we keep to this, we shall have no relish for those: to cultivate a taste for them both at the same time, is out of the question. To drop the figure, which I fear has already been overworked, in our branch of the Church, the doctrine and the discipline, the spirit and the body, are profoundly suited to each other; as is proved both by the ground on which they were united, and by the fact that they have lived together so long in perfect harmony. Close indeed must be the correspondence between the faith and the form of the Church, to outlast so much time and withstand so much war, without any perceptible change in either part. And as we cannot doubt that Inspiration at first brought them together on a principle of mutual fitness, so a large manifold reason and experience warrant us in believing that the same principle presided at their reunion; not so much perhaps by the wisdom of the Reformers, as by the simple trust of all men at that time in the wisdom of the original institution; [17/18] a trust that naturally brings plain men to the wisest results by conducting them along the line of plain facts. In a word, the strength of the Reformers lay in that, for some cause or other, they did not presume to indulge in any theories of their own against the teachings of a supernatural prescription. And the result is, that, over and above the primitive lights by which they walked, we now have, since their work was done, a great historical demonstration in its favor, which is indeed far stronger and better than any amount of logical or theoretical refutations. It can only be put down by bringing primitive facts against it, as primitive facts have always been brought for it; and its enemies are so far from succeeding in this, that they have long since pretty much given over the attempt.
Now this close correspondence between the faith and the form of the Church must have something answering to it within us; our minds must run along the lines of this mutual fitness, else there is no telling how or where we shall come out. If we go after another spirit, we shall get at strife with the body; if we go after another body, we shall get at strife with the spirit. However we may flatter ourselves with having breadth enough to reconcile what the Church has walled out with what she has walled in, we shall find ourselves mistaken; in undertaking to do so we put ourselves in a false position; and we shall be compelled sooner or later to give it up. The Church's positive prescriptions are part and parcel [18/19] with her negative; we cannot hold the one and discard the other: the same Reformation which took in or kept in the matter of those, cut off and fenced out the matter of these; and it did both on the same principles, for the same reasons, and by the same authority. So that neither the peculiarities of Geneva nor those of Rome can be made to coalesce with that to which, as members of this Church, and especially as clergymen, we have sworn the oath of allegiance, and taken the vows of perpetual marriage. In other words, what are commonly called the Thirty-nine Articles, during the existence of those things against which they are aimed, are an essential part of our ecclesiastical constitution. And however men may differ about the meaning of the terms used in those Articles, their is no mistaking the things to which they refer. The Papal Supremacy, Transubstantiation, the Confessional, the Worship of the Blessed Virgin, the Invocation of saints, are essentially ruled out of the Church; the force of which ruling cannot expire or be explained away, until either they or she shall cease to be. And if we undertake to cross this order, instead of working them into the Church, we shall simply work ourselves out: if we get to hankering after them, and flirting and coquetting with them, we shall soon generate a conflict within, which will grow upon us, until it wins us to break our vows and cast off our allegiance.
I think it stands to reason that all this should be so; and I am sure there are facts enough, some [19/20] of which have lately occurred, to prove that so it is. How far the thing may be otherwise in case of the laity, is not for me to say; but surely it cannot be much otherwise, in case of the clergy: for unless there be a good measure of coherence and consistency between what they teach and what the Church teaches, they can hardly choose but get themselves into trouble with their people; from which trouble they will find no relief but by deserting the Church. Nor can we regard it as other than a great blessing to us all, that the Church has, in the intelligent vigilance, sobriety and unsophisticated common sense of the laity, something to balance and temper the professional bias and one-sidedness, which the clergy, like any other single order of men, are so apt to fall into when left entirely to their own counsels. It would indeed be absurd in me to disrepute the Priesthood, and I have no thought of doing so: but the truth is, we cannot safely trust any one order of men, nor can any one order of men safely trust themselves, with unchecked power and rule: to have it, is a temptation which human infirmity can hardly be expected to outstand; and one of the best things in the world for all classes of men is, the not being allowed to have their own way. Accordingly, it is an old maxim of civil and of ecclesiastical reason, "Quod spectat ad omnes, ab omnibus tractari debet; What concerns the interests of all, ought to be settled by the counsels of all." Nor should it be forgotten, that the very pursuits of the clergy naturally lead them to prefer truth [20/21] as it is in speculation; whereas the pursuits of the laity as naturally lead them to prefer truth as it is in operation: the former are more taken up with thoughts, the latter with things: those are apt to receive what satisfies the mind; these, what can be put to work and made to do something; and the working of these is certainly a most natural and wholesome corrective of the thinking of those. When both orders are brought and kept together, and everything is done by common counsel and consent, the one naturally grow to think practically, the other to practise thoughtfully.
I suppose you will all understand me as alluding, in much that I have said, to certain late secessions from our branch of the Church. These secessions are indeed matter of grief and sorrow to us, but they do not a whit impair our confidence in the Church: rather, we are much confirmed therein; we are the more contented, if possible, to remain where we are, when we contemplate the ugly and ill-favored processes whereby those secessions have come about. It is no part of my purpose to make an attack on the seceders; and I have as little thought of defending or excusing their course: this, whether viewed in its progress or in its result, seems alike repugnant to right principle and just feeling. They may have been put upon it by causes more or less beyond their control; they may have entered it unwittingly, not dreaming whither it would lead them, until they had gone too far to retreat. Be this as it may, no one whose thoughts have been turned that way can well have failed to [21/22] observe the disingenuousness, the unhandsome arts which, undesignedly perhaps, but not the less really, they have been led to practise with themselves and towards their brethren;--arts which, even if they stopped short of such results, no man can venture upon, without wronging the truth and his own soul and all who are connected with him.
Some of the seceders, we know, have passed, in a few days, from the public exercise of the ministry among us into another branch of the Church; and that, too, although in so doing they had to renounce all the solemn vows of their ordination, confirmation and baptism. All which, if sincere, as we trust they were, they could hardly have done without being very much beguiled. For, before taking such a step, they must in all reason have doubted for some time the tenability of their position; and, if overmastered by such a doubt, as men may be without fault of their own, they were bound in common honor and honesty to retire until they could solve their doubts one way or the other, and thus avoid the appearance of holding on to their place, that they might betray their trust. The sacredest oaths and pledges they seem to have broken through without scruple or reluctance; exercising their priestly functions, not merely until they carne to deliberate whether to keep them, but until they had fully made up their mind to renounce them; thus, in effect, availing themselves of the confidence with which the vows they had taken naturally inspired their brethren, even after they [22/23] had ceased to regard those vows as binding on themselves. Surely, there must have been some strange prevarication here, whether the subjects were aware of it or not. They may indeed have done all this from conscience, or from what they took to be conscience, but there is something wrong about it; they did not learn it from the Church they left; there is nothing in her divinity or her morality to justify it: if they have found any thing where they now are to justify it, they may indeed have our pity, but they cannot have our approval.
To account for such an action without impeaching the rectitude of the actors, is no very easy matter: I am quite at loss how to explain it, but upon the supposal either of dishonesty or of delusion; the latter of which is both the more natural and the more charitable way. By unfair shifts and subtleties and subterfuges the persons in question seem to have imposed on themselves--to have perplexed and confounded their perceptions. Many of us, no doubt, have sometimes observed individuals apparently trying how near they could tread to the edge of the Church without stepping over; seeing how far they could go towards another branch of the Church and still be tolerated in this; hanging about the confines and sometimes playing over the borders; endeavoring to find or make holes through the wall of the Church whereby to thrust out what they lusted against, or to let in what they lusted for; defeating or obscuring the plain obvious sense of our offices and articles by wilful, [23/24] wrong-headed, unauthorized constructions and interpretations. Thus they practise a sort of jugglery with their moral sense; thus, by various arts of self-sophistication, they are beguiled into a course which, were they direct and downright with themselves, they would see to be at strife with common honesty and morality. Such a way of secretly courting and caressing things forbidden, and of coming at stolen interviews with them; of circumventing the articles of prohibition, and so running into subtle distinctions and evasions;--such a way, if persisted in, must needs stuff the mind with prevarication, with a sort of unconscious duplicity. And generally indeed, but especially in religion, we may know that we are in the way to become false and treacherous, when we find ourselves doing or inclined to do what we are afraid or ashamed to have known. What plainer dereliction from truth and right than to be living upon the strength of a confidence inspired by oaths we have taken, when we are deliberating whether to keep them; nay, when we have resolved to abjure them! There is no reconciling such a course with honor and integrity. If any man were known to act thus in matters of business, I need not say how fatal it would be to his business character.
And yet something very like this seems to have been done by the late seceders. For some time they were apparently trying to persuade themselves, that there was really no essential difference between where they were and where they are; but they were unable to rest in that persuasion: and [24/25] they found all at once so vast a difference as to warrant a renunciation of all their vows and pledges. If they were frank and clear with themselves, what hindered their seeing that difference before? or else what caused them to see it then? We hear much about their superior piety; but what shall we say of the piety that thus breaks through the sacredness of promises? We may believe a man acts from conscience, and that his conscience is pure, when he makes a conscience of keeping his vows. But the trouble with the seceders probably was, they had put themselves in a false position; and the more they worked to make it good, the more they stirred up a war within them; from which war they had no escape but by flying off into--what shall I call it?--apostasy is a hard term, but I really can call it nothing else. I, for one, am sorry they have gone--sorry both for their sake and for ours; but I am glad their going has furnished more proof, if more were needed, that it is vain to think of holding the peculiarities of the Church where they have gone, and of still retaining our allegiance to the Church where we are. I would say the same of seceders in the opposite direction, but that there is less likelihood of any clergymen's seceding thither, because they will hardly find much but anarchy and vacuity there to secede to. Which probably explains why it is that though similar arts of self-sophistication are used on the other side, they do not often come to the same result. And as we may say that the former went out from us because they were not of us, [25/26] so of the latter we may say that they are not of us though they still remain with us. And we hope they will remain; not because they are of any benefit to the Church, but that the Church may benefit them; for she is here not to be ministered unto, but to minister.
From what hath been said, and from much more that might be said, it may well be inferred, that the more we contemplate the process of the late secessions, the less we shall be inclined to imitate them. Truly may we say, If the seceders could not get away by handsomer methods, they had better have stayed where they were. By whatsoever causes and motives they may have been drawn into this way, the way itself is clearly a bad one; it is full of crookedness, it ends in--treachery: if it have power to make men false without their knowing it, this is all the worse for the way, and not much better for those who travel it; for men of a delicate, sensitive honor or conscience are not apt to be drawn into such ways. So that on all scores their going furnishes us new reasons for staying: for their example only serves to strengthen our conviction that there is no way from us to Rome but through dishonor and manifold unhandsomeness; that the road is paved with broken vows and murdered pledges.
What I have been saying must be understood as applying more particularly to clergymen, though much of it will doubtless apply with some abatement of force to lay secessions. For the clergy occupy places of peculiar trust, which they can [26/27] only reach by incurring peculiar obligations: they are doubly, trebly sworn into their allegiance; all the strength of moral and religious ligaments is upon them to hold them where they are; and they cannot get away but upon such principles as would break down all pledges and compacts,
"make marriage vows
As false as dicers' oaths;
and sweet religion make
A rhapsody of words."
I have spoken of the authority which our Reformers followed in their great undertaking; and the point that I would urge again and again is, that if we, disowning that authority and erecting or accepting another in its stead, undertake to change their work, we shall simply change ourselves out of it. The peculiarities both of Rome and of Geneva involve a spirit which the body whereof we are members will not hold, and which if we attempt to hold, it will draw us out of that body; and, what is more, will sadly rub, and wrench, and deface, and deflower our characters in the drawing. Of course, honest Roman Catholics are to be respected, like other honest people; but it is observable, that those who go from us to them are apt to be very different from those who are bred amongst them, or who come to them from other quarters. In passing from the Church thither, they generally contract such habits or qualities as every right-minded man would wish to be without: indeed, if we may judge by the examples that have lately occurred, they can hardly get there without going through so many [27/28] secret whisperings and "ear-kissing arguments" with the enemies of their Holy Mother, as must needs wear off in a great measure their chastity of spirit, the enamel of their souls. In a word, they have to act for some time the part of borderers, and, whether they mean it or not, to stand in the position of "false brethren." And in this connection I cannot help remarking as a warning to ourselves, how St. Paul winds up and tops his long climax of the perils he had passed, by setting down those from this very source. Was not this blessed saint anticipating something of our experience, when he found that "perils by false brethren" were the worst of all? And, brethren, does it not stand us, one and all, in hand to take care that we keep ourselves not only above the act in question, but above the suspicion of it? This secret cherishing of things forbidden is vastly dangerous; it will send a subtle tincture and taint of falsehood through the soul: in entering upon such a course we can hardly choose but fall under such a spell and enchantment of crookedness and indirection as will win us to our harm: we shall most likely get to hugging our own shame: we shall find ourselves unable to stop, and the further we go the worse we shall be.
Much of the bad result I have been deploring seems to have sprung from a vicious custom of treating as open questions those which are not so, and which cannot with any sort of justice be treated as such. I have spoken of the sacredness and solemnity of our ministerial vows. Unfortunately, [28/29] most if not all of those who have lately left us were bred under a system which strips such vows of religious force and efficacy, and where in effect the ministry is but as a trade which men may take up and lay aside at pleasure. But it is not so, it never has been so, in the Church: her clergy are supposed to dedicate themselves under a perpetual vow; from the earliest time her principle and practice have been, that no man could take her orders without swearing away the liberty of forsaking them; and the deserting of them was used to be visited with her severest censures. In this sacred office we know very well that we must finish our deliberation before we promise, and that the promise once given and received is never to be revoked. Deliberation in the matter is then foreclosed; it is no longer an open question, and it is a sin to regard it as such: he who goes to casting about, he who entertains the enquiry whether he shall abide by his oath in such a thing, is already virtually foresworn: it is much the same as if a man, after he is married, should go to questioning and considering, who is to be his wife; in which case he would only be tampering with holy vows, and tempting himself to domestic perfidy.
It is to be greatly regretted, that many, who were bred amidst the prevailing looseness on this subject, have come into the ministry of the Church bringing the sentiments or rather the insensibility of the places whence they came. Without any right feeling or principle concerning the nature of the obligation they here incur, they go on deliberating [29/30] whether they shall keep their vows, until they deliberate themselves into an abjuration of them. Let it be understood, then, that with us this matter is settled: our method is, and it is the only method compatible with integrity and honor, to deliberate before we decide, and to shut off deliberation when we decide: and, however the thing may be entangled with jesuitical subtleties, we may be assured that it is something else than a concern for truth that prompts us, when we have closed such a subject and sworn, to open it again for a new decision. We know full well that here the soul
"Inherits an allegiance, not by choice
To be cast off, upon an oath proposed
By each new upstart notion."
We have taken vows upon us from which we cannot recede: in admitting the question whether we may not or ought not to throw them off, we do but "tempt opinion to support the wrongs of passion;" and if we should fall into apostasy, it will be both a natural result and a just punishment of our criminal levity in trifling with solemn oaths.
In conclusion, brethren, I cannot help remarking upon our happiness in being members of a Church which does not change; where the principle of development and progress has worked into no perceptible operation. She has locked up "the form of sound words" in her heart, and given up the key into the keeping of her Divine Head. Under her auspices society has indeed advanced beyond precedent, and long may it continue to advance; [30/31] it may go on for ages without reaching her present standard or exhausting her present stores of wisdom. Under her benign influence all noble and useful arts and sciences and virtues have thriven and still thrive, as they never have done anywhere else. But while she has been the most generous Cherisher of all liberal things and learned preparations, she seems to have impressed her children in some mysterious way, that no advances in science could throw any light on the way of salvation: so that, not being called upon to improve the faith once delivered to the saints, they could spend all their time in improving themselves by it; having no other duty concerning it than to ascertain what it was, and to keep it as it was.
Occasional desertions there have always been, and will doubtless always be; for we know there must be heresies, to the end that such as are true may be made manifest. And the late going out from us of those who were not of us, proves that the Church is what we supposed her to be; that she wants those things, the wanting of which only augments our confidence and love. Nor should it ever be forgotten, that, beset as she is with enemies, those enemies are split into two classes, which divide between them the principles of spiritual despotism and spiritual anarchy: that those two classes stand in opposite extremes; so much so indeed, that, though evermore breathing mutual hostility, yet they are so far apart that their shafts never hurt or reach each other. Meanwhile, the Church, which both of them both hate and fear, [31/32] sitting in the midst between them, endures, "unshaken, unseduced, unterrified," their united attacks; and though they sometimes seduce and debauch a few of her children into apostasy and desertion, she still thrives in spite of their enmity, and, what is worse, their occasional friendship; and even helps to keep them alive by making it impracticable for them to have their own way, and by furnishing a sure refuge from the tyranny of the one and from the license of the other.