Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

UNITY IN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST.'

Love to God and love to man pervades the whole teaching of the Bible. It is pronounced by our Blessed Lord to be the fulfilling of the Law. It is the very light and life of the Gospel Covenant. It leads us back more than anything else to that likeness of God in which man was first created, for we are emphatically told that God is love.

Love and unity are praised as godlike, to be longed for, to be striven after ; while hatred, and quarrelling, and misjudging one another are to be prayed against and striven against by all; and all this is not confined to the teaching of one or two texts, but is so clearly visible on the face of the whole Book that he that runs may read it.

Nevertheless, there are many, both among Churchmen and Nonconformists, Catholic and Protestant, who refuse to do anything to put matters straight, and make their very zeal for their own special beliefs, as the Pharisees of old, a cloak for bitterness, and pride, and isolation ; while others actually glory in their divisions, and boast that it was never otherwise,' “ that it stimulates zeal,' that some good has come of it.' And thus the work Christ has given us to do is left undone, or mightily hindered, because those bearing the name of Christ wilfully misinterpret one another, thinking evil rather than good of those who differ from them, and becoming in this respect essentially anti-Christian.

No one can pretend that the work of the Church since the division of East and West has in any way approached the promised reward of faithful and united service for Christ. Are there not millions of heathen hindered from embracing the faith by our divisions, and thousands in our own country estranged from Christianity by the same cause ? Example is better than precept; and yet we see the noble principles of Christianity, which, when faithfully carried out, would meet the inner yearnings of the hearts of men, presented to the world as a beautifui but impracticable theory, because the misdirected zeal of the would-be religious man denies them in his daily life. God has willed that by the laws of humility and love His kingdom should be propagated through the world. How can we expect to extend it successfully while working on directly contrary principles; allowing a self-complacent pride in our own particular standpoints to close our hearts against those who use not our Shibboleth ; or, in direct opposition to our Lord's declaration, · My kingdom is not of this world,' evoking worldly weapons to persecute and suppress all who differ from us, and thus showing forth a zeal for Christ by hatred to the brother for love of whom Christ died?

| Publications of the Home Reunion Society. 7 Whitehall.

Sermon, by Rev. J. G. Greenhough, Baptist minister, on •One Faith, one Lord, one Baptism.' Leicester, 1880.

Church Congress Report, 1880. Deputation from Nonconformist ministers, pp. 614-619. Church and Dissent, pp. 278-303. Internal Unity, pp. 229–256.

St. Chrysostom, commenting on John xvi., beautifully witnesses against the same evil in his day. He maketh their characteristic love ; for this, saith He, is to be my disciple, when all men see you imitating my love. This, then, made them straightway beautiful and good, having one heart and soul; but had they separated one from another all things would have been lost.' Again, 'He spake this not to them only, but to all them that should believe on Him; since even now there is nothing else that causeth the heathen to stumble except that there is no love.'

It is pleasing to believe that there are the foreshadowings of a spirit of unity at work among the different bodies of Christians both at home and abroad, as if it was God's will that those very differences, which doubtless our several shortcomings brought upon us as a punishment in times past, were gradually creating, out of the very intensity of their strife and bitternesses, a desire for unity and peace. The Church Congress at Leicester affords a recent proof of this among ourselves—(1) In the general tone of large-heartedness and forbearance shown in the Congress itself, especially in the Bishop of Durham's able paper on 'Internal Unity'—(2) In the action of the Nonconformists, as shown in a sermon preached by the Rev. J. G. Greenhough on the Sunday of the Congress week, to which we shall frequently refer, and the remarkable address of the thirty-four Nonconformist ministers, and (3) In the Bishop's reply, which, at least, professed the same large-hearted, manly, and independent spirit which was the notable characteristic of Mr. Greenhough's sermon. The keynote is struck in the following sentence from the sermon :-*It is always the distinguishing feature of the shallow mind that it looks only on the surface, and therefore magnifies the differences which float upon the surface. It never goes deep enough to see the underlying principles of unity.'

This keynote enables the preacher to acknowledge purity of motive and an intensity of love to our common Lord among those whose erroneous teaching he denounces with a vigorous hand.

The clear-thinking and large-hearted theologian will find the same sentiments of reverent aspiration, faith, and love underlying the pageantry of the Romishi Church, breathing and living under the weight of its smothering formality, which he will find in the plainest Primitive Methodist or Friends' meeting-house.

This acknowledgment of the possibility of finding a common object and a common desire among those who differ from each other so widely is a step in the right direction; but it is not all, for, to quote again from the sermon :

The bitter conflicts of centuries have left still open and rankling wounds; we are separated, and still shall be, by a multitude of questions which we cannot afford to deem unimportant; there are differences of method, and ministration, and ritual, and especially of sacramental views and priestly ordination–differences which none but weak minds would try to smooth over with the plaster of a sham charity.

In all this we may perfectly agree; but these differences apparently so vital, if carried back to first principles in a true spirit of Christian love, may be found important in elucidating different sides of one and the same great truths which, without such apparently diverse teaching, would miss the fulness and perfection which they are intended to cover ; while other differences will be found to arise from a mutual misunderstanding of the teaching of those who have been estranged from one another so long. The preacher enumerates our present agreements in forcible words:

These men are no more to us members of the Church of England, they are members of the Church of Christ. The same Divine Spirit works in them as in us, they are praying to the same Father, and bowing before the same cross. They are made mighty by the same faith, and rejoicing in the same hope, they are swayed by the same motives, and striving for the same end. Their confessions are ours, their praises are ours, their creeds are for the most part ours, their sympathies are

With the world we have hardly anything in common, with them we have nearly everything; a hundred sacred and eternal principles make us close akin.

ours.

Surely it is worth an effort that Christian bodies who have so much in common should be brought to understand one another more, and at least endeavour to hold those differences which admit of no immediate reconciliation in a spirit of brotherly love. To this end let us calmly consider what the Church of England really is, for it may be possible to show clearly and historically that she is, over and above, and beyond being the Church of England, essentially the Church of Christ to this nation, and therefore the mother of us all. Her establishment, her Thirty-nine Articles, her Act of Uniformity identify her as a particular body; but neither of these things is essential to her position as the Church of Christ. And reunion might be sought for with her because she has a larger basis than any particular sect can have—a reunion not into a rigid uniformity in things non-essential, nor one that would pledge all to everything in her present order and practice, but a reunion round essential truths. If you want a Church that goes back to first principles, where can you find one simpler in its authorised formularies of belief than the Church of England ? She distinctly appeals to the teaching and practice of the primitive Church before the division of East and West, and requires of her lay members no further test of membership than the creeds, containing the Articles of Faith collected and explained by the undivided Church in her general councils, which, though showing in the record of their discussions the fallibility of man, were doubtless guided to their final decision by God the Holy Ghost. She does not baptise into her own communion, but receives the child into the body of Christ's Church. She gives her priests and deacons authority not in her own communion only, but to exercise their office in the Church of God. She prays for her children not as hers alone, but for all who call themselves Christians, that they may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit and in the bond of peace.

It is her privilege also, in pointing to primitive times as her pattern, to trace her succession in a continuous line of bishops, priests, and deacons from the Church existing in this country in apostolic times.

The councils of the Church were the forerunners of our representative parliaments. The one archiepiscopal head of the Church was the forerunner of the one king over the seven kingdoms into which this nation was first divided by the Saxons. And as the originator of our constitutional life as a nation, she became the defender of our Saxon liberties against Norman aggression until the privileges of the Great Charter were won from King John mainly by ber influence. It was with one voice that this Anglican Church of ours protested against the aggressions of the Papacy, and as one Church she reformed herself from mediæval errors.

It was the Church which preserved the Bible for us through the barbarism of feudal times, and which transcribed and translated it so soon as the power to do so was obtained. It is the Church that preserved to us and daily formed, as the outcome of the hearts of saints in every age, that great treasury of devotion in the daily offices from which so many prayers and hymns have been freely gathered both by Churchman and Nonconformist. It is the Church that first made our ancestors Christian, and subsequently carried the Gospel among those northern nations of Europe from which our Saxon and Danish and Norman ancestors originally came.

It is the Church which has united us from the beginning with that unceasing communion of saints now resting in the Paradise of God.

Nonconformists may be tempted to add, 'It is the Church from which we were ignominiously driven out by cruel penal laws. however, essential for truth that the corporate personality of the Church should be kept clearly distinct from that of the State, because

It is,

from their close alliance through the Establishment there is great risk of confusion. It is a moot-point with historians whether the persecutions were conducted on purely political or purely religious grounds. There is no doubt eminent Churchmen, lay and clerical, eagerly enforced the penal laws, and thus became personally responsible; but, to convict the Church in her corporate capacity of a persecuting spirit, it would be needful to bring forward some formal synodical approval of a persecuting Act of Parliament.

It will be impossible here fully to discuss the various points of difference which stand in the way of a reunion with the Church of our fathers, but a few thoughts connected with these burning subjects offered in a spirit of love may, by God's blessing, pave the way to a calmer and more Christian consideration of them.

And first as to the question of an established Church.

We may grant at once to Churchmen and to Nonconformists the free acknowledgment of a conscientious belief that establishment and endowment may be detrimental to the cause of true religion, only asking, in common fairness, leave to hold an equally conscientious belief that in many cases the advantages may far outweigh the possible evils of the connection.

There surely can be no inherent right or wrong in the bare fact of the union of Church and State. The first three centuries show how the Church could progress without it. The Bible history, both in the patriarchal age and in the times of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, might be quoted in its favour.

In the feudal ages it was necessary for the preservation of religion and for the encouragement of learning; in later times it was very nearly stilling all religious life; but so far as we as Christians are concerned we may safely affirm there is nothing vital about it, and where it does not interfere with the free exercise of the Church's spiritual duties there can be nothing in the connection necessarily contrary to Christianity.

In reference to all politico-religious questions we may fearlessly state that it ill becomes a clergyman of the Church or a Nonconformist minister to act as a political partisan; and when religious bodies allow their politics to outrun their religion it is a certain prelude to their deterioration and decay.

And now a few words on the royal supremacy.

The Church regards the supremacy of the Crown as extending alike and equally over all her subjects, so that she does not admit any authority over herself that does not equally extend to the Nonconformists. And this supremacy is only a civil and political one, and not a spiritual one.

Also in regard to the legal interpretation of creeds and formularies the judicial rulings fix only the legal sense, not their real ecclesiastical or spiritual sense. They simply say for the purposes of law

« VorigeDoorgaan »