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The great and pressing evil which exists in the moral and spiritual destitution of a large portion of our countrymen, is too certain, and too generally confessed, to require proof. Nor is it denied by any man who calls himself Christian, that some remedy on a large and effective scale must immediately be devised. What that remedy should be, is a question of greater difficulty; on which it is the object of the following pages to suggest some considerations.
And first, it becomes us to inquire what measures will best harmonize with the ancient and tried principles of the Church. True reformations are not effected by an hasty remodelling of existing institutions, on every call of expediency real or fancied, and without regard to the principles on which they were framed, as the archi
tects of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries improved our great national edifices in the taste of their own times. Such a spirit, shallow and unphilosophical when applied to civil and political institutions, cannot without actual profaneness intrude into the sanctuary, where of late it has been but too busy. We must not introduce new principles, but recur to old ones; to those by which the ancient Church originally leavened the whole mass of national heathenism, and afterwards provided against the gradual increase of a neglected and demoralized population in the very heart of Christendom. These things were effected by means of that system which apportioned every part of the Church to diocesan bishops and parochial priests, and in its further development accordingly we must seek a remedy for the evils of our own day.
i Shortly before the death of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, bishop of Neo-Cæsarea, “ Il fit,” says Tillemont, (vol. iv.) "une exacte revue de toute la ville et de toute la campagne, pour voir s'il n'y restoit plus aucun payen comme il le souhaitoit extremement. Il en trouva néanmoins dixsept, et levant les yeux au ciel, il témoigna à Dieu sa douleur de ce que son désir n'estoit pas entièrement accompli. Mais il luy rendit grâces en mesme temps, de ce que n'ayant trouvé que dixsept Chrétiens à son entrée dans cette Eglise il n'y laissoit en la quittant que dixsept payens. Il demanda à Dieu la conversion de ces dixsept payens et l'augmentation de ses grâces sur les fidèles ; et puis il mourut en défendant d'acheter aucune place pour l'enterrer, parcequ'il ne vouloit pas posséder un pouce de terre ni devant ni après sa mort, mais mourir et estre enterré comme un étranger qui n'a rien à lui.”
In truth, when men have once grasped the idea that the destiny of the Christian faith is nothing short of universal dominion, some such system seems of necessity to be required; otherwise the ambassadors of the Gospel would be precluded by the very laws of nature from that close and individual application of its principles to the heart and home of every man, which becomes the servants of Him who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” To attend, alike and at the same time, to things great and small, to regulate the fate of churches and nations without overlooking the minute and separate concerns of any individual, is an incomprehensible and probably an incommunicable attribute of the Almighty. We may without presumption infer from the hints contained in several passages of Holy Scripture, that He “who has appointed the services of angels and men in a wonderful order,” has assigned even to the heavenly host, those angels of his who excel in power, their several places upon earth ', wherein to watch over its nations and churches, and over every member thereof: and whatever may be thought on this subject, it is at least manifest that if any number of mortal men were entrusted with the undivided spiritual care even of a single populous city, many of their charge must of necessity escape unnoticed in the crowd; that the more docile, the more willing, the more zealous, the i Dan. X. 13. St. Matth. xviii. 10, &c.
more forward, would occupy the pastor's attention; while the obdurate would be unwarned, the reluctant uninvited, the lukewarm would be left to grow cold, the modest and retiring would be overlooked.
From the earliest periods, accordingly, the Gospel field has been locally divided among the labourers. Not to mention the divine mission of one apostle to the circumcision, and of another to the Gentiles; we learn from Scripture, that from the very foundation of churches, apostolic men were charged with the episcopal care of separate and defined districts; and history informs us, that as the promise of Christ was more and more fulfilled, and the leaven worked in secrecy and silence through the whole lump, and the great cities began to number a multitude of converts too large to meet in one place and live under the same immediate inspection; these primitive episcopal parishes were subdivided, and their several portions entrusted to the charge of parochial priests. At Rome something of this nature existed within one hundred years after the ascension of our Lord, and the precedent seems to have been generally followed". In
See Jer. Taylor, “ Episcopacy asserted,” ch. xliii. (vol. vii. Heber.) In inquiring into the origin of parishes, we must distinguish between territorial divisions for the pastoral cure, and distinct parochial endowments. Those authors (as Bingham) who have represented the institution of parishes as commencing in the reign of Theodosius, or even later, have referred to the latter; but it is certain that parish churches existed long before a separate maintenance was provided for their
succeeding ages again, as all men thronged into the Church, and these earliest parishes became too populous for separate superintendence, they were farther subdivided by the same episcopal authority from which they had originated.
The division of labour, and the concentration of responsibility, is therefore a principle entwined with the original constitution of the Church. Every one of Christ's flock has his appointed shepherd, who must give account for his soul. The bishop is bound', either by himself or by those commissioned by him, to oversee every inhabitant of his diocese, the parish priest each of his parishioners. Nor are the services of the laity unappropriated: for, while all are bound together as members of the same Lord, they are more especially united who are committed to the superintendence of the same bishop, and yet more of the same pastor; and the efforts of Christian benevolence in the alleviation of bodily suffering, the education of youth, and the edification of all, are no longer dispersed over a desultory and uncertain range, but are united and concentrated, that with a wise and well-ordered alacrity we may “ bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ ?." incumbents, who with the bishop shared a common stock. The establishment at Hippo, in the time of St. Austin, seems to have been of this nature.
1 See Wilson's Sacra Privata; Andrews's Devotions, &c,
2 See Acts vi. It may be observed, that the state poor laws, a most inadequate substitute for the bounty of the Church, yet