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THE CHRISTIAN GUARDIAN,
STAKE-NETS IN THE CHURCH.
We are not disposed to quarrel much with the last sentence in Mr. Ruskin's advertisement to his curious "Notes on the Construction of Sheepfolds." He says, "If, however, any should admit the truth, but regret the tone of what I have said, I can only pray them to consider how much less harm is done in the world by ungraceful boldness, than by untimely fear." We are no enemies to the prudence and true courtesies which Christianity commands by precept, and commends by example; but the truth has often most grievously suffered by the false charity which has wrapped its utterance in silken refinements, and by the timidity which has allowed the most opportune seasons to pass by, without boldly pleading and energetically supporting the measures which truth demands.
We can forget much that savours of hasty and ungraceful dogmatism in Mr. Ruskin's writing, from the very fact, that we trace in his "Notes" the clear indication, that it is because he is in earnest sincerity in his endeavours to arrive at truth himself, that he is fearlessly honest and outspoken in his declarations. There is an AUGUST-1851.
independency of thought and rugged diction about this gentleman's style, that forcibly reminds one of Luther's manly declaration to Spalatin, “I am not willing to be the slave of the opinions of men." It was not without deep spiritual and mental conflict and labour that that great apostle of Germany burst the iron bondage of his ecclesiastical prejudices, and threw away one by one those doctrines and opinions which had been stereotyped in his youthful mind. God became his teacher,-His truth made him free; and soon his spirit and his mind gave ample evidence that he was free indeed. Knowing little or nothing of Mr. Ruskin but what manifests itself in his published works, we dare hardly venture any augury as to what place he may be destined te fill, or what work it may be given him to accomplish; in the "Seven Lamps of Architecture," "The Stones of Venice," and "Modern Painters," we trace the accomplished scholar and the enlightened and independent critic; but in the work which more immediately concerns the pages in which these remarks may appear, we find, and gladly hail, much that
makes us hope for, if not demand, a still further development of such vigorous and unfettered thought. It is not our purpose to write a review of these "Notes on the Construction of Sheepfolds;" the present is rather an endeavour to see how far we, as advocates of a restoration of Church matters to something like the purity and intention of the true and early Church, are aided and encouraged by this writer.
When men begin to think seriously upon religion, and attentively to observe the manifested opinions and actions of the bulk of their fellow Christians, Churchmen as well as Dissenters, they must be sometimes painfully affected by the apparent unreality of their belief in the existence of "the universal Church." We Churchmen profess it in our creeds ; but in the common and constant workings of our minds, and much more, in the actions of daily life, we go far to make the profession a mere negation. With the Word of God in our hands we contrive so, practically, to read and determine its sense, in the matter of the one true Church of Christ, as to limit its extent to those who think with us or at all approximate to our ideas in the external institutions of worship and Church go
For all purposes of real acknowledgment, as in the sight of God, of brotherhood in Christ, we all fall immediately short of what the Great Shepherd looks for from the various members of His many sheepfolds. We are strange one to another; and what is worse, if others bleat not as we bleat, and feed not as we feed, we are very chary how we actually allow them to be sheep of Christ at all. We say not this of Churchmen only, it
is equally true of those who differ from us.
We do not, and cannot, work together, because we take, and that strongly albeit insensibly, limited and false views of the character of the whole Church of Christ, and our individual and mutual relationship to it, as the many branches of the one true Vine.
Our grand error is in practically taking up the opinion, and then acting upon it, that to be real members of the Church of Christ, we must closely embrace the same forms of Church government, some of which may be but dimly shadowed forth in Scripture; and may be fairly interpreted in the threefold way, held by Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. Whatever may be said of the acknowledgment by these parties of a grand centre of union existing for each in the universal Church of Christ, to the eye of the world, yes, and even to the unclouded eyes of these Churches themselves, the acknowledgment is virtually a bare and unsubstantial vision. We must strive to get right views here; the time is coming when they will be largely needed.
To borrow Mr. Ruskin's expression, we plant too many "stake-nets" in our several sheepfolds, which do not keep out evil and unclean beasts, but which have the effect of preventing the entrance of the common sheep of Christ; and until we shall severally agree to destroy all these hindrances to real union and communion, the Church of Christ will never present its winning aspect of " oneness to the world. We are too much occupied with our own little enclosures, and the laws and external and internal arrangements we have laid down as indispensable accompaniments to Church membership, for us
to be willing, openly and heartily, to love and acknowledge as brethren all those who are equally with us loved and acknowledged by Christ.
We have our peculiar "stake-nets' in the Church of England, which not only have the effect of warning off, and effectually separating us from other communions, but which are also perpetually entangling and worrying the minds and consciences of many of the best members in our own body.
1. We so strongly hold the doctrine of the threefold order of the ministry, that for all purposes of near and positive inter-communion, we unchurch every other non-episcopal branch of Christ's Church. Evangelicals may lament this, but they make no positive and vigorous effort to attain a less isolated and more brotherly position.
2. The state of our episcopacy, in station and revenue, cannot be defended by the boldest champion for the integrity of our Church, except he be one who is content with the spectacle of the Church in its present aspect of too close an alliance and identity with the world.
and feeling it to be wrong, instead of labouring to get rid of it altogether, we have been taught to explain away the fact with reasons miserably insufficient. The very actions which the Priest may do, and which the Deacon may not do, give more than a colour to the charges of those who say that we affect a priesthood altogether done away with; and if we thus give to men, or suffer them to retain, an exploded title, we must not wonder if they strive to assume the prerogative of the office itself. Mr. Ruskin well states the question in the following words, "As for the unhappy retention of the term Priest, in our English Prayerbook, so long as it was understood to mean nothing but an upper order of Church officer,-licensed to tell the congregation from the reading-desk, what (for the rest) they might, one would think, have known without being told, that God pardoneth all them that truly repent,'-there was little harm in it; but now that this order of clergy begins to presume upon a title, which, if it mean anything at all, is simply short for Presbyter, and has no more to do with the word Hiereus than with the word Levite, it is time that some order should be taken both with the book and the clergy.... The office of the Lawgiver and the Priest is now for ever gathered into One Mediator between God and man; and THEY are guilty of the sin of Korah who blasphemously would associate themselves in His Mediatorship."-Ruskin, pp. 24 to 25.
Yet here, what strong protest is ever made by Evangelicals? When have they ever as a body faithfully declared their sentiments upon the unspiritualizing nature of the too exalted station of the English Episcopate? We may have held, and privately declared our individual sentiment, but no bold and faithful remonstrance has ever proceeded from a quarter, from which, if from anywhere, it was to be expected.
3. The very term of Priest, used by our Church for the second order of the ministry, is an offence, and a "stake-net" of no ordinary character. Here too how unfaithful have we been to scriptural truth. Knowing,
4. The manner in which the appointments of these "Church officers" is made. Of bishops, by an appointment from the minister of the day. Of vicars, rectors, and other incumbents, for the most part, by a single patron, without the voice or veto of a single
flock, which is too often handed over to a hireling pastor by the filthy lucremoved hammer of a clerical auctio
As to the appointment of our bishops, we have done nothing to remove the singular anomaly which allows an election, but enjoins, or absolutely overrides the choice. As to the disposal of patronage we may have individually attempted to remedy the evil and obloquy, by buying up livings and vesting them in really christian trustees; but whatever of particular or more extended good may have followed such a course, it has been not only necessarily limited in extent, but is also an unsatisfactory mode of dealing with a great practical evil. If anything is more than ordinarily self-evident, the evil of our present system of patronage is too clearly shewn by its practical working in our thousands of country parishes. Yet in this, we Evangelicals are silent and almost inactive, thankfully accepting the few exceptions of a favourable character, and blind to the fearful consequences of the overwhelming majority which forms the rule of evil.
Turning from things external, to the internal arrangement of our Church worship, we have here also to lament and too the presence of too many potent "stake-nets." An absolution, which as it stands in our Prayer-book, whether we regard the term or its use, is one of these. We cannot state its character and its evil tendency better than by quoting Mr. Ruskin :
"As for the passages in the Ordering of Priests" and "Visitation of the Sick." respecting Absolution, they are evidently pure Romanism, and might as well not be there, for any practical effect which they have on the consciences of the Laity; - and had much better not be there, as re
gards their effect on the minds of the Clergy. It is indeed true that Christ promised absolving power to His Apostles: He also promised to those who believed, that they should take up serpents, and if they drank any deadly thing, it should not hurt them. His words were fulfilled literally; but those who would extend their force to beyond the Apostolic times, must extend both promises, or
Although, however, the Protestant laity do not often admit the absolving power of their clergy, they are but too apt to yield, in some sort, to the impression of their greater sanctification; and from this instantly results the unhappy consequence that the sacred character of the Layman himself is forgotten, and his own ministerial duty is neglected. Men not in office in the Church suppose themselves, on that ground, in a sort unholy; and that, therefore, they may sin with more excuse, and be idle or impious with less danger, than the Clergy: especially they consider themselves relieved from all ministerial function, and as permitted to devote their whole time and energy to the business of this world. No mistake can possibly be greater. Every member of the Church is equally bound to the service of the Head of the Church; and that service is pre-eminently the saving of souls. There is not a moment of a man's active life in which he may not be indirectly preaching; and throughout a great part of his life be ought to be directly preaching, and teaching both strangers and friends; his children, his servants, and all who in any way are put under him, being given to him as especial objects of his ministration."
And we cordially concur in his conclusion expressed on the last page of his " Notes," that the " English Church must cut the term Priest entirely out of her Prayer-book, and substitute for it that of Minister or Elder. The passages respecting ab
solution must be thrown out also, except the doubtful one in the Morning Service, in which there is no harm." p. 50.
We have only touched upon the above "stake-nets," which seriously mar the efficient and comprehensive working of a Church we truly love; we might enter largely into the consideration of others, which are equally, if not more detrimental to its truest interests.
Let us ponder for a moment on the multitudes kept out from our communion by the scripturally unwarranted terms of our Baptismal Service, while they are really sources of disquiet, if not of a stronger feeling, to many thousands who are unwilling to abandon a Church which has, with all its imperfections, been so signally blessed of God. The records of our Church history, recent experience, and our own real feelings, tell us that our Service here, whatever may be the theory, is too unguarded and unconditional in its language, and too strongly declarative in its thanksgiving for an hypothetical benefit; yet the movement for the slightest alteration is declared to be unnecessary and dangerous, by the very men, whose constant line of teaching destroys the very foundation of every explanation. by which they declare their adhesion to the Service as it is.*
The Burial Service acts much in the same way as a barrier against the comprehension, by our Church, of many godly ministers and laymen; while it often sorely torments the consciences of those who have to use it indiscriminately. In the case of
either of these services we need not offer any illustrations;-the character of too many a group around the fonts of our parish churches, and the history of far too many a coffin lowered into the silent grave, will suggest in secret whispers to the minds of our maintainers of the inviolability of the ritual, that the doctrine of a charitable, and in by too far the greatest number of instances, a false hypothesis, is no safe or sound answer to the substantial reasons of those who plead for services more in consistency with the revealed truth of God, the chequered character of man and the finite judgment of his fellow creatures.
When we reflect upon the very few things in which alteration is either desired or needed, we stand astonished at the beauty and comparative perfection of the Book itself; but we are as much amazed at the persevering obstinacy or indifference, which prevents the serious consideration of any amendment whatever in the particulars pointed out. It really strikes us much in the same way,-but of course in an infinitely higher sense,—as if, on some otherwise excellently appointed railway, a set of engines should be tolerated, which, almost perfect yet possessing some defect, every now and then caused serious accident and alarm, while they perpetually perilled the safety and comfort of the trains they propelled. It might be the absence of some safety valve or screw, it might possibly be the provoking stiffness of some crank, or faultiness of a driving-wheel; yet what would be thought of engineers, directors, or shareholders, who persisted in refusing to listen to complaints, and to examine into and to remove, if necessary, the cause of danger or discomfort. Surely, the very
For a strong proof of this we may refer, inter aliis, to a tract recently published by Mr. Ryle, entitled "Are you Regenerate?" A startling enquiry to those readers, over whom may have been said the thanksgiving prayer of our baptismal Service.