Sermon 22. Outward and Inward Notes of the Church

"I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." 2 Tim. i. 12.

{324} IT is not to be supposed that any of us, in this fallen time, should be able to use these words of the great Apostle as he used them. God who made us, has given to each of us his own place. Some He places in heathen countries, some in Christian; some in the full light and grace of the Gospel, others amid shadows; some He visits almost with sensible tokens of His presence, others He barely supports with the hope and surmise of it. Some He leads forward only by intimations, and, as it were, whispers; as the old Saints, who "went out, not knowing whither they went;" and "died in faith, not receiving the promise." And others, like St. Paul, have before now been granted visions of the third heaven, that full and intimate Presence of Christ, which enables the Apostle to say, in the words of the text, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." {325}

Yet in spite of these great differences in God's dealings with man and man, there is this one thing the same in all cases, that He has dealt with each. I mean that religion is a personal, private, and individual matter, that it consists in a communion between God and the soul, and that its true evidences belong to the soul that believes, are its property, and not something common to it and the whole world. God vouchsafes to speak to us one by one, to manifest Himself to us one by one, to lead us forward one by one; He gives us something to rely upon which others do not experience, which we cannot convey to others, which we can but use for ourselves.

Now that there is much in Scripture agreeable to this statement, no one I suppose will deny; but this question arises, which is worth considering, whether the Gospel Dispensation does not, even more than the Law, in one respect modify it, or even run counter to it and reverse it? For if there be a distinction of the Gospel plainly laid down in Scripture, it is that it is a social religion, and addresses individuals as parts of a whole. And, being social, it must have all things in common, and its evidences and tokens in the number. And, further, if it is social, it must be a public religion, "a city set upon a hill;" and its evidences will be in a measure public. Nay, further, its great note, as announced by the Prophets, is not only that it is social, that it is public, but that it is both social and public in the very highest sense, because it is Catholic, universal every where; and this note is insisted on as something special in itself, of a nature to dazzle and subdue the mind, like a miracle, or like the sun's light in the heavens. It was to be the {326} characteristic gift of the Christian Church, that she herself was to be a great public evidence of her mission, that she was to be her own evidence. Her very look, her bearing, her voice, were to be her credentials. As Adam had sovereignty over brute animals on his creation, or as the second Adam, her Lord and Maker, "spake as one having authority, and not as the Scribes," so she was to win or to awe the souls of men generally; not this one or that, but all, though variously, by the manifest royalty of her very presence. She received this gift from her Lord in the beginning—to claim and command obedience when she spoke, because she spoke; and that not from any thing special in the mind of the hearer, but from the voice and tone of the speaker.

Never must we disguise this great truth. "The labour of Egypt, and the merchandize of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine, they shall come after thee, in chains they shall come over; and they shall fall down unto thee; they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee, and there is none else, there is no God." Again, "I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses. One shall say, I am the Lord's, and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel." Again: "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations; spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes." And again: "No weapon that is formed against thee shall {327} prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn." And again: "The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish, yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted." And again: "The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory." And, as if the Church were to "declare the glory of God" more perfectly than the natural heavens, and to bear witness to her own origin without evidence beyond herself, we are told, "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy." [Isa. xlv. 14; xliv. 3-5; liv. 2, 17; lx. 12, 19; lxv. 17, 18.]

These of course are but a few out of the multitude of passages in the Prophet Isaiah, descriptive of the Christian Church; they speak of tokens outward, visible, common to all; and yet, in spite of these, St. Paul in the text, when about to die, and contemplating the judgment, speaks, not of them, of an evidence not outward, not visible, not common, but inward, private, incommunicable. "I know," he says, "whom I have believed." I bear about me "the marks of the Lord Jesus" in my own person; I have assurance that He has "stood by me," because He has "strengthened me;" His tabernacle is not only "with men," but "the grace of Christ tabernacles upon me." In other words (could we doubt it?), in his instance the general had become particular; the external had flowed into his secret soul; {328} the universal gift had been appropriated; the visible glory had kindled a light in his own breast; and thus, just as we need not read a friend's writing when we hear his voice, so, though Christ had gone forth into the wide world, and had been lifted up aloft to draw men to Him, and had lodged among them the power and the presence of His Atonement, yet the blessed Apostle needed not seek Him abroad, who had graciously condescended to "come under his roof," and manifest Himself unto him.

Now this is a distinction very necessary in all ages of the Church, for different reasons: when her outward glory is great, by way of turning our attention to our own hearts, and our personal responsibility; and when it is obscured, in order to keep our faith from failing, and to revive our hope; at all times, to hinder our being engrossed by what is external to the loss of what is inward in religion.

I observe, then, this: that the public notes of the Church, which are the common property of all men, are rather a sign to unbelievers than to the faithful, and to the world than to Christians; and a sign to members of the Church in proportion as they are without, and till they gain those truer and more precious tokens, to which the external notes lead, and by which they are practically superseded. This I conceive to be the Scripture doctrine concerning them, in the very passages which promise them to us.

For instance: "This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise;" that is, they are an external evidence to the world of God's mighty power. Again, more explicitly: "The Gentiles shall come to {329} thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising: … the sons of the strangers shall build thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee." Again: "The Lord hath made bare His Holy Arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." Again: "Behold, I have taken out of thine hand the cup of trembling, ... but I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee." And again: "Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together and come to thee, ... that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves." Once more: "From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same My Name shall be great among the Gentiles." [Isa. xliii. 21; lx. 3, 10; lii. 10; li. 22, 23; xlix. 18, 9. Mal. i. 11.] You see the external glory of the Church is shown towards strangers and Gentiles, that they may join her; to prisoners, for their release; to enemies, for their conversion; to oppressors, for their punishment. I do not mean to say, that nothing is implied of such a manifestation being still a support and comfort to those who have joined her, who have been released, who are converts, who have been punished and repented; such a result of it is expressed by the holy Baptist, when he, as standing without the Church, though a destined member of it, and as it were contemplating the sacred building at the gate, while he was yet only entering it, says, "He that hath the Bride is the Bridegroom; but the friend of the Bridegroom, which standeth and heareth Him, rejoiceth greatly because of the Bridegroom's voice; this my joy therefore is fulfilled." [John iii. 29.] {330} But granting this, we shall find, nevertheless, that the special promise to the children of the Church, considered as such, is of a different kind. They first see her glory from without; next they taste her good gifts from within. "All thy children," runs the promise to the Christian Church, not merely shall see thy glory, but, "all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children." Again: "Thy people shall be all righteous." Again: "I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them." [Isa. liv. 13; lx. 21. Jer. xxxi. 33, 34.] You see it was their very gift, as Christians, to know the Lord personally, individually, inwardly; and hence the Apostle says in the text, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day."

What is told us in the New Testament is to the same purpose. For instance: consider the very precept of Christ, which binds us together in one body, and observe the reason it gives for doing so. "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another; by this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." You see it was to be a sign to the world, not to the Church herself. Still more clearly is this implied in our Lord's intercessory prayer: {331} "As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." You see, unity was for the sake of the world; He repeats it: "I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfect in one, and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me." The visibility of the Church was rather for her proclaiming the truth, than for her dispensing grace. Again: "Ye are the light of the world; a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid ... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." And we see our Saviour's precepts and prayers actually fulfilled in the first days of His Church: "And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers;" and what was the consequence? "and fear came upon every soul." But let us proceed with the passage: "They continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God;"—and what followed?—"and having favour with all the people." And again, observe the result of this unanimity: "And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." [John xiii. 34, 35; xvii. 21, 23. Matt. v. 14, 16. Acts ii. 42, 43, 46, 47.]

On the other hand, that there are other and higher gifts for Christians themselves, flowing indeed from the Church, according to a Divine appointment, and her notes, but private notes, conformably with the foregoing {332} passages from the Prophets, is told us in many places of the New Testament. The Prophets had spoken of a "feast of fat things;" of "wine and milk;" of the Lord "guiding us continually, and satisfying our soul in drought, and making our bones fat;" of our "light rising in obscurity, and our darkness being as the noon-day;" [Isa. xxv. 6; lv. 1; lviii. 10, 11.] and in accordance, St. John tells us, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things; ... the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you." And St. Paul: "Ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance;" and he prays that "Christ may dwell in" his brethren's "hearts by faith, that they, being rooted and grounded in love, might be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that they might be filled with all the fulness of God." And our Lord Himself says, "To him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it." [1 John ii. 20, 27. Eph. i. 13, 14; iii. 17-19. Rev. ii. 17.]

It seems plain then, and it is a great source of comfort at a time like this, when the public notes of the Church shine so faintly and feebly among us, to have cause to believe, that her private tokens are the true portion of Christians; that her private tokens were meant to guide them; and that if these are vouchsafed {333} to us, they are God's guides to us, and signs of His Presence, and that we need not look out for others.

Nay, further, as I suggested when I began, not only children of the Church, but even those who are seeking and have not found, are often guided to judge from Scripture, by personal and private intimations, and not merely by that manifested glory of His Kingdom which is the symbol of His Presence to the world. Surely much is said in the Old Testament to the point here. Abraham and the Patriarchs, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, Jonah, Nehemiah, Esther, and many others, are instances of what I mean, in their respective measures, according to their particular dispensation. They were guided, even in a system of miracles, by other miracles and providences, personal and particular, as is very certain. They were not left, though seekers, to the general evidence, though miraculous. Again, in the New Testament, the wise men are directed by a star; the shepherds, by the Angelic Host; Cornelius, by a vision; Saul, by the visible presence of our Lord: and though the very sight of the Church be such, as by her ordinary and general attributes to draw many out of the world into herself (according to the text already cited, which, after speaking of her excellent order in her first days, adds, "The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved"), yet even where she converts by her outward notes, you will find that there is a something of a personal nature combined with them when they are addressed to individuals. For instance: St. Paul, speaking of the prophesying or preaching of the Apostolic age, says, "If … there come in one {334} that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest, and so falling down on his face, he will worship God; and report that God is in you of a truth." He is converted, you see, by a token addressed to himself personally; viz. the knowledge bestowed upon the Church of his secret heart. And so, again, the Samaritan woman, after experiencing our Lord's supernatural knowledge, says, "Come see a man which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" And Nathanael, when our Lord spoke of his having been under the fig-tree, said, "Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel." And the Apostles: "Now are we sure that Thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask Thee; by this we believe that Thou earnest forth from God."[1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25. John iv. 29; i. 49; xvi. 30.] The exercise of His Omniscience was, in these instances, displayed towards themselves.

On the whole, then, I repeat, the distinction surely cannot be questioned, which I have been drawing out. Man needs recovery; his conscience tells him so: the Sacraments and Ordinances of the Church promise him what he needs; the great question which arises in his mind is, what guarantee has he that the Church has a right to promise it? or that what professes to be the Church is the Church? I answer, that, before he partakes those Sacraments, he will be attracted to the Church by her public notes; but when he once has tasted the good word, and in proportion as he {335} is partaker of it, that word itself in its inward power, in its power upon himself, will keep him firm in his allegiance to her.

Now it is plain how this doctrine applies to these times, and to us. Alas! I cannot deny that the outward notes of the Church are partly gone from us, and partly going [Note 1]; and a most fearful judgment it is. "Behold ... the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine." "I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day. And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation." "All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over them, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God." [Isa. xiii. 10. Amos viii. 9, 10. Ezek. xxxii. 8.] This in good measure has fallen upon us. The Church of God is under eclipse among us. Where is our unity, for which Christ prayed? where our charity, which He enjoined? where the faith once delivered, when each has his own doctrine? where our visibility, which was to be a light to the world? where that awful worship, which struck fear into every soul? And what is the consequence? "We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as {336} in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men." [Isa. lix. 10.] And as the Jews shortly before their own rejection had two dark tokens—the one, a bitter contempt of the whole world, and the other, multiplied divisions and furious quarrels at home—so we English, as if some abomination of desolation were coming on us also, scorn almost all Christianity but our own; and yet have, not one, but a hundred gospels among ourselves, and each of them with its own hot defenders, till our very note and symbol is discord, and we wrangle and denounce, and call it life; but peace we know not, nor faith, nor love. And this being so, what a temptation is it to those who read and understand the word of God, who perceive what it enjoins and promises, and also feel keenly what we are—what a temptation is it to many such to be impatient under this visitation! Who indeed is there at all, who lets himself dwell upon the thought of it, but must at times be deeply troubled at it? and who can be startled, not I, if a person here or there, painfully sensitive of this fearful eclipse of the Sun of Truth, and hoping, if that be possible, to find something better elsewhere; and either not having cherished, or neglecting to look for those truer tokens of Christ's presence in the Church, which are personal to himself, leaves us for some other communion? Alas! and we, instead of being led to reflect on our own share in his act, instead of dwelling on our own sin, are eloquent about his; instead of confessing our own most unchristian divisions, can but cry out against his dividing from us; instead of repenting of our own profaneness which has shocked {337} him, protest against his superstition; instead of calling to mind the lying and slandering, the false witness, the rejoicing in evil, the ungenerousness and unfairness which abound among us, our low standard of duty and scanty measures of holiness, our love of the world and our dislike of the Cross; instead of acknowledging that our brother has left us because we have left God, that we have lost him because we have lost our claim to keep him; we, forsooth, think we "do well to be angry," and can but enlarge on his impatience, or obstinacy, or wilfulness, or infatuation. Or if we are alarmed, as well as indignant, we dream of foes and traitors among us, when the foe and the traitor is within us; and we look any where but there; and we wonder, to be sure, that we cannot find what it implies so much address to conceal; and we are restless till we have traced the guilt some whither, to any one but ourselves,—like the Prophet beating his ass because she saw, what from him was hidden, the Angel with a drawn sword. "Thou hypocrite; first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel!" "Thou satest and spakest against thy brother, yea, and hast slandered thine own mother's son." "Thou which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? ... thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? for the Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written." [Matt. vii. 5; xxiii. 24. Ps. l. 20. Rom. ii. 21, 23, 24.] {338}

For me, with these convictions, never will I shrink, through God's help, at fitting times, and in my place, from warning my brethren of that so great sin of the day, their disregard of the grievous judgment under which we lie. If it was promised to the Church that she should be "the pillar and ground of the truth," that her "teachers should not be removed into a corner any more," but that her "ears should hear a voice behind her, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it;" and if, to us in this country, she is not such as this, surely we have forfeited something, surely are under a judgment; and if we are under a judgment, how inexpressibly it must offend Almighty God, that we do not "humble ourselves under His mighty hand"! This being so, it is a very light thing indeed for one whose eyes are in his measure opened to see it, to find himself opposed for speaking plainly about it; and, even though opposed, it must be more difficult for him to keep silence than to speak.

And he speaks with the more freedom, because, as has been said already, the public notes of the Church are not her only tokens, and a failure or deficiency in them here or there, is no argument that the Presence of Christ is away. Such a misfortune must, indeed, ever diminish her external power in the places where it is found, but not her influence at home; it may stint her growth, and obstruct her propagation; but her present fruit may remain on her, notwithstanding, with a firm hold. For, after all, what really and practically attaches any one to the Church, is not any outward display of magnificence or greatness, but the experience of her benefits upon {339} himself. These private and special evidences of the Divine Presence I may have another opportunity of enlarging upon; meanwhile I will mention a personal consideration of another kind, which, though abstractedly of less influence, yet, under the circumstances in which it comes to us, surely ought to be considered not a slight argument for a Christian's continuing where Providence originally placed him, in spite of the scandals which surround him.

It is this: in various parts of our Church, various persons, who do not know each other, and who gained their religious views in various ways, men and women, have, in consequence of the miserable confusions of the time, been tempted to look out for the True Church elsewhere. They have been tempted to do so; but yet when they proceeded on, and came towards, or upon, or over the border, they have, one by one, though separate from each other, felt as it were a nameless feeling within them, forbidding and stopping them. Now did this take place in the instance of one person only, one might impute it to some accident of his particular condition; he has been imbued with early prejudices; or he has dear ties of friends, relatives, or admirers, to detain him; or he has committed himself to statements which he is ashamed to falsify by his actions; or he shrinks from throwing himself upon strangers and the forlorn dreary life which will be the consequence. Doubtless, there are ten thousand bad motives to hinder our concurrence in the motions of grace; but I think the persons in question, viewed as a whole, have been too honest, too free in mind, too independent and fearless, {340} too distressed and unhappy, too acute and far-seeing, too religious, too enthusiastic, too many, to admit of this account of their common feeling. This feeling has been something singular and distinctive, and of so cogent an influence, that, where individuals have left us, the step has commonly been taken in a moment of excitement, or of weakness, or in a time of sickness, or under misapprehension, or with manifest eccentricity of conduct, or in deliberate disobedience to the feeling in question, as if that feeling were a human charm, or spell of earth, which it was a duty to break at all risks, and which, if one man broke, others would break also [Note 2]. {341}

It may be added, that this attachment to our own communion is almost peculiar to ourselves among the religious professions of this age and country. Men of other communions seem not to possess this secret instinct, attaching them to the body to which they belong; but they can change about from sect to sect, or form new ones, without any scruple or misgiving. The feeling in question is ours, not theirs; and therefore is the more deserving of deference, as something definite, real, and special. And let it be borne in mind, that even if an individual who is tempted to leave us has no experience of the feeling himself, yet the mere fact that others around us bear witness to it, should weigh with himself, and he should guide himself, at least for a while, by the direction thus given to his brethren.

Let us beware of turning a deaf ear to what may prove to be a Divine token; let us not do despite to a Divine privilege. Angels are our guardians; Angels surely stand in our way, in mercy, not in wrath; Angels warn us back. Let us obey the warning. When St. Peter was fleeing from Rome, shortly before his martyrdom, Jesus Christ met him at the gate, as if entering the city; and the Apostle understood that he was to return. When {342} the Christians were to flee from Jerusalem, Angels went first, crying one to another, "Let us depart hence." Let us fear to go before, or to fall behind, the pillar of the cloud in the wilderness, the Presence of "God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect Angels."

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Notes

1. An allusion was here intended to the then recent appointment (1841) of an Anglican Bishop at Jerusalem, which has had a most grievous effect in weakening the argument for our church's Catholicity, and in shaking the belief in it of individuals. May that measure utterly fail and come to nought, and be as though it had never been!
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2. Such conversions to the Church of Rome as have occurred among us, are, for the most part, subsequent to March, 1841; from which date our Church has, in various ways, and through various of her organs, taken a side, and that the Protestant side, in a number of questions of the day. The authorities who were parties to the condemnation of No. 90 of the "Tracts for the Times," by that interposition, released the author, in his own feelings, of the main weight of a great responsibility; the responsibility, which up to that time attached to him, of inculcating religious views which, however primitive, however necessary for our Church, however sanctioned by her writers, tended, without a strong safeguard, towards the theology of Rome. Till then, whatever happened amiss in the spread of Catholic doctrine, might be supposed to flow as a direct result from that one cause which alone seemed in operation, the advocacy of patristical theology; and of its advocates the remedy and correction of all irregularities in the direction of Rome might fairly be demanded. But the state of the case was changed, when persons in station interfered with the work, and took the matter into their own hands. In saying this, the author has no wish at all to rid himself of such responsibility as really belongs to him. That in the course of his exposition of Anglican principles, statements or views were evolved which have become a disposing cause of certain tendencies to Rome, now existing, he does not deny; but theological principles and doctrines have little influence on the mind holding them, without the stimulus of external circumstances. Many a man might have held an abstract theory about the Catholic Church to which it was difficult to adjust our own, might have submitted a suspicion, or even painful doubts about the latter, yet never have been impelled onwards, had our rulers preserved the quiescence of former years; but it is the corroboration of a present, living, and energetic heterodoxy, which realizes and makes them practical; it has been the recent speeches and acts of authorities, who had so long been tolerant of Protestant error, which have given to inquiry and to theory its force and its edge. Such toleration of Catholic doctrine may have been impossible or wrong; that is another question, with which private persons have no right to interfere; still it may be a fact, that the want of it has been the cause of recent secessions.
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