The Laws of Eternal Life
Being studies in the Church Catechism.

By Stewart D. Headlam. London, William Reeves, [1897]


The teaching on the Creed, the Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer, is immediately followed by a declaration of Sacramentalism, with specoial reference to those two Sacraments which are generally, that is to say universally, necessary to salvation. And here let us note that the Catechism does not appeal to "Scripture proofs," but to the work of Christ in the Church; not what the Bible says but what Christ has done. And what He has done is thus described: He has ordained outward and visible sings of inward and spiritual grace, and these signs are a means whereby we receive the grace, as well as a pledge to assure us that we have received it.

This statement, be it remembered, is true of "the other five commonly called Sacraments," and of the many Sacraments of nature, as well as of the two Sacraments necessary to save us from sin. It is the Church's general declaration in favour of what is falsely called "materialism," in favour of physical science, in favour of art, in favour of the body: the Church's protest against "Spiritualism," Manicheism and superfine Rationalism, and all systems which make little of the outward visible sign, and vainly try to get at the inward spiritual grace without it. Now it is surely well that such a declaration and protest should be made. Both the avowed enemies and the professed friends of the Christian Church talk as if you could really separate between the "spiritual" and the "material"; as if, for instance, the taking care that people are properly fed was not distinctly Church work; as if things secular and sacred were contrary to each other. They forget that it is not the bread alone, but the inward and spiritual grace of which the bread is the outward and visible sign, by which men live; that bodily food is not only a kind of parable of spiritual food, but that this food which you can see and taste is an actual means whereby not only your body but your spirit is fed, and a pledge to assure you that it has been fed. You are literally, as He himself said, feeding, clothing and housing Jesus Christ, when you are feeding, clothing, housing any human being; bad food, ugly clothes, dirty houses, not only injure the body, but injure the soul: nay, more, they do great injury unto God Himself. It is not to be wondered at that if, as seens patent, such considerations as these are a necessary result of sacramental teaching, such teaching should not be popular amongst the English well-to-do people. To co-existence of a great deal of religion in the same country with a great deal of poverty seems to be the natural outcome of all that talk about a "mere form," of which so much is heard from English Protestants: and people who forget that it is possible and necessary to worship with the body as well as with the spirit, are bound, if they are consistent to answer the cry of the outcast by building Mission Halls rather than by restoring to them the land from which they have been cast out, or the wealth of which they have been robbed. In our two concluding chapters we propose to deal with the two universally necessary sacraments. Here we are only insisting, as the catechism insists, that Christ, the Word of God, by Whom the world was made, has made it sacramentally, and we must take it as we find it. It is sheer blasphemy to to otherwise. To shut our eyes to the beauties, or the facts, of nature, to pretend to be ashamed of the human body, to go hankering after messages from disembodied spirits, when there are men and women, excellent spirits, with marvellous bodily organization to express them, ready to hand -- this may be very religious -- but it is utterly in contradiction to the sacramental way in which God has made the world.

And if it be true that the inward and spiritual grace is useless and inoperative apart from the outward and visible means, by which it is expressed, it is equally true that the outward and visible is meaningless and harmful, unless it be regarded in its true light as the expression of the inward and spiritual. The man of whom it can be said

"The primrose by the river's brim,
A yellow primrose was to him
And it was nothing more,"

not being a Sacramentalist is incapable of knowing a primrose. On the contrary the man who can say,

"Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
Hold you here, root and all in my hand,
Little flower -- but if I could understand,
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is, -- "

he has learnt the secret of the universe, and will enjoy the scent and colour of the wall-flower none the less for his Sacramentalism. Or to take an illustration from the art of dancing, which perhaps more than all other arts is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, ordained by the Word of God Himself, as a means whereby we receive the same and a pledge to assure us thereof: and which has suffered even more than the other arts from the utter anti-sacramentalism of British Philistia. Your Manichean Protestant, and your superfine Rationalist, reject the Dance as worldly, frivolous, sensual, and so forth: and your dull, stupid sensualist sees legs and grunts with some satisfaction: but your Sacramentalist knows something worth more than both of these. He knows, what perhaps even the dancer herself may be partially unconscious of, that we live now by faith and not by sight, and that the poetry of motion is the expression of unseen spiritual grace. "She all her being flings into the dance." "None dare interpret all her limbs express." These are the words of a genuine sacramentalist. But we cannot clench the lesson of this article better than by quoting at length Mr. Gordon Hake's poem on "The Dancing Girl," which we can ssure our readers will repay a careful and patient study. The absoulte necessity for not separating the outward and visible from the inward and spiritual could hardly have been better expressed or in a more important sphere.

On tiptoe poised amid a world of Song,
As though sweet sounds allured her to the chase,
She steps into the dance and threads a throng
Of limbs that dazzle space,
Till music drops, and the tired notes among
She triumphs in the race.

As one whose heart o'er runs the pregnant chords
Of the soul's tongue, so glides the dancing girl
When passion's flood in music's steps she fords
With nimble circling swirl
Of limbs more fluent than the flow of words,
As dizzily they whirl.

Sweet thought must through the spirit's darkness creep
Ere it see day; she all her being flings
Into the dance: the music's wondrous sweep
Unto her footfall clings,
And as a nymph from out the billow leaps,
From her soul's fount she springs.

Draped in her gossamer, where'er she goes
A pliant fold her inmost grace repeats,
While at her heart burns red the panting rose
That on her bosom beats!
But not the eyelash flame that hidden glows
One watchful lover meets.

None dare interpret all her limbs express,
That clad in music this divinely move;
Those arms would all embrace, those lips caress
The heaven descending dove:
More than the thought dare dream of they confess,
Because their art is love.

Those who thus following the lines of the Catechism have learnt what a Sacrament is, and how full human and natural life is of sacraments, will be better able to understand the meaning of those two greatest of all Sacraments, which are universally necessary to salvation.


After general teaching on the meaning and nature of a Sacrament, there follows special teaching about the two Sacraments, which are universlly necessary in order than men may be saved from sin; in order that evil may be conquered and good triumph in the world. And first of all Baptism. In this case the simple common element of water is taken as the outward visible sign or form, and in it the person is baptized in the name of that God, in whom all men live and move and have their being, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the utterance of which is necessitated by human thought and human longing.

And the grace, the beautiful gift, which by this means we receive, is declared to be a death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness: that is to say, the person's true condition is made plain, namely, that (to use the startling vigorous language of St. Paul) he should be a corpse so far as the influence of sin is concerned, and full of new life and energy with regard to righteousness. The actual fact of Baptism not only being an outward sign, that as water washes the body so God washes the man himself, but also a means whereby evil is destroyed, and life, conscious personal life, produced. The need for this is clearly stated in the Catechism, though not more clearly than in the facts of human history and every day experience. Baptism is necessary because we are "by nature born in sin and children of wrath." We have inherited tendencies to evil, we are very far gone from the original ideal standard of righteousness which is in the Eternal Man, Jesus; we naturally follow these evil impulses; and they deserve, and fortunately for us are sure to suffer, God's wrath and damnation. But though these facts are patent, they do not express the whole truth; on the contrary, unless we remember that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin, that by being loyal members of His Society we are saved from sin, that if it can be proved true from history and experience that the wages of sin for nations, institutions, individuals is death, it is also notorious that the gift of God is eternal life, we shall not understand ourselves or history. And we learn that by Baptism we are made the children of grace, actually made, not merely declared to be, but really and truly made the children of grace. Whether there is any other way by which a person could be made a child of grace the Catechism does not say -- it certainly does not deny it -- but what it does do is oblige all loyal Churchmen to achnowledge that every baptized person is regenerate, is a child of grace, is in other words a member of Christ, the Child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The meaning of Baptism is made clearer by the two succeeding statements. Repentance and faith are declared to be requisite for Baptism, and infants promise these two things by their sureties, because, when they come to age, they are things which they are bound to perform. We see by this how universal, how comprehensive the Church is; we understand how good men and true would suffer any loss rather than give up the glorious doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration; we see that the difference between the Church and the Sects is on this matter vital and fundamental. Repentance and faith are not reckoned as special gifts for a select few, on the contrary they are treated as given to men as men. Every child born into the world is to be claimed as a being who is bound to exercise repentance and have faith. In the teeth of those sects which insist on conversion, or on intelligent appreciation of Christian doctrine, as a preliminary to Baptism: in the teeth of those disloyal Churchmen, who would refuse Baptism to those children whose homes and environment are such that they are certain not to be properly brought up; in the teeth of those emotional missionising clergy who practically deny that the baptized, simply because they are baptized, are regenerate, are children of grace, are united to Jesus, are present inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven; the Church insists that infants be baptized. Could you possibly conceive a better witness than this against sin and for humanity? Without Baptism men might be liable to forget that it is Jesus who is the ideal original Head of the human race; without Infant Baptism men might be liable to think it was their conversion or their orthodoxy or their superfine morality which united them to Jesus. Baptism tells them, as nothing else could, that they live only by union with Jesus; Infant Baptism tells them that that union is their true human condition.

Moreover what a witness is there here against every kind of exclusiveness, whether spiritual, social, or political. If it be true, as Baptism declares, that all have sinned and come short of the ideal standard of excellence intended for them, if it be true that all can repent and believe because repentance and faith are God's gifts to men as men, then how absurd, how unchristian, are all these divisions into classes, how monstrous these present contrasts between rich and poor. Baptism says plainer than any convention, in spite of every clerical and ecclesiastical abuse, "Ye are all one in Christ Jesus." It is to Him we are being false, if in our political institutions, our social customs, or our distribution of material wealth, we fail to recognize that unity. The sects united on the basis of conversion, or superfine morality, can afford to be exclusive. The Atheist is almost forced into forming an aristocracy of intellect. But the Catholic Churchman is bound by his doctrine of Baptismal regeneration, by his practice of Infant Baptism, to be inclusive, democratic.


Why was the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper ordained?" Such is the commonplace, abrupt way in which the Child is brought face to face with his lesson on this great subject. But if his Godparents have done their duty by him, he must often already have seen the priest before the altar, and seen that his elders were taking their share in the most solemn, most unique, act of their weekly life. An now he is told in a few plain homely words, what it all means. There before the altar the priest is making "a continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ and of the benefit which we receive thereby." Here is a few words and a few acts you get at the very centre of our worship, and of our life. At present few English Churchmen realize this; for priests and people alike have allowed their pretty musical matins to interfere in time or in dignity with this continual Remembrance. We verily believe that much of the infidelity and the degraded misery of England are the result of English Churchmen having forgotten that it was for a Continual Remembrance that the Lord's Supper was ordained. Restore the Mass, the Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, the Holy Eucharist, -- call it what you will, the act is the same, -- to its true position, as the one common, necessary Service, and you will preach a gospel which infidelity and plutocracy must give way to.

For see how simple God's own service is compared with the double chants, difficult passages of scripture, and perhaps the Athanasian Creed, of the Matins you substitute for it. The outward part or sign is simply Bread and Wine, which the Lord hath commanded to be received; the simple human elements of strength and joy, these are taken by the Priest, offered and consecrated; and then the inward part or thing signified is the Body and Blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper: that is to say Jesus then and there gives Himself to us to strengthen and refresh us, as our bodies are strengthened and refreshed by bread and wine.

The MassIs it not simple? You do not for this want to have made up your mind on the thousand and one Biblical questions which are being discussed, and on account of their opinion about which men think they are not Christians; you do not have to agree with many difficult doctrines stated in learned language: you simply have to know Jesus a little, to love Him sufficiently to think it worth while to want to get your life and character influenced by, incorporated into, His life and character.

Let us face this fairly in these days of doubts and unchristian misery: new Religions without number, clever dodges here, stern laws there, are being suggested as a remedy for the present distress, or for the atheistic socialism, or the harder atheistic malthusianism, which are at work, attempting to remedy the present distress. But Jesus Christ's own remedy lies to hand, still for the most part neglected, shoved into a corner, relegated to the "pious," profaned.

"I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." "For this cause (because they make little of the Holy Communion) many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep."

I would urge upon my readers that there is no point of Church Reform of more importance than this of restoring the Mass to its proper central place. I would urge upon all priests who are free from Episcopal or Beneficed tyranny to use their freedom this for the exaltation of Jesus.

They will be well repaid; for who that is worth having may not with a loving boldness find shelter and strength in the light of the real Presence of Jesus? The sceptic worried with Christian evidences and his own hard, clever, logical refutation of them, if he have still a human heart left, can get warmth and light. The hard toilers doing the special work praised by Jesus of feeding, clothing, and housing God's children, they, when once they know who He is, and how different He is from what the Religious world makes Him out to be, will crowd into His sanctuary. The hireling oppressed in his wages, the citizen who is robbed of his land, these, after the Mass has taken the place of the popular religion, will find in Jesus a friend for them and a foe for their foes: the young and beautiful rejoicing in their youth and beauty will find their natural place in the worship of a beautiful God: and common every-day people, no longer ousted by the "pious" and the "religious" will again crowd our altars. These things are worth working for: for the restoration of the Mass to its true place, the making much of Holy Communion, means not merely the substitution of one service for an other, but the exaltation of the only Service which Jesus Christ ordained: and therefore it means a complete changing of the people's ideas about God: it means the dispelling of that gloom and doubt and introspection, that worship of the Bible, that individualistic commercial religion which is summed up in the word Protestantism.

The last question the child is asked is this: "What is required of them that come to the Lord's Supper?" And let us note that it is this title rather than the Holy Communion, the Holy Eucharist, or the Mass, which is used in the [1662 Prayer Book] Catechism. The other names surely have good meanings for us: the Holy Communion pledging all who partake of it to be sharers of their wealth, whether spiritual or material, to be Holy Communists: the Holy Eucharist telling us that it is a God of Joy with whom we have to do, that human joy is sacred, and religion should be a joyful thing: the Mass reminding us that in this one great Christian Service at least we are at one with our fellow-Churchman elsewhere, that the same act is being done, the same sacrifice is being offered in Rome as in London: and yet it is not by these names, but as the Lord's Supper, that the Divine Service is spoken of here. This we think significant, and most important to be noted in these times: for this name reminds us that this great service took the place of the Jewish Passover Supper: that just as year by year the Jews kept festival in memory of their great national deliverance from Egyptian tyranny, so week by week we keep festival in honour of Christ the deliverer from all tyrants, the emancipator of oppressed nations and classes everywhere. It becomes impossible for a priest, who knows what the Lord's Supper means, not to take a part to the best of his power in every work of political or social emancipation: impossible for an earnest communicant not to be an earnest politician.

The answer to the last question is as follows: "To examine themselves whether they repent them truly of their former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead a new life, have a lively faith in God;s mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death; and be in charity with all men."

It is not requisite for a man to worry himself about every detail of his life; but it is requisite that he should find out whether he truly repents of what he has done wrong, and whether he wants to be better; it is not necessary that he should be "converted," or believe all that is written in the Bible: but it is necessary that he should have a living active trust in the mercy of God as revealed in the life and self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ: it is not necessary that he should like everyone equally, have no favourites and no enemies; but it is necessary that he should not be carrying about with him malice and spite, that he should recognize that in his enemy and in all men there is some part of God's spirit, and therefore something to love.


We have now gone through the catechism sentence by sentence, and I hope I have made it clear to all those who are working for "Humanity," to all those who are eager to leave this world better than they found it, or who think at any rate that this world demands and will repay their utmost care and attention, that they have in the Church of England, according to the one document which is binding on all her members, a society with whose authorized teaching they are bound largely to sympathise. I hope also that I have made it clear to the Clergy and the Sunday school teachers that it is to a great extent their fault, their want of loyalty to the Church's teaching, which has permitted Atheistic Secularism to spread, or has allowed men to think that there is any necessary contradiction between the adjective Christian and the noun, Socialism.

The rubrics which follow the Catechism are very plain and precise; it would be well for the Church and the nation if they were obeyed. It would be well if the Church Association and the English Church Union, both so keen about other rubrics, could for once combine and use their energies to get these two rubrics obeyed.

"The curate of every Parish shall diligently upon Sundays and Holy-days after the second lesson at Evening Prayer, openly in the church instruct and examine so many children of his Parish sent unto him, as he shall think convenient, in some part of this Catechism.

"And all Fathers, Mothers, Masters and Dames shall cause their children, servants and apprentices (which have not learned their Catechism) to come to the Church at the time appointed and obediently to hear be ordered by the Curate, until such time as they have learned all that is here appointed for them to learn.

It is to help the Clergy in their instructions and examinations, to guide the Curate in his ordering of the Children, Servants, and Apprentices, as well as to shew what kind of teaching it is which the Church calls upon the people obediently to hear, that his book has been written.

Moreover, if the Church's orders on this subject were obediently carried out by the beneficed and licensed clergy (who, occupying so unique a position of influence and trust, would, one might hope, consider themselves bound in common honesty to be true to their ordination promises), the "religious difficulty" in the elementary schools would disappear, and we could have a really free and national system of elementary instruction.

Every horrible "Calvinistic" doctrine can be taught now in our Board Schools; it is certainly not for those who value true manly religion to allow a compromise which includes the Bible and excludes the Catechism, to last any longer than they can help. At present the State endows in our Board Schools the teaching of the average middle-class commercial conception of religion, and many Churchmen seem to think that terrible things will happen if the instruction were entirely secular. But if the Clergy would simply do their duty and instruct and examine the Children in the Catechism on Sundays and Holy-days, not only would the "religious difficulty" disappear from the Schools, but grown-up men and women would not find that they must unlearn most of what they learnt at school before they can with mature minds become open, loyal worshippers of Jesus Christ.

For if it were not for these artificial hindrances, all men and women who work, all who are oppressed and disinherited, all too who are eager to help these, all even who are just a little bit disturbed and perplexed with our present anarchy, all, in fact, except those who are both rich and self-satisfied, would, out of the necessity of their being, naturally worship Jesus Christ: He is so beautiful, so true, His words are so plainly the words of eternal Life, that none when brought under His influence can fail to be drawn by Him. He came as the Emancipator, he founded His Church to continue that work, it cannot be for long that good and true men and women should continue to deny Him. When the laws of His eternal life, the teaching of His Church, are once more understood, the Kingdom of Heaven will once more suffer violence and the violent will take it by force: the common people will crowd His altars, and free themselves from oppression in His name, and a united aggressive Christian Democracy will say with one voice, as a handful of revolutionists said of old, "Lord, to whom should we go, Thou hast the words of eternal life."

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