“The Reformed Episcopalian and His Prayer Book” is the seventh sermon in Bishop Charles Edward Cheynes’ sermon series, What Do Reformed Episcopalians Believe? Bishop Cheyene’s observations are as relevant today as they were when they were first made over a hundred years ago. His sermon is a ringing condemnation of the direction of recent liturgical revision in the Episcopal Church and the Reformed Episcopal Church and of the present liturgical revision in the Anglican Church in North America. It takes issue with the erroneous belief that Evangelicals and other Protestant-minded Anglicans can maintain their theological identity and pass it on to posterity in a purportedly Anglican Church with an unreformed Catholic catechism and liturgy.
“And it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples,” St. Luke xi: 1.
Among the external peculiarities of our Church, none attracts more attention than the fact that we worship with a liturgy, or precomposed form of devotion. Precisely as some singularity of feature or expression of the face, is more quickly noticed than a more important and vital singularity of inward character, so does our Prayer Book worship more readily arrest attention than our doctrinal principles.
For three hundred years a controversy has agitated the Protestant Churches, regarding set forms of prayer. But ancient as the discussion is, it has not died of old age. It is a living question to-day. Like many other debated points, it has not always been discussed with a large-minded fairness or Christian temper. I earnestly trust that moderation and sincerity may be the features of our consideration of it.
I. Why Does the Reformed Episcopalian Employ a Prayer Book in Public Worship?
In my boyhood, when commerce was conducted by the aid of a currency more varied than the leaves upon the trees, every counting-house was provided with a “counterfeit detector.” It settled every question. To its standard every suspected bank note was referred. We have a far more infallible “detector” of what is false in religion. The rock on which the Protestant builds, is the Word of God alone. To that supreme test we must submit. Hence if a liturgy employed in public worship, is clearly inconsistent with the Bible, the sooner we reject precomposed prayer, the better.
It must be a hasty glance which we give at the past history of God's people, but it certainly will shed some light upon the vexed question of liturgical worship. When God had delivered Israel at the Red Sea, the rescued people engaged in a solemn act of worship, Exodus xv. Moses and the men of Israel sang a chant of thanksgiving. But Miriam and the women take up the burden of the same words, and sing them responsively. It is difficult to see how such worship could have been conducted without some prearranged form.
Again, in the 6th chapter of the book of Numbers, God speaks to Moses and gives him this direction: “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, On this wise shall ye bless the children of Israel, saying unto them,” and then follows a long and elaborate benediction, of which every word is precomposed and prescribed.
In the 10th chapter of the same book, Moses is described as using a set form of words whenever the Ark of God led forth the people, and whenever it rested on their march.
Five hundred years later, we find David using a form of worship when the Ark, after long captivity is brought to Jerusalem, Ps. Ixviii: cxxxii.
When Solomon offered his solemn prayer at the dedication of the Temple, he uses the very language prepared and written by his father David in the preceding generation. (Comp. 2 Chron vi: 41 with Ps. cxxxiii.)
But why go back to a period so remote? Let our text bear its witness. Twice over did Jesus give to his disciples what we call the " Lord's Prayer," It was in response to their appeal, “Teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”
No one believes that the Jews who composed the following of Christ, were strangers to the act of prayer. They clearly meant to say that John the Baptist had taught his disciples some form of supplication adapted to their needs under his preparatory stage of the Kingdom of God, And now Christ's followers ask for a form of prayer that shall be an advance upon John's — a distinctively Christian prayer. And with that request the Saviour complied. He not only said, “After this manner therefore pray ye,” Matt, vi: 9, but also as St, Luke records, “When ye pray, say” — thus distinctly giving them a liturgical form, Luke xi: 2. Surely we need no stronger evidence that a form is not necessarily out of harmony with either the Old or the New Testament.
But another reason impels the Reformed Episcopalian. A responsive form of worship is a continual protest against a ministerial and priestly monopolizing of the public service of God. It is an easy way to rid one's self of all business cares, to “sign a power of attorney,” by which a man divests himself of his own personal rights, and transfers his individuality to another.
That act, in the sphere of religion, constitutes the Roman Catholic idea. The rights, responsibilities and duties of the laymen are transferred to the priest. All religious worship centres in the celebration of the mass. It is not needful that any beside the priest should be present. The people have in it no necessary share.
When the Reformation came, its leaders were quick to see that one of the most effective means to secure to the laity a recognized place in the Church, was a responsive liturgy. Luther prepared forms of worship for Germany. The Swedish Reformers followed his example. The Moravians possess and use to-day a service book, dating back to 1632 Calvin was among the earliest to perceive the importance of a book of common prayer, and himself gave a liturgy to the churches of Switzerland. Even the Presbyterians of Scotland, in Reformation days, did not wholly depart from the principle of a pre-arranged mode of public worship. (McClintock & Strong's Cyclop., Art. “Liturgy.”)
In England a Scriptural Prayer Book was felt to be the first essential step toward giving the layman his Christian rights. Cranmer and his fellow-workers called to their aid the great lights of the Reformation in other lands, and with their help laid in the English Church the deep foundations of liturgical worship. But in every case the underlying principle, and the impelling motive were the same. It was the conviction that nothing can guard the rights of the Christian layman against priestly encroachment, like a form of worship in which the people have their necessary share.
Moreover, a liturgy possesses a singular teaching power. One can always discover a man's doctrinal views from his prayers. Precomposed or extemporaneous, a prayer is like the coin bearing the image and superscription of the mint in which it was stamped. Consequently prayer must be a powerful doctrinal preacher. The public worship in a congregation is continually teaching either falsehood or truth. But extempore prayers, of necessity change with every alteration in the belief of him who leads the worship.
The manifest advantage of a precomposed form is that it steadily and persistently teaches the same truth. Out of an old-fashioned iron studded door, it is possible to draw the nails. But only by reducing the door itself to a heap of chips. So with a liturgy. Only by its destruction can you separate from it the truth it contains. Were I to become a Unitarian, and deny from this pulpit the essential Divinity of Christ, the liturgy with its supreme exaltation of the Saviour, with its threefold ascriptions to the persons of the Trinity, would steadily give the lie to every sermon I could preach.
There can be no more striking witness to this principle, than is furnished by the present condition of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Forty years ago the vast majority of the laity, a goodly proportion of the clergy, and nearly one half of the House of Bishops, were avowedly evangelical low churchmen. Today the old evangelical party is like the race of mound-builders of our Western plains. It is hopelessly extinct. Why? Because the Prayer Book was a more powerful teacher than the evangelical pulpit. Baptismal regeneration, priestly absolution, a sacrifice in the Lord's supper, and an exclusive church system, were interwoven with the fibre of the services. They persistently contradicted the low churchman in his pulpit. I bless God that the Reformed Episcopalian has a Prayer Book which is a consistent teacher of evangelical truth. I may be false to the Gospel. So may every other minister of this Church. But so long as this Prayer Book is used for our worship — so long will the desk overcome the pulpit in its teaching power.
Such are some of the reasons why the Reformed Episcopal Church is a liturgical Church. They are reasons which are not only satisfactory to us, but are profoundly influencing other Christian Churches. Within the past three years the thinking Christians of our own country have been stirred by an able discussion on this subject in one of the great literary magazines. (Vide The Century Magazine, 1885, ‘86, ‘87.) That debate, participated in by the leading minds of all the churches, was initiated by a distinguished Presbyterian clergyman, who advocated liturgical worship as the best method of uniting the scattered forces of Protestant Christianity. Right or wrong in his conclusions, he certainly has brought the fact to light, that in the minds of evangelical believers there is a growing conviction in the direction of a precomposed form of public worship. The Reformed Episcopalian can desire for his own Church and liturgy nothing better than such an agitation of Christian thought.
II. What is the Prayer Book of the Reformed Episcopal Church?
The impression has been created that ours is a new liturgy, sprung upon the world like a fresh invention in mechanics. If such were the case, it would justly prejudice the Christian mind against it. For a prayer book is not like the tree which Japanese jugglers make to spring up and grow to full stature in an hour. It must be the product of the ages. There is a reverence in the prayerful disciple of Christ, which leads him to feel that if he is to worship in the use of forms of prayer, they must be those in which the penitence and praise, the hope and faith of ages past have found expression. Precisely such is the Prayer Book of the Reformed Episcopalian.
It may surprise some who hear me today, to be told that in almost every instance in which we have departed from the liturgy of the Protestant Episcopal Church, we have gone back to the second Prayer Book of Edward the Sixth, the work of the martyrs of the English Reformation. Ours is therefore a more ancient form of prayer than that with which we formerly worshipped. Moreover, those parts of our service in which our liturgy agrees with that of our mother Church, have been handed down from the earliest ages of Christianity.
There is nothing in uninspired language that stirs my soul like the old hymn called the “Te Deum,” “We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord!” It bears me back upon its sublime praise to the days when Christians, driven from the surface of the earth, met for worship in rock-hewn catacombs. Nor can I forget, as an American, that this was the first Christian song heard on the soil of this Continent, when Columbus fell upon his knees, and the Te Deum praised God for a new Western world.
But at the very latest, the Te Deum was used as early as the sixth century. (Wheatley, p. 150. Procter's Hist, of P. B., p. 223.) The Gloria in Excelsis, the opening words of which were sung by the angelic choirs when Christ was born, has voiced the praise of believers for at least twelve hundred years. (Palmer, Origines Liturg. II, 158 ; Procter, p. 361 ; Wheatley, p. 335.) The Apostles’ Creed has been the outline of Christian doctrine accepted and repeated in worship, from the fourth century. (Procter, p. 229 ; Wheatley, p. 155.) Nor is what we call the Nicene Creed of much later date. Originating in the year 325, and put in its present form half a century later, since the year 381, its clear and trumpet-like tones have proclaimed the Divinity of the Saviour. (Procter, p. 229.)
Still more ancient are the Versicles, “The Lord be with you;” “And with thy spirit.” (Wheatley, p. 160 ; Procter, p. 240.) The great majority of all the brief prayers which we call “collects,” have breathed the pleadings of believers into the ear of God for more than twelve centuries. (Wheatley, p. 212 ; Procter, p. 271.) Surely, such a heritage, consecrated and hallowed by the devotion of Christian ages, and fragrant with the memories of saints in glory, is a possession which no true believer will despise.
But it will be said that the Protestant Episcopal Church claims all this sanction of the centuries for its liturgy, and that we changed what was handed down to us by the Reformers of the English Church. Is it true?
Through three hundred years of growth in art, no painter has been vain enough to try his pencil in attempting to improve Raphael's matchless picture of the Transfiguration. If like that masterpiece, the liturgy of the old Church came down to us precisely as the Reformers bequeathed it, then his would indeed be a bold hand which should venture on its revision. But exactly the opposite is the truth. The Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church has known no less than seven revisions. Five of these were made in England, and two in the United States of America. Some of these revisions were in the interest of Protestant and Scriptural truth, some sought to assimilate its worship to that of the Church of Rome. But the fact stands attested by the unerring witness of history, that our fathers both in England and America, have no less than seven times deliberately revised the Book of Common Prayer. Like some old cathedral, it has seen in each period of the past, some dilapidated portion taken down, and new additions made.
It is ignorance of this indubitable fact of history, which has made many Episcopalians feel that to revise the Prayer Book were a sacrilege like revising the Word of God. They have been led to imagine that as the old Ephesians supposed that their silver statue of Diana dropped down from Jupiter out of the skies, so this silvery liturgy had dropped down from the sacred hands of the Reformers.
When Henry VIII for wholly worldly reasons broke away from the Papal power, no attempt had been made to have throughout the English Church a uniform public service. There were different forms or “uses,” as they were called, indifferent dioceses of England. But with Henry's death, his son, Edward VI, mounted the throne. It was like the young Josiah succeeding to the crown of his idolatrous father. Then came what may be called the first revision of the Prayer Book. It was the work of men educated in the Roman Church, and just opening their blind eyes for the first time to the light. They saw “men as trees walking.”' No wonder that the liturgy they produced was full of the false teachings in which its compilers had been trained. No wonder that this first Prayer Book of Edward VI taught that the Lord's supper was a sacrifice, the holy table an altar. No wonder that it permitted auricular confession and prayers for the dead.
Cranmer and his associates were all this time studying the Bible. Slowly but surely they came into the full light of the Gospel. Three years after the first Prayer Book of Edward VI, was published, they could not conscientiously use it, and in 1552 the second Prayer Book of Edward VI, appeared. Strange as it may seem— that liturgy, given to the Church of England, three hundred and thirty-six years ago, when the Christian world was just emerging from its long night of Papal darkness, was the most truly Protestant service book that the English Church has ever possessed. Its baptismal service, it is true, taught a grievous error. But aside from that, it was almost wholly Scriptural and evangelical. It rejected superstitious ceremonies. It cast out the doctrine of “the real presence” in the bread and wine. It expunged the word “altar” as applied to the Lord's table. It did away with auricular confession. And to the communion service it added the very rubric which you will find substantially in your Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book (but not in that of the Protestant Episcopal Church) explaining that when we kneel at the communion, we mean no act of adoration of the elements of bread and wine. (Blakeney, p. 34. Procter, pp. 37-39)
Time forbids that I should more than mention tlie later alterations of the Prayer Book in the English Church. In 1559, Queen Elizabeth sought to reconcile her Popish subjects by a new revision. It was then that the rubric to which I have just referred was stricken out. (Blakeney, p. 51 ; Procter, pp. 59 and 60.) The sun of reform moved backward in the ecclesiastical sky. Every change made was in the direction of conformity to the Church of Rome.
Twice was the English Prayer Book revised under the monarchs of the House of Stuart. But in each case, the changes made it less and less the Protestant liturgy which Edward VI had bequeathed. Under Charles II, the most godless and morally corrupt king that ever disgraced the English crown, no less than six hundred changes were made in the services. (Procter, p. 137.) But Archbishop Laud was the Primate of the Church of England. A Romanist in everything except the name, he gave a Romeward impulse to the work of revision, and the Prayer Book of 1662 became thenceforward the liturgy of the English Church, (Procter, Chap. V.) (Fisher on the Prayer Book, Chap. lV.)
Now observe what this hurried historic glance reveals. It demolishes the absurd notion that there is no precedent for revising the Book of Common Prayer. What our English forefathers did not hesitate repeatedly to do, we have a right to undertake. But it also shows the reason why the Church of England was always “a house divided against itself.” The ancient creeds and prayers, the Scriptural anthems and versicles, and indeed the whole framework of the liturgy, were teaching evangelical truth and making low churchmen of multitudes who faithfully used it in worship. On the other hand, the Church catechism, the baptismal, the communion and the ordination services were mixing subtle poison in the children's bread, and steadily creating a drift toward the Church of Rome.
A century passed away, and the American colonies became a free nation. Episcopalians were scattered throughout the land, without bishops and without a Prayer Book adapted to the altered circumstances in which they were placed. In the year 1785, a convention of clergy and laity met in the City of Philadelphia, to take measures for the organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church in tlie United States. Its president was the venerable William White, afterwards bishop of that Church in Pennsylvania. Among its lay delegates were such men as John Jay, James Duane, Francis Hopkinson, and Charles Pinckney — men whose genius and patriotism made the Revolutionary period of our national history an era of surpassing splendor. That convention appointed a committee to revise the English Prayer Book. The result of their work was “the Prayer Book of 1785.”
In all its distinguishing features it went back to the old Reformation work of 1552 — the second and Protestant Prayer Book of King Edward VI. It left out all assertion of necessary regeneration in baptism, all suggestion of “real presence” in the bread and wine of the Lord's supper; it expunged the word “priest,” and substituted “minister.” In one word, it was a Protestant and evangelical liturgy from cover to coyer.
Adopted by the convention, the new Prayer Book was read in worship at the closing session by Dr. White. Let us see what followed.
Dr. William White, of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Samuel Provoost, of New York, were subsequently chosen bishops, and on the 7th of February, 1787, were consecrated to their office by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth in England. That consecration was on the basis of the Prayer Book as revised by the convention of 1785. (See Appendix)* That Prayer Book of Bishop White, is in all essential features the one adopted by our Reformed Episcopal Church, and with which we worship to-day.
But before 1785, Dr. Samuel Seabury, of Connecticut — an extreme ritualist and high churchman, had failed of securing for himself Episcopal consecration from the English Church. Its bishops had grave doubts whether he had ever been duly chosen to the office. (Internat. Review, July, 1881, pp. 319-322.) Then Dr. Seabury appealed to the Scottish Episcopal Church to aid him. By that extreme semi-Romish communion, his secret election, in which no layman had any part, was accepted, and he was consecrated at Aberdeen nearly three years before the consecration of Bishops White and Provoost.
But Dr. Seabury's consecration was given by the Scottish Episcopal Church with a purpose in view. It was followed by his solemn pledge that he would introduce into the American liturgy, the idea of a priestly sacrifice in the Lord's supper. (See Bp. Seabury's “Concordat,” in Blakeney's Hist, of the Prayer Book, pp. 159-161.) That pledge he fulfilled to the letter. He persuaded Bishop White to give a reluctant assent to uniting the Church in Connecticut with the newly formed Protestant Episcopal Church.
Bishop Provoost to the last was opposed to Bishop Seabury's admission. But in 1789, when the Prayer Book of 1785 had hardly come into general use, the influence of Bishop Seabury succeeded in overthrowing the work of the first Convention of the American Episcopal Church. The Prayer Book on the basis of which the English bishops had consecrated Bishops White and Provoost, was rejected. A new liturgy, permeated by the sacramental and ritualistic teachings of Bishop Seabury and his Scottish consecrators, was adopted. This last is the Prayer Book of the Protestant Episcopal Church to-day.
The Prayer Book of the Reformed Episcopalian is the old and original liturgy, adopted by the first Convention of the American Episcopal Church, and on the ground of which its first bishops were consecrated.
III. How Should the Reformed Episcopalian Use His Prayer Book?
It is needless to say that he ought to use it intelligently. The best of tools may be worthless, and even dangerous, in the hands of the ignorant. The Prayer Book needs to be understood in order to be a genuine help to devotion. To such an understanding, its history which we have studied in this sermon, is essential.
But the Reformed Episcopalian needs to be an intelligent student of his liturgy because sincere Christians are sometimes intensely prejudiced against it. The believer who worships with a liturgy should be able in all Christian charity to defend it. He will find that many earnest but ignorant Christians believe a Prayer Book to be Popish. He will be told, “You worship with a book; so does the Romanist.”
The answer is, that it is no argument against what is good in religion, that a corrupt church employs it. On the same ground we might reject the Atonement and the Trinity. Does any man refuse quinine when malaria has laid hold upon his physical strength, because the tree which furnishes the drug, grows in the most malarious land on earth?
Nor is it true that the Roman Church has anything corresponding to our “common prayer.” Her priests and her people have different service books. But any one book which requires concurrent worship on the part of the clergy and the laity, is something unknown to the Papal Church. -(Mc-Clintock & Strong's Cyclop., Art. “Liturgy.”)
We shall also find that the prejudice exists, that a liturgy inevitably produces formalism. We are told that a Prayer Book makes the worshipper a mere parrot-like employer of phrases to which he attaches no meaning. But the argument is childish. You may pour melted lead into a mould, or let it flow freely out upon the ground. But it will grow hard in the one case as in the other If a man loses his hold on Christ, and ceases to seek sincerely for the influences of the Holy Spirit, there will be coldness and spiritual hardening, deadness and formality, whether he pray extemporaneously or with a liturgy. For many years, though myself an Episcopalian, I listened every Sunday to the preaching, and joined in the public prayers of a distinguished Congregational pastor. Yet with each sentence of “the long prayer,” I knew what the next was to be, precisely as I do in the petitions of the litany. It was a form of prayer after all. Yet I am very sure that sainted man was not “a formalist.”
Can any good reason be given against precomposed prayers, which does not equally apply to precomposed hymns of praise ? Well did old JohnNewton write,
“Crito freely will rehearse
Forms of prayer and praise in verse ;
Why should Crito then suppose
Forms are sinful when in prose?
Must my form be deemed a crime,
Merely from the want of rhyme?”
Still again, prejudice charges that in the litany especially, we indulge in what Christ forbade as “vain repetitions.”
But the intelligent worshipper with a Prayer Book cannot forget that the Psalms of David, composed and used for public worship, are marked by precisely such repetitions. Nor did our Lord rebuke repetition in prayer, but “vain” or empty repetition. On that awful night of His agony in the garden, three times did He pray that the cup might pass from Him, “saying,” St. Matthew expressly records, “the same words.” We need not fear formalism when following in his blessed steps. An intelligent use of his Prayer Book will prevent formalism in public worship, because no Reformed Episcopalian can study his liturgy, without perceiving that it is not a tyrant to hold him in bondage, but a teacher to instruct him. He cannot open his Prayer Book without confronting the “Declaration of Principles,” announcing that this Church retains a liturgy, “which shall not be imperative, or repressive of freedom in prayer.” He turns a few pages, and finds an extract from the Canons, ordered by the General Council to be printed in every edition of the Prayer Book, which provides “that nothing in this Canon is to be understood as precluding extempore prayer before or after sermons, or on emergent occasions.”
After the General Thanksgiving in the morning prayer, the Reformed Episcopalian reads a rubric distinctly allowing extemporaneous supplication to be substituted for what are called “the occasional prayers,” i. e., those for the sick, the afflicted, or those in peril by sea or land. And if this shall lead him to a broader investigation ot the spirit and practice of his Church, he will find that its General Council has directed the encouragement of laymen to engage in meetings for social prayer, and that such meetings are universal in the parishes which compose our entire communion.
But the Reformed Episcopalian should use his prayer book not only intelligently, but spiritually. Who is the man that is stirred in soul, uplifted into a new world, quickened in every faculty, as he gazes on a masterpiece of art, or listens to burning eloquence, or is swept along the tide of delicious song? Only the man who deliberately yields himself up to it, and loses himself and all around him, in it.
So it is in worship, whether extemporaneous or precomposed. We must give ourselves sincerely to it. We bow our heads in silent prayer when we enter the sanctuary. Doubtless we ask that such absorption in worship shall be our experience. But how do we carry it out? I fear that too often we grieve the Spirit by making no honest effort to lose ourselves in the service. Some are in the habit of leaving the worship to their neighbors. Others respond indeed to the psalter, but take no part in the litany, nor have a hearty voice for the “Amen” at the close of every prayer.
From the beginning to the end of the service, the Prayer Book should never leave your hands, except in the Scripture reading. When you close it in anthem or in prayer, you lead yourself into temptation to wandering thoughts, and set an evil example to those around you.
Nor only so; but our very postures have their relation to our spiritual enjoyment and blessing in the worship. The reason why people do not kneel in prayer is because they are not praying. If they realized that they were actually pouring their Hearts’ needs into the ear of God, they could not help assuming the natural attitude of prayer. And the posture would in its turn react in helping to make their devotion a living reality. To lounge indolently while God’s praise is sung, has but one meaning, when age or infirmity do not excuse it. It means that there is no praise in your heart. Even though you have no musical power, with your open Prayer Book in your hand, you can follow the glowing anthem or the sublime Te Deum.
Remember also that your children can be trained to public worship in a liturgical service, as they cannot be where all except the singing of hymns is extemporaneous. They have a right to the teaching power of the service. Its “line upon line, and precept upon precept,” can be inwoven with the earliest dawnings of childish intelligence. But only as parents lead their children to the house of worship, and guide them in the use of the liturgy by their aid and their example.
Dr. Albert Barnes, an earnest opponent of liturgical worship, once wrote that when Episcopalians took part in prayer meetings, “their prayers are models of simple, pure and holy worship.” (Barnes’ Position of tlie Evangl. Party in the Episcopal Church, p. 31.)
No wonder. From childhood they had been imbued with the spirit of a worship which filled the souls, and lingered on the lips of martyrs for Jesus. They had caught the refrain of the anthem which echoed in dimly-lighted catacombs, “in dens and caves of the earth.”
“Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ!
“Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father!”
*Appendix, D. Due to the length of this appendix and the limitation of space I have not reproduced here. Those who wish to read this appendix will find it on pages 184-193 at the very back of What Do Reformed Episcopalians Believe? online at the Internet Archive website.Photo credit: Covenant Reformed Episcopal Church, Roanoke VA