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THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy church: and because it cannot continue in safety without thy succour, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
UR present collect bears a strong resem
blance of that which immediately precedes it; the request is nearly the same, and is urged by the same consideration expressed in different words. This repetition, however, cannot be condemned, when the importance of the blessing which is implored, and the uninterrupted existence of the cause which renders it necessary, are considered; especially as the petitions are designed for use on different days. But, indeed, we should have been justified in a renewal of our request at the same season of worship, by the example of our Lord, who in His agony prayed thrice, saying the same words.
As we discussed the preceding collect with a view to the members of the church in their individual capacity, we shall contemplate the present chiefly with a view to the church in its collective capacity; though, as generals include particulars, what is confessed and implored on behalf of the church may be applied to all the constituent parts of her community. Our coliect consists of-A general petition for the purification and defence of the catholic churchAnd a more particular request for her constant
preservation, urged by the consideration of her continual exposure to danger without Divine succour.
In reviewing the wants of the church, and her prayers for purification and defence, we shall not take so wide a scope as Christendom presents to us; but we shall chiefly confine our attention to that branch of the catholic church for whose use our collect is designed, with which we are most intimately acquainted, and for which we are most affectionately concerned.
That the church of England is, in many respects, one of the most important branches of the sacred tree which God has planted in the earth, and whose branches have spread, with more or less luxuriance of growth, over its four quarters, will not, it is presumed, be denied by the readers of these pages. She appears to their author to be highly favoured of God, and to be preserved for eminent service, as a repository of sound doctrine, and the instrument of diffusing it over the rest of the world. The revival of genuine godliness which she has lately experienced, the providential favours which have been shewn her during the present awful crisis in the history of nations, the extent of communication with other parts of the world which national commerce affords her, the zeal which begins to appear in her sons, and the national opulence which promises them ability for the execution of their pious schemes, these are circumstances which seem to justify the expectation which has been expressed.
That the church of England is one of the most pure, as well as one of the most important branches of the catholic church, will also be admitted by the generality of those into whose
hands these pages will fall. Her doctrine and her form of church-government, derived from the fountain head, certainly approximate very near to the Divine model after which they are constructed; as hath been shewn by innumerable advocates who have stood forward in her defence against her enemies.*
It must however be acknowledged (and her children will acknowledge it with deep regret) that the prayer of our collect on her behalf is by no means unnecessary. She greatly needs purification; for her garments have contracted many a foul stain, from which the “ continual “ pity” of her Lord is required to cleanse her. While we avow our belief that in no part of the catholic church is to be found more purity of doctrine, or more genuine piety, and that no Christian community of the same extent is less corrupt, we have to survey and to lament much imperfection. This our church herself confesses, for it is not only implied in our present collect, but it is explicitly avowed in the preface to her Commination-service, where the relaxation of primitive discipline and its fatal consequences are deplored, and the best remedy which the times will admit is recommended and adopted. To this evidence we may add that the more zealous of her prelates have long lamented, in their pastoral addresses to their clergy, an awful departure in many cases from purity of doctrine in the pulpit, and from purity of manners in the world.† And although this defection is prevented from producing the same epidemic
* See particularly Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity. † See particularly Secker's, Horne's, Horseley's, and Obeirne's charges.
influence which, in a church not guarded as ours is by an orthodox and spiritual liturgy, articles, and homilies, it must produce; it is, nevertheless, too common in its prevalence to be unobserved, and too mischievous in its consequences to be undeplored.
But it is not only in the clerical body that purification is needed; it is needful also, and to a much greater extent, among the laity who. compose the mass of our national church. Tares are plentifully mixed with the wheat in our ecclesiastical field. Our reformers, in imitation of their Divine master, sowed good seed; but the enemy, taking advantage of the ignorance, sloth, and carelessness of many among their successors who call themselves the servants of the householder, hath sowed tares among us with an unsparing hand. Hence “ false doc
trine, heresy, and schism; hardness of heart, “ and contempt of God's word and command
ments,” (not to mention the most glaring and shocking immoralities) debase our national church by appearing among those who profess to be her members. And though it is to be hoped that, at the present æra, real Godliness, consisting in purity both of doctrine and practice, is reviving among us, yet it is also to be feared, or rather it, cannot be disputed, that infidelity and profligacy are likewise increasing. The number of genuine churchmen is daily augmented; but those who had only the form of Godliness, more freely than heretofore throw aside the mask which they had assumed, and enlist themselves openly under the banner of scepticism and licentiousness.
An inquiry may be proposed concerning the manner in which we may expect that our prayer.
for the purification of the church will be answered. Its evils may to some persons appear too inveterate for a cure. But let them remember that nothing is impossible with God. He who was the Author of our reformation from the errors of Popery, can also purge out the leaven of evil which has now spread itself through the ecclesiastic lump. It is not for us to pry too curiously into the methods of Divine procedure, nor to prescribe to infinite wisdom the plan it should pursue. It is enough for the support of our faith and the encouragement of our souls in prayer, to know that infinite wisdom and power, influenced by “continual pity,” can be at no loss for the means of effecting its gracious purpo
In the present case, however, the difficulty is not insurmountable even to our shallow reason. For, as the foundation of purity is laid in our liturgy, articles, and homilies; as the platform of our establishment needs no material amend. ment; and as a considerable and increasing leaven of genuine evangelical piety is to be found among the ministers and members of our church; all that is necessary for her purification is a further effusion of the Spirit of grace on the clergy and people, awakening them from their lethargy, and converting them to the knowledge and service of God. If God vouchsafe to cause His gospel to be more generally proclaimed, and to accompany it with the demonstration of His Spirit, His church among us will indeed be progressively cleansed till it shall become the glory of all lands, the joy of the whole earth. And (blessed be His name!) we are not without some favourable symptoms, which encourage our hopes and animate our supplications.