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The Upper Room Being A Few Truths For The Times by John Charles Ryle

NOTE.

I commend to all readers of this sermon the following extract from a leading article in the Guardian newspaper of January 5, 1870. From such a quarter, testimony to the importance of the |Position of Laity| is doubly valuable: --

|We have shown, we trust, that we are far from insensible to the dangers that might possibly arise from the admission of the laity to a larger degree of authority and influence than they now enjoy in the Anglican communion as known within these isles. Let us now glance for a moment at the strength of the case on behalf of the claims being urged by the laity.

|Under the patriarchal system, the regale and the pontifical were united. The head of the family was at once king and priest; and the idea that some sacrifices could only be offered by a king was so widely spread that Athens, after becoming a democracy, retained for this end a King-Archon, and Rome in like manner a Rex Sacrificulus. This union is to some extent still preserved in Thibet, in China, and in most countries under Mahometans rule. In Palestine we know that the two authorities were dissevered; the royalty ultimately falling to Judah, and the priesthood to Levi. Subsequently we read of Saul, Uzzah, and Uzziah being punished for usurpation of offices not intrusted to their care. Yet, when we reflect on the great pains bestowed by David in the matter of ritual, on the deposition of Abiathar by Solomon, on the action of pious monarchs such as Josiah and Hezekiah, and on the position of Zerubbabel and his descendants after the captivity, it must surely be acknowledged that the lay influence under the Mosaic dispensation was immense. One of the famous Jesuit commentators (either a Lapide or Maldonatus) does not hesitate to admit that in the Jewish polity the State was superior to the Church. In the time of our Lord at least one-third of the Sanhedrim consisted of laymen.

|When we turn to the infant Church Catholic, almost the earliest step taken by the community is one involving the action of the laity. The seven deacons were chosen by the whole multitude. And if various readings cause some difficulty respecting the Council of Jerusalem, yet the confirmation of its decision by the whole Church is a recorded fact. Evidence of the continuation of a line of thought and action consistent with these commencements is supplied by Dr. Moberly from the works of great and saintly doctors, a Cyprian and a Chrysostom, and from the Acts of early councils held at Carthage, at Eliberis, at Toledo, and among our own Anglo-Saxon ancestors. At the Councils of Pisa and of Constance, a prominent place was assigned to Canonists and other doctors of law who were simple laymen. Moreover, the great universities of Europe, though lay corporations, having received from the Church as well as from the State commissions to teach theology, were constantly appealed to for opinions both on questions relating to the faith and on cases of conscience. The reference concerning the lawfulness of Henry VIII.'s marriage to these famous bodies is the best known instance in our history, but it is by no means a solitary one. In the fourteenth century, such judgments, especially those proceeding from the University of Paris, had been very numerous; and so much weight was attached to them that they almost supplied the place (says Palmer) of the judgments of Provincial Synods.

|Nor have the laity achieved merely small things in the way of theology. It is true, as might have been expected, that the formation of dogma, necessitated by heresy, has been for the most part the work of bishops and presbyters, an Athanasius, a Leo, an Augustine. But not only have masterly apologies for the faith and works of Christian literature proceeded in great numbers from laic pens, but laymen have also, at certain times and places, shown themselves superior in their zeal for purity of doctrine to that portion of the Church which, as a rule, constitutes Ecclesia docens. A notable example occurs in the history of Arianism. Certain bishops of semi-Arian tendencies found it impossible to infuse into the laity of their flocks the heretical poison which they themselves had imbibed. It was a layman, too, who first called attention to the heresy of Nestorius. In our own time, the lay members of ecclesiastical Conventions in the United States have not unfrequently exhibited a more moderate and conservative tone than their clerical brethren.|

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