Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ON CHURCH COMMUNION, by JOHN BYROM



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ON CHURCH COMMUNION, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Religion, church communion, or the way
Last Line: A disposition so divinely right?
Subject(s): Eucharist; Religion; Communion; Theology


PART FIRST.

RELIGION, church communion, or the way
Of public worship, that we ought to pay,
As it regards the body, and the mind,
Is of external, and internal kind;
The one consisting in the outward sign,
The other in the inward truth divine.

This inward truth intended to be shewn,
So far as outward signs can make it known,
Is that which gives external modes a worth,
Just in proportion as they shew it forth;
Just as they help, in any outward part,
The real, true religion of the heart.

Now what this is, exclusive of all strife,
Christians will own to be an inward life,
Spirit, and pow'r,—a birth (to say the whole,)
Of Christ himself, brought forth within the soul;
By this all true salvation is begun,
And carried on, however it be done.

Christianity, that has not Christ within,
Can, by no means whatever, save from sin;
Can bear no evidence of Him, the End,
On which the value of all means depend:
Christian Religion signifies, no doubt,
Like mind within, like show of it without.

The will of God, the saving of mankind,
Was all that Christ had in his inward mind;
All that produc'd his outward action too,
In church communion while a perfect Jew;
Like most of his disciples, till they came,
At Antioch, to have a Christian name.

If Christ has put an end to rites of old,
If new recall what was but then foretold,
The one true church, the real heav'nly ground,
Wherein alone salvation can be found,
Is still the same; and, to its Saviour's praise,
His inward tempers outwardly displays;

By hearty love, and correspondent rites
Ordain'd, the members to the head unites,
And to each other: In all stated scenes,
The life of Christ is what a christian means;
Tho' change of circumstance may alter those,
In this he places and enjoys repose.

Church unity is held, and faith's increase,
By that of spirit in the bond of peace,
And righteousness of life; without this tie
Forms are in vain prescrib'd to worship by,
Or temples modell'd; hearts as well as hands,
A holy church and catholic demands.

PART SECOND.

IF once establish'd the essential part,
The inward church, the temple of the heart,
Or house of God, the substance and the sum
Of what is pray'd for in—Thy kingdom come—
To make an outwatd correspondence true,
We must recur to Christ's example too.

Now, in his outward form of life, we find
Goodness demonstrated of ev'ry kind;
What he was born for, that he shew'd throughout;
It was the bus'ness that he went about;
Love, kindness, and compassion to display
Tow'rds ev'ry object coming in his way.

But love so high, humility so low,
And all the virtues which his actions shew;
His doing good, and his enduring ill,
For man's salvation and God's holy will,
Exceed all terms:—His inward, outward plan
Was love to God, express'd by love to man.

Mark of the church, which he establish'd, then,
Is the same love, same proof of it to men;
Without, let sects parade it how they list,
Nor church, nor unity can e'er subsist;
The name may be usurp'd, but want of pow'r
Will shew the Babel, high or low the tow'r.

And where the same behaviour shall appear
In outward form, that was in Christ so clear,
There is the very outward church, that He
Will'd all mankind to shew, and all to see;
Of which, whoever shews it from the heart,
Is both an inward and an outward part.

What excommunication can deprive
A pious soul, that is in Christ alive,
Of church communion? Or cut off a limb
That life, and action both unite to Him,
For any circumstance of place, or time,
Or mode, or custom, which infers no crime?

If He be that which his beloved John
Calls him,—The Light enlight'ning ev'ry one
That comes into the world—will he exclude
One from his church, whose mind he has renew'd
To such degree, as to exert, in fact,
Like inward temper, and like outward act?

Invisible, and visible effect,
Of true church membership, in each respect,
Let the One Shepherd from above behold;
The flocks, howe'er dispers'd, are his one fold;
Seen by their hearts, and their behaviour too,
They all stand present in his gracious view:

PART THIRD.

A LOCAL union, on the other hand,
Tho' crowded numbers should together stand,
Joining in one same form of pray'r and praise,
Or creed express'd in regulated phrase,
Or aught beside—tho' it assume the name
Of christian church,—may want the real claim.

For if it want the spirit, and the sign,
That constitute all worship as divine,
The love within, the test of it without,
In vain the union passes for devout;
Heartless and tokenless if it remain,
It ought to pass, in strictness, for profane.

At first, an unity of heart and soul,
A distribution of an outward dole,
And ev'ry member of the body fed,
As equally belonging to the head,
With what it wanted, was, without suspence,
True church communion, in full christian sense.

Whether averse the many or the few
To hold communion in this righteous view,
Their thought commences heresy, their deed
Schismatical, tho' they profess the creed;
Ways of distributing, if new, should still
Maintain the old communicative will;

Broken by ev'ry loveless, thankless thought,
By not behaving as a christian ought;
By want of meekness, or a show of pride
Tow'rds any soul for whom our Saviour died;
While this continues, men may pray and preach
In all their forms, but none will heal the breach.

Whatever helps an outward form may bring
To church communion, it is not the thing;
Nor a society, as such, nor place,
Nor any thing besides uniting grace:
They are but accessories, at the most,
To true communion of the Holy Ghost.

This is th' essential fellowship, the tie
Which all true christians are united by;
No other union does them any good,
But that which Christ cemented with his blood,
As God and man; that, having lost it, men
Might live in unity with God again.

What He came down to bring us from above
Was grace and peace, and law-fulfilling love;
True spirit-worship, which his Father sought,
Was the sole end of what He did and taught;
That God's own church and kingdom might begin,
Which Moses and the Prophets usher'd in.

PART FOURTH.

"THE church of Christ, as thus you represent,
"And all the world is of the same extent:
"Jews, Turks, or Pagans may be members too;
"This, some may call a dreadful mystic clue,
"A combination of the Quaker schemes
"With latitudinarian extremes."

They may; but names, so ready at the call
Of such as want them, have no force at all
To overthrow momentous truths, and plain,
The very points of scripture, and the main;
Such as distinguish, in the clearest view,
Th' enlighten'd Christian from the half-blind Jew.

What did the sheet let down to Peter mean,
Who call'd the Gentiles "common or unclean?"
Let Peter answer—God was pleas'd to shew
That I should call no man whatever so;
In ev'ry nation he that serves him right
Is clean, accepted, in his equal sight.

If Peter said so, who will question Paul?
He, in a manner, made this point his all;
The real sense of what has here been said
In mystic Paul is plainly to be read;
Nothing but obstinate dislike to terms
Obscures what all the testament affirms.

The Jews objected, to this gospel clue,
A—What advantage therefore hath the Jew?
Or, of what use is to be circumcis'd?
So may some Christians say—"to be baptis'd"—
May form like questions, like conclusions draw,
And urge the church, as they did, and the law.

Th' Apostle's reas'ning from the common want
Of God's free grace; its universal grant
By Jesus Christ; its reach to all mankind,
For whom the same salvation was design'd,
Shews that his church, as boundless as his grace,
Extends itself to all the human race.

With pious Jews of old, our King implied
The One True King of all the earth beside;
Whose regal right, tho' he was pleas'd to call
Jacob his lot, extended over all;
Tho' Israel gloried in acknowledg'd light,
Its virtue was not bounded by their sight.

So will a Christian piety confess
A church of Christ, with boundaries no less;
Will speak, as ev'ry conscious witness ought,
To what it knows, but scorn the partial thought
Of grace, or truth, or righteousness confin'd
To modes and customs of external kind.

PART FIFTH.

THE church consider'd only as possess'd
Of England, Rome, Geneva—and the rest—
Notion of church so popularly rife,
Such cause of endless enmity and strife,
Did but arise in a succeeding hour,
When Christians came to have a worldly pow'r.

The first apostles spread, from place to place,
The gospel news of universal grace;
Inviting all to enter, by belief,
Into the church of their Redeeming Chief;
Entrance accessible in ev'ry part,
And shut to nothing but a faithless heart.

But when the princes of the world became,
And kings, protectors of the Christian name,
Pow'r made ambitious pastors, ease remiss,
And churches dwindled into that and this;
The one, divided, came to want, of course,
Supports quite foreign to its native force.

Contentions rose, all tending to create
Still new alliances of church and state;
Form'd and reform'd, and turn'd and overturn'd,
As force prevail'd, and human passion burn'd;
Old revolutions when by new dissolv'd,
Both church and state accordingly revolv'd.

Such is the mixture of a human sway.
In all external churches at this day;
To the same changes liable, anew,
That forms of government are subject to;
While the one church in its true sense, in name
And thing remains unchangeably the same.

The private christian, bearing Christ in mind,
Whose kingdom was not of a worldly kind,
Has little, or has no concern at all,
With these external changes that befall;
Let Providence permit them or prevent,
With truth and Spirit he remains content.

Not that he thinks that evil, more or less,
Is in its nature alter'd by success;
The good is good, tho' suff'ring a defeat,
The bad but worse, if its success be great;
He measures neither by th' event that's past,
For what they were at first they are at last.

But, by the spirit of the Gospel, free,
Whatever state of government it be,
That God has plac'd him under, to submit,
So in the church he thinks the freedom fit,
Whilst, on occasion of the outward part,
He can present what God requires—a heart.

PART SIXTH.

THE heart is what the God of it demands,
Who dwelleth not in temples made with hands:
When hands have made them, if no hearts are found
Dispos'd aright to consecrate the ground,
Vainly is worship said to be divine,
While in the breast its object has no shrine.

But if it has, in that devoted breast
A right intention, surely, will be blest;
Tho' forms, prescrib'd by pastors in the chair,
Should be adjusted with less perfect care;
Tho', in some points, the services assign'd
Differ from those of apostolic kind.

What outward church, or form, shall we select,
That is not chargeable with some defect?
Each is prepar'd, in all the rest, to grant
A superfluity, or else a want,
Or both; a distance from perfection wide,
Retorted on itself by all beside.

What safer remedy than pure intent
To seek the good by any of them meant?
Which He, who mindeth only what the heart
Brings of its own, is ready to impart;
No human pow'r, should it enjoin amiss
A ceremonious rite, can hinder this.

Even in sacrament, what frequent storms
Has superstition rais'd about the forms?
In rites baptismal, which the true result—
Immersion, sprinkling, infants, or th' adult?—
In the Lord's Supper, does the celebration
Make trans or con or non-substantiation?

These and a world of controversies more
Serve to enlarge the bibliothecal store;
While champions make antiquity their boast,
And all pretend to imitate it most;
Prone to neglect, for criticising pique,
Essential truths eternally antique.

Thus inward worship lies in low estate,
Opprest with endless volumes of debate
About the outward; soon as old ones die,
All undecided, comes a new supply
Of needless doubts to a religious soul,
Whose upright meaning dissipates the whole.

Clear of all worldly, interested views,
The one design of worship it pursues;
Turns all to use that public form allows,
By off'ring up its ever private vows
For the success of all the good design'd
By Christ, the common Saviour of mankind.

PART SEVENTH.

A CHRISTIAN, in so catholic a sense,
Can give to none, but partial minds, offence:
Forc'd to live under some divided part,
He keeps intire the union of the heart;
The sacred tie of love; by which alone,
Christ said, that his disciples would be known.

He values no distinction, as profess'd
By way of separation from the rest;
Oblig'd in duty, and inclin'd by choice,
In all the good of any to rejoice;
From ev'ry evil, falsehood, or mistake,
To wish them free, for common comfort's sake.

Freedom, to which the most undoubted way
Lies in obedience (where it always lay)
To Christ himself; who, with an inward call,
Knocks at the door, that is, the heart of all;
At the reception of this heav'nly guest,
All good comes in, all evil quits the breast.

The free receiver then becomes content
With what God orders, or does not prevent:
To them that love Him, all things, he is sure,
Must work for good; tho' how may be obscure:
Even successful wickedness, when past,
Will bring to them some latent good at last.

Fall'n as divided churches are, and gone
From the perfection of the christian one,
Respect is due to any, that contains
The venerable, tho' but faint remains
Of ancient rule, which had not, in its view,
The letter only, but the Spirit too.

When the variety of new-found ways
Which people so run after in our days,
Has done its utmost; when Lo here, Lo there,
Shall yield to inward seeking, and sincere;
What was at first, may come to be again
The praise of church assemblies amongst men.

Meanwhile, in that to which we now belong,
To mind—in public lesson, pray'r, and song,
Teaching, and preaching,—what conduces best
To true devotion in the private breast,
Willing increase of good to ev'ry soul,
Seems to be our concern, upon the whole.

So God, and Christ, and holy angels stand
Dispos'd to ev'ry church, in ev'ry land;
The growth of good still helping to complete,
Whatever tares be sown amongst the wheat:
Who would not wish to have and to excite
A disposition so divinely right?





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