Sermon 591. 'Thus Saith The Lord:' Or, The Book of Common Prayer Weighed in the Balances of the Sanctuary
"Thus Saith The Lord:" Or, The Book of Common Prayer Weighed in the Balances of the Sanctuary
Delivered on Sunday Morning, Spetember 25th, 1864, by the
Rev. C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Thus saith the Lord."-Ezekiel 11:15.
THE WISE MAN saith, "Where the word of a king is, there is power." What power must there be where there is the word of theKing of kings, who ruleth over all! We are not left to conjecture as to the power of the divine word, for we know that "Bythe word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth." Out of nothingness the gloriouscreation leaped at the bidding of the Most High, and when the earth was without form, and void, anddarkness was upon the face of the deep, there was nothing wanted but that solemn voice, "Light be," and straightway lightwas. God's word was sufficient in itself to build the temple of the universe and to finish it from its foundations to itspinnacles. That same word upholdeth by its power, and ruleth all things by its might. The pillars of heaven stand becausethe divine word hath fixed them upon their bases, nor shall they be shaken until that same almighty word shall bid them remove;thenas a moment's foam dissolves into the wave which bears it and is gone forever, so shall the whole creation melt away.His word, which created, shall also destroy; but until that word be spoken every atom of this world is imperishable. Consider,my brethren, what power is concentrated in him who is clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, and whose name is "THE WORDOF GOD." With what glorious power our Lord Jesus Christ uplifted the burden of our sins, carried the load up to the tree,and castit forever into the Red Sea of his own atoning blood! Ye know how he burst the bars of death, tore away the gates of thegrave, overthrew all the hosts of hell, and dragged the mightiest principalities of darkness as captives at his chariot wheels.At this day the government is upon his shoulders, and his name is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. Heaven and earthsalute him as the Omnipotent Word. He sustains the spiritual life of all his people by feeding them upon himself; and he shallin due time perfect his saints, and present them without spot before his Father's throne. We ought, therefore, to bowwith reverence to that which is truly the word of God, since it contains within itself the highest degree of power, and isever the way in which divine omnipotence manifests itself.
It is in the word that we must find wisdom and power, "because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weaknessof God is stronger than men." The faintest whisper of Jehovah's voice should fill us with a solemn awe, and command the deepestobedience of our souls. Brethren, how careful should we be that we do not set up in God's temple anything in opposition tohis word, that we do not permit the teachings of a creature to usurp the honor due to the Lord alone!"Thus saith antiquity," "thus saith authority," "thus saith learning," "thus saith experience,"-these be but idol-gods,which defile the temple of God; be it yours and mine, as bold iconoclasts, to dash them in pieces without mercy, seeing thatthey usurp the place of the word of God.
"Thus saith the Lord "-this is the motto of our standard, the war-cry of our spiritual conflict,-the sword with which we hope yet to smite throughthe loins of the mighty who rise up against God's truth. Nothing shall stand before this weapon in the day when God comethout of his hiding-place; for even at this hour, when "Thus saith the Lord" sounds from the trumpet of the Lord's ministers,the hosts of Midian begin to tremble; for well they know the might ofthat terrible watchword in days of yore.
This morning, I shall first endeavor to show, briefly, the value of a "Thus saith the Lord;" and then, secondly, I shall, with as much calmness of spirit as I can command, request a "Thus faith the Lord" for certain things which are received and practiced in the State Establishment of our land, and close with a word of personal application, beseeching you to seek a "Thus saith the Lord" for any hopes which you may entertain of being partakers of theinheritance of the saints in light.
I. LET US CONSIDER THE VALUE OF A "THUS SAITH THE LORD."
1. Our first observation is that it is the minister's message. If he be God's minister, he does not found his teaching upon his own authority, for then his message would be only that ofhimself, and not to be esteemed; but he shows the authority of his Master, and none can gainsay him. He claims men's attentionon the ground that he utters a "Thus saith the Lord." No matter how aged he may be, he does not proclaim the truth as merelythe result of his longinvestigations or his extraordinary experience, but he grounds it upon "Thus saith the Lord." So spake the hoary-headedJoshua when for many a year he had known the faithfulness of God, and was about to die. He was singing his swan-song, preachinghis last sermon; but he did not commence it, "Thus saith my age," "Thus say I upon mine own authority," but "Thus saith theLord God of Israel." A God-sent minister is the ambassador of the Most High, but he has no right to go beyond his commission;and when he does so, his office cannot yield him support. The prophets of God did not say, "Thus I speak as a prophet,"but, "Thus saith the Lord." When the prophet came in Gideon's days and spoke to erring Israel, he opened his mouth with, "Thussaith the Lord God of Israel." Turn to the pages of Isaiah, and mark how frequent he quotes the divine authority; study theplaintive words of Jeremiah, and observe how solemnly his prophetic woes are prefaced with, "Thus saith the Lord;" and thesoaring Ezekiel, to whom was given, as it were, six wings, that he might take more lofty flights than the eagle knoweth-evenhe relied not upon the sublimity of his language or the glory of his imagery, but found the sinews of his strength in "Thussaith the Lord God." This is the trowel and this the hammer of God's builders,-this the trumpet of his watchmen and the swordof his warriors. Woe to the man who comes in any other name! If we, or an angel from heaven, shall preach unto youanything but a "Thus saith the Lord," no matter what our character or standing, give no heed to us, but cleave unto thetruth as it is in Jesus. To the law and to the testimony, if we speak not according to this word, it is because there is nolight in us. That test which we demand to be exercised upon others we cheerfully consent to be exercised upon ourselves, prayingthat we may have grace to forsake our errors as we would have other men forsake theirs.
2. "Thus saith the Lord" is the only authority in God church. When the tabernacle was pitched in the wilderness, what was the authority for its length and breadth? Why was the altar ofincense to be placed here, and the brazen laver there? Why so many lambs or bullocks to be offered on a certain day? Why mustthe Passover be roasted whole and not sodden? Simply and only because God had shown all these things to Moses in the holymount; and thus had Jehovah spoken,"Look that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed thee in the mount." It is even so in the church at thepresent day; true servants of God demand to see for all church ordinances and doctrines the express authority of the church'sonly Teacher and Lord. They remember that the Lord Jesus bade the apostles to teach believers to observe all things whatsoeverhe had commanded them; but he neither gave to them nor to any man power to alter his own commands. The Holy Ghost revealedmuchof precious truth and holy precept by the apostles, and to his teaching we would give earnest heed; but when men citethe authority of fathers and councils and bishops, we give place for subjection? no, not for an hour. They may quote Irenaeusor Cyprian, Augustine or Chrysostom; they may remind us of the dogmas of Luther or Calvin; they may find authority in Simeon,Wesley, or Gill-we will listen to the opinions of those great men with the respect which they deserve as men; but havingso done, we deny that we have anything to do with these men as authorities in the church of God: for there nothing hasany authority but "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts." Yea, if you shall bring us the concurrent consent of all tradition-if youshall quote precedents venerable with fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen centuries of antiquity-we burn the whole as so much worthlesslumber, unless you put your finger upon the passage of Holy Writ which warrants the matter to be of God. You may furtherplead, in addition to all this venerable authority, the beauty of the ceremony, and its usefulness to those who partaketherein, but this is all foreign to the point; for to the true church of God the only question is this: Is there a "Thus saiththe Lord" for it? And if divine authority be not forthcoming, faithful men thrust forth the intruder as the cunning craftinessof men.
3. "Thus saith the Lord" is the most fitting word of rebuke for erring saints. God's people when they err, if they be rebuked, even though it should be in the gentlest manner, are too apt to resent therebuff; but when we can come to them with "Thus saith the Lord," if there be a spark of spiritual life left, it is sure tocatch at this flame. When the man of God came to Eli, how Eli's heart trembled when he began, "Thus saith the Lord," and describedto him thedoom of his house, because his sons had made themselves vile, and he had not restrained them. David the king might havebeen moved to anger against Nathan for that personal parable and pungent application; but his anger was stayed, nay, betterstill, his heart was broken, because the prophet could say, "Thus saith the Lord." My dear brethren in Christ, you and I haveoften risen in anger at the intrusive proofs of ignorant men; but I hope we have far more often felt the melting power ofa "Thussaith the Lord." When the heart is right, the word of God sweetly melts us, as the breath of the south wind melts thefrozen rivers.
4. "Thus saith the Lord" is the only solid ground of comfort to God's people. Where can a child of God find true solace apart from that which cometh out of the mouth of the Most High! Truly, "Man dothnot live by bread alone; but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God doth man live;" "Thy words were found,and I did eat them;" "How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" When Nathan came to tellDavid of the covenantwhich the Lord would make with him and his house, David would scarcely have believed so great a mercy to be really hisif the prophet had not began with "Thus saith the Lord." It was not "Thus saith Nathan," or "Thus do the ancients say," but"Thus saith the Lord;" and David's heart was full of holy joy when he saw the covenant to be ordered in all things and sure. When Hezekiah laysick unto death, he turned his face to the wall and prayed; but there was no comfort to the royalsuppliant until the prophet came with "Thus saith the Lord;" and when Sennacherib was about to besiege Jerusalem, andLachish had fallen, Hezekiah prayed, and the people with him; but oh! they could not think it possible that there should bea hook put into the jaw of the mighty Assyrian, and that he should be turned back by the way in which he came, till the prophetreassured their hearts with a "Thus saith the Lord." Zion's sons and daughters feast upon the sure word of their faithfulGod.Brethren, I need not enlarge here, for I hope most of you know the preciousness of a divine promise. There is nothingwanted to stay your soul in your worst troubles but the Word of God applied with power. God may not seed you a friend; hemay not raise up a deliverer; but if he shall only give you to believe his Word, that shall be enough for you. Martin Luthersaid: "I have covenanted with my Lord that he should not send me visions, or dreams, or even angels. I am content with thisone giftof the Scriptures, which abundantly teaches and supplies all that is necessary, both for this life and that which is tocome." O Lord, only feed me on thy Word, and I will not envy kings their delicacies, nor even the angels around thy thronethe bread of heaven on which they live.
5. Yet again: "Thus saith the Lord" is that with which we must confront the Lords enemies. When Moses went in before Pharaoh, the words which he used were not, "The elders of Israel have consulted, and thus havethey bidden me say," not "Our Father Abraham once said, and his words have been handed to us by long tradition "-such talkwould have been readily resisted; but he confronted the haughty monarch with "Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go;" andit was thepower of this divine word which rained plagues upon the fields of Zoan, and brought forth the captives, with silver andgold. Pharaoh might boast, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?" but ere long he knew that Jehovah's word was mightierthan all the horsemen and chariots of Mizraim, and was not to be resisted without terrible defeat. To this day, if we wouldbreak sinners' hearts, our hammer must be "Thus saith the Lord;" and if we would woo them to obedience to King Jesus, ourreasons must come from his own Word. I have often noticed in conversion, that, though sometimes a particular passage ofthe sermon may be quoted by the converted person as the means of enlightenment, yet in the majority of cases it is the text,or some passage of Scripture, quoted during the sermon, which is blessed to do the work. McCheyne says, "Depend upon it, itis God's Word, not our comment upon God's Word, that saves souls;" and so it is. Let us use much of Scripture, much of thepuresilver of sacred revelation, and no human alloy. "What is the chaff to the wheat, saith the Lord?"
6. To close this point. Such an authority has a "Thus saith the Lord," that it is not to be despised without entailing upon the offender the severest penalty. Samuel came to Saul with "Thus saith the Lord," and bade him destroy the Amalekites. He was utterly to cut them off, andnot to spare so much as one of them. But Saul saved the best of the cattle and the sheep, and brought home Agag; and whatwas the result? His kingdom was taken from him and given to aneighbor of his that was better than he; and because he exalted himself beyond measure to do otherwise than accordingto the letter of God's command, he was put away forever from having dominion over Israel. And mark this word: if any churchin Christendom shall continue, after light is given and after plain rebuke is uttered, to walk contrary to the word of God,and to teach that which is inconsistent with Holy Scripture, as Saul was put away from the kingdom, so shall that church beput awayfrom before the Lord of Hosts; and if any man, be he who he may, after receiving light from on high, continues willfullyto shut his eyes, he shall not, if an heir of heaven, be rejected from eternal salvation, but he shall be cast off from muchof the usefulness and comfort which he might otherwise have enjoyed. He knew his Master's will, and did it not: he shall bebeaten with many stripes. He has been as the horse or the mule which have no understanding, and his mouth shall be held inwithbit and bridle. Many sorrows shall be to those who dare to dash themselves against the thick bosses of Jehovah's bucklerby opposing his "Thus saith the Lord." Upon whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder; and whosoevershall fall upon it shall be broken, to his own lasting damage. O my brethren! I would that we trembled and stood more in aweof God's word. I fear me that many treat the things of God as though they were merely matters of opinion, but remember thatopinioncannot govern in God's house. God's word, not man's opinion, claims your allegiance. Remember that although our ignorantconscience may not accuse us of error, yet if we walk contrary to God's word, our conscientiousness does not screen us fromsin; for conscience is not the sovereign arbiter of right and wrong, but the plain word of God is the rule of equity. I donot sin so foully as if I sinned against my conscience, but I still sin, if, having an unenlightened conscience, I ignorantlytransgress. But if I wilfully keep my conscience in darkness, and continue in errors which I might easily know to be suchby a little thought and searching of God's word, then my conscience can offer me no excuse, for I am guilty of blindfoldingthe guide which I have chosen, and then, knowing him to be blindfolded, I am guilty of the folly of letting him lead me intorebellion against God. O church of God! hear thou the voice of thy great Founder and Lord: "Whosoever, therefore shall oneofthese least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." "He that hathmy commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I willlove him, and will manifest myself to him." Oh for a stern integrity, that will hold the word, and will never depart fromit, come what may. This much concerning the value of a "Thus saith the Lord."
II. Dear friends, the second part of our subject may be very displeasing to some who have strayed in here, but that I cannothelp. I do not remember ever asking any one to come and hear me, and therefore, as you come of your own wills, when I haveany truth to speak, I shall not conceal it because you choose to be present. At the present crisis, I feel that it is woeunto me if I do not lift up my voice like a trumpet, and urge with all my might the necessity ofreformation in our State Church. I have, moreover, an excellent excuse for the inquiry I am about to make; for as I ampublicly charged with ignorance, it is at once my duty and my privilege to seek instruction of those who claim authority toteach. When one is known to be profoundly ignorant, and there are certain fathers in the faith who have the power to instruct,the least thing that can be allowed us is to ask questions, and the smallest boon we can expect is to have them answered bymenexpressly ordained to instruct the ignorant.
The Rev. W. Goode, the Dean of Ripon, appears to be much better acquainted with the extent of my reading and mental acquirementsthan I am myself. He speaks with all the positiveness of a personal acquaintance concerning my reputed ignorance, and formy own part I am not at all anxious to question so very reverend an authority. He writes: "As to that young minister who isnow raving against the Evangelical clergy on this point, it is to be regretted that so much notice hasbeen taken of his railings. He is to be pitied, because his entire want of acquaintance with theological literature leaveshim utterly unfit for the determination of such a question; which is a question, not of more doctrine, but of what may becalled historical theology; and his charges are just a parallel to those which the Romanists would bring against himself aswell as others for the interpretation of the words, 'This is my body.' But were he a wiser man than he is, he would know betterwhat his qualifications are for passing Judgment on such a point, and be willing to learn from such facts, among others,as the Gorham Judgment and the cases of Mr. Maskell and Mr. Mozley, what ground there is for his charges against the Evangelicalclergy. Let him hold and enforce his own view of doctrine as he pleases; but when he undertakes to determine what is the exclusivemeaning of the Book of Common Prayer, and brings a charge of dishonesty against those who take a different view ofthat meaning from what he does, he only shows the presumptuous self-confidence with which he is prepared to pronouncejudgment upon matters of which he is profoundly ignorant. To hold a controversy with him upon the subject would be to as littlepurpose as to attempt to hold a logically-constructed argument with a child unacquainted with logical terms."
When this paragraph caught my eye, my heart leaped with joy, for I knew that the sinners in Zion were afraid; and I thoughtI heard a voice crying from the Word, "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called; butGod hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world toconfound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath Godchosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence."My mind flew back to the valley of Elah, and I remembered the words of the old record: "And when the Philistine looked about,and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance. And the Philistine said untoDavid, Am I a dog that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine saidtoDavid, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field." My spirit kindledat these words of the boastful champion of yore, and at their modern reproduction by the vainglorious divine of Ripon, andthe answer of David was in my heart as it is even now upon my tongue: "Thou comest to me with a sword and with a spear andwith a shield; but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.Thisday will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all thisassembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you intoour hands." Admitting the witness of the venerable dean to be correct, and that "the young minister" is inexpert in logic,I am not therefore ashamed; far otherwise, I will the rather glory in mine infirmities that the power of Christ may rest uponme; "forwhen I am weak, then am I strong." Take, O ye great ones of the earth, every profit that can be made out of your beliefin my utter total ignorance, and your own profound and extensive learning, and then go your ways, and learn what this meaneth:"Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me. Thereforeshall evil come upon thee: thou shalt not know from whence it riseth.. And now at this hour, having been condemned asintolerably ignorant, I feel I have the liberty to ask just a few explanations of those reverend divines who do know orought to know the grounds of their faith and practice.
1. I open this little book,-the Prayer-Book, of whose occasional services the more I know the less I approve,-and I find inthe Baptismal Service, that when little children are brought to be sprinkled, certain godfathers and godmothers promise for them that they shallrenounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, etc., andthat they shall obediently keep all God's holy will and commandments,and walk in the same all the days of their life. To me it seems that they might as well promise that the infants shouldgrow up with Roman noses, auburn hair, and blue eyes; for they are just as able to make them do the one as the other. I shallnot however intrude my opinion further, but simply ask whether there is a "Thus saith the Lord" for any man's standing proxyfor a babe, and making such promises in its name?-in other words, I ask for apostolical, prophetic, or any other form ofscriptural precept, or precedent, for the use of proxies in baptism. True religion is a personal matter-is its first manifestationin regeneration to be connected with the impossible promises of others? Plain proof-texts are requested for godfathers andgodmothers; and such important persons deserve to be defended by the clergy, if texts of Scripture can be discovered. As Icannot imagine where the texts will be found, I must pause till the learned shall produce them. Further, I find thatthese children enter into a covenant by proxy, of which we are assured that the promise our Lord Jesus will for his part most surely keep and perform; but the children are bound to do their part-that part being something more than the gigantic task of keeping all the commandments of God. Now I ask for a "Thussaith the Lord" for such a covenant as this. I find two covenants in the Word of God: one is the covenant of works, "Thisdo, and thou shalt live;" I find another,the covenant of grace, which runs only in this wise, "I will be their God, and they shall be my people." I find it expresslydeclared that there cannot be a mixture of works and grace; for, says Paul, "If by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwisegrace is no more grace; but if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work;" and I ask a "Thussaith the Lord" for this baptismal covenant, which is nominally of grace, but really of works, or at best an unnaturalconglomerate of grace and works. I ask those who have searched Scripture through, to find me the form or the command forany baptismal covenant whatever. It is idle to say that such a covenant was allowed among the early Christians; their witnessis not earlier enough for us: we want a "Thus saith the Lord," and nothing but this will justify this pretended covenant.
We then find that after this covenant has been made, and the water has been applied in a manner which we think needs alsoa "Thus saith the Lord" to justify it, it is publicly declared that the babe is regenerated,-"Seeing now, dearly beloved brethrenthat this child is regenerated and grafted into the body of Christ's church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for thesebenefits, and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this child may lead the rest of hislife according to this beginning." And, again, "We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleasedthee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate himinto thy holy church," etc. We are told we do not understand the meaning of "regeneration" as it is used in the services ofthe Anglican Church. The meaning of this passage is historical, hypothetical, ecclesiastical, and we know not what. The words"tobe born again" did not formerly seem to us to be so very difficult to understand, nor do they appear so now as they standin Scripture; for we find in them the one regeneration which has renewed us in the spirit of our mind, and we cannot consentto use those words in any other sense. Well, whether regeneration be or be not a very equivocal word, we simply ask, Is therea "Thus saith the Lord" for the assertion that a sprinkled infant is therefore regenerate in any sense in the world? Willanyperson find us a text of Scripture?-he shall have large rewards from clergymen with uneasy consciences! We put our inquiryagain in plain terms, Will some one oblige us with a plain "Thus saith the Lord" proving that water baptism in any one instancemakes an unconscious babe a member of Christ and a child of God, in any sense which any sane person chooses to attach to thosewords? Where is the passage-where? Echo answers "where?" But this subject you have been considering for some time,and are well convinced that the process of regenerating babies by occult influences conveyed by water is a pure-no, animpure-invention of priest-craft. There is therefore no necessity that I enlarge upon a point so well understood.
2. I have a second question to ask. There is prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer a peculiar ceremony called confirmation. I do not remember to have read of that in Scripture. I would like to have a "Thus saith the Lord" for that rite. As I amready to yield as far as possible, suppose we take it for granted that this ceremony is defensible from Holy Writ, I wouldlike to know whether there is any "Thus saith the Lord" allowing a person called a bishop to give tothe assembled youths an assurance of divine favor by laying his hands on their heads? The bishop having laid his handson every head presented to him, whether it be gracious or graceless, talks thus in the Collect, "Almighty and everliving God,who makest us both to will and to do those things that be good and acceptable unto thy divine majesty, we make our humblesupplications unto thee for these thy servants upon whom (after the example of thy holy apostles) we have now laid our hands, tocertify them (by this sign) of thy favor and gracious goodness towards them." Does this mean that the bishop's hand certifies the person touched thereby of special divine favor? So it seems to teach,as far as I can see. We want, then, a "Thus saith the Lord," authorizing this individual in lawn to exercise the office ofan apostle! We then desire scriptural warrant permitting him to certify these kneeling youths of the enjoyment or possessionof any particular divine favor by putting hishands on their heads. If this means the common goodness of God, the bishop's hands are not needed to certify them of that;but as he has already declared in prayer that they were regenerated by water and the Spirit, and had been forgiven all theirsins, it is clear that special favor is intended; we inquire, therefore, for his authority for giving these young people afurther certificate of special divine favor by the imposition of his hands. Why his hands? Who is he that he can certifythese persons of God's favor more than any other man? Where is his scriptural warrant to confer by his hands a certificateof grace upon young people who in innumerable cases are thoughtless and unconverted, if not profane? We want a "Thus saiththe Lord" for the whole thing, and then for each item in detail. Endless is the task thus proposed to the honest Churchman.
3. Another matter needs a little clearing up; and, as this Book was set forth by learned divines and bishops, I would likea lucid explanation. The priest visits a sick man, sits down by his bed-side, reads certain prayers, bids the patient rememberhis baptism, questions him as to his creed, gives him good advice about forgiving his enemies and making his will, moves himto make a special confession of his sin if he feels his conscience troubled with any weighty matter,after which confession the Rubric says "the priest shall absolve him" (if he humbly and heartily desire it), after thissort. Here is the absolution, and I humbly and heartily desire a "Thus saith the Lord" for it: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, whohath left power to his church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive theethine offences; and by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son,and of the Holy Ghost." Sir Priest, I want you to give me a plain warrant from God's Word for your absolving my dying neighbor at this rate. Whoare you that you should use such words? The season is solemn: it is the hour of death, and the matter is weighty, for it concernsthe eternal interests of the dying man, and may-nay, will, if you be found to be acting presumptuously in this matter-involveyour own soul in eternal ruin. Whence did you derive your right to forgive that sick man?Might he not raise his withered hands and return the compliment by absolving you? Are you quite sure as to the committalof divine authority to you? Then show me the deed of gift, and let it be clearly of divine origin. The apostles were empoweredto do many things; but who are you? Do you claim to be their successors? Then work miracles similar to theirs; take up serpents,and drink deadly things without being harmed thereby; prove to us that you have seen the Lord, or even that cloven tonguesof fire have sat upon each of you. You evangelical clergy, dare you claim to be successors of the apostles, and to havepower to forgive sins? Your Puseyite brethren go the whole length of superstitious pretension; but you have too much lightto be so superstitious; and yet you do what is quite as wicked,-you solemnly subscribe that this absolution is not contraryto the Word of God when you know it is? Gorham case, say you. I care nothing for your Gorham case: I want a "Thus saith theLord"warranting you to swear to what you know to be false and dangerous. Mr. Mozley and Mr. Maskell may give you all the comfortwhich they can afford; but one word of Peter or of Paul would be of more weight in this matter than a thousand words fromeither of them.
You are aware, perhaps, that it is not every man who is permitted by the Established religion to pronounce this absolution.A person called a "deacon" is, I am informed, allowed to preach and do a great many things, but when he reads the Book ofCommon Prayer in the daily service he must not grant absolution; there is a supernatural something which the man has not yetreceived, for he has only once felt the episcopal imposition of hands. We shall see, by-and-by, whereabsolving power comes from. The deacon has attained to one grade of priestcraft, but the full vigor of mystic influencerests not upon him. Another touch, another subscription, and the keys of St. Peter will swing at his girdle; but his timeis not yet. I ask him, whether he calls himself a deacon or a priest, where he gets a "Thus saith the Lord" for this absolution?which, if it be not of God, is a piece of impertinence, superstition, blasphemy, and falsehood.
4. I turn on and find that when the sick dies he is buried in consecrated ground; and though he may have cut his throat whileunder delirium tremens, if the jury do not return a verdict of suicide, the priest shall say, as he casts earth upon the body, "Forasmuch as it hathpleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commithis body to the ground,-earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust todust,-in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life." And again, "We give thee hearty thanks for that ithath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world." And yet again, "We meekly beseechthee, O Father, to raise us from he death of sin unto the life of righteousness; that when we shall depart this life, we mayrest in him, as our hope is this our brother doth." We beg a "Thus saith the Lord" for burying every baptized thief, harlot,rogue, drunkard, and liar who may die in the parish-"in sure and certain hope of the blessed resurrection." "Oh! it iscommanded by authority." What authority? We challenge it, and permit none to pass muster but a "Thus saith the Lord." Untilclergymen will bring us scriptural warrant for uttering falsehoods over a grave, we dare not cease our testimony against them.How long will the many godly laymen in that Church remain quiet? Why do they not bestir themselves, and demand revision ordisruption?
5. Turning a little further on, into a part of the Prayer-Book not much frequented by ordinary readers, we come to the "Ordering of Priests," or the way in which priests are made. Why priests? Is one believer more a priest than another, when all are styled a royal priesthood? Let that pass. Of course, brethren, thepriests are made by the bishops, as the bishops are made by Lord Palmerston, or Lord Derby, or any other political leaderwho may be in office.The Prime Minister of England is the true fountain from whom all bishops flow, and the priests are minor emanations branchingoff from the mitre rather than the crown. Here is the way of ordering priests. Let heaven and earth hear this and be astonished:"When this prayer is done, the bishop with the priests present shall lay their hands severally upon the head of every onethat receiveth the order of priesthood; the receivers humbly kneeling upon their knees, and the bishop saying, 'Receivethe Holy Ghost.'" Listen to it, now! Think you behold the scene: a man of God, a bishop whom you have been in the habitof considering a most gracious, godly man, and such no doubt he may be, in a sort,-think you see him putting his hands uponthe head of some evangelical man whom you will go and hear, or, if you like, upon some young rake fresh from Oxford,-and thinkyou hear him say, "Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a priest in the church of God, now committed untothee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins thou dost retain,they are retained." We want a "Thus saith the Lord" for that; for that is putting it rather strongly in the popish line, one would think. Isthe way of ordering priests in the Church of Rome much worse than this? That the apostles did confer the Holy Ghost, we neverthought of denying; but that Oxford, Exeter, or any other occupants of the bench can give the Holy Spirit,needs some proof other than their silk aprons or lawn sleeves can afford us. We ask, moreover, for one instance in whichan apostle conferred upon any minister the power to forgive sins, and where it can be found in Scripture that any man otherthan an apostle ever received authority to absolve sinners. Sirs, let us say the truth; however much yonder priest may pretendat his parishioner's bedside to forgive sin, the man's sins are not forgiven; and the troubled conscience of the sinner oftenbears witness to the fact, as the day of judgment and the fearful hell of sinners must also bear witness. And what thinkyou, sirs, must be the curse that fills the mouth of damned souls, when in another world they meet the priest who absolvedthem with this sham absolution! With what reproaches will such deceived ones meet the priest who sent them down to perditionwith a lie in their right hands! Will they not say to him, "Thou didst forgive me all my sins by an authority committed untothee,and yet here am I cast into the pit of hell?" Oh! if I do not clear my Soul upon this infamous business, and if the wholeChristian church does not cleanse herself of it, what guilt will lay upon us! This is become a crying evil, and a sin thatis not to be spoken of behind the door, nor to be handled in gentle language. I have been severe, it is said, and spoken harshly.I do not believe it possible to be too severe in this matter; but, sirs, if I have been so, let that be set down as my sinif you will; but is there any comparison between my fault and that of men who know this to be contrary to the Word ofGod, and yet give it their unfeigned assent and consent? or the sin of those who can lie unto the Holy Ghost, by pretendingto confer Him who bloweth where he listeth upon men who as likely as not are as graceless as the very heathen? Fresh fromthe dissipations of college-life, the sinner bows before the man in lawn, and rises a full-blown priest, fully able to remitor retainsins. After this, how can the priests of the Church of England denounce the Roman Catholics? It is so very easy to fumeand bluster against Puseyites and Papists; but the moment our charity begins at home, and we give our Evangelical brethrenthe same benefit which they confer upon the open Romanists, they are incensed beyond measure. Yet will we tell them to theirfaces, that they, despite their fair speeches, are as guilty as those whom they denounce; for there is as much Popery in thispriest-making as in any passage in the mass-book. Protestant England! wilt thou long tolerate this blasphemy? Land ofWiclif, birthplace of the martyrs of Smithfield, is this long to be borne with? I am clear of this matter before the MostHigh, or hope to be, ere I sleep in the grave; and having once sounded the trumpet, it hall ring till my lips are dumb. Doyou tell me it is no business of mine? Is it not the National Church?-does not its sin rest, therefore, upon every man andwoman in the nation, Dissenter and Churchman, who does not shake himself from it by open disavowal? I am not meddlingwith anybody else's church; but the church that claims me as a parishioner would compel me, if it could, to pay its churchrates, and that does take from me my share of tithe every year. I ask the sturdy Protestants of England, and especially thelaity of the Church of England, whether they intend forever to foster such abominations? Arise, Britannia! nation of the free,andshake thy garments from the dust of this hoary superstition; and as for thee, O Church of England! may God bless theewith ministers who will sooner come forth to poverty and shame than pervert or assist in perverting the Word of God.
6. I have not quite done: I have another question to ask. Look at the thanksgiving which is offered on the twentieth day ofJune, on account of Her Majesty's accession: in this thanksgiving we very heartily join, although we decline to pray by bookon the twentieth of June or any other day; look at the close that thanksgiving, and you see the name of Lord John Russellas a sort of official authority for the prayer! Is Earl Russell also among the prophets? And on the otherside of the page, in order that the Tories may edify the church as well as the Whigs, I see the hand of S. H. Walpole.Is he also a governor in Christ's church? Hath the Lord given these men power to legislate for his church, or sign mandatesfor her to obey? But what is it all about? "Victoria Regina, our will and pleasure is that these four forms of prayer," etc. Do you see? here is royal supremacy! Further on, in the next page: "Now, therefore, our will and pleasure is," etc.See the Preface to the Articles, "Being by God's Ordinance, according to our just Title, Defender of the Faith, and Supreme Governor of the Church, withinthese our Dominions;" and again, "We are Supreme Governor of the Church of England." This is the way in which your Church bows herself before the kingdoms of this world. I demand, earnestly demand, a "Thussaith the Lord" for this royal supremacy. If any king, or queen, or emperor shall say, in any Christian church, "Our willand pleasure is," we reply, "We have another King,-one Jesus." As to the Queen, honored and beloved as she is, she isby her sex incapacitated for ruling in the church. Paul decides that point by his plain precept, "I suffer not a woman toteach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence;" and if a king were in the case, we should say, "We renderunto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's." In civil matters, we cheerfully obeyprincesand magistrates; but if any king, queen, emperor, or what not, usurps power in the church of God, we reply, "One is ourMaster, even Christ, and all we are brethren. The crown-rights belong to King Jesus: he alone is King in Zion." But I am metat once with the reply, "Well, but Christ is the Head of the Established Church, as well as the Queen." I remember readingabout a three-headed dog which kept the gates of hell, but I never dreamed of a two-headed church till I heard of the AnglicanEstablishment. A two-headed church is a monster! The Queen the Head of the Church, and King Jesus the Head of the Church,too! Never. Where is a "Thus saith the Lord" for this? No man living who calls himself an Englishman has a word to say ofHer Majesty except that which is full of honor and esteem and loyal affection; but the moment we come to talk about the churchof Christ, whoever shall say, or think, or believe, that there is any headship to the church of Christ except the person ofChrist himself, he knoweth not what he saith nor whereof he affirmeth. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Head over all things to his church, which is his body: the fulness of him filleth all in all. Here stand the two letters "V. R." at the top ofcertain mandates, and they mean just this: "Our royal authority commands that you shall not believe this, and you shall believethat; you shall not pray this, and you shall pray that; and you shall pray on such a day," and so on. The church whichthus bows to authority commits fornication with the kings of the earth, and virtually renounces her allegiance to Christto gain the filthy lucre of state endowments. He is the freeman whom the truth makes free, and who wears no gilded collar,with a chain hanging therefrom held in a royal hand. Remember how the Chancellor laughed to scorn the whole bench of bishops,and rightly so; for he who voluntarily makes himself a bondman deserves to feel the lash. May the little finger of our stategrowheavier than the loins of James or Elizabeth, until all good men flee from the house of bondage. Servants of God, willye be servants of man? Ye who profess to follow King Jesus and see him crowned with the crown wherewith his mother crownedhim in the day of his espousals, do you take off his diadem to put it upon the head of another? No, it shall never be. Scotlandhas repelled the royal intrusion right bravely by her sons of the Free Church, who have left all to follow King Jesus. Herbushburned in the olden times, but was not consumed; the covenant was stained with blood, but it was never slain. Let us revivethat covenant, and, if need be, seal it with our blood. Let the Church of England have what king she pleases, or what princeshe pleases for her head; but this I know, that there is no "Thus saith the Lord" concerning the ecclesiastical supremacyof Victoria Regina, nor the authority of Lord John Russell, or S. H. Walpole, or any of that company, honorable though theybe.
7. Now once more: one other question. I am profoundly ignorant, and have not the power to judge of these things (so am I informed),and therefore I would like to ask for a "Thus saith the Lord" for a few of the canons;-no, perhaps I had better not read them;they are too bad,-they are full of all malice and uncharitableness, and everything that cometh of the foul fiend. I will askwhether there can be found any "Thus saith the Lord" for this: Canon 10. "Maintainersof Schismatics in the Church of England to be censured. Whoever shall hereafter affirm that such ministers as refuse to subscribe to the form and manner of God's worship in theChurch of England, prescribed in the Communion-Book, and their adherents, may truly take unto them the name of another churchnot established by law, and dare presume to publish it, that this their pretended church hath of long time groaned under theburden of certain grievances imposed upon it, and upon the membersthereof before mentioned, by the Church of England, and the orders and constitutions therein by law established, let thembe excommunicated, and not restored until they repent and publicly revoke such their wicked errors." What Scripture warrantsone church to excommunicate another merely for being a church, and complaining of undoubted grievances?
Canon 11. "Maintainers of Conventicles censured. Whosoever shall hereafter affirm or maintain that there are within this realm other meetings, assemblies, or congregationsof the king's born subjects, than such as by the laws of this land are held and allowed, which may rightly challenge to themselvesthe name of true and lawful churches, let him be excommunicated, and not restored but by the Archbishop, after his repentanceand public revocation of such his wickederrors." Where doth Holy Scripture authorize the excommunication of every good man who is charitable enough to believethat there are other churches beside his own? Search ye out of to book of the Lord, and read!
For very much in this Book of Canons I beg to be informed of a "Thus saith the Lord." For matters which do not concern religionand have only to do with the mere arrangement of service, we neither ask nor expect a divine precept; but upon vital pointsof doctrine, ceremony, or precept, we cannot do without it. Scarcely can any document be more inconsistent with Scripturethan the Book of Canons, and hence it is ever kept in the back ground, because those who know anythingabout it must be ashamed of it. And yet these are Canons of the Church of England,-canons which are inconsistent, manyof them, with even the common rules of our own present enlightened law, let alone the Word of God. We ask a "Thus saith theLord" for them, and we wait until a "Thus saith the Lord" shall be found to defend them.
Now some will say, why do I thus take this matter up and look into it? I have already told you the reason, dear friends. Thereis an opportunity for pushing another Reformation given to us just now, of which if we do not avail ourselves we shall bevery guilty. Some have said, "Why not go on preaching the gospel to sinners?" I do preach the gospel to sinners, as earnestlyas ever I did in my life; and there are as many conversions to God as at any former period. This isGod's work: and beware lest any of you lift a finger against it. The hand of the Lord is in this thing, and he that livesshall see it. Let us have our prayers, that good may come of this controversy, even though you may deplore it. As for anythingelse that you can do, it shall not turn us a hair's-breadth from this testimony to which we feel God has called us, thoughit bringeth upon us every evil that flesh would shrink from. The words of Dr. Guthrie are well worth quoting here: "The servantis no better than his master; and I do believe, were we more true to God, more faithful and honest in opposing the worldfor its good, we should get less smoothly along the path of life, and have less reason to read with apprehension these wordsof Jesus: 'Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.' Not less true than shrewd was the remark of a Scotch womanrespecting one who, just settled in the ministry, had been borne to his pulpit amid the plaudits of all the people: 'If heis afaithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, he will have all the blackguards in the parish on his head before a month isgone.'"
III. Now, to close, let me say to you, my hearers, have any of you a hope of heaven which will not stand the test of "Thussaith the Lord?" What are you resting upon? Are you resting upon something which you felt when excited at a prayer-meetingor under a sermon? Remember you will not have that excitement to bear you up in death, and the religion of excitement willnot suffice in the day of judgment. Are you building upon your own works? Are you depending upon your ownfeelings? Do you rely upon sacraments? Are you placing your trust upon the word of man? If so, remember that when Godshakes all things he will shake these false foundations; but oh! build upon the Word of my Lord and Master; trust your soulwith Jesus. Hating sin, and clinging to the great sinbearer, you shall find in him a rock of refuge which can never, neverfail you; but I do conjure you, as the Lord liveth, search and try yourselves by the Word of God. No doubt there are manyamong us whoare not built upon the Rock of Ages, and we may any of us be deceived by a mere name to live. Do, then, since the test-daymust come,-since you must be weighed in the balances,-weigh yourselves now, my hearers; and let none of us go down to thechambers of destruction believing ourselves to be heirs of heaven, being all the while enemies to the Most High God. May theLord exalt his own Word, and give us a sure inheritance in the blessings which it brings. Amen.
The following sermons contain Mr. Spurgeon's views upon the Question now under controversy:-
No. 573.-"Baptismal Regeneration."-170th Thousand.
No. 577.-"Let Us Go Forth."-30th Thousand.
No. 581.-"Children Brought to Christ, Not to the Font."-60th Thousand.
No. 591.-"Thus Saith The Lord:" Or, The Book of Common Prayer Weighed in the Balances of the Sanctuary.-60th Thousand.
TWO LETTERS from C. H. SPURGEON-one to the Evangelical Alliance, signifying his withdrawal from that Association; and another to The Christian Public, proving that his accusations against the Evangelical Clergy are neither novel nor singular.-25th Thousand.
One Penny each. The five post free for six stamps.