OF THE PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH,
J. J. LITTLE & CO., PRINTERS,
10 To 20 ASTOR PLACE.
THIRD DAY OF THE SESSION,
October 9, 1880.
On motion of the REV. DR. FARRINGTON, of Northern New Jersey,
Resolved, That the Secretary be directed to request a copy of the Sermon preached by the RIGHT REVEREND WILLIAM INGRAHAM KIP, D. D., Bishop of California, at the opening of this Convention, and that fifteen hundred copies of the same be printed for the use of the Convention.
CHARLES L. HUTCHINS, Secretary.
 THE POPULAR RELIGION OF THE DAY.
"For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace."--JER. viii. 11.
THE first Herald of the Christian faith was the advocate of no popular system. Every sentence which He uttered smote some prejudice or tended to dispel some illusion of His hearers. In an age of sensuality He called men to perfect purity of heart and life, to that restraint and discipline which had been long forgotten in the creed of the Pharisee and the Sadducee. Among the cherished recollections of the past were the songs of Miriam and Deborah, which the Jewish maidens chanted on the hill-sides, as they read in them but prophecies of nobler conquests in the future. Jesus of Nazareth, too, pointed His countrymen forward to a conflict, but it was with their own evil hearts. He promised to make them conquerors indeed, but it was over the impulses of their own fallen natures. He offered to be their leader, but it was in the warfare against an apostate world, where the victory to be achieved was to be first over themselves. For them the future was gilded by no visions of earthly renown. Their reward in this world was that they were to be "hated of all men for His name's sake."
 And in His footsteps His apostles trod. They were often solitary and derided laborers, but they planted their faith on the eternity of truth, not on the voice of numbers. Around them the world was lifting up its mocking voice. They were committed to a strife for life or death, where the motto was, "Woe to the conquered!" The system they were to found had arrayed against it the bitter hostility of the Jew--the pride of Grecian wisdom--the long-venerated superstitions of Egypt and the East--the widespread classical mythology which had grown up on the backs of the Ilissus--and everywhere all there was of evil in the human heart. Yet they went on, holding up the despised emblem of the cross, and striving only to awaken this world to a deeper, fuller, truer life. And thus the Church came forth, from its early home by the graves of the patriarchs, to inherit the earth.
But is there not danger, my brethren, lest in this age we should forget those lessons graven so deeply on the early records of our faith? When the world apparently smiles upon it, when its outward forms are honored, and that name which first the disciples assumed at Antioch has ceased to be a term of reproach, may not even we, whose duty it is to minister at the altar, begin insensibly to lower the high demands of the Gospel and to glide on with the current? In place of that faith, to uphold which apostles sacrificed their lives, may we not, even without being conscious of it, conform too much to the popular system of the day and imbibe its spirit? While the heralds of the cross [4/5] rejoice that multitudes wait on their ministry, and the hearts of men melt before the solemn truths they utter, and it seems as if thousands were bowing to the doctrines of our faith, may there not be a gradual lowering of all that is lofty and self-denying in the system they have adopted, till they cling to the cross with but a feeble grasp, and the early confessors would have recognized with difficulty the distinctive features of that Gospel for which they died?
It is well, then, my brethren, that at times we should go back to the early principles of our faith, and compare them with the system prevalent among us; for when a blight passes over the spirit of the Church, the sin rests with us who minister at its altars. The plague-spot of lukewarmness may be spreading over it, and a spiritual death paralyzing its strength, and yet we neglect to utter our stern rebukes to the frivolity and carelessness and worldliness which are eating out its very life. "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed." And thus our flocks are not elevated to a purer love or inspired with a more vigorous hope. Our influence is not lost merely as that of one who "speaketh into the air," [* 1 Cor. xiv. 9.] but it is most ruinous in its effects. The souls we should arouse to life are left to wither and die beneath the plague. The censer waves not in our hands [* Numbers xvi. 48.] as we stand between the living and the dead; and [5/6] fiends hold their jubilee while the world rushes on to ruin.
On this, then, the solemn festival of the Church, when we have come up to strengthen each other's hands in the warfare in which we are alike engaged, let us look over the world about us and estimate the characteristics of the Popular Religion of the Day, that we may see how far it falls short of that religion of the cross to publish which we have been set apart.
A popular religion, my brethren, in all ages is the same. It matters not under what dispensation it may exist, or what may be the form of the true faith, we always recognize in its perversion the same marked elements of character. It presents a partial, one-sided view, speaking of "ways of pleasantness and paths of peace," but making little mention of the conflict and the struggle. It turns from all the severer lessons we should learn, adopts the path which is obstructed by no obstacles and leads to no self-denial, allies itself with the lower impulses of our fallen nature, and makes the way to heaven far easier than our Lord described it or the experience of His true children have found it. It "heals" the spiritual wound "slightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace."
Thus it was, you perceive, that the prophet described it in the days of the Jewish State. They had a system of restraint and. discipline; a system in which lofty truths were shrouded in a drapery of outward rites; a system which could lead the [6/7] mind ever onward and upward to the glorious things of which these were but the shadows. But the worldly heart shrank from all that was thus high and ennobling. It contented itself with the outward shell, and pierced not through to the truth within. And God charges His ministers with being the cause of this defection. He says, "From the prophet even unto the priest, every one dealeth falsely." [* Jeremiah vi. 13.]
And such was the degeneracy which we find pictured in our Lord's day. The temple was indeed still thronged with its crowd of worshipers, and never were its gorgeous rites more faithfully performed; yet few were there in its courts who, like Anna and Simeon, day after day watched unto prayer, and looked out for the Consolation of Israel as intently as they who watch for the morning. On the one side were the Pharisees--the formalists of the nation--who referred everything to a round of outward rites; and on the other were the Sadducees, who had wandered far into the cold regions of unbelief, and stripped their faith of all those mysteries which alone invested it with power and glory. Such was the popular religion of the Jews.
Trace the progress of our faith down the stream of time, and so we shall find it has always been. Wherever was the reality, there the counterfeit was to be seen also. Wherever its holy doctrines appealed to all that was spiritual in man's nature [7/8]--wherever it sought to enlist the deepest sympathies of the soul--there came with it a shadowy resemblance, proffering an easier discipline, and thus the multitude were deluded. At one time it led men off by the errors of superstition; at another by offering the wildest freedom to the reason; but the result has ever been the prevalence of a gospel, which is not the Gospel of our Lord--the healing of all spiritual hurts slightly, and the cry of "Peace, peace," to them for whom there should be no peace.
But has time, my brethren, brought with it any lessons of wisdom to our generation? No; nor will it while there is so much in our nature which loves to welcome the falsehood. Christianity is apparently prosperous; its claims are now outwardly acknowledged by the great mass of men through the length and breadth of the land; its temples are everywhere seen, yet in how small a degree have the truths of the Gospel that hold which our Lord intended they should have! We, in our ministry, are called indeed to combat heresy and error, yet these are not the most difficult battles we are to wage. The enemy there is open and acknowledged. Far more trying is it to contend against that subtle spirit which allows thousands to publicly profess our faith, while it has stripped it of all that gives it worth and value, and leaves it only "a form of godliness without its power." It leads them on in a false security.
The, hurt, which requires all the skill of the Great Physician, is closed slightly, and the deluded [8/9] mortal goes forward to eternity whispering "peace" to himself, when a voice from heaven declares, "There is no peace!" Let us, then, briefly look at those characteristics of the popular religion of the day which are most opposed to all that is true and real.
The first trait, then, which attracts our attention is--the absence of that spiritual earnestness which marked earlier days. Our Lord declared, "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." He told His hearers to "strive"--that is, to agonize [* Luke xiii. 24.]--"to enter in at the strait gate." And apostles accumulated every figure which could unfold the same truth. They described the Christian as a combatant--as one who warreth--who must resist, if needs be, even unto blood, or he cannot come off more than conqueror. He is engaged in a race, straining every nerve that he may win from his competitor: "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, he presses toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." And even St. Paul, when he had endured trials manifold for the faith, feared lest, after all, "he himself should be a castaway." Oh! let us think of it, brethren, when we are tempted to be slothful in the service of our Lord--an apostle, whose life was one long scene of visible self-sacrifice, fearing lest, after all, by some remissness, he might fail of his reward! [9/10] But do we recognize in the easy faith of our day any lineaments of his ceaseless conflict? Alas, a crown of glory seems now to be considered the reward of indifference, as certainly as in the first centuries it was of martyrdom.
In those ages of faith, indeed, there was no question as to what constituted a Christian life, for all were forced to tread the same path as they toiled on to their reward. When men had listened to the news of the Gospel and bowed their hearts to its sway, by baptism they were admitted into the fold of the Church. Thus they "put on Christ," and professed themselves one with the faithful. In this way they commenced the Christian life, and with it their struggle against the world without and their own evil natures within--a struggle which ended not till the hour of death arrived, and the weary combatant threw aside the soiled and dinted armor of his earthly warfare to put on the white garments of the redeemed.
And still more striking was this in the care with which they gathered their children within the fold of the Church, and sought to guard them against every unhallowed influence. Then there was a reality in the child being "brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." It meant that ceaseless and holy care which should cause its baptismal grace to strengthen as life went on--its power expanding with the intellect, and thus preparing the young immortal for the higher scenes of Christian life to which it should ascend. But now I appeal to your own experience and your [10/11] own observation whether all this is not entirely reversed. How little care is taken that the young should grow up, like Timothy, from early childhood acquainted with those truths which are able to make them wise unto salvation! The world is suffered to grasp them with its thousand arms; the glory which rested on their opening career "fades into the light of common day," and soon all becomes "of the earth earthly." They are allowed to forget that they have been "made members of Christ, the children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven." Instead of this godly training, which should begin with the first dawning of the intellect, the hope only is expressed that in some future year the time of conversion will come, and that spiritual edifice which worldliness has despoiled be again built up. If "sin abounds," they trust that one day "grace will much more abound." It seems, indeed, to be considered a necessary allotment of life that the young should for years wander away from the fold of God and plunge into worldliness, at some future time to be redeemed and brought back.
And when that time has come--if, by God's grace, this prodigal son should once more be called to return to his Father's house--how do we find the change regarded? Is it a most serious one for him thus to cast aside the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime and alter his whole mental and moral state? No; it is looked upon by many as a work to be done in an instant--that the passage through the strait gate may be at once accomplished, and [11/12] the bondsman to iniquity, by one violent and convulsive effort, be freed from the chains which for so many years he has worn. They expect a whirlwind, as it were, to sweep him at once from the depths of sin to the very heights of Mount Zion. Without sounding the recesses of his own heart, without measuring the fearful distance he has wandered from God, he at once esteems himself a child of the light, and entitled to every promise of the Gospel. Such is the modern doctrine of the easiness of conversion.
And when he has taken the vows of Christ upon him, what is his future history? This should be with him only the beginning of his Christian life, but, as we before remarked, there is little that can be entitled to the name of a spiritual struggle. Instead of remembering that everything is yet to be done, that he must spend his life in conquering his earthly nature, and thus becoming "meet for an inheritance with the saints in light," he rests in the belief that the work is all accomplished. Thenceforth life glides on easy and naturally. He believes that he has "worked out his salvation," and therefore relapses back into his former pursuits with an easy and satisfied conscience. There is, of course, but little progress in the divine life, for this cannot be gained without conflict. He is only "a babe in Christ," if indeed he be in Christ at all. But yet he has no fear for his spiritual state. He looks back to a change which he believes once took place, and in this way dispels all alarm. And thus he passes his days in a spiritual [12/13] slumber. He relies upon no principles which have been wrought into his soul as an evidence of his discipleship, but rather upon his mere feelings--a test the most fallacious that can be conceived.
Now, what can such a person know of the deep and solemn mysteries of his own being, of that hidden and secret conflict which should be ceaselessly going on in the heart of every one between the principles of good and evil? As he toils along his path of worldliness, how little is done to purify the heart, and to bring its wayward tendencies in unison with the spirituality of God's law! Month after month he utters, indeed, the solemn Confession of the Church; but the very use of its words acts as an opiate to the conscience, and is accepted by him as the full proof of the existence of the spiritual mind.
And now, brethren, is not this one feature of the popular religion of the day--its want of spiritual earnestness? Alas, we see it on the right hand and on the left! It has infected the Church and paralyzed its strength. It has brought it down to the level of the world around. It has spread its leprosy over the hearts of thousands, and, unconscious of its influence, they slumber on while the world is weaving its toils about them.
Again, another trait of this popular religion is the absence of that deep spirit of repentance which in early days characterized our Lord's disciples. St. Paul thus described it in writing to the Corinthians: "Ye sorrowed after a godly sort; what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing [13/14] of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge." [* 2 Cor. vii. 11.] Here, certainly, we have no picture of any feeble or ephemeral sorrow, nor can we recognize its counterpart in the gentle regrets for sin which in this day are supposed to constitute repentance. And so it long continued to be. As the conflict of this lower life went on, the Christians of that age realized that each day brought with it much to be forgiven, that the record of each hour must be spread out with tears and sorrow before Him who seeth in secret. They felt that the last things of which they would take leave as they entered the gates of Paradise would be the tears of penitence.
Centuries passed by, and clouds of error gathered around to dim the brightness of the early Church, yet still on this point it preserved the strictness of its ancient discipline teaching its Children to accuse and condemn themselves now, that thus for Christ's sake they might obtain pardon, and not be accused and condemned in the day of judgment. [* Visitation of the Sick.] Still, while this severity had survived in its services, its members no longer preserved its spirit. Compare with this stern teaching of the ancient Church the spurious system of modern days. Look around you, and from your own observation see how little there is of this deep repentance. A [14/15] few faint desires, a few sorrows over the past--we may almost say a few sentimental sighs breathed over their manifold deficiencies--and the individual thinks the work is done. Should the conscience be troubled for oft-recurring sins, they are excused as the natural promptings of our evil nature, and thus there is an escape from all individual responsibility. The religion of the day has therefore become a sickly, superficial thing, which deprives repentance of its energy, which inspires its followers with vain confidence, so that when they "rejoice" they forget to do it "with trembling." It points to the glories of the Celestial City, but draws no picture of the Valley of Humiliation through which the Pilgrim first must pass. Thus the world is filled with nominal Christians, having a form of godliness, but ignorant of its life-giving power. [* Dr. Pusey's Letter, 1837.]
I will briefly mention one more characteristic of the popular religion of the day--the absence of self-denial. We should naturally expect this in a system which makes it an easy thing to turn from worldliness to become the child of God, and which strips repentance of its energy. And so we find it to be. The world loves to dwell upon the fullness and freeness of the Gospel, until making sacrifices for the good of the soul or practicing self-discipline appear often inconsistent, and are ranked by many with the errors of the dark ages. Even the doctrine of justification by faith is thus perverted to sear men's consciences, and lead [15/16] them to trust to a religion only of feeling. It was the case even in the first age, so that scarcely had the echoing tones of St. Paul died away, as he inculcated the great truth that we are "saved by faith," when our perverted nature hurried to the opposite extreme, and St. James was obliged to proclaim the declaration, "Faith without works is dead."
And now, in proof of this great practical error, look through the ranks of those who profess and call themselves Christians, and in what, in many cases, do they differ from others? Can we not too frequently see that their care is to gather around them all that can add to this world's comfort, while they are scarcely recognized as disciples of a crucified Master, except when they kneel at His altar? Do they often deny themselves anything to advance the Gospel? Does their ordinary life furnish any illustration of that announcement of our Lord. "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it"? What is theirs but the high polish of society--a mere civilization and refinement of mind which might exist entirely independent of the Gospel? There is nothing about it distinctly Christian.
"They cherish every grace
Except the cross--except the strenuous race."
I would ask, my brethren, whether in looking for any great sacrifices, any mighty efforts for our faith, where men devoted themselves and their worldly wealth to this cause, we are not generally [16/17] obliged to look to past ages? Not, for instance, of this generation or of this century are those magnificent structures in other lands which were but in truth the embodiment of the devotion of those who raised them. It is easy enough, indeed, to excuse ourselves, and say that these were the fruits of superstition, but I believe with the poet--
"They dreamt not of a perishable home, who thus could build."
I believe, too, even if superstition were mingled with it, that in the eyes of God the feeling was far more acceptable than that cold-hearted faith of our day which gives only what it can easily spare.
There is, in truth, a creed adopted, though often scarcely professed in words, which has two standards of Christian life and self-denial--the higher one for the early ages and laborers in heathen lands--the lower one for those who would have life glide easily away--and while they look forward to heaven as their ultimate recompense, they live now in perfect amity with the world. They read the records of those who in early times assumed sorrows voluntarily, and took up a living death as a cross they were to bear with them for Christ's sake. They behold their existence summed up by years of weariness and toil and watching, hardships without and struggles within, until, worn and sinking beneath the load, the moral martyr might well exclaim, like the apostle, "I die daily." "They loved not their lives unto the death," but the Christians of this day comfort [17/18] themselves with the thought that these men lived in days of persecution.
Or they turn to the story of men like Patteson in our own day, or Henry Martyn in the last generation, cutting themselves off from all that the heart holds most dear, offering every cherished feeling on the altar of Christian duty, and enduring almost self-annihilation. They behold the Melanesian bishop dying on that barbarous Pacific island by the hands of those he came to save. And with Henry Martyn, they see him wearing out his life beneath the burning sky of India, receiving only scornful and derisive words in answer to his earnest appeals, until the wearisome struggle ends at his dying bed at Tokat, as, plague-struck, he watched the coming of that hour whose arrival he had long been ready to welcome, that he might be with the Master, "for whose name's sake he had labored and had not fainted."
These were the noblest of human spectacles--the triumph of the spirit over the flesh, the steady crucifixion of self, till death closed the warfare. Yet these, they say, were foreign missionaries, and to such, therefore, they confine the drinking of the bitter cup, and the learning of the lesson that the end of life is, not happiness, but duty.
And so we might follow out in all things the spirit of modern days. To endeavor to lay up treasures in heaven, to lend our wealth to the Lord, realizing that He will pay us again a hundredfold, to consecrate ourselves, if needs be, to suffering, with a holy joy that we are "counted worthy to suffer affliction for Christ's sake," to make of this life a visible sacrifice for the next, are traits of Christian character for which we must look to other days, not to the faith as it is exhibited in the popular religion of the times.
Such then, Fathers and Brethren, is the spirit against which we are called to contend as we wage our warfare. And to meet it, to stem the current, to struggle on for the truth of God, in a round of daily duties where the foe seems to be intangible, and his blighting spirit is around us, though we cannot grasp him, is often more wearisome to the heart than it would have been to have lived in the days of the triumphant martyrs, and by one heroic effort have submitted even unto death. Yet "thereunto are we called." And thus is forced upon us the lesson that life is no season for pleasant pastime, but a conflict and a warfare. Let us, then, so regard it; and if trials come, as come they must while we proclaim truths so opposed to the human heart, let us remember that, like the apostle, we also must do our share to "fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ, for His body's sake, which is the Church."
But when the end is reached, then the faithful laborer will realize that noble truth contained in the line of the poet--
"The glory dies not, and the grief is past."
The conflict at last is over, and instead of "the contradiction of sinners," and the coldness of those who wish religion to be, not a thing of life, but of [19/20] death, to be called in at the last hour, when this world has deserted them, his companionship will be with those who, in the words of our Lord, "all live unto God."
There no darkness gathers, no blight is felt, no changing seasons come,--no disappointed hopes cast their shadows over life;--but all is secured in unfading glory to the Children of Immortality. And this is the heritage of the wearied laborer when the evening shades gather, and the Master comes to give him his wages.