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rolling moor and rugged hill-sides tell how war once raged over that abode of peace; and how, where the moorcock crows to the morning, and the shy plover rings out her wail, and lambs chase each other, or playfully engage in mimic fight around these old gray stones, men once had trampled down the heather, staining it of a deeper crimson with their blood. And there, where the rude monuments of the dead stand crowded together for want of room, we know that the opposing tides of battle with direst shock, and human passions spent their wildest fury. These marks of hardest fighting and greatest carnage still point out the key of the position—the most important post that they had to hold or win in that old field of battle.
According to this rule, we should conclude that the church of Christ has regarded the headship of her Lord as in some respects the very key of her position. She has maintained it as not the least important of the doctrines which she has been charged to hold against all men—holding them to the death. For the sake of this doctrine, for Christ's crown, for his sole right to rule his own house, and to regulate, without Caesar's interference, the affairs of his church, her largest, costliest, and most painful sacrifices have been made. And as if there was an instinct of grace corresponding to that remarkable instinct of nature which teaches even an infant, in the act of falling, to throw out its hands and arms, and save the head at the expense of its members, with a fidelity that has done her honor, the church has sacrificed her members, and lavishly shed her blood in support of Christ's headship. For this cause, counting all things but loss, many have suffered the spoiling of their goods; many have gone into banishment and exile; many have ascended the scaffold to lay down their heads on the block, or, embracing the stake with a lover's ardor, have gone to heaven in a chariot of fire, to wear the crown of martyrdom, and learn how well Christ keeps the promise, Them that honor me I will honor.
The apostles Peter and John were the first publicly to maintain this doctrine. At their parting, our Lord commanded his disciples to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; and when the Jewish rulers, attempting to infringe on Christian liberty, commanded them not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus, how prompt and how decisive was their reply! It leaves Christian men in corresponding circumstances in no doubt as to the path of duty, whether they have courage to take it or not. Hear their memorable words: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Nor less clear and decisive this reply of Peter's, on being charged a few days afterwards with having preached contrary to the injunctions of the civil magistrate, " We ought to obey God rather than men." Thus plainly did these men assert and boldly maintain the doctrine that Christ is head of his body, the church. They would have held it treason to own any other authority. So ought we.
It becomes not man to be proud of anything. We have defects enough to clothe us with humility. And a sense of many sins and many shortcomings will teach us, for any grace or honor we may possess, to ascribe glory to him who maketh one to differ from another, and out of the mouth of babes ordaineth strength. Yet, as patriots, we may be permitted to dwell with gratification and gratitude on the fact, that since the day when the apostles so boldly asserted Christ's sole right to reign in his church, and to regulate all matters of doctrine and discipline, government and duty therein, few countries have been more honored to testify and to suffer for that truth than has our own. I do not refer only to recent events, nor to the long and bloody struggles of the seventeenth century, nor to the part she played at the glorious Reformation. Her practical testimony to this doctrine dates from a much earlier period. Rude in arts and rough in manners as our forefathers might be, they were the last of the nations to bow the neck to the yoke of Popery. Popish, like Pagan Rome, found our countrymen hard to conquer. And thus, when the lights of Iona were extinguished, and nothing was left of a faith comparatively pure but the lonely cells and ruined sanctuaries of Culdce worship, the dreary period of Popish darkness was shorter here than elsewhere—just as is the duration of night on those rugged storm-beaten heights, which catch the morning sun before it has risen on the valleys, and stand up glowing in golden light when the shades of evening have wrapped these in deepening dusky gloom.
And after the era of the Reformation, who does not know, who has not read, now with weeping eyes, and now with burning indignation, what our good forefathers suffered for Christ's crown? It was dearer to them than their liberties or lives. Handed down, like an heirloom, from martyred sire to son, this cause is interwoven with our nation's history, and runs through it like a silver thread. It runs, I may say, in our very blood. We have imbibed it with our mother's milk. Far away from the smoke and din of cities, it is associated with many a wild weeping glen, the dark moss hag, and those misty mountains where our fathers were hunted down like partridges. There the moss-gray stone which still bears the rude outlines of a Bible and a sword, is regarded with veneration by a pious peasantry; for it shows that here a true man fell, and a martyr for Christ's kingly crown sleeps in his lonely grave, waiting the resurrection of the just. How much of its undying interest does our city owe to the localities with which this cause is associated! There, rose the gallows, on which the best and worthiest of the land were hung like caitiffs; and yonder, half-way between that castle and the palace, stood the gate above which their heads sat in ghastly rows, bleaching in the wind, and rain, and sun. In the neighborhood of this very church we seem to tread on sacred ground. This winding street, these low-browed windows, these old quaint tenements that see us quietly gathering for Sabbath worship, were crowded two hundred years ago with the spectators of a different, I might say a holier, certainly a more stirring scene. "They come!" runs through the anxious crowd, and fixes every wandering eye on the advancing procession. And there, with slow but firm step, comes hoar old age, and there, noble manhood, and there, most wept for by mothers and maidens, fair gentle youth—a band of candidates for martyrdom, witnesses for Christ's kingly rights, heroes who esteemed it noble for such a cause to die. In truth, our fathers set a higher value on Christ's headship than they set upon their own heads; and for that cause alone not less than eighteen thousand were faithful unto death during the long, and bloody, but glorious years of persecution. They have gone to their reward. Called, in some form or other, to deny ourselves, and take up our cross, may we follow them, even as they followed Christ! He has said, " Whosoever loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whosoever loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and he that taketh not up his cross and followeth me is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life shall find it.
A few years ago, as the world knows, we felt ourselves called on to revive our fathers' testimony, and shake the dust of two centuries from their time-worn banner. We had a cross to take up. Without knowing its weight, we took it up. And, while it becomes us to confess with sorrow before God and man, that human passions mingled " strange fire" with our service, and that fighting sometimes for victory as much as for truth, dross adulterated the gold of our offering, we thought then, and think still, that ours was a call of duty, and a righteous cause. We were martyrs neither by desire nor by mistake. But, as I have no wish to lay open old wounds, and would only dwell on those views of this doctrine which may edify the whole church and promote mutual love, I will only say further, that I hope, and trust, and pray, that the more the churches are called to suffer for Christ's headship, they will hold it the more resolutely. Never fear. There are other things beside the sturdy oak which the roaring tempest nurses into strength. The storms that strip the tree of some leaves, perhaps of some rotten branches, but moor it deeper in the rifts of the everlasting rock. Christ's words cannot fail, On this rock have I built my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.