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the Almighty keep the great secret from us—nay, forbid us to search into the matter–because our own business is from day to day to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
And then you see, if we were sinking down with despair, we should not be disposed to "work" at all—if we were presumptuously confident, we should not work “with fear and trembling."
When, then, we think of our departed brethren, we may well pray with the ancient church, that when we ourselves depart this life we may sleep in the Lord, as our hope is they do. But the language of confidence and assurance, whether as regards them or ourselves, is far better avoided--at the best, living and dead, we are miserable offenders, and have no hope but in God's mercy, through Christ Jesus.
What, then, we should endeavor to do, I mean in the way of realizing to ourselves the great mysterious truths taught us in the wonderful portion of Scripture, appointed as the gospel for this morning by the ancient church -seems to be of this kind. We should think of our departed relatives, friends, and acquaintance, not for the sake of arousing painful and morbid feelings of grief, nor yet to cherish superstitious fears and fancies about them or about ourselves--but as we would of absent persons, whose conduct we would wish either to imitate or to take warning from, as the case might bemand yet not as certainly absent either, since for anything we know to the contrary, they are aware of the course of life we are leading, and are watching us.
The eminently-learned and pious Bishop Jeremy Taylor, in his admirable “Rules of Holy Living,” gives his advice, that when we are unable to sleep at night from pain or restlessness, our thoughts may well and profitably be turned to the spirits of the departed.
“Meditate (he says) on the four last things—the certainty of death--the terrors of the day of judgmentthe joys of heaven-the pains of hell, and the eternity of both”--then adding—"Think upon thy friends which
are gone before thee, and
that God would grant to thee to meet them in a joyful resurrection.”
Such is the advice of that wise and holy prelate, in full accordance with the rules of the ancient church and primitive fathers. And beset as the minds of sincere Christians now are, on the one side (as one may say) with the excesses of popery, on the other with the defects of what is called " protestantism”—it is a great consolation to be able to fall back on the rules and practices of our first fathers of the apostolic age—more especially when those rules and practices are (as, of course, if authentic, they must be) in beautiful harmony with the dictates of natural piety, and especially with the tone and voice of the ever-blessed Spirit, speaking to us in the Holy Bible.
THE CHURCH PRAYER-BOOK A SAFE GUIDE.
2 Tim. i. 13.
“ Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in
faith and love which is in Christ Jesus."
It is generally considered that it is a great blessing to have the Bible among us; but it is hardly at all considered what a blessing it is to have the Christian church, such as it was in all material respects in the beginning, and such as it will be unto the end. And yet it cannot be doubted, that not in the Scriptures alone, but in the church also, there is manifested the wonderful power of God: that God is especially present in it, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in whose name we are baptized, to direct, and to sanctify and to save each true living member of that church.
Nor is the church to be considered as distinct or different from the Bible; but the fact is, that it is the church which not only conveys down to us and explains, but also brings home to us the Holy Scripture itself, in a way that would not otherwise be the case. For instance, the great mysteries of our faith are not only laid up in the Scriptures, but the church set them one by one before us, at different seasons of the year, in a manner most forcibly to arrest our serious regard; as our Lord's birth at Christmas, his painful life through Lent, his death and rising again at Easter. Even if we knew these we should never otherwise consider them in the practical and distinct manner that we are now enabled to do.
The creed, again, is another inestimable gift of God which we have in the church : without it we should not be able to explain much that is in the Holy Scriptures,
and we should not know what was most important in them to our salvation. The apostle's creed may be considered a sort of key to the Bible, which God has furnished us with together with it. For if the sacred Scripture is left to be explained by the unrestrained devices and fancies of men, there is no notion too absurd for them to pretend to establish from it.
In short, the Almighty has provided us with a guide, for which we cannot be too thankful, in the prayer-book. To say that it is not the Bible, and therefore not to value it or attend to it, is a very unthankful way of rejecting one of the best blessings which has been bestowed upon us. It is the same kind of thing as when persons pay no regard to religious duties on a week. day, because it is not Sunday; whereas they would keep the Sunday much better, if they attended more to religion during the week; and in like manner they would understand and observe the Bible much better, if they attended more to the prayer-book.
The prayer-book is not indeed so old as the Bible, but great part of it is nearly
the Christian ligion itself. It has not been made to-day or yesterday, but has been, for the most part, taken from old litur. gies; and some of these old liturgies were known under the names of apostles: one was called that of St. Peter, one that of St. James, another that of St. Mark, and another of St. John, in early ages.
Take for instance the collects, epistles, and gospels, for of these I would chiefly speak at present. It is proved that the collects have been in the church of God, most of them for nearly fourteen hundred the epistles and gospels, mostly as they now stand, for nearly twelve hundred years: and, no doubt, both of these have been from even earlier times, for they are thus traced up to the pure and better times of Chris. tianity.
Now surely this is a very inspiring and comfortable thought, that our Sundays and festivals bring to us those particular lessons which they have brought to our fel. low-Christians for so many hundred years, Christian
piety would teach us to turn our thoughts to the dead in Christ, and to consider ourselves as united with them; and these things may assist us much toward such contemplations. And not only with regard to the dead, but toward the living also_toward other members of the catholic church--this consideration cannot but be very interesting to us, and a great bond of brotherly union and sympathy. It a comfort to think of other Christians in the most distant parts of the world ;--that however we may differ from them in many points of our belief, and however we may think that they have corrupted the ancient faith by new inventions, as the Roman Catholics have done; yet have they not only been admitted into one baptism with ourselves, and drunk of the same Spirit, but on these holy days have many
of them the same collect, epistle, and gospel with our. selves.
Though earthly distinctions separate us, yet in things divine we are made to be all one with them. As far as this world goes, the curse of Babel is still upon mankut, unt dvided by different languages and interests. But in the church the blessing of the day of Pentecost may rest, and the spirit would teach her children to have, as it were, one language of the heart, and to understand each other.
We know that God is the author and lover of concord, of union, not of division; and surely such things must be pleasing to him, which tend to promote the holding of the faith " in the unity of spirit, and in the bond of peace.” And I will add, “in righteousness of life” also, which the church would always combine with the other two, and would teach us to pray for, in addition to “ the bond of peace and unity of spirit.” For, of course, every attempt to promote peace
and unity, without righteousness of life, and a sincere adherence to the truth, can only end in confusion.
Now it is evident that the prayer-book has especially a tendency to promote the holding of the faith in righteousness of life; and that not only by its sober and devout prayers and services, but by its appointed pas