PREACHED AT THE OPENING
Protestant Episcopal Church,
September 5, 1838.
BY THE RIGHT REV. WILLIAM MEADE, D. D.
ASSISTANT BISHOP OF VIRGINIA.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York 2009
THUS SAITH THE LORD, STAND YE IN THE WAYS, AND SEE, AND ASK FOR THE OLD PATHS, WHERE IS THE GOOD WAY, AND WALK THEREIN, AND YE SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.--Jer. vi. 16.
METHINKS I hear some one say, could the preacher of this day find no other, save this old and hackneyed text, this text so often and confidently quoted by the bigot, who sees his own church and tenets in almost every line of holy writ and every practice of primitive times? Could he come before us with no other words but these, so for ever in the mouth of the old man who loves to upbraid the present generation, and to boast of the glory of former days?
And because our text may have been often used and sometimes abused, is there no virtue left in it; must it be laid aside for ever? God forbid! We know that there is a spirit of complaining in man which often misapplies the text, that the old man fondly referring to the days of his youth will sigh for their return as though they were the days of Eden's purity and bliss. The preacher has often heard such language from the lips of the aged concerning a period and condition of the church in his native state, over whose disgrace it became the pious rather to mourn and weep. Often has he been tempted to reply unto such in the words of the wise man, "Say not thou what is the cause that the former times were better than these, for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this thing."
Old ways are not necessarily good ways. Many old things ought to pass away for ever and be forgotten, or only remembered with grief and shame. All other things being equal, however, old things should be preferred to the new. Although old age standeth not in length of years, wisdom being the grey hair to man, and an unspotted life old age; yet when wisdom, an unspotted life and grey hairs are found together, how lovely and venerable the sight. So with old paths when worn by the footsteps of saints [3/4] and leading to heaven, how holy and blessed are they! How sweet the rest to which they lead! Such were the old paths mentioned in the text, and which cannot be too often pointed out to successive generations of travellers to eternity. Think not then of my text as the oft-used saying of some bigot to his sect, or of some querulous old man; but remember its first words. What are they? Thus saith the Lord. What doth the Lord say? Stand ye in the ways, that is, the many doubtful ways of blind bewildered man, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and ye shall find rest for your souls. It is God, not man, that speaks; and so long as individuals, churches and nations are prone to forsake the paths in which the Lord once led them, so long is there use for the text. Whenever they do depart from the same, wandering into strange paths, it is the duty of God's ministers to bid them inquire for the old paths and walk therein; or even when there may be no special cause for rebuke it is good to stir up pure minds by way of remembrance of the old paths.
Let us inquire then into the true meaning of our text, for we do not wish to make it suit the purposes of a party, or bend and accommodate it to some favourite but less important and perhaps disputed peculiarities of a church. Perhaps one might say, what are these old paths but the statutes and ordinances of the Lord which are on record? What have we to do but go to the law and testimony? "The Bible, the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants," and of that must we inquire for the old paths.
Our text unquestionably pays the first and highest honour to that holy volume; but if I mistake not, it also refers to the doctrines and precepts of the same as understood and practised by those in whom the Spirit of the Lord was, and whose ways are held up to the imitation of successive generations. We all know that while the tongue may persuade, it is the life which commands; and therefore God has graciously given us bright examples of holiness to illumine and smooth our path to heaven. Is there not something most cheering and strengthening to the heart in the thought and assurance, that the wise and pious have understood and practised the religion of the [4/5] Bible in the very same way in the best ages and purest states of the church of God, so that we have not only the Bible in its letter, but the plainest and most practical exhibitions of its spirit in the lives of the righteous, that we have some fixed standards for our faith, and worship, and conduct. In this present age, especially, there is much comfort to the mind of the preacher in the thought, that there are some old and sure paths towards heaven in which we may walk with certainty, and that we have not to strike out into any new, untried, and as some think, nearer ones. This is an age of discovery, of great enterprise, and of some high improvements. No bounds are set to the efforts and expectations of man whose motto is, "attempt great things, expect great things." There is something in the human mind which still says, "we shall be as gods;" we can and we will scale the heavens; we can and will draw near to the distant planets, by signs at least we may hold converse with their inhabitants; we will think it no robbery to seize upon some of the attributes of Deity, and by the exercise of our sovereign will invest the sleeper with more than an archangel's wing and vision; and what shall be kept from us, seeing that we soar already far above proud Babel's highest pinnacle. I remember that three years since, at the close of our last General Convention, a communication appeared in our public papers announcing with all the forms of sincerity and truth, that a celebrated astronomer of the old world, had by means of an instrument of mighty power made a near approach to the moon; that he had clearly seen not merely mountains, seas and lakes, but temples and private houses, the worshippers and the inhabitants, clearly discerning their different pursuits. That such a thing should be written in this age of fraud and fiction is not surprising, but that it should be received so readily as it was by great numbers was indeed to be regretted, and is only to be accounted for by the fact that there is a general, and deep, and unwarranted impression upon many minds of an almost unlimited expansion of the powers of man, and advancement in the knowledge of things hitherto unknown. That very great improvements and discoveries in the arts and sciences have been made, and may yet be made, we admit and are pleased to admit. [5/6] We heartily rejoice in them as sure proofs of the high susceptibilities of our nature, and because they strengthen our faith in those wonderful things yet to come in a future state, which eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, and the heart never conceived. Even though some of these speculations and anticipations be carried to an extravagant height still they are comparatively harmless. We may not merely disregard the winds and waves, and taking a direct course over the wide Atlantic, by the mighty power of steam reach the shores of England in a few short days and nights, but we may delight ourselves before-hand in the thought (so confidently encouraged by a philosopher of the day) that ere long missionaries and bibles in ample abundance will ascend the regions of air, and on the swift wings of the wind, in safe aerial arks, sail over Christian lands and alight, as so many angels from heaven, amongst the inhabitants of Thibet and Tartary, China and Hindostan. These, and such as these, we can and do read and hear, and smile at the same, and wish the prophets, "in their fine frenzy rolling," more than the fulfilment of all their aerial visions. But there is something, Christian brethren, which we cannot and will not, because we ought not, thus read and hear, smiling at the same. When we read and hear, as sometimes we are forced to do, that as in arts and sciences, so also in our blessed religion--the whole hope of our immortal souls for ever--discoveries are yet to be made, of which the wisest and best in the kingdom of God have been utterly ignorant; that the true sense of scripture has been but little elicited; that the Bible is comparatively a sealed book, or our eyes yet unopened, I confess my heart sinks within me, and I ask, Is this the highway to heaven, once so plain that wayfaring men, though fools, need not err therein? Is this that blessed Gospel which was preached to the poor, and concealed, as it were, from the wise and prudent, because in the pride of their hearts they despised a thing so simple, so suited to babes? I grant that the revelation of Divine truth has been by gradual developments in successive dispensations, rising like the sun and shining more and more unto the perfect day. But did not the darkness pass away and the true light come in him who brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel? Are [6/7] not Christians the children of the light and the day? Where is the intimation of some new dispensation of more glorious light on this side of heaven?
Brethren, this is not a subject for bold or curious speculation. Let men cultivate the arts and sciences to the utmost--let them, if they please, attempt aerial flights--let them make all manner of experiments, and imagine all manner of theories on every subject under heaven--save one--but when they approach that, let them take their shoes from off their feet, for the ground is holy. Where God hath spoken let not man dream or speculate, but rather humbly hear the plain words of heaven, nor imagine that far more is meant than has been said. Let not the humble, sincere, and even the intelligent reader of scripture, be now told that he has scarce learned any thing as he ought to have learned. Almost as well go back some hundred years and give our faith and hope into the keeping of a few clerks and priests, and leave unread a book which though for thousands of years the object of anxious study, is yet, it seems, unknown--its mere letter and surface seen by the eye.
Brethren, my soul rejoices in the thought that it is not thus with us, but that when we enter upon a subject so deeply interesting to man as that of religion, we can look back and see the same old paths in which our fathers walked with God and found rest for their souls. O! there is comfort and security to the soul in knowing that to us, as to our fathers, is there the very same church of the living God--the same old road to heaven, though enlarged and beautified and trodden by the feet of increasing millions of the saints and pilgrims of the Lord. It is a true article of our faith "that the Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament, everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only mediator between God and man, being both God and man."
To our text then let us turn, endeavouring to find out and apply its true meaning; not seeking by force to adapt it to some favourite opinions of our own, or peculiar practices of the church of our choice, but to use it as God would have us, seeking the mind of the Lord, asking for the old paths in which [7/8] the Lord led his people and in which his people loved to walk and be perfect before him.
And can there be any doubt or difficulty in this? What were these old paths but those in which Adam, ere he fell, and righteous Abel, and holy Enoch, and the sons of God with faithful Noah, walked, and were perfect in their generations? What were they but the same in which Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph continued to walk, while others were departing from the Lord and corrupting their way upon earth? What were they but those in which Moses, the man of God, and Joshua and Samuel and David and the Prophets walked, according to the commandments of the Lord? God has never at any time left himself without some faithful witnesses whom he reserved to illustrate by their holy lives the nature of true piety, and to be held up to successive generations as examples worthy of imitation. Some precious seasons of grace, some sweet times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord has he always granted to his church, which to the true hearted in the midst of their sorrowings have been like the green spots to the suffering eye of the traveller on the sun-burnt sandy plains of Africa's wide deserts. Such were, doubtless, the days of Enoch and the sons of God, when they called upon the name of the Lord, before they married with the fair but ungodly daughters of men. Such were the days of the Patriarchs after the waters of the deluge had purified the earth, until in their madness men began again to bid defiance unto heaven. Such were the days of Joshua and of those who outlived Joshua, who remembered the mighty works of the Lord. How good, under the guidance of the text, to look back to the faith and patience and zeal of those interesting times, and call upon our souls to follow the footsteps of these saints of the Lord. Though the light which shone upon their path was dim, yet it was light from heaven--the dawn of our own perfect day--faint rays from the same sun of righteousness which now pours its bright mid-day beams upon us. By that light they walked uprightly and "obtained a good report," doing worthy deeds "by which, though dead, they yet speak to us." They lived as "pilgrims and sojourners upon earth," going out readily in a spirit of faith at the [8/9] command of God, not knowing whither. One thing was certain; they were always looking for a better--that is, an heavenly country--a city that had foundations, whose maker and builder was God; and God was not ashamed to be called their God. One hesitated not to offer up his own, his only son, at God's command. Another, not caring to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; having respect to the recompense of reward, he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. I mention only these few faithful witnesses who walked in the old paths. According to the Apostle, there was a great cloud of them; numerous were they as the drops of water in a great cloud, and by them did he urge Christians to run with patience the race that was set before them. But are there no other bright examples of godliness, walking in old paths and finding rest in the good way? Were it sinning against the truth of the text and departing from the allowed use of scripture to apply the same to men who have lived and things done since the days of the prophet Jeremiah? Did not our Lord and the Apostles often use passages of the Old Testament by way of illustration in a sense and for a purpose not originally designed, so that it is not always very easy to perceive when they are used in a spirit of accommodation, and when as the fulfilment of actual prophecy? May we not, therefore, say of some other blessed periods of the church, and some other holy ways thereof, "Inquire ye for the old paths and find the good way?" Has no new light been shed from heaven since the days of the prophet; no new witnesses to the truth been raised up; no more glorious things been done for the church of God? Speaking of the days of Jesus Christ, and comparing them with the dark and terrific ones of the former dispensation, the Apostle says, "For ye are not come unto the mount which might be touched; that burned with fire; nor unto blackness and darkness and tempest; but unto Mount Zion; the heavenly Jerusalem; to an innumerable company of angels; to the general assembly of the church of the first-born which are written in heaven; to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, [9/10] which speaketh better things than that of Abel." Was there, indeed, such a time to the church of God, when the Lord visited it and did glorious things for it; when old things passed away and all things became new? Did the children of God walk as the children of marvellous light and the sons of a glorious liberty? Was the standard of holiness raised aloft and such things done as had never before been seen? Was the church of God then a praise to him upon earth and a pattern to be followed in after ages? Then surely a minister of God, speaking on such an occasion as this, might, even from the words of this ancient text, say, Inquire ye for the old paths of Christ and his Apostles, and the holy fathers, and walk in the same, and ye shall find rest. Yea, more; if at any time the church should have lost her first love; if Satan should have prevailed; but if God should have put the spirit of his Apostles into some valiant reformers who should again revive true piety in the church; neither would we hesitate to say to their successors, if declining in zeal, inquire ye for the old paths of those holy and valiant spirits who laid down their lives in the defence of the faith once delivered to the saints.
Permit me then, brethren and friends, assembled together in General Convention, after these reasons for choosing the text, and these explanations of the same, to detain you for a short time, while I refer to some of these old paths of the church of God.
In the first place, rejoicing with you whenever by the grace of God we have kept to these paths.
In the second place, exhorting to a return to those from which we may have in any measure departed.
And, in the third place, warning against certain dangers and temptations to which we are exposed at this time and which might lead us far away from these old paths.
I. To show that we are not disposed to follow those who think that the former days are always, and in all things, better than our own, we will delight to trace a very remarkable and pleasing resemblance between the church in which we minister at this day and the primitive church, in some important and interesting particulars which identify them together and make us feel that we are a part of that [10/11] church which was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone. It is well known to the Christian world that it was the declared and most anxious desire and study of the reformers of our church and the framers of our liturgy, to select from the canons, creeds and liturgies of the primitive church, all those things relating to faith, discipline and worship, which were most conformable to the word of God. Next to the scriptures these, though fallible, were the standards to which they referred. [* In a work written by Timothy Puller, D. D., on the moderation of the Church of England, we have the following confirmation of the above remark. "Concerning the testimony of the Fathers, the Church of England hath observed the same wise moderation in her judgment and use of them also; no where judging of them as unliable to error, according to the arguing of the 21st article. Because they are but men, and sometimes have erred in things pertaining to God; neither hath our church any where swallowed their errors, through the veneration of their piety and antiquity. Yet, because of their proximity to the apostolic times and the just authority in the church, which for their learning and piety they have obtained, and all along hath been given them, our church in her monuments gives a great deference to their judgment, testimony and practice. Thus in the 31st canon it is written, "Forasmuch as the ancient fathers of the church, led by the example of the apostles, appointed, etc.--we, following their holy and religious example, do constitute and decree--and again, canon 32, according to the judgment of the ancient fathers and the practice of the primitive church, we do ordain. And again, in canon 60--forasmuch as it hath been a solemn, ancient, and laudable custom in the church of God, continued from the apostles times, that, etc.--we therefore will and appoint, etc. In king Edward the Sixth's proclamation, before the Common Prayer Book, the reason for our forms and rites is justified from the practice of the primitive church, and in the preface concerning the service of the church. Here you have an order for prayer and reading the holy scripture much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old fathers. And in many other places where they are named, and where they are not named, the footsteps of their ancient piety have very discernible impressions throughout the whole constitution of the church. Wherefore, he says, "Let such authority and reverence be continued to the ancient and orthodox fathers, as may be subject to the determination, truth and authority of the holy scriptures. For always the ancient fathers themselves refused any other kind of honour or respect, frequently admonishing the reader, that he admits their opinions or interpretation but as far as he sees them agree with the holy writings."]
They delighted to retain as much as possible of the language, order of service, and forms of the primitive church. [* Neither is there any impropriety in the language of our worship, only as language, which is the clothing of our thoughts, must of course wear old, as doth a garment, so, as a garment, some words and phrases of ancient usage have been changed into terms suitable to the language of the present time. Now this is no proof of impropriety in the sense, which is not itself changed, but only clothed anew. However, this alteration hath and must always happen even to the word of God, the holy Bible, which, through the variations of language is forced, age after age, to get into new translations, as into new raiment, to preserve itself from the derision, from the cruel mockings of the scorner. For the same reason and by the same steps as the Bible, our liturgy hath reformed its language, "for the more perfect rendering (as the church alleges) not only such portions of holy scripture as are inserted into it, but also such other passages, which, through the decays of time became obsolete, or of doubtful signification," and so liable to scorn and misconstruction. Not but the old language is well retained at the altar, being venerable for its age, as these who wait at it are for their grey hairs: ancient language and ancient men, if they offend not through decay, give a reverence and dignity to that solemn work.--Bisse’s Beauty of Holiness in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 16.]
 They wisely judged it to be a safe course to copy from those holy, resolute, devoted, heavenly-minded men, who lived nearest to the times of our Lord and his Apostles, who laboured in the same field on which they toiled, carried on the same work which they begun, and heard from the lips of the disciples those things which our Lord spake concerning his kingdom, during the last forty days and nights which he spent upon earth. No wonder, then, that there should be so remarkable a coincidence in many things of worship, doctrine, and discipline, and that our church should be endeared to the hearts of all who are able to trace the similitude by its numerous expressions, petitions, forms and usages which have come down to us almost unchanged from such high and holy antiquity.
Where shall I begin with my congratulations on this subject? Shall I speak of the resemblance in all important points between our church polity and that of primitive and apostolic times? What need is there, seeing that so many public sermons make mention of it--that so many tracts and volumes trace it out, and that there is but one sentiment among us on the subject? Who but reads in scripture and other books, of the "divers orders of ministers" in God's ancient church? Who does not meet with the same in the Christian church, established by our Lord and the Apostles, transmitted to the fathers, and continued in unbroken succession to the present day? In this old path our church has always trodden and found rest therein.
Shall I speak of our unity in faith and doctrine with the primitive church? How can we differ, seeing that we use the same creeds which formed an important part of their regular [12/13] service. How many millions of God's saints have, in the very same words, solemnly uttered their belief in all the great articles of the Christian faith from the early ages of the church. What a communion must thus be produced in the minds of men on these important subjects. In how many other parts of our own and the primitive liturgies are the great distinguishing doctrines of the Christian faith set forth. Witness that of the holy, undivided and glorious Trinity. How carefully has the church guarded it, in every age, against the gates of hell. Who can tear it from our own or any primitive liturgy without scattering them all in ten thousand fragments to the winds? [* Now what is this doxology to the eternal Trinity thus enlarged and perfected, but that of the church in heaven, which worships before the throne, crying "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." And as they above repeat it continually, it can be no blame in us to do it frequently. And truly this form of sound and excellent words being so often rehearsed in our service, and that alternately by the minister and people, and thus mutually exciting and confirming each other's faith, it must be their best guard against the attempts of some moderns, whereof one is so wild as to revive that very corruption of Arius, saying "Glory be to the Father, by the Son, in the Holy Ghost."--Bisse's Beauty of Holiness in the Book of Common Prayer.] In every repetition of the doxology, after psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, we renew a declaration of our faith in the adorable Trinity, confirming and strengthening the same. Who can unite in the Te Deum, the Gloria Patri, Gloria in Excelsis, our Liturgy, Communion, and other services, without believing in the Three Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit? Whence came all the doxologies and ascriptions of praise and prayers? Without an exception, from the liturgies of ancient times, which copied them, if not always in the very words yet in the substance, from the Holy Scriptures. [* The Gloria in Excelsis was also called the Angelical hymn, from beginning with the words of the song of the angels, "Glory be to God on High." This was chiefly used in the communion service. The Trisagion, or Cherubical hymn, was originally in these words--"Holy! holy! holy! Lord God of Hosts; heaven and earth are full of thy glory; who art blessed for ever. Amen." This was formerly used in the middle of the communion service. The Hallelujah was generally sung upon Easter-day, and was used by all the people. Augustine terms it the Christian's sweet call, whereby they invited one another to sing praises unto Christ.] When we examine into some of these venerable relics which have come down to us from ancient times, and [13/14] meet with so many well-known and hallowed ejaculations and supplications, we almost feel as if we were engaged in our own beloved liturgy.
I would especially notice one thing common to our own and the ancient liturgies. Our prayers are many though forming one service, being broken into short expressive collects, and always conclude with the name of the blessed Saviour. Just so was it in the primitive liturgies. One only plea was put up, and that plea was mercy through Christ. Through thy Christ, for thy Christ's sake, were the last words of every prayer, except such as were offered up immediately to the Son himself, as in the prayer of St. Chrysostom, the last of our service, which was addressed to the Son himself. [* However clearly soever the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ is set forth in our articles and homilies, yet is it much more effectually done by interweaving of it in all our prayers and offices, making it the Alpha and Omega of the Prayer-book as it is of the Bible. Well did Luther call this blessed doctrine "Articalus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae." No church can enjoy the blessing of Heaven except this great cardinal truth be clearly, emphatically, continually, and most earnestly preached. The Prayer-book does its part, let the ministry do theirs. It is said that a certain builder being engaged to construct a large and splendid temple, resolved to perpetuate his name, not by engraving on one of the stones or pillars, but by so arranging all the parts of the front thereof, the windows, doors, projections, recesses, etc., that when the whole was finished, to the astonishment of all, there was the name of the architect, standing forth in bold relief, and so incorporated with the house that both must stand or fall together. So has this great truth been interwoven with the liturgy and offices of the church, that to obliterate it, you must destroy the whole.] This is a most blessed feature in our service and was in theirs. It was a strict compliance with the Saviour's direction that we should ask for every thing in his name. [* It is related of the celebrated Dr. Samuel Johnson, the giant of English literature, that breakfasting on a certain occasion with a friend, and perceiving that in saying grace he omitted the name of Christ, he was much affected and earnestly remonstrated with him on the subject, begging that he would never again be guilty of such an omission.] The church seems fearful to utter many words in prayer, to put up more than one or two petitions without stopping and mentioning the name of God's dear Son, and entreating his intercession. What an effectual method of impressing this great doctrine on the heart.
Having said thus much as to our agreement in doctrine and the mode of setting it forth, let me briefly allude to a close resemblance even in gestures and forms. Are we sometimes [14/15] called upon to fall low on our knees before the Lord in humble supplication, and then to rise up and stand before Him and lift up our voices in praise? The primitive church had her days and seasons when all must kneel, and those on which it was forbidden to kneel, praise being comely on those days, and standing the comely posture for praise. Is it now our custom, when certain choice portions of the gospel are read, for the people to rise up and hear it standing, as if Christ himself were speaking. So did the Christians of old stand up and listen to the gospel. Do we on our first entrance into the church fall on our knees and offer up a short prayer in silence before the Lord? Do we in that most impressive service which invests the well-proved deacon with higher orders, call upon every soul in whom is the spirit of prayer to fall upon their knees, and for the space of a few moments engage in silent entreaty with the Lord, and is this ever so done as to surprise and overawe the whole assembly, and almost constrain the ungodly to pray! Why do we these things? Because the fathers did the same, only much more frequently in the midst of these solemn services ages since. Does the minister at this day, when about to break the bread and pour out the wine of our Lord's Supper to humble recipients, say to them in words commanding and encouraging, "Lift up your hearts," and the people immediately respond, "We lift them up unto the Lord?" These very words were taken warm from the lips of God's best ministers and best people in the best days of the church. By how many millions of God's ministers and saints have these words been uttered each Sabbath throughout all Christendom, from the times of which I speak to the present moment! In dispensing the sacred elements also, does the officiating priest or bishop, lifting up the same, utter the well known words, "The body or blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life." O who can number the myriads of voices that have uttered and ears that have heard these sweet sounds, these blessed benedictions in the use of the sacramental services from the times of the holy fathers to the present day! They were the very same then as now, saving only that change which must be in passing from one language to another. [15/16] And what shall I say of the Lord's prayer so often on our lips, so blended with every service of the church, proceeding first from the lips of Him who alone can teach us how to pray? This was the very beginning of all Christian liturgies. On this as a foundation were they built, the superstructures rising gradually and variously in the different churches planted by the apostles. But the foundation was never forgotten or removed. When we use these words in our various services, sometimes again and again on the same Sabbath, can we otherwise than think with emotions of gratitude to its author of that communion of the hearts of the faithful produced by the use of these same words for eighteen centuries every day, every hour, by the countless myriads that have uttered them? Is it not probable that more true prayer has gone up to heaven through the medium of these few words than of any or all other forms ever used among men?
To what has been said as to forms and prayers, I might add that as to all the great festivals of the church, such as Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, we have not turned into any new and untried paths, but in celebrating them are merely walking in the old and well-trodden ways of our fathers. And who does not love them the more for the traces of our fathers' steps seen therein? And if any would wish to see other striking resemblances between things in our own and the primitive churches, let him only take up the various collections of canons which are yet extant, and he will be surprised and pleased to see how clearly we have copied after them in many of our own. Our church has wisely and reverently learnt many an useful lesson from the experience of primitive times. In the relative duties, rights and privileges of the clergy and laity, in the distinctions between the different orders in the ministry, in the deportment of bishops and dioceses one towards another, in the union of priests with the bishop in laying on of hands upon the candidates for the priest's office, and the number of bishops required for the consecration of a brother to the Episcopal office; in these and many such like things we have simply and strictly followed the example of the primitive churches.
In only one other respect will I allude to a happy resemblance. [16/17] Our bishops, like those of primitive times, are, thank God, preachers of the gospel, examples in this as in all other things to other ministers. Nay, they must of necessity be more abundant in labours than all others if strength be given. Circumstances beyond our control have indeed diffused our labours over large tracts of country in search of the few shepherds with their small flocks scattered over the same; but as these circumstances shall change, and by the blessing of God our churches and ministers multiply, we shall gladly I trust in this respect also imitate the primitive church, and by timely and judicious divisions of our dioceses bring each congregation under the frequent sound of the bishop's voice, and let each chief shepherd know his sheep and be known of them. Now and then may each bishop of the church be in preaching as Paul was, and as he enjoined it upon Timothy and Titus to be. Like the primitive bishops may they be the chief preachers, full of sermons and exhortations, thus confirming all the churches and holding up the hands of every other preacher.
One remark permit me now to make, closing all I have to say on this part of my discourse. Concerning prayers, ceremonies, and the language of their creeds and some matters of discipline, there was at the first, even for a few centuries, some diversity among the churches, the substance of the faith being the same in all. But the true nature of Christian liberty was too well understood by them, and the spirit of Christian love was too strong in their hearts to let this diversity of form or language separate them from each other. They agreed thus to differ in things not essential to the faith, and lived so as to force their enemies to say, "See how these Christians love one another." May that same spirit prevail ever among us, as to things of minor importance, and as to doctrines too high for us.
The time came when it was expedient that a number of small and independent churches or dioceses should unite together in some common, well-digested liturgies, framed out of the many used, and in some common unvarying creeds as the Apostles and Nicene. In that respect also the church in America resembles the earlier churches. Though in some things distinct and independent, yet have we agreed in one [17/18] common Liturgy--the most perfect we think of all--and in some common principles and general laws, for the preservation of unity and peace. Long may that union subsist, and that Liturgy be maintained in its purity and integrity. Adhering to the wise policy which has hitherto governed all the acts of our General Convention, a policy so often and earnestly urged by the venerable father who is no longer to preside over our councils, that is, forbearing to legislate one step beyond the actual needs of the church, may we long exhibit to the world the delightful spectacle of a number of Christian societies, living together in happy harmony and meeting together to strengthen the bonds of love which have hitherto encircled them. And though it may be impossible for our ecclesiastical union to survive that political severance sometimes so fearfully threatened, yet who shall say, but that our happy meetings here from all parts of our land, and our union at all times in so many things which bind hearts together before the throne of heaven, may not under God postpone that day of political disunion, and the church, instead of being sustained and kept together by the state, be the means of supporting for a while her sinking pillars, her tottering walls?
II. In the second place, having, as was proposed, rejoiced to find ourselves walking in some of the good old paths of the Lord and his people, it would be well to inquire whether we are walking before the Lord in all things zealously as did our fathers. Whether we speak of the Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles or the Fathers, they were truly and emphatically men of faith. Living at, or near unto, the time when either by angels, or in the person of Christ, God visited the earth and spake unto men, accompanying his word by wonderful signs, these men lived as "nothing doubting," as though God had just left off from speaking unto them; there was no wavering--no halting between two opinions with them--no compromising with the world--no fearing of man. With a holy zeal and boldness they went forth to their duty, counting not life itself dear unto them, so they might secure the favour of heaven. Taking up their cross daily and following him, the first disciples of Christ boldly said, "Who can separate us from his love?" No peril, no tribulation, famine or sword moved them [18/19] from their integrity. They were ready at any moment to die for Christ. How bold were they to rebuke vice in every shape; yea, even to reprove kings at God's command! Whether it were Daniel in the court of Darius--Nathan in that of David--or Paul in the palace of the Caesars--the Spirit of God spake boldly out by the mouths of these holy men. How Felix trembled before Paul the prisoner, when he reasoned on righteousness, temperance and judgment to come! How boldly did the same declare as to all the vices of men, secret or open, the gross or the pleasant ones--the revellings, the banquetings of the sons and daughters of pleasure, "That they who do such things shall never enter into the kingdom of heaven." The canons, and the discipline of the first ages, show clearly to us what was the religion of those days, how separate from sinners, how unspotted from the world, both priests and people were required to be.
[*The following canons show the sense of the primitive church as to certain evil places and practices.
Let the bishop, priest, or deacon who spends his time in dice or drinking either desist or be deposed; the sub-deacon, reader, singer, or layman be deposed.--35th of the apostolical canons so called.
In the Laodicean canons, 53, 54, 55, we find the following:--That they of the priesthood and clergy ought not to gaze at fine shows, at weddings, or other feasts, but before the musicians enter, to rise up and retreat. That they of the priesthood and clergy, or even laity, ought not to club together for great eating and drinking bouts. That Christians ought not to use wanton dancings at their marriages; but to have a modest dinner and supper.
Also in the African code in the 15th canon it is written, "Let not the sons of clergymen manage public shows, nor even be spectators of them: and it has always been enjoined on all Christians, that they go not where blasphemy is used.
In Bingham's Antiquities, as abridged by Henry, we find, page 239, the following statement of the sentiments and practice of the primitive church.
"Besides acts of impurity the church was strict in regard to all things that tended to it--as the writing or reading of lewd books, frequenting theatres or spectacles against modesty, promiscuous and wanton dancing, songs, riotous and intemperate feasting, etc. All these things were punished with excommunication and penance, and in the case of clergymen with degradation."]
The rich were charged faithfully to abound in good works and be glad to distribute, and they set an example before the world never seen before.
The young were trained in paths of holiness in such a way as they never had been before, nor ever since. God's ancient people, the Jews, had done much in this way. Line upon line, precept upon precept, had they given to their children out of God's law, writing its precepts upon their gates, their [19/20] windows, their doors, their garments, their foreheads, and their hands. Much has been done in these latter days in our blessed Sunday schools for the younger children. But what all this compared to the constant, daily, systematic, thorough instruction of the Christian youth in the catechetical schools of primitive times? What all done by ministers and others compared with the careful, prayerful, long-continued instruction of candidates for baptism? O that all our schools and colleges could be baptized as they were with the Holy Ghost! O that we were once more in that good old path in which the children of the faithful were trained for heaven. Never shall we have that great army of preachers without which the hosts of hell will not be vanquished, until our schools are consecrated to the Lord and used as nurseries for young soldiers of the cross.
Nor let us fear boldly to follow in that path so trodden by the preachers of the first ages of our religion--the path of zealous, frequent, faithful preaching of the gospel, that power of God to the salvation of the soul. The Saviour and his apostles took the lead. The fathers followed after. From house to house, in the temple, in the synagogue, in season, out of season, they preached the word of God. No matter who forbade, preach they would. No invidious comparisons were then made between prayers and sermons. Both were of God. Both were necessary. Many were the prayers, many were the sermons. The word preached, was yea and amen from the lips of many preachers, the one confirming what the other said, and the bishops crowning all with the word of exhortation and the blessing. The Jewish and Christian Sabbaths were both observed, and many were the days of prayer and exhortation beside; nor seemed it righteous overmuch to the faithful in that day thus often to meet together.
As to the preaching of God's word, my brethren, you well know how a time came when that almost ceased in the church of God, ceremonies and ordinances being nearly all that remained to the priest's office. But remember that religion, too, was well-nigh extinct at that time, Christianity being little more than a name or form. The Reformers were preachers, bold and fearless ones, and the Romanists dreaded [20/21] the sound of their voice even more than the thunder of the Vatican, for as a trumpet it proclaimed to the world all their abominations. O for thousands of such preachers as Paul, and Barnabas, and Chrysostom, and Cyprian, and Augustine, and Luther, and Calvin, and Melancthon, and Cranmer, and Latimer, and Ridley, and Hooper, to preach to this dull and lukewarm age, the glorious doctrines of a crucified Redeemer, to wake it up from that deathlike slumber which has come over it. [* It was frequently the case that two or three sermons were preached in succession at the same assembly, first by the presbyters and then by the bishop, who, when present, usually closed this part of the service. Thus the apostolical constitutions say, "When the Gospel is read, let the presbyters one by one, but not all, speak the word of exhortation to the people, and last of all, the bishop, who is the governor or pilot of the ship." The same thing appears from Chrysostom's sermons, preached when a presbyter at Antioch, in which he alludes to the bishop as intending to preach after him in some such form as this, "It is now time for me to keep silence, that our master may have time to speak." When two or more bishops happened to be together it was usual for several of them to preach in immediate succession, reserving the last place to the most venerable person. In some places they had a sermon every day, especially in Lent and during the festival days of Easter, and many passages of ancient authors speak of sermons twice a day upon special occasions. Before beginning the sermon it was usual in many places to say, "Peace be with you," or "The Lord be with you." To which the people answered, "And with thy spirit." This has been incorporated into our service. Sometimes at the beginning and at others in the midst of their sermons, they would address short invocations, as that which Ambrose is said to have used: "I beseech thee, O Lord, and earnestly entreat thee, give me an humble knowledge which may edify; put into my mouth the word of consolation, and edification, and exhortation. Let the words which thou givest thy servant be as the sharpest darts and burning arrows which may penetrate and inflame the minds of my hearers to thy fear and love." Their sermons were extemporaneous and sometimes pre-composed, and varied as to length from ten minutes to an hour. When more than one preached, they must have delivered the shorter exhortations or sermons.--See Henry's Abridgment of Bingham.]
Let me point you to another old and hallowed path, worthy to be trodden by far more than now seem willing to follow the footsteps of the Patriarchs, and Apostles, and Fathers. I mean the path that turns to the Gentiles. O for more of that spirit which Christ breathed into the apostles when he commanded them to go into all the world, preaching the gospel and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. What must have been the zeal of those whose sound was so soon heard in all the world, their words reaching unto the ends of the earth? What necessity--what wo was upon [21/22] them, unless they preached the gospel every where. The field was the world. And, remember, the whole world was then heathen, except those who were worse than the heathen, having crucified the Lord of glory and who every where stirred up the less hostile Gentiles against the disciples of Christ. All the first preachers of the gospel were as our foreign missionaries, only in far greater force. To own, to name Christ, was danger; to preach him, death. O how many madmen were there in those days; the world being judge; nay, such Christians as many of our day being judges. What a missionary was Paul! Scarce recovered from the overpowering vision which struck him to the earth, and without conferring with flesh and blood, he went on a three years' mission into Arabia. Then for fourteen years what a wanderer! Look at the map of his journeyings by sea and by land, from city to city--from isle to isle--from continent to continent. Where shall we find him! Now at Jerusalem; now at Antioch; now at Athens; now at Corinth; now at Rome; now in Spain; now, perhaps, in the land of our fathers, on the shores of Britannia. Wherever the Roman eagle flapped its wing--wherever the Roman banner waved--there was Paul, preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ to the Gentiles. A debtor he was, indeed, both to the Jews and Gentiles--the desire and prayer of his heart to God was that Israel might be saved. He could wish himself to be accursed from Christ for his brethren's sake. He was ready to die for them. He reasoned with them and persuaded them out of the scriptures in all their synagogues; but when they judged themselves unworthy of eternal life and put the gospel away from them, then said he, "Lo! we turn to the Gentiles." Neither did the other disciples wait in Jerusalem until it was a city of saints--neither tarried in Judea until it was as one rich garden of the Lord; but having preached first to the lost sheep of Israel, then, for the most part, scattered themselves far and wide, proclaiming to the then known world the glorious tidings of salvation through a crucified Redeemer. How could they do otherwise, believing, knowing what they did, concerning the heathen world, and having any bowels of compassion in them? What an account does St. [22/23] Paul, and all other missionaries since the days of Paul, give of the moral condition of the heathen! I shall not shock your ears or cover your faces with a blush by the recital of what you may read in his letter to the then lords of the earth--the proud Romans. Make what allowance we dare for the strong language of the impassioned Paul, still must we say, awful the condition of those who, dead in trespasses and sins, lived without hope and without God in the world, given up to the vilest affections, and with hearts so darkened as to worship the very stocks and stones of earth instead of the great Creator of the universe. O, brethren, what has become of the zeal and compassion which begun the conversion of the world? The spirit of missionaries and martyrs was then in every bosom. Whether they remained at home or went abroad, the heathen were all around them, and racks, and stakes, and scaffolds ever ready. But they courted death and longed for martyrdom, and thousands found the death they sought, and the martyrdom for which they longed. But we have none to spare--not a minister, say some, can be taken from this Christian land for the millions who are living and dying in pagan darkness. Not a life can now be periled in such a cause. Not a son or daughter can we devote to this service. Can this be uttered by any having the least connexion with a church which so boldly professes to walk in the old paths?
Old Abraham, at the command of God, could bind his son, his only son, and raise aloft his hand to strike the sacrificing knife to the heart of the child for whom he would have rejoiced to die. Old Abraham could leave his kindred and home, and ages beforehand go, "not knowing whither he went," to take possession, in the name of the Lord, of the promised land. Moses could reject his royal hopes and refuse the riches of Egypt and lead forth the people of God through a dreary wilderness to the land of promise, though only permitted to view it from the top of the mount. But we; what trials will we endure, what sacrifices make in a cause still dearest to heaven of all causes? O, how lukewarm, how cowardly, how soon cast down and ready to despair, if nations are not born in a day under the feeble sound of one or two poor missionaries' voice. What if the valiant reformers had been [23/24] such as we? They did not rush, I know, into the midst of the swarming millions of China, nor throw themselves upon the lost fields of Asia Minor and Africa; but then remember, that all Europe was again one great missionary field, where they had, at the peril of life, to contend in deadly strife for the faith once delivered to the saints. Again must the blood of the martyrs be the seed of the church, and the faithful fight against the very gates of hell. The contest was for the very existence of our holy religion in its purity and power. O think you if such men as Luther and Calvin, Cranmer and Latimer, Ridley and Hooper, were now amongst us, that they would hang back in heartless indifference and almost revile the generous movements which some would make in behalf of perishing millions? Brethren, if cold caution, hesitating doubt, penurious calculation, and slow movement in such a cause as this, be among the old paths of the Lord in which his church has walked in the times of her zeal and glory, then have I misunderstood my text, and let all that has been said pass for nought.
III. Having detained you already to an unusual, perhaps unreasonable length, can I dare ask that you will allow me to add to these congratulations and exhortations a very few words of caution and warning?
Too thankful we cannot be that God hath blessed us with the continuance of the primitive, apostolical form of government, and with the choicest prayers, and hymns, and creeds from the purest churches. They are a most inestimable blessing, admirably calculated to preserve the faith in its purity, the church in its unity, and for nourishing the very spirit of piety in the heart. Without such government and such established worship it would really seem impracticable to prevent divisions and heresies most injurious to the cause of religion. No talents, no learning, no zeal, no piety, seem to be sufficient to avert these evils without other aid. At all events it is conceded, even by many who walk not with us, that our polity and ritual do present very powerful barriers against the inroads of heresy and schism. But let us beware of the error of placing an undue reliance upon them. Mighty they may be, and under God certainly are, and yet of themselves [24/25] insufficient to avert any such evil from his church. By trusting too much to them we are tempted to neglect other things indispensably necessary. We may cry "the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we," while the Lord of the temple is not in us. The history of the church of God affords but too many a proof of this. There was a divine government in Israel; there was a temple worship at Jerusalem; there were prayers and services in the synagogues, in which the Saviour and the apostles did not hesitate to unite. Many of those prayers have come down to us to the present day, and some may perhaps have been mingled with the earlier liturgies, being only so changed as to suit the Christian dispensation. And yet the Saviour denounced the worshippers as corrupt and abominable, charged them with the hypocrisy of crying Lord, Lord, but not doing the will of God, drawing nigh to him with their lips, while their hearts were far from him; and let it also be remembered that heresies and divisions sprung up in the bosom of those churches which were built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, having creeds of the purest theology, and liturgies of most seraphic piety. In the use of those creeds and liturgies, and under that apostolic form of government, the spirit of religion nevertheless disappeared, while the form of godliness was retained long after the power of it ceased to be felt. While then a scriptural government and holy worship should be most carefully preserved, we must not imagine that they will avail for the promotion of true piety unless other things equally enjoined in the word of God be cultivated with a zeal becoming their importance. [* In proof of the assertion that the form of godliness may be retained long after the spirit is lost, let any one read the history of the council of Constance, so celebrated for its persecution of Huss and Jerome. Milner gives us the following reflections upon it. "Those who look only upon the external forms of religion might be tempted to think that the council of Constance was in general influenced by the Spirit of God. In all their public sessions they sang an anthem, and then prayed, kneeling. After having remained for some time in this posture, a deacon called out to them to rise; and then the President addressed himself to the Holy Ghost in a loud voice, in a collect, which, in very solemn and explicit terms, supplicated his effectual influence, that notwithstanding the enormity of their sins, which filled them with dread, he would deign to descend into their hearts, to direct them, to dictate their decrees and to execute them himself, and also to preserve their minds from corrupt passions, and not suffer them, through ignorance or selfishness, to swerve from justice and truth. The ideas and perhaps words were, however, taken from better times, when the operations of the Holy Ghost were not only professed but felt in Christian assemblies. The forms of true religion, often remain a long time, after the spirit of it has been almost extinguished. Both the emperor Sygismond and his consort Barba, who were infamous for lewdness, attended the religious ceremonies of this council. Sygismond, in a deacon's habit, read the gospel, while the Pope celebrated mass."]
The spirit of prayer must be nourished in all [25/26] hearts. The word of God must be diligently studied by all ranks and ages. Zeal and holiness must be urged upon all with the utmost importunity. The greatest care should be taken in the admission to holy orders. As it will ever be like priest, like people, let the bishops of the church take good heed on whom they lay ordaining hands, that they be men of God, moved to the work by the Holy Ghost, and then thoroughly furnished unto every good work. Let our theological seminaries be most anxiously watched and guarded, so that they send forth not merely shining, but much more burning lights into the world. Let the ministers of God add to prayers, and lessons, and ordinances, faithful and impassioned preaching, lifting up their voices like trumpets, and declaring to a lost world salvation only through a crucified Lord. Let them, as solemnly bound by their vows, exercise godly discipline, and guard well the altar. Let them not fill the churches with worldly professors who have scarce a name to live even among men, and before God are dead. Let them above all, watch over the rising generation, seeking to instruct their minds with the true knowledge of God's word, and to imbue their hearts with its very spirit, thus preparing them for a deliberate, enlightened and hearty reception of the rite of confirmation. Let the bishops lay their hands suddenly on no one, even in the rite of confirmation, for that also is a solemn ordination, and the ministers should take good heed how they present candidates for the same unto the bishop. Let that door of entrance be well guarded and the church is safe. Let it be thrown open, or hang loosely on its hinges, so that any may open and enter, and the church is dishonoured and becomes a by-word and a proverb among men. Let these and all other means for promoting zealous piety among ministers and people, be faithfully used, or vain will be our apostolic government, and venerable forms, and holy hymns, and doxologies, [26/27] coming down from primitive times. Our ministers, though they cannot preach heresy and schism, may, as too many have done, sink Christian doctrine into a mere meager morality on which the souls of the people famish; and the people themselves, though holding fast the form of sound words, and joining in such prayers as angels might use, nevertheless be what too many in our own and mother church have been, a reproach to that church, and to Him who purchased it with his own precious blood.
[* The church required in the clergy an exemplary purity and gravity beyond that of other men. They were to draw the picture of all manner of virtues in their own lives, and set themselves as examples to the people. The priest's office is a more difficult province than that of leading an army or governing a kingdom, and requires an angelic virtue. His soul ought to be purer than the sun, that the Holy Spirit may never leave him desolate, but that he may always be able to say, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."--Chrysostom on the Priesthood.
The clergy were required to exercise the most exemplary hospitality to the poor and strangers, and in order to this, to observe great frugality and simplicity in regard to their own personal expenses. They were not to affect state, have rich furniture, nor give sumptuous entertainments. They were required to be patterns of meekness, humility and gravity; and the rules and canons of the church were very strict against all unbecoming levity of deportment, all scurrility, buffoonery and indecency of discourse.
The exemplary conduct of the Christian ministers, in the time of Julian the apostate, was such as to force him to propose them as examples to the heathen clergy, when he attempted to reestablish paganism.
"Priests, he said, should so live as to be copies of what they preached by their own lives, and dissolute ones should be expelled from their offices. Not only wicked actions but obscene and indecent language, should be avoided by them. No idle books and wanton plays, but divine philosophy, should be studied by them. They should learn sacred hymns by heart, should pray thrice or at least twice every day; and when in their turn called on to attend the temple, they should never depart from it, but give up themselves to their office. At other times they should never frequent the forum, nor approach the houses of the great, unless with a view of procuring relief for the indigent, or to discharge some part of their office; that in no case should they frequent the theatres, nor even be seen in the company of a charioteer, player or dancer. In every city the most pious and virtuous should be ordained, without regard to their circumstances. The godly training of their own families, and their compassionate care for the indigent, should be their best recommendation. The impious Galileans, he observed, by their singular benevolence, had strengthened their party, and heathenism had suffered by want of attention to these things." Such was the fire the apostate stole from heaven, and such his artifice in managing it! These rules he must have derived from the Holy Scriptures, for they are not to be found in any of the heathen writers which he studied and admired. They are rules which well deserve the attention of Christian pastors in every age. In imitation of Christians he established schools for the education of youth. He appointed lectures on religion, stated times for prayers, monasteries for devout persons, hospitals and alms-houses for the poor and diseased and for strangers. These things he especially recommended in a letter to Arsacius, the chief priest of Galatia, in which he [27/28] tells him, it was that advanced the impious religion of the Christians; that it was their kindness to strangers, their care in burying the dead, and their affected gravity. He bids him warn the heathen priests to avoid play-houses and taverns and sordid employments. Hospitals should be erected in every city for the reception of all sorts of indigent persons. The Galileans, he said, relieve both their poor and ours."]
In order to form a due estimate of our character and condition, our trials and duties at the present day, it would be well sometimes to look back to our past history in our own and mother country. Long and severe were the contests of our fathers with those who had corrupted religion in their land. Often was the victory gained and often lost, and sometimes it hung in long and painful suspense. The connexion which had long subsisted between the church and civil government made the battles more deadly and the issues more uncertain. Truth at length prevailed, but not without some admixture of error, the result of long established habits, and of circumstances not easy to be controlled. Some there were who became impatient of remaining evils, and too strongly demanded immediate and total reform, proposing at the same time changes which would indeed have marred the fair face of our Zion. The puritans, by insisting too strenuously on some things, drove their opponents into the opposite errors, and what with its connexion with government, the character of many of its clergy, and the wealth and fashion of the nobility who mostly adhered to it, the church was justly liable to the charge of having at her communion very many of the worldly and fashionable whose lives illy consisted with the solemn vows uttered at the table of the Lord.
[* When I think of what was the character of very many of the Episcopal clergy in England formerly, and what still is the character of not a few at this day, and of a large number of those sent over to raise up the church in America, a character resulting a great measure, from the peculiar circumstances of her history, and think upon the great change which has taken place in England, and the still greater in our own land, I am reminded of the following passage in Bishop Burnet's history of his own times.
"I shall conclude all that I have to say in this place of the affairs of Rome, with a lively saying of Queen Christina, to myself at Rome. She said it was certain the church was governed by the immediate care and providence of God; for none of the four popes that she had known, since she came to Rome, had common sense." As God works by certain instruments in effecting all his glorious reformations, so I cannot but think that the effective instruments, in this reformation, are our admirable Liturgy and offices, and the well ordered government with which we are blessed.]
In establishing the [28/29] church in our own country, we are found in circumstances subjecting us to some of the same temptations and the same reproaches. In the providence of God, in very many of our churches is to be found a large proportion of the wealthy, the educated, the honourable of the land, who, as in all other countries and ages, are liable to their peculiar temptations. Those temptations, instead of being adduced as excuses for their faults, or pleas for ministerial negligence, should only furnish stronger motives for ministerial fidelity and zeal. It is ours especially to charge the rich of this world that they be not high minded--that they be glad to distribute of their store--to warn the lovers of pleasure that they are dead even while they live--to say to all, if any love the world the love of the Father is not in them. This is our most bounden duty, and to shrink from it is cowardice and sin. This is one of the old paths in which God would have us to walk. The sentiments of the primitive church as to all those amusements, those revellings and banquetings for which even some professing Christians plead, are well known by the canons which are still extant, and the discipline which was exerted. Our general conventions and some of our state conventions, have delivered their sentiments in unequivocal terms concerning them--nor delivered them in vain. Just sentiments and consistent practice on these subjects prevail more and more throughout all our borders. Few comparatively are those who will so far oppose public sentiment, so mortify the ministers of God, so grieve the best friends of religion and the church, so give occasion to its enemies to triumph, as to frequent and encourage places or scenes of ungodly mirth. Those few, even if not so far transgressing the letter of the law as to subject themselves to the discipline of the church, will yet, for violating its spirit, only render themselves the more objects of remark and condemnation. But to them would we say, lifting up our voice, if it were possible, so as to be heard through all the borders of our Zion, where is your love for religion, for the church of God, for our special branch of it, that you will consent still to keep up this old reproach, that by your example you will drive the humble and pious inquirer to some other fold, yea, [29/30] that you are so acting that some of your own children, perhaps, if ever the grace of God shall take possession of their hearts, may renounce the church of their parents and blame you for the deed? I will only add, that of all the churches in the land ours is that one whose members and ministers ought to be most particular and faithful as to these things of which I speak.
In relation to our Christian friends of other communions, who, I well know, often charge us with far more of worldliness than is justly due, may God give us grace to cherish and exhibit the loving and charitable spirit of our divine Master. They exist in great numbers and respectability throughout our land. The image of Christ is upon thousands and tens of thousands whom we hope to see and love in heaven. The zeal, and piety, and talents, and learning of many of them God is pleased to make much use of for his own gracious purposes in our own and other lands. We differ from them in points which seem to us important, and think that much of the unhappy discord which destroys their peace results from defects in those things wherein we differ. Let us not severely upbraid or boastingly triumph, but rather sympathize with them and pray that God may direct all to his glory. Let us candidly acknowledge and truly love all that is good in them, calling nothing common or unclean which God hath cleansed. In so doing we shall walk in the old paths of our fathers, whose mild and tolerant spirit ever shrunk from the bitterness of invective and the cruelty of persecution. I speak of those who have left to us, in our articles and liturgy, an impress of their own minds and hearts. The secular arm may have been sometimes raised in anger, may have bathed its unhallowed sword in blood, and even some of the ministers of God may have lifted up their voices to call down fire from heaven, but we look in vain through the articles, offices and prayers of the church for one unkind word. While firmly maintaining our own distinctive principles, and walking by our own rules, let us exhibit the same spirit of kindness to those who differ from us; and, among other results, the disposition already so strongly manifested on the part of numbers not trained in our communion, will increase more and more, and thousands now [30/31] tossed about by every wind of doctrine and driven to and fro on the waves of the tempestuous sea of controversy, will gladly seek an asylum in our own more peaceful bosom.
I have now only to add, that in all our expectations and hopes, and efforts for our beloved church, we shall be greatly encouraged by casting a filial eye towards the church of our fathers. Ever eventful and deeply interesting has been her history. In the midst of foes, various, numerous and violent, who have ever sought and prophesied her downfall, she yet survives, yet lives on the soil which was enriched by the blood of her martyrs, where she has long stood, the mightiest bulwark of the reformation, the right arm of the Lord, which he stretched forth in defence of his persecuted truth. Never were her foes more numerous, or more violent, or the weapons of their warfare more deadly, than at the present time. But never were her friends more true and more united and never did the Lord appear more clearly on her side to fight her battles. Not with armies and fleets, not with treasures of silver and gold, not with edicts of kings and parliaments does he come forth to her rescue, but he comes in the spirit of holiness, putting new life and zeal into all orders of her ministers and ranks of her friends; he comes in that noble spirit of liberality which pours its annual millions of voluntary contributions into the hands of those devoted ones who are building churches at home and sending missionaries abroad, and are resolved to leave nothing undone which shall make the church of our forefathers a praise to him on the earth.
[* The following account of the origin of some of those excellent societies, which have so blessed England and the world, is from Bishop Burnet's history of his own times, which, as well as other works of this eminent prelate, are worthy of frequent perusal, and are especially recommended to our young candidates for the ministry.
"In King James' reign, the fear of popery was so strong, as well as just, that many, as well in and about London, began to meet often together, both for devotion and for their further instruction. Things of that kind had been formerly practised only among the puritans and dissenters, but these were of the church, and came to their ministers to be assisted with forms of prayer and other directions. They were chiefly conducted by Dr. Beveridge and Dr. Horneck. Some disliked this, and were afraid it might be the original of new factions and parties; but wiser and better men thought it was not fit nor decent to check a spirit of devotion at such a time. It might have given scandal, and it seemed a discouraging of piety, and might be a mean to drive well meaning persons over to the dissenters. After the Revolution, their societies [31/32] grew more numerous, and for a greater encouragement to devotion, they got such collections to be made, as to maintain many clergymen to read prayers in so many places, and at so many different hours, that devout persons might have that comfort at every hour of the day. There were constant sacraments every Lord's day in many churches: there were both great numbers and greater appearances of devotion at prayers and sacraments, than had been observed in the memory of man. These societies resolved to inform the magistrates of swearers, drunkards, profaners of the Lord's Day, and of lewd houses; and they threw in the part of the fine given by law to the informers, into a stock of charity. From this they were called societies of reformation. Some good magistrates encouraged them, but others treated them roughly. As soon as Queen Mary heard of this, she did by her letters and proclamations encourage their good designs, which were afterwards prosecuted by the late king. Other societies set themselves to some charity schools for teaching poor children, for clothing them and binding them out to trades. Many books were printed and sent over the nation by them to be freely distributed. These were called societies for propagating Christian knowledge. By this means some thousands of children are now well educated and carefully looked after. In many places of the nation the clergy met often together to confer about matters of religion and learning, and they got libraries to be raised for their common use. At last a corporation was created by the late king, for propagating the gospel among infidels, for settling schools in our plantations, for furnishing the clergy that were sent there, and sending missionaries among such of our plantations as were not able to provide pastors for themselves. It was a glorious conclusion of a reign that was begun with preserving our religion, thus to create a corporation propagating it to the remotest parts of the earth and among infidels. There were very liberal subscriptions made to it by many of the bishops and clergy, who set about it with great care and zeal. Upon the queen's accession to the crown, they had all possible assurances of her favour and protection, of which, upon every application, they received very eminent marks."]
She exhibits to the world the uncommon spectacle of a church without revolution, renewing herself unto greater zeal and holiness, rapidly improving in the character of her clergy, and bidding fair to command the increasing veneration of the good and pious of every name. Her enemies may assail her outworks, may prostrate some of them to the ground, may seize upon her treasures with sacrilegious hands, may rob the Lord of his revenues, but the citadel is safe; for the Spirit of the Lord is there. Let us seek to follow her noble example, by a faithful adherence to the spirit of our articles and services, avoiding whatever deserves to be lamented in her, the result of human infirmity and of those peculiar disadvantages under which she has ever laboured.
Our career, brethren and friends, has but just begun. Thus far God has blessed us. Our outward prosperity is certainly not small. Heaven grant that it be not too great for us. Let us not be high-minded but fear, remembering that [32/33] our numerical increase in ministers and churches is not an infallible measure of our spiritual advancement. Let us, then, rejoice with trembling, or the intoxication of success may be at once the mean and omen of our fall, and our fall be the more disastrous by reason of our present elevation. Let us follow peace with all men, imitating the example of that venerable patriarch of our Zion, who lived and died in this city of brotherly love, to whose peace he so greatly contributed, by whose citizens he was so highly honoured, so sincerely beloved, whose death created a general pause along all its streets, and whose funeral procession was one long unbroken line from the door of his house to the mouth of his sepulchre. May his mantle descend not on one of us, but on all. Imbibing his truly catholic spirit, adhering to his judicious, moderate, and true interpretation of our standards, avoiding all metaphysical discussions and doubtful disputations, we shall agree on all subjects where agreement is, necessary, and readily consent to differ, where difference is unimportant.
[* The following, according to Milner, are the sentiments of Luther on a subject which has so often distracted the minds of men and dishonoured, by bitter controversy, the church of God. Our church in this country has thus far escaped and long may it be preserved from the evil.
"The Saxon reformer, though he denied as we have repeatedly seen, the existence of all human ability to save a lost sinner, as also the inefficacy of all human qualifications to merit reward; and though he ascribed salvation to grace alone and to the merciful will of God, yet on the delicate question of predestination ever displayed that moderation by which his mind was uniformly influenced in all doctrinal inquiries, except one, (that consubstantiation) and content with what scripture had revealed, he never undertook to explain this difficult subject with any thing like systematic precision; much less did he ever think proper to propose the arduous speculation, concerning the divine decrees, as necessary articles of a Christian's faith. It happened, however, that a neighbouring minister, with a view of comforting one of his flock, whose mind was much distressed, respecting the secret counsels of God, was desirous of obtaining from Luther more satisfaction on this head than could be collected from his writings. This circumstance gave to our reformer the occasion of writing an epistle, in which he says: "Many have perished in the indulgence of such curious inquiries; it is a temptation which leads even to blasphemy. I myself, by giving way to it, have more than once been reduced to the last extremity. We poor mortals by faith can scarcely comprehend a few rays of the divine promise, or receive in practice a few sparks of the divine precepts; and yet, feeble and impure as we are, we rashly attempt to fathom the majesty of God in all his brightness. Do we not know that his ways are past finding out? Instead of using well the mild light of the divine promises, which is adapted to our faculties, we rush, with [33/34] eyes of moles, to view at once the majestic splendour of the Deity. What wonder then if his glory should overwhelm us in the attempt to investigate it!"
The author of this sermon was acquainted, while at college, with a young licensed minister of very superior talents, who was much given to speculation on the divine decrees and those subjects connected with the same. That gentleman has since, by the force of his commanding talents and great worth, held high stations in the literary world, and still continues to do so. It was the lot of the author to meet with him a few years since, when the old subject came under consideration, and the able divine, and accomplished scholar, and acute reasoner made the following statement: "After we parted I continued passionately devoted to the study of those subjects, and was satisfied that I could master them thoroughly, and present to the world a clear exposition of them. I gave myself up to them almost entirely for ten years, still resolving to understand them; but at the end of ten years, I found myself in utter darkness, without any fixed opinion or belief on the subject. I then laid them aside entirely and now never read or think about them. I have but one answer to all who ask my opinion, and that is, 'I know nothing about them.'"
We are informed that in the sixth century, Christians had drawn the abstrusest niceties into controversy, and had thereby so destroyed peace, love and charity, that they lost the whole substance of religion, and in a manner drove Christianity quite out of the world, so that the Saracens, taking advantage of their differences, found it an easy matter to establish Mahometanism upon the ruins of Christianity. From this lamentable fact let Christians learn an instructive lesson.]
Then shall we extort from every mouth that highest of all praises, "Behold how good and pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." Then shall our Zion be as "a city that is at unity with itself." Then shall "peace be within our walls and plenteousness within our palaces," and surely, every good man in our land will wish us prosperity. AMEN.