THE BISHOP OF NATAL ON PRAYER TO CHRIST.
THERE is something startling enough in the intellectual and spiritual contrasts of our time ;—here, a hallelujah to phy- sical science and the electric telegraph,—there, au eloquent vin- dication of the divine and universal authority of the poor old man called the successor of St. Peter ; —here, a philosopher speaking with the calknest assurance of the universal genius of Comte and the scientific certainty of the assumptions which expose at once the irrationality and redundance of the " hypothesis of a God,"— there, a theologian devoting his whole soul to the question whether, in addressing infinite and omnipresent Persons in per- manent and perfect union with each other and in organic relation with the spirit of man, it is justifiable for us in our inward -thoughts to concentrate our attention on any one of these Persons, or whether it is forbidden us to address the Son in whom we live, except through the Father in whom He lives. This last question, so wide apparently of all those on which the Age spends its vigour, is that which has been raised, certainly in a very incomplete and unsatisfactory form, by the Bishop who has already with his own peculiar naivete opened up so many divisions and roused so much wholesome discussion in the national Church. To many men and very many journalists, there would seem some- thing almost absurd in even stating a question so nearly allied in -character to many of the finest of the scholastic distinctions of medieval theology. It is because we believe that there are real questions of this apparently refined and scholastic nature which lie at the very basis of national energy and national morality, that we, who feel nothing but cordial admiration for the victories of modern science, still enter with the deepest interest into a dis- cussion at which Dr. Tyndall would only shrug his shoulders and Mr. Lewes and the Comtists would probably laugh.
The Bishop of Natal, we repeat, has addressed himself to this question in the sermon now before us* in the most narrow textual spirit. He goes over ground well trodden by the Unitarians with- out apparently, certainly without consciously, adopting the Uni- tarian principle which gives it a meaning. He preaches from the text " When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven," and insists that in this prayer our Lord prescribed, not indeed the only words, but the only method, in which Christians are allowed to pray. The Bishop goes over many of the passages in which Christ directs His disciples to pray to the Father in His name, and he interprets, therefore, "calling on the name of the Lord Jesus" as the mode appointed by Christ of invoking the Father in His name, and not as implying any direct address to Christ. He explains the few passages in which Christ is directly addressed, as where St. Stephen says, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,' or St. Paul implores the Lord to remove the thorn in his flesh, and receives the reply, My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness,'—as recording addresses to Christ justified by a supersensual vision, in which His form appeared to the eye of the disciple thus addressing Him ; and he rejects the Second Epistle of Peter, in which glory is ascribed directly to Christ as spurious. The doctrine of the sermon, though resting only on textual authority, and not apparently,—certainly, as we have said, not consciously,—on any denial of the divinity of our Lord, clearly demands the absolute omission of all prayers to Christ, and there is something very feeble in the refusal of the Bishop to accept this obvious conclusion. If the sermon be sound at all, the large section of the Litany certainly addressed to Christ, the shorter interspersed prayers,—called by the Bishop ' ejaculations'—towards the end of the Litany,—and the few Collects of the same nature, are in abso- lute disobedience of Christ's command,—for he ends his sermon by an exhortation to honour Christ "by obeying His commands, by following His direction, and the example of His Apostles," in saying, when we pray, " Our Father, &c."
* A Sermon preached In the Cathedral Church of St. Peter's, Maritzburg, on NataSundayl. morning and evening, April 8, 1860, by the Bight Rev.the Lord Bishop of While quite acquitting the Bishop of Natal of any intention to reject the realistic theology of the Incarnation on which direct spiritual converse with Christ is naturally founded, we must say that his argument would deserve far more intellectual respect if it did rest on some such negation, instead of on the sayings of our Lord which he cites, and on the practice attributed to the early Church. There is something so absurd and unnatural in the attempt to reconcile a theology which asserts a living spiritual bond between the Son of God and every man, with a prohibition to con- verse in spirit with Him, that it would take express commands a thousandfold stronger than all the Bishop has produced to obtain submission to any limitation so unnatural. If the Bishop's argu- ment proved anything, it would prove that Christ is not in direct spiritual contact with men, in other words, it would prove the truth of the ordinary Unitarian thesis. Only conceive for a moment, the artificial position of drawing consciously daily life and strength from the direct inspiration of divine spirits to whom it is forbidden to raise the heart in equally direct gratitude or yearning ; and yet that is precisely the stiff posture to which, if the Bishop is right and the theology of our Church is also right, he wishes to condemn us. The instinct of nature alone is a sufficient warrant for the right, nay, the moral necessity, of replying, whether in spirit or in body, to those who directly address us : and the Bishop will scarcely be so unreal as to contend that we may address Christ in spiritual thought, that we may assume the attitude of direct gratitude and direct yearning to Him, knowing that He sees and can reply to it, but that we may not put that gratitude and that yearning into words. The distinction would be a mockery of all spiritual realism. If the prohibition means anything, it must go behind the verbal address, and forbid the spiritual attitude of ad- dress. In short the technical forms of diplomacy, which require a Foreign Minister (sty in England) to answer to his own ambassador at any Court (suppose of France) any inquiry addressed by France to the Ambassador of France in England, would be rivalled and even caricatured in the spirit of man, if it were demanded of us that, receiving all God's love through Christ, we should sedulously take care to pour out our hearts in return to the Father alone, although conscious that the eternal Son would overhear and thus indirectly receive our communication. Such a conventional limi- tation, such an absurd constraint on the attitude of the human spirit,—for that is the sum and substance of the matter, the real thoughts of our heart being of course as open to one person of the Godhead as the other,—is an impossibility. What the Bishop con- tends for, supposing the theology of our Church to be true, is a mere matter of spiritual etiquette, devoid of the slightest mean- ing. It is a mere injunction as to the particular aide of the divine life in God on which we are to concentrate our atten- tion in prayer, not an injunction which affects the goal of our prayer in the least, but only determines the focus of our own mental sight. There would be as much meaning in fixing a name by which we are always to pray to God, and in prohibiting mental prayer without the use of that name. The whole conception of the Bishop's sermon, supposing, as we have every right to suppose, that he is not proposing to modifythe theology of the English Church but only to retrench its forms of worship, is one which, carried out to its proper logical conclusion, proposes to put the spirit of man during prayer into a sort of strait waiscoat, and to insist on his not glancing aside from the Father to the Son, who is equally present with him, and may chance at the moment to be uppermost in his thoughts. And even then, to make his sermon consistent, we repeat that the Bishop should decline altogether to use the petitions addressed to the Son or the Holy Spirit in the Litany and the Collects.
Do we, then, maintain that there is no meaning in the express language of our Lord, which the Bishop quotes from St. John and elsewhere, about the strict subordination of the Son to the Father ? or again in the Bishop's own beautiful and true language con- cerning the Fatherhood of God as the fundamental truth on which all prayer is founded? On the contrary, we hold that that language is the very basis of the Nicene theology, and that it is the one great object of St. John's Gospel,—the one Gospel which asserts the divinity and eternity of the Son in the strongest and most touch- ing language,—to make us realize the dependent and derived nature of the Son, and see that therein consists its special glory, and the special light it reveals to man. ' I can do nothing of myself,' I have not spoken of myself ; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment what I should say and what I should speak,' is the dominant truth of St. John's teaching. All thought of Christ which forgets to think of Him as the Son of God, the derived divine life, the dependent, the filial perfection, is false thought. All prayer which stops at Christ, and does not see in Christ 'the express image of His Father's person,' is mis- directed prayer. It is as the perfect filial will that Christ mani- fests Himself to us ; and a perfect filial will has no meaning except as resting in the perfect underived will of the Father. Here, then, is the true theological limit of prayer to Christ. There must be no prayer to Christ which ignores the essential divinity of Christ,—the filial divinity. The prayers in the Litany certainly do not ignore this ; for in the long recital of the cross and passion, the death and burial and resurrection, and all the details of Christ's perfect submission to His Father's will, the mind is compelled to realize at every step that His aid is invoked only to gain the true filial spirit, a spirit of perfect obedience and love for the Father. It is the same in the later prayers of. the Litany, where the alternate addresses 0 Christ, hear us,' Lord, have mercy upon us,' Christ, have mercy upon us,' 0 Lamb of God, which takest away the sins of the world, grant us thy peace,'— seem prepared on purpose to stamp on the heart of the worshipper the true essence and power of Christ's divinity,—his perfect Son- ship. Not for a moment do these prayers allow the mind to rest en the Son of God as the ultimate and original love. Everywhere He is kept before us as the perfect reflection, the full manifestation, the divine revealer of the love which sent Him into the world, and to which He was absolutely subject. That there are many hymns which lose sight of this truth, and tend to introduce tritheism, by addressing Christ as if He were more loving, or more merciful, or more to be trusted than the Father, is true enough, and Dr. Colenso was quite right to expunge them. But to conceive that the mere fact of addressing Christ directly at all tends to obliterate His filial subordination from-our hearts seems to us absurd. You might as well say that to converse with .a true ambassador tends to obliterate the recollection of his subor- dination, instead of to enforce it more deeply upon us—or, to touch the exact point, that direct communion with the Father tends to obliterate the recollection of this Fatherhood and His divine manifestation through His Son. Prayers to Christ that keep before the mind the essential nature of Christ as the Son of God, are„. not obstructions to communion with the Father, but direct helps to it. It is they who omit to commune in spirit with either, who are most likely to lose sight of the eternal union in the full manifestation of which the Gospel consists, not those who keep ever before their hearts the thought that communion with either is communion with both. To suppose, as the Bishop of Natal does, that St. Paul, who speaks constantly of the revelation of the Son of God in him, who says familiarly in speaking -of his own actions that it was not he who did them, but Christ that worked in him, who talks of his heart being hidden ' with Christ in God,' who says that Christ is not to be found by Ascending into heaven, or descending into the deep, but close at the very fountains of the heart, whose every letter is full of this conviction of our common life in Christ from beginning to end,— -such common life as the members have in the body, to use his own favourite illustration,—to suppose that he limited himself by spiritual etiquette not to address the Christ in whom he lived, is -Cwntrary to all reason and even nature. And the Bishop's proofs -are indeed the faintest possible presumptions, which, if they are to have any logical meaning and coherence, should be founded ex- pressly on the Unitarian tenet,—a tenet, untrue as we hold it to be, yet not without much more plausible textual support,—that -Christ, being purely human, ceased entirely to hold any direct -communion with his disciples on earth, after His ascension. The Bishop does not hint even at such a belief, and we have no doubt ,does not hold it. But he has fallen into a line of thought which _seems to us almost without a drift or meaning, except in connec- tion with it. Life in Christ' under a vow of more than Trappist severity, of spiritual silence towards Christ, is neither Christianity nor common sense.