Thoughts on Parish Life
by Susan Fenimore Cooper
The Churchman, June 30, 1883-October 20, 1883
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Thoughts on Parish Life
June 30, 1883: 722-723
The thoughts on these pages are the result of a life-long experience in connection with several different dioceses, and a number of different parishes. They are offered to the reader with humility, with sincerity, and in charity unfeigned.
“God setteth the solitary in families.”
The parish holds in the Church the position which the family holds in the State.
The parish exists for the Lord’s service and the good of its individual members. It is a field in which the love of God, and the love of our neighbor naturally find full development. With purposes so noble, the bond which forms the parish should assuredly be a strong and a hallowed one. Well may we all be anxious that the particular parish to which we belong should be found faithful to its duties, faithful in devotion, faithful in zealous Christian work, faithful in brotherly love and kindness. But is it not true that, while most sincere Christians give serious thought to subjects connected with the Church at large, and anxious thought to their own private duties, the subject of their connection with parish life, and the particular obligations following that connection, do not receive all the consideration they may justly claim?
In private life we all, it is hoped, pause frequently to look into our individual course as members of a Christian family; we ask ourselves if we are faithfully discharging our duties as husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter; but it is to be feared that as regards the spiritual family, the parish into which we are, by the providence of God, regularly incorporated, we are much more remiss.
Let us then, Christian reader, give a few leisure moments to reflecting on the practical details of our own religious life, as connected with the parish to which we belong.
The great elements of parish life, subordinate to our Lord and His Church, are: 1, The Ministry; 2, The Brotherhood of Fellow worshippers; 3, The Liturgy; 4, The Church Building, or Visible Home of the Parish. Let us consider separately our individual duty as connected with each of these different subjects.
I. - THE MINISTRY
“Let a man so account of us as the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” - I Cor. Iv. 1.
“Let him that is taught in the Word minister unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived. God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” -Gal. vi 6,7.
The duties we owe to our parish clergyman are many. The first of these, no doubt, is respect for his office. We belong to a Church which believes in a divinely appointed ministry, going back for its origin to apostolic times. No minister of this Church enters upon his sacred office without a long course of preparation, without much study under regular authority, with careful examination [Column break] by his superiors, and most solemn ordination. “Which offices,” says the Prayer Book, speaking of the offices of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, “were evermore had in such reverent estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by public prayer with imposition of hands, were approved and admitted thereto by lawful authority.” We have all been present at the sacred service of ordination. We have heard the candidates answer questions the most solemn:
“Do you trust that you are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office and ministration, to serve God for the promoting of His glory and the edifying of His people?”
“I trust so.”
“Do you think that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the canons of this Church, to the ministry of the same?”
“I think so.”
Every priest and deacon of this Church has answered those most serious questions. Every priest has received authority, after the most solemn invocation of the Holy Spirit at his ordination, to be a faithful dispenser of the Word of God, and of His sacraments. Let us then not forget that the ministry are a class apart, that in matters connected with religion they are the official superiors of the laity. They have especial duties and especial privileges, and they have especial responsibilities which are fearfully heavy. The life of a sincere, devout, zealous clergyman must necessarily have many trials, often severe trials, to be followed if faithfully endured, by especial rewards. In the great conflict between God’s people and the world, the flesh, and the devil, to which we are all pledged in baptism, he is the official leader. Respect for a divinely appointed ministry should therefore render each one of us watchful over ourselves, that by our own individual conduct and example, we do not as parishioners add to the trials of our rector; that we do not add to the obstacles in his way; that we do not impair his usefulness; that if there be stumbling-blocks before him, we may be able to say with truth that it is not by our hands they have been thrown in his path.
Justice to our Rector: Respect for his office will naturally be followed by a spirit of justice in our intercourse with our rector. Unhappily to be really just is no easy task for human nature. We are very apt to lean to one side or the other, often merely from caprice, often from interested motives of one kind or another. We can never be truly just to him unless we frequently and dispassionately examine our own conduct as individuals in this particular, and call ourselves strictly to account for any short comings. Let us constantly bear in mind in this connection the golden rule. “Do to others as you would have others do to you:” let us endeavor to fulfill toward our rector, the same duties we should wish him to carry out toward ourselves, were our positions reversed. To make more sure of this spirit of justice, due to our parish clergyman, let us examine ourselves on certain points inseparable from the subject; let us enter into a few details.
A just sense of what is proper, one should suppose, might suffice at all times to make every parishioner respectful in manner and [page 25] language toward his rector. The simple decencies of good manners require this tribute of respect to his office. But we should also be careful when speaking of him to others that the same rule be carried out. Never in any way lessening his influence by the want of a respectful tone, never judging him harshly, especially about trifles, bearing in mind the injunction of our Lord: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and considereth not the beam that is in thine own eye?” “Judge not, that ye be not judged; for with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” The rule holds good even in cases where we cannot entirely sympathize with a clergyman’s course in certain particulars. A respectful dissent is always possible under such circumstances.
Exaggerated Expectations: Another instance in which we should be just to our rector consists in guarding against exaggerated notions of what we have a right to ask of him. A little healthful humility will be very serviceable here - humility as individuals and humility as a parish. Individual conceit is a folly only too common. But there is also such an evil as parish conceit. Is it not true for instance that there are not a few parishes which expect great things from their rector in the way of eloquence? The good people expect something superior from every Sunday sermon, nay, they expect something superior twice a day, every Sunday in the year to say nothing of week-day lectures. And this eloquence must be adapted to their own particular taste, it must have the particular shade of religious coloring which they most fancy. Then the sermon must never be long and must never be short. And the clergyman must have a fine voice. He must, of course, be a first-rate reader. A sensible, earnest preacher, a respectable reader with a fairly good voice will not suffice for this parish. The minister may have a very devout heart, be very spiritually-minded, very faithful to all his duties; but if he be not naturally gifted with brilliant eloquence and a fine voice, he will not answer for this parish. Then he must neither be too tall nor too short, but of the precise height becoming to this pulpit and reading-desk. He must be entirely sound in doctrine of course, in a parish as wise as this; and of that soundness are there not three hundred and thirty-three competent judges, this parish numbering just four hundred souls including infants? It is all very well to talk of adherence to regular and long-established Church Standards, — the Prayer Book and the Canons, — that sort of soundness may satisfy some weak-minded people, but this parish has a right to demand something more! We, who are all so spiritually-minded, all so profoundly learned in theology, all so very familiar with Church history, all so wise in our generation; we, in this parish, have clearly a right to require of our clergyman a soundness of doctrine and practice in every conceivable detail entirely satisfactory to each individual member of the congregation. Nothing else will be tolerated in such a parish as this.
Alas! is it not sad to think that there are worthy Christian people carrying with them to the Lord’s House every Sunday, this spirit of conceit, watching the clergyman at every step, for purposes of criticism, and very little watchful meanwhile, it is to be feared, over their own hearts, tongues, and tempers? We are all familiar with the text which requires unceasing prayers, but where shall we find [column break] the text enjoining perpetual criticism? You are happy, dear reader, if you have never heard a deserving clergyman discussed in a spirit somewhat similar in character to the remarks given above. There are even parishioners who are apparently proud of this critical spirit; they persuade themselves that it shows talent, discernment, knowledge of the world. Alas! they are ignorant of one important fact capable of daily proof - that of all accomplishments, that of fault-finding is the most easily acquired.
Now, what are the reasonable expectations as regards the rector of an average Church parish? We have a right, no doubt, to desire a sincerely good man for our clergyman, a respectable preacher, a fairly good reader, a man throwing himself heartily into his sacred work, regular in parish visiting, a friend of the poor, a comforter of the sick, an instructor of the ignorant, a man whose private life is consistent with his calling, one whose teaching and practice are guided by the regular standards of the Church. When such is the character of a parish clergyman the people should assuredly be very careful to refrain from the spirit of criticism. Such a pastor must always have a right to the sympathy and support and respect of every faithful parishioner.
Flattery. Justice to our rector, respect for his office, must also exclude flattery. It may appear singular but it is nevertheless strictly true, that in the same parish we may often see a clergyman exposed to the double trial of unkindly criticism on one side, and, on the other, of dangerous flattery. Alas! for the rector who is degraded into a familiar pet by this or that set of men and women, this or that family. He is placed in a very false position. Like the king in legal fiction, he can do no wrong. To a young man this becomes a very dangerous snare. Both men and women fall into this weakness of flattering a favorite clergyman. But it is, as a rule, especially women who make themselves conspicuous, may we not say, ridiculous, in this way? Many women are naturally impulsive, excitable, their likings and dislikes are too often vehemently proclaimed. In mothers and young girls the matrimonial element often comes into play if the clergyman be a single man, and many unworthy manoeuvres follow as a matter of course, flattery entering largely into the proceedings. As a rule such manoeuvres carry their own punishment with them, being usually followed by ridicule on the part of the parishioners generally. The amount of flattery lavished upon a clergyman under such circumstances is degrading to both parties, and especially dangerous to a young man, by fostering personal conceit. But this flattery is by no means connected with matrimonial projects only. The impulsive nature of many women leads them to something of the same kind in the Church of Rome also, where the clergy are vowed to celibacy. It is a sort of blind partiality which leads certain weak women to lavish small attentions on the favorite clergyman for the time being, to defend his every action, whether wise or unwise, to exalt him, in fact, to a pedestal which gives him something of the position of an idol, to whom the incense of flattery is being forever offered by these his female votaries. One half hour of serious thought might suffice, we should suppose, to show clearly to every modest woman of good sense that such a course is utterly unworthy of herself or her pastor. Such flattery is inconsistent with the [column break] respect we owe to the clerygman’s office. There is something contemptible in flattery, no matter to whom it may be offered, or what may be the form it takes. There is always a selfish motive lurking under flattery. There must always be a treacherous element in flattery. The silly motive of wishing to fill the position of the favorite parishioner will sometimes lead not only women, but men also, to make this serious mistake.
July 7, 1883: 20-21.
I. - THE MINISTRY (continued)
Support: One important point to be considered in connection with justice to our parish clergymen is that of his financial support. Is that support really sufficient for his comfortable and respectable maintenance? Is the amount of his salary really in just proportion to the means of the people? Are we personally doing all in our power to contribute our full share to that amount? Is he honestly paid every quarter, or is the sum pledged to him dishonestly withheld? Are we, as individuals, doing all in our power steadily to uphold in the parish to which we belong, sound opinion and upright action, in this particular? Or, are we careless and indifferent on this point, thrusting the subject aside without due consideration of its importance? Do we allow party spirit to interfere with common honesty in this particular? If we happen not to like the clergyman personally, do we allow that personal feeling to interfere with the honest payment of our own share of his salary?
Well will it be for us if we can conscientiously, as individuals, in the sight of God, answer each of these questions favorably.
Unhappily, it is to be feared that in not a few cases, the answers, if truthfully recorded, would not be favorable. The support of the parish clergyman has not received the full consideration it may justly claim. The people are more or less indifferent to his comfortable maintenance. His salary is not in just proportion to the means of the people. Individuals in easy circumstances do not contribute their reasonable share towards the amount pledged. He is not punctually paid every quarter; on the contrary there are always arrears, more or less heavy. We do not individually take pains to promote a healthful opinion on this subject among our fellow [column break] parishioners; we rarely give it a thought, never allude to it. Possibly the clergyman is not personally a favorite of ours, and therefore no one can expect that we should interest ourselves in the payment of his salary, merely from a sense or justice and honesty. Possibly we have strong party feelings, very strong indeed, on this or that religious question, and we are well content for the sake of this party feeling to lose sight not only of charity but of honesty also. Indeed, we should consider it a triumph for the party to which we adhere if the present incumbent were actually starved out of the parish. It would cause a gratifying sensation to us to learn that, owing to our failure to pay the salary pledged, he has been compelled to resign.
Alas that assertions like these should be capable of proof even in a single parish. What then must be our feeling when we have reason to fear that in every diocese there may be more than one parish where simple honesty and plain justice are lost sight of, in connection with this subject of the support of the clergyman? The heart sinks with shame and sorrow at the mere thought that such inconsistent conduct should be tolerated in a parish bearing the Christian name.
Now what can possibly be the cause of an inconsistency so unworthy? Dear Christian reader, most of our shortcomings may be traced to one cause. We do not give sufficient thought to the particular point of duty in which we have failed. What says the prophet? “My people doth not consider.” These words are as true to-day as they were when uttered by the Prophet Isaiah, long ages ago. “The Lord hath nourished and brought up children” in His family, the Church, and they have failed in duty. And what is the cause of this unnatural forgetfulness of duty? “My people doth not consider.” Yes; whenever a Christian fails in a plain duty, we may feel assured that it is from want of full consideration of all that is bound up in the fulfillment or non-fulfilment of that particular obligation. And when a parish fails in justice and honesty to its rector, we may feel equally sure that the evil is to be attributed to the fact that “My people doth not consider.”
Friendship. - Every man and woman in the parish should be a friend to the rector. Kindly feeling and kindly action should never be wanting. Even if not in full personal sympathy with him respect for his office should guard against any unfriendly course, so long as he is “over us in the Lord.” Happily there are many ways in which a worthy Christian friendship can show itself toward the clergyman. Every minister of the gospel, if faithful to his duties, must necessarily be a cross-bearer. Kindly sympathy under trials and difficulties must always be grateful if offered in sincerity, with prudence and good sense. And such sympathy, when pure from any selfish motive and free from party spirit, must always be respectable.
The means of the clergy of our Church, as a rule, are very limited; few are in easy circumstances, and any addition to the comforts and conveniences of the parsonage household, offered in sincere kindness, would no doubt give a double pleasure, not only as supplying what may be lacking, but still more as a proof of friendly regard and interest.
It is needless to say that a comfortable rectory should always be provided, a house worthy of the home feeling. This must always be one of the first obligations of a parish. And any additions or needed repairs, should always be cheerfully attended to. Much may be done to brighten a pastoral life when such improvements are made in a truly, friendly, and kindly spirit. A suitable study should always be provided. In some parishes an example is set which it might be wished that all should follow; a large amount of permanent furniture is provided for the rectory, and consequently is never removed when the clergyman resigns and another takes his place; stoves, bedsteads, bookcases, writing table, wardrobes, tables, chairs, carpets, window shades, etc., are fixtures reserved for the use of the clergyman in charge. This is a very great saving of time, labor, and expense to a new incumbent. Some arrangement of this kind is very desirable for every parish, out of kindly forethought for the clergyman’s comfort and convenience.
The allusion to bookcases may lead to few words on rectors’ libraries. A good library is of very great importance to a clergyman, and especially so in country parishes and the smaller towns of a diocese. In such situations it is often very difficult, or even impossible, for a clergyman to procure some volume greatly needed. But in these days of rapid publication, a good selection of standard theological works, or books likely to be needed for reference, might be gradually provided by the parish for the rector’s use, at no heavy expense. In all congregations there is a parish aid society of one kind or another; if this society were to add but one standard volume to the rector’s library every year, the collection would soon be useful and in the end valuable. The clergyman might name every year the work most needed.
In connection with this subject of providing books for the parish clergy a suggestion may be offered. Many of our dioceses are divided into convocations. Could we not have convocation libraries, from which theological works might be borrowed by the clergy needing them? Such a library might be provided by different modes of collection, subscriptions, gifts, exchanges, every parish contributing; and beginning moderately, would be likely in time to become valuable. To the clergy of country parishes this might be of great advantage; the expense of postage would be moderate, and with a regular librarian residing in one of the most central towns of the convocation, the business details could easily be managed.
Whatever means can make a parish a desirable residence for a clergyman, will in the end prove a benefit to the parishioners. Frequent changes of rectors must necessarily have an unhappy effect upon the congregation. Time should strengthen the parochial tie, and must naturally add greatly to the influence of a good clergyman; his closer knowledge of individuals, their cares, trials, temptations, sorrows, joys, will add greatly to the usefulness of his ministrations through the practical wisdom which comes from experience, and the glow of life long charities.
All the members of a parish have it in their power, more or less, to contribute to the comfort and pleasure of the clergyman in many different ways. Much may be done to cheer him in his daily labors by ready co-operation in religious work. And there are many kindly, neighborly attentions to himself and his family which may brighten his daily [page 21] life when offered in the right spirit; social invitations, some little recreation, a drive or a sail, some offering from the farm or the garden in a country parish, some useful or pleasing festival gift at Christmas or Easter. And sincere Christian feeling should always be the soul of the gift. Even a trifle may become very acceptable in this way.
A friendly call from time to time should never be omitted. Here the men of a parish are, it is to be feared, often remiss. Apparently they expect all the calls to be made by the rector. Business is the usual excuse. But which is the most important business, that of the merchant, tradesman, mechanic, or professional man, or that of the earnest, diligent minister of the gospel? The time of every zealous clergyman is of necessity very much occupied; religious services, writing, study, parish visiting, and the never-ceasing round of varied parochial duties leave but little leisure. The business man can usually find time to attend social gatherings and public amusements of different kinds; can he not occasionally give an evening hour to a visit at the rectory? While it is true kindness on the part of women to refrain from what in familiar phrase is spoken of as “Running after the clergyman,” encroaching upon his time, invading his study, perchance his vestry-room, obtruding themselves upon his attention, it is also true kindness on the part of the men of their parishes to remember that the attention of a social call upon their rector from time to time is an act of friendliness and respect not to be omitted.
Happily there are few parishioners who on occasions of sickness of the rector would be careless, or negligent. Our people are generally kind-hearted, not slow to offer sympathy and neighborly attentions at such moments. Every act of considerate thoughtfulness must have especial value in the hour of suffering or debility, when the consciousness that he is withheld from active duty is in itself a heavy trial to a clergyman. If the illness is prolonged, warm and active sympathy should be unfailing. If lasting infirmity follow, the path of duty lies plain before us; so far as lies in our power to comfort and support under the affliction must be our aim. And as the years pass over and as old age approaches, so much the more anxious should we be to lighten the burden to the servant of God. Our thoughts, our efforts, our means, and our prayers should ever be freely given to the aged clergyman, more especially so if he has been long “over us in the Lord.” Every year that he has served in the Lord’s house adds greatly to his claims upon us. Let those claims never be forgotten, never be lightly passed over.
Support of the Aged Clergy. The subject of the comfortable support of the aged clergy is receiving at the present day a portion, at least, of the attention it may justly claim; but, alas! in this, as in other particulars, we fall far short of plain, manifest duty. People are too often careless, lukewarm, thoughtless on this subject. There is always in every diocese a class of aged and infirm clergy, more or less numerous, and also the widows and orphans of others, who are living from day to day amid the severe trials of old age and disease and poverty. These venerable men have served in the Lord’s House for many years. To be set aside by old age and infirmity from the sacred work to which they gave, at an earlier period, their best energies of body and mind, must in itself be a great [column break] trial. What, then, shall be said of their sorrow when they find themselves carelessly dismissed, by some thoughtless congregation, to make way for a younger man, forgotten by the church they have served, and left to creep wearily onward to the grave, amid the very bitter trials of neglect, bodily infirmities, and great poverty? A family, in comfortable circumstances themselves, who should neglect an aged and infirm parent, who should allow him to suffer all the evils of poverty and sickness, without offering ample relief, would be utterly disgraced, would be considered as heartless niggards. What shall we say, then, of the church and parish who carelessly neglect to provide shelter and support for their spiritual fathers in old age and infirmities? Too often, when a collection is announced in a parish church for the relief of the aged and infirm clergy, the amount raised is miserably contemptible. Jewelled fingers drop carelessly into the alms bason possibly twenty-five cents, when the next day, perhaps, they will throw away a dollar on candy, and more than five times that amount on the latest fancy in ribbons or laces. And, meanwhile, the infirm clergy who formerly, perhaps, have preached in that same parish, are left in a condition of actual suffering from the want of the common necessaries of life. Oh! may the Lord in mercy soften all our hearts that this sin of neglect of the aged clergy, their widows and orphans, be not laid to our charge. Our Church is rich. In every parish of any size there is more or less of wealth. For the sake of all holy charities, nay, for the Lord’s sake, let us arouse ourselves, and make ample provision for the support of those aged servants of God!
Prayers for our Rectors. There is yet another important duty which we owe to our clergyman, a duty which may not be overlooked. We should pray for him with regularity, and with earnest sincerity. Intercessory prayer is a most important part of our religious duty. St. Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, converted by the Lord Himself, and miraculously favored during his subsequent ministry, could yet ask for the prayers of those who had been converted by his own preaching: “Brethren, pray for us.” We may well believe that this request has been recorded in Holy Scripture as an example for the Church in all ages. And in addition to this striking example, the duty of praying for our rectors may be said to be clearly a natural and self-evident obligation.
The spirit of the prayers we are to offer may be gathered from the different petitions in behalf of the clergy, as we find them in the liturgy of our Church:
“Almighty and everlasting God, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift; send down upon our bishops, and other clergy, the healthful spirit of Thy grace; and, that they may truly please Thee, pour upon them the continual dew of Thy blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honor of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
In the Litany we pray for the entire body of the clergy of the Church Catholic:
“We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord, that it may please Thee to illuminate all bishops, priests, and deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of Thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth, and show it accordingly.”
The Collects in the Office of Institution are often used for the clergy. And the solemn prayer offered by the rector himself, at his [column break] institution, may easily be changed so as to adapt it for use at family prayers, or in our private devotions:
“O Lord God! Who hast honored Thy servant, the rector of this parish, by appointing him to stand in Thy House, and to serve at Thy holy altar, grant, we beseech Thee, that to Thee, and to Thy service, he may devote himself, soul, body, and spirit, with all their powers and faculties. Fill his memory with the words of Thy law; enlighten his understanding with the illumination of the Holy Ghost, and grant that all the wishes and desires of his will may centre in what Thou hast commanded. Vouchsafe to make him instrumental in promoting the salvation of the people committed to his charge, and grant that he may faithfully administer Thy holy sacraments, and by his life and doctrine set forth Thy true and lively Word. Be ever with him in the performance of all the duties of his ministry; in prayer to quicken his devotion; in praises to heighten his love and gratitude; and in preaching to give a readiness of thought and expression suitable to the clearness and excellency of Thy Holy Word. Grant this for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.”
Such may be said to be the spirit in which we should pray for our pastors, offering fervent petitions free from all party spirit, and from all individual fancies and caprices. And it were not too much to offer, daily, some one prayer for our pastors, either at family prayers or in our private devotions.
July 14, 1883: 50-51
II. - THE BROTHERHOOD
“These things I command you, that ye love one another.” - St. John XV. 17.
The bond of Church brotherhood is clearly intended by our Lord to be a very close and precious one, and has many rich blessings connected with it. But in this particular it is to be feared that we too often neglect our opportunities, we are too often careless and thoughtless on this point. The heart which has learned something of the blessedness of the love of God, the first great commandment, is still cold and indifferent to the second, the love of our neighbor, which, in our Lord’s words, “Is like unto it.” Too many of us are content with doing no harm to our neighbor, forgetful of the command to “love him as thyself.” There is no command of our Lord which does not yield rich blessing to the soul endeavoring faithfully to carry it out, and the precept to love our neighbor is no exception to the rule. “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” said our Lord and the many kindly affections which are cherished in a loving heart, while they cheer and console, and support those to whom they render service, become to the giver their own precious reward. The breadth of the command to love our neighbor as ourself seems marvelous to the selfish human heart, as we find it interpreted by our Lord in the parable of the Good Samaritan; not only the relative, the friend, the familiar companion, those belonging to the same community, to the same household of faith, but the stranger, the alien, the man opposed to views we hold to be right - even this man becomes our neighbor, and has a right to our services in the hour of need. We are to “have compassion on him.” We are to feel for his sorrows, and to offer him all the kindly aid in our power. Love, to be worthy of the name, must not be a passive feeling; it must be active. Love must serve those it loves. Love is a servant, and all loving service is honorable.
In connection with parish life this command calls for especial and very serious consideration. No Christian parishioner can escape from its obligations. Its duties are manifold; and the first of those duties must ever be Christian watchfulness over our own hears and our own course of action. Nothing will help more to clear the atmosphere about us, and enable us to see plainly the right path, as regards our brethren of the same parish, than two plain Christian virtues. The first of these is humility. “Humility is truth; all pride is a lie,” says Bishop Taylor. Personal humility will prevent all exaggerations of our own merits, our own claims. Self will no longer be magnified at our neighbor’s expense. Our own wisdom will no longer seem infallible, our own judgment beyond all doubt, our own acts inevitably right. We shall no longer seek to impose all our own personal opinions on our brother parishioner, we shall be capable of giving just consideration to views differing from our own. We shall no longer be eager to direct, to control. A sound and wholesome humility will thus prepare the heart for the second virtue greatly needed by every [column break] parishioner - a peaceable spirit. “Only by pride cometh contention,” says the proverb.
The importance of Christian peace in a parish is beyond calculation. Consider for a moment the many evils closely connected with a lack of this virtue, the inevitable consequences of an unpeaceable state of feeling. Strife and contention follow as a matter of course, and produce evil fruits which are always deplorable, and often utterly disgraceful to the Christian name. The apostle plainly warns us that “where strife is there is confusion and every evil work.” Strong words these. And yet to those who have, from sad personal observation, noted the evil consequences of that spirit, the language is none too severe. It is simple truth. Yes; experience unhappily proves that when strife prevails in a parish we must be prepared for every evil work. Strife, under the mask of religion, has no scruples, stops short at no unworthy word or act, by which it looks for its own triumph. Go to the family fireside, to the social gathering in a parish in a condition of strife, make note of the conversation on points connected with the subjects under dispute, and mark with sadness how small is the number of those who have learned the solemn Christian duty of “bridling the tongue”! Look at the course of a church election in such a parish; listen, and blush. It is true that the dignity of human nature seldom appears to advantage at any election whatever, whether it be for village constable or King of the Romans. Elections are a necessary evil of modern civilization. To purify them becomes a great duty. But in connection with offices of the Church, partially religious in character, one should expect better things. Too often that expectation is sadly disappointed. All the many injunctions of the gospel to a Christlike temper seem utterly lost sight of. The evil blast of party spirit has full sweep. Not unfrequently the same vulgar expedients resorted to in a political canvass are employed when seeking votes for a vestryman or a churchwarden. Unworthy men, who perhaps from one year’s end to the other never enter the house of God for worship, are dragged from the bar-room to deposit a vote. The defeat of the opposite party is the object sought for, and attained at times, it is to be feared, by very unworthy means. The Lord’s service, the Lord’s command, become apparently very secondary matters. Listen at such times to the miserable chatter on religious subjects heard at the tables of boarding-houses and hotels, on the decks of steamboats, in railroad cars, nay, even in bar-rooms. Listen, and mourn over the audacity of human nature.
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
At such unhappy moments the contending parties will even carry on, in the secular papers, discussions connected with the most sacred subjects. The earnest Christian is often shocked, nay, deeply wounded, by the ignorance, the presumption, the irreverence appearing in similar articles. Such are among the many “evil works” proceeding from the spirit of strife when connected with religion, or, to speak more justly, claiming under false colors to be connected with religion. Unhappily the taste for this sort of strife increases by indulgence, the man or woman who yields to it acquires a sort of intemperate appetite for food of this exciting kind, they are perpetually on the look-out for matter for fault-finding, no subject is too holy to be dragged into the contest, no trifle is too [page 51] insignificant for their purpose. Where, pray, is the personal humility of such a parishioner? what has become of the prayerful watchfulness over heart and tongue enjoined upon all who name the name of Christ?
Whenever we enter the house of God for morning service we solemnly, on our knees, offer an earnest prayer: “O God, who art the Author of Peace and Lover of concord.” Shall we, then, on rising from our knees, leave the church, to rush about the parish stirring up strife? God forbid:
“The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
July 21, 1883: 79-80
II. - THE BROTHERHOOD. - (Continued.)
Peace. Let us rather bear ever in mind the value attached by our Lord Himself to the virtue of peace. During the first year of His human ministry, when His disciples were gathered at His feet on the mountain-side in Palestine, He “who spake as never man spake,” promised precious blessings to the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the merciful; but the choicest of all gifts were offered to the pure in heart, and to the peacemakers.
The pure in heart shall “see God,” shall have especial fruition of His presence. The peacemakers “shall be called the children of God.” Who, after weighing those sacred words, shall dare to trifle with Christian peace? Who, rather, shall not gladly strive by humble obedience to earn this blessed name and the sacred privilege associated with it by our Lord Himself? It would seem as if Christian education, after acquiring the elements named previously in our Lord’s sermon - humility, repentance, meekness, longing after holiness, a merciful temper, and purity of heart - reached completeness in this peaceable spirit, and if we search the writings of the apostle we find that they carried out fully in detail the same instruction to the Church at a later day. “The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,” says St. Paul. And again he adds: “Let us therefore follow after things that make for peace.” “If it be possible as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” “Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.” The peace of God! remarkable expression. The wicked, we are told by the ancient prophet, can never know peace. “There is no peace to the wicked, saith my God.” In a very striking text St. Paul tells us: “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Here we find peace and holiness very closely connected together, implying that there can be no true holiness where the spirit of peace is absent from the heart. And then again we have the remarkable passage of St. James: “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” The true peacemakers are sowing the blessed fruit of righteousness, just as those who are foment[column break]ing contention are sowing the seeds of “strife and every evil work.” The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the gospel of peace to all who receive it in true humility, and endeavor faithfully to carry out its precepts. He Himself is the “Prince of Peace.”
How carefully then should we refrain from wounding this spirit of peace so dear to our Lord that He calls those who promote it “His children”! Let us rather seek earnestly to foster peace in our own hearts and in those of our neighbors. Let us be watchful against the first approaches of dissension in connection with religious subjects. “The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water; therefore, leave off contention before it be meddled with,” says the proverb. Observe also that while strife is so dangerous, so poisonous in its nature, Christian peace, like true Christian humility, is a noble and generous virtue. Christianity knows nothing of cowardice. A truly peaceful disposition is a manly disposition. What character can be more contemptible than that of the religious bully? The Lord Jesus, in His manhood on earth, left to his people an example the most perfect of human courage and endurance, both physical and moral. And He was the “Prince of Peace.” We must be ready, if need be, to make serious personal sacrifices in behalf of true Christian peace. The servant of Christ is plainly told by his Lord Himself that he must bear the cross. Nay, more than this, he must be ready at the call of duty to sacrifice a right hand or a right eye rather than yield to sinful temptation. How clearly then are we all bound to sacrifice our evil tempers, all envy, hatred, malice, and uncharitableness, and throwing all these aside, kneel humbly, in loving obedience, at the feet of the Holy Saviour, the Prince of Peace.
If Christian parishes had always been fully educated in a pure and manly humility and a love of that peace which is akin to holiness, the heinous sins of a schismatic spirit would have been less rife among us than they are today. Self-conceit is almost inevitably an active agent in schism, and works through the restless love of strife and contention. By these means the unworthy man and woman easily attain a personal importance otherwise beyond their reach. Any one may readily acquire the honors of a parochial fire-brand. For such we may well offer the prayer, “Lord, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They do not pause to consider how deeply they are wounding the Lord’s body, His Church.
And, O Christian reader, how blessed, on the other hand, are the precious fruits of the Spirit, the heritage of the true children of God - “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance”! There is more of true joy in the sacrifice on one evil temper in laying it down at the feet of the Holy Saviour, in holding out the hand of sincere forgiveness to a neighbor with whom we may have been contending, than in a life-time given up to the indulgence of selfish passions of wrath and strife.
Armed then with the two healthful virtues of humility and peace, the earnest parishioner may go on his way prepared to carry out the plain duty of showing love to his neighb practical service. One important duty of every parishioner is that of helping to uphold the worthy Christian character of the parish to which he belongs. Like an individual member of society every parish has a character of its own. Just as a business firm or [column break] a corporation has a reputation built up by itself, so every parish in a diocese has a character, more or less clearly defined, the result of its own course of action. We have parishes generally spoken of as zealous and hard-working, full of good works for the Lord’s service, where the band of laborers, both men and women, is large, where no Christian effort fails for lack of sympathy or helping hand or gifts of money.
Happy is the individual who belongs to such a parish! Alas, there are other congregations held to be lukewarm, careless, idle as regards religious work, difficult to arouse, lacking the hearing ear where individual effort is called for. There is the warm-hearted and generous parish, full of kindly feeling for the pastor, full of sympathy for the afflicted, devising liberal things, free in giving to all Church work whether near at hand or far away, sowing beside all waters, where “the cheerful giver” loved by the Lord is found under many a roof. There is the cold-hearted and selfish parish, which seems incapable of looking beyond its own narrow limits, which grinds the face of that poor man, the pastor, and half starves his family rather than add to his salary or pay him punctually the small stipend pledged to him - the parish where dimes are reluctantly dropped into the alms bason, while silver dollars, or it may be golden eagles, are lying snug and warm in the pocket. There is the thoughtful, conscientious, and honest parish, whose accounts are always well balanced, whose debts are promptly paid, which is careful never to incur obligations it cannot meet. There is the reckless and extravagant parish, careless of debts, and at last, perchance, mortgaging its church building, or even caring little for the disgrace of selling it to the speculator. There is the devout parish, where the Sunday congregations are large in proportion to the size of the building, where the majority are very regular in attendance, where they are not kept at home by trifles, where they gladly make an effort rather than be absent from public worship, where the mend do not take the Lord’s Day for casting up their accounts, nor the women for lying on a lounge with a silly book or sensational newspaper in hand, where at the week-day services, Litany days and festivals the attendance of prayerful souls may be counted by the score. There is the dead-alive parish, which has very little taste for prayer; where a portion of the parishioners graciously condescend to enter the Lord’s house on Sunday, when convenient to them, and provided always that the music be agreeable, and the clergyman an interesting preacher; where it is difficult to find Sunday-school teachers; where regular Bible-class becomes impossible; where the Ladies’ Working Society is in a moribund condition; where systematic district visiting is considered a very needless exertion; where the attendants at week-day services are always few and far between, where such services, in short, are considered a needless effort, perchance even declared “a bore”! There is the peaceable parish, where there is a strong abiding sense of the fact that peace is a Christian virtue; where the people have learned to be forbearing, to make full allowance for each others’ taste and partialities in matters non-essential; where vestries are decently elected; where the rector is allowed to eat his daily bread in peace and quietness. There is the quarrelsome parish, known throughout the diocese as being never at rest, always in a ferment, delighting in [page 80] turmoil, changing its rector as frequently as possible; where tongues are forever clacking; where busybodies are forever running to and fro stirring up strife.
Now let us pause to ask ourselves what are we doing, as individuals, at this very hour toward building up a truly Christian character for the parish to which we belong? Are we endeavoring, so far as lies in our power, to set a good example by our conduct as a parishioner; a good example in word and deed, steadily persevering in well-doing by a prudent, faithful, patient, loving, zealous, self-denying course?
July 28, 1883: 106-107
II. - THE BROTHERHOOD. - (Continued.)
Peace. - There is a week in the regular annual course of our Church Calendar which appeals to our hearts with significance on this point; there is a coincidence worthy of our thoughtful attention in the sequence of the services. Turn to the Collect for the Sunday before Lent:
“O Lord who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; send Thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before Thee. Grant this for Thine only Son, Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.”
Study the Epistle which follows:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily [column break] provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Note how consistent are the prayer and the teaching of the apostle. Those who have not true charity, “the very bond of peace and of all virtues,” are counted dead before God. Fearful words! Shall we then trifle with the injunction to be long suffering and patient, to avoid spiritual pride and boastfulness, and self-seeking, and angry feeling, and all language and action unseemly in a follower of the Prince of Peace? God forbid.
Three days later, within the same week, the solemn penitential services of Lent begin with the humble prayers for Ash Wednesday:
“Almighty and Everlasting God, who hatest nothing that Thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of Thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
“O Lord we beseech Thee, mercifully hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins unto Thee; that they, whose consciences by sin are accused, by Thy merciful pardon may be absolved; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Shall we not then with every return of this solemn season, as one of its duties, examine our hearts especially on this vital point of true charity in all its bearings, including, of course, our duty as parishioners? Well will it be for us if our consciences can assure us, as in the sight of God, that we have suffered long, and been kind in all our parish relations; that we have not vaunted ourselves, not been puffed up, not behaved ourselves unseemly; that, as parishioners, in our conduct toward our pastor or the brethren, we have not sought our own ends, not been easily provoked; that we have been ready to bear all things, to endure all things rather than kindle that strife which, in the words of the apostle, is followed by “contentions and every evil work,” bringing inevitably disgrace on the Church and the Christian name.
If we find that we have erred in this way, that feeling, conduct, and speech have not been sufficiently guarded, O dear reader, let us mourn over this sin, let us pray that in this particular, as in others, a new heart may be given us. Let us turn back into more humble, more peaceful, more holy ways. Let us earnestly “seek peace and ensue it.” Many worthy but weak Christians at such moments of wretched contention are easily deceived, they persuade themselves that in this or that question they and the party to which they belong are the sole champions of truth. Their opponents hold precisely the same opinion as to their own course. They also claim and believe themselves to be contending solely for the truth. But let all parties bear in mind that to contend with unworthy weapons, to use the poisoned arrows of bitter speech, to arouse the whirlwind of evil passion, even in a cause which may itself be righteous, is to commit high treason against the Christian faith. Such weapons we are plainly forbidden to use by our Lord and His apostles. We may not call down fire from heaven on even the fiercest opponents of truth: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of,” was the rebuke of our Lord to His over zealous disciples. And then bear in mind, dear reader, [page 107] that in very many human debates and contentions the truth is seldom exclusively connected with one party; there are generally portions of truth and portions of error on either side; and let us never forget that the form of wisdom inculcated by the Holy Gospel is “first pure, then peaceable and easy to be entreated.” O let us turn aside without delay into the blessed paths of charity unfeigned; if in the past we have wounded Christian peace in feeling, in speech, in action, let us fall on our knees, and implore the pardon of Him who is the Prince of Peace. And let us then turn to our opponents with Christian humility in our hearts, in a spirit of sincere forgiveness, let us meet them with kindliness of manner and language, ready to do full justice to all that is worthy in their intentions, even where we may believe them mistaken, conscious that if they have erred, we also may have erred, perchance very grievously erred, in the hour of strife.
“A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up strife.”
Aug 4, 1883: 131-132
II. - THE BROTHERHOOD. - (Continued.)
Peace.Having conscientiously examined our own personal position as a parishioner, let us now look at some of the details of parish life by which we can best carry out, in the sphere of practical work, the spirit of the second great commandment of loving our neighbor as ourself. The duty once acknowledged, the cry of self silenced, the heart strengthened by a wise humility, and a blessed spirit of peace, what a happy field of kindly labor opens before us! It should indeed often become a source of thankfulness that our Lord has graciously provided for us so many tasks pleasant and blessed in themselves. To visit the poor, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to instruct the ignorant, to cheer the sorrowful, to comfort the afflicted, to render kindly service in sickness - these are all sacred and happy duties, enjoined upon us by the command of our Lord, and by His example when on earth. And every duty to our fellow creatures in general, becomes doubly binding in connection with our brethren of the same parish. To forget these brethren, to overlook the claims of those with whom we worship every Lord’s Day, would indeed show a very cold heart. There are always labors of charity being carried on in every parish; into these let us throw ourselves heart and soul, ever keeping in mind the double motive which can alone give a religious character to such labors, the Lord’s service, and the good of our brethren. Of these motives let us never, for a moment lose sight, lest an unworthy spirit creep into our work. To these labors of charity let us give freely and gladly of our means and of our time.
First as regards our means. We hear occasionally in these times, the singular assertion that giving is a mistake, that we are all in danger of giving too much! Of the evils of extravagance in living, of self-indulgence in expensive enjoyments, of all kinds, of devotion to the pomps and vanities of the world, to the “lust of the eye and the pride of life,” we hear very little, while we are gravely told that it becomes us to be extremely cautious and circumspect in our charities. Not long since a worthy man in professional life, a regular attendant at church, a vestryman of his parish, was asked to contribute to a work of charity. The answer was spoken with no little pride of conscious worldly wisdom: “I never give!” Again a devout bishop, revered by the Church generally, had recently died; he had given with great liberality, as most of our bishops do, to Church work, to [page 132] missions, to his poor clergy, and his death left only a very moderate estate to his family; the subject of his will was spoken of at a social gathering when an excellent layman was present, a man of high principle, a communicant, and a churchwarden. “The bishop gave away too much,” was his remark. So long as the gospel records our Saviour’s commendation of the poor widow, who gave all her living to the Lord’s treasury, and so long as we read the injunction of our Lord to the rich young man, to sell his goods and give to the poor, that he might have treasure in heaven, we must believe that we, ourselves, are in little danger of giving too much. No doubt we should all make use of discretion and sound judgment in giving, as well as in other Christian duties; we should give to good purposes only, and in that measure and in that mode which is most likely to be effective for the Lord’s service and the good of our brethren. But is it not to be feared that this extreme circumspection in giving, a fashion of the present hour, this severity in charity, the mathematical, scientific view of brotherly love, this very close calculation in contributing of our means to charitable and religious purposes, may become one of the hypocrisies of the day? Proclaimed in an age and in a country of lavish self-indulgence, the Christian observer listens with something of distrust to these new theories. What becomes of the text, “Freely ye have received, freely give?” Let us rather, Christian brother, give as we are enjoined to do in Holy Scripture, freely, gladly, thankfully, to every worthy object, so far as our means will permit. If we are poor let us cheerfully offer a small contribution rather than not give at all; “If thou hast little do thy diligence gladly give of that little.” If we are rich let us give in the fullest measure of our abundance. Our Church has long taught that a tenth of our income is the least we should give for charitable and religious purposes. And let every offering, however small, be made with prudence and humble private prayer and thanksgiving. A devout lady, connected during a long life with our Church, in the city of New York, where she was revered for her high character, and beloved for her great kindness and her delightful, dignified, and gracious manners, made it a rule always to give more than she had promised; if her annual subscription to some charity was ten dollars she would send fifteen; and she also made it a rule to thank every one who applied to her in behalf of a poor person or a worthy charity. She was sincerely thankful for the opportunity of giving. Here indeed we have the true spirit of Christian charity - the glad giver, happy to serve the Lord; happy to serve the Lord’s poor. Which is the most truly Christian course, that of this excellent lady, or that of the man so worldly wise that he is ever in fear of “giving too much”? Did our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who from the beginning was with God, and was God, did He give too much when He came down in our fallen world to give His human life a ransom for many?
Giving our time is also another plain duty of every parishioner, In one form or another there is always Christian work going on in every parish, let us be careful not to neglect our share of this work. One important portion of this work is district visiting. Frequent visits to all those individuals of families whose names have been placed on our list, seeking them out in a spirit of sincere loving [column break] charity, nursing the sick, providing for the needy, comforting the sorrowful, cheering and supporting the aged and infirm, guiding the young, aye, and laboring prayerfully so far as lies in our power to bring back the stray sheep who have wandered into evil paths. All these are blessed labors if undertaken in a spirit of humility, obedience, self-denial, and sincere Christian love.
There are many forms of parish hospitality which are too pleasant to be ranked under the name of duties. Gathering some of our less fortunate friends at our table, brightening their lives by a cheerful hour, by kindly attention and sympathy, must ever be a pleasure. Then again in social visiting, remembering those who are confined to their houses, carrying with us the friendliness and cheerfulness which are always a part of the true Christian spirit, reading aloud to them, perchance singing for them, all these are pleasures, not labors. For these and for the more general parish gatherings for work of different kinds we should always be ready. Happily these are very common duties not often neglected, a passing word of reference is alone needed, merely making it a point to pause and ask ourselves occasionally if we are bearing them in remembrance, as weeks and months pass over, as closely connected with parish life.
August 11, 1883: 162-163
II. - THE BROTHERHOOD. - (Continued.)
Grace. Teaching in Sunday-schools and Bible classes will always be needed. Faithfully to discharge our duty to a class of children or young people is not a light task, the careful preparation needed will require time, thought, and prayer. It is to be feared that the Sunday-school is too often considered a mere matter of course, a sort of parochial necessity which will take care of itself. The very great importance of this force of religious instruction for children is seldom fully understood, To collect some fifty or more children at certain hours on Sunday, to go through a short service, often it is to be feared with out full attention on the part of some of the younger teachers and many of the children, to give them lessons to be learned, to hear them recite those lessons by rote, to give them good or bad marks, to provide them with a variety of amusing reading, not always of the best sort, to supply them with picture cards, to give them a holiday picnic in midsummer, and a Christmas-tree in December, all this may be carried out with great regularity, and-no good results follow.
It is to be feared that, as a general rule, the teachers in Sunday-schools have but an imperfect idea of the sad amount of evil lurking in some of these young hearts, and in not a few cases actually polluting the lives of the children gathered before them every Lord’s Day. The outside of the platter may be very clean. Bright young faces are there; very neat, and often very fashionable clothing may be seen on every bench. But how is it with the hearts, out of which our Lord tells us proceed “evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, blasphemy, pride, foolishness,” and all those evil things “which defile the man?” These are evils which even in a very young heart are not to be cured with fine music, a shower of toys and candy at Christmas, wreaths of flowers and fancy eggs at Easter, or picture cards, highly artistic, every month. It is to be feared that the knowledge of evil comes earlier to American children than to others. Our children are turned adrift very young. They are less carefully guided and protected than the boys and girls of respectable parentage in Europe; they are frequently mixed up in public schools with very depraved boys and girls. In those schools, admirable in some respects, high intellectual training is the one great object; moral and religious training are comparatively overlooked. Those in authority in these schools will sometimes tell you they look to the churches and the homes of the children for the moral and religious elements of their education. But what are the facts in connection with the households to which these children belong? It is to be feared that the homes of a large number of the children in our Sunday-schools afford but little of earnest, moral, or religious training, either by precept or example; and, alas! in not a few instances the influences are decidedly evil. American [page 163] homes are not what they used to be. The prevalence of divorce and separation, the loose ideas connected with the marriage bond, must inevitably have lowered the moral tone very grievously, loosening all family ties and weakening all good influences. Sensuality and intemperance and dishonesty, even among the young, are fearfully common sins to-day. Much knowledge of evil, in its most hideous forms, comes to our children through the newspapers, in which the record of the most hateful crimes is unblushingly paraded before young and old, day after day. The more brutal the crime the greater is the publicity given to it in all its details. Is legal action impossible against this gross evil? Cannot some law be framed by which the record of trials of a brutal or indecent character shall be confined to certain legal papers only? Then again a low class of sensational papers and magazines, and dirty novels, are scattered broadcast over the country, creeping into our households, and carrying with them the seeds of a contagion worse than that of small-pox or diphtheria - a moral plague of the blackest kind, penetrating into all but the very best and purest homes. At many an American fireside if a child is seen reading it is supposed to be occupied in a meritorious way, without one inquiry as to the nature of that reading, and its influences on the heart and life of the boy or girl thus engaged.
But these are not the only evil influences to which American children at the present hour are exposed even in their homes. We live in a sceptical age. Science, as yet only partially enlightened, often at a variance in its different schools, is ranged under many a banner in opposition more or less decided against the holy Christian faith. Certain of its leaders aim apparently at making the race atheists. Happily we know that aim to be an impossibility. Natural religion is too deeply connected with the human soul to be utterly uprooted by the most reckless adherents of a false philosophy. And, on the other hand, the highest form of religion, the Christian faith, imbued with the pure glory of a revelation from a higher sphere, satisfies the deepest yearnings of our hearts, and commands our submission by a wisdom and holiness which are supernatural and unearthly in spirit. Nevertheless this scepticism meets one every day in the public press, and in the current literature of the period, often apparently carelessly thrust upon the attention without any sinister motive, but simply because it is the tone of the hour.
Then again the dangers to society from the crude theories of fanatical European demagogues, falsely called liberal theories, which, when they glorify crime and cruelty, are fiend-like in spirit - these dangers must also be warded off from our children. The very large emigration to America of men holding with fanaticism the wildest political and social theories, a number of them driven from their native countries for serious crimes, this form of emigration is sufficient in itself to call for the sound, earnest, positive moral teaching of our children to counteract the evil influences gathering about them.
August 18, 1883: 187-188
II. - THE BROTHERHOOD - (Continued).
Grace. Against these manifold dangers of evil association, a corrupt press, careless homes, wicked homes, and the spirit of infidelity and social violence, the Sunday-schools of our Church should assuredly become a barrier, so far as concerns the children intrusted to their teaching. Unless we can show that we are earnestly engaged in thus guarding our children against these dangers, under a full sense of responsibility, we are certainly falling short of duty. Are we sowing the good seed faithfully, prayerfully, lovingly, with the deepest earnestness, in those young hearts, providing them with wholesome food for thought and feeling, and thus lessening the ground for the sowing of tares by the enemy?
There must of course be first and a sound doctrinal foundation laid. This seldom fails in the Sunday-schools of our Church. This foundation once laid there are two principles which may be considered as more important than all others in the religious training of children: First, the love of God; Secondly, the grand moral teaching of the Holy Gospel. The best antidote for the poisonous elements floating about in society at the present hour may be sought in the more powerful inculcation of those two principles. The Church to which we belong is full of those two grand elements. Her voice in prayer, in praise, in her annual calendar, in the Holy Sacraments is forever proclaiming the love of God, and forever inculcating the Catechism expressly prepared by the Church for her children, and mark how clearly it teaches those principles of love to God and [column break] moral obedience. It would be scarcely possible to use plainer language on those great subjects than are to be found in the “Duty to God” and “Duty to our Neighbor.” To infuse something of the same spirit into the instruction of every successive Sunday, something practically useful would therefore seem only a plain duty. This moral teaching, to be effectual, should be simple, direct, powerful, loving. New books are not needed. The instruction books of our Church are, as a rule, very good. What is here suggested is, that the superintendent and teacher infuse as often as may be into the Sunday lesson something of those two great principles, the love of God and moral obedience. This may easily be done when hearing the children recite, by taking advantage of some appropriate text, or question, or answer occurring in the lesson, and enlarging on this so far as to touch those two all-important points of love to God and obedience to His commands. No mere learning by rote will suffice. And here a word may be said as to the importance of never giving lessons too long, or too difficult of comprehension. Children come to Sunday-school to be taught to feel, to think, to act - they do not come to load their memories with theological learning. A certain amount of dogmatic teaching is no doubt necessary, but this should be given simply and briefly. “Milk for babes.” On other vital points, more within their comprehension, we may dwell longer much to their advantage. But we should avoid distressing them by lessons above their comprehension, or too long to be readily learned. American children have already too much strain on their minds in the day-schools they attend. It is the object of the Sunday teaching to reach those young hearts, and by God’s blessing to soften them and strengthen them for good purposes. They should be led to connect the Sunday-school with peaceful, loving associations, and not look upon it as a tax and a burden. But the moral instruction must always be forcible and plain spoken. Common sins must be clearly rebuked. Lying, swearing, pilfering, stealing, unclean habits, evil language, foul reading, all sins against the spirit of the seventh commandment, indolence, waste of time, deceit, disobedience, insubordination, pride, envy, conceit, evil tempers, self-indulgence as opposed to self-control, all these must be plainly rebuked. Teach the children the blessedness of a pure mortal life. Teach them to walk as “children of light.” Teach them the eternal responsibilities connected with every natural faculty and every acquired talent. Every remark, though brief and simple, should come straight from the heart of the speaker. Teach the children to bear unceasingly in mind that we are living daily in the sight of a Heavenly Father who is the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts. Let it be borne in mind that in every Sunday-school, however small and insignificant in numbers, we are fighting the battle of the holy, Christian faith “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Constant prayer on the part of the teacher will be needed, constant watchfulness that in this conflict, as an instructor o f the little ones, he may be found armed with the whole armor of God: “The girdle of truth, the breast plate of righteousness, the feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”
“Lord have mercy upon us, and write all these Thy laws in our hearts, we beseech Thee!”
The Friendly Society for Girls.There is a most excellent society recently founded in England, and now adopted in a number of our parishes, where it has become very useful. It is intended especially for the benefit of young girls who have outgrown the Sunday-school, and is called the “Girls’ Friendly Society.” In England the society has met with great success, numbering already thousands of members. A similar work is very greatly needed in our own Church. As little is yet known among us relating to this society we give some facts connected with it: “The object is to bind in one society ladies as associates, and girls and young women as members, for mutual help and assistance in leading pure and useful lives.” The associates look after the young girls leaving the Sunday-school or still connected with it, young girls just entering upon active life, and take a general practical interest in their welfare. The machinery is extremely simple. Every associate receives a card, and each young girl a card of membership and guide-book. No girl who has not always borne a virtuous character can be admitted as a member.
The associates look after the young members under their charge with affectionate solicitude; they hold classes for their instruction, both religious and secular; they assist them in sickness and trouble; they encourage them to place their money in savings banks; they provide them with good, wholesome reading; they provide occasional innocent recreation for them, by half-yearly festivals, an in various other ways. The ages of the girls vary from twelve to thirty. The associates pay five cents a month toward the expenses, the girls, one cent a month. Any additional information desired can be procured by writing to Mrs. Alfred Edson Johnson, Lowell, Mass. It is to be hoped that ere long branches of the Girls’ Friendly Society may become part of the regular parish work of our Church; if carried out with loving fidelity they will assuredly, by God’s blessing, do a large amount of good to a class exposed to many dangers and temptations.
Society of the Royal Law. Another association working within our Church quietly and successfully, may be referred to here - the Society of the Royal Law. It is a spiritual brotherhood, whose objects are: “The increase of unity, quietness, lowliness of heart, and self-forgetfulness among its members.” Excellent qualities are these to carry with us in our daily life, as connected with the duties of our own parish.
The Church Temperance Society.In connection with this subject of parish work let us not forget the Church Temperance Society. This has long been greatly needed and long been earnestly desired by many of our people. The ordinary temperance societies of our fanaticism blended with their work which has often held Churchmen aloof from them. They have gone farther in their requirements than the teaching of our Lord and His apostles would warrant. The Temperance Society of the Church of England, the immediate model of our own, has been wisely planned, and has already accomplished very great good. The fearful evils connected with drunkenness are, alas! only too well known to us all. They are seen every day, under one terrible form or another. It is scarcely possible to use lan[page 188]guage too strong in speaking of this disgusting vice and its consequences - youth polluted, health destroyed, intellect debased, life blighted, character ruined, families wrecked, souls lost - such is the tribute we are paying daily to this gross form of self-indulgence. The more closely we look into the subject the greater becomes our horror. The proportion of crimes clearly proved to be the result of drunkenness would be beyond belief if it had not been ascertained from the records of the courts of justice. Thanks be to God, we have now, in our own Church, a society judiciously managed, carrying out the true scriptural principles of temperance. Let us hope that ere long this society may become part of our work in every parish in the country.
Missions. Let us never forget that if we are faithful to duty we must not, while discharging our obligation to the parish to which we belong, lose sight of other obligations of great importance also, which extend beyond the limits of the parish. We must not only shun personal selfishness, but we must be on our guard against parish selfishness, an evil which is, unhappily, not uncommon. Our mother the Church calls us from time to time to engage in works which have their root, as we may say, in every parish, yet stretch out their branches far beyond its limits. To every such call from our spiritual mother we should lend a listening ear, yield a hearty assent. It has frequently been observed that the parish which is most generous in feeling and action towards the calls of the Church at large is usually most richly blessed in spiritual gifts to her own children.
In the year 1836 our Church, assembled in General Convention at Philadelphia, made the following solemn declaration:
“That the Church itself, in dependence on her Divine Head, and for the promotion of His glory, undertake and carry out, in her character as the Church, and as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the work of Christian missions.”
And Article II. Of the Constitution says:
“The society shall be considered as comprehending all persons who are members of the Church.”
August 25, 1883: 218-219.
II. - THE BROTHERHOOD. - (Continued.)
Society of the Royal Law. - Another association working within our Church, quietly and successfully, may be referred to here - the Society of the Royal Law. It is a spiritual brotherhood, whose objects are: “The increase of unity, quietness, lowliness of heart, and self-forgetfulness among its members.” Excellent qualities are these to carry with us in our daily life, as connected with the duties of our own parish. [Note: repeats section in August 18 issue.]
The Church and Temperance Society. - In connection with this subject of parish work let us not forget the Church Temperance Society. This has long been greatly needed and long been earnestly desired by many of our people. The ordinary temperance societies of our country have frequently had an element of fanaticism blended with their work which has often held Churchmen aloof from them. They have gone farther in their requirements than the teaching of our Lord and His apostles would warrant. The Temperance Society of the Church of England, the immediate model of our own, has been wisely planned, and has already accomplished very great good. The fearful evils connected with drunkenness are, alas! only too well known to us all. They are seen every day, under one terrible form or another. It is scarcely possible to use language too strong in speaking of this disgusting vice and its consequences - youth polluted, health destroyed, intellect debased, life blighted, character ruined, families wrecked, souls lost - such is the tribute we are paying daily to this gross form of self-indulgence. The more closely we look into the subject the greater becomes our horror. The proportion of crimes clearly proved to be the result of drunkenness would be beyond belief if it had not been ascertained from the records of the courts of justice. Thanks be to God, we have now, in our own Church a society judiciously managed, carrying out the true scriptural [column break] principles of temperance. Let us hope that ere long this society may become part of our work in every parish in the country. [Note: repeats section in August 18 issue.]
Missions. - Let us never forget that if we are faithful to duty we must not, while discharging our obligation to the parish to which we belong, lose sight of other obligations of great importance also, which extend beyond the limits of that parish. We must not only shun personal selfishness, but we must be on our guard against parish selfishness, an evil which is, unhappily, not uncommon. Our mother the Church calls us from time to time to engage in works which have their root, as we may say, in every parish, yet stretch out their branches far beyond its limits. To every such call from our spiritual mother we should lend a listening ear, yield a hearty assent. It has frequently been observed that the parish which is most generous in feeling and action towards the calls of the Church at large is usually most richly blessed in spiritual gifts to her own children. [Note: repeats and then extends section in August 18 issue.]
In the year 1836 our Church, assembled in General Convention at Philadelphia, made the following solemn declaration:
“That the Church itself, in dependence on her Divine Head, and for the promotion of His glory, undertake and carry out, in her character as the Church, and as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the work of Christian missions.”
And Article II. of the Constitution says:
“The society shall be considered as comprehending all persons who are members of the Church.”
From that date every baptized member of this Church became bound to missionary service, in one form or another. We are bound to carry out the spirit of that declaration in our parish work, and in our individual lives. This is not a tract especially devoted to missions. The subject is “by far too important for full justice to be done to it in a few brief remarks. What we would seek earnestly to impress upon you today, fellow-parishioner, is the absolutely binding obligation on our part to give faithfully, as in the sight of God, according to our ability, of our thoughts, our time, our means, our prayers, to the missions of the Church to which we belong.
If we fail to do so, we are more or less unfaithful to our duty as a member of a Church parish, unfaithful to our duty as a member of a Church parish, unfaithful as a Christian. Let us seek accurate information regarding Church missions; our interest in this subject so grand in its aims, so holy in its purposes, so far-reaching in the blessings connected with it, can never be fully equal to its claim on our attention, if we remain ignorant of the details of the work. The Spirit of Missions and other similar publications will give us a portion of the information needed. It is to be regretted that the clergy do not preach more frequently on some one branch of mission work, so many details may always be gathered to interest the people, to warm their hearts and enlighten their minds, with regard to this important subject. And our people greatly need this form of instruction. As a rule, in most parishes, they are sadly ignorant regarding the missions of their own Church. Happy are you, dear reader, if you already give freely, gladly, bountifully, according to your means, to the different branches of this work. Allow a few words her in behalf of two branches of Church missions, which are considered by some good people as holding a subordinate position in their claims upon us - [column break] missions to the Indians, and those to the Freedmen. Most assuredly both the red men and the negroes have especial claims upon every American parish. As a people we have wronged both races. We are bound to make restitution, by now giving them every blessing of true Christian nurture. The actual results of Church work both among the Indians and the Freedmen are highly encouraging, in some cases almost marvelous, so greatly have they been blessed. Read the details of the work among the red men in the western dioceses where they are still numerous. Look at the steady preserving improvement on the Oneidas in Wisconsin. Read Mrs. Buford’s reports of her labors among the colored people in Virginia. Bear in mind also that the red men and the freedmen have often given themselves, of their small pittance, an offering to the missions of the Church. Not long since an aged and infirm colored widow, born a slave, and well-known to the writer, said to a district visitor, “I would like to give something ma’am to missions; I have got just a little money now, about a dollar, and I thought of offering ten cents, if you will take it; it is very little; I am almost ashamed to give it; but it will buy a loaf of bread ma’am for some missionary among heathen folks.” Here indeed was the widow’s mite. And the red people, men and women, in the mission parishes at the West, are seen following each other to the chancel rail, at different collections, and placing in the alms bason, held by the clergyman, a portion of the profits of their hunting, or needlework, often to an amount which might well shame some of our lukewarm, self indulgent older parishes east of the Mississippi. If all the Church women in our country wearing expensive furs, and laces, and camel hair shawls, and diamond ornaments were to give as generously, in the same proportion, as the old negro widow in her rusty weeds, and those Indian women wrapped in coarse blankets, how grandly could this sacred work of missions be carried on, to the glory of God, and the saving of souls! Dear Christian reader, whether a laboring man or woman working for wages, a well-to-do farmer or tradesman, a wealthy man of business with carefully invested funds, a wife, or daughter in easy circumstances, never fail, we implore you, to contribute your just share to the missions of the Church to which you belong. Give freely, give gladly, give thankfully, give with prayer. “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.”
Such were the words of our blessed Lord Himself; St. Luke vi 28.
Church Building Society. The Church is calling upon us to-day to assist in raising a permanent Building Fund as a centennial thank-offering for the mercies vouchsafed to us as American Churchmen. This fund is to be raised by contributions from the parishes in our older dioceses. The object is one so closely connected with missions that we should assuredly give it full attention. With the interest of this fund it is intended to build, either by gift or loan, small inexpensive chapels at points where they are most needed in the home field, chiefly in the new and feeble dioceses westward. Assuredly we must all wish to contribute something toward a fund likely in time to be blessed to many thousands [page 219] of souls, and among these probably some of our own immediate kindred, who may have removed to distant homes west of the Mississippi.
What would have been our own spiritual condition now, dear reader, if the solemn injunction of our Lord to teach and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, had been forgotten by the Church in past ages? We can never fully repay all the blessings we ourselves, as individuals, owe to the missionaries of past centuries. Let us at least make a thank-offering of a tithe of our substance in behalf of those who are still to-day without the holy light of the gospel, in its fullness and purity.
“Lord we beseech Thee to keep Thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through Thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve Thee in good works, to the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.
September 1, 1883: 247.
III. - THE LITURGY.
“Praise ye the Lord.”
The Lord’s name be praised.”
Common Prayer. The sacred services of the Prayer Book are a blessing to the Church for which we can never be sufficiently thankful. They are a hallowed inheritance form our spiritual mother, the Church of England, wisely preserved to us by our immediate forefathers during the past century - preserved to us amid many difficulties, and much of prejudice and opposition, during the first half of this century.
Is there any other religious service offered on earth, so holy in spirit, so humble and devout in prayer, so glorious in thanksgiving, so rich in the Holy Scriptures, so free on one hand from the evils of a miserable irreverence and on the other hand from the painful perversions of superstition?
Blessed devotions indeed are these when offered with humility and with fervor of spirit, to the holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts!
And, dear reader, in these sacred services we may all unite with heart and voice, weekly, nay daily, if we choose.
There are many important and interesting studies connected with the history of the Prayer Book; from these however we turn aside at present. The aim of the chapter now under the reader’s eye is simply to urge our fellow Churchmen to enter more fully, personally, and practically, into the spirit of these holy services. It is in this way we can best show our thankfulness for the great blessing. It is not enough to admire the liturgy, to perceive its wisdom, to dwell on its many beauties; an educated heathen may go thus far with us. We must open our hearts to the lessons it teaches. Our souls must be reached by its fervor, enlightened by its wisdom. Otherwise the purposes of the sacred work remain unfulfilled. To bring about this important result we should take great pains never on any one occasion to use these noble prayers thoughtlessly. It is in a certain sense taking God’s name in vain, to repeat prayers, so solemn in themselves, without giving them our full attention, to utter the words with our lips, while heart and thought are busy with a thousand miserable trifles. When offered with earnest sincerity and humility these devotions have a value beyond all calculation; growth in grace becomes by God’s blessing the happy fruit of a faithful use of them. We should train ourselves, [column break] therefore, in the closest attention to every part of the service, dwelling, so far as lies in our power, on the full meaning of every sentence.
If we consider the subject thoughtfully we shall find the devotions of the Prayer Book full of deep interest. All the highest earthly incidents of a human life are found there, beautiful in spirit, and presented to us in noble language. Step by step we are led by the hand of our mother the Church from the cradle to the grave; through baptism in infancy, by wise instruction in childhood, in early youth with the vows and blessings of confirmation, in the happy marriage service, in the touching prayers offered by the side of the sick and suffering, in the precious burial service, consecrating the Christian grave with the light of undying hope, while blended with these are a thousand lesser petitions adapted to the joys and sorrows, the hopes and fears, the cares and mercies of our daily lives.
Soaring above all other devotions in grandeur and dignity, overflowing with divine love and mercy, the blessed sacrament of the Holy Communion is offered to the humble Christian:
“Come unto Me all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” (St. Matt. xi. 28).
A liturgy so pure, so tender, so wise, so devout, so venerable in character were a gift invaluable in itself.
But the Prayer Book has a merit and a completeness even beyond this. With a fidelity worthy of the gospel it presents to our unceasing contemplation both the human life and the divine nature of our dear Lord. Its services lead us week by week to retrace with regularity and loving fidelity the marvelous course of our Lord’s life on earth. It is not willing that one of those sacred steps from Bethlehem to Calvary should be overlooked. Its annual Calendar brings each event before us in regular succession, and calls upon thoughtful Christian souls to dwell upon each in turn with loving adoration. From the mysteries of the Incarnation to the sacrifice of Calvary, the Resurrection, the Ascension, the sacred figure of our blessed Lord is thus constantly revealed to us in the light reflected from the gospels. His holy teaching, unearthly in purity and elevation, and yet so tender and pitiful to our weak and wayward hearts; His innumerable works of mercy; His divine control of the elements; His victory over the powers of evil; His sufferings as the Son of man; His glory as the Son of God - all this is regularly presented, in faithful repetition, to our humble, loving consideration, with every passing year of our lives.
Observe, also, how careful is our liturgy to guard against all taint of idolatry. Neither saint nor angel, neither apostle or martyr, not even the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of our Lord, may share in the worship we offer Him. Christ, the Son of God, is ever presented to us as the only Mediator between God and man. None other can offer expiation for human sin.
We are taught to revere the Holy Virgin, to call her blessed; we are taught to honor the angles of the heavenly host as they are revealed to us in the Scriptures; we are taught to honor apostle and martyr, but we dare not offer prayer or worship to any but the one omniscient God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen!
Note, also, how closely blended with the [column break] texture of this liturgy are the solemn prophesies of the Old Testament, more especially those relating to our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ. Wonderful in their long course, covering thousands of years, and marvelous in the minuteness of their details, these sublime prophesies are regularly repeated to each passing generation by the ritual of our Church. Among the opening sentences from Holy Scripture in the American Prayer Book there is one peculiarly adapted to the Church in our country, and very striking in its application, we refer, of course, to the verse from Malachi, the last of the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament:
“From the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, My name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Malachi i.).
September 8, 1883: 273-274
III. - THE LITURGY. - (Continued.)
Those words were uttered among the hills of Judea, in an ancient language, spoken by a people few in numbers, some four hundred years before the coming of Christ. At that period the whole earth beyond the limits of Palestine lay in spiritual darkness, abandoned as a natural consequence of apostasy, to a miserable idolatry, often cruel, impure, corrupt in character. One-half of the nations of the earth were ignorant even of the existence of the other half. The Jews were a mere handful, worshiping Jehovah, the holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth; the gentiles were a vast multitude, bowing down before a throng of false gods and idols. A sceptic of that day, from Rome or Athens, would doubtless have mocked loudly at this prophecy, so unlikely from appearances to ever be fulfilled. What has been the result? The Lord’s name is now great in regions which had been for ages peopled with heathens, and a pure incense of Christian prayer is now offered in tens of thousands, aye, hundreds of thousands of gentile churches, and from millions of Christian hearts, from the rising to the setting of the sun. This prophecy, apparently so incredible at the time it was uttered, has been literally fulfilled. “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” “With Him a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thou[column break]sand years.” To us, born in this remote Western Hemisphere, far away from Judea, of gentile races, and blessed with a liturgy, pure and spiritual, handed down to us by gentile ancestors, this verse, on the first page of the Prayer Book, is fraught with a meaning which should arouse in us most fervent love and thankfulness.
Looking backward from Malachi into the more remote ages of the Jewish Church, how many are the impressive prophecies of the Old Testament blended to-day with the liturgy of our Church. Time would fail us merely to note the different prophecies connected with our Lord, which are carefully repeated to us during the course of every year in public worship. The twelve lesser prophets, the four greater prophets, all bear testimony, more or less dear, to the lamb of God; and passages from each of them are read to us in regular order on successive Sundays. Many of these prophecies are so marvelous in their minuteness, so striking in their fulfillment, that they awaken renewed wonder and awe, when we hear them solemnly read in our churches thousands of years after utterance. The impressive prophecies from the psalms, first sung by King David on Mount Zion, in the grand old Hebrew speech, are now chanted by gentile tongue in a hundred different languages throughout the world. Most faithful has the Anglican Church been in this particular, incorporating the entire psalter into her liturgy; we read or sing them every month of every year of our lives.
Still more remote than the purely prophetical books, and the psalms, the most important chapters of the writings of Moses are publicly read to us, in regular order, calling out attention every year to the earliest prophesies, and to the wonderful types of Christ.
This Church does indeed for her children to-day what our Lord did in His own Person for the two disciples of Emmaus: “And beginning at Moses, and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
Faithfully does our Church follow His example in bringing before us this long course of most wonderful prophecy recorded in the Old Testament, and its fulfillment as related in the gospels.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and raised up a mighty salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began.” St. Luke i. 68.
One most important portion of the Mosaic Books has been so closely incorporated into that liturgy, that it is read in our churches every Lord’s Day, and on other solemn occasions. On our knees we listen reverently to the repetition of the grand old commandments of the law, miraculously proclaimed on Mount Sinai, and after each we humbly pray, “Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” And every year as we hear them uttered in our mother tongue, and mourn more and more over our own personal shortcomings, those of our fellow-Christians, the sins of the nation, the sins of the race, that humble petition rises with increase of earnestness from the very depths of our hearts.
Shall we not then be grateful for a liturgy such as this? Shall we not enter into services holy as these are with all our hearts? Yes, indeed, dear reader, let us endeavor to draw from this holy fount of devotion the many pure [page 274] blessings flowing through its channels. Let us throw our hearts into every petition. Let us drive far away all wandering and unworthy thoughts and imaginations. Let up pray with the understanding, entering into the meaning of each petition as fully as our comprehension will allow. The wonderful fulness of meaning conveyed in these devotions cannot indeed be entirely comprehended by the highest human intellect, but if we throw our hearts into them with humility, with fervor, and with purity of mind, each phrase may become a blessing to the faithful soul.
If we carry this spirit with us into church the very frequency of such devotions becomes in great advantage, our souls are more and more imbued with their sacred influences. Which of us who has formed the habit of regularly attending the services on Litany days, every Wednesday and Friday, at the different week-day festivals, many of whose especial services are so beautiful, and during Lent, daily - which of us would be willing to give up this happy practice? Doubtless no human being, man or woman, young or old, who has regularly taken part in these week-day devotions in humble, loving faith, and with an attentive heart, has ever regretted having done so. And it is to be feared that others, possibly communicants, who have been negligent and careless in this particular, have forfeited some precious blessings by such irregularity. There are important reasons why every communicant, or those who hope to become communicants, should be regular in attendance at these week-day prayers. We should be willing to make an especial effort, if necessary, to “draw nigh to God” in these services; we should be willing to make some sacrifice of time, or pleasure, or repose, or common tasks, for this holy purpose. With a little forethought many of us can so arrange matters that without neglecting the needful daily tasks of our place in life, whatever that place may be, we shall still be enabled to take part in these happy week-day services. Three examples of fidelity to this duty may be mentioned: A few years ago, in a village in Scotland, a poor shoemaker, scarcely more than a cobbler in his old age, who taught a little school, and supported himself by mending shoes. He was an Episcopalian, and lived near his parish church. Every Wednesday and Friday, or on festival days, when the bell rang for prayers, he would take off his working apron, leave his bench, put on his coat, and, followed by his little flock of a dozen or more children, go to church, and take part in the service. This practice he kept up for many years, although he was a very poor man, and supported himself entirely by his daily work. The record of his most worthy life may be found in that excellent magazine, “Good Words.” From this dear old cobbler we pass to another life of a very different character. In the beautiful memoir of Mrs. Tait, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently published for the edification of the Church, we admire her bright and happy nature, the wonderful activity of her life, her most faithful discharge of every duty, whether it were the blessed duties of wife and mother, and all others connected with home, or the most public work belonging to many charities of different forms, or the Christian hospitalities of social life, often extremely engrossing of time and strength to those in high positions. Not one of these varied duties was neglected by this admirable Christian lady. We read with delight of her devotion to the archbishop and [column break] his great work, of her most tender, increasing watchfulness over her children, of her kindly care of the great household committed to her charge, of her unceasing and loving activity in behalf of the poor and suffering in hospitals and homes and orphanages, of her generous hospitalities to the clergy and their families, to many people of distinction in that great world of London, and to the poor. She was also an excellent business woman, and during her married life relieved the archbishop of all his accounts, which were of course on an extensive scale and very complicated. “If my affairs have been well managed, it was her doing,” says the archbishop. Here, you might say, is a woman whose faithful discharge of so many important and varied duties may surely excuse her from regular attendance at week-day services. My friend, you are mistaken. She lived in prayer, both public and private. The record of her life tells us that when a bride at Rugby, in 1843, after her private devotions in her own room, she went every morning at eight to the parish church for the daily morning service. After another brief time in her own room she came down to family prayers. Then followed breakfast, and about ten she was ready for active work, closing the day with family and private prayer, and such continued her practice through life. “She sought and received daily blessings in God’s house,” says the archbishop. “She was above all things given to prayer.” “Hence the charm to her of the daily services of the Church, which never became to her a formality, because they were but the outward and appropriate expression of thoughts planted in her soul by the Spirit of God.” The Christian lady thus sought for strength in her singularly active life through the daily services of the liturgy in the house of God.
September 15, 1883: 298-299.
III. - THE LITURGY.-(Continued.)
Another instance of this form of piety may be taken from a very humble life in our own country. Those who belong to the congregation of St. John’s church, Washington, some years since, had the gratification of uniting in the daily services of Lent with a number of distinguished officers of the army and navy, and their families. These daily prayers took place at 7 o’clock in the morning, an early hour in winter. Among the well-known ladies and gentlemen regularly attending these services another member of the congregation, more humble in position, never failed to be in his place; this was a venerable colored man, whose gray head and dark face had long been familiar to the older residents of that part of the town. He had been born a slave, but was then free - several years before the act of emancipation - and was living as butler in the family of a distinguished officer of the navy belonging to that parish. Uncle Simon was indeed a well-known personage, much liked and respected about the President’s Square. Every morning during Lent he rose early, attended faithfully to his regular duties, prepared the dining-room for the morning meal, and at the first stroke of the bell, put on his best coat and went to church, either in advance of the admiral and his family or following them. It was touching to see his gray head and kindly, honest face [page 299] humbly bowed in prayer, day after day, during those early services. And when the prayers were over the good old man hastened homeward, and never failed to be in his place at the right moment, serving at the breakfast-table, no task overlooked or delayed. There was a man whose work in life, and especially at that early hour, might have been considered as an excuse for not attending the Lent services on week-days. But good old Uncle Simon did not consider the subject in that light. The Church called him to take part in those solemn services; by a little exertion and forethought he found that he could do so without neglecting his regular work, his good friend, the admiral, approved of his making the effort, and with loving fidelity he hastened to “draw nigh to God’ in those daily morning prayers.
Here are examples from very opposite spheres of life, of faithful attendance on the week-day services by those whose work was very absorbing in its demands upon their time; the lady in her very high position was one of the most actively employed women in England in works of love and benevolence; the old cobbler was earning his daily bread by his homely task; the negro servant was working for his regular wages. All three have now passed into the holy rest of Paradise, among the blessed who die in the Lord. Can you suppose, dear reader, that the hours passed by either, in those week-day prayers in these parish churches, are now regretted? Nay, we may be well assured that those faithful, loving services were, in each case, among the means of forming and completing the Christian character of the lady of high rank, the poor, solitary cobbler, and the negro servant.
Just as these devout persons set us the good example of regular attendance at the week-day services, so should we, dear reader, whatever may be our place in life, endeavor to set the same example to others, leading them to appreciate the happiness of taking part in these holy devotions as frequently as possible, thus drawing from them all the blessings offered to us by these means.
This liturgy is indeed one of the links binding together the “Communion of Saints;” let us pause for a moment to remember the vast numbers of Christian souls now offering these prayers in our mother tongue throughout the world. There is no hour of the day when, in every Christian land, and in most heathen countries, some congregation is not offering these same prayers. It is always a blessed thought, that so many who are dear to us are using these devotions; though separated from us perhaps by thousands or tens of thousands of miles, in spirit we are kneeling together, praying together. And what an additional consecration it brings to these devotions, when we pause to reflect on the throng of saintly souls, now in Paradise, who when on earth were trained in the Lord’s service by this liturgy, so devout, so scriptural, so free from superstition.
Shall not these reflections lead us, dear reader, always to take part in these prayers in the fulness of Christian charity, cherishing in ourselves that spirit of amity, of brotherly love with which this liturgy overflows? It were utterely unworthy to use them in a narrow, selfish spirit, with only a personal application. Let us include in these petitions our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors, aye, and our very enemies, if we have any. More especially let us apply the prayers to [column break] all belonging to the same parish, shedding over all our fellow-worshipers a feeling of brotherly love, without partiality, without prejudice, in the fulness of charity
September 22, 1883: 328-329.
IV. - THE CONSECRATED CHURCH BUILDING.
“My house shall be called the house of prayer.” (St. Matt. xxi. 18.)
How few of us have ever read the service for the consecration of a church or chapel, as it is found in the Prayer Book, so frequently in our hands. And yet it is a very solemn and beautiful service, and is closely connected with our own religious life. Let us pause for a moment to consider the different parts of which it is made up.
This service is not found in the English Prayer Book. It was established by the General Convention of our Church, held in Christ church, Philadelphia, June, 1799. It was proposed to the House of Bishops by Bishop Provoost of New York, and adopted by both houses of the convention.
In the Church of England every bishop is left to his discretion as to the form of consecrating churches and chapels. But the form generally followed, more or less closely, is that composed by Bishop Andrews, 1620. Nearly a century later, in 1712, a form of [column break] consecration, intended to be embodied in the Prayer Book, was adopted in the Lower House of Convocation of the Church of England; it was drawn chiefly from Bishop Andrews, and was prepared for the consecration of fifty new churches ordered to be built by Act of Parliament. A form very similar to this was adopted in 1715 by the Bishops of England, and drawn from the same sources. But these were never fully confirmed, and were not, therefore, included in the Prayer Book.
When the need of a regular form of consecration was felt at the foundation of our own branch of the Church, the subject was brought before the General Convention, and the beautiful service in our Prayer Book, drawn originally from that prepared by Bishop Andrews in 1620, was proposed by Bishop Provoost, and adopted by both houses of the convention, the bishops and deputies, June 17ᵗʰ, 1799, Thanks be to God, very many churches in all parts of our country have been consecrated by this holy service since that date. It would be a pleasant task to count them over.
The sentence of consecration mentioned in our service may never have been seen by you, good reader. This is the form in general use:
“In the name of God. Amen.”
“Whereas the rector, church-wardens, and vestrymen of _____ and State of _____ _____ have, by an instrument this day presented to us, appointed and devoted a house of public worship, erected by them in said _____ to the worship and service of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, according to the provisions of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in its ministry, doctrines, liturgy, rites, and usages; and by a congregation in communion with said Church, and in union with the counties thereof in the Diocese of _____. And, whereas, the same rector, church-wardens, and vestrymen have, by the same instrument, requested us to take their said house of worship under our spiritual jurisdiction, as Bishop of the Diocese of _____, and that of our successors in office, and to consecrate it by the name of _____ church, and thereby separate it from all unhallowed, worldly, and common uses, and solemnly dedicate it to the holy purposes above mentioned. Now, therefore, know all men by these presents that we, A. B., by the grace of God, Bishop of Diocese of ------, acting under the protection of Almighty God, have on this _____ day of _____, being in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and _____, taken the above-mentioned house of worship under our spiritual jurisdiction as bishop aforesaid, and that of our successors in office, and in the presence of divers of the clergy and a public congregation therein assembled, and according to the form prescribed by the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, have consecrated the same by the name of _____ church. And we do hereby pronounce and declare that the said _____ church is consecrated accordingly, and thereby separated from all unhallowed, worldly, and common uses, and dedicated to the worship and service of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, for reading and preaching His holy Word, for celebrating His holy sacraments, for offering to His glorious Majesty the sacrifices of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, for blessing His people in His name, and for the performance of all other holy offices agreeably [page 329] to the terms of the covenant of grace and salvation in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, according to the provisions of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in its ministry, doctrines, liturgy, rites, and usages.
“In testimony whereof, we have hereunto affixed our seal and signature in the day and in the year above written, and in the _____ year of our consecration.
“A. B., Bishop of_____.”
“That which the ground and the expense of building made the house of man is made by consecration the house of God; and being once dedicated to His holy service, the property thereof is vested in Him, and in Him alone” (Hooker). “The solemn consecration makes God Himself their owner” (Hooker).
It would seem probable that some especial service was performed for dedicating the earlier Christian churches, although the fact is not clearly ascertained. The “upper room” spoken of in Acts i. 13, where the apostles and disciples assembled together daily for prayer and supplication, and where, on the feast of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost descended upon them, was believed by the tradition of the early Church to have been the same room wherein our Blessed Saviour celebrated the Passover with His apostles, and instituted the holy sacrament of the Lord’s Supper the night before His Passion. This “upper room” was also believed to have been the same where, after His Resurrection, He first appeared to the assembled apostles, and where He again appeared to them eight days later. It was also believed to be the place where the first council of the Church was held by the apostles and elders for deciding the important question whether the law of Moses was binding on Christians. Over this “upper room” a church was erected, and called the “Upper Church of the Apostles.” It has been supposed that from that date some especial service of consecration was in use.
A magnificent church was built at Jerusalem over the Sepulchre of our Saviour, by the Emperor Constantine, and called the Martyrium. To the consecration of this church the Bishops of “Egypt, Lybia, Asia, and Europe,” then sitting in council at Tyre, were summoned by imperial letters, and the services must have been very solemn and impressive, from the account given of them by Eusebius, an eye-witness. An especial officer was appointed by the emperor to receive the bishops with at the greatest hospitality, and he also distributed “vast quantities of money and a great number of garments among an infinite number of poor of both sexes who stood in great need of food and other necessities.” A great festival was held at Jerusalem in memory of the consecration of the Martyrium; it lasted eight days during which time regular services for divine worship were held. But while the consecration was described with the utmost minuteness, there is not the least trace of its having been considered, in itself, as a novelty. On the contrary consecration seems to have been considered as a matter of course, although the splendor of the services was unprecedented. A church of great dignity had been built at Tyre, and then destroyed during the terrible persecution under Dioclatian; this church was rebuilt in the time of Constantine, with great care and magnificence, by Paulinus, Bishop of Tyre, and its consecration was also celebrated with great solemnity.
September 29, 1883: 355.
IV. - THE CONSECRATED CHURCH BUILDING. (Continued.)
The word church itself is derived from the Greek kuptakov, meaning the Lord’s house. From this source comes the Saxon kyrick or kyrck, and later our modern English word church. The Latins called the place of worship Dominicum, or house of the Lord. The house of prayer was also in common use. The word Basilica, still used for certain great churches in Italy, means the palace of the great king; in heathen Rome this name was given to imperial court-houses and other public halls, and as many of these buildings were, at a later date, given to the Christians for their churches, the name was preserved with a higher meaning. There were also many churches called Basilica in ancient France, and some in England. The name of Martyry was sometimes given to a church built over the grave of a Christian martyr, or at the place of his martyrdom.
For a time the early Christians were compelled by persecution to collect together for worship in rooms or private houses, whence the phrase “the Church in the house of Priscilla and Aquila.” Some of these rooms are known to have been afterwards especially consecrated as churches. Frequently the early Christians were driven far from their own dwellings to secret places, like the Catacombs of Rome. Then came a period in the second century after Christ when, their numbers having increased, and a degree of toleration allowing a change, they worshipped in small churches of their own. “All of you meet together for prayer in one place; all of you as one man run together to the temple of God, as to one altar, to one Jesus Christ the high-priest of the unbegotten God” (Ignatius, A.D. 170). And again, “One altar to every church, and one bishop, with the presbyters and deacons.” But those early churches were destroyed in the dreadful persecution under Diocletian. Eusebius says, “The edicts were sent over all the world commanding the churches to be levelled with the ground, and the Bibles to be burned.” This was in the third century. It was not until the Emperor Constantine had publicly declared himself a Christian, early in the fourth century, that the churches were rebuilt, or heathen temples purified and devoted to the Lord’s service. From that period great importance was attached to the consecration of places of public worship. It must have been, indeed, with no common feeling of devotion that the walls of ruined churches, the scenes of so many martyrdoms, were rebuilt, or that heathen temples, whose rites had so often been a disgrace to human nature, were puri[column break]fied and devoted to the service of the holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.
In the time of Constantine, when so many of the public halls or basilicas, and very many heathen temples were given to the Christians - and indeed throughout the first three centuries - the word “temple” was scarcely ever used in connection with churches, on account of the evil associations surrounding it. From this period the services connected with the consecration of churches were very solemn indeed. No church was allowed to be used until it had received consecration. “Solemn Eucharistic services” were always held on these occasions, and the bishops alone could hold these services. There was, in primitive times, but one altar in a church. The words “altar” and “Lord’s Table” were both used in those early ages, bearing the same meaning. The people stood or knelt when receiving the Holy Communion; they were never seated. The figure of the Cross began to be used about A.D. 340, when it was no longer a dangerous emblem to be shown publicly. The churches were always dedicated to God alone, though often hearing the names of saints or angels: “All churches were dedicated to none but God, yet at their consecration they were generally distinguished by the name of some angel or saint, chiefly that the people by frequently mentioning these might be excited to imitate the virtues for which they had been eminent, and also that those very saints themselves might by that means be kept in remembrance” (Bingham’s Antiquities). “The nations to their gods erected temples; we not temples unto our martyrs as unto gods, but memorials as unto dead men whose spirits with God are still living” (St. Augustine). “If we should make a temple of wood and stone to any holy angel, though never so excellent, should we not be anathematized by the truth of Christ and the Church of God for exhibiting to the creature that service which is due only to the Creator?” (St. Augustine.)
So great was the importance attached to the consecration of a church that once a year, on the anniversary of the consecration, a festival was held in commemoration of the event. The custom dates from the time of Constantine, if not earlier. The people of the parish met together “with mighty expressions of mutual love and kindness, and universal rejoicing with one another.” Solemn services were held, including of course the highest of all religious services, the Holy Eucharist; and on these occasions there was liberal almsgiving, and gifts of different kinds were made to the Church. These festivals lasted eight days. In England they were kept up from the period of the Saxon Church, and are mentioned by the Venerable Bede in the eighth century. They were called Thyrckwerches in German, whence the English name of Churchwake.
“I cannot conclude till I have observed what respect and reverence these primitive Christians used to show in the church as the solemn place of worship, and where God did more peculiarly manifest His presence. And this we find to have been very great. ‘They came into church,’ saith St. Chrysostom, ‘as into the palace of the great king, with fear and trembling.’ Upon which account he presses the highest modesty and gravity upon them. Before their going into the church they used to wash at least their hands, as Tertullian probably intimates, and Chrysostom expressly tells us, carrying themselves while they were there with the profoundest silence and [column break] devotion. Nay, so great was the reverence they bore to the Church, that the emperors themselves, who otherwise never went without their guard about them, when they went into the church, used to lay down their arms and leave their guard behind them, and to put off their crowns. Examples one would think sufficient to excite us to use all such outward testimonies of respect as are enjoined by the Church and established by the custom of the age we live in, as marks of honor and reverence - a duty recommended by Solomon, who charges us to look to our feet when we go into the house of God, being an allusion in particular to the rite of putting off the shoes, used by the Jews and other nations of the East when they come into sacred places, and is as binding on us to look to ourselves by uncovering our heads, and giving all other external testimonies of reverence and devotion” (“Wheatley on the Book of Common Prayer.” 1722).
October 6, 1883: 383-384.
IV. - THE CONSECRATED CHURCH BUILDING. (Continued.)
One of the bishops of our own Church (“Bishop Brownell on the Prayer Book”) follows in the same spirit: “When churches are built they ought to have a greater value and esteem, derived upon them by some peculiar consecration, for it is not enough barely to devote them to the public services of religion unless they are set apart with the solemn rites of a formal dedication. F these solemnities the founders surrender all the right they have in them to God, and make God Himself the sole owner of them.”
That there were no images or pictures in those ancient churches is admitted by the most candid writers. So Bingham declares, and proves in his “Antiquities.” And it is remarkable that in Spain, where the worship of images and pictures has been carried [column break] farther perhaps than in any other Christian country, there was a canon passed in the Council of Eleberis, A.D. 305, dealing with a peculiar feeling of reverence, that “We decree that pictures ought not to be in churches, lest that which is worshipped and adored be painted on the walls.”
Bells are believed to have been introduced into the Western Churches during the seventh century. They were long unknown in the Eastern Church. Trumpets were used to summon the people to public worship in Egypt in the sixth century. Paula, a devout Roman lady, established a convent of nuns at Jerusalem, and the sisters were called to their services in their church by one of their number going through the passages singing, “Hallelujah!” The Venerable Bede speaks of Bells in 731. In 865, a doge of Venice sent a set of bells to the Greek Emperor at Constantinople, who built a tower to the Church of St. Sophia - the Church of the Holy Wisdom - to receive them. The baptism of bells is a comparatively modern innovation of the Church of Rome.
Organs were invented in the East, and used in the emperor’s court. The first organ known in France was sent by a Greek emperor to King Pepin A.D. 766, but it was not placed in a church. They were not introduced into churches until 1290.
In England the early churches were built of wood. The Venerable Bede says there was “a time when there was not one stone church in Britain.” The second Bishop of what is now the Diocese of Durham built a cathedral of timber, sawed probably into a square shape; it was roofed with reeds. When a stone church was built, it was called Whitchurch, or Whitechurch, on account of its rarity.
Such then, dear reader, from the earliest times to the present day has been the great importance attached to the consecrated church building. It is the “House of Prayer.” It is the “Lord’s House.” So far as its religious character is concerned its importance remains the same whether it be a grand ancient cathedral of our Mother Church in England, or a plain wooden building of no architectural merit whatever, like so many of our own small country churches; it may be one of the most imposing buildings in a great city, or a small log church in the western wilds, its character in each case is the same; it is sacred to God; it is the religious home of a parish.
What then are our personal duties in connection with the consecrated building? Our first thought must be to carry out the spirit of that consecration in our own individual devotions. Reverence should fill our hearts and souls. The holy purposes for which these doors are mercifully opened to us should never, for a moment, be lost sight of. We should cross the threshold with the feeling impressed upon our hearts that the object for which we enter these walls is one of a most solemn and blessed import. We have come to offer the holy incense of Christian prayer and praise. We have come to take part in the worship of the Lord God Almighty, “who inhabiteth eternity.” Let us then enter the Church with personal humility, with a consciousness of our own sinfulness and weakness. Let us be watchful over heart and eye, lest we offer “the sacrifice of fools.” Let us leave the world with its evil passions behind us, its follies, its strife, its vain glories, its hypocrisies. Let us banish from our hearts [page 384] every evil temper, every idle though, every unworthy imagination.
Those very remarkable incidents in our Lord’s life, the purging of the temple on two different occasions, teach very solemn lessons to His disciples for all time. St. John relates that on His first attendance at the Passover, after entering upon His public ministry, He went into the temple, and found there, in the courts, “those that sold oxen and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting; and when He had made a scourge of small cords He drove them all out of the temple, and poured out the money changers’ money, and overthrew the tables, and said unto them that sold doves, ‘Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise.’ And His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘The zeal of thine house hat eaten me up.’” These words are found in the Sixty-ninth psalm, which is full of prophesies of the Messiah. And again, at the close of His ministry, it is related by St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, that after His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, just before His crucifixion, “He went into the temple of God, and drove out those who carried on their traffic in the courts, the money changers, and them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called of all nations the House of Prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.’”
On no other occasion in His ministry did our Lord show in action, as well as in words, the same passionate indignation at the evil conduct of the Jews as on these occasions connected with the building consecrated to God’s service. And it was their irreverent abuse of the “temple of God,” for their own trivial and selfish purposes which aroused that holy indignation. He who, only a few days later, submitted to the most brutal indignities in His human person, without a murmur, was aroused by zeal for the honor of “His Father’s house” to the strongest measures of rebuke. And why this? “It is written that My house shall be called the House of Prayer”! The words quoted by our Lord were first uttered by the Prophet Isaiah some 750 years before Christ: “Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My House of Prayer - for My house shall be called an House of Prayer for all people” (Isaiah Ivi. 7).
Observe also that the temple which our Lord thus purged from the abuses of that day was built by the wicked King, Herod the Idumean; its sacrifices and typical rites were soon to abolished for ever; the temple itself was to be thrown down, not one stone left upon another, as Christ Himself foretold. But it had been dedicated by very solemn services, and so long as the Jewish rites were not abolished, so long as priests and people gathered there for the public worship of Jehovah, so long was it the “House of Prayer,” and therefore must its courts be entered with reverence.
Deeply impressive indeed is the lesson which our Lord gave to the Church of all future ages by His holy zeal in thus purging His Father’s house. He would not even allow a vessel to be carried through the temple. We stand aside with awe, and ask ourselves if we, in our own persons, have ever been guilty of this desecration of the Lord’s house by irreverence and vanity and uncharitableness and want of the spirit of devotion.
The force of the words “Ye have made it a den of thieves” may be gathered from the fact that the court of the gentiles thus desecrated by the “buyers and sellers and moneychangers” was beyond the jurisdiction of the priests and other officers of the temple; but these men had hired it out for their own pecuniary advantage to these trades-people; and, moreover, by this unworthy course they alienated that part of the “temple of God” from its gracious purpose of providing an especial place of worship for the gentile converts who came from many different countries at that period to worship the God of Israel.
October 13, 1883: 415.
IV. - THE CONSECRATED CHURCH BUILDING. (Continued.)
The Rev. E. C. Warrington, in his volume on the Consecration of Churches, 1844, thus warns his fellow Churchmen against the danger of partaking, in a measure, of the sin of those priests of the temple who drew upon themselves the most severe rebuke of our Lord. For mercenary reasons those men, by turning the court of the gentiles into a market, deprived the proselytes of their just rights. And we, what right have we, by our pew system, to deprive the poor, for mercenary reasons, of the many blessings connected with public worship in a church consecrated only and solely to the service of God?
“By the pew system the poor are often unjustly deprived of their right in God’s house, their places being usurped by the rich and wealthy. Whether this be done as a matter of exclusive favor to the rich, or pecuniary speculation, or for the end of relieving the Church rates, it must be regarded as militating against the benevolent designs of the Church, who, as an impartial mother, opens her bosom to all her children alike, and suffers no one class to encroach upon the rights of another; for the Church is the parish church, just as the liturgy is the common prayer. Those persons who, for merely mercenary consider[column break]ations, thus defraud the poor man of his spiritual birth-right, can, we are sure, little consider how near is the approximation between themselves and those buyers and sellers in the Temple of Jerusalem whose signal punishment by the hand of the Lord Himself is left as a warning to all generations. Let us then take heed how we thrust the poor and needy of the land out of the house of their God.” - Warrington.
Would to God the time had come when the seats in all our churches were entirely free to the rich and poor alike! But if this course is considered unadvisable at present, for fear of indebtedness, why cannot one step at least in the right direction be taken by making one-half or one-third of the seats entirely free, and these free seats not to be the most inconvenient, those nearest doors and farthest from the chancel, but every other pew, or every third pew from the front row down to the entrance? There cannot be a shadow of doubt that, in accordance with the spirit of the gospel, our churches should be free to all. Let us never lose sight of this Christian principle, but rather do all in our power to strengthen its influence. If our churches were free, the number of worshippers would assuredly increase. There are now in every community many families and many individuals who think they cannot afford to pay pew rents.
There is also another obstacle of an entirely worldly nature, which often throws a stumbling-block in the way of the poor who may wish to come to the parish church. This obstacle is not in the form of traffic, it is not in one sense mercenary like the abuses of the priests and Levites of the temple; but it proceeds equally from selfish motives. It is of the world, worldly. It flows from the “lust of the eye and the pride of life.” We allude to the excessive devotion to dress in American women. Probably there never was an age and a country in which so much toil and time and money and thought were given to the subject of woman’s dress as to-day among our own countrywomen. All classes of women in America, excepting the very poorest and the most needy, partake alike of this passion for dress, and most unhappily they carry this passion with them into church. The show of cashmeres and velvets and satins and laces and furs and diamonds and jewelry and tinsel and gew-gaws of all kinds in an American church is sometimes amazing. It is said that twice a year, when the country milliners and dressmakers got to the large towns to make their purchases, they make it rule to attend the fashionable churches, on Sundays, not, good reader, for worship, but to study the fashions in their fullest development. We believe the assertion to be true, in a measure. We have personally known instances of this devotion to the juggernaut of fashion on the part of country milliners. Alas! there is no better excuse for this personal ostentation in the house of prayer than the fact that it is a custom sanctioned by the majority. There are many evil consequences from this practice; it will suffice to name two. The ladies’ thoughts are constantly tempted to study the details of each other’s dress rather than to follow devoutly the prayers of the Church; and alas! the poor standing on the threshold are often disheartened by this brilliant show. They feel like aliens in the house of their Heavenly Father. If our hearts were more deeply impressed with the spirit of the consecration service, there would be little danger, one would suppose, of this desecration of the [column break] house of prayer by trivial worldly vanity.
“It is a sign of ill-breeding, as well as frivolity, to dress elaborately in church.” — Bishop Coxe.
October 20, 1883: 415.
IV. - THE CONSECRATED CHURCH BUILDING. (Continued.)
If in ancient times there was an annual festival in which the people met with joyful thankfulness to commemorate the happy consecration of their churches, let us to-day carry with us something of the same feeling when we enter the Lord’s House, on the Lord’s Day. Prayer is not the only great element of Christian worship; praise and thanksgiving are of equal importance. “Rejoice in the Lord.” “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice.” - St. Paul.
May we not here allude to a custom becoming general at the present day in our churches, which is a very natural and simple expression of Christian joy, and wholly consistent with the spirit of the consecration. We allude of course to placing flowers upon the altar. “Flowers come straight from the hand of God,” said a devout Christian woman of our own day. “Relics ye are of Eden’s bowers, As pure, as fragrant, and as fair As when ye crown’d the’ sunshine hours Of happy wanderers there. And ye could draw th’ admiring gaze Of Him who worlds and hearts surveys: Your odor wild, your fragrant maze, He taught us how to prize.” Keble.
The more we reflect on the gracious, loving mercy of our Heavenly Father in bestowing this beautiful gift on a race, fallen but redeemed, the more sincerely we may wish to consecrate that precious gift by placing pure and fragrant flowers in the sanctuary. Some very worthy brethren are disturbed by this practice. The Rose of Sharon, the brilliant lilies commended by our Lord, the fragrant violets of our mother country, the beautiful native blossoms of our own land, should not, they say, be brought as a loving offering into the House of God. Fresh flowers placed in the chancel as a devout offering of Christian joy and thankfulness are an offence to them. They consider the practice as a dangerous novelty. It would be difficult to say where the danger lies in a custom so simple and natural. And assuredly it is no novelty. The first humble church built at Jamestown by English colonists, who came to Virginia in 1606, has been described for us; it was rude indeed, “a homely little thing like a barn”; the roof was set upon crotches, and the rafters were thatched with sedge from the adjoining water meadows, mixed with earth. Every morning the colonists met for prayers in this rude little chapel, which was kept neatly decked with the wild flowers from the forest and river bank. So writes old Purchas the historian. Some of those wild flowers may have been first gathered for this purpose by the band of that good man, the Rev. Robert Hunt, the chaplain of the colony, and one of the first clergymen who ever performed a religious service in English within the limits of our country. A practice which, as regards our own country and our own Church, good brother parishioner, began nearly three hundred years since, can scarcely be called a dangerous novelty. There would really seem to be no more reason in objecting to flowers in church, as an offering of Christian joy, than in objecting to the wreaths of evergreen with which we deck our churches at every return of that blessed Festival of Christmas. Both customs are an heritage from our Spiritual Mother, the Church of England. Why should we give up either?
But setting aside all lesser questions, such as dress and flowers, to which we have given a few words, let us turn with very serious consideration to a subject of highest importance in connection with our services in the Lord’s House. Let us dwell thoughtfully upon the personal offering we are, each of us, called upon to make. It is the offering of ourselves, in body and soul. It is the offering of heart and life. It is the giving up of our hearts to holy influences. It is seeking for that outpouring of the love of God that we may “love Him above all things.” It is yielding ourselves to the influence of all holy charities towards our brethren; loving one another with pure affection, fervently; rendering faithful service wherever needed; giving freely and gladly to every worthy purpose, even it may be at the cost of serious self-denial; “being kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven us.” It is from the hands of our Mother, the Church, and in the House of God, that we have received the priceless blessings of personal consecration, in baptism, in the rite of confirmation, in the sacrament of the Holy Communion. Let us, then, ever bring with us as we cross the threshold of the Church, a deep sense of the solemn character of the Consecrated House of [column break] God, and also an humble, earnest desire to carry out the service of personal consecration, in heart and life: “Now the fruits of the Spirit are these: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” - Gal. v. 22.
“And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Thee.” - Office of the Holy Communion.
“They who truly love and fear God above all things,” says Bishop Beveridge, “find more joy and comfort in His House than anywhere else; the whole work of the place is delightful to them; the Spirit of God, cooperating with them in it, and God never failing to perform His promise, to those who come to His House duly prepared, and keep their minds intent upon Him, and the duties there performed. ‘I will make them joyful in my House of Prayer.’” Amen.