Page images
PDF
EPUB

learn, and of the old when they study it, our venerable forefathers, instead of peremptorily and contumeliously rejecting five of the rites called by the Romanists sacramental, preserve a wary and candid silence about them, and are content with saying that "Christ hath ordained for his church only two sacraments, as generally necessary for salvation— that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord." Knowing then, and lamenting too, the untoward prepossessions, and the angry reproaches, in which Protestants too often indulge, and by unlearned and intolerant preachers are encouraged to indulge towards their fellow Christians in the Church of Rome, I frequently insist upon the circumstance just now mentioned. Hence I hold it out to you as a striking fact and a salutary example; and in other places I employ it for the purpose of softening the violent, restraining the conceited, and confuting the superficial. But farther, I gave you to understand that the word sacrament was in the Christian world applied with much greater diversity than it now is by ourselves. We confine it to "the outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace given unto us, which sign was ordained by Christ himself as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof."

Now I shall not, in addressing such an assembly as this, produce many passages from the Latin fathers, who by the word sacrament sometimes mean "a particular doctrine” -sometimes a " particular rite "-sometimes the whole Christian religion as contained in the gospel"— and sometimes

"the whole system of discipline and worship established in the Church of Christ." But, in order to guard you against the rash and uncharitable language of too many Protestant teachers, it may be of use to shew you, my brethren, how much more judgment, and how much more fairness are to be found in those excellent men, to whose well weighed counsels and well directed exertions we ought to look up with respect and gratitude, for the constitution of that church, to which we ourselves by the good providence of God belong.

The whispers with which I have long been annoyed in some places, and the clamours by which I have been assailed in others, compel me to speak unreservedly. Theological questions of considerable magnitude are to be settled, my brethren, not by loquacious parish-clerks, or pragmatical churchwardens, none of whom are to be found in this retired and decent village-not by unlearned country gentlemen, or half learned country priests-not by blusterers, who are indebted for their orthodoxy to intemperance when they are drunk, and to prejudice when they are sober—not by slanderers, who measure their imaginary attachment to the national church by their causeless hatred of Dissenters and Romanists-but by a grave appeal to the works of men, justly and generally celebrated for the clearness of their intellect, the depth of their learning, the diligence of their studies, the uprightness of their principles, and the exemplary regularity of their lives. Such an appeal I am now going to make on the diversity of sentiment between our church and that of Rome, about Confirmation.

The language of the homilies then is quite decisive upon the latitude, in which even by the confession of our forefathers the word "sacrament" was sometimes used in the Christian church. "Absolution,” say they, in their excellent homily on common prayer and sacraments, "is no more such sacrament as baptism and the communion are. And though the ordering of ministers hath this visible sign and promise, yet it lacks the promise of remission of sin, as all other sacraments besides the two above named do. Therefore neither it, nor any other sacrament else, be such sacraments as baptism and the communion are. But in a general acceptation the name of a sacrament may be attributed to any thing, whereby an holy thing is signified. In which understanding of the word the antient writers have given this name, not only to the other five, commonly of late years taken and used for supplying the number of the sacraments; but also to divers and sundry other ceremonies, as to oil, washing of feet, and such like, not meaning thereby to repute them as sacraments in the same signification that the two forenamed sacraments are."

Now it is plain, that in the view of our venerable prelates, a difference exists between the larger and the more restrained import of the same word. That absolution, though not such a sacrament as baptism and the communion, may be a sacrament—that ordination and other sacraments, though not such sacraments as those two, may be in their own kind sacraments-that in a general acceptation the name of a sacrament may be attributed to any thing,

whereby a holy thing is signified-that according to this understanding of the word, the ancient writers in point of fact have given the name not only to the seven sacraments of the Church of Rome, but sundry other ceremonies, though not reputing them as sacraments in the same signification that Baptism and the Lord's Supper are considered-that no man ought to take certain other rites and institutions of our church, they do not add, for sacraments at all, but for such sacraments. And when it is said that these ancient writers did not affix to all those ceremonies the same meaning which they did to baptism and the supper of the Lord as sacraments, it must be remembered, that the teachers of the Church of Rome would with equal propriety and equal sincerity allege, that they also do not indiscriminately place the five other sacraments upon a footing of entire equality with these two. As to what is called afterwards in our homilies the exact meaning of the word, it is settled arbitrarily, and I think innocently, by every religious community. For in theology, as in other sciences, when a definition is once given, he, that speaks or writes consistently with it, is exact.

If it were generally agreed by a larger or a smaller society that "penance" should be considered as a sacrament, he that spoke of it with reference to that agreement, would be exact. If it were agreed by other societies that penance should not be called a sacrament, he, that in reference to those societies did call it so, would not be exact; and thus relatively to the tenets of the English Church, the appellation

In

of sacrament cannot with exactness be given to penance. In assigning names to objects, the chief and nearly the sole requisite is, that in the thing signified, there should not be any known inherent properties utterly irreconcileable to the component parts, and to the primary or the modified power of the sign; and surely in the word sacrament, as a sign, there is no such irreconcileableness to any religious observance, either explicitly enjoined by the revealed word of God, or by fair deduction not incompatible with the letter or the spirit of it. all churches therefore, there is an equal right to determine for themselves, though not for other Christian communities, what ritual observances shall, or shall not be denominated sacraments. On this, as indeed on every other question of arbitrary institution, more or less respect is due to the testimony of antiquity, and to the exigencies of custom; and surely wheresoever religion is concerned, wise and good men will reluctantly attempt innovations—unnecessary, when they rectify no material errors-unbecoming, when they alarm weak though well disposed minds-and unsafe, when they stir up virulent con

tentions.

[ocr errors]

In the political sense of the word "sacrament,' a Roman might eminently apply it to the military oath of fidelity taken by a soldier to his general.* In the religious sense of the same word, a

* In the civil sense of the word, sacrament was applied to the deposits which were made by plaintiff and defendant in a litigated cause, and put into the hands of the pontifex, or some sacred place, and after the determination of that cause the por

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »