Page images

and also with a readiness to subject our own liturgy in particular, to the test; claiming esteem for it, only in proportion as it shall be found to come under the prescribed conditions.

In this, as in the preceding lecture, what first claims our attention, are the decisions of the Church: the vindication of which is part of the present object. Those to our purpose, are the Twenty-fourth and the Thirty-fourth of the Arti


The Twenty-fourth is as follows-" It is a thing plainly repugnant to the word of God, and the custom of the primitive Church, to have publick prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people."

Although the general plan of these lectures called for the notice of this Article, there shall be but little said to prove the correctness of the position; because, as to the practice censured of having the publick prayers in an unknown tongue, there is not professed to be any other ground for it, than the authority of a foreign Church; which it was one of the objects of the last lecture to disprove.

First the Article affirms, that prayer in an unknown tongue is repugnant to the word of God. It is so plainly agreeable to the dictates of reason, that people should understand what they send up in prayer and praise to the father of their spirits; and this is so essential to the constituting of a reasonable service; as to lay the burden of proof on those who would plead for a scheme of worship, in which there is an entire departure from a principle so obvious. And yet, that any warrant from scripture has been ever alleged in support of such an incongruity, does not appear. But the Article goes further; and affirms, that scripture is in opposition to the practice. Now it has happened, that certain disorders in the Church of Corinth gave occasion to a determination of St. Paul, than which there cannot be any thing more pertinent. It is not here

pretended, that the disorder was the same as that in contemplation: for none such existed in the apostolick age. The matter in view, was the undue use of the gift of inspiration: which makes the censure apply with aggravated force, against the locking up of uninspired prayers in an unknown tongue. But even in relation to the other subject, the apostle says" If I pray in an unknown tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful:"* and then, in regard to thanksgiving. "When thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned, say amen at the giving of thanks?" He adds soon after, evidently with a retrospect to disorders censured

"Let all things be done to edifying:"+ which general precept might have led to deductions, in contrariety to the practice in question, even had there been no such express brand of ignominy stamped on it, as that which the providence of God has left on record.

The Article also affirms concerning the practice, that it is repugnant to the custom of the primitive Church. Here is an appeal to fact. Even during the age of the apostles, they had extended the knowledge of the faith, to all nations of the then known world. Of these nations, many were ignorant of the Syriac-the language spoken in Judæa, and of the Greek, which was much used by the Jews, in the countries where it was vernacular; and of the Latin, which was not spoken beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire, nor even universally within them. And yet we find the boast made by certain fathers of the Church, of praise being rendered to God, on the terms of the Christian covenant, by all nations in their respective languages.

It is certain, that while in the eastern part of civilized Christendom, divine service continued to

* 1 Cor. xiv. 14. ↑ v. 16, verse 26.

be performed in the Greek language; even in the western part, in the far greater proportion of which the Latin was generally understood, there was a departure from the use of the latter language, wherever the exception was necessary for popular edification. And this indulgence was continued; until the bishops of Rome, having established their supremacy, with its vast prerogatives, perceived plainly, that it tended much to the consolidating and the perpetuating of their power, not only to make all national liturgies give way to the liturgy of the dominant see, but also, that it should be performed in a single language. Of the policy of this, there can be no doubt: but our Church affirms with uncontradicted truth, that it was not the policy of the primitive church; to the usage of which it was repugnant.

If from scripture and primitive antiquity, we look back to the maxims in the beginning of this discourse; it is evident, that there can be no homage of the intellectual faculty, in a language, to the terms of which it is a stranger. And then it follows, that a liturgy of this description, in proportion as it is unknown, must be ineffective to the exciting of the affections, to the edifying with wholesome doctrine, and to the shedding of a benign influence over the life and conversation*.

I pass to the Thirty-fourth Article of the Church; which is as follows:-" It is not necessary, that traditions and ceremonics be in all places one, or utterly alike; for at all times they have been diverse, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries and men's manners; so that nothing be ordained against God's word. Whosoever through his private judgment, willingly and purposely doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant

*For some statements on this subject, see Dissertation XII.

to the word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly (that others may fear to do the like) as one that offendeth against the common Order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the magistrate, and woundeth the conscience of weak brethren.

"Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change and abolish ceremonies, or rites of the Church, ordained only by man's authority; so that all things be done to edifying."

It may be proper to give the caution, that the clause respecting the authority of the magistrate, comes under the following declaration made by our American Church, in relation to the Thirty-nine Articles" All references to the constitution and laws of England, are considered as inapplicable to this Church." But the exception is merely verbal; leaving the substance of the Article in full force.

The Article means under the term traditionsusages, which, being not contrary to scripture, have acquired the force of laws; and under the term "Ceremonies," such religious services, with their appendant circumstances, as, being within the bounds of ecclesiastical legislation, have received its sanction.

Of these it is said."It is not necessary that they be in all places one, or utterly alike." This clearly follows from a principle opened in the last lecture, that there is no ecclesiastical authority extending over all the Churches of Christendom; or any common centre of unity to them, in a particular Church. It follows further, and therefore the Article declares, that what is ordained by man's authority, may be altered or abolished by the same; but superadds this wise security to the integrity of gospel truth-"so that nothing be ordained against God's word." Then follows a censure on those, who wantonly offend against the publick provisions of the Church: which is a useful admonition to all her members, and especially to her ministers;

who, when they break loose from the ties of the Rubricks and of the Canons, may find a condemnation of their conduct in this Article; which they had solemnly promised to conform to, before they were admitted to the ministry, and thereby became furnished with an opportunity of violating its order. [See Dissertation XI.]

The last and the most important clause of the passage, is that which affirms the right of every particular Church, to ordain rites and ceremonies. The question of the truth or the falsehood of this position, was principally the ground, on which the great secession from the Church of England took place, in the seventeenth century. By those who seceded, the power thus claimed by the Establishment, of regulating the publick offices of religion, was considered as an unwarrantable restraint on the talents and the discretion of ministers, in their several capacities; and even as an offence against the Holy Spirit; whose motions and whose teachings were thus thought to be superseded, by the provisions of an authority merely human.

All that follows in this lecture, will have more or less a relation to the position of the Church now before us; taken in connexion with "The Book of Common Prayer and administration of the Sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the Church:" which is the exercise of the power, thus stated to be claimed. But the limits of the present lecture will confine me to the discoursing of the book in the character of its being prescribed, without entering into the merits of the individual services.

It being the professed object of these lectures, to open the grounds of those institutions of our Church, which materially differ from the most known and numerous bodies of professing Christians near us; I shall consider her decisions on the present subject, as opposed to the opinion of two descriptions of persons: First, of those, who deny the propriety of any absolute

« PreviousContinue »