AN ENSIGN FOR THE NATIONS.
He shall set up an ensign for the nations.
Isaiah xi. 12.
S. Feter's, Wolverhampton, October 3, 1887, before the Church Congress.
A YEAR memorable in the annals of England is fast waning. The 'golden wedding' of sovereign and people—symbolised by the coronation ring—has been celebrated with due pomp. While the splendour of the pageant was still floating before our eyes, we gathered up the lessons which the event has bequeathed to us as Englishmen.
In this valuable legacy, among much that we have learnt besides, the one prominent idea which impressed all thoughtful minds was the imperial destiny of England—her world-wide interests and responsibilities. This lesson has done something, let us hope, to counteract our insular narrowness. It has rescued our patriotism from degenerating into a disguised selfishness. Our watchword hereafter must be Humani nihil alienum, not only as men, but as Englishmen. No statesman henceforth will deserve the name who does not give to this idea a prominent place in shaping his policy.
The history of the present reign is an emphatic enunciation of this idea. It is not only that the English race and the English language have spread far and wide, penetrating into every continent and sweeping every sea; but that, so spreading, our colonists and fellow-countrymen never forget their English origin. There is dispersion, and yet there is unity. The centripetal force acts simultaneously with the centrifugal, and regular, energetic motion is the result. The limited extent and the insular position of the mother country, the spirit of adventure and the exceptional fecundity of the race—these are the elements which make up the centrifugal force. The stubborn tenacity and the home fondness of the English heart, the conservatism (in the best sense) of the English character—here is the regulating centripetal attraction.
This lesson has been pressed upon us from many quarters. One writer has set before us the Expansion of England as the great factor in the recent history of the world; another has taught us to regard our empire as the translation into fact of the old poetic fable of Atlantis, the counterpart to the ideal commonwealth of Oceana beyond the seas1. It has not only been dinned into our ears; it has been brought vividly before our eyes by many impressive displays. The wealth of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition was followed by the representative pageant of the Jubilee. The lesson of the Jubilee is perpetuated in the foundation of the Imperial Institute.
But must we not look for some great spiritual counterpart to all this? Every great temporal epoch suggests corresponding religious opportunities.
Two worlds are ours,
as citizens of a heavenly polity. Let us ask ourselves then what dominant thought this crisis suggests to us as members of the Anglican Church. What is the great idea in the spiritual world which corresponds to this imperial conception of the destinies of England? In the extravagance of the mediaeval imagination the Holy Roman Empire was the counterpart to the Holy Roman Church. May we not from a more sober point of view arrive at a truer result?
1 Professor Seeley and Mr J. A. Froude are the writers referred to.
Shall we not say then, that our spiritual counterpart is the catholicity of the English Church, with all the responsibilities which it involves—the world-wide opportunities—the unique destiny which in God's providence seems to be reserved for the Anglican community in shaping the future of Christendom?
I referred just now to the 'Expansion of England,' and I do not know how I could better introduce the subject for which I claim your attention than by quoting the language of this writer, though his point of view is quite different from my own :—
The same nation (he says) which reaches one hand towards the future of the globe, and assumes the position of mediator between Europe and the New World, stretches the other hand to the remotest past, becomes an Asiatic conqueror, and usurps the succession of the Great Mogul. . . Never certainly did any nation, since the world began, assume anything like so much responsibility. Never did so many vast questions in all parts of the globe, questions calling for all sorts of special knowledge and special training, depend upon the decision of a single public. It must be confessed that this public bears its responsibility lightly! It does not even study Colonial and Indian questions. It does not consider them interesting, except in those rare cases when they come to the foreground of politics. When the fate of a Ministry is concerned, they are found intensely interesting, but the public does not consider them interesting so long as only the population of India, the destiny of a vast section of the planet, and the future of the English State itself, are concerned1.'
Make a few verbal changes in this paragraph;
1 Seeley, The Expansion of England (Macmillans, 1883), p. 176 sq.
substitute the English Church for the English nation; and you have the lesson which I wish to enforce this afternoon. I am the more emboldened to make these substitutions, and to appropriate this lesson to English Churchmen, because I do not think I should be doing great violence to the author's conceptions by this change. He himself is not indifferent—as indeed no true historian could be indifferent—to the correlations between the political and the religious. 'The Church,' he writes, 'so at least I hold, is the soul of the State; where there is a Church a State grows up in time; but if you find a State which is not also in some sense a Church, you find a State which is not long for this world1.'
This mediatorial position which our author assigns to the English people, this close contact alike with the traditions of the past and the hopes of the future, this great storehouse containing treasures new and old, as in the Gospel parable, above all, this worldwide interest in the welfare of divers nations and races—is it not eminently characteristic of the English Church? And if the description of character is appropriate, can we say that the sting of the reproach is undeserved? It must be confessed that these English Churchmen bear their responsibility lightly.
Nay, I do not doubt that I shall be reproached by
1 Seeley, The Expansion of England, p. 154.
many for losing a golden opportunity and wasting valuable time on an unprofitable theme. Would it not have been better to deal with some urgent practical question? There are these many thousands of practical heathen in our midst, untouched by the message of the Gospel. How shall we reach them? There is this 'Artisan Atheism,' of which we have read so much. What methods can we devise for checking this? There is the 'chaotic' state of discipline in the Church. Why not try to reduce this chaos to order? With scores of such perplexing practical problems crying for solution, is it not madness to chase a mere vision of a dream?
My answer is two-fold. I do not allow that this subject has a merely sentimental interest. I believe that very tangible consequences will result from the proper handling of it. It is a narrow type of statesmanship—though the average man is slow to see this—which would have us confine our attention to developing our material resources at home, and leave imperial and international questions to take care of themselves. Experience shews that not only our political relations to our colonies and dependencies, but our position in the community of nations, have an almost immediate effect on commerce and manufacture, and so on the material prosperity of the country. But the wider view is of much higher importance in things spiritual. The spiritual nerves are far more sensitive than the political and the commercial. The image of the sympathy between the different members of the body has here its highest realisation. The parish cannot afford to disregard its duties to the diocese, or the diocese to the Church of the nation, without suffering a partial paralysis. In like manner the Church of the nation impoverishes its inward resources, and stunts its spiritual growth, unless it interests itself in the struggles, the hopes and fears, of the Churches without. Sympathy, like mercy, bears a two-fold blessing, and the larger share falls to the giver. Sympathy repays itself a thousand-fold to a Church, as to an individual, in the capacities enlarged and the energies quickened, in the sense of a keener and fuller life.
But, secondly, a great idea, kept stedfastly in view and guiding its actions, is a source of untold strength to a Church, as to a nation. Who can doubt that the presence of such an inspiration was the secret of the tough vitality of the Jewish people, the lifeblood throbbing and thrilling through the veins of the nation? Listen to such passages as these: 'Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee, because of the Lord thy God and for the Holy One of Israel.' 'Behold, I will shake all nations, and the desirable things of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory.' 'In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek; and his resting place shall be glorious.'
How could they grow faint, how could they despair, how could they lie down and die, with this hope before them? Had not the Lord Jehovah Himself chosen them out from all the peoples of the earth, and reserved them for a signal destiny? Not Memphis or Thebes, not Nineveh or Babylon or Susa or Persepolis, not Athens or Alexandria or Rome, but Jerusalem, was the true spiritual capital of the world, the centre of the hopes and interests of mankind. Here should be the rallying-point of the nations of the earth. Hither should flow in the tribute from all quarters of the heavens, the richest treasures of every land and every clime.
I need not stop to consider how this inspiring vision was fulfilled—fulfilled far beyond their most splendid hopes, but fulfilled in a way unforeseen or but vaguely discerned even by the prophets themselves. I need not remind you how nations whom they knew not—peoples like the Greeks and Romans, then only dimly descried on the horizon of history; peoples like the Gauls and Britons and Teutons and Sclaves, of whose very names they were ignorant— did rally round this ensign of the Lord, did gather at the call of the Divine voice, did contribute their choicest gifts and endowments to the building and adorning of the spiritual Sion. No study is more instructive than this; but it is beside my purpose now. I desire only to ask your attention to this dominant idea, as a quickening, sustaining, energizing force in the life of the Jewish people. No nation since the beginning of time has survived so many and such terrible disasters. Crushed, enslaved, trampled under foot, battered between contending foes, bandied to and fro by rival empires, carried away into captivity, they have started up again and again into vigorous life. Not once only was the prophet's vision of the dry bones realised in the resurrection of this people. Not once only was the apostle's paradox of language translated into fact in their strange, eventful history, 'As dying, and behold we live'—live to hand down the priceless treasure to generations unborn, live in the hopes and fears of the human family, live in the thoughts which shall mould the hearts of men to the end of time.
And may we not say without presumption that a somewhat analogous destiny seems to be reserved for the English Church? The one great fact indeed, which is the pivot of all history, cannot be repeated. The Incarnation of the Son of God, enshrined in the records of a people, must remain unique. But is there not a sense in which it may be said that God sets up His standard in this English Church; that it seems to be marked out by His hand as a rallyingpoint of the nations; and that here is the most hopeful centre for the unity of Christendom, if such unity has any place in His counsels? History is our prophet. God's voice speaks with no uncertain sound in the records of our nation and Church. Have we ears to hear? He throws down the gage. Have we faith and courage to take it up and to translate His offer into fact?
This is the one thought which I desire to leave on your minds to-day. You are met together here, a large representative gathering of the English Church. You will discuss many practical questions of immediate interest for the efficiency of parochial and diocesan work. It is well that you should do so. But let this larger idea dominate your minds—the great destiny which lies before the English Church, if the English Church is true to herself. It will not distract or impede these practical discussions. It will permeate them, and endow them with a higher inspiration.
At this time, and in this place, such an appeal has a special propriety. Twenty years have elapsed since the Church Congress met together in this building to S. s. 17
inaugurate its session with a solemn service. It was the year of the first Lambeth Conference. Your President was surrounded on that occasion by bishops representing the Anglican communion far and wide, from the British islands, from the colonies and dependencies, from the mission field, from the United States. This was the first visible presentation of the catholicity of the English Church. It is eminently fit then, that we should take up this theme in this same place to-day.
Seventy years ago a famous French writer1, yearning for the unity of the Church and conceiving the Papacy to be the only possible centre of union, appealed to Anglican Churchmen to take the initiative. Himself holding Ultramontane views, and speaking in no measured terms of the position and character of the English Church, he yet recognised in her a prerogative character which might make her a leader in the great movement of the future. Many things have happened in these seventy years.
On the one hand, the Romish Church has taken a step which, unless it be revoked, will render union under her banner an impossibility. The doctrine of Papal Infallibility will appear to English Churchmen a denial of history and a stultification of reason. Whatever visions of union on these terms may have
1 De Maistre in his book Du Pape published in 1819.
been entertained by any Anglican in the past, they have been dissipated by this one act.
On the other hand, the Anglican communion has grown with a growth which has far outstripped human prescience. Her intensive and extensive energies alike have been manifested on a scale which has few parallels in the history of Christendom since the Apostolic age. In the treatise, 'On the Pope,' to which I referred just now, much scorn is poured upon the English Church; and statements are hazarded, which even then only an imperfect knowledge could palliate, and which have been strangely falsified by subsequent history. Two main charges brought against her are her sterility and her isolation.
Her sterility? I am not careful to answer this. The history of the past fifty years shall answer it. The evidence of eyes and ears shall answer it. The testimony of those who are not members of our own communion, even of those who in some instances have been her overt enemies, shall answer it.
But if this charge fails, what shall we say of her isolation? Is not this isolation, so far as it is true, much more her misfortune than her fault? Is she to be blamed because she retained a form of Church government which had been handed down in unbroken continuity from the Apostolic times, and thus a line was drawn between her and the reformed Churches of other countries? Is it a reproach to her that she asserted her liberty to cast off the accretions which had gathered about the Apostolic doctrine and practice through long ages, and for this act was repudiated by the Roman Church? But this very position—call it isolation if you will—which was her reproach in the past, is her hope for the future. She was isolated because she could not consort with either extreme. She was isolated because she stood midway between the two. This central position is her vantage ground, which fits her to be a mediator, wheresoever an occasion of mediation may arise.
But this charge of isolation, if it had any appearance of truth seventy years ago, has lost its force now. The English Church is no longer insular, as the English people is no longer insular. The English sovereign rules over more than one-fifth of the whole human race, and one-sixth of the habitable globe. Of what monarch or what power since the world began can the same be said? The great American Republic too—the most rapid development on a grand scale in the history of the world—is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. Nor is it only within the limits of English and American dominions that the influence of the English race is felt. British vessels alone absorb more than half the carrying traffic of the world, and America claims its fair share of the remainder. Every continent, almost every sea and island, swarms with English and American tourists and travellers. Everywhere, for business or for pleasure, English-speaking people are found.
Corresponding to this progress of the English race is the spread of the English Church. Next year, if it please God, will witness another meeting of the Lambeth Conference. The number of the Anglican episcopate from which its members are drawn is fast mounting up to two hundred. This year is the centenary of the first colonial bishopric. We have seized the occasion to take an audit of the progress during this period. I need not trouble you with the statistics of the increase. It is sufficient to say that during the present reign alone the number of our colonial and missionary sees has been multiplied nine or ten fold, and that the rate of increase has been greater in the later decades of this period than in the earlier. The Anglican communion now comprises within her embrace Churches established, unestablished, and disestablished. She has flourishing branches in every continent of the globe. She acknowledges as her sons converts from the highly developed and immemorial religions of the East, and converts from the rude idol-worship of Africa and the Pacific Islands. The successor of S. Augustine is coming to be regarded as the Patriarch in substance, if not in name, of the Anglican Churches throughout the world. The proud title, papa alterius orbis, has a far more real meaning now than when it was conferred many centuries ago'.
Nor is this all. With the ancient Churches of the East our relations are becoming every day more intimate. With the greater and more flourishing communities we are exchanging friendly intercourse; while the feebler Churches, in Assyria, in Egypt, and elsewhere, are looking to us for instruction and for help. The premature movement of Archbishop Wake early in the last century is taking effect under his successors to-day. Archbishop Tait, in his later charges, gave a prominent place to the duties attaching to his office through these wider relations of the English Church, and they have been largely developed under his successor.
What then shall we say? Her catholicity has been restored to the English Church in a surprising way. Catholic indeed she was potentially before in her doctrine and polity; but now she is catholic in fact, catholic in her interests and sympathies, catholic in her responsibilities and duties. Yet these world-wide relations are almost wholly the growth of the present reign, the growth of our own life-time. What may we not hope in the future, if we respond to God's call?
1 On S. Anselm by Pope Urban II.
If we respond. The appeal lies not to the clergy alone, though to them chiefly, but to every loyal son of our Church. Here is my reason for selecting this theme at such a gathering as the present. Let this vision of a glorious future be to every devout Anglican Churchman to-day an inspiration, as a similar vision was to every devout Israelite of old.
What then shall be our attitude towards this great work which lies before us? How shall we consecrate ourselves for the task?
We shall certainly not relax our efforts for the evangelisation of the masses at home. We shall feel that any weakness at the heart must impede the circulation and endanger the whole mechanism of the body. We shall not forget that we have special duties towards other Christian communities living side by side with us. We shall cultivate friendly relations where no principle is sacrificed. We shall avoid irritating language, for we shall remember with shame how largely their defection has been due to our fault. We shall be prompt to amend defects in our organisation, and to establish effective tribunals of discipline. We shall approach the settlement of these questions in the spirit of concession, knowing that this spirit of concession—this evLeUeia—is Christ's own attribute. We shall, before all things, beware of exalting methods into principles. We shall redouble our efforts to evangelise the heathen world. We shall recognise the duty of the Church as a Church to take a direct part in missionary work, while yet we shall respect the voluntary agencies which have borne the burden and heat of the day. We shall not fasten the yoke of a rigid uniformity on the necks of our converts. We shall lay down for ourselves as an aim, not the multiplication of English Churches on a foreign soil, but the creation of native Churches. We shall allow great latitude of development in non-essentials, such as the forms of worship. We shall not impose our Articles, or even our Prayerbook, as a necessity on native peoples. We shall act throughout in the faith that they too, like the races converted to Christ in the ages past, have some treasure of their own, some special gift or endowment, to contribute to the House of God. We shall draw closer our intercourse with the enfeebled Churches of the East, not too carefully scanning their faults whether in doctrine or in practice, but striving by education and by sympathy to raise them to a higher level. Thus will the catholicity of our Church be at length realised—a true inspiration to ourselves, and an untold blessing to mankind: 'All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when He lifteth up an ensign on the mountains.'