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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.
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 her 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.' It is, however, essential for truth that the corporate personality of the Church should be kept clearly distinct from that of the State, because
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
holding property by way of endowment and the like-we take the formularies to mean so and so. The law does not pretend to say that the Church or the sect, as the case may be, for its own religious or spiritual purposes means so and so by the formularies. And neither Churchman nor Nonconformist would feel that the real meaning of the formulary was any other than what he held it to mean before; for if the Church or Nonconforming body should alter the terms of its formulary it would be because the law and not itself had mistaken the true meaning.
It is therefore a serious error to suppose, as many Nonconformists do and as many Churchmen profess to do, that the doctrines of the Church of England are fixed or even interpreted by the decisions of the courts of law. These only fix the legal meaning for legal purposes. So long therefore, as a religious body, whether the Church or a Nonconformist body, holds property on trust, the State will insist on giving its own interpretation of all creeds and formularies in judging disputes between an individual minister and the body to which he belongs. The disestablished body may have greater facilities for altering its formularies to make their true meaning apparent after the adverse decision has been given, but the principle of the control of the State is the same to both.
It is often contended that Episcopacy is wrong, and that the apostolic succession is a delusion. With a view to unity they are both of some importance, as they connect us with all the orthodox Churches of the East and West, and with the Christianity of past ages even from the beginning.
All candid minds must admit that the germs and first workings of the Episcopate in direct succession to the Apostles are clearly to be seen in Holy Scripture. Dr. Binney, at a meeting of Independents at Plymouth, is reported to have said: 'I believe in the Epistles to Timothy though you do not, and I find in them the rudimentary elements of a moderate Episcopacy. And generally among Protestant Nonconformists of the present day we find a growing feeling in favour of this form of Church government. Mr. Spurgeon's organisations among the Baptists have a wonderful resemblance to the old lines of Church government under other names. It is well known how earnestly John Wesley longed to introduce the episcopate for the ordination of his ministers, and we have extant the letters of Dr. Coke, whom Wesley in his old age attempted to set apart for this purpose, asking Bishops Seabury and White for a proper ordination.
On the other band, the acceptance of the Primitive Episcopate as the authorised form of Church government would in no way necessitate a return to the Prince Bishops of the feudal times. And it is curious to note that the true primitive model, with its body of Presbyters to advise the Bishop, was much more like our limited monarchy than that more autocratic form which has been forced
upon our bishops by the past neglect of the use of synods and of the great chapters of our cathedrals, both of which it is now our earnest endeavour to revive.
We have an important note of unity in the common possession of a Bible received by all, and in a common appeal to Holy Scripture as the surest means of interpreting the faith as once delivered to the saints. It is only a popular misunderstanding of what this appeal means which causes any divergent teaching. The Reformed Churches were only acting on the lines of true Catholic tradition when they availed themselves of the invention of printing to translate and circulate more fully the whole Bible. But in the interpretation of Scripture we cannot accept the casual teaching of every minister or individual student, neither may we safely accept the stereotyped views of any particular school of thought. Though individual Fathers may have been wrong, and may often be found to bear contradictory testimony, the consensus of Catholic teaching must always form a valuable aid in arriving at the true meaning of doubtful passages.
By an appeal to Scripture we mean a critical inquiry into the purity of the text and into the real meaning of the original language, and a careful comparison of Scripture with Scripture, conducted in prayer and in faith, hoping ever for the special guidance of God the Holy Ghost. It was in this spirit and in this way that Catholic tradition that form of sound words' which St. Paul urges Timothy to hold fast-was consolidated into the creeds which have been sealed by full authority of the Church, and have been received by all Christians as containing the essential dogmas of the Christian Faith. An appeal to Scripture conducted on the same lines would doubtless tend to bring us all much nearer together on most of the points on which at present there appears to be so much divergent teaching.
When we come to those great Sacramental truths, the natural outcome of the doctrine of the Incarnation, we are brought face to face with those points of divergence which exist among the different schools of thought within the Church. Even here, however, we can
, only venture a few remarks which, offered in a spirit of love, may tend to remove some of those bitternesses which need not of necessity form a part of controversies on matters of religion.
In considering these subjects, a true faith according to St. Paul's definition of it as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,' is a very necessary qualification. And yet what wonderful mistakes are made as to the possession of this grace! It is believed by many that the Catholic, from his apparent trust in outward forms, must miss this grace altogether; and that the Protestant, because he has realised certain feelings in his own heart, is the sole possessor of it. But, just as a trust in forms would naturally quench all true faith, so also may a trust in religious feelings—which are for the time as apparent as any forms can be