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IS RITUALISM CONSISTENT WITH AND NECESSARY
TO TRUE CHRISTIANITY!
AFFIRMATIVE ARTICLE.-II. RITUALISM : what is it? Semi-Romanism, papal error, and papal superstition disguised,—the wolf in sheep's clothing beneath, - with which clever, designing, and unscrupulous men seek to bring again the pure reformed Church of England beneath the hard yoke and cruel bondage of the Roman see. Away with itaway with it! Down with it-down with it even to the ground! Touch not the unclean thing, lest ye also be defiled. Such are the replies and ejaculations given at this present time by three-fourths of those who are questioned on the subject, or who hear of it for the first time. And yet it will be seen that the reply is given without any study of the subject, and often without the least knowledge of it at all; the word has been taken by certain parties, made a bugbear of; invested with the scarlet robe, grizzly beard, glaring eyes, bloody face, and ferocious expression of an ogre whose chief delight is to prey upon the bodies and souls of those he can ensnare into his cave, and then held up as a thing which Christians would do well to shun. And so, indeed, they would, if the reality corresponded with the image. But this is not Ritualism-only a grotesque and hideous caricature. What, then, is Ritualism ? ' It is the solemn, beautiful, and reverent performance of religious rites.
Is this consistent with and necessary to true Christianity ? Can it be otherwise? The question seems at once decided affirmatively, and among Christians--especially among catholic Churchmen ought never to have found a place. Two causes bave unhappily contributed to bring this question thus prominently forward. The first is the state of apathy and torpor into which, in the course of the last three centuries, the Church of England especially, and Protestant churches generally, became sunk ; and secondly, the excesses of a few honest, zealous, and enthusiastic men who were and are the leaders of a noble band whose mission it is to awaken the Church from her nearly fatal lethargy, to arouse her to a sense of her privileges and destiny, and to stimulate her to a more thorough and efficient discharge of her duties.
When men are comfortably asieep, the least noise which arouses them seems a thunderclap; and when they have been settled for a long course of time in any groove of action, he who oversteps it seems to them rushing headlong to destruction.
I shall not in this place enter into any defence of what is called now-a-days the Ritualistic party in the Church, but only observe that, had the Church of England remained as she was left by the reformers in the time of King Edward, we should never have heard anything about Tractarian, Evangelical, High Churchman, or Ritualist. "It was the gradual departure from primitive, apostolic, and reformed' ritual which has caused the men of this age, who so zealously strive for a revival of the catholic ritual, to be branded with the name of Romanizers and innovators; whereas it is those who have allowed this ritual to become almost obsolete from disuse, or have glozed it with their own interpretations, that truly deserve the name.
No service can be conducted without some order. Let all "things be done decently and in order," is the apostolic injunction; that order is the ritual of the service. Every religious service, whether it be in a conventicle or in a cathedral, has, and must of necessity have, some ritual ; there must be in every case some accustomed mode of performing divine service. We all know by experience that this is so. What, then, shall be the nature of Christian ritual ? Shall it be plain or florid, meagre or elaborate, poor or costly, repulsive or attractive, meaningless or symbolic?
Which is most scriptural? The plain, the poor, the meagre, the meaningless, reply at once a score or so opponents. The simpler the better. Throw away symbolism; it is only fit for the infancy, not for the manhood of the Church's history. We are not babes, but men. Besides, the law and its ceremonial are done away in the gospel. Is it soThe mind of the Supreme Being, upon the nature of the worship most acceptable to Him, can be learned in three distinct ways—from Nature, from Man, and from Revelation.
From Nature.-" The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." "The heavens declare the glory of the Lord, and the firmament showeth His handywork.” Snow and ice, wind and rain, fulgil His word. The Psalmist exhorts everything that hath breath to praise the Lord. And what are the products of nature ? Are they meagre and barely sufficient, repulsive and purposeless ? Are they not, on the contrary, scattered over the earth in the most luxuriant abundance, full of beauty and order, alluring and pleasing the eye by their rich and glowing harmonies of light and colour, shedding around perfumes more fragrant, more precious than incense, delighting the ear by their sweet linked cadences of song? Nature speaks with an unmistakable voice,—The Lord has made all these rich and varied things for our enjoyment. Shall we then offer unto Him of that which costs us nothing? It was not so in olden times ; shall it be so now ? No; let us, at least, the creatures of His hand, and the dependants on His bounty, endeavour to express some small portion of our thankfulness to Him for all His benefits by the care we take, and the sacrifice and self-denial we make in offering Him our tribute of praise.
From Man.—That is, from the natural disposition, the mental religion of man, as one may call it. What could a heart full of love and gratitude prompt its possessor to offer to its Benefactor but that which is most rare and costly, and which measures most plainly the extent of the offerer's gratitude, and the self-denial practised in expressing it! The very idea of a beneficent Creator awakens in a man a corresponding sentiment to thankfully offer unto Him the best he has. It was so with the heathen of old; it is 80 with the heathen in every land now. No need to detail the offerings of Hindoo or Parsee. Each and all proclaim that they at least would not offer unto their gods of that which cost them nothing. Knowing, or fancying they know, the things in which their protecting deity delights, they think no exertion too great, no sacrifice too large, to make in order to obtain them and present them in his temple. And shall we, who live not in heathen darkness, but in gospel light, whose God is not a God of vengeance, but of longsuffering mercy and goodness, insult Him and slight all His benefits by offering unto Him the refuse? We would not do so with an earthly sovereign; let us not do it with our heavenly King.
From Revelation.—No one will deny that the ritual service of the Old Testament was solemn, grand, instructive, and impressive. Every particular of the ceremonial was laid down by Jehovah himself; and every particular shows splendour, costliness, elaborateness, and significance. Some would call it gorgeous, pantomimic, unnecessary. From the building and adorning of the tabernacle to the bells and pomegranates on the high priest's robe, the same magnificence and almost reckless profusion and expenditure of wealth is manifested. And all was found by a willing and obedient people, ordained and accepted by a loving God.
One point in the Mosaic ceremonial deserves notice : the necessary offerings were graduated according to the means of the offerer. If he be rich he shall offer a lamb; if poor, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons : showing that though the offerings of all were accepted and required, yet none were to appear before the Lord empty;
Again, when David proposed and Solomon accomplished the building of a house to the Lord, what do we find the characteristic feature of that temple ? Magnificence and lavish display, wholly regardless of expense. No previous building was equal to it, nor has any appeared since. At the dedication festival the number of animals sacrificed was enormous, and to many may appear wasteful and unnecessary. Yet Jehovah commended Solomon, and showed His accer ce of the offering by deigning indeed to dwell upon earth, and so filling the house with His glory, as displayed in the cloud, that the priest could not stand to minister by reason of the glory'; and further, saying to Solomon, “ I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication that thou hast made before Me; I have hal. lowed this house which thou hast built to put My name there for
ever, and Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually.” Again, when the apathy of Israel had allowed the house of God to be neglected, and the service to be lightly esteemed-in much the same way as the Church of England since the Restoration,—the Lord thus speaks by the mouth of Haggai :-"Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified.” And this very neglect of and indifference to God's due honour and worship is assigned as the cause of their national declension :-“Ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because of Mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.". And when the people obeyed and feared it was promised that the glory of this latter house should exceed the glory of the former.” Thus far the Old Testament revelation, which is, I think, sufficient to convince every candid inquirer that the service required by God of His creatures, and acceptable to Him, is one that is magnificent, elaborate, and costly,-in other words, the best that man can offer. The proof can easily be extended, but I have purposely omitted many smaller links-as the case of David in augmenting and arranging the singers; of Jehoshaphat, of Josiah, and Hezekiah, in keeping up the temple worship and the spiritual life of the people-in order that the stronger points may be more elearly discerned.
To come to the New. The old dispensation is passed away. We live under a new. The fathers lived under a covenant of works, we under one of grace; to them it was said, “Do this, and live; to us, "Believe, and thou shalt be saved." Granted that the letter is done away. Doth grace make void the law? God forbid. The spirit is the same, though the letter of the ceremonial is altered. It is the same God which has given both covenants. With Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. The spirit of that which was pleasing or displeasing to Him in one age cannot fail to be acceptable or the reverse in another. And further, the Mosaic ceremonial itself was not an earthly invention, but a pattern of things in the heavens (Heb. viii. 5). The spirit of the temple service was not done away by the coming of the Messiah, though certain parts of it - as sacrifices, which were but types and shadows, undoubtedly were. The temple worship consisted of a great deal besides mere sacrifice. The whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense (Luke i. 10). Peter and John went up into the temple to pray. Christ continually attended the services (Matt. xxi. 12; Mark xi. 27 ; xii. 35; Lake ii. 46; John vii. 19), and so did the apostles, even after the
day of Pentecost, and the small company of early believers (Aets v. 20, 42; xxi. 26).
Christian worship, besides, was founded upon the temple rather than upon the synagogue service; and though there may be a slight admixture of the latter, it is not, as some would have us believe, a distinguishing feature of it. To the Jew the synagogue was only a makeshift, a convenience, never a complete substitute for the temple. It was not legally recognised as such, nor would any pious Jew fail to attend the three great festivals of the law held at the temple. The Christian dispensation is not a very different thing from the Jewish one, but is the same magnified and adorned. “It the ministration of condemnation be glory, how much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory!" (2 Cor. iii. 9). If God chose to be served formerly with a costly, ornate, and ceremonial worship, He cannot mean to be served now in a bare, cold, and careless manner.
Enough has been said to show that Ritualism is at any rate con. sistent with true Christianity. Is it necessary to it? What is the object of Christian worship? To glorify God, not to please ourselves. And this is done when we "render thanks for the great benefits we have received at His hands, set forth His most worthy praise, hear His most holy word, and ask those things which are requisite and necessary for our bodies as well as our souls." Is it not necessary, then, to devote all our energies to the accomplishment of this duty We pray that God's will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. How is He served in heaven? By ten thousand times ten thousand angelic spirits who are ever before the throne, clothed in white with palms in their hands, and singing, “ Worthy is the Lamb to receive honour and glory and power; Alleluia, Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.” See Rev. viii. 3 ; v. 9; xiv. 3 ; xix. 4. Nowhere throughout the Bible is there the least intimation that anything but what people would now-a-days call excessive ritual was prescribed or practised, pone that any other kind of public worship was certainly used by Christ and His apostles, none in church history that any other was used in preReformation times, and none that the reformers ever meant any other to be practised in the Church of England; while the testimony from their acts and words in favour of Ritualism is as clear, strong, and decisive as any testimony can well be.
It is necessary, lastly, as it is the only form of worship which gives to the laity their full share in the worship of almighty God. The less ritual, the less is done by the people, and the less heartilyas any one can prove if he but trouble himself to attend once or twice the services of a ritual and of a non-ritual church, -until we come down to the Dissenting chapel, where the minister has both prayers and preaching to himself, and the people do comparatively nothing. Ritual is Romish or Romanizing, say some; this is the head and front of the offending. But is it catholic? is it scriptural ? We are not to condemn everything simply because it is Romish.