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fashions in theology? need I say that declensions from the spiritual and life-giving doctrines of our Reformation are above all things dangerous ? The fact is, that the prosperity of any church depends, under God's blessing, not only on the professed tenets and avowed platform of its public formularies, but also on the spirit and temper which pervade its members in each age, on the honesty with which its real doctrines are inculcated, and the living energy and purity of its instructions. To keep therefore the original books of our Reformed Church before the eyes of our people, to circulate them as widely as possible, is amongst the most likely means of reviving pure Christianity, of rekindling those sacred fires of love to our dying Saviour, which once burned in the bosoms of those holy martyrs by whom these Formularies were drawn up, and to bring back a worldly and temporizing divinity to the high standard of that blessed Reformation, of which our Church was the glory and the boast.
And in this view the attention which this Society has given to the Book of Homilies, is of the highest importance.
This work was almost forgotten. It was common to decry it, as unsuitable to the present times. Its style was censured as antiquated and obscure. Many churchmen did not scruple to express their dissent from some of its chief statements. This Society has brought this almost forgotten book to light, has broken it up into tracts, has circulated it amongst our people. Every one may now read how our Reformers preached. We may now study their own exposition of their own articles.
We may turn, from modern commentators, to the original and authorized document itself. The volume of the Homilies is sufficiently copious; every student may read for himself, and determine who are the men that adhere to the reformed doctrines, and who they are that with the most vehement claims of churchmanship, in fact depart from them. If, for instance, I desire to know the doctrine of the Church on original sin, on the fall of man, on his impotency to any thing spiritually good, on salvation by grace, on justification by faith only, on the person and operations of the Holy Spirit, on the authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture, on prayer, on love to God, on activity in every good word and work; I look to the brief language of the Articles first, and then I turn, not to the opinions of modern divines, but to the full and adequate and authoritative exposition of that language in the Book of Homilies. If I am an honest man, I am satisfied.
But this is not all: the circulation of the Homilies amongst our people has a direct tendency to check any dangerous errors, which may mingle themselves in the theology of our day, on the one hand; and to supply any omissions which may imperceptibly creep in, on the other. By dangerous errors I would understand all approaches to the Socinian heresy, or to the opposite and fatal downfall of Antinomianism. Our Church is a bulwark against both. The Deity and atonement and propitia-, tion of the Son of God; the personality and Deity and operations of the Holy Ghost; the certainty and eternity of future punishment, are involved in all our established doctrines. With respect to the Antinomian heresy, we have seen of late how rapidly the rising danger faded away before the steady and unbending truths of the Church. The holiness which all our documents breathe, soon dispersed the threatening cloud. But these heresies are so glaring, and so abhorrent from the feelings of all sincere members of our Church, as to require less notice. It is in guarding against omissions in Christian doctrine, that the dissemination of our Homilies may be of the most essential and permanent benefit. I am sure I am speaking what the recollection of many persons before me can confirm, when I say that twenty or thirty years back the doctrine of the blessed Spirit of God was frequently omitted, comparatively speaking, in our public instructions. The truth was not denied perhaps, or opposed, but it was practically disregarded. The fear of enthusiasm, and of claims to direct inspiration
and apostolical powers, prevented men from giving to it its fair importance. Thank God, the wider diffusion of our Homilies, together with our Liturgy, and Articles, and Ordination services, have been the means of recalling men's attention to the infinite moment of this doctrine. Our Church teaches us in her Liturgy that the Holy Spirit is “ the Lord and Giver of life,” that he “cleanses the thoughts of our hearts by his inspiration,” that he “ gives a right judgment in all things,” that we are “ to rejoice in his holy comfort:" and in her Ordination Service, she implores his special aid in a Hymn consecrated in all our memories. And if any doubt rests on the minute details of what our Church maintains on this Article of Faith, let the Homilies remove it. Read that for Whitsunday, mark the prominence given to this great truth in the other parts of the Book ; and then say whether the success of all our ministrations is not considered by our Church as dependant on the effectual grace of the Holy Spirit.
But I check myself, my Lord, in this course of remark. I will only further observe, that one circumstance noticed in the Report with regard to the Homilies much struck me; I mean, that the Society had begun to publish the separate Homilies with little cuts prefixed. Small as this circumstance may at first sight appear, I think it is of great moment. It will endear them to children. The first time I showed my own little girl these pictures, they much attracted her attention. And in circulating them amongst my schools at St. John's, I find they are exceedingly liked by the children. Whatever attaches servants, children, young people, and cottagers, to what is good and pious, becomes important. These pictures also will make the Homilies more acceptable to hawkers. This is no inconsiderable point. There is a multitude of persons travelling your country, and carrying their books and tracts to the cottages in your villages. What these books and tracts often are, how destructive to the moral and religious habits of the poor-in short, the wretched ribaldry of a hawker's basket, I will not describe. I will only say, that if I can put a Homily on reading Holy Scripture, on Salvation, or on the Death and Passion of Christ, into this basket instead of such dangerous and seductive publications, I am not only excluding a great evil, but also communicating a great good.