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THE SYSTEM OF THE CHURCH ONE OF RESERVE.
1. The principle considered with reference to ourselves.
BUT far be it from us to put forward this sacred principle merely in condemnation of others, and their system; what we have said with regard to them is in our defence and for their warning and we have quite as much need of it for the regulation and protection of ourselves. Indeed it might have been considered that it is for ourselves that it is more especially needed; and the subject should, one would think, have been hailed with pleasure as a pledge and indication, that what we maintain we would wish to maintain modestly and seriously. That when we consider ourselves called upon to put forward great Christian truths, which have been forgotten, we imply, by connecting this principle with them, that we consider them as matters, not for speculation or external distinction, but to be embraced practically, and as it were secretly, looking to that time when all things will be revealed.
The whole of the effects which we condemn, and which have developed themselves in a system, have been spoken of as putting forward religion with a want of reality, and absence of true seriousness; and of course the principles of the Church are liable to be taken hold of, and turned to the same purpose. But we proceed to show that the Church of itself is entirely a system of reserve. In fact, she holds all the doctrines which those who agree not with her consider most essential, but in a sort of reserve; being calculated to bring men to the heart and substance of those things of which this scheme embraces the shadow. The Church, moreover, in all her departments, is directed to the eye of GOD, and not to man; as the Bride who ever looks to the Bridegroom, and to none else. The one instance in her usages which partakes least of this reserved character, is the
practice of preaching which she sanctions and admits, and which alone, it is curious to observe, this human system has taken, considering it as the only instrument calculated for its purpose. The principle of the Church is, that "the secret things belong unto the LORD our GoD;" that He Himself dispenses them through His Church, as He thinks meet, to faith and obedience. Her system therefore is one of reserve.
But before we proceed to this subject, it may be requisite to say something respecting the application of the rule at all to baptized Christians. It may be said, that during the gradual revelations of the Gospel to mankind, this might have been the mode of the Divine proceeding, and very necessary; but that now among baptized Christians, "the enlightened," as they were called in the early Church, all have entered into the fulness of the Christian inheritance, and we have no right to withdraw from them any part of their birthright. Or it may be said, that the mystery is now made known to all the world; every thing is perfectly different; omnia jam vulgata.
But now in answer to this, it must be observed, that this sacred forbearance is an universal rule in morals, and not confined to circumstances, but accompanies every progress in religious knowledge; thus the Fathers speak of it, as a rule to be observed, not only towards catechumens, but according to which the mysteries of GoD are revealed more and more to the last stage of Christian perfection. It is evident, that the knowledge which Scripture speaks of as life-giving goes entirely with Christian purity of heart; that in this respect, unless it will be maintained that this sincerity and purity now prevails, the rule still holds; in the Scriptural sense, men are still in darkness, and ignorance, in proportion to their vices; knowledge is to be imparted or withdrawn on the same principles. And with regard to the circumstance of men having been baptized, St. Paul did not make this an occasion of altering this rule towards his converts, but he maintains towards them precisely the same caution. This St. Augustine observes, speaking of the expression of "giving what is holy to dogs," he adds, "when the LORD says this, we must believe that He wished to signify, that unclean hearts cannot bear the
light of spiritual intelligence, and if a teacher should compel them to endure such things as they do not rightly receive, inasmuch as they are not capable of doing so, they either rend him with the bitings of reprehension, or by despising, tread them under foot. For if the blessed Apostle says that he gave milk, and not meat, to those who, although they were already born again in CHRIST, yet were still babes; for hitherto were ye not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able' (1 Cor. iii. 2); if, in fine, the LORD Himself said to His elect Apostles, 'I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now' (John xvi. 12); how much less can unclean minds of the wicked bear those things that are spoken of incorporeal Light?"
In one point of view, our case indeed differs from that of former ages-in that the great and essential truths of our religion, which have been so long kept back, are now generally known. Our position is therefore in most material respects different; but not so, in any way, as to do away with the necessity of this natural principle.
It must be observed, that the word Knowledge in the Scriptures is used in two senses, or that there are two kinds of Knowledge; the one, according to which "the knowledge of the LORD fills the earth, as the waters cover the sea:" the other, discovering One who still dwelleth in secret in the midst of these manifestations, One "whose ways are in those deep waters, and whose footsteps are not known." The one is she "who lifteth up her voice in the streets, and in the city uttereth her cry:" the other is she" who goeth about secretly, seeking those who are worthy of her, trying them in crooked paths, and ways of discipline, until she finds that she can trust their souls." The one, that which is "a savour of life and also unto death," as when our LORD says, that he who knew his LORD's will, and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes; and "if ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them;" a knowledge which without charity puffeth up: the other knowledge is that which is truly Divine and inseparable from charity; where to know and love God is one and the same thing, and both of them eternal life. This is the gift especially of GoD alone, and which He dispenses
according to man's fitness to receive it; and therefore the Church is a system of reserve. And this in no way limits or confines, but in every way strengthens the most active efforts for propagating the Gospel in the world; which can no more be doubted than that our LORD Himself took the very best, the most engaging, and at the same time the most powerful, means of recommending truth to mankind. And indeed the Church, in which our LORD has promised to be present unto the end, may very well be compared in this respect to His visible body in the flesh; a comparison which may be allowed, as He applied the term "temple" to His human person; both served as a veil to His Divinity, in both He withdraws from human eyes, through both in the same manner He manifests Himself according as persons will by faith receive Him, will take up the cross after Him, and be His disciples.
2. The Holiness of God's House of Prayer.
Now the whole business of the Church, as a system upon earth, is to impart to mankind this true saving knowledge; and in so doing she is quite opposed to the restless systems of the world for imparting mere knowledge of itself. She acts therefore as her Divine Founder throughout, on a species of reserve; as one desirous above all things to prepare men's minds, and bring them to the truth, but communicating it to them as they are able to receive it. She contains as it were within herself numerous channels or modes of access, by which men may be brought to this knowledge of God. Her Sacramental ordinances are, in fact, ways to that invisible Jerusalem, that celestial fellowship, and the city of the Living God. The progressive states of proficiency in the school of CHRIST have been termed the via purgativa, or, the way of repentance; the via illuminativa, or the way of Christian knowledge; and the via unitiva, or the way of charity and union with GoD. Now it may be seen, that Church principles contain within them these modes of bringing men to the knowledge of, and to union with GOD, who dwelleth in secret, after a reserved, silent, and retiring
manner. All those that are considered peculiarly Church principles, doctrines, and practices, are of this character.
For instance, the Church, contrary to the human system which we have described, looks upon houses of Divine worship as being especially sacred, and the place of God's peculiar presence. Now if this doctrine of the Church is true, then they must be the abode of some great and peculiar blessing; every body must necessarily allow, that the Divine presence must be life-giving and hallowing, and as it were sacramentally convey spiritual benefit; but now if both these opinions of the Church be true, it is evident that these blessings cannot be realized, but by particular persons and dispositions; by those who make it their reverential study to raise their minds to it, and by faith receive the blessing. These privileges, so high and spiritual, are held by the Church in a sort of reserve and silence. The case is precisely analogous to that of our LORD in the flesh; conveying now spiritual blessings, as then bodily cures, after precisely the same rule and method; and withdrawing Himself from many, who may be inclined to doubt and ridicule such a supposition. That such a sense of the holiness of Churches is itself beneficial to the moral character, may be inferred from the high authority of Bishop Butler, the great master of morals, who recommends some devotional act of the mind, as a reverential exercise, to be practised at the very sight of a Church. And there is something in Holy Scripture most mysteriously striking, and awful, on this subject; as for instance, the sanctity, and adoration, claimed so strongly in the Old Testament for the place where God vouchsafed to disclose His presence, of which there are many instances. And perhaps there is no circumstance in all the account of our SAVIOUR's life, which so arrests and demands our awful attention, as that of His driving the buyers out of the temple, when He would suffer no "vessel to be carried through it." In the first place, because this action was so different in its character to all other actions of our LORD; in the next place, because it was twice repeated; and lastly, because it implied a sense of holiness so transporting as to have carried Him, humanly speaking, beyond Himself, fulfilling the expression of the Psalmist, "the zeal of