Position of the Church.
PREACHED BEFORE THE
CONVENTION OF THE PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH,
DIOCESE OF CONNECTICUT,
JUNE 14, 1853,
TRINITY CHURCH, NEW HAVEN.
BY THE REV. THOMAS M. CLARK, D.D.,
Published by order of the Convention.
NEHEMIAH iv, 10.—And Judah said, The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall.
THERE is something very impressive in the description that is given of Nehemiah's taking his solitary ride by night around the dilapidated ruins of the holy city, preparatory to the effort which he was about to undertake towards its restoration. It was a melancholy sight that he saw, the gates were all consumed with fire, the roads were obstructed with rubbish, the city sat solitary that was once full of people, and Zion was a desolation. This was one of the great crises in the history of the Jewish Church: when amid conflict and controversy, it emerged from a state of depression and servitude, into a condition of higher spiritual culture than it had ever known before. It was the discipline of adversity and suffering which developed the highest style of faith under the ancient dispensation; it was from the land of captivity that the loftiest strains of inspired prophecy went forth, and the most fervent prayers that ever came from Jewish lips, were offered amid the idolatries of Babylon.
So it has been with the Christian Church. She has thrived best, when the powers of the world have frowned most scornfully upon her, and every alliance that she has made with surrounding tribes has been to her detriment. When she has seemed weak to the carnal eye, she has been strong; and when she has seemed strong, she has been at the weakest point.
All her factitious growth has been at the cost of her interior vitality; and the greatest evils which she ever suffered, [3/4] began when imperial Rome called her up to share the throne of the Caesars.
The present position of the Church is one of intense and almost painful interest. Christianity has been marked by three distinct epochs.
First, was the era of propagation, when the Church was aggressive; fighting the battles of the Lord against idolatry and heathenism. This was a period of comparative purity; certainly of extraordinary devotion, zeal, self-sacrifice, and implicit faith. The theology of the first three centuries, if it had less exactness and method than our modern systems, possessed mote of the freedom of life, uttered itself more boldly, was not so trammeled by notions of metaphysical consistency, not so easily frightened by the appearance of paradox, and was therefore more comprehensive and truly scriptural.
Next came the era of stagnant superstition. A cloud came over the rising sun. But even the dark ages of Christendom were an immense advance upon the barbaric condition of society which they displaced. Christianity was deformed by manifold errors, and still it was far better than the Paganism which it had extinguished. Individual popes may have outvied the Caesars in corruption, and yet the nations made salutary progress. The Bible was a sealed book to the people, but still it was in existence, and occasionally a ray of its blessed light gleamed out from the lattice of the cloister. The worship of saints, and virgins, and relics, and images, overlaid the worship of God; and yet the true God was known, and in their extremity, men would sometimes turn to Him for counsel and comfort.
After this came the epoch of Reformation. Great scripture thoughts were uttered, which broke the spell of centuries. This was of necessity a period of convulsion and agitation: the Arctic ice was dissolving, and this could not be, without throes, and groans, and furious attrition.
Up to the present hour, somewhat of the same commotion has distinguished Christendom. Truth has been brought to light, but it has had to struggle for the privilege of existence. [4/5] It has been forced to bear the application of every sort of test, in order that it might be proved to be truth. Sometimes it has suffered from a process of attenuation, when all its positive elements have been well ,nigh destroyed; and again it has been distorted by excessive inflation. At one time, the Gospel is. exhibited as embracing nothing but a certain defined number of technical dogmas,—some five sharp angles, or more, fitted together like stones in an arch, admitting of no displacement, and of no addition, without the destruction of the fabric. Again, all the fundamental principles of the Gospel have been discarded, and a mere system of frigid ethics substituted in their place.
Meanwhile, so far as external opposition is concerned, Christendom has dwelt in peace. There has been no great antagonistic power that 'has dared to oppose the Church. The Mohammedan crescent has been steadily waning; Paganisrn, has become effete; no charm of classic beauty, no stern, courageous Roman virtue remains to give it life. Christendom has gradually appropriated the commerce, the enterprise, the science, the literature, and the political dominion of the earth. And there are some enthusiastic souls, who already behold the dawning light of the millennium, who think that the Church has completed her last stage of probation, received her complement of grace, worked out her historical development, attained her fixed and final condition in form, in ritual, and in dogma, and has now nothing to do but enter in and take possession of the continents and islands of the sea.
But a thoughtful consideration of the actual phenomena that are developing themselves in the heart of Christendom itself, will suggest another train of thought. Although, in the extension of commerce, the increased facilities of intercourse, the growth of free principles, the multiplication of books, and the general control which Christian nations hold over all others, there are providential indications that the time has come when the world might be converted to Christ; it is still the fact, that the Church is doing less in the way of actual conquest outside of her borders, than she has done in days [5/6] past, when, though her faith may have been less pure, her organization was more compact.
Here is the first unfavorable indication that we notice,—the broken, distracted condition of Christendom, the want of organic unity, the absence of that centralizing and harmonious oneness, which is so essential to great success. The world is not to be converted by flying detachments, going out from the army of Christ, each marching where it pleases, and doing what it pleases, and never remaining long enough anywhere to hold the territory it has subdued. And comparatively little will be done in exterior conquest, while so much of our strength is wasted in internecine warfare. Five sixths of all our theological intellect is expended in mutual controversy and recrimination. While the world is perishing for lack of knowledge, and multitudes, even in Christian lands, have never heard of Jesus, except when His sacred name is used to point a jest or adorn a blasphemy, we are discussing and re-discussing questions of which the very terms are possibly indefinable, and the same arguments are used and the same rejoinders made, for the thousandth time, leaving all parties where they were at the beginning.
There are other indications, within the borders of nominal Christendom, still more suggestive and alarming. The very citadel of our faith is destined soon to experience an assault, which it will require all our wisdom and strength successfully to repel. The infidelity of the last century is well nigh extinct. It was so openly identified with licentiousness and anarchy, that it worked out its own cure. It used for the most part the small weapons of ribaldry and ridicule; it had no earnestness; it offered nothing to man as a substitute for the faith of which it would deprive him; and so the very instincts of humanity rejected it.
But the approaching controversy will be of another character. The adversary is wiser now than he was a hundred years ago. Skepticism is now allied to a philosophy more subtle and attractive; it unfurls the white banner of philanthropy over its legions; it even emblazons that banner with [6/7] the imprint of the open Bible, with a bar sinister on one of its covers; it has enlisted the strong cohorts of physical science; it sends its missives over into the Christian camp, in the Shape of harmless novels, exquisite and heart-moving poems, secular newspapers and reviews, statistical reports, plans of amelioration, and sermons labeled with Scripture texts. It sounds forth the popular cry, “The Bible the religion of Protestants! The right of private judgment the great principle of the Reformation!" then divorces the Book from historical Christianity as embodied in the Church; then takes up the Book with the forceps of hermeneutical criticism, dissects the modern theory of a self-authenticated, plenary, mechanical inspiration, lays bare the weakest argument in defense of Revelation that ever burdened Christianity, and raises the shout of victory. The people listen, and say, “It is the voice of a god! we will be Bibliolaters no longer!" And then, for want of anything else to worship, each man adores himself; and renders divine honors to his own transcendent reason.
As a natural reaction from all this, we find another band,—not as yet large in itself, but wonderfully large, considering that we live in the nineteenth century,—reversing all the processes of their education, denying all that they ever before affirmed, and affirming all that they ever denied before, and marching right back into the fungous marshes of the dark ages.
In this emergency, what is the true position of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and what are the lessons which it becomes us to learn?
There are certain peculiarities in the position that we hold, which give to this Church a comparative importance, far greater than is indicated by our mere numerical strength. The essential power of a Church is in its principles, and its efficiency depends upon the spirit in which these principles are brought to bear upon the necessities of society.
It is remarked in a recent Charge by one of the Bishops of the Church, that "the Bible was never more widely or [7/8] industriously circulated than now, and yet never, perhaps, was its proper influence and authority in more imminent danger."
From every quarter, we hear it said, the question of Inspiration, or the fact of a Divine Revelation, is soon to be the leading question in theology.
On the one hand; the Church of Rome asserts that Scripture can be authenticated and proved to be divine, only upon her infallible authority: she is the tribunal which authenticates the Bible. On the other hand, it is declared that the witness of the Church, as to the Scriptures, is superfluous, because they are in every particular self authenticated.
The skeptic steps forward, and first asks, how the Church of Rome authenticates herself, upon what ground she rests her authoritative claims; and receives no satisfactory answer: He then turns to the opposite party and asks how the Bible, as an historical document, can authenticate itself; and receives no satisfactory answer. He then says, I will believe just so much of this Book as my own private judgment authenticates, and reject the remainder.
At this point the Church comes forth, and as a living body, having had an historical existence from the beginning, declares herself the voucher of the authenticity and external authority of Scripture; and then refers us to these Scriptures as the inspired, documentary evidence, of what was done and what was taught, in the infancy of her existence. In other words, we receive the Bible from the hand of the Church, and then search the Scriptures in order to verify the Church. This is not reasoning in a circle, as is sometimes alledged. It is analogous to the case of an ambassador, who first presents himself in person before a foreign court, and then exhibits his credentials. Neither does the function of the Church, as "the witness and keeper of holy writ," elevate her above the Bible. I simply learn from her, who wrote the Bible, when it was written, and the ground upon which it was originally received as an authentic and true record; then she leaves me to the exercise of my moral faculties, to which all moral truth, is addressed, and I shall believe or disbelieve, according to their [8/9] capacity to respond to the truth, or according to the degree of my spiritual discernment.
Here the Church has an important vantage-ground, and she can enter upon the impending controversy with eminent advantage.
It is still further in her favor that she is not encumbered by any dogmatic teaching on the philosophy of Inspiration. " It has been matter of observation and surprise," says Archdeacon Wilberforce, “that our formularies should dwell so much on the importance of the Holy Scriptures, yet say not a word respecting their inspiration. What is meant when we speak of them as inspired? Various theories are afloat on the subject, yet neither the collective Church, nor even our branch of it, have thought it necessary to offer an explanation. These theories, moreover, are found to prevail exactly in those quarters, in which the Church's authority as a 'keeper' as well as 'witness' of Holy Writ is denied; as though to invent some scheme of inspiration was the necessary correlative of denying the existence of that living Word, which guides men through Creeds, and has been engrafted in the body of the Church."
We shall, ere long, be called upon to lift the argument for Christianity, as a system of revealed truth, out of the domain of a technical, Biblical criticism. Then will be seen the indispensableness of an historical Church that can trace its pedigree and its Creeds back to the beginning of Christianity, in order to the proof of an historical faith; and the moderation of this Church in her theory of the inspired documents which confirm this faith,—or rather, her wisdom in not theorizing at all on the subject,—will also be appreciated.
The position of the Church in respect of the present condition of Christian doctrine, is also one of prominence and interest. There is a double movement going on outside of us, an incipient reaction from two opposite extremes, which may at last find a point of convergence in the Church. On one side, a rationalistic and negative neology has reached the intermost verge of denial, and inasmuch as the soul, as well as [9/10] nature, abhors a vacuum, we may, expect to see a gradual return to central truth.
On the other hand, there is a tremendous breaking up of those elaborate systems of metaphysical theology, which were baptized in Geneva, and confirmed at Westminster. Certain fundamental views of the Divine government have fastened themselves upon the mind of the age, which are just as necessarily fatal to these theories, as was the discovery of Galileo to the old notions of astronomy. All. theologies are simple developments of the prevailing conceptions of God; and the moment it is seen that He never did, and never can, act arbitrarily, that all His movements are made under immutable and universal law,-which law is simply His own essence projected into action,—a modification of these dogmatic forms of theology is inevitable.
In this crisis, where can these two reactive movements meet and coalesce, unless it be in that Church which is content with affirming the primitive Creeds as the basis of Christianity, and leaves the metaphysics of theology among the transient and changing elements of the faith? If we now assume the proper position, and show that the power, as well as the form of godliness, is with us, and men are made to feel that the great Master dwells in our tabernacles, the strength of the Church may be suddenly and rapidly augmented, and earnest and anxious men, on the right hand and on the left, find in our Zion a place of refuge.
What is the attitude that we must assume and maintain, in order to take advantage' of these indications?
We must rigidly adhere to the simplicity of the Faith, as we have received it from the beginning; imposing no philosophical theories of that Faith, as a necessary article of belief. Our safety, as well as our growth, as a Church, in the present surging state of popular opinion, is in our strict adherence to this position. A building may fall, because it is constructed so lightly, or it may fall by its own weight, because of the amount of timber that is put into it. There are sects about us, that are likely to be blown away, because they are so light; [10/11] there are others, who are sinking into the soft earth, because they are so heavy,—there is a more cumbersome superstructure than the foundations will bear. Let us leave the building where Christ and the Apostles left it, and it is safe.
The efficiency of the Church is greatly crippled by the want of mutual confidence. Each party thinks that its standpoint is the only one from which the truth can be fairly surveyed, and individuals in all parties think that their position is the only one from which the truth can be seen at all. And yet, if you follow these same persons home to their respective places of abode, you will see that they apply very much the same remedies to the actual evils that surround them, and find individual comfort and support in the same truths and if they should happen to be cast upon the same plank, alone on the weltering sea, they would die together, hand in hand, heart joined to heart in fervent prayer, as brethren.
What is the remedy for our divisions? Does any one section of, the Church expect to swallow up all the rest and thenceforth attain undivided control? God forbid. There is nothing at present which indicates such a result.
Will a vigorous prosecution of the controversies in which we have been engaged ever since the memory of man, be likely to produce unity of sentiment, and harmony of action? It would be the first time in the records of the race, that such a result followed from such a cause.
No! we must remember that the questions which divide us are as old as Christianity, and the facts in which we all agree, are as old as Christianity. We must allow the widest range of private opinion, within the limits of primitive, historic doctrine. We must write the glorious motto on the palms of our hands and on the tablets of our hearts, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." We must go to work, as one man, to save the world. We must grapple with realities. We must take a broad and comprehensive view of society, as it is. We must watch the great currents of thought that are sweeping over the world. We must gauge the depths of human misery and corruption. And then, if we do not cease [11/12] from some of our wranglings, it will be proved that we have lost our manhood in our priesthood.
If we would fairly fulfill our vocation as a Church, we must give heed to the great questions which absorb the attention of mankind. We do not mean that the Church should be converted into an arena, for the discussion of exciting and ephemeral novelties; but that we should do, just what St. Paul did, and what every Christian man has done, who has left his mark upon the world,—speak to the living consciousness of men, face the actual dangers of society, meet its real necessities, make men feel that we know them, can sympathize with them, and do not fear them.
How would the blessed Jesus deal with the world, if He should return again to the earth and walk up and down through our land, as He once walked in Jewry? In what company would He be found? What would be His chief topics of discourse? What are the evils that He would first attack? How would He deal with the American Samaritan? Where would He find the American Pharisee? How would our popular religion bear the test of His doctrine? Where would the whip of small cords be applied?
Oh, if the living Christ could be re-produced in the person of His professed ambassadors, what a change would come over society, and what an impulse would be given to the Church! He spoke to all ages and all lands, and yet none ever addressed himself more directly to the specific condition of his own times and his own people. He came into sympathy with the living humanity of His day, and so was brought into sympathy with universal humanity. He uttered no vague abstractions, propounded no dogmatic theories, but He dealt directly with man, and His words were spirit and life. The feeble heard Him, and became strong; the wretched heard Him, and a gleam of heavenly joy stole through the darkness of their souls; the outcast heard Him, and the warm dew trickled down his icy, despairing heart; the sinner heard Him, and became holy. Does our preaching thus, electrify the world? Does it thus meet the real wants of men? Has [12/13] it the reality of Christ? Do men listen to it, as the condemned criminal in his cell listens, when the messenger comes, to tell-him of reprieve or death? Do they listen, as though they believed? Do we preach, as though we believed, and felt that eternal issues hang upon our words? If we did, would there be so many human contrivances, loose, disjointed, often un-Christian in their form, aiming to accomplish that which Jesus established His Church to do?
These are questions which it will not do for us to pass by with indifference. There is a current, setting away from the Church and from Christianity, increasing in volume, and daily gaining new impetus, which must soon be arrested, or terrible results will ensue. There is an infusion of unbelief and irreligion among our educated youth, which forebodes strange things for the coming generation. The press, the lectureroom, the platform, the multiform organizations that are springing up in every quarter, all combine to further this anti-Christian movement. Anathema and scorn, contempt and ridicule, cannot arrest it; but the Truth of Jesus, spoken with the spirit of Jesus, and enforced by such a life as Jesus lived, can do it, and nothing else.
The Church must also be prepared to cope with the intellectual power of the age. There may be fewer intellectual giants now than formerly; but there is fifty-fold more of actual thought; working in the masses of society. Scattered through our counting-houses, and factories, and work-shops, there are multitudes of men, who think all day while they work, and who read and study, after the work of the day is over. These persons are found in all our congregations, they are keen to detect fallacious reasoning, shrewd to distinguish reality from fiction; and if they hear nothing from the pulpit but stale platitudes, a wearisome repetition of common-places, arguments to which no decent jury would listen with patience, unfair attacks upon our opponents, and general disquisitions upon points which interest no living man under the sun, what must be the consequence?
It is true, that, in an age like this, where there is so much [13/14] of novelty to attract, and of enterprise to excite the mind, when science is achieving such wonderful discoveries, and literature is made so attractive, it is hard to induce men to listen at all to the old, familiar truths of the gospel. We have no discoveries in spiritual truth to proclaim, in one sense; we have nothing new to say,—and yet it is possible to throw an air of freshness over the most familiar facts of the gospel. The fountain of spiritual thought is not exhausted; there are depths in the gospel which have not yet been sounded.
There are several things, which stand in the way of that development of intellectual ability in the pulpit, which is needed to counteract the antagonistic influences, to which Christianity is, exposed. The present mania for incessant preaching has diminished the actual power of the pulpit. So long as the popular voice continues to demand of the clergy two or three sermons and lectures every week, a weak dilution of thought is all that can be fairly expected. If the Church would return to the ancient custom of requiring but one elaborate discourse on Sunday, and devote the remainder of the time to familiar, catechetical instruction, addressed directly to the young, and over their heads to the more mature, we should all get more truth, and train up more enlightened and better Christians.
Another difficulty, under which the clergy suffer, is the want of materials for study. Living, as they generally do, in constant anxiety as to their daily bread, they cannot purchase books, and the well-worn volumes which they carry with them from the seminary, may be all the tools with which they are ever furnished. If, in every parish, there were a well-selected library, for the sole use of the Rector, constantly replenished with some of the best works of the day, the world at large would in the end be as much benefited as it now is by the shower of feeble tractates, which float on every breeze.
It is imperative that the clergy should have the necessary time and materials, in order to the development of that style of thought and argument, which the impending crisis demands. [14/15] Vague and pointless exhortation, sermons mechanically constructed upon the dry frame-work of ancient skeletons, will not meet the intense and pressing need of the times. We must have real, comprehensive, discriminative thought,—fair, thorough, whole-sided, and conclusive arguments; and then, having enlisted the reason and the judgment on the side of truth, we may apply that truth with effect to the heart and conscience. Then we must take the people up to Calvary, and speak to them under the shadow of the cross. Then we must bid them look off into eternity, and show them the Lamb upon the seat of judgment. Then we must invoke Sinai, with its thunders, and Gethsemane with its tears.
In what other Church of Christendom can the great work of the gospel be entered upon, with a more entire disfranchisement from all human trammels, and with better prospect of success? And if we,really do this work, what can hinder our growth? God will be for us, and it matters not then who is against us. Zion will arise and shine, her light being come, and the glory of the Lord having risen upon her.
The position of the Church in respect of Christian worship, is, at the present moment, .peculiarly important. We stand between two vicious extremes. On one side, there is displayed a ritual, glittering with gold and vermilion, embroidered with pagan tinsel, alternating between the sublime and the absurd, with its chancels glistening like the grottoes of the Arabian fable; draperies of lace and artificial flowers and painted crockery and elaborate dolls forming the paraphernalia of worship; but mingling with all this childish display much to charm the senses and move the feelings, fragments of ancient liturgies, music tones which sweep the cords of the soul like a sweet evening breeze, earnest words of prayer which martyrs might have chanted in the flames, with occasional glimmerings of holy truth which remind us of what Rome might have been, and what she might have done for the world, if she had only repelled the temptings of the sorcerer. On the other side, we have a worship in which there is nothing to identify the present with the past, nothing to remind us of [15/16] the beauty of holiness; which is altogether dependent upon the taste, the culture, and spiritual elevation of him who happens to officiate for its effect; and which, in unskillful hands, must of necessity become dry, barren, tedious, and unprofitable.
Meanwhile, it is becoming every day more and more evident that the permanent power of Christianity mainly depends upon the fact, that its truths and blessed promises entwine themselves about our hearts, through the hallowed associations of worship. It is not so much the intellectual argument for the gospel, which ensures its hold upon society, as the stated, quiet influence of Christian rites and services. And there is an awakening consciousness in many quarters that a chaste and spiritual ritualism must be brought into greater prominence, if we would arrest the evil tendencies of the times. There is a gradual and cautious movement in that direction, on the part of many of our Protestant brethren, which is very significant. The ritual instinct that belongs to humanity, cannot be permanently repressed. Nature, with its gorgeous temple of worship, its melodious sounds, its splendid drapery, its daily matins and vespers, and its yearly calendar, ministers to this instinct.
Devotion is not simply an intellectual exercise; it is not primarily this, although it must have its processes of thought; but it is the movement of the affections heavenward. Great truths are apprehended, but by the faculties of feeling, rather than of reason. Whatever then lays hold upon the natural laws of association, and lifts the soul to God, it is well to cultivate. The more simple our worship, the better does it accord with the spirit of Christianity; but meagreness is not simplicity. Ceremonial, which means nothing, or which symbolizes error, should be abjured. A frigid, stately pomp is most unbecoming in the house of prayer. A mere mechanical routine of rites is sadly out of place. But the most barren outline of worship may become as cold and mechanical as the most elaborate. Nothing is gained in the way of spirituality, by the absence of decency and good taste.
 At the same time, we must guard against the danger of confounding the mere excitement of sentiment with pure religious emotion. The fancy may glow, and tears fall, and the pulsations of the soul be quickened to the highest intensity, and still there may be no true worship.
In what special relation does the Church stand, as it respects this important subject? The superior prominence which is here given to the element of worship, as compared with other Protestant bodies, must recommend the Church to all, who feel that in our day, preaching has, too far encroached upon the domain of prayer. To secure this prominence, it is seen that a Liturgy of some sort is indispensable, and thus the old prejudice against forms of prayer, as such, is passing away. It is also seen, that with us, there is a richness of association growing out of the arrangements of the ecclesiastical year, and the ritual bonds which connect us with the past, which do not exist elsewhere. We pray the words which our fathers prayed; we sing the songs which our fathers sung; and when in the earth our bodies are laid
"Our mother the Church hath never a child,
To honor before the rest,
And she singeth the same for mighty kings,
And the veriest babe on her breast;
And the bishop goes down to his narrow bed,
As the ploughman's child is laid,
And alike she blesseth the dark-brow'd serf,
And the chief in his robe arrayed."
If it were practicable to bring our liturgical services into better accordance with the original arrangement, instead of blending them together as we now do; if the Eucharistic Office could be restored to the prominence which it had in primitive times, instead of being introduced, as it now is, as amere Appendix to other services; if there could be a judicious revision of the Calendar, with a view to bringing every thing, on fast, or festival, into accordance with what should be the key-note of the day; and if we could have in our churches a pure and more ecclesiastical style of, music; the [17/18] ritual want of which we have spoken would be much better provided for, than it is at present.
The position of the Church as an organic body, in respect of the practical activity of the age, is not less important than its relation to the doctrinal and ritualistic indications and necessities of our times. This Church is now the only Protestant organization in the country, which has been able to retain its federal unity, in the recognition of one, general, National Council. All others have broken on some doctrinal or political principle. It is undoubtedly the most conservative organization, of any sort, in the land, least liable to be disturbed by extraneous influences or annoyed by the introduction of matters foreign to the main design for which it is instituted.
And yet if we are content with being merely conservative, with just holding on to what we have and keeping still, the tide may leave us immovable, high and dry on the shore. We may be both conservative and aggressive; we must be, if we would fulfill our vocation. We must look upon the Church not merely as a sacred monument, but also as a working organism; as the great agent, placed in the world to redeem the world. We must catch the spirit of enterprise, which now vitalizes society, and aim at doing great things. We must have enough of elasticity to adapt ourselves to all the various phases of social life, and be able sometimes to bend, without breaking. The Church should be as much at home in the wilds of Nebraska, and speak as directly to the living wants of those remote regions, as she does to the refined congregations of the metropolis. We must find a place for men of all varieties of temperament, and give to each just that work to do, for which he is best fitted. We must face the real evils of society, and so exhibit the Church that the poor will look to her as a place of refuge, the sick look to her as their helper, the outcast look to her as their comforter. The establishment of our Free Churches, Hospitals, Mutual Relief Societies, and the like, is one of the most hopeful indications for the Church. This movement will do [18/19] more to commend her to public favor, than all the arguments that were ever written.
It would be a happy circumstance, if our Conventions, local and general, would devote more of their time and attention to the direct consideration of the work, which Christ has commissioned the Church to perform. Why cannot the routine duty on these occasions be promptly performed, and then the minds of the Clergy and the Laity be turned to these momentous questions, What does the world require of us as a Church? How shall we provide for the pressing exigencies, which the condition of society renders it so imperative for us to meet? What are we actually doing for our own Diocese, for the country at large, and for the world? Nothing would tend so directly to fraternal unity as this. Nothing would be more effectual in repressing folly and error; for it is the stagnant water that breeds vermin. This would extinguish jealousy and distrust, much sooner than newspaper controversy or public debate. When men stand face to face together, before an alarming evil; when they bend together over the crater of a volcano, or find themselves hemmed in by raging fires; they forget the minor points in which they differ, and only remember the greater facts, and the nobler sympathies, in which they are one.
We are fast nearing a crisis which will be more eventful than any through which the Church has passed since the Reformation. We cannot afford to waste our strength upon matters indifferent or subordinate. It is not a single foe that we shall be called to encounter; Papal Rome is not the only enemy that threatens us; there is a stronger power to be met than Rome. Whatever temporary signs of life may just now be manifested in that quarter, we may rely upon it that the days of the Papacy are numbered. That fortress will be shattered by an explosion from within, not by any external assault. In that old body there may be life at the extremities; but there is death near the centre; the head is sick, and the heart is faint. It is rather against the combined influence of modern science, a subtle philosophy, a captivating literature, and popular organizations, that we must be prepared to defend the citadel of the Church. We do not believe that in the end these will prove detrimental to pure Christianity; as it is, they are not altogether hostile; but they will demand of us a style of argument more profound than we have been accustomed to use, and a habit of life that will remind the world more distinctly of JESUS, our Master. We shall need to have a personal faith that can endure any shock; and a spirit of self-sacrifice that can bear any privation; and a charity that hopeth all things and a holiness, so pure, so elevated, so symmetrical, so Christ-like, that we shall be lifted above the suspicion of reproach. We must reproduce the life of Jesus, and we are safe; the Church is safe; the world is safe.