The Old Paths
Printed by G. Tombs and Co. Worcester Street and Cathedral Square, ChristchurchMDCCCLXXVI
The Author's endeavour in this Sermon has bea, not so much to express his own opinion, as to indicate he mind of the Primitive Church, as set forth in the Liurgies of the first four centuries, and to shew the accordance o our own Liturgy with them, without presuming to narrow in any way the liberty of opinion which the Church has always allowed in so great a mystery as that of the Holy Eucharist.page break
The Old Paths
"Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.—Jeremiah, vi. 16."
In these days of thought and discussion it is not likely that any branch of Christ's Church on earth can remain bng without controversy; and this within itself, within certain recognised lines of doctrine. Outside these lines the Church nay have to deal with a different kind of debate: with arguments that even challenge the first principles of Christianity, and profess to find an open question in everything that claims the authority of Revelation. To such arguments as these Christians may say "other foundation can no man lay than that is lad, which is Jesus Christ," yet, when reviewing their own position, secure in its first principles, they may often, for their own fake, find it needful to add "But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereupon." Controversy may therefore ensue, and when it does it brings with it a special responsibility. For in God' providence His Church on earth has always been as a family which sends forth its sons to fill the world with many families, all united with one common tie of kinship, and yet each a family in itself, having its own responsibility of maintaining the faith. Thus there should be unity of faith, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all," and yet the responsibility of the true faith must be, practically, the care of each particular branch of the Church.
This responsibility is not too heavy. Wherever a branch of the Church lives and thrives in its own soil, complete in its organization, it stands necessarily by itself; but it does not on that account really stand alone. Its responsibility is shared with others. With them it has to maintain a common faith, that which was once for all delivered to the saints, with them it must preserve Apostolic Doctrine and Practice. Such indeed was the position of the Christian world during the first four centuries. Certain groups of Churches, complete in themselves, had their own experience of controversy. They preserved the unity of the faith, sacramental unity, and unity of doctrine. They did so, no doubt, partly by correspondence with other Churches, but in the page 6 main by constant reference, when need arose, to their own rich inheritance within their own borders, of Apostolic doctrine and practice. This may be illustrated by the fact that when the first great crisis came about, which touched the whole circle of the Christian world, the first General Council met expressly to bear witness to the faith which each Church had held. The Nicene Fathers did not assemble to define the faith, but as witnesses of what the Church had everywhere taught; for each Church had its own inheritance, either in writing, or custom, or tradition, which shewed the mind of Christ and of His Apostles. Thousands of Churches possessed similar evidence. This Catholic consent was the touchstone of truth. Each Church clung to its own sacred deposit of truth, but each knew that it was sacred because it was Catholic. And each, whilst standing upon Catholic Truth, had within itself that by which it could set its house in order.
Such was the Church of old. We pass on now to our own times, and our own ease, with its responsibility in times when controversy claims a hearing.
On all such occasions the words of the text seem to indicate the proper course: "Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein." It will be found, I think, that we do not lack, within our own borders, evidence of what these ways are: for we also have our inheritance of the faith, partly in writing, partly in custom, and, if need be, these evidences, when carefully compared with the faith of the Primitive Church, can speak for themselves. In God's providence they may be regarded as a deposit of faith, which, like a mine of gold, not only yields surface treasures, such as all can pick up; but truth that lies deeper down, which needs more research than some give to it, and its great value when it is brought into notice, is in one way or another recognised by all.
I would invite attention, then, to certain portions of our Prayerbook, which may help us to walk in the old paths in matters of the highest importance:—
It will be readily allowed that there is no more important portion of the Prayerbook than that which contains the order of the Administration of the Holy Communion. Whatever men may think or say of this great mystery, it will ever continue to be the central rite and sacrament of Christianity. What thoughtful Christian is there, whether he rank as High or Low Churchman, who does not regard with peculiar interest the solemn affectionate and mysterious action of our Lord on the page 7 eve of His Passion. Look back to the earliest records of Christian times, and you find striking proof of he high estimate then placed on this rite in the fact that all the earliest forms of worship, still extant, were communion ofices. In the year 140, A.D., Justin Martyr describes a Sunday service, specially mentioning the Eucharist as that to whisk the rest of the service led. Each Church appears to have had its own Communion office, or as it was termed, its Liturgy, differing perhaps from that of others in some unimportant features, but in the main, of one common pattern. Of these Liturgies, some are now in existence, dating between the years 100—300, A.D., and others up to the end of the fourth century. To these an English Churchman can turn with no little confidence, feeling sure at least that they represent points on which there was a common agreement in the mind of the Church in those days, when as yet the truth was comparatively undefiled by the superstitions of a later date. And indeed there is more in them than the mind of the Primitive Church. There is its actual practice. This is of peculiar value, for actual practice shews a person's real principles and not merely his opinions. People hold many opinions on which they do not act; which they do not use as a logical basis for a definite course of action: opinions for which the widest latitude may be claimed as a light so long as they remain within the domain of opinion. But actual practice is a different thing: it is the result of principle. Hence it is of the utmost value to see the practice of Christians in those days set forth in these Liturgies beyond reasonable dispute. They tell us more than volumes of dissertations can, even though they be of the same date. They show what the Church actually did, and when the English Churchman compares his own Liturgy with these, he may see reason to thank God that we have in it the same Apostolic doctrine as of old. He will find it free from the defects and excess of later times when truth was either overlaid with the tinsel of super-stitution, or else its real value was cheaply held. Our Liturgy is, in fact, identical in all its main points with these Primitive Liturgies; and in it is not too much to say we have a rich inheritance providentially assigned to our care. For our Prayer-book is a monument of God's providence. It is not merely, as some might say, a compendium of opposite doctrines, the creation of many minds agreeing to compromise truth. It is not a mere political accident; it is not like a mirror of many angles that catches various reflections, and can present no one image to the eye, consistent, well centered, clearly defined. Whatever the circumstances of its origin it speaks plainly, and yet in accordance with the records of those days when Apostolic doctrine and practice were faithfully followed by an undivided Church.page 8
This is of great importance. I will ask special attention to it, as we go on to consider two prominent features in these old Liturgies that at once attract notice. They indicate the twofold nature of the service.
|1.||As the appointed memorial of the death of Christ.|
|2.||As the means of closest communion with Him.|
We take the first of these, by itself, although it really includes the other. It has reference to the well-known words—"Do this in remembrance of Me." These words were universally interpreted in those days as implying a definite act of remembrance, of thanksgiving, and of memorial before God of the Death upon the Cross. "Do this." They were to do all He had done. He took bread: He blessed it, not merely blessing or thanking God for His good gift, but blessing the bread; He took the cup; He blessed it: He gave both the bread and the wine, that they might eat and drink. All this they were to do in remembrance of Him. Now, although the full value of the sacred rite was not complete until each had partaken of the Sacrament and thus entered into communion with Christ, yet observe its twofold nature. The memorial before God and the communion with Christ. The memorial must not be lost sight of in the communion, nor yet the communion in the memorial.
And our Lord used a special word to indicate this memorial. It is used in the New Testament four times, three of which are in connexion with the' Holy Communion; whilst the other, which occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews, has reference to the great Day of Atonement, when a remembrance of sins before God was publicly made by the blood of sacrifice placed upon the Altar and upon the Mercy Seat. In the Old Testament it is a special word used to denote the memorial before God made by the loaves of shewbread which with an offering of pure frankincense and salt were set before the Lord continually.*
* Levit. xxiv., 7-8.
† Acts xx., 7.
‡ I. Cor. v. 16-17.
Now, in looking into the Ancient Liturgies, we find a distinct recognition of this act of memorial before God, made in gifts of bread and wine, which are offered to God in remembrance of the death of Christ. We find also the Communion with Christ by spiritually feeding upon His body and blood; we find the offering of oneself in true repentance and faith; an, further, a set ritual and service assigning to the minister his proper part, and to the people theirs, in the holy office.
* I. Cor. xi., 26.
† Heb. xiii., 10.
‡ I. Cor. xi., 23-26.
| It is in the Alexandrian ritual preserved in the Abyssinian Constutions of the Apostles. It is given in full in proctor on Book of Common Prayer, p. 28[unclear: 3]
¶ Quoted from the Apostolical Constitutions as quoted by Paner'a Origines Liturgiœ, Vol. ii. p. 79, 4th ed.
We come then to the question, What was the meaning of the offering before God, so distinctly made.
The necessity of asking this will be seen at once if we substitute the word sacrifice for offering. And the word sacrifice* does occur, as we have just seen in the last quotation from the ancient Liturgies. Moreover, the Fathers frequently use the word in speaking of the Eucharist. What, then, was its meaning? The word itself seems open to misuse, and its misuse might entail a double evil, it may lead to a false doctrine, and then those who reject the wrong doctrine may be tempted to refuse and ignore the true one as well. But no mere word ought to be allowed to tyrannize over our common sense. Those who look into these ancient Liturgies and examine them carefully, will see what they meant by the use of this word sacrifice. They meant an offering made before God in commemoration of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross, not a real offering of His Body and Blood anew. They hold such terms as "oblation," "sacrifice"—"sacrifice without blood," without hesitation, but not in the sense of a victim slain and offered there and then, but as a memory of the one sacrifice of Christ, once made. They did not hesitate in those days to use the word sacrifice, probably because they felt that the bread and the cup were not bare emblems of Christ's death, but in some mysterious and spiritual way were connected with His Body and Blood. Therefore, although there is no sacrifice literally and actually made of Christ's Body and Blood anew in the Eucharist, yet the memorial of that sacrifice is made and offered, and so the Eucharist being a remembrance of that sacrifice came to be called itself the same name. But this—be it remembered—was before the well known misuse of the term. And with regard to that misuse, it will be enough to quote from one of the Homilies in allusion to the Romish doctrine of the Mass: "We must therefore take heed lest of the memory, it be made a sacrifice."
* See also the Liturgy of St. James, 4th century—quoted at length by Proctor—p. 287.
* Sec Palmer's Origines Liturgicœ, Vol. ii. p. 85-87. It. is worth notice that in accordance with this (act of the oblation being of the elements, but not of the Body and Blood of Christ, the words of oblation are found in the Liturgies of Antioch, Cesarea Constantinople, and Alexandria before the elements were fully consecrated, and whilst in later Liturgies, as those of Rome and Italy, the words occur both before and after consecration, in either case the elements are offered as bread and wine.
Thus our Liturgy speaks clearly of the nature of the sacrifice we can offer in the Eucharist. We can offer the oblation of bread and wine, as a perpetual memorial before God of the death of His Son, pleading that death for our sins; we can offer ourselves in true repentance, and we receive in all humility the precious gift of our Lord, in that He gives Himself to be our spiritual food. And so the rite is complete. It is a sacrifice, and yet it is not. It is not a sacrifice in the sense of offering up a slain victim; it is not a literal offering of Christ's body and blood. But it is a memorial of a sacrifice of that which was offered up once upon the cross. We plead its remembrance before God. We feast upon that which we have offered, and by the gift of God it is to us the body and blood of our Lord. We offer ourselves in humble self-surrender. And thus speaking of this act of public memorial, thanksgiving, and communion, our Liturgy is not afraid to say—"We beseech Thee to accept this our sacrifice."
It may be, however, that some would object to the use of the word sacrifice in any shape in connexion with the Eucharist. Such an objection has a show of reason, but it loses weight when it is remembered that the use of the word in the Liturgy is not that against which we protest in the Church of Rome. Give the word its right interpretation, and we need not fear to use it.page 13
* These words are taken literally from "Keble's Eucharistic Adoration," small edition. (J. Parker.) p. 126
† I use the words "Adoration," "Adore," in the sense commonly put upon them, in which sense they are used in the rubric at the end of our Communion Offices, as implying external adoration.
It is not too much, then, to say that our Liturgy is in accordance with the Liturgies of the Primitive Church. It is full, indeed, of the mystery of the highest act of Christian worship, and it is not afraid to give expression in its ritual to a due sense of this mystery. But yet it is emphatically free from mediæval error. And is it not therefore a grand inheritance? In it we have standing ground on which we can place our feet, knowing that it is the same ground as that which the Primitive Church occupied. Its authority is not that of one mind or another in particular, of a Luther or a Calvin, of an Apollos, or even of a Paul. It is the common testimony of the Early Christian Church.
Yet with such an inheritance there is ever the responsibility of maintaining the truth. No position of advantage can rid us of this. Men never think altogether alike; and controversy in some form or other is sure to arise. It has been said that the Church of England allows the greatest latitude of thought. Certainly she docs not ignore the fact that God has made man capable of reason, and personally bound to give, so far as he can, a reason for the faith that is in him. And she does recognise the many sidedness of Revealed Truth, and due liberty of opinion in its interpretation. She takes as the basis of her position the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Revealed Word of God; but when controversy arises, or doubt as to how to build on this foundation, she looks back to Apostolic doctrine and practice, and stands by that.
There may be, on the part of some, a tendency to live below the full measure of our inheritance. It is never quite easy to appreciate the real value even of our ordinary possessions. There is always need of the warning conveyed in our Lord's words which urge a true estimate of what we have to use and enjoy: "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see," For some who have gold will deem it to be silver, and will count their silver as dross, practically underestimating their religious privileges, and others may be eager to be wise beyond what is written, desirous of realizing more than God grants to man—on either side may he found earnest, sincere men, who are scarcely able to avoid expressions of more than regret for what they deem error—for it is hardly possible for us, in our weak humanity, to endeavour to love the Lord Jesus, and altogether escape the ugly spirit of jealousy, which is so near akin to all human love.page 53
And yet controversy is better than stagnation. It will do no harm if there be in us the spirit of the Apostle who could be jealous with a Godly jealousy* in maintaining the simplicity of the faith as it is in Christ, and yet declares that, knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth"† If, as he did, we do not seek each to please himself but to please one another for their edification, little harm will come of difference of opinion. In some cases of dispute, such as kindles heartburning and separates very friends, it may be found that the difference lies in some unessential matter which has been unduly magnified and almost lifted up to the rank of an article of faith. I do not say this explains all cases of disputed ritual. It would be easy to indulge in off-hand judgments and pronounce this or that point of ritual unessential, and not worth a contest. I once heard a layman say—" I leave all questions of ritual to the clergy: it is their question; it does not concern me." But need I remark that the matter cannot be disposed of in this fashion. Ritual is a necessary condition of our relationship to God. Human nature is flesh as well as spirit; we need ritual in approaching God, and so excess or defect of ritual do mean something both to priest and people also. The line between what is essential and unessential is often very fine; it will therefore sometimes happen that there is need of sincere pretest, and sometimes of courageous assertion of principle.
But let this be done, in either case, not on the "round of an individual's judgment, but of allegiance to the Church. Ought there to be much difficulty in realising the character of this allegiance?
It is found in obedience to the spirit and the leter of the Prayer Book, the obedience of reasonable men who cling to their inheritance because they know it is in accord with the mind and usages of the Church in its primitive state, the obedience of those who, on the one hand, honestly avoid the errors of Romanism; and yet on the other, are proud to maintain the true Catholic faith.
Such obedience acts in the spirit of the words of the text—it seeks to walk in the old paths. Let us pray God that He may keep us in them, protecting His Church from all regligence and contempt of His holy will and commandments—from all dangerous error, "that as we have heard from the beginning, so we may walk through Jesus Christ in truth and love."
* 2 Cor. xi, 2
† cor. viii. 1.
Christchurch Printed by [unclear: G.]Tombs & Co., Worcester Street & Cathedral Square 1876