Prospects of the Church of England by C. J. Vaughan









Published by Request.


This Sermon was preached in the common course of the Sunday Services, and without any idea of its being noticed beyond the circle of its hearers. As, however, the interest of the subject, far more, certainly, than anything in its treatment, has called some attention to the Sermon since its delivery, I have thought it right to comply with the request of some respected members of the Congregation, and commit it to the chances of publication. In so doing, I have made no attempt to supply its many deficiencies, nor have I even removed from its opening sentences an allusion to other Sermons of which it formed the continuation.

September 4, 1868.

p. 4

Why repair ye not the breaches of the house?

2 Kings xii. 7.

The House is the Temple. We have travelled, therefore, from the north to the south of Palestine, from the capital of Israel to the capital of Judah. As soon as the two great prophets, Elijah and Elisha, are no more, the interest of the story centres no longer in the kingdom of the ten tribes: it reverts to the stock of David, and finds its latest gleam of beauty and glory in the national reformations and personal pieties of Hezekiah and Josiah.

Elisha is not yet dead: but he has ceased to occupy the sacred page after the anointing of Jehu, until he appears once more, and finally, in the striking incidents of his death-bed and his grave.

Meanwhile that Baal-worship which Jehu has extirpated in the north, has found refuge in the p. 6southern realm, under the fostering patronage of a daughter of the house of Ahab. Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, had married a second Jezebel, in the person of her daughter Athaliah. Jehoram reigned eight years, and was succeeded by his son Ahaziah, who perished, as we read last Sunday, with his uncle Jehoram, son of Ahab, king of Israel, under the hand of the avenging Jehu, the scourge of God.

Then Athaliah, seeing that her son was dead, determined to reign for herself. She was one of those masculine spirits, one of those heroines of pride and crime, who can brook no puny, infant sovereigns; she could not live to be ruled by a grandchild; and so she took the decisive step of destroying all the seed royal, after which, it is said, Athaliah, late the queen-mother, did reign over the land.

But it is seldom, on this earth—which is still God’s, however much, at certain times, the devil may claim it for his own—it is seldom, I say, that crime is quite prosperous, quite thorough: something is forgotten in every murder, which rises at last into a testimony; and some one, some little p. 7babe perhaps, is overlooked in every massacre; there is a sister, it may be, or an aunt—as it was here—whose heart yearns over that little cradle, and who contrives to rescue its unconscious occupant to be the heir of the throne and the avenger of the family.

Such was King Joash; rescued by his aunt Jehosheba from her own mother’s fury, and by her hidden, during six years of earliest childhood, in one of the chambers of the Temple—for she was the wife of Jehoiada, the High Priest.

In his seventh year, there was a conspiracy, a revolution, and a coronation. The little King was shown to the people in the temple-court, the crown was put upon him, the testimony (or book of the law) was given him, he was made and he was anointed, and all the people clapped their hands, and said, God save the king. And when the usurping grandmother, attracted by the tumult, came upon the scene, with the cry, Treason, treason! the High Priest had her forth without the ranges; she was allowed to pass unmolested through the crowd and through the guard, till she was outside the consecrated ground; and there she was slain.

p. 8This was the curious, memorable entrance of the little King Joash upon a reign of forty years in Jerusalem. You can imagine how that scene must have printed itself on his memory. It must have given a strange, a solemn importance to the house of God, and all its belongings. The recollection of that sudden command, given by the High Priest, his uncle, preserver, and king-maker, Have her forth without the ranges, must have written upon his heart an indelible impression of the sacredness of that spot which could thus arrest revolution and make the most righteous doom impious. You will not wonder, therefore, if his young thoughts were first turned, as a Sovereign, to the wretched, the dilapidated state of the Temple itself. It appears that, on the one hand, there were long, careless arrears of temple income: people had grown indifferent to the payment of their most unquestionable dues to the Altar and the Priesthood: on the other hand, there was a positive as well as a negative defalcation; for on that sacred height of Mount Zion there had arisen, side by side with God’s Temple, a rival shrine of Baal; and the idolatress Athaliah, with her creatures, seems to p. 9have taken from the one to build the other: in short, the very foundation and wall-stones of the Holy House had been gradually pillaged and carted away, and the House itself stood a monument at once of modern shame and ancestral glory, needing the builder’s hand to restore it to decency and even to safety.

As for the vessels of the House—all those costly priceless treasures with which the wealth and piety of king Solomon had filled it—they had gone, bit by bit, to buy off the annoyances of powerful neighbours: King Rehoboam, at the very outset of the schism, had given Shishak Solomon’s shields of gold, and replaced them with pitiful shameful shields of brass: it was too late, or too soon, to think of ornament—the present question was one entirely of use and substantial repair.

It seems that even the efforts and injunctions of the young King were for many years ineffectual. In the twenty-third year of his reign the old breaches were still unrepaired. It is astonishing—men would not believe till they had tried it—how long it takes to re-awaken one slumbering conscience, or indeed to make one desired work of reparation, p. 10be it never so small—we see it ourselves at this moment in a side-chapel of this Church—a fact accomplished. And so King Joash, stung to the soul by the disappointment of his own good intentions, summons before him Jehoiada the Priest, his own uncle and benefactor, and expostulates with him and his brother-priests in the words of the text, Why repair ye not the breaches of the House?

And the result of it is, that, instead of leaving the money received for this purpose in the unaccountable hands of the Priests, they have a chest made, with a hole bored in the lid of it, and set beside the altar; and the Priests are to put all the money which they receive into this chest; and then they have a civil auditor, the King’s scribe, a sort of Secretary of State, to act with the High Priest in counting and applying the sums thus accumulated, and so it passes direct into the hands of the carpenters and builders, and the work is done.

My brethren, you will all perceive why I chose this text this evening, when we are making our first collection, under altered circumstances, for the more substantial part of our annual expenditure p. 11upon this Church. It is true, this House of Prayer is not in all respects like Solomon’s Temple: I mean that, in Christian times, it is not the fabric, it is the Congregation, which is the Temple or House of God. Nevertheless, without a fabric a congregation is a rope of sand: there must be a place if there is to be a worship: and therefore the distinction, though true, may be overstrained; and I am not afraid to apply to this Church, the building I mean, the expostulation of King Joash with Jehoiada and the Priests, Why repair ye not the breaches of the House?

I have not, indeed, one moment’s anxiety as to your response. You love the place, this place at least, where God’s honour dwelleth. I believe that your periodical offerings on this monthly occasion will be almost, or perhaps quite, equal to those which you make for any work of piety or charity: and I may remind you that there is an especial reason why your offerings should be large at the outset, inasmuch as already four months are gone by of the current year, and we have to supply in eight months the resources (as they hereafter will be) of twelve.

p. 12But on this point I feel an entire security. You will never allow those who undertake the office of your Churchwardens to incur any responsibility but such as you cheerfully guarantee to them. I will rather take the opportunity of saying one word upon the more general question.

We have never in this place—certainly not for many years past—laid a compulsory church-rate. We have always allowed those who would to refuse payment. Even when the law was clearly with us, we have never taken advantage of it. So far, we might, if we would, have regarded the new Act as confirming and stereotyping our own local custom.

But there were these two differences. We could no longer carry with us the influence, the persuasion, of an unenforced compulsion. We could no longer say, as heretofore, He that may command, entreats. Henceforth it was lawful to refuse.

Again, we could no longer extend our payments over the whole Town; and, with whatever abatements from caprice or principle, hope to enlist, in the work of reparation or maintenance, the sympathies of an entire population.

It became necessary, therefore, that we should p. 13look to the Congregation alone; and, in one form or in another, ask those to support, who really love and use, this House of God.

Hence our appeal to you this evening. And if on future occasions the appeal is commonly made to you in silence, without special enforcement from this place, yet let me hope that you will all register it in your minds as a just claim, and not suffer these periodical gatherings to lose their interest or to fail in their amount.

Why repair ye not the breaches of the House? The subject expands itself before us, and we read the remonstrance as applying no longer to the fabric, but rather to these three larger and more sacred topics, the Congregation, the Church, the soul.

1. That anxiety which we do not feel about the fabric, for we are sure that you will attend to it, we cannot stifle as regards the Congregation.

For indeed it is this which makes the House. The building is only valuable, only significant, for the sake of the inmates. When it is asked of us, Why repair ye not the bleaches of the House? we may look up indeed at our broken pinnacles, p. 14our not watertight roof, our falling flowers, our patchwork pomegranates, and think that these too require attention or deserve reproach; but, after all, these are not the real things; these altogether make not the House; the House, the Temple, now, in these days of spirit and Gospel, is the community, the congregation, the living body within. How is it with this? Are there no breaches here, visible not to an eye of flesh, but to One who seeth in secret?

For example, my brethren, is there not too great a disproportion here between the real and the nominal worshippers? Is it not lamentable, is it not even discreditable, that so many should be present at one Service once on the Lord’s Day, and so few at any other Service either on this Holy Day or on any other? that so many should come together here this evening to listen to music or preaching, so few to pray and to praise, so few to break the Holy Bread, or to drink the Sacred Wine? Is not this one of the breaches of the House, the spiritual house, which wants repairing amongst us?

2. But this carries me on to a somewhat wider p. 15field, which I have called not the Congregation, but the Church. And here, as is natural indeed in these eventful, these quickly moving times, my thoughts are upon our own Church, that communion which is the congregation of congregations; that communion which we have heretofore known as the Church of England by law established.

So rapid has been the course of events in late years—I might single out the last ten, or the last five, or (quite by exception) the last year of all—that Church-people must prepare themselves, I feel sure, for a speedy, a scarcely gradual, demolition of all that has been distinctive, all that has been exceptionally advantageous, in their position. An eminent man and excellent Bishop, who was laid in his grave last Friday, was wont to say, If I live ten years, I shall be the last Bishop of Peterborough. It is more than probable that some of my younger hearers this evening may live not only to see what we call the Church of England thrown altogether upon voluntary offerings for its maintenance—in which case some of them may remember in old age the first collection made in the Parish Church of Doncaster for the repairs of its fabric and p. 16the expences of its services—but also to find it at least an open, perhaps a very doubtful, question, to whom shall belong the Churches themselves and the glebe-houses—whether indeed there shall be left to the old Church of England, as we still fondly call it, any vestige of that legal standing which has made her hitherto the calm shelter of her children, the admiring wonder of foreigners, and the mark of obloquy or envy (as the case might be) to thousands of her domestic enemies.

I am far from regarding this prospect—be it far off or near—with unmixed alarm or dismay. I never believed that the Establishment, as such, was Christ’s Church in England, or that the withdrawal of the favour of the State would be the putting out in our communion of the Divine Shechinah. It is not so much for the Church that I fear: for I firmly believe Christ’s words, Lo, I am with you alway, and doubt not that the old, the everlasting benediction is able to repeat itself in many new, many diverse forms. I do fear something for the State, when it ceases to have a religion. I do fear something for the average tone of religion in our cottages and in our palaces, when there is no longer p. 17one form of worship which has upon it the stamp of pedigree and of custom; when it is an evenly balanced question with every man and with every family, Whither shall I go this day for God’s worship? whither, or whether any whither? I do fear that there will be more and more in many houses of a cold indifferent scepticism, a Christless education and a Godless life. I do fear that more and more may reach old age ignorant of a Saviour, and go to their graves without any sure and certain hope of a resurrection to eternal life.

For the Church itself I fear not. In so far as the Church of England (so called) has had Christ in her and God with her, she is indestructible and immortal. In so far as she has trusted in outward advantage, and suffered herself, in her priests or in her people, to become sluggish, lukewarm, contemptuous, or persecuting—in so far let a change into adversity—God grant it—reform her. The great question for all of us, in our several stations, more especially in the days which are now coming, or almost come, upon our Church, must be this one of the text, Why repair ye not the breaches of the House?

p. 18Let the Priests of the Temple ask it—ask it of themselves—Are they trusting at all in the advantages of an Establishment, and negligent, in the same degree, of that personal industry, of that individual self-sacrifice, which alone can justify their endowment, maintain their honour, or do their work? If the Established Church of England, as such, be swept away, then, along with it, will go all idle, inconsistent, scandalous Ministers: those who are to serve at God’s Altar afterwards must be only such as are respected by their people: let it not have to be said that England would gain as much as she loses by ceasing to have an endowed, an established Ministry, inasmuch as, quite as often as not, the Parish Minister was an indolent, an unworthy, or an inefficient man! This is the way in which the Priests must set themselves to repair the Temple-breaches.

Then for the People. To what end does a Church exist amongst us? To what purpose this costly, this almost magnificent apparatus of vestment and ritual, of Cathedral Church and elaborate minstrelsy? Does it mean anything, or nothing? If it represents to the country, in symbol and form, the wants of man’s p. 19soul, and the absolute necessity of a Divine communion, then prove it by the using! Do not talk of the duty of the State, of the rights of the Church, of Apostolical Succession and an authorized Ministry—and never use any! When the Church of England ceases, with our will or without it, to be an established, privileged, or favoured Church at all; then, how many of you will be found to come forward in its maintenance? How many of you will worship here, when there is no longer any traditional or conventional propriety in doing so? How many will accept their position, in reference to man, as only one out of fifty or a hundred denominations—treat with all respect and charity others who follow not with them—and yet, for themselves, become but the more earnest and devout Churchmen, in proportion as State aid and legal endowment become things of the past—things, it may be, of remote and almost forgotten history?

And, meanwhile, let me ask this of the Churchmen here assembled this evening, Are we half as liberal—I ask it advisedly—in giving for the maintenance of our Church, as are many bodies of Nonconformists in their offerings for theirs? You p. 20know that we are not. Let us look about us in this matter. Let us rise to the emergency. Show that you value your Church, by giving bountifully in her behalf. If the Church is what you profess it to be, surely it is worth something, something even of self-sacrifice, to maintain it in its efficiency. You know that there are many amongst us to whom the Church costs nothing. On one pretext and another, they evade all her burdens. They grudge the very rents of their sittings; and if those rents were exchanged to-morrow (as I would they were) for Offertories, still they would give nothing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. By this grudging, this ungenerous spirit, we are drawing down upon ourselves, as a judgment, the sentence of disestablishment and disendowment. Be it not so amongst us! Count no money better spent than that which is given for the repairing of the breaches of this House; meaning now by the House, not only or chiefly the fabric, but rather the purpose for which the fabric stands—the edification and salvation of human souls. Above all, see that you rightly, earnestly, industriously use the means of grace herein afforded you. What would not they p. 21give, who are gone from us this last week by disease or accident, unrepentant, unredeemed, for one such feast of love as was accepted this morning by but six and twenty souls—for one such opportunity as we have enjoyed this evening of drawing nigh to the Throne of Grace through our one Divine Lord?

3. Thus, then, we pass naturally, in conclusion, to that House, or Temple of God, which is of all the most intimate, the most sacred, the most inaccessible; yet in which, if anywhere, the true fire burns of an acceptable sacrifice—the real altar is built of lively, living, devoted stones. That House is the soul; and it, too, has its breaches. Yes, we know it. That Temple—which ought to lie four-square, which ought to have everything in its place, which ought to be gleaming with the fire of the Holy Ghost, and adorned with the precious stones of a meek and quiet and pure and Godward spirit—that Temple, of which the light ought to be shining through into the life, and making every act and word and thought gracious and beneficent and God-recalling—that Temple is all jagged and disordered and spotted and sin-stained—that Temple lets its altar-fire go out every half-hour, and suffers p. 22a darkness that may be felt to settle down upon its chambers—making unbelievers at last say, If that be faith, give me reason; if that be piety, give me conscience; if that indeed be religion, let me know only the heathen’s revelation—of good sense, good nature, and an elevated self-love!

Why repair ye not the breaches of the House?

Do we answer, I cannot? It is a reproach, it is a calumny, upon the Gospel of Divine grace. That is the very revelation of the Gospel—God giveth more grace: more, as we need more; more, as we ask more; more, as we look and wait and make room for more. I cannot? No; but God can. Ask, and ye shall have.

Or do we answer, I need not? I am well enough as I am—God is very merciful—He knows our frame, and whatever deficiencies He sees in me, Christ will make them up? Alas! it is too often the evangelical reply—if not with the lips, then in the heart! Christ died to make sin less sinful, to make sin less dangerous, by substituting a figment of justification for a reality of holiness, watchfulness, and self-control! Thus even the Blessed Lord Himself is made a minister of sin, and man turns the very p. 23table of his blessing into a new occasion of falling!

Or do we answer, finally, I will not? I love the breaches of my soul’s house; I do not wish that the gusts of passion should be fenced out; I do not wish that there should be no crack or cranny through which I may peep out on the world’s vanities, nor any secret neglected postern through which some delicious delirious lust may creep in to intoxicate me? Oh! worst of all, most hopeless, this last answer—the answer of many consciences, will they but speak, in this great Congregation; the answer which not only virtually denies, but wilfully refuses, the Gospel; which makes the Cross an offence, and Christ to have died in vain!

May it please God, by some one of His thousand, His myriad agencies, to make us feel! to bring us to our knees in hearty repentance before Him; and then, even as it is written, humbling ourselves first under His mighty hand, at last to exalt us in due time!

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