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THE CHRISTIAN ALTAR: a Sermon preached before the University of Cambridge, Oct. 23, 1842. By the Rev. JAMES SCHOLEFIELD, A.M., Regius Professor of Greek. Cambridge: Deighton. 1842.
THE LORD'S TABLE THE CHRISTIAN ALTAR: some Remarks on Professor Scholefield's Sermon. By the Rev. CHARLES WARREN, M.A., Vicar of Over. Cambridge: Deighton. 1843.
REMARKS ON A SERMON BY PROFESSOR SCHOLEFIELD. By F. W. COLLISON, M.A., Fellow of St. John's College. Cambridge: Stevenson. 1842.
To these three pamphlets we might add the titles of two others, one by the Professor, the other by Mr. Collison, in support of their original productions. These whole five may be regarded as furnishing a tolerably complete outline, when taken together,leaving nothing very material to be added on either side. Critically, it would be a wearisome task to analyse them. Many of our readers have doubtless already mastered their contents. All who are acquainted with the combatants will reasonably calculate on the exhibition, on the Professor's side, of clear and sound reasoning; and on Mr. Collison's, of some skill in confusing a very plain question, by dint of the usual phrases, "Catholic doctrines," "Catholic antiquity," "Catholic consent," "Catholic Fathers," wielded with all the conceit and superciliousness which distinguish the Tractarian school. We regret to perceive that Professor Scholefield has allowed himself to be irritated by this superciliousness; and still more, that he has even made public that irritation.
But we must quit the pamphlets, and direct our view to the general question. The only useful office which we can discharge, is to endeavour to "sum up the evidence," and to leave the verdict in the hands of that "grand jury,"-the public.
There can be no doubt that the Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, enunciated a doctrine, and a fact, very unacceptable to those who gloried in priestly authority.
"Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt-offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every
priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin."(Heb. x. 8-18.)
And accordingly, it was not long before this extinguished office, with all its functions and authority, began to be anew revived, and a crowd of ecclesiastical aspirants immediately pressed forward to elevate it to its original power and dignity; and to maintain, once more, the continuance and the necessity of an order of sacrificing priests in the Christian Church.
The greatest divines of our Church have never hesitated to give an utter denial to these pretensions.
Cranmer, in his Preface to his book on the Lord's Supper, says, "What availeth it to take away beads, pardons, pilgrimages, "and such other like popery, so long as the chief roots remain un"pulled up." "The rest is but branches and leaves; the very body "of the tree, or rather the root, is the popish doctrine of transub"stantiation,-of the Real Presence of Christ's flesh and blood in "the sacrament of the altar (as they call it) and of the sacrifice " and oblation of Christ, made by the priest, for the salvation of "the quick and dead."'
Ridley, in his injunctions to the clergy of London, ordering the removal of altars, says
"The use of an altar is to sacrifice upon the use of a table is "to serve men to eat upon. Now when we come to the Lord's "board, what do we come for? to sacrifice Christ again, and to crucify him again? or to feed upon him that was once only cru"cified and offered up for us? If we come to feed upon him, spiritually to eat his body, and spiritually to drink his blood ;"which is the true use of the Lord's Supper,-then no man can deny that the form of a table is more meet than the form of an "altar." 2
So Jewell, in his Apology (adopted by the whole Church of England as her own,) after describing the one offering of Christ,
Cranmer's Remains, Oxf. 1833. vol. ii. p. 289.
2 Foxe, vol. vi. p. 6.
"If there be any who think that this sacrifice (of Christ upon "the cross,) is not sufficient, let them go and find out a better; "but as for us, because we know this is the only sacrifice, we are " contented with it alone, nor do we expect any other; and be"cause it was only once to be offered, we do not enjoin the repeti"tion of it; and because it was full and perfect in all its members and parts, we do not substitute to it the perpetual successions of "our own sacrifices."
And Archbishop Grindall, Archbishop Sandys, and Bishop Cox, assigning "Reasons why it was not convenient that the Communion should be administered at an Altar," allege this among others :
"Furthermore, an altar hath relation to a sacrifice, for they be "correlative. So that, of necessity, if we allow an altar, we must grant a sacrifice." Which they utterly refused to do.
And Hooker agrees with all these. His explicit sentence is, "Our belief is, that sacrifice is now no part of the Church ministry." But, whether we appeal to Fathers of the English Church, or Fathers of the Nicene Church, there is always insecurity in resting solely or chiefly on mere human opinions. Ridley of one day may be quoted against Ridley of another; just as Augustine and Cyprian will yield passages in abundance to the disputants on either side, in any great controversy. The only safe course that can be taken, is that adopted by Professor Scholefield: "What saith the Scripture?" And surely, to any candid and enquiring mind, it must teach suspicion and a wholesome fear, when he finds the advocates of the Tractarian system writing pamphlet after pamphlet without ever once approaching, or even naming, the only document which can decide the question.
This sort of proceeding would not be endured in any other matter than theology. Imagine a man paying a visit to Doctors' Commons, to ask counsel of a procter. He imagines that he ought to have had a legacy, from a relative lately dead. He begins to recount his reasons for such an expectation; produces notes from the deceased which seem to refer to such an intention, and is proceeding in an interminable story; when the man of law begs to shorten the discussion, by asking, "Did the deceased leave a will?" The answer is in the affirmative. "Well, then, did that will appear to be genuine ;-was it properly executed, witnessed, &c.?" "Yes, there seems no reason to doubt that it was a true will." "Well, then, were any proceedings taken ?" "Yes, I and some other disappointed parties, opposed the probate ;-the case was argued, and the judgment was against us." "Well, have 1 Strype. Ann. vol. i. c. 12.
you got a copy of the will ?" "No." "Have you a note of the judgment of the Court?" "No, I have not either of them." "That is strange; how do you think I can form any idea of the question, without having the documents before me?" "Oh, we do not care for those documents;-I have brought you here a number of other papers, shewing what many people believed to be his intentions, and what they had heard him say, on many occasions." "My dear Sir, I can do nothing with them. In the first place, it is quite impossible to stir a step, without carefully considering the two main documents in the case; the will itself; and the judgment of the Court upon it. But further, I must tell you, that if these two documents are clear and full against you, it will not be the opinions or explanations or interpretations of five hundred other persons, however respectable, that will alter the position of the question. Collateral and circumstantial evidence may be useful in its place; but when we have documentary proof of the highest class to proceed upon, we care little for that which is merely subsidiary."
Exactly similar language would be held in any other department of life. Talk to a statesman about the construction of a treaty,— he would not proceed until he had the treaty before him. Consult a barrister as to the bearing of a statute upon your case,-not a word will he say till the statute itself lies open on his table. But in the present instance a totally different course is taken. Pamphlet after pamphlet is written, to prove that OUR LORD instituted an "Unbloody Sacrifice," to be offered up by priests upon an altar; and, strange to say, the argument is conducted without the least reference to anything said or done by CHRIST on that occasion! Ignatius, who lived a century after, is called to give his opinion; and after him Tertullian; and then Cyprian!
Moderns, in dozens, are then cited to explain what Ignatius and Tertullian said, and thus we are kept earnestly disputing about the notions and practices of A.D. 107, and A.D. 202, and A.D. 258,— quite forgetting, all the while, that we have several authentic records of the institution itself, which took place A.D, 31; and that the most obvious and natural course would be, at once to refer to those records, rather than to some one's opinion about them, recorded a century or more afterwards.
We turn, then, to the divinely-inspired history of the event, touching the nature and character of which all this controversy is now raised. And the very first opening of the subject strikes us, from its utter remoteness from all those things,--altars, and priests, and sacrifices, which are now urged upon us as essential features in the whole transaction.
A leading characteristic of the ordinance is discernible in the fact, that it was upon THE PASSOVER that it was grafted; and to it that it succeeded. No one, we believe, questions, that just as Baptism came in the place of, and superseded circumcision,-so was the Lord's Supper given in the room of the Passover. And this is a fact of the greatest moment in the present controversy, as will be seen when the following extract from Mr. Collison's "Further Remarks," has been read and carefully considered :"Now it cannot be doubted, that in the Jewish Church the power of consecration was confined exclusively to a particular "order of men: it was irrespective of their personal character, so "that though their sins might cause the people to abhor the Lord's "offering, and bring down punishment on themselves and those "whom they caused to err, they were not the less the priests of the Lord, and, to those who continued faithful, the channels of His gifts, though they themselves had forfeited His favour. The "Altar was guarded by a memorial of one of the most awful " events in their history, the supernatural destruction of a part of "the sacred tribe who had claimed the priesthood without being "called to it; the censers which they had used in their unlicensed "ministry being preserved by express command, to warn every one who was not of the sacerdotal line that a similar punishment I might befal him, if like Korah and his company he should draw near to offer at the Altar. (Numb. xvi. 40.)
"In the Christian Church, which is gathered out of every nation, "the succession of orders is appointed instead of the natural des"cent, so that the priest receives his authority at the hands of the "spiritual Fathers of the Church, as the descendant of Aaron de"rived his through his fathers according to the flesh; the practice of "the apostles and their successors, as learned from canonical and "ecclesiastical writings, having shewn us that the Holy Ghost "consecrates to the office of priesthood, and gives authority to "execute it by the laying on of the hands of those who under "Christ have received the chief spiritual authority in the Church."1
Hence, we see how adroitly the Passover is put out of sight; and having first assumed that the Supper is a sacrifice, and the table an altar, the mind of the reader is then carried, not to our Lord's institution, but to something quite foreign to the question, -the Altar of Burnt-Offering and the Aaronic priesthood.
The answer to all this is, that our Lord might have made the sacrament of his body and blood a sacrifice following and superseding the temple-sacrifices, if he had thought fit to do so. But he saw it right to do quite otherwise; and, as the Homily rightly
1 Collison's Further Remarks, pp. 21, 22.