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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bishop Cheney on Reforming the Church

The Reformed Episcopal ChurchA Sermon Preached in Christ Church, Chicago
Sunday Evening, December 7, 1873by the Rev. Charles Edward Cheney, D.D.
Chicago: Perry, Morris & Sultzer, 1874.

"But we desire to hear of thee what them thinkest; for as concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against. "--Acts xxviii., 32.

Reform and Revolution in theory are two entirely different elements in human history. I may remodel my dwelling, change its whole appearance, even make transformations of the chambers that it contains within, and yet leave the foundation wholly undisturbed. I may lop off the branches from my orchard whose fruit the curculio has stung, or where the caterpillars have woven their nests amid the blushing fruit, without tearing up the roots of the majestic tree out the soil in which they have been securely planted. So, precisely, it is very natural to believe that we can give new shape to ancient institutions--that we can remodel the State, that we can adapt the Church to the wants of human society in the age in which we live, without upheaving the foundations either of political or ecclesiastical security. It seems fair to reason that we may apply the pruning knife of Reform to the excrescences of error, and may touch the torch of truth to the nests where the writhing caterpillars of falsehood have made their home, and yet leave the roots of the Church untouched and undisturbed. But, brethren, practically, Reform and Revolution go hand in hand; and the reason for it, is one that is obvious to every man who studies the question attentively. For men's affections are very often like the ivy that clings to decayed and ruinous and dangerous walls, that need to be removed. There is no abuse of ecclesiastical prerogative so far-stretched in its assumptions--there is no claim of inherent power so monstrous in its character--there is no perversion of the Scriptures so contrary to the whole tenor of the Word of God--there is no multiplying of ceremonial so burdensome and yet so puerile--there are no traditions so utterly Godless that they make the word of God of none effect; there is no canon, or rubric, so created and moulded and directed for the very purpose of persecution, that it does not find its advocates and friends not only among those who are merely professing Christians, but even among those who are the real and true and lowly disciples of the Saviour. And hence the reformer, in the apprehension of most men, becomes a revolutionist. To many minds he who takes up the work of reform in the Church or in the State is a Vandal, laying unhallowed hands upon things that men for ages have held sacred. These errors that gradually insinuate themselves into the Church, fly to the sanctuary of prejudice deep in human hearts. Here they lay hold upon the horns of the altar and cry out piteously, "These that have turned the world upside down have come hither also." Such an experience was that of early Christianity. The text is but one testimony out of multitudes that I might have adduced, alike in the Bible and in profane history, that the Church of Christ, as it was originally planted on this earth, was everywhere spoken against. No man could justly charge the early-preachers of the truth that they subverted the principles of public morality. No man could honestly accuse the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, that they undermined the deep foundations of private purity of character. But they did touch much that men had long held sacred. The world rang with denunciations of that which they were doing."

*****

In the sluggish waters of one of our western streams, a friend of mine found last year a wondrous water-lily. In its broad leaf, and in its perfect blossom, he recognized at a glance the lotus that Egyptian monarchs sculptured on their tombs. He naturally asked what brought it here? What strange causes could have conspired together to have taken from Egypt's torrid clime the symbol of a despotism that nourished five thousand years ago, and have transplanted it to our northern skies, to our modern civilization, and to our atmosphere of freedom and equality? So, to-day, if we have transplanted Episcopacy--Episcopacy that, I do not hesitate to say, has been, in every age since the Reformation, more or less, in proportion to the degree that the truth has been suppressed or developed--has been the symbol of despotic power and ecclesiastical arrogance--into the atmosphere of evangelical religion; if it is the same historic Church, and yet changed in its circumstances and relations, we naturally expect the question: "Why?" I do not shrink from meeting it. I answer, that reform in the Episcopal Church is the direct result in the first place of intellectual and spiritual growth. "Two nations are in thy womb---two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels," was God's declaration to Rebekah before the birth of Esau and Jacob. The same strange statement could have been made to the Episcopal Church from the very hour of the Reformation down to the present day. Two systems, the exact opposite of each other, have been struggling for supremacy within her. The Ptolemaic theory in regard to the movements of the planets around their centre, and that of Sir John Herschel, are not more utterly irreconcilable than these two systems of Theology. I stand here to-night, and I make the assertion without the fear of contradiction, that the gospel that my dear brother (who has said some hard things about me) preaches in Trinity Church, is as utterly irreconcilable with that which is preached in the cathedral on West Washington street, as these two systems of astronomy. They are utterly and wholly and radically different from each other. Now I can make discordant elements in chemistry blend together. I can take two substances that struggle in the crucible, and, by the mystic processes of the art I have learned, can make them combine in perfect peace. But here there is no possible accord. If the doctrine of justification by faith in the blood of Jesus, is the truth of God, then justification by sacraments is a lie, whose author is the Father of lies. There is no possible ground on which to stand between the two. If the one is true, the other is false. Like the Arve and the Rhone, like the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence, the same external boundaries may indeed contain them, but their waters refuse to mingle.

The theory of the High Church party, down at its very foundation, is that, while the Bible is indeed the inspired word of God, it is to be received by the people, only with the authoritative interpretation of the Church. In other words, if I believe that the Bible teaches me a certain truth, and yet my minister tells me that that truth is not in the Bible. I must accept the teaching of my pastor, because he is the representative of the Church, rather than the plain unvarnished statements of the Scripture that God inspired.

The theory of the Low Church party, on the other hand, has ever been that which Chillingworth announced long years ago--that the sole rule of faith and practice is the Bible and the Bible alone; that Scripture is to be interpreted to the Christian conscience, not by Churches, not by Councils, not by creeds, not by confessions of faith, not by doctrines of any human authority whatever, but by the Spirit of God sought in prayer.

Between these two systems there can be no harmony. To reconcile them is as impossible as to make truth and error a perfect unit But, if both these opposites had remained dormant, the work of Reform might have been indefinitely postponed.

****

The thinker who starts with putting an infallible interpretation of the Church upon the Scripture, will unquestionably go on to a more highly organized ecclesiastical system, because the Church greedily demands it. He must have a sacrificing priesthood, because that will give the Church more spiritual power. He must have the confessional, because that rivets that power upon the people. He must have the body and the blood of Christ present in the bread and in the wine, because that dogma elevates the doctrine of the Church above the word of God. He must teach that every baptized infant is regenerate in the hour that the drops of water are sprinkled upon its brow, because by that act, it is placed within the Church; and he wants to have it unmistakably taught that the act of regeneration is something of ecclesiastical rather than of divine accomplishment.

On the other hand, the thinker who starts with the Bible, and the Bible alone, as the foundation of all divine truth, inevitably will push on to his conclusions also; and he will discover that the divine authority of Bishops is the figment of human fancy. He will discover that rites and ceremonies may be multiplied to a point where they will become intolerable bondage. He will come on to feel that the teaching of the Gospel is above sacraments and symbols and rites and ceremonies. He will come to that point, above all things else, where he will feel that, as high above all ecclesiastical authority as heaven is higher than the earth, is the enlightened Christian conscience. And when men follow out these diverging paths because they think and investigate, and push their premises to their ultimate conclusions, they must burst the shell that holds them together.

****

Moreover the growth of Ritualism is another element that has developed this reform. Last year I stood one day in front of Baliol College, in the city of Oxford. There in the street, just in front of that venerable building, buried amid the stone, yet perfectly perceptible, was an ancient iron cross laid down so as to form a portion of the pavement. What did it signify? What was it to you or me, or any other traveler that might chance to pass that way? It was everything to us, if we are Protestants. It marked the spot where Cranmer died. It was the place where the man who had once recanted the truth of God, thrust the hand that signed that recantation into the fire and let it burn, and said, "Unworthy hand! Unworthy hand!" It was a sacred spot to a Protestant; and yet for what did Cranmer die? For what died his companions who went equally up to glory from that place in a chariot of fire? They died rather than believe the essential errors of the Church of Rome. Life was worthless to them if the soul was to be in bondage to the Papal power. Has Rome changed since that day? Ah! she never changes. It is her boast that she never changes. If it was worth the sacrifice of life then, it is worth it to-day; and brethren, if not, Cranmer was a fool, Ridley was a madman, Latimer was a driveling idiot to give life away for a mere figment of the fancy.

http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/rec/cec_dec1873.html

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