IT must have been a great joy to our Saviour to praise men who were worthy of praise--and He praised none who were not. His was an appreciative eye; His were appreciative lips. So He never failed to recognize the commendable character or even the commendable action, and to comment on it. Instances flock to the memory. Of John the Baptist He said, "Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist." "He was a burning and a shining light." Upon S. Peter He bestowed a rich benediction in recognition of the Apostle's spiritual discernment: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: . . . thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." Over the faith of the Roman official He marvelled, and declared He had "not found [81/82] so great faith, no, not in Israel." He commended Mary as having chosen that "good part which shall not be taken away from her." And in the case before us He declares the sterling worth of Nathanael. He is a true Israelite, one who is what the name implies--a prince of God; one who is loyal to all that is real in his nation and in the faith of his fathers; a man in whom is no guile--whose transparency of character is without shadow, whose activities are but the reflection of his motives, the expression of his inner life.
Yes, it must have been a joy to the Son of man when He walked on earth amidst its woes and wickedness to discover and commend that which was praiseworthy. And what was, shall be; that is to say, on the day of judgement, when our career on earth will have a final seal set upon it, it will be the joy of the Judge to say again and again, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" The day of judgement will be an awful day; but it will also be a day of joyous surprises and of resounding song, a blest, a calm, a bright, a glad day, because the Judge is [82/83] the Saviour, gentle, considerate, forgiving--commending rather than condemning. "Then shall every man have his praise of God."
In between that yesterday of long ago when Jesus gave such high praise to Nathanael as a character, and that to-morrow--whether it be far or near God only knows--when rewards will be set on the brows of men who have been true to Christ, lies the long stretch of time of which to-day is a portion. And what of this period? Is Jesus silent now except to censure sin? Is He reserving His words of praise and appreciation until the day of judgement? Did He commend John the Baptist and S. Peter and the rest as quite unique persons who stood apart from all who came after? No, a thousand times no. The commending Jesus of yesterday and of to-morrow is the commending Jesus of to-day. An hour does not pass, no, not a minute, in which He does not flash His approval upon some child of earth; and, believe me, it is the only reward in the world worth seeking or keeping. Who has not on some occasion heard Him say in the [83/84] depths of a peaceful conscience: "I know thy works, thy patience, thy love, thy faith. Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life."
Yes, the Saviour loves to praise us to-day when we strive to be and do and suffer according to His will. Those who, as we read in Scripture, were commended by Him of old stand as the representative types of character which He always and everywhere praises--the lowly, the faithful, the loving, the guileless. Nor does ever a life close which has been lived in His service that He fails to reveal its worth to the eyes of those who stand near by. With what dignity a completed life rises on our vision! Incidental blemishes fade out, and we see character as it is. God seems to repeat to us who remain the judgement He pronounces in the ear of the departed soul at the moment of death. Men are more truly measured by their fellows when life closes than at any other time. The trumpet-note of the Saviour's praise echoes to earth and for the moment drowns with its jubilance and beauty the petty criticisms, the false and disproportionate [84/85] judgements that blind us to true human worth: we hear in our souls the verdict of God, and we cannot but admit that it is true.
This is something that all of us are feeling to-day as the picture of that serene and beloved face, with its noble brow, its honest eyes, its chaste mouth, rises to our memory. Somehow we know Henry Martyn Torbert as never before. The Saviour has pronounced upon him commending judgement, and in such vibrant tones as to allow us to share the secret which will be eternal joy to our dear brother. As to what Jesus said to him and of him as he entered his new home, there is no room for doubt. All that day of tears and smiles that I spent in the little Pennsylvania village where he once lived, whether I was sitting in the refined atmosphere of the home he loved, treading the streets which so often had echoed to his feet, kneeling by his side in the quiet church where his body lay, or standing by the flower-strewn grave, one sentence kept repeating itself to me: "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile." This surely was the greeting with which the Saviour welcomed [85/86] into Paradise his eager soul as it sped up to Jesus' feet. For Henry Martyn Torbert lived among us in the spirit and power of Nathanael. To-day we are going to forget our irreparable loss for a moment at any rate, burying it in our exultation over the completeness of life into which he has entered and the heritage that has been left us in his enduring influence and example. And in so doing we shall be taking the first step toward making his spirit our own. In his diary, which I shall quote freely in what I am going to say, a diary composed mainly of aspirations and spiritual reflections, there is this entry made two days after his mother's death and while her body was yet in the house:" Mother said to me in the early part of her illness, 'Do not grieve too much for me'--therefore I am not to be unhappy and I am not to be unchristian in my sorrow. I must try to regard all connected with this change in the light with which she views it in Paradise. I must live so that my sorrow can be changed into joy, not followed by joy, because the impression will be lost in time." And the day following he writes; [86/87] "I read the Gospels through the day to drink in the utterances of Christ on the Resurrection. ... I must be happy through the grave and the Resurrection life." How fully he realized his purpose those of us know who were by his side during the days that followed. And we may not do less than he now that we are the mourners; so we surround ourselves with symbols of triumph and joy rather than those which bespeak grief. We deck our altar in white, adorning it with flowers: and we sing of the Communion of Saints, the Resurrection of the body, and the Life everlasting.
It is not so much the facts of his life that we want to think about just now as what he was in himself. But in order to reach a clear understanding of his character a brief sketch of his career will be serviceable. He was born in Upper Makefield, near Philadelphia, on December 2, 1845. His parents were devout adherents of the Presbyterian faith, and until his college days he was under the stern benignity of Calvinism. Serious illness retarded his studies as a boy and kept him from entering into youthful sports. His blameless [87/88] boyhood and a naturally religious temperament prepared him for that call to special dedication which came to him with such appealing force toward the end of his collegiate career. Though he entered Princeton University he did not complete his course. While there his interest in the Church was ripened by surrounding influences to such an extent that he embraced with zeal her faith and eventually took holy orders.
Leaving Princeton he went to Trinity College, Hartford, where he graduated in 1870, going thence to the General Theological Seminary for the prescribed course of three years. His nature was one that could find satisfaction only in the completest surrender to God, and his eyes were open for opportunities to realize the life of absolute consecration. During his seminary course he became engrossed in the idea of community life, and thought he had found in the English Society of S. John the Evangelist such an embodiment of his ideal as he longed for. He was ordained deacon on June 29, 1873, and proceeded immediately to Oxford, where he was clothed as a novice [88/89] of the Cowley community on August 1, 1874. From first to last his life was one of self-sacrifice, and what it cost a man of such obviously domestic tastes and of so passionately patriotic a spirit to enter English monastic life, cannot easily be measured. But he did it as he did all, for the kingdom of heaven's sake.
He left the community house in Cowley without being professed as a member of the order, owing to serious difficulties, mainly in connection with the vows required. But his loyalty to his original purpose kept him more or less closely related to the Society until the fall of the year 1891. His stability was not the least feature of his character.
Upon his return to America he became chaplain to the Sisters of S. Mary, Peekskill, New York, in whose chapel at the House of Mercy in New York City he had been advanced to the priesthood on May 29, 1874. He left a deep impression on this community of devout women whom he served from 1876 to 1883, when he joined the staff of clergy at the Mission Church of S. John the Evangelist, Boston. During his [89/90] chaplaincy in Peekskill he had free scope for the development of the reflective and devotional life which was always such a joy to him. With the Psalmist he could say: "Lord, what love have I unto Thy law: all the day long is my study in it." In after life he often referred to the spiritual happiness of that period. Upon coming to Boston he was more or less occupied in conducting missions and retreats in various parts of the country, as well as in doing parochial work.
When the Society recalled its provincial superior, Rev. A. C. A. Hall, in 1891, Mr. Torbert put himself in the hands of the Bishop of the diocese, Bishop Brooks, for such duty as might be allotted to him, and he was appointed to the newly purchased S. Stephen's Church, where work began shortly afterwards. The remainder of his career to the end has been a part of the life of most of you, and to all of us it is an inspiring and sacred memory.
Such, in brief, was the history of our Nathanael, "the gift of God"--for that is the meaning of Nathanael--to us for a season. He was an Israelite indeed; there was [90/91] reality corresponding to his profession. To his nation and his Church alike he was absolutely loyal.
He was an American indeed. His sense of responsibility as a citizen was uncommonly deep. Matters of national import were always of concern to him. I have seldom seen him angry in well-nigh fourteen years of hallowed and intimate fellowship with him; and never once have I known him to be unrighteously angry. It may be truthfully said of him as it was said of a man for whom he had profound admiration: At a "public crisis, as in many a private one, a fire of moral indignation would suddenly reveal itself in him which startled the ordinary man. We are used to such passion over personal wrongs; there it gives us no surprise. But a flame of righteous anger that has no trace of personal injury in it, and that leaps up at the sight of public wrong because it is wrong, and for no other reason--this is rare indeed. . . . Yet there it was. No one could mistake it. It was the pure, white anger of an outraged conscience. When once you had caught sight of it you never forgot it." On one occasion [91/92] I recall, he sternly rebuked, with words of flame, a young man who had wantonly impugned the honour of the Republic. He spoke to me about it several times afterwards and his eye flashed at the recollection of the offence. But in spite of that his gentle nature feared that he had been too severe, and that he ought to have attributed the hostile sentiment expressed to thoughtlessness and immaturity.
It was a grief to him that the country should be plunged into war with Spain, but when once the government had taken action he would allow no impeachment of the motives which actuated the nation." Though in war," he wrote at that time under the head of "Reflections," "from the unchristian attitude of nations and the lack of thorough Christian education, yet there must be the Christian spirit in the struggle, and the advance to the ideal state when there will be no war. We Christians must have the proper thoughts about Spain, and our conversation must be without bitterness. The avowed principle of humanity must be prominent, and secondary and political motives must [92/93] be kept out of the struggle and crushed." Then he proceeded to speak about the need of prayer that God would overrule all, and that petitions should be for those with whom we were struggling as well as for ourselves.
He was enthusiastically patriotic and it has been his habit for years to go, when it was possible, to hear the Fourth of July oration delivered and the Declaration of Independence read. I have been with him on such occasions and have noted that he listened with devout attention, as though hearing some new and sacred thing. The national holiday was filled with religious import to him. During his illness great care was exercised lest he should learn of the President's assassination; we felt that if it should come to his ears the shock might prove fatal. And he died ignorant of the national calamity.
These are incidents that declare how true a son of the Republic he was. Matters of civic as well as those of national interest commanded his attention and activity--education, the betterment of the conditions of the poor, the suppression of vice. He was alive to the problems of his own immediate [93/94] neighbourhood, and his plans were always formed with reference to their solution. It is about a year since he entered heartily into the Actors' Church Alliance, of which he became the President in this city. I have never seen him more enthusiastic over any enterprise than he was in this movement. The world and every department of life were, according to his way of thinking,--and it is the proper way,--God's rightful heritage, and it was a joy to him to feel that the stage, which has been so slighted and neglected by religion in the past, should be willing to come under the sheltering guidance of the Church. The last entry but one in his diary has to do with the Alliance.
It may be asked why a man with such catholic sympathies should have been so little in evidence publicly. The answer is, because he was living the hidden life. He was an Israelite in deed, not in name and fame. He had an actual abhorrence of personal prominence. Filled as he was with self-depreciation that led him once and again almost to entreat one of his associates in work to succeed to his position and allow him to assume a subsidiary [94/95] post, it was impossible for him to be much seen on the surface of life. He was one of the master workers who put their labour in where it tells, down among the foundations. He had a "horror of all loud and brawling life," a "deep love for quiet work among the poor," and a "passion for all that was peaceful and restrained." Indeed it was only a mastering sense of duty that held him of late in his place in city work: his inclinations and a fear of incompetency made him yearn for the repose of the country.
How true a son of the faith he was you know as well as I. He was a Christian indeed. Of course narrow men misunderstood his position. His conception of dogma was of a shore from which you launched out upon the great sea of truth, not of four walls which imprisoned you. He was sympathetic with the various phases of truth for which the different schools of thought in our communion stand. And a perusal of his letters written many years back shows that he anticipated that position of comprehension which is now occupying the thought of the foremost men in the Church. He disclaimed any partisan [95/96] allegiance long since and was content to be known as a Churchman. But there was no vagueness or uncertainty in his theological thought: he was very far from being one of those nerveless, amiable persons who tolerate anything. He held in like contempt those who by suave sophistries explained away the creed, and those who by tricks of conscience quite unintelligible to his honest nature read into Scripture or the formularies of the Church, mediaeval or self-willed philosophy.
It was his desire to be simply one of the brotherhood of the ministry, and his dislike of any differentiation between himself and other clergy led him to discard as far as possible the title of "father" which attached to him from his early affiliations. But so peculiarly descriptive of his character was it that people used it instinctively and it adhered to him to the last. He was a true Father in God and his personality graced the name. The title was of spiritual rather than of ecclesiastical significance in his case.
No one who knew him could question his guilelessness. As in the case of Nathanael, it was his foremost characteristic. He was [96/97] "frank, simple, with no selfish aims to hide, no doubts to suppress." His soul looked out of his eyes, which were as windows to his inner life. The semblance of a lie he scorned and despised. Had it been possible for him to deceive with his lips, his face would have told the truth. He used to say jokingly that he had a "tell-tale face." And so it was: a face that told of inner beauty and power. Because of his absolute transparency he had no faults which a mere acquaintance could not discern; no effort was made on his part to conceal his defects--"what his all but utter whiteness held for sin." He was just what he seemed to be. Most of us at least have a vein of deceit running through us; we intuitively plot to gain the good opinion of our fellows and cover up our ignorances by assuming the air of knowledge: he on the contrary freely, though unconsciously, made public confession of his faults, and he admitted his ignorance when he did not know a thing, making the occasion an opportunity to gain knowledge. But he had a wisdom that was not learned from flesh and blood, but which is God's special gift to the pure in [97/98] heart. So accurately did his judgement work, so deep and clear was his insight, that it was safer to be guided by his intuitions than by most men's reasoning.
Enthusiasm usually flags with the cessation of youth, but his perennial interest in all that pertained to life expressed itself in child-like delight. New scenery, new experiences, new friendships, called out bursts of sunlight which set his face aglow with joy. And as to new thought, he was always ready to respond to the invitation, "Come and see." He accepted or rejected nothing without experimental knowledge of its value. Proving all things he held fast to that which was good. His unselfishness was of that interior quality that belongs only to a chastened and developed character. When some triumph or success came to his companions in work it roused in him a delight that was not surpassed when a blessing all his own befell him.
His ambition was to serve, and where he seemed to fall short in his work for others--if, for instance, he imagined that he had failed to reach the people in his preaching--[98/99] it was a great sorrow to him. Not that he dwelt upon failure in the light of a humiliation to himself, but as a lost or squandered opportunity. Failure was something he expected as a part of the Christian discipline. "The men," he wrote in his diary, "who have abandoned themselves to the ideal service of God, who have sacrificed everything for the truth, have not from the world's standpoint been a success. Sooner or later they have failed. This is true of Christ, His followers and others." The failure that he dreaded was that which might be traced to some neglect or flaw in himself. So after a sermon or meditation when he felt he had not held attention, are such entries in his diary as these: "Need of much more loss of self in public speaking,--grant it to me, I pray Thee, O Lord." My purpose "is not to be as great as another, but to give forth myself--except I speak as God has spoken to me and through me I am not of much account, nor am I doing any real spiritual work." And again, "I was not satisfied with the preparation of my subject. Theological and explanatory, but not enough life." Still [99/100] again," Evening congregation not much influenced apparently by my course of sermons, but I allow a depression in consequence, which is not right. I should prepare
in the sight of God;
then go forth from Him with a message from above."
Little did he realize with his refined modesty that his whole life was a sermon. How could it be otherwise when he began each year and each day with some such aspiration and resolution as this: "Be the bearer of the Divine life in the world, in society, in business, in the home, in recreation as well as in the Church. In the Actors' Church Alliance and the life connected with it, have in view the bearing witness to God as His child." Could the Alliance ask for a better motto for their organization? What was a commonplace of the spiritual life to him would be for many of us a counsel of perfection. He once said to me in the course of a conversation, with that simplicity and [100/101] unconsciousness of any thing unusual that were characteristic of him, "Of course I have long since banished from my life anything that I would be ashamed to have people know about. Where one fails is in achieving the positive righteousness of Christ"--or words to that effect.
His influence consisted just in this--he was childlike and guileless. His inner reality shone forth from the depths of a singularly simple, transparent character. Some men control multitudes by their intellect, their forceful will, their masterfulness; but he by the purity of his personality, the sincerity of his purpose, the integrity of his life.
Of course the secret of his life, of his insight, his good judgement, his pure patriotism, his loyalty to Christ and the Church, his blamelessness, was that devotional and meditative habit which was formed in early life and maintained to the end. Like Nathanael he was frequently beneath the fig-tree gazing into the depths of eternal truth, then applying what he learned to the experiences and tasks of every-day life. "The [101/102] daily gift of himself to God and the resignation as a child to the Father's guidance"--again I quote his words--lay at the foundation of all else. "The fundamental spiritual life is to commune with God in private and public," he wrote in his diary a few months ago. This to him was the meaning of dedication; no matter what the environment or occupation of a man, this complete dedication was possible for and obligatory upon all, the labourer and the priest, the woman in society and the sister of mercy, without difference or distinction. What God calls for is "the entire gift without reference to preconceived form: 'it is a certain character, not certain acts' " that make up the reality of dedication.
In thus making quotations from his diary I am but repeating what you have often heard him say from this place. But there is this distinction, what he wrote in his diary was for his own personal guidance and edification; when he preached he was giving forth what he had prepared for the instruction of others. It is not always, however, that there is such complete correspondence [102/103] between the rules which the preacher lays down for the conduct of his own life and those which he gives out to his people. He was like Chaucer's "Poure Persoun of a Toun:"--
This noble ensample to his sheepe he gaf
That firste he wroghte and afterward he taughte.
But Christes loore, and His Apostles twelve,
He taughte, but first he folwed it hymselve.
He was the true pastor; he went before his sheep. He lived as he asked others to live--with God in all his thoughts. And he went from his knees to his work. Thus we find him recording how he would go to some difficult undertaking, a perplexing visit perhaps, after "a spiritual morning;" or referring to how "many useful thoughts about his work "had come to him in an hour spent with God; or saying that he must " come from within to the people as prophet and priest."
And so the very lovely life moved on, through storm and sunshine, o'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till the night was gone; always the serene countenance [103/104] telling of the peace within even though tempest and earthquake were without. His mother's death was a break in his life from which his sensitive and affectionate nature never recovered. The record of the last days of his loved one and of the hours before the burial which he spent by the body, making the room where she lay "his oratory," as he termed it, is a sacred volume and a lesson in filial love. Since then he has thought much of Paradise and of the time when his body, "with feet toward the dawn," would rest by her side in yonder peaceful cemetery.
The time for his going came upon us unexpectedly, though he was ready. A few weeks since, he went away for a short holiday, during which the last illness seized him. God saw that he had done his work and had need of a fuller rest than the brief respite from labour here which he had planned. While a week ago to-day, almost at this hour, the Church on earth was peering with dim but earnest eyes into the world of invisible things and singing songs about the heavenly intelligences, God bade His angels go to his servant and carry him who was an [104/105] Israelite indeed, without guile, into the bosom of Abraham.
Had it been practicable, we should have brought his body from Toronto, where he died, to rest for a brief space before this altar at which he served so well. But it could not be done, and it was taken directly to his Pennsylvania home. After a Eucharist in the village church and the stately Burial Office, we gathered at his grave and left all that is mortal
To rest beneath the clover sod
That takes the sunshine and the rains,
with the perfume of sweet and chaste flowers, emblematic of his character, pressing the earthy coverlet of his bed.
And love will last as pure and whole
As when he loved us here in Time,
And at the spiritual prime
Rewaken with the dawning soul.
God has given His beloved sleep; and we trustfully leave him in his well-earned rest.
As for ourselves, the day of toil has not yet closed. Some of us are hastening with rapid feet toward the western hills. Other [105/106] some are in the noontide heat, bearing the burden of the strong and singing the song of the workers. Nor shall we be less vigorous nor less songful because our comrade has left us. With renewed energy shall we stoop to our problems, seeking to know and do God's will. If for a bit the mists hang low and shut out the light we can at least trust and wait; for God is on our side, the God of Israel who neither slumbers nor sleeps, the God to whom darkness and light are both alike, the God who is where He was and what He was always, whether the sun shine or the storm-clouds lower. Life here and now is for us to live for all it is worth; and we can do it creditably if we will but commit ourselves to the keeping of Christ and His Church.
To your tasks then, Comrades! Up and be doing, with a smile on your lips and your tools in your hands! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth and we are "the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand."
Be thou faithful unto death, and
I will give thee a crown of life.