LENGTHEN THY CORDS AND
STRENGTHEN THY STAKES.
Spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left.
Isaiah liv. 2, 3.
S. Martin's-in-the-Fielcls, Nov. 3, 1879, at tne Opening of the New House of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
A LIVING writer, describing the career of the prophet Samuel, dwells with great force on the mission assigned in God's providence to those among His servants, whose lives have flowed on equably from infancy to youth, from youth to manhood, from manhood to old age, in one ever-broadening stream of piety and godliness, who have known no abrupt transition from sin to righteousness, and with whom therefore in the truest sense 'the child' has been 'father to the man,' for 'their days' are
bound each to each by natural piety.
These men may often seem deficient in that fiery energy which sweeps away all obstructions before it in its impetuous course. They may lack that concentration of purpose, with which a sudden conversion has endowed an Augustine or a Francis of Assisi or a Loyola, gathering all the forces and aptitudes of their character into one deep channel. They may fail—they most frequently will fail—to excite in the same degree the enthusiastic devotion of their fellowmen. 'They are attacked from both sides; they are charged with not going far enough or with going too far; they are charged with saying too much or with saying too little.' 'They have but little praise or reward from the partisans who are loud in indiscriminate censure and applause.' But nevertheless they have a work, a vocation, a power vouchsafed to them, which is impossible on any other terms. Theirs is the sobriety of judgment, theirs is the capacity of mediation, theirs is the force of example, theirs is the quiet, steady, progressive influence undisturbed by passion and undiminished by time.
Great societies, great institutions, have their distinctive features, like individual great men. Here also there is the same broad division into two marked classes. The one is characterised by abrupt and sudden growths, rapid alternations, splendid successes followed by disastrous failures. Everything—the evil as well as the good—is on a heroic scale. With the other steady, continuous, unobtrusive progress is the law of their being. Their annals are not emphasized by any dashing achievements. No sudden flashes of genius or of zeal dazzle the eyes of the bystanders. In the language of science, they are not catastrophic, but uniformitarian. Nevertheless the work is done, and the end is achieved. The strength of the one is their fervour, their impetus, their concentration. The strength of the other is their soberness, their equability, their breadth and comprehensiveness. A fit type of the one class is the Franciscan order—starting at once full-grown and full-armed from the brain of its founder, rich in intellectual energy, but richer still in works of devotion and love, teeming with poetry and with life, but containing within itself from the first in its very exuberance the seeds of a premature corruption—magnificent in its earliest triumphs, but sad, unspeakably sad, by the greatness of the contrast, in its rapid degeneracy and decay. A fit type of the other is more staid, more sober, more respectable, but for this very reason more prosaic institution, whose enlargement we are met together this day to commemorate.
For this Society has been from the first essentially sober. Sobriety was stamped upon it from its birth. Sobriety was its patrimony. The nation out of which it arose, the Church which called it into being, the age in which it first saw the light, all combined to impress upon it that steady, unsensational character which it retains to this day.
For herein it is the true child of England; of England whose typical captain is Wellington, and whose typical philosopher is Bacon—of England whose boast it is that her liberty has broadened slowly and steadily down—where each political leader accepts frankly the measures bequeathed to him by his rival, and each great revolution has sought its justification in some constitutional precedent— where continuity, unbroken and undisturbed, is the law of her corporate existence. Strangers are deceived by this equability of our national temperament, of our national life. They interpret it as indifference; they presume upon it as weakness; and they find too late that beneath this apathetic demeanour is a husbanded strength and a stedfast determination, all the more potent, because it wastes nothing on outward display.
The true child also of the Church to which it owed its being—a Church whose representative divines are a Hooker and a Butler, a Pearson and a Waterland; a Church whose ideal of the saintly life is embodied not in the fiery enthusiasm of a Dominic or the ecstatic trances of a Theresa, but in the quiet, decorous, homely devotion of a Herbert and a Ken and a Wilson; a Church whose enemies fling it in her teeth that she is neither Catholic nor Protestant, neither Calvinistic nor Arminian, but all things by turns; who nevertheless holds firmly to the middle path, content for a time to bear the reproach, if so be she may be called hereafter to mediate between extreme doctrines and antagonistic Churches.
And the child, not only of the people and Church of England, but also of the special age which witnessed her birth—an age which above all things delighted to address itself to reason and common sense, eschewing with a too punctilious dread any appeal to the sentiments and emotions, and accounting enthusiasm a scandal and a byword; an age which has impressed its character on an imperishable literature; whose chief prose writer was Addison, and whose chief thinker was Locke; whose very architecture and decorative art are stamped with a staidness and formality peculiar to itself—an age which was essentially sensible, moderate, equable, sober with an excess of sobriety.
Such was the parentage and such is the character of the Society in whose name we are gathered together to-day. In quietness and confidence has been her strength hitherto. In quietness and confidence is her hope for the time to come. Other institutions have placed reliance on the zeal of partisanship. They have had their reward in more immediate and dazzling successes. Other societies have unduly emphasized some one aspect of Christian truth, or some one development of Christian life. By so doing they have gathered around them more enthusiastic admirers. Their exaggeration has been at once their strength and their weakness. This Society has chosen the better part. By a steady, patient, persistent career of usefulness it early won the confidence of the mass of English Churchmen, and this confidence has never been withdrawn from it.
In the beautiful valley of the Wear in my own northern diocese at the rectory-house of Stanhope —a sacred spot with all English Churchmen and all English Christians, for there the greatest work of English theology, the 'Analogy,' was penned—there still survives a quaint Latin inscription recording that the parsonage (the same in which Butler afterwards spent the prime of his life) was built 'in the year 1697 of the peace of the Gospel and in the first year of the peace of Ryswick.' The Peace of Ryswick is now a historical landmark and nothing more; but to contemporary Englishmen it appeared as the very inauguration of a new and blessed era. 'There was peace,' writes Macaulay, 'abroad and at home. The kingdom after many years of ignominious vassalage, had resumed its ancient place in the first rank of European powers ... Trade had revived. The exchequer was overflowing. There was a sense of relief everywhere from the Royal Exchange to the most secluded hamlets among the mountains of Wales and the fens of Lincolnshire. The ploughmen, the shepherds, the miners of the Northumbrian coalpits, the artisans who toiled at the looms of Norwich and the anvils of Birmingham, felt the change without understanding it; and the cheerful bustle in every seaport and every market-town indicated not obscurely the commencement of a happier age.' No wonder then if in this remote parsonage the Peace of Ryswick seemed to be the foreshadowing and the dawn of that prophetic era, when men should 'beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks,' the very complement and counterpart to the peace of the Gospel itself. It was just at this time while the treaty of Ryswick was fresh in men's minds, and the national legislature voted the disbanding of the national army, as if the sword were sheathed in its scabbard, there to rust for ever, that this Society first saw the light. The treaty of Ryswick was soon torn to shreds, as many a treaty before and after has been torn. The hopes of a lasting peace were disappointed as in our own day the like expectations founded on the exigencies of Free Trade or on the influence of International Exhibitions have been disappointed, as all such hopes built upon human compacts and human conveniences are doomed to disappointment. The war with the Great Monarch broke out anew, to be followed by a succession of conflicts in the years to come between the nations that line either side of the Channel. Among the earliest records of this Society, when it was some two years old, is a notice of books supplied at the instance of the great Marlborough to the soldiers under his command. A hundred and eighty years have rolled away since that time. The peace of Ryswick has faded out of sight in the mists of a remote past. But the peace of the Gospel is living and effectual still; and still this Society, as its faithful ambassador, is spreading its treaties far and wide.
With these associations surrounding its cradle, this Society first came into being. Shocked by the profanity and vice which everywhere met their eyes, its founders sought the remedy, where alone the remedy could be found. They saw that ignorance was the parent of crime. They felt that to know was to do. Therefore Christian Knowledge was their one, sole aim. But though the aim was single, the agencies and the operations must be manifold and comprehensive.
I have said much already about the sober character of this Society. The correlative to sobriety is comprehensiveness. They act and react, the one upon the other. Narrowness is at once the parent and the child of fanaticism. On the other hand a certain breadth of association and of aim is essential for fostering sobriety of character. This Society has been comprehensive from the beginning—comprehensive in its constitution, comprehensive in its sphere of work, comprehensive in its agencies.
It shews its comprehensiveness, first of all, in its constituent members. A society which in its earliest years won the allegiance of High Churchmen like Nelson, and Low Churchmen like Kidder and Burnet, and Broad Churchmen like Francis Hare, declared at once with no uncertain voice that within the pale of the Church it knew no parties and owned no preferences. And this largeness of sympathy it has maintained throughout, as the list of its supporters to this day will shew. The English Churchman, whoever he be, will find not a place only, but a welcome in its fellowship and in its counsels, if only he value aright'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.'
It is comprehensive too in its area of action. Quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris? What parish is there throughout the length and breadth of England, which has not felt the touch of its beneficent hand? What region is there on the face of the whole earth—what zone so parched with heat or so numbed with frost—what ancient kingdom so encrusted with the successive layers of immemorial civilisation or what newly-discovered waste so rude with the grossness of its aboriginal savagery, that this Society has not found thereon a hold for its foot? From the Rocky Mountains to the Wall of China, beneath the Northern pole-star, and beneath the Southern Cross, in the central plains of the African Continent, and in the scattered islands of far-off Melanesia, its voice is heard proclaiming in diverse tones the one glad message that the middle walls of partition are broken down, and that henceforth there is no more Greek or barbarian, but all are one in Christ Jesus.
And, lastly, it is manifold and comprehensive in its agencies. Here it busies itself with the translation of the Scriptures, and there with the publication of educational works. Here it aids in building schools, and there it is active in training teachers, and there it contributes gifts to libraries, and there again it offers prizes for proficiency in scholars. In one place it assists in the endowment of a Colonial bishopric, and in another in the foundation of a Missionary College. At one time it provides passage-money for some evangelist emigrant, and at another it watches over the interests of some Zenana Mission. No work is too great, and no work is too little for its manifold activity, provided only it be directed to the one end which is kept ever in view—the spread of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.
For this Society I ask your sympathies and your prayers and your almsgiving to-day. I ask them confidently, because I believe that no institution did more than this to keep alive in England the spirit of Christian faith and love during a long period of apathy and deadness. I ask them with still greater boldness because I am sure that at this moment with its quiet, undemonstrative spirit and its manifold activities it is doing a work of incalculable value for the Church of Christ. And its capacities are only limited by its means. Therefore we appeal on its behalf to the increased generosity of Christian men. Therefore the prophetic words which, announcing the restoration of Israel, foreshadowed at the same time the glories of the Messianic Kingdom, may well be adopted by us to-day, as guiding our aspirations and dictating our prayers; 'Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations. Spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right S. S. 8
hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.'
'Lengthen thy cords.' 'Enlarge the place of thy tent.' One fulfilment of this aspiration—a literal fulfilment—we are met to consummate to-day. A building is nothing in itself. Walls and towers do not make a city, but the courage and the spirit that dwells therein. Yet from another point of view a new mansion, such as that which we are about to inaugurate, has the highest value. It is at once a witness of the past, and a pledge for the future. Only four days ago it was my privilege to take part in the consecration of the new Cathedral at Edinburgh. The occasion was one of touching interest. To the members of the Scottish Episcopal Church this Cathedral was far more than a magnificent architectural pile worthy of the purpose for which it is destined. They saw in it the fit expression at once of their thanksgiving and of their hopes. It reminded them of sufferings undergone and obstacles surmounted in the past, and it pointed forward to a larger and brighter career in the years to come. So may it be with the building which we inaugurate to-day. In the latest broad thoroughfare of this metropolis, the new home of our Society will henceforward stand out to proclaim to all passers by a great work done and doing in the Name of Christ.
'Lengthen thy cords.' Do not confine within the limits of a too rigid definition the knowledge which you desire to spread. With a wise courage this Society has of late enlarged the field of its literary activity. As all truth comes of God, so all knowledge should converge in Christ. With this conviction it has rightly judged that there was a just sphere of work for it in the production of sound literature in the province of general education, believing that no branch of study is profane or secular, if only it be 'sanctified by the Word of God.'
'Lengthen thy cords.' New ideas and modes of thought, new branches of learning, new developments of life demand a new treatment of old truths. Jesus Christ is 'the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever;' but the way of presenting Jesus Christ for the acceptance of men will vary with the varying ages. The Bible is God's word now as in the centuries past; but light is thrown on the manner in which God speaks through the Bible by the revelations of history and the acquisitions of science. Therefore 'spare not;' 'enlarge the place of thy tent.' Find a shelter under thy outspread canvas for every new achievement of science and every fresh fact of history, unrecognised and unsuspected though they may have been by God's chiefest saints of old. 'Be thou strong and very courageous.' Friends may desert, and foes may chide. Yet shrink not from this manifest responsibility. Be courageous; but be loving withal, be tender, be forbearing, be infinitely careful not to wound the religious conscience or the devout aspirations of any, even the least, of Christ's little ones.
'Lengthen thy cords,' ah yes, but'strengthen thy stakes' also. To occupy more ground, to spread out more canvas, what is it but to offer a greater surface to the storms? Just in proportion as the cords are lengthened is there need for strengthening the stakes also. Otherwise the shelter overhead will be swept away, and you yourself will be exposed to the remorseless blasts. Adventure yourself, if you will, on the wide ocean of modern thought and life; but grasp firmly your chart and your compass. Hold fast the one cardinal truth of the Incarnation. Preach Christ and Him crucified by day and by night, directly and indirectly, in season and out of season. The Son of God made Man to redeem men, the Life and Passion and Resurrection of Christ as the condemnation of your sinfulness and the manifestation of your Father's love—this is the central fact of all history; this is the converging point of all knowledge; this is your hope, your comfort, your strength, your joy, your peace; this is the light of the individual soul, and this is the life of the universal Church. Justification by faith, sacramental grace—what meaning have these, except as interpreted by this doctrine, as explained by this fact?
Hold fast this truth, and spare not. Launch out boldly, while this your guiding star shines brightly overhead. Be daunted by nothing, neither by new social problems nor by new scientific researches. There is a place for all, there is a function for all, in the domain of Christian Knowledge.
And the same lessons, which have thus been applied to the oldest Society, may fitly be extended to the Church of England herself. If there be any guiding hand in the progress of history, if there be any supreme providence in the control of events, if there be any divine prescience and any divine call— then the position of England as the mother of so many colonies and dependencies, the heart and centre of the world's commerce and manufacture, and the position of the English Church standing midway between extremes in theological teaching and ecclesiastical order, point to the Church of this nation with the very finger of God Himself as called by Him to the lofty task of reconciling a distracted Christendom and healing the wounds of the nations. Would she listen to the voice of this call? Would she rise to the level of these opportunities? Then let her spare not, but enlarge the place of her tent, neither lengthening the cords alone nor strengthening the stakes
alone. So only will the promise be fulfilled to her; 'Thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.'
Therefore, as we kneel at the Holy Feast to-day, let the prayer rise up to heaven for this our venerable Society, for this our beloved Church, that they may win the prophet's blessing by obedience to the prophet's command; may unite an ever-widening sympathy with an ever-deepening faith; may
Join head, heart, and hand
Active and firm, to fight the bloodless fight
Of Science, Freedom, and the Truth in Christ.