A Pastoral Letter to the Parishioners of Frome
THE PARISHIONERS OF FROME,
Diocese of Bath and Wells.
REV. WILLIAM J. E. BENNETT, M.A.
JOSEPH MASTERS, ALDERSGATE STREET,
AND NEW BOND STREET.
FROME: J. T. ALLEN.
PRINTED BY JOSEPH MASTERS AND CO.
My Dear Brethren:
I have been called upon quite unexpectedly, and without any seeking on my own part, to undertake among you one of the most arduous as well as the most responsible duties which it is possible for man to undertake. I have been called upon to preside among you in the things of religion;—to be your teacher, guide, and Priest;—to perform for you all the manifold and indescribable duties which are tributary and belong to the office of a Pastor in the Church of Christ.
At all times this office is most onerous, and not to be undertaken by any one without many solemn thoughts, and much deliberation; not forgetting prayer to Almighty God, (for "who is sufficient for these things?")—but at such a time as this, and by such an one as myself, it could not possibly be contemplated without much shrinking back and trembling, lest in the undertaking of such a holy duty I should be undertaking that which might in any way peril the salvation of souls.
By the expression, "such a time as this," I mean the dangers that press upon the Church from the miserable divisions which rend men's hearts asunder,—from the schism, dissent in religious opinion, and denial of the Faith by which the great enemy of God and man is trampling over the Kingdom of Christ in the souls of so many—and I mean by alluding to myself to signify, as you most probably will readily understand, the necessary distrust of myself which I must feel in undertaking any religious office, from the sad experience and suffering for conscience' sake which it has pleased God to lay upon me in my last pastoral charge in London.
It may be well if I allude to both these topics in some short form for your present satisfaction; and I would ask you to bear with me in reading what I now shall set before you in the spirit and love of our common Redeemer.
And first, in regard to the Time; a time of more than usual division, heresy, schism, and religious bitterness.
My brethren, what aspect did your town and parish present to me at my first entrance into it some weeks since? Not indeed anything peculiar or singular, for unhappily it is very nearly the same throughout all England;—but still it was a sight which could not but affect me in the contemplation of the sphere of duty in which God had called me to minister. A Parish Church indeed, with its venerable spire and ancient records of the past, pointing to times when men were one;—but scattered along the streets, chapels of various orders and degrees of dissent and separation, pointing to the schisms of later ages when unity of the faith ceased to be an item in the Christian's Creed. I said to mvself, "Into the Parish Church I shall have to enter of necessity, but why may I not enter here? why may I not there? The worshippers on this side have no communion with the worshippers on that side;—they are called disciples of a Master in Whose teaching the corner-stone was unity, yet they cannot assemble together in one house of prayer, but cut themselves off from each other, and all have different places for worshipping their common God. Neither can you have communion with them, nor can they with you."
I am quite aware that it is impossible for the minds of a number of thoughtful, earnest, religious men, such as I have no doubt many among you are, to be perfectly and altogether agreed on every single item of the faith of the Church. I am quite aware that difference of opinion must exist when men begin to exercise the powers of reflection: that the same things are presented to different men in such different aspects according as their education is different, their habits different, their tempers different, and their hearts different; that it would be childish to think that all should be mere machine work moving about at the will of any one religious teacher, or community, or Church. No; there must be differences,—but then the point is this;—when we do have such differences, how ought we to act? Ought we to quarrel and hate each other? Ought we to backbite and slander one another? Ought we to foment controversies and disputes with one another in such a way as to provoke "hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings;" which S. Paul tells us are manifestly "the works of the flesh?" (Gal. v. 20, 21.) Nay, ought we even to separate from each other, and deny each other communion, and rush to different places of worship, as if we could not join to adore and praise our One Common God?
If you will look back upon the history of our country you will remember that by far the greater causes of religious separation in England have been of the most trivial description: whether a man ought to preach in a white gown or a black;—whether men ought to have organs or no organs in churches;—whether they ought to baptize with the sign of the Cross or without it;—whether men ought to kneel or stand;—to bow or not to bow;—to wear a vestment or no vestment;—to sing or to say. Alas, my brethren, was it not so? and is it not so even still?
The times of which I speak, instead of bearing the mark of Christian love, which our Divine Master has taught us; instead of tolerating little differences of religious opinion, and merging them all in the greater bonds of our common Creed;—instead of attempting to pour oil upon the troubled waters of strife, so as to allay it, do nothing but add to its bitterness, by every kind of personality and suspicion of motives, attaching all manner of party names to men, and saying, "I am of Paul, and I am of Cephas, and I am of Apollos." No; we are not one, but a thousand, forgetting Christ, although we are nominally brethren.
You were witnesses a short time back of my first ministration among you as your Vicar, in saying the Prayers and performing the various offices appointed for Divine worship by the Church of England. At that time in obedience to the law of the Church I solemnly used these words:—"I do here declare my unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed in and by the book intituled 'The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments,' and other rites and ceremonies of the Church, according to the use of the United Church of England and Ireland, together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, pointed as they are to be sung or said in Churches, and the form or manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons."
Now I know full well that in the attempt to do this faithfully, I shall meet with the opposition of gainsayers, and perhaps with the hatred of many who differ from the rules of the Church, and endure not its authority. I want you to see and understand how it is most perplexing in these perilous times, on the one hand to be forced by the law of the Church and the law of the land to "assent and consent," to follow in all respects the Book of Common Prayer and Sacraments, and yet to know at the same time that many of the parishioners to whom I am sent to minister in this Prayer Book, and preach the Gospel of Love, deny its doctrines and have forsaken its inheritance. It is a very fearful thing when a man is placed in the midst of two contending points such as these;—one to teach others over whom he is set in the Lord, to worship God in one particular way;—and the other to know that by so doing, he is to suffer their bad opinion, their hard speeches, and may be, their withdrawal from his communion;—that on the one hand, he is by the office of his ministry as the servant of God, to endeavour to persuade men to love; and yet he is compelled by that same office whether he will or no, to do many things which he knows will create disaffection and dislike.
Alas! brethren, what will you do? May I ask you at least not to suffer the excitement of the times, and the bitter spirit of sectarianism which is abroad, to carry you away into such extremes of party spirit as to run the risk of destroying Christian love? May I ask you to examine yourselves carefully as to those points of religious practice which the Church enjoins, and to forbear the use of harsh words and party names?—to permit me to come among you, as far as human infirmities with permit, without indulging that predisposition to take everything for wrong, which is not exactly as you yourselves think right;—to give the teacher at least an opportunity of teaching; the minister an opportunity of ministering;—not to condemn without hearing,—not to cast out and separate, without knowing what the real points of difficulty are under which the Church (and in her, her children) now labours? You may differ from me in many points of religious practice;—some may perhaps differ on points of positive religious faith, yet I do not see why we should not love each other as brethren, and be at once "pitiful" and "courteous." I do not see why I should not take you, and you me by the right hand of Christian fellowship, (except indeed it be such as those of whom the Apostle says, "Mark them which cause divisions and offences, and avoid them, for they serve not the Lord Jesus Christ." Rom. xvi. 17,) and work together as far as we can, first for the benefit and blessing of the town and parish, and ultimately for the common cause of Christ's Church.
But now I want to speak to you still more peculiarly in regard to myself. It is a most miserable thing to have to speak of oneself, especially in regard to religious things; but it is forced upon me by the peculiarity of my position in being thus sent among you.
Some have said,—"How is it possible that you, with your peculiar views about the Church, should again become a parish Priest in the Church of England? We thought you were going to be a Catholic, (by which they mean a Roman Catholic.) We thought you were driven from your last charge in London, because you held doctrines and adopted practices which manifestly belonged to the Church of Rome: we thought you were altogether a friend and fellow of those well-known men, who have recently given up their ministerial offices, and are now Roman Catholics. We thought that you had joined with those and others, in denouncing the doctrine which caused so much disturbance in the Diocese of Exeter last year; and that you had spoken so strongly about the union of Church and State, as being an unhallowed union, and a dangerous one to the truth of Christianity, that you could never again conscientiously serve in such a Church. In short, it utterly surprises us to find you here, when we thought—and if we were to speak without disguise, still think, that you ought to be a follower of the Pope, and are no longer justified in serving the Church of England."
Well, my brethren, you speak openly to me, let me speak openly to you. It is good,—we shall all the sooner understand each other if we do, and it is far better as honest Englishmen, to have the matter out, than to go about the streets with suspicion in our hearts, and averted looks and uncomfortable feelings about each other, and be afraid to speak openly what we think.
You think, (not all I hope, I am only addressing those who do,) that I ought to be a Roman Catholic, and that I am more than half one in reality now; I think you are suspicious of me for that reason, and so we are not comfortable together.
Let us in prayer seek from God, that He will send us an insight into truth, so that we may know really on each side, what is exactly the case.
It is quite true, as you say, that I was driven from the ministrations of the Church about this time last year; and it was because I held as lawful, certain practices of devotion, and, because finding the people generally fond of them, I encouraged their use; and because being pronounced and known to be lawful, I would not abandon them. But you will observe, that it does not follow as a consequence of this, that I am a Roman Catholic. A very earnest lover of the Church of England I am;—a very anxious and faithful abider by all the laws, customs, and usages of the old Catholic Church of England, in opposition to the modern school of the last century, I am. But, dear brethren, look at your own old parish church, standing on the brow of the hill, and looking over the graves of your forefathers for many and many a generation. Look too, at that one memorable tomb that holds beneath it the remains of a venerable Bishop, one of the most beloved of the English Church—Bishop of this Diocese, the gentle, the noble, the loving, the conscientious Ken.
How long has that Church been there? How many generations of graves can you count? You would not, no, you do not, tear down the Church and deface its walls; desecrate the altar, and carry havoc and ruin into the midst of the holy edifice; merely because once it was Roman Catholic? No, you have not put aside all religious customs and usages,—all prayers and Creeds, all songs of thanksgiving and praise, all preaching and Sacraments, merely because they were once Roman Catholic. No, what did you do? Three hundred years ago, you put away a great many of them because they were thought superstitious and wrong, but you retained more because they were thought to be edifying, and comforting in devotion. And the law of the Church at the same time that it put away the wrong commanded the use of what was not wrong. Now it was what the Church commanded to be used in some instances, and in others permitted to be used, that I contended for; not Roman Catholic things, but good old English things. That was all. And now let me tell you this remarkable fact, and judge for yourselves as honest men of common sense, whether, however you may differ in matters of opinion, (that you know we may do, and still be friends,) whether I was not right?
The remarkable fact is this—the very things which were wrong in me, so wrong, that I was virtually driven from my pastoral office on account of them, are still permitted in others, as you may see any day, if you visit several churches in London. Now, my brethren, if these things belonged to the Roman, and not to the English Church, could they or would they be permitted there, to say nothing of other Dioceses?
But you say, all very well. Such things may be strictly lawful, but all things are not expedient; and if they are not essentially Roman Catholic they are very like Roman Catholic practices, and have a tendency to make people become Roman Catholics. That is a question certainly, but it is a different question. And so we might argue that the use of a surplice ought to be abolished, because it is like the Roman Catholic usage; or perhaps the use of an altar; or perhaps the Creed, or the Lord's Prayer; or perhaps the use of the Cross in Baptism; or perhaps the singing of Psalms. Or perhaps even that very old time-honoured Church, in which your forefathers and yourselves have worshipped for many centuries, ought to be abolished, because it is like the Roman Catholic's. No, that will not do. Just then let me say this.
I am no more a Roman Catholic, or tending to become a Roman Catholic, or wishing to become a Roman Catholic, because I am fond of the old English Church, than your old S. Peter's parish church of Frome, with its venerable walls, its sacred graves, its monuments, its organ, its chancel, its painted windows, its holy altar, is Roman Catholic. If these are Roman Catholic, I am; if not, I am not.
In regard to what I did and said in the matter of the controversy concerning Baptismal Regeneration: it is quite true, that I took part with some of our best clergymen and laymen in this matter, and made a protest, stating that the doctrine which denied such Regeneration is heretical. Some of those who joined in that protest have left the Church, but not all.
Why should you class me among those who have failed in their allegiance to the Church, and not among those who are still faithful, and, as the many who with God's help do most stedfastly purpose to live and die fighting for and clinging to the Church of England? Those men and many more may think that the Church of England is in great peril as to the retention of the orthodox faith concerning Baptism; but because she is in peril, it does not follow that she is lost. Many a ship that seems to be driving against the rocks, in the midst of storms and tempests, still by God's help, weathers the dangerous point, and is saved. And certainly those would not be called good seamen, specially good pilots, who should fly from the ship in the very crisis of her danger. And even so in my farewell letter to my former parishioners I said, "We must, as in S. Paul's case, abide in the ship, although it be a very wreck. Some men cling to wrecks longer than others. Some men have more bodily endurance, greater strength, more vigour, and determination."
Well, I am one of those who have (always relying on God's holy guidance) this great tenacity of holding. I must cling to the rigging even still. The greater danger there is,—the more I see the ship tossing to and fro and almost helpless,—the more I see evil spirits all around the ship, some weakening her by putting bad pilots on board, to guide her wrongly, and rejoicing to think that she must soon go to pieces;—the more I say, that all this happens, and just in consequence of its happening, and as long as two planks hold together—the more it is the duty of brave men to stand by her, and to counteract the evil, to pray the longer and the stronger to Almighty God to save her.
And that, my brethren, is the reason why, though I still protest against the heresy in question, and still maintain that it is impossible for me to celebrate the sacrament of Baptism according to the form prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer, without believing, and therefore teaching the doctrine of regenerating grace therein of necessity conveyed,—still I find it within the reach of my affection for the Church of England, and my duty to my Ordination Vows to adhere to her Communion—and being called according to the law of the Church, and, if I may hope without presumption, by the will of God, to minister once more at her Altars, I have learned not only to join with the good Bishop of Exeter in his letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury in lamenting that "peace and rest and quiet confidence has been broken by this judgment, and the hands of those made to hang down who have laboured zealously for the Church, and men's hearts to faint," but also to listen to and follow the Bishop's advice, contained in these affectionate words:
"My Lord, I have said that there is too much cause to fear that the effect of this judgment, bearing, as it does, your Grace's sanction, will be to drive many from our Church, perhaps to Rome, perhaps to infidelity. Yet I trust in God's mercy, that such will not be the issue if my voice can anywhere be heard, if my wishes, my entreaties, my sufferings,—for, indeed, my Lord, I have suffered much, not for myself,—but if my sufferings in mourning for the Church, and for the too probable results to her continuance as a sound branch of the tree of life, can avail with any, I implore them to cling more closely, more faithfully, more lovingly, to her in this her hour of affliction; above all to pray humbly to Him Who can make all things work together for good, that He will be pleased to 'correct us, but with judgment, not in His anger lest He bring us to nothing;' that we may learn, practically learn, and feel how miserably weak we are, how great and good He is."
Another point.—The Alliance of Church and State. You have objected to me that I have preached against this alliance, and that I have frequently denounced it as unjustly and tyrannically used; but that seeing this alliance is still maintained, that the sitting of Convocation is still refused—that Government still interferes in the education of the poor; that Bishops still sit in the House of Lords; that Church rates still are levied against the conscientious feelings of dissenters; that men are still compelled to pay for the support of fabrics which they cannot conscientiously use; that therefore I ought to withdraw from the Church of England as many conscientious men have done both on the side of dissent and of Rome. To this I reply, that I have not altered my opinion in any way on the matter, that I still think it would be highly for the blessing of the Church, if she could be amicably separated from that which manifestly pollutes, interferes with, and clogs her full and free operation in the souls of men, namely, the State. But it is just because I do still hold this opinion that I think it my duty to abide in my own sphere so as the better to continue to help towards its fulfilment. I think more may be done by the clergy and laity in parishes uniting together with one heart and mind, to bring this great blessing about, (I mean in plain words, the separation of Church and State as at present maintained,) than by individuals gloomily and despondingly departing from her, as too many have already done, some on the side of Rome, some of dissent. If all that have opportunity and power, however little, go away and abandon that opportunity and power, how then can the issue they have at heart ever be attained? What is the use of men crying out that there is a wrong, if they do not stop to set it right? What is the use of the physician, saying there is a danger, and that the patient is sick, if after so saying, he goes away and neglects to administer a remedy? It is very disagreeable, toilsome, and wearisome, to have perpetually to work at stopping leaks, and mending holes, correcting things amiss, and restoring things lost; it would be more pleasant to rear a beautiful house and see it in its perfection and fulness, than to be ever beginning to build and never completing,—but if it be God's will that this shall be our work in this generation, that work we must do, and do it manfully. I will tell you honestly, my brethren, that I am ever hoping and looking for the time when Church Rates may be abolished, and every compulsory or merely legal establishment of the Church's claims be for ever set aside, that the Bishops may no longer sit in the House of Lords, but legislate for the Church in the Church's legitimate way, in Diocesan and Provincial Synods, subject to the General Council of all Christendom; and so all men be left unfettered by ought save the obligations of conscience and the rule of the Gospel Dispensation in the exercise of their religion,—for if the Church of England be true, "Magna est Veritas et prævalebit," if it come of God, no man can overthrow it; but if it be not true, and if it do not come of God, the sooner it is put aside and the real truth ascertained the better. Only let the Church be free, meet in Synod and express her faith, independently of the State, then I verily believe you will see both Roman Catholics and Dissenters flocking back to her standard, and we shall be one again.
I was in the midst of writing the above, and was about to say some few more words, which I thought might be of use in allaying unnecessary alarm, when I was informed that a memorial had been presented to the Marchioness of Bath, and subsequently another to the Bishop of the Diocese, deprecating my presentation to the living; and I also learned to my dismay, that five of the Clergy of the parish of Frome had taken the lead in these memorials, bringing charges against me, as one, in their opinion unfit to come among you, and that they had conveyed the signification of their objection against me to the public newspapers.
Of course it does not become me in any way to notice what is said in newspapers, nor to give any heed to the comments and misrepresentations of private individuals unconnected with this parish; nor to be disturbed by the slanderous notices and criticisms of those who write anonymously; but these memorials are matters of public, open accusation, and demand at my hands some reply, both for the satisfaction of those who have signed the memorials, as well as of those who not having signed them still may be rendered unhappy at the representations conveyed in them.
It is indeed a matter of no ordinary moment that five clergy serving in a parish should combine to represent to their Bishop that one who is appointed to come among them as a fellow labourer is unfit so to do by reason of unfaithfulness, or unscriptural teaching. It is a very fearful thing when not only the laity, but the very clergy are thus shown to differ among themselves, and those who should be "apt to teach and gentle, not striving," should be found leading a popular outcry. It is, alas! just fulfilling what I said in the outset of this letter,—how miserably divided we are in the Church of England.
The memorial states, that those whose signatures are attached to it, "owe it to God, to their flocks, to their children, to their servants, and to themselves, to protest against" my appointment; that they "solemnly repudiate" my teaching; that they "consider such professions of opinion" as I have at various times made, "as directly at variance with the spirit which pervades the articles of our Reformed branch of Christ's Holy Catholic Church; and as Churchmen who would 'keep the faith' they deliver their consciences by protesting against them." They again say that they "are among the many who regard such views as those which they have cited as perilously unsound;" that they cling to the hope "that the Marchioness of Bath would not make any appointment which would be otherwise than agreeable to the inhabitants of Frome, and conducive to their spiritual benefit."
These opinions are subscribed by 56 persons out of a population of 12,000; and out of these 56, as I said, five are of the clergy of the town.
I am sorry, deeply sorry, that anything which I may have at any time said or done should have wounded the consciences of these persons. I am quite aware that many things may have been injudiciously said and done by me, indeed I feel very keenly that my deficiencies and short-comings in the arduous post of a Parish Priest in London have been very great. I am sensible that many things written in my books have been misunderstood and have done harm where I meant them to do good. Moreover, as to differences of opinion, I am bound to respect the consciences of all men, and wish most sincerely to do so, claiming only in return the same liberty of conscience for myself; but I would put it to the great body of the parishioners who have not signed these memorials, and to those also who have signed them, whether upon reconsideration they as private clergymen or laymen can rightly be judges in this matter? Let us candidly look at the case as it stands:—One private clergyman writes in a book certain opinions concerning Religion. Five other private clergymen say that they, as members of the Church, "solemnly repudiate" what he has written as being "unscriptural," and "perilously unsound."
My brethren, there are two parties here, and the two parties differ. But who is to judge which of the two parties is right? I might as well say, "I, on my part, solemnly repudiate what they teach as unsound and unscriptural," as they solemnly repudiate what I teach. I might as well say, that I deliver my conscience by protesting against them, as they against me. Now, were I to do so, it would not follow that the protesting party must be right, and the other wrong of necessity. When two parties contend, there must be a judge between the two, which judge is of course to be neither of the contending parties; but one legitimately appointed and recognized by all. This judge as you know is primarily the Bishop of the diocese, and ultimately, the Church. And I think, my brethren, you will readily perceive, that such judgment has already been pronounced; first, by what the Bishop has said in reply to the Memorial; and secondly, by the mere fact, that I stand before you at this present moment, by the Bishop's institution, Vicar of your parish. I trust that we may all act in accordance with the gentle spirit, but yet firm decision with which the Bishop has pronounced in our case.—I may be allowed perhaps to recite his words.
"I am fully satisfied that Mr. Bennett has a firm and deep-rooted attachment to our own Church, and to all the doctrines of the Church of England, repudiating all Romish doctrines. I feel that I should he acting unjustly hy him, and uncourteously as well as unfairly to the Marchioness of Bath (whose firm attachment to our Church is so well known) if I were to refuse him admission into my diocese."
This admission has now been given. The charges of the memorialists are shown to be groundless, and the accused set free.
But there is one expression which the memorialists have used, full of perilous import in the teaching and salvation of souls. It is that which says that the memorialists hope no appointment will be made "otherwise than would he agreeable to the inhabitants of Frome." It is indeed a very happy thing, when the teachers and the taught, the shepherd and the sheep can all be brought to harmonize and fit in together without interests that clash, or objects that differ—a very happy thing, when the supply and demand, as in political economy, just so nearly balance each other that the whole body moves on without disturbance of the mutual powers engaged; but whatever it may be in the things of social life, it is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Religion, that its truths never can by their very essence be otherwise than disagreeable to the natural man. And as the truths, so he who brings them. Let the memorialists "search the Scriptures." They will find that even our Blessed Lord, He Who was our great Pattern and Example in every office of the Ministry, even He "came to His own and His own received Him not," "He was despised and rejected of men, and we esteemed Him not," "and though " sometimes "the common people heard Him gladly," yet, by the main body of the Jews He was often set at nought and derided, and desired to "go out of their coasts." And so of the Apostles, they went on their holy commission, not always agreeably to the wishes of those among whom they were sent, but oftentimes, "stoned, persecuted, tempted, slain with the sword, destitute and afflicted." The Holy Scriptures likewise teach us that it may possibly happen, that being "disagreeable" to those, among whom the Prophet or the Priest is sent, is no sign of his want of truth; as it was said by Ahab, of Micaiah, the son of Imlah: "I hate him, for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil," and yet once more, let them remember the awful words of the possessed to our Lord,—"What have we to do with Thee, Thou Jesus of Nazareth!" I only want to show by these instances as a general argument how very possible it is that being "agreeable" to parishioners ought not on scriptural principles to form any presumption for the right appointment of a preacher of Salvation, and that perhaps, if the desire of these memorialists were fulfilled in that respect, the parishioners might not in reality be receiving that truth for which I do verily believe they heartily and sincerely contend; might not in reality enjoy that spiritual grace and edification, which in their haste they imagine they should find. Yes, my dear brethren, be true to yourselves and acknowledge that this is a fatal principle, with us all,—with you, with me, with everyone, that "men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil."
But I feel quite sure that this was not thought of, and I feel quite sure that the memorialists, (at any rate the greater number) are by no means committed to every word they have used, because it is very possible that what they wrote was written hastily. How hastily we have an acknowledgment in a letter published in the Guardian of January 14th, wherein the writer, making excuse for misquoting an extract from my book, entitled "Letters to my Children," admits, that certain defects in the memorial "arose out of the hurry into which they were thrown." Alas! why be so hurried to accuse, as to omit the main point on which the meaning of the accused was to be ascertained? It ha not a good appearance; but being allowed to have been done in a "hurry" we have nothing more to say. We are bound to give credit to the idea, that what has been done, was done in the fulness of zeal for some one favourite truth, which blinded them to other truths which were accidentally, not purposely lost sight of. They are hard sayings which the memorialists have used against me,—unkind sayings, bitter sayings; but nevertheless, my part shall be with God's Grace, to "overcome evil with good," and, at once forget them, because I really do feel that in passing over Charity, they passed it over, not purposely, but in zeal, inadvertently; imagining (however much deceived, still imagining) and meaning to contend, as they interpreted it, for the "faith once delivered to the saints."
I now turn from the memorialists themselves as objectors, to the passages extracted from my writings to which they object. The passages it will be my duty to explain, and to show you that their meaning is not opposed to the spirit of the English Church. The passages cited by the memorialists are four in number. The first is this:
"The pastors who have as yet been enabled to adhere to the Church of England, finding that she denies herself and forfeits her claim to Catholicity, will, one by one, be ejected by the force of the law from her communion; and although not loving the peculiarities of Rome, will, in order to preserve any faith at all, either in their own hearts, or in the hearts of those over whom they are set, be compelled to seek salvation within her bosom. This will probably happen within ten years. Then will come the end. Protestantism will sink into its proper place and die, and whatever was Catholic in the Church of England will become Roman."
Alas, I am sorry to say that I am compelled to adhere to what is here written, only not in the sense in which the objectors think my words are to be taken. I would have you observe that they are written as a kind of prophecy, and nothing more. Let us consider. It was a dark time, that of the Judgment of the Privy Council in the matter of Baptismal Regeneration. It seemed to better men than myself as if the days of the Church of England were at that time numbered, and I spoke in fear and dread of what might be the case in the course of time, and what has been the case even now to a great extent. How many of the most gifted clergy have been in their consciences compelled to depart from the communion of the Church of England! The Bishop of Exeter solemnly declared that "very serious doubts have been raised in the minds of many whether the Church if she continued passive under this judgment, would not forfeit Her claim to be a portion of the Church of Christ." If you will candidly read the Bishop of Exeter's letter you will find that I on my part have said very little more than he said in expressing doubts and misgivings as to the ultimate issue to which the Church at that time was hastening. We all know how it was in every mouth that there was a great crisis hanging over the Church of England, that we were in great peril of heresy, that no one could tell what would happen next. My words were indeed strong, and simply because I felt strongly. If I had not loved the Church very dearly I should not have spoken at all. It was only because I loved the more, that I feared the more, and fearing the more, spoke the more. Forgive me this wrong.
Towards the end of the cited passage, you observe the words "Protestantism" and "Catholic." It has occurred to me that very possibly some persons may have a confused idea of what I there meant. By saying "Protestantism will sink into its proper place and die"—they might understand as though I meant that it ought to die. I must acknowledge that I did so mean. But the question is not whether Protestantism ought to die—but what is Protestantism. The Church of England does not come under that title in its proper sense, for ecclesiastically Protestantism means the Lutheran and Calvinistic sects of Germany, and their followers the Presbyterian, Independent, and Puritan sects which arose in this country shortly after the Reformation. I think this Protestantism ought certainly to die, or else I could not presume to call myself a faithful member of the English Church; and I think that if the Catholic element in the English Church as opposed to this Protestantism does not triumph over it so that it shall die—then that which is opposed to both, namely the Roman element, will come in and gain the victory. The heresy of denying the grace of the Sacrament of Baptism is Protestant and not of the English Church: if that heresy as Protestant does not cease—then (I meant by the passage) the Roman element will subdue the Catholic—and the English Church as holding the mean between the two extremes will be lost.
But, as I said, the whole passage is rather a dark anticipation of what might be coming upon us—a kind of prophecy, not of wish but of fear. And yet how remarkable it is that I myself am not one of those who would fulfil my own prophecy, and here by the very fact of coming among you as your Parish Priest, am actually contradicting it:—whereas on the other side, it is these five clergy and the subscribing laity of the memorial who, if they had their way, would fulfil it this day against themselves! For observe, this is the very point. I foresee a danger—I anticipate an evil—and I come in my humble way, not to fulfil it, but to avert it. Just as if you were on a perilous pass of some rugged mountain—a narrow ledge along which you had to walk, and the snow-drifts were deep, and the mists of the valley were rising up; and all was dark and dreary, and a fathomless abyss stood before your feet, and you said in your terror, "I shall perish"—but nevertheless you would not in any wilfulness precipitate yourself into the abyss on purpose? No! You would do the best you could to avert the danger that in your fear you foresaw. You would keep your footing as long as you could. You might be induced to cry out in fear just at the moment, but your own habitual courage would induce you to go on in the path as long as you possibly could.
The second point in which I am judged is this:
"In England a man looks round him for the Church, and finds it represented by the Bishops and priests de facto such, and recognized with jurisdiction as such. He has no need of arguing any matter. As long as the Church stands there before him, it is Her business to see that all is right, not his.… To go out of Her would be schismatical, to remain in Her Catholic. In the same way, being born in Italy, he looks round him for the Church, and finds it represented by the Bishops and Priests, with all things appertaining. He has, as an individual, no right to dictate to the Church, but to hear it. Does it deny anything necessary to salvation? Does it insist on any practice which will bring damnation? Certainly not. Then, whether he likes what is taught in detail is nothing to the point; he looks to the Church, which he sees visibly before him; he submits to that Church. To do so is Catholic, to do otherwise would be schismatical. He is to live as though he did not know of the existence of any other Church than that where he is born: he is to act, à priori, as though of course, and according to our Lord's rule, the Church was one. If there be differences, that is nothing to him. The Churches, with their Bishops and rulers, must look to that. It is their sin that unity is broken: it is their duty to restore it." (The italics are Mr. Bennett's own.) "It is his alone to obey. In Rome he obeys; in England he obeys; in France he obeys. His obedience makes him a Catholic; the rest he leaves to God."
Well, I am quite prepared to abide by these words. And I would ask you this. Is not the Church One? and is it not true that to go out of her is schismatical? And is not the Church of Rome in Italy a true Church, and are not those who are members of her to be saved? The Bishop of London has said, "Nor do I think it consistent with truth to deny that the Church of Rome is a branch, however corrupt, of the Church Catholic." (Charge, 1842, p. 58,) and in this the great body of the English Divines fully concur. You yourselves, nay, I verily believe even these memorialists would not on reflection deny it. They could not surely deny salvation to the many holy men who have lived and died, and are now living and dying in the Roman Communion. They would not deny salvation to the far larger portion of Christendom which at this moment fills the world, and limit it to their own comparatively insignificant portion of it situated in the British dominions. They could not deny it lest haply they be guilty of a very awful breach of that charity, which S. Paul says is greater than all zeal, yea greater than any virtue. Let me cite to you a passage from the writings of Archbishop Bramhall, a writer who is allowed on all hands to have been one of the ablest champions of the English Church. Archbishop Bramhall writes thus:
1. "First, I acknowledge that the Church of Rome is a true Christian Church in that sense that I have declared, that is, meta-physically, because it still retains all the essentials of a true Church. To have separated from it in any of these, had been either formal heresy, or formal schism, or both. But we have retained all these as much as themselves; and much more purely than themselves, for it may seem doubtful whether some of their superstitious additions do not virtually overthrow some of the fundamentals of religion; but with us there is no such danger.
2. "Secondly, I acknowledge, that besides the essentials of Christian Religion, the Church of Rome retains many other truths of an inferior nature, in doctrine, in discipline, in sacraments, and many lawful and laudable practices and observations. To have separated from these had been at least material schism, unless the Church of Rome should obtrude them upon other churches, as necessary and fundamental articles of Christian Religion, and so presume to change the ancient creed, which was deposited with the Church by the Apostles as the common badge and cognizance of all Christians for all succeeding generations.
3. "Thirdly, it is agreed, that one may not, one must not, separate himself from the communion of a true Christian Church for the vices or faults of particular persons in point of manners. We may not leave the Lord's field because there are tares, nor His floor because there is chaff, nor His house because there are 'vessels of dishonour,' nor His college because there was a Judas.
4. "Fourthly, some errors and abuses are not simply sinful in themselves; but to those that did first introduce them, to those who maintain and practise them for ambitious or avaricious ends, they are sinful. These are pressures and grievances to the Christian flock, rather than sins. They suffer under the burden of them, but they are innocent from the guilt of them. And so 'reum facit superiorem iniquitas imperandi, innocentem subditum ordo serviendi.' 'A superior may sin in his commands, and yet his subject be innocent in his obedience' These are no just cause of separation to a private Christian; 'Charity covers a multitude of sins.' But they are just cause of reformation to a National Church or Synod.
5. "Fifthly, there are some errors in disputable points; and some abuses are mere excesses without guilt, rather blemishes than sins; and for these alone no man ought to separate himself from a Christian Society, or abandon a true Church for trivial dissensions. Our duty in such a case is, to pray and persuade, without troubling the peace of the Church, and to leave the rest to God. 'Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded; and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.'
6. "Lastly, we affirm, that in the superstructions of Christian religion, the Church of Rome hath added and mixed sundry errors and abuses of greater consequence, and sinful innovations, in point of doctrine, and discipline, and administration of the Sacraments, and feasts and fasts, and this we are ready to maintain. Neither does she only profess and practise these errors and abuses, which perhaps by some persons at some times might be separated without a separation; but she obtrudes them upon all others as essential truths and necessary articles. She enjoins sundry of them as a condition of her communion. She commands all Christians to believe and practise them under pain of damnation; and whosoever refuseth, she casteth them out of her society. Such is their new creed in point of faith, directly contrary to the Canon of the General Council of Ephesus. Such is the Pope's supremacy of power in point of discipline, expressly contrary to the determinations of the Councils of Constance and Basle. Such is the adoration of the species of bread and wine, the detention of the cup from the people, their unknown language in the administration of the sacraments, and in the public service of God. From these sinful duties thus enjoined as necessary, all men ought to separate. Lawful authority of man may oblige one to suffer, but no authority of man can warrant or oblige one to do sinful duties. Such a cause justifies a separation until the abuse be reformed for which the separation was made. And being thus separated from sinful innovations, it may be lawful or convenient to reform lesser errors, which were not of such dangerous consequence, nor had been a sufficient cause of separation of themselves."
In this quotation you will observe how the passages in italics bear out and confirm what I have said myself, and how the whole spirit of what the Archbishop says, bears upon the great sin of schism. The superiors may sin in their commands, as the Bishops of Rome did, and yet the members of that Church be innocent. Schism is a sin. Who are guilty now we know not, but this we know, that it is the duty of each one of us to pray for its cessation, and "leave the rest to God."
Well, then, if the Church of Rome be the true Church in Italy, a man in Italy must remain in her (the Church being one), or else he is guilty of schism, and we pray in the Litany to God to deliver us from schism as from a deadly sin. If again the Church of England be the true Church in England (and you would not deny that) and the Church be one, then a man born in England, if he were to go out of her, would be guilty of schism, and from schism, as from a deadly sin, you pray, "Good Lord, deliver us." Pursue this, and suppose you or I or any of our Bishops should become aware of a schism, or which is the same thing, that the unity of this one Church is broken; and being aware that such schism is a sin, and unity broken a violation of the chiefest prayer of our Blessed Lord, that His Church might be one;—suppose this to be the case,—would it not then be a duty to deplore the sin, wheresoever it was, and to restore such unity broken?
Well, but how can you or I, or any private individuals, know or rightly judge the time or the manner in which unity is to be restored? Must it not be the Bishops who shall so judge? Yes. Because the way of restoring unity when once broken is by a general council of Christendom, and in such a general council it would be the Bishops of the Universal Church who would have (under the special direction and power of the Holy Ghost) to decide what the faith of the Church should be, and to make new canons and rules of discipline, for the sake of restoration of the broken unity. This was always the way by which dissension and schism were healed in former ages, and it is the only way in which it can be healed again. But in this, we as private individuals have no voice: we can only submit to what is before us. In France, a member of the Church to what is before him in France; in Italy, a member of the Church to what is before him in Italy; in England, a member of the Church to what is before him in England; leaving it in the hands of the rulers of the Church to direct the perfect restoration of unity as God may in His own good time move men's hearts towards it.
And do you not see, my brethren, that the maintenance of such an opinion as that which is here objected to by the memorialists of your parish is just the very opinion which has kept many yet safe in the Church of England? (not that alone, but combined with other reasons.) Some have said, we have a right to think for ourselves; the Church of England is heretical, and we think so; it is time to leave her, and we think so; we as private priests and individuals think so; and so they have become members of the Roman Communion; whereas by simply saying, as I think they should,—we are not the judges of that, let us leave it to higher powers, let us leave it to the Church herself and her Bishops, we have no right to form an opinion about it; by simply saying this, they would have gone on in their place, humbly and cheerfully, and the miserable fallings off that have rent us all asunder would not have been heard of.
Now it seems unfortunate that in that very point in which I thought I had done most to save members of the Church of England from joining the Church of Rome, I am most blamed; and where I was striving most to keep souls together in unity, there I am accused of doing most to break it.
Then comes the third point—
"All ideas of the Bible, and the dispensing of the Bible, as in itself a means of propagating Christianity, are a fiction and an absurdity."
Here again, I am sorry to say, I cannot retract. A matter of fact is such a stubborn thing that all the sophistry in the world cannot overthrow it. And this is a matter of fact. For, "in itself," as I say, can the Bible save a man's soul? Must not you learn to read it first, and having read it, to understand its meaning? And who is to understand its meaning unless he have a teacher? And who is the teacher? It is either the parent, the schoolmaster, or the parish priest. And who teaches the parent, the schoolmaster, and the parish priest? Who but the Church? It cannot surely be meant that the stereotyped words of a book save a man, and that by being merely looked at through the vision of the eye? That would be a doctrine of "opus operatum," frightful to think of. It is meant then that the book saves by its Spirit, and as we are to "worship God in spirit and in truth," so we are to read the Bible in spirit and in truth, or else it is valueless.
You, my brethren, must either tell me what the Bible means, or I must tell you. One must teach the other. I do not think you would say you had authority or commission to teach me, but I can say that I have authority and commission to teach you. Whence? From the Church. And as long as, with God's Holy Spirit for my guide, I shall preach to you truly out of its pages, and live among you faithfully according to its precepts, I shall do well, but my mere possession of the Book as such, or your possession of it,—my mere holding it in my hand when I go to church, or your mere holding it in yours,—my mere quoting texts out of it, without interpretation, or your mere quoting it without understanding, is useless.
It is indeed quite true that the Sixth Article of the Church of England asserts that "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an Article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." Very well. Observe the words "containeth all things necessary to salvation." But no one would mean to say that the Holy Scriptures, the very printed book, the pages, ink and letterpress engraven contained all things necessary to salvation! For instance, they do not contain Baptism, which the Catechism says is generally necessary to salvation, nor do they contain the Sacrament of the Supper of the Lord, which the Catechism also says is generally necessary to salvation. So that there are some things, you see, necessary to salvation which are not in the Holy Scriptures, that is to say not in the book itself as a book, but only gathered out of it as acts, not readings. So that although a man possessed a copy of the Holy Scriptures, and should read it ever so diligently, and even know it by heart—that would not save him—unless he should follow up his reading by becoming a recipient of the graces of the blessed Sacraments. Which should we candidly pronounce the nearer in obedience to Almighty God in spirit and in truth,—he that possessing the Holy Scriptures and reading them, should stedfastly deny the grace of Sacraments and live without them—or he that not only possessing no copy of the Holy Scriptures, but even if he had not being able to read them—yet nevertheless in obedience to the Church should live a sacramental life, and be in constant communion with God in the "Living Bread which came down from heaven?" I leave the answer to you. But at any rate the Bible in itself does not save a man.
And you observe the 6th Article perfectly agrees with what I say; for it does not assert broadly and only that "Holy Scripture is necessary to salvation," but it qualifies and explains how, namely "so that whatsoever is not read therein, or proved thereby is not necessary to salvation." Now how can it be proved thereby, and who is to prove it against deniers of Sacraments, that Baptism is necessary to salvation, or that, the blessed Sacrament of the Lord's Supper is necessary to salvation? Not you or I—not the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Bishop of Rome, nor any other Bishop, nor any other individual—but solely the Church—for another Article (the 20th) says "the Church hath authority in controversies of Faith." So that the 6th Article being what it is, and the 20th what it is, and my saying about the Bible remaining what it is, may notwithstanding appearances, perfectly coincide; and after all, it does not quite so certainly follow as the memorialists imagined in their "hurry," that I was contradicting the spirit of the Articles.
I now come to the fourth passage. This does not appear in the memorial to the Marchioness of Bath, but does in that made to the Bishop. It is this:—
"If you are at present separated from the sacramental communion of a great part of Christendom, as you unfortunately are, weep over this separation and deplore it as a fault and a sin; but, reflect that the circumstances which caused the separation were not in you, but in your ancestors, both of England and Italy, who, by their ungodly lives and unjust claims, brought about an unhappy quarrel."
Most assuredly I cannot retract this; for it is an historical truth. It is no doctrine, or opinion, but a dry fact which no one can by any possibility change. If the memorialists mean that they are glad of the disruption between the Churches of England and of Rome; then I must tell them that they are violating our Blessed Lord's dearest and most divine wish, that all Christians might be one, and if they would not go against our Lord, then they must as I say, "weep over the separation and deplore it as a fault and a sin." I did not say where the sin was; but I left it to be charitably taken on both sides; saying "our ancestors both in England and Italy." Both: and I cannot but repeat, that in the sense of breaking our Blessed Lord's most intimate prayer, rending His Body in twain, dividing and separating from each other as we did,—somewhere or other there was a sin, the effects of which to this day we have never recovered. Many of our greatest and ablest Bishops and Divines have judged the party adding to the Faith, to be intrinsically that guilty of the sin of schism, and with them I am content to abide, to deplore, to weep, and to pray, that in His good time, the unity of the Church may be restored. The "ungodly lives" of which I spoke, were in such men as Henry VIII., and those who seized upon the spoils of the Church in that infamous reign: the "unjust claims" of which I spoke, were the claims of the Church of Rome in exacting supremacy over England, contrary to the Canons and Councils of Universal Christendom.
So much then for the actual words cited by the memorialists. I have hitherto merely taken the words given by themselves. But my brethren, what will you think, when you learn that the memorialists have quite altered the meaning of what I have said, by keeping out of sight the qualifications and conclusions with which my words are accompanied. For instance,—I take the second and the third of the passages in question. In the second, viz, that concerning the Church, it is urged upon the Marchioness of Bath, that she ought not to present me to the living of Frome, because I had written thus:
"As long as the Church stands there before him, it is her business to see that all is right, not his.… To go out of her would be schismatical."
Here a considerable passage full of provisos is altogether omitted. I did not write as they say I wrote, but I wrote thus:
"Provided there be Orders and Apostolical Succession, provided there be open profession of the Catholic faith by the three creeds, PROVIDED THERE BE NO OPEN DENIAL OF ANYTHING ESSENTIAL TO SALVATION, THEN obedience is to come into play, and his likings are to submit to the simple fact of being where he is, and that by the will of God, in the Church visibly existing before him."
Now put it to yourselves honestly. Does not this long list of provisos altogether alter the meaning of my writing? It is true that afterwards, in the memo- rial presented to the Bishop, the omitted passage was inserted, but the first blow had been already dealt, the attack was made, the injury done. The Times newspaper had paraded the original memorial to the world, with a bitter leading article, and it had gone forth to the Church that I had written a thing which I never did write—that I was the author of a sentiment of which I never was the author: was that honest? But they say now, it was done in a "hurry" Yes, I believe it was all done in a hurry. I would beseech them, particularly my brethren the clergy, men trained in the value of words, and not unacquainted with the spirit of Christian love, to consider how grievous a wound may be inflicted, irreparable, never to be healed, in the misinterpretation of a wicked world, by bringing an accusation against a brother, in a "hurry"
But even in the passage presented to the Bishop as amended, still there can be no idea of my meaning unless the passages preceding and subsequent be also read. The context can alone explain the text. The passage preceding is this:
"If a man were born in England, and were to believe and abide by the tenets of the Church of Rome, in England, he would become a dissenter; and if in England he were to go and join himself to a community of men who recognised the Pope as head of the Church, or if he were to build a conventicle, and worship in it by different rites and customs from those commanded by our own Church, and do those things therein which were forbidden by our own Bishops, he would be guilty of the grievous sin of schism; he would be rending the flock of Christ asunder; he would be harbouring and extending what is above all things offensive in the sight of God, setting up altar against altar, and sowing discord and dissension where all ought to be unity and love."—Page 138.
The passages subsequent to which I would call your attention are:
"Perhaps there is no Christian, in any country, or any Church that stands in so peculiarly happy a position as one of the Church of England."—Page 142. "You must submit yourself as a child to his mother. You must neither hanker after the peculiar rites and ceremonies of the Church of Rome, which however beautiful to the imagination, are not primitive; nor must you dream of mere ideal notions of spiritual religion with the Independent, or Quaker, or Anabaptist, or Methodist Dissenter. You must consider yourself as blessed beyond all possible desire in your good and holy Church of England; remembering that her many defects and shortcomings are not in her theory but in her practice; not in her as she ought to be; but as she is by reason of individual delinquents and temporary accidents, which will, by prayer and perseverance, be swept away. You must not judge by individuals but by principles. You must join your hand to a great work of restoring what has been lost, and saving what remains. And for the present you must thank God that your reformation was carried on, not like the Lutheran, without the Church, but with the Church; that you still have among you God's holy ministers, who can trace their authority to preach and baptize and administer the Holy Eucharist, by Episcopal laying on of hands, in a direct line from the very Apostles, even as they do from Jesus Christ."
Again in the quotation about the Bible. It is deliberately said by the memorialists that the passage so quoted is a sentence which "heads a paragraph," by which is insinuated, that the statement conveyed therein stands as a positive and unqualified assertion. But this is just the reverse of the fact, for the passage does not head a paragraph, but on the contrary stands in the middle of a sentence, of which the first part is omitted Read it as I shall now set it before you. After stating the many peculiarities of the Bible when contrasted with mere human writings, the difference of the tone of morals by which it teaches, its ideas, thoughts, and sentiments so utterly beyond ourselves, its dealing with mysteries of faith beyond our comprehension, and above all its different manner of composition in being derived immediately from the Holy Spirit of God, I then go on to say thus:
"… All this shows you the peculiarity of the holy word of God, and accounts to you at once for the difficulty with which it is received by the worldly and natural man. It speaks a language unintelligible to him; its beauties and its graces are hidden from him simply because his heart is waxed gross, and his ears are dull of hearing, and his eyes he has closed, by the sinful nature which dwells within him, in direct opposition to the spirit of that Book which comes from God. And so it comes to pass that all the ideas of the Bible, and the dispensing of the Bible as in itself a means of propagating Christianity, are a fiction and an absurdity. Here are two minds to be brought together, the Mind of God, and the mind of man; how can the latter approach the former, how is it possible that the spirit of the one can enter into the spirit of the other, unless by some previous process, there is a preparation thereto? All by nature is sin, hatred of God, and flying from His ways. If God does not first by some operation of His grace soften the heart, the speaking of God by His Scriptures is unheard. In conversion of the unbeliever, or reclaiming of the sinner; in argument to show the truth, and in persuasion to move to holiness, it is all the same, the Bible as such is of no use, unless it be accompanied, at least, if not preceded by the Church. There must be a movement from God, that man may understand God. There must be an invitation and a grace, that the words may have a meaning and the pages life. Neither the intellect, as shown in Gibbon and Voltaire, nor the taste and skill of literature as shown in Hume, nor the deep musings of philosophy as shown in Bolingbroke and Herbert of Cherbury, can of itself take in what God says, much less the savage life of heathenism, and the unchecked nature of the libertine and the sinner. No. God must speak to man by a still small voice within, before man can understand God in the Great Book, which of His mercy He has given for his use. And that Book must be brought to him by the Church in preaching, and in warning, and in exhortation, and in prophecy."—Page 396.
Now compare what I really said with what the memorialists make me to say.
I would put it to you,—are the two things alike? I would put it to you, Can you read the Bible to any effect without first having the grace of God? Can your natural state of sin possibly dare to approach God in His Holy Scriptures? No surely—you would all acknowledge that "without God you can do no good thing." You observe, I have just attributed to the Holy Scriptures the very highest of all possible excellency, as being so actually God Himself, that unregenerate man must not venture to approach them. With what more exalted gift, what higher and purer grace, efficacy, and virtue of Divinity could any one invest the sacred writings of God than to say man of his own nature cannot approach them? It was for that reason,—I remarked, the Bible in itself was useless as a means of grace,—"in itself" because man's heart must be opened before he can appreciate it. So it was with the two disciples at Emmaus; they walked with our Blessed Lord, conversed with Him, sat down with Him at meat, and yet did not recognize Him. Though they had the Scriptures, they were "slow of heart to believe," and as it were dead, till bread was broken, and then, by the Holy Spirit, their eyes were opened and they knew Him.
But I will not say more; judge ye what I have said. Do not be hasty of spirit, but read carefully and thoughtfully, and with a charitable mind, and I very little doubt the issue. May God forgive all wrong.
My brethren, there lies buried in your churchyard one whose memory I feel sure you venerate,—a very holy Bishop and confessor, who in times of peril to the Church of England, not altogether unlike the present, stood forth manfully to fight her battles: first, against the encroachments of a foreign ecclesiastical dominion which had no right to rule in England; and secondly, against the encroachments of a state government, which he in his conscience thought had equally no right to rule in things ecclesiastical. Against each of these extremes this venerable Bishop contended. The supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, and under it the implied forcing of modern uncatholic doctrines on the conscience of real Catholics (for fear you should mistake me I mean members of the Church of England), the forcing of mere local decrees of one Bishop, or at any rate of a comparatively few Bishops, as though they were decrees of the Universal Church, upon the whole of Christendom; this unjustifiable power,—denied by the whole of the Eastern Church, denied by the English Church, denied by Rome herself against Constantinople,—this unjustifiable power was abhorrent to that good Bishop whose remains lie buried among you. As that power was abhorrent to him, so is it abhorrent to me.
Again, the supremacy of the State; whether that State shall be vested in the people or in the despotic authority of kings (I mean, of course, in things spiritual as such),—that supremacy was singularly abhorrent to the venerable Bishop.
First, in regard of kings. When a Roman Catholic King James II. desired the Bishops to conform to an unjustifiable decree which was to promote and advance the Church of Rome, the Bishop of Bath and Wells refused. This is the account of his refusal.
"The Bishop of S. Asaph and others replied, that they had adventured their lives for his majesty, and would lose the last drop of their blood rather than lift up a finger against him."
The king having remonstrated in urgent terms, positively declared he "would be obeyed."
The Bishop of Bath and Wells replied, "We are bound to fear God and honour the king. We desire to do both. We will honour you; we must fear God."
And when the king still further urged obedience to himself, saying, "I will be obeyed," the Bishop of Bath and Wells simply said, "God's will be done."
The consequence was that he was one among the seven illustrious Bishops who were imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was imprisoned, you will observe, because he defended the Catholic Faith of the Church of England, against the unjust usurpation of the Crown in things spiritual, when it sought to advance the Church of Rome. Should it ever happen, which God forbid! that any such unjust usurpation of the Crown in things spiritual should again be seen in England, there would be need of men to witness a good confession for the Church in a similar resistance; and in such case I pray Almighty God that He would give me grace to be among them.
And 2ndly in regard of the people. Although now I am aware that I am going to say an unpopular thing, yet being true, I must needs say it. Your venerable Bishop, when the people—i.e. the popular will represented in the parliament, virtually expelled the king, (that very same king, whom before the Bishops had resisted,) and chose another for themselves out of a foreign country, namely, William III.—when this revolution took place, and the majority of the people quietly transferred their allegiance from the old king to the new one—your Bishop could not conscientiously be brought to see that the people had any such right either to choose their king, or to transfer their oath—he could not be brought to see but that there was a certain divine right in kings ruling over things temporal, just as he maintained that there was a certain divine right in Bishops ruling over things spiritual; and so rather than take an oath of allegiance to one whom he thought, as merely elected by the people, had no right to such allegiance, he submitted himself to be expelled from his bishopric, and dying at Longleat after many years of calm and holy patience, he was buried among you, parishioners of Frome.
Should any such popular clamour or mere movement of political revolution cause, (which God forbid!) any weakening of the Throne; or any instability of its glory; or should any personal difficulty, danger, or sorrow of any sort beset our present beloved Sovereign, who rightly rules de facto as de jure, in these realms it shall by God's help, be my part to suffer in her behalf, and defend her according to the oath of my allegiance, which so short a time since, on my institution to this benefice I swore. May it ever be fresh in both our minds and hearts, against all who should be so misguided as to forget it, that her Majesty Queen Victoria rules in these realms "By the grace of God."
I have but little more to say, brethren, except to regret this very sad beginning of my pastoral office among you, for grievous indeed it is to begin with contention and disputing words among those whom God has sent me to teach and love.
But such beginning we may reasonably hope, after this full and faithful exposition of my whole heart, will here have its end. Soon we shall on both sides, I hope, be found joining in the more congenial offices of the shepherd and his flock. You to hear and follow, I to teach and guide, and both to love. "I am the Good Shepherd," said our Blessed Lord, "the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." Here lies the key of pastoral work; not controversy, but teaching,—not disputing, but labouring,—not self-glory, but suffering. There are the sorrowful and the poor in spirit who need comfort; the penitent who need restoration; the sinful who need warning, and the dying who need the voice of prayer, and the blessed Sacrament of their departing. To these must we look. There are children who need instruction; wicked and ignorant men who must be aroused, worldly men who must be stirred from their apathy and be driven into the kingdom of Christ at whatever risk and cost. Yea, "the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."
Now no more of controversy, except the controversy with the enemy of souls, to see whether he or God shall triumph in our hearts. Oh, my brethren, be not deceived! Do not forsake all that is holy, all that is beautiful, all that is pure, all that is of good report, all that is of Christ, for any party spirit of contention or of human infirmity, but come to the House of God and pray. Prayer softeneth the heart of man. Prayer lifteth up to God. Prayer sanctifieth. "Oratio vincit Deum."
For me use this gift; since I have great need of it in the infirmities of the nature of man. For me use this gift, that I may not be found wanting in the boundless duties of the love of Christ, which I hope will ever constrain me in my ministry among you; and with me use it that we may worship God together in the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life, so that when we die, we may rest in the bosom of our Lord, and not be found on either side wanting in those beautiful words of your former saintly Bishop, words with which he sealed his life of confessorship as he faithfully lived among you:
"As for my religion, I die in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West; more particularly I die in the Communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from all Papal and Puritan innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrines of the Cross."
O Lord, we beseech Thee mercifully to receive the prayers of Thy people which call upon Thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
LONDON: JOSEPH MASTERS AND CO., PRINTERS, ALDERSGATE STREET.
- Bishop of Exeter's Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, p. 90.
- Bramhall. Replication to Bishop of Chalcedon. Disc. iii.
- Laud, Bramhall, Hooker, Usher, &c. &c, see the passage quoted before from Bramhall.
- Memorial or protest addressed to the Marchioness of Bath. Guardian, Jan. 7, 1852.
- The 4th and 6th Canons of the Council of Nice, the 2nd and 3rd Canons of the Council of Constantinople, and the 22nd Canon of the Council of Chalcedon, are all manifestly against any claim of the Bishop of Rome to the supremacy as now claimed for him by the Roman Church.
- Life of Bishop Ken, Pickering, p. 280.