‘Being confident of this very thing, that He Which hath begun a good work in you will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.’
If St. Paul could thus speak confidently as to God’s purpose for one branch of the Universal Church, which had been only some ten years in existence, surely we, too, may venture, though with utter reproach and self-distrust, to recognise in our own hearts something approaching to a like confidence about that good work which God has begun, and which God is carrying forward, in the Church of England. As we mark the astounding instances of deliverance and renewal which must meet us again and again in the history of our Church, may we not, must we not, trace the course of a Divine work, trace with trembling hope the emergence and development of a Divine plan?
I. It is a history of perils and dangers such as no other Church has known, and it has resulted in an unique position. Again and again things have seemed so dark, or so bad, that it seemed impossible for the Church to escape without a deadly wound. As we realise the risks which she ran at one time or another in her momentous course, as we see how narrowly, and with what an inadequate sense of her own danger the Church escaped some irreparable loss, we surely may believe that there must yet be some further, vaster work for which she has been reserved by the providence and love of God. If we take but one instance, and try to enter into the state of things during the first thirteen years of Elizabeth’s reign, we may discern something of the superhuman power which was caring for the Church of England. And may we not, as we watch the Church, so fiercely shaken, so inadequately upheld, emerging at last out of all that storm of peril and bewilderment, without harm or loss at any single point essential to her catholicity, may we not feel sure that it was no human power, no human policy which guided and protected her, but that she was preserved and guided only by the hand of God?
II. That the Church of England is to be the illustrious agent in bringing the mystical Kingdom of Christ to ultimate reunion is not wholly without hope; for we escaped out of the sixteenth century untouched by the losses which had marred the Protestant communities abroad, while we had got rid of the accretions of Rome. With Apostolic Orders, which the selfsame Sacraments which had upheld the martyrs and perfected the saints in days of old, with daily offices surpassing in dignity all that the laity are allowed to share in in other portions of the Western Church, we have also a tradition of doctrine which we can bring without fear or reserve to the great Canon of the Catholic Church—quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus. There is nothing, surely, to hinder us from once again laying fresh hold upon the love and affection of the great English people. There must come indeed to every thoughtful mind, a sense of awe, a thrill of penitence and shame, as we try to realise the deliverances of the past, the privileges of the present, and the possibilities of development in the future. We must tremble as we realise the trust that rests upon us, we dare not refuse to recognise the power that has wrought for us, we dare not in false, ungrateful modesty pretend to think little of the heritage which by no sort of merit on our part stands preserved to us; we dare not utterly disclaim all confidence in this, that He that hath begun a good work in us will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.
III. As we think of these things one great lesson seems to rush upon us.—If God has done all this for us, how tremendous is the urgency for self-searching, self-discipline, self-sacrifice in work—work at home far wider, deeper, higher; work abroad far larger and graver in its ambition for the Kingdom of the Crucified.
Bishop F. Paget.
‘It has been well said by a great French writer in a well-known passage that if ever Christianity is to be reconciled, it seems as though the movement must issue from the Church of England. And soon after the beginning of last century a dispassionate and observant writer, Alexander Knox, could say that no Church on earth has more intrinsic excellence than the Church of England.’
There is one condition for this confidence, a condition on which St. Paul was always insisting, and that absolute trust in the love, the power, and the faithfulness of God.
Let us see what is required on our part.
I. The constant habit of prayer.—To the power of the prayer of faith and dependence on God there is no limit, nor can there be. If we believe in an all-surrounding, all-pervading Omnipotence, Who is also Wisdom and Love, how infinite are our needs for prayer, both in things of the soul and of the body!
II. The living in and by the Spirit of God.—To maintain the habit of constant reference to God we must live in and by the Spirit of God. Pray in some such words as these: ‘O Spirit of Good! strive with me, reprove me, comfort me, help my infirmities, teach my understanding, guide my will, purify my life, testify to me of Christ, glorify Christ even in me, search every corner of my heart, as Thou alone canst search; work in me according to Thine own will.’
III. The cultivation of a spirit of watchfulness.—All this will, of course, have been cultivating necessarily a spirit of watchful perseverance. But perseverance itself is a distinct habit which we should consciously encourage. When we have made up our minds, it is foolish not to ask God to make us resolute.
IV. The showing of sympathy with all other Christian people.—There is sympathy for all God’s people. That, again, is an enormous help. If we allow our affections to be engrossed by people of the world, who neither understand these things nor care for them, our faith is certain to grow cold. Very easily do we become assimilated to those whose company we enjoy.