|Northern Daily Express (15 January 1861) and Bishop Henry Villiers by David Holloway|
While recently sorting papers, I came across the 15 January 1861 edition of the Northern Daily Express. It contained, one, an editorial on the background to the founding of "Jesmond Church" (Jesmond Parish Churchs official name) that was built in memory of Richard Clayton, the great 19th century Tyneside evangelical leader; two, a report on the consecration of the new building that took place the day before (14 January 1861); and, three, a transcript of the consecration sermon preached by Henry Villiers, the then Bishop of Durham (before Newcastle Diocese was formed, Jesmond was in Durham Diocese).
This sermon is printed out below and with no alteration. It is important for three reasons. First, it reveals how far the Church of England has drifted since those days. For we may doubt that many bishops today in England in 2008 would preach like Henry Villiers. But, secondly, we need to remember that 100 years before Henry Villiers few bishops would have preached like he did. So change can happen. In the 18th century another Bishop of Durham, Joseph Butler, complained that "it is taken for granted by many persons that Christianity is fictitious; and a principal subject of mirth and ridicule for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world." Then came the evangelical revival of the second half of the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries and in which Richard Clayton played a part. Many Anglican leaders are now praying and working for a similar turn around. Thirdly, what the bishop said then needs to be heard again today. So much by way of introduction. Now for the sermon. The bishop took for his text Romans 14.17: "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
The consecration sermon
Brethren, the prophet uttered very solemn words when he said, "Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever?" These words occurred to my own mind very forcibly as I was considering the duty which was laid upon me of addressing you today.
It must be a solemn moment for us all, if we think of what may be the results of consecrating a place of worship to the service of Almighty God. From this place there might sound forth sound truth. But who can venture to say what may be the result of the services within these walls? We must wait for eternity to reveal to whom they shall prove "the savour of life unto life" or of "death unto death."
But if such a solemnity as this in which we are engaged today must tend, I should think, to make every man (that may be here present) thoughtful, how much more, how very much more solemn must this service be to the minds of many of my present hearers, when we recollect that this church has been raised as a special memorial to one from whose lips many a soul here has received "the truth as it is in Jesus."
God's use of pastors like Richard Clayton
Brethren, I know something of a pastor's life. I know something of what it is to be permitted, under God, to see souls awakened, souls delivered from the power of Satan, souls brought into the kingdom of God. I know something of the closeness of union made between the sinner saved and the poor instrument that God has vouchsafed to make use of in the conversion of these souls. I know, therefore, well what the minister feels for his own particular flock, and it leads me pretty well to judge (it enables me with pretty fair accuracy to tell) what is the feeling of the people before me today.
The language of St. Paul when he writes to the church of the Thessalonians is that which describes the feeling of the minister as he labours amongst his people: "What is our joy, or hope, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye?" The minister thus feels for his people. But it is inseparable from union with his flock, " even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming. For ye are our glory and joy." And I am sure that this feeling is no one-sided feeling. There is a reciprocal feeling on the part of the people; and these walls confirm that feeling. Don't doubt that there are many here who look back to the time when they were in darkness and God brought them into His "marvellous light" by the instrumentality of him to whose memory this church is erected [Richard Clayton].
It is under this conviction that I am sure your prayers will be sincere this day, that while by a legal act I set apart this place for the service of God, by the blessing (the covenant blessing) of our God this place will indeed be set apart for the pure, simple declaration of God's own Word to the conversion of many souls to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with the Lord Jesus for ever.
The Kingdom of God
Brethren, let me then, today, in addressing you endeavour to lead your thoughts onwards. Let me endeavour to lead you to the consideration of that Kingdom of God, and very briefly into the means by which that Kingdom may be reached.
Now, the text (you see) sets before us, under the title of the Kingdom of God, vital piety. I ask you to notice that expression for I use it advisedly; for any other piety is plausible impiety. It is worse! For that which looks like piety and is impiety, is that which lulls to sleep the poor sinner and prepares his soul for the nethermost hell.
That Kingdom of God to which the Apostle refers clearly does not mean the Kingdom of Glory, but is that which leads to the Kingdom of Glory. It is put before you in two points of view negatively and positively. Negatively for we are told it is not meat and drink. Depend upon it, real religion is something more than fasting and feasting. It is not whether a man eats or whether he does not. As the Apostle says in this Epistle to the Romans, "Meat commendeth us not to God: for neither if we eat are we the better; neither if we eat not are we the worse." No, nor is it in any outward form whatsoever that piety consists. Under the outward form there may be real piety (and I think there is very little piety without outward form). But it is not the outward form. St. Paul teaches that "bodily exercise profiteth little." But, positively for I leave this it is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
Now, by righteousness here is intended that inwrought righteousness, not the imputed righteousness of Christ. That which gives us a title to Heaven is the imputed righteousness of Christ. But this refers to the inwrought righteousness, the work of the Holy Ghost, that which is the effect (call it by what name you please the effect) of real conversion.
And, brethren, it is very necessary to understand that all are not Israel who are of Israel; that all are not Christians who are called Christians; that there is the conversion of the heart; and that, except you are converted, you shall never enter the Kingdom of Heaven; but that, where conversion exists, it is not that fluctuation state by which many may be a child of God today and a child of the devil tomorrow. But real conversion of the heart is where the grace of God dwells in the heart where there will be the fruits of the Spirit of God.
And I may well, therefore, say to any who doubt this statement (if there be any who doubt it, if there be any who have not searched there minds), let them say [by way of reminder], "Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works." This is St. James's testimony. He has left us this, and it is well that we should look to it. There would not be so many Pharisees, there would not be so many contented with a "name to live", there would not be so many mere formalists, if they would look within as well as without, and seek for the inwrought righteousness, the work of the Spirit of the living God.
Then the text speaks of peace - that peace which comes not from leaving a man asleep in his sins; not from shrinking to tell him that he is by nature born in sin and a child of wrath and that he must be born again; not a peace that consists with letting a man go quietly in the world, and out of the world, without his conscience ever having been touched at all; but that peace which is produced by the blood the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. "When I see the blood," said the Lord, "I will pass over." "Without the shedding of blood there can be no remission." Without that blood of sprinkling being applied to your conscience and mine, there never can be peace for either of us.
After the peace of the Holy Ghost comes to the spirit of man (that is, the Spirit of the living God who takes the things of Christ and shows them unto us) it is no mere question of frames and feelings but of scriptural truth that we must have this interest in Christ. And when this is the case, we can apply the words of the Apostle, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." But when there is this peace in the Holy Ghost, there will be peace of conscience - the Spirit of God bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
Brethren, this is a part of real religion that we should constantly aim at the inward witness of the Spirit. We should seek to have this unction from the Holy One. There it may be found where the Spirit is working, where there is inwrought righteousness not empty profession but the Spirit working in us giving us views of Christ and our interest in Him.
So the text speaks of "joy in the Holy Ghost." Don't separate the terms. It is not the condition, therefore, of men who have mere confidence in the flesh. How strongly St. Paul dwells on this in his Epistle to the Philippians: "We are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more."
He then goes through a variety of external privileges, "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." He was brought to this feeling, to which we must be brought (if Christians, in deed and in truth): Christ is all not an empty name, not a profession, not a mere fancy or expectation, but what the Scripture tells me Christ is and Christ has done. "On thee, O Lord, do I hope." "Truly my hope is in Thee." This must be my joy. And then truly we shall indeed have joy in the Holy Ghost; for it will be a blessed state in the midst of the sorrows of this life, yet to see our interest in Christ.
The minister parts with his people as he stands by their dying beds, knowing their interest in Christ. They will not return to him, but he will go to them. And the people, too, can think of the minister that has been called from them to enter into his rest; and they can look to the time when the Lord shall come and bring his saints with Him and say, "I shall see him to whom through God I have been indebted for my hopes of eternal life."
But I would pass on to inquire how this state may be attained. We are bidden to follow after holiness "without which no man shall see the Lord." How, then, are we to attain this blessing? Now, brethren, I am convinced it can never be by cowardice; it can be by the compromise of no religious principle whatever. God never calls upon us to exercise a spurious charity, which is near akin to infidelity.
Now, there are many who seem to wish to live well with all and, therefore, they will say it is well with all, whereas the Bible clearly tells us there is a difference; and to the Christian, says the Apostle, "Come out and be separate." The Christian is taught to bear in mind that he is of God and, therefore, he will allow no false modesty, no pretence of having more charity (than the Bible warrants) to hide the truth. We are either of God or not of God. There are two classes; and, therefore, if the Kingdom of God is to be within you - a "kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" there must be a difference.
The Word of God the Bible
Under this sentiment, and under a conviction of the scriptural truth of this sentiment, I would say to you in the first place, "Take head what ye hear; and take heed how ye hear." "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." Never suffer yourselves to be led astray from the Word of God. Our Church [of England] refers all to the Word of God. Her [Thirty-nine] Articles tell you nothing is to be required except that which is to be proved by the Word of God. Every service calls clearly on the minister to search everything by the Word. The greatest praise of the Bereans was that they "searched the Scriptures whether these things were so".
So, brethren, let that to which you listen be according to the Word of God. Take heed what you hear. Compromise no principle; compromise no truth. Truth is one. The Bible contains that which makes you free. But take heed how you hear! If you mean to receive that which is able to make you wise unto salvation, don't come with a cavilling spirit. Don't come trying to find fault, trying to settle whether this is according to a preconceived notion or not. You will never profit in that way.
When men wish to be many masters, I strongly suspect that their hearing of the Word will be much more likely to feed that feeling, rather than that humbleness which becomes the Christian. Search the Scriptures, but if you do find your preconceived notion is opposed, if you find some fancy that you have adopted - some shibboleth that is meeting your ear from hour to hour - take heed that what you hear is according to the Word; and finding that, let God be true. There is a beautiful pattern for a congregation given in the tenth chapter of the Acts. If you take the 33rd verse, you find one of the congregation [Cornelius] stood up and said, "Now, therefore, are we all here present before God, to hear all things which are commanded thee [Peter, the preacher] of God."
But, secondly, hearing is not enough; there should be prayer. You may receive the Gospel, but there should be prayer for your own souls (the preparation of which is from the Lord) that you may be prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the Gospel.
Yes, and I will tell you another thing which I believe many persons overlook; and while they find fault with the minister, it is only putting the blame on the wrong shoulder. There should be in the congregation prayer for the minister. If congregations prayed more for him who is to speak, the minister would have more success; if they were praying for the Spirit, the minister would soon show that God, with His Spirit and blessing, was present. And seeing you know something of the blessing of the minister to yourself, let me suggest that you be often in prayer, not only that God may be present in this house, but that His Spirit may be on your minister in his chamber [or study] preparing him for the service of the sanctuary.
The Word and prayer I have spoken of. But let me press upon you, thirdly, not to content yourselves with religion as a theory, but seek to have religion personally applied to your hearts that is, not to have only a general notion of Christ, but to have a personal application of Christ to your own hearts. Seek to know your own interest in Him, so that you can say, "I know in whom I have believed." Then, brethren, you may help one another, as you are now forming yourselves into a new congregation. Help one another by seeking mutual edification, attending to this in your societies wherever you can, in your congregational means, in your classes, in your Scripture readings, in your schools.
If I mistake not, that which I am saying to you at this time, is in exact conformity with the instructions which have fallen from the lips of that honoured servant of God to whose memory this place has been erected. I have endeavoured to find (for it was not my privilege to be personally acquainted with him) - I have endeavoured to find if there were any particulars of his ministerial life to which I might refer.
Moral concern, missionary zeal and evangelical truth
Such particulars have been given to me, from which I have extracted these few words:
"The discourses of Mr Clayton were characterised by a clear exhibition of evangelical views, and by their practical tendency. His position in society might have tempted him to spare the vices of fashionable life; but no one could be found more bold and forward than he in the denunciation of what he conceived to be sinful conformity to the world" (Leading article in the Northern Daily Express, 9 Oct 1856).
I have been told by those who were members of his flock, that his congregation had always been marked for their zealous support of missions and of every benevolent object. God grant that, while he is now dead, he may yet speak; that those words which have fallen from his lips from time to time may again recur to your hearts; and that from this place there may always be found the same evangelical truth, the same zeal for missions (whether at home or abroad) and for every charitable enterprise on the part of this congregation.
One word more. No one can more heartily sympathise with you in seeing this church raised for such an object than I do. I thank God for it, and pray for His blessing. But, be on your guard! Don't mistake. Be true to yourselves and your religious principles; let there be no compromise of those principles. But, don't mistake: the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.
In him [Richard Clayton] there was a willingness to acknowledge the love of Christ, wherever the love of Christ exists. And, if all may not use the same words, yet [ask] is there the same inwrought righteousness? Is there a peace secured on the same foundation? Is there the same joy in the Holy Ghost? Is there the kingdom of God?
Don't try, therefore, and let this be, as it were, the cause of inflaming bad passions; let it rather be the place of cultivating Christian love Christian forbearance, Christian zeal and Christian earnestness with a desire to make known the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do these things, and there will be indeed a memorial, not a mere material memorial, but a spiritual memorial raised, one that will show that while he is gone he has left his loving principles here, desiring to see those who were his people growing in grace and knowledge, growing in conformity to the image of God's dear Son.
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