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The place of meeting may be the school-room, or one of the cottages of the poor, who are usually highly delighted to have their minister among them. The time and place of meeting should be fixed, that persons may know when and where to attend. When the minister is unable to go, it is better to provide a substitute, than to omit the meeting. On these occasions it is well for the minister to use the bible of the house, and not his own copy of the Scriptures. Many advantages attend this plan.
A question has been raised by some as to the legality of holding such meetings, under the idea that the place should be licensed, and the common prayers be read ; in other words, that the service should be the same as that at church. But this is an error, arising from a misunderstanding of the “ Act for Uniformity.” “Open prayers,” in and throughout this Act means that prayer which is for others to come unto or hear, either in common churches, or private chapels, or oratories, commonly called the service of the church.”* The “Conventicle Act” does not apply to services of this nature. And as to Canon Ixxi., it is intended to prevent the substitution of private worship in a house, for public service in the church.
The following remarks of the bishop of Chester on this subject are worthy the attention of all who have any doubts on the subject, and appear to set the matter at rest.
" It has been urged, I know, in regard to the domestic mode of teaching or lecturing, that it lessens the dignity of the church, and approximates us to the habits of dissenters. If this be so, it only proves that they have been quicker than ourselves to discover what is needed by the wants of the people, and what is suited to their habits : and we are surely more prudent in wielding their weapons, than in leaving them in their hands, to be employed against ourselves. And, further, the real dignity of the church is to be the instrument of salvation ; and he who 'made himself servant unto all,' that he might gain the more,' has shown us how we may best maintain consistency. His words seem written for our purpose. “Unto the Jews became I as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews : to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law : to them that are without law, as without law, that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.'+ Was the apostle blamed for this? We know that he was.
Did he on that account concede? We know the contrary. Was he blamed by his divine Master? I trow not.
“It has been further supposed, that as some trouble and self-denial are connected with attendance at church, many will not submit to the inconvenience if they can obtain instruction elsewhere. But the greatest obstacle to attendance at church, is spiritual lethargy; and if that lethargy be awakened, the greatest obstacle will be overcome. If the hunger and thirst be once excited, pains will be taken, and means be sought, to satisfy it. The clergy, therefore, who have tried such plans, all unite in the same remark. They find their instruction doubly useful:
* Mant, xvii.
+ I Cor. ix. 20--22.
not less effectual in rousing those unwilling to attend church, than in comforting those who are unable. Thus fresh hearers are continually added to the congregation.
“I can myself supply a proof which admits of no dispute. I examined the returns furnished me from ten parishes, (alphabetically taken,) in which these measures had been in operation. I find that in these ten parishes the average congregations have increased since the preceding returns in 1832, from an aggregate of 3,220, to 3,750, i.e. by more than one-seventh. The communicants, during the same period, by more than a third : from an average of 419 to 572. Is this injury to the church?
“A similar result is furnished from the different churches of one large parish, throughout the whole of which these exertions have been made with more than usual unanimity. In the fifteen churches connected with this parish, the average congregations have increased during the last three years, from 10,360 to 11,650 ; and the number of communicants, from 841 to 1,266. Again we may ask, is this injury to the church? On the contrary, what strength would be adde establishment, even if we look no further, by such general augmentation of the numbers attached to her, and attached to her by the closest ties? There is no reason whatever to believe that these efforts are partial, or might not become universal, if the like means were universally employed.
“Indeed, brethren, it is an error for which, as individuals, we are heavily responsible, and of which as a church, we are this moment paying the penalty, to limit the minister's duty to the church walls, his visits to those who summon him, his instruction the sick man's bed. This, as has been seen, is not the language of the ordination service. This is not the inference we should draw. from Scripture. What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost until he find it ?'* And he who has left us this parable for an admonition, has left us his example too. He did not wait till mankind should turn to him : but whilst we were yet sinners,' whilst we were far from him, as far as enmity and wickedness could separate man from God, he came in great humility to visit us, and recal us, and compel us to come in.'
“Therefore, brethren, 'I charge you before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom : preach the word; be instant in season, out of season ; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.' + shall happen that the church, or any member thereof, take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault.’I Lay not up for yourselves the miserable sorrow of reflecting, that through indolence, or timidity, or ill-considered prejudice, you neglected means of usefulness which God had blessed in other hands, and might have blessed to you. It has universally appeared where active means are employed for the gospel's sake,' and an aggressive movement is made against the power of Satan, that some, at least, are added to the church,' some are found 'prepared for the Lord.'”. ( Charge, 1835, pp. 25—29.)
* Luke xv, 4.
+ 2 Tim. iv. 1. # Ordination Service.
“ An opinion of Dr. Lushington's has lately been made public,* which I ought not to leave unnoticed ; as on first appearance it might lead the clergy to suspect that they would offend against ecclesiastical discipline in pursuing the practice which I recommend.
“The opinion is as follows :
“With respect to a parochial minister meeting any number of his parishioners in a private house, for the purpose of expounding the Scriptures to them, or joining in prayer, I must first observe, that preaching in a private house is prohibited by the 71st canon : this, therefore, cannot be done. I am also of opinion that the parochial minister cannot lawfully read prayers in a private house to persons not inmates thereof, nor expound the Scriptures to them ; I think he is bound to read prayers and lecture, if he think fit so to do on week days, in the church or chapel.'
“This opinion, literally acted on, would seriously injure the usefulness of the church everywhere. In some districts it would utterly subvert it, and could only end in her extinction. I feel it needful, therefore, to satisfy what may be the honest scruples of some of my clergy, by entering more fully into the question than I should otherwise have thought desirable.
“In the opinion now quoted, preaching and expounding Scripture are treated as the same thing. And they appear to be used as convertible terms in our translation of Acts xxviii. There we read, v. 23, that many came to Paul's lodging ; “to whom he expounded and testified concerning the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. Again, in the same chapter, ver. 30 and 31, we read, Paul dwelt two years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ.'
“ This practice of the apostle exactly coincides with my idea of expounding Scripture. I fully believe it to be a practice eminently conducive to edification: absolutely essential, that to faith may be added virtue, and to virtue, knowledge ;' and for the church in the present state of our population to limit its exercise, and restrain the parochial minister from this mode of instruction, would be nothing less than an act of suicide.
“It is therefore satisfactory to know, that however consistently with the proper meaning of the words, the terms preaching and expounding may be identified : and however justly it may be argued in consequence, that preaching in a private house is prohibited by the 71st canon : it was not against this sort of preaching that the 71st canon was originally levelled. It had a different object in view. The words are,
person shall preach or administer the holy communion in any private houses, except it be in times of necessity, (of illness.) Provided, that houses
* Christian Observer, July, 1835, p. 422.
are here reputed for private houses, wherein are no chapels dedicated or allowed by the ecclesiastical laws of this realm.'
The canon was designed to enforce attendance upon the parish church : and is directed against those who, not approving the ceremonies and services of the church, would have held social worship, and conducted it in their own way, if they might have been allowed to do so, and would have abstained from the worship of the church. But it was never intended that persons who approve of the church service, who attend the church service, who have neither the inclination nor the habits of non-conformity, should be prevented from hearing the minister, their own appointed minister, expound and testify the kingdom of God out of the law or out of the prophets,' any where except from the pulpit of the church. It was never intended that if a minister had a party of friends (not inmates') at his house, he might not 'lawfully read prayers or expound the Scriptures to them, without adjourning to the church. It was never intended that if he had a bible class among his school children, or a class of communicants, or a party preparing for confirmation, he should necessarily bring them from their own hamlet, or the neighbourhood of their factories, or even from their national school, to the church, a distance perhaps of miles. Such may be the literal interpretation of the canon : or such its indirect effect : but such never was the intention of the canon ; nor is it possible for the church to submit to such despotism herself, or to enforce it upon
others. “ If, however, such is the interpretation given to the canon, an interpretation which if acted upon would render our establishment unsuitable to the present condition of the country, it is high time to go deeper into the question, and inquire on what footing the canons stand.
“Now I conceive, that when the learned civilian says of 'expounding the Scriptures in a private house,' — 'it cannot be done,' he means that it cannot be done, if that canon be strictly enforced by the proper authority.
- The canons of the church are not like the laws of God, or the laws of the land, any infringement of which becomes at once, and ipso facto, criminal. They are not like the rubric, which is made the law of the land by the Act of Uniformity. But they are obligatory, when enforced by the ecclesiastical superior. Many of them relate to subjects, concerning which, as Burn has observed, what is suited to one age hardly be suited to another. It is wisely left for those to whom the government of the church is committed, to judge and determine in what cases they should require canonical obedience.
“ The 31st canon, for example, enjoins that 'no deacon or minister be made or ordained but only upon the Sundays immediately following the Ember weeks. Every bishop, I imagine, is in the habit of violating this canon, for very sufficient reasons; and is at full liberty to do so, unless his metropolitan were to require him to conform to the canonical injunction. In that case, he would be bound to obedience : and if a civilian were asked, whether a bishop could hold an ordination except on the prescribed Sundays, the answer must be, “It cannot be done.'
“Canon 21 says, “The minister shall deliver both the bread and the wine to every communicant severally. In the year 1603 this might have been done with little inconvenience. If it were now observed
universally, many communicants would be prevented from attending, many ministers from administering, the sacrament at all. Yet if the diocesan required adherence to the canon, and a civilian were asked whether a more convenient practice might be substituted, the answer must be, 'It cannot be done.'
“Canon 59 prescribes that every minister upon every Sunday and holyday, before evening prayers, shall for half an hour or more examine and instruct the youth and ignorant persons of his parish in the ten commandments, the articles of the belief, and in the Lord's prayer, and shall diligently hear, instruct, and teach them in the catechism.'
“ The churches are comparatively few in which this rule is observed. Yet, should the ordinary require strict compliance with it, unquestionably the minister would be bound to obey : aud if a civilian were asked whether he might lawfully omit the practice, the only reply must be, 'It cannot be done.'
“ This may serve to satisfy real scruples. It is admitted on all hands, that many of the canons are become obsolete. The 71st canon has as much authority as the 21st, or 31st, or 59th, and no more. That is, it must be obeyed, when obedience to it is required by those to whom the government of the church is committed.
“ Accordingly, Bishop Mant has said, in his book on ‘A Clergyman's Obligations; chap. x. "As the canons are not confirmed by the authority of parliament, but rest on the authority of an ecclesiastical governor, the clergy may perhaps with reason be considered as not bound to observe them, where the governors of the church, and especially their own ordinary amongst the number, concur in dispensing with their observance of them; for, circumstanced as the ecclesiastical authority has been in this kingdom for more than a century past, such concurrence on the part of the executors of the law, comes little short of a virtual repeal of the law itself.'
“ The question has also been carefully examined by Archdeacon Sharp, whose judgment I transcribe from Bishop Mant's edition of the Book of Common Prayer.*
“To the question, what measures of obedience the clergy owe to those canons which respect our behaviour or functions—I answer, that in my opinion, there are three sorts of dispensations which will justify us in not following the letter of the canons, provided we have always an eye and regard to the general design of them.
“* The first sort are formal and express dispensations from sufficient authority, which are good in law and conscience too.
“The second are particular tacit dispensations; that is, when the ordinary or the proper guardian or conservator of the ecclesiastical laws is known to be consenting in any special case, though he doth not signify such consent either by instrument or open declaration : and these I hold to be good in conscience, whatever they be in law.
“The third are general tacit dispensations, when the ordinaries or other spiritual judges, whose business it is to enforce discipline and rule, do appear, by a general and avowed neglect of putting the canons in force, to agree and consent to their non-observance : that is to say,
Office of Ordering of Priests.