Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Our Venerable Liturgy
By William Ingraham Kip (18111893)
[Born in New York, N. Y., 1811. Died at San Francisco, Cal., 1893. The Double Witness of the Church. 1849.]
EQUALLY important is the influence of a Liturgy upon a Church collectively. It preserves its orthodoxy unimpaired. Without a prescribed form of prayer, each individual teacher is left to inculcate such doctrines as best suit his own private views. He may preach error, and then pray in accordance with it. There is no standard to which his people can at all times direct their attention, and judge of his doctrines. He may become a disbeliever in one of the cardinal articles of the Christian faith, but if he omit all mention of it, both in his sermons and prayers, it may not be brought before the attention of his people for years, and thus insensibly, yet gradually, they fall into his errors.
Such, however, can never be the case where there is a Liturgy like that of our Church. Let one who ministers at our altars become heretical, and he cannot lead his people with him. He may for a time preach his views, but each prayer he reads in the service will contradict him, and proclaim most unequivocally that he is faithless to the Church. Thus he will be placed in a false position, until at last he is compelled to go out from us, showing that he is not of us.
Now see how this has always been exemplified. What religious society without a Liturgy has ever subsisted for any length of time, and yet not wandered from its early faith? Look at those on the continent of Europe, which, after the Reformation, while they abandoned the Apostolical ministry, gave up the ancient Liturgy also. To what result have those in Germany been led? Why, we see them wandering in all the mazes of rationalism, each year tending downward to a darker, more hopeless infidelity. What is the faith which now prevails at Geneva, where once John Calvin inculcated his stern and rigid creed? There all is changed, and in place of the strictness of his views, we have the latitude and coldness of those who scoff at the Divinity of our Lord. We are compelled, then, to regard the reformation on the continent as a thing that has passed away .
So it is, too, among the dissenters in England, and the same pulpits in which, during the last century, their ablest divines preached, are now held by Socinians. And is not this the case in our own land, where even the descendants of the New England Puritans have abandoned their faith, and substituted in its place the most fearful heresies, denying the Lord that bought them! There is reason, therefore, for that exclamation, uttered by Buchanan, the apostle of the EastWoe to the declining Church which hath not a Gospel Liturgy!
But where could this melancholy history be written of any who adhered faithfully to a prescribed form in their public devotions? Take our own Church, for example. Investigate the doctrines which are embodied in her formularies, and you will find that they are now what they were eighteen centuries ago. Faithless and unworthy men have indeed at times been the teachers of the Church, but their errors passed away with them, and the great body of her members, by looking to the Liturgy for instruction, still hold to their steadfastness. Its holy language, bearing the impress, and breathing forth the spirit of the purest days, is stamped upon the memory of each one of her true children, and wrought into the very texture of his mind. Her beautiful services, adapted to every change and circumstance of life, from the cradle to the grave, speak to his heart with a power which no extemporaneous prayer can have. In these words his fathers have worshipped. These prayers, perhaps, have trembled upon the lips of some whom he has loved, but who long since have passed away to their reward. By the chain of association they unite him to the departed. They recall them to his memory, and thus, by means of these petitions, he lives again in scenes which have long since gone. Oh, solemnly and sweetly do these words and these services come home to the Churchmans heart! He would not part with themso rich in hallowed recollectionsfor all the eloquence that modern wisdom could devise. He clings to them through life, and trusts that the last sound which shall fall upon his dying ear will be that solemn prayer by which the Church commends the departing spirit to the mercy of its God.
Thus it is, that a thousand remembrances gather around our time-honored Ritual and commend it to our affection. We have seen, that in this manner the followers of our Master worshipped, even in the Apostolic age. When, therefore, we are called to abandon it, and adopt in its place the extemporaneous effusions of man in our public worship, may we not reply in the words of ScriptureWe have no such custom, neither the Churches of God? We will not fear to walk in our Lords footsteps and to follow those ancient confessors and martyrs, who, in the earliest, purest days of our faith, amidst sufferings and trials won their way to Heaven. Did they lack spirituality, or find their devotion cramped and narrowed down by the words of a Liturgy? Has the whole Christian Church been in a grievous error on this subject, until within the last three hundred years? No, brethren: and the best we can do in our feebleness is, to tread in the old paths, and hold fast to the form of sound words which was used in our fathers days, and in the old time before them. Our venerable Liturgy speaks to us in the language of Gods own word. Let us strive to imbibe its holy spirit, and we shall need no better preparation for death.