Project Canterbury


The Faithful Witness:

Or, The Pastoral Work and Character;




William Croswell, D.D.,





BY A. C. COXE, M.A.,



IN all its relations to mortality, the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST illustrates its origin from God, by its wonderful adaptation to the wants of man. Death and the grave, which mock all human systems, put the crowning witness to the religion of Him who hath brought life and immortality to light. Hence it was that JESUS and the Resurrection were the burthen of apostolic testimony, appealing so tenderly to the greatest of human miseries, as to win the ear, and arrest the conscience of intelligent heathenism, when they would have been deaf to anything less fundamental and complete. Life from the dead became the great idea of the Gospel, as the glorious correlative of the remission of sin; and, at once, the converted nations enshrined it, in all places, where despair had reigned before. No more the sepulchre was inscribed with symbols of decay and extinction; the urn and the inverted torch gave place to the ark, and the sprouting branch; and the wail of eternal separation was transformed into the sweet song of expectation and of promise. Something indeed was indulged to the natural feelings of momentary bereavement; the Christian might sorrow, but not as without hope; and when devout men carried Stephen to his burial, they made great lamentation over him, but not as forgetting his dying rapture in the vision of his Saviour, or the fact with which the evangelist concludes his story,--the fact that all the cruel blows and peltings of his martyrdom could do no more than make him fall asleep.

In such a spirit the primitive Church received in earnest the proverb of the Preacher, "a good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one's birth." With sweet economy of faith she made practical the separate parts of the inspired adage, both at once, when she celebrated her holy martyrs, and kept the days of their suffering, as days of festivity. It is in the same spirit, my brethren, that we keep this day. It is one marked in your parochial history by the striking and significant death of one whose life was that of a Confessor, and whose falling asleep was like that of sacrificing Abel, at the altar of our very Paschal Lamb.

So sudden and so afflictive was your bereavement, that you sorrowed indeed like men, and yet were comforted like Christians. The year has come round, again, renewing our tender recollections of his holy walk with God, and of his translation to His more immediate presence, and we mark the day as a parochial feast. Is it that we may merely renew our tears, or prolong the pageantry of mourning? God forbid! He is at rest; delivered out of a world in which his pure spirit found very little that was congenial; and satisfied with the joys of Paradise, the society of Saints, and the vision of GOD. We keep the day of his deliverance with gratitude for his example, and with prayer that we may so follow it, that we may soon rejoin him among the spirits of just men made perfect. We keep the day, that we may soberly review the providence of GOD, and in a calmness, impossible to our first grief, attempt the discovery of its mysterious import. We believe that being dead he yet speaketh; and we keep the day, that we may the better mark and learn his testimony, and inwardly digest what it should impress upon our souls. To this end, may the HOLY SPIRIT bless and sanctify the words which I shall endeavor to speak in dependence upon His most gracious and ready help, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

I. The text supplies me with a fruitful subject for reflection, at the very outset. Whether it were Abel's faith, or Abel's sacrifice, which was most immediately in view, when the apostle wrote, that "by it he being dead yet speaketh," the sense is, in fact, the same. Abel's altar, his gifts, his sacrifice were more acceptable than Cain's, because they demonstrated his faith, as resting in the merits and death of the promised Lamb of GOD. By it, the Martyr had spoken of JESUS, through all the ages of Patriarchs, and Aaronic priests; and consequently, his testimony was fresh and perpetual, when figures and types were done away. The Unity of the faith is the groundwork, therefore, of a genuine Christian testimony. He whose faith is that of Abel, and that of St. Paul; he alone to whom JESUS CHRIST is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of revelation; he alone, being dead, can yet speak anything to the purpose, or that is greatly important to be heard, and known. Hence it is worthy of consideration, to begin with, that he whom we commemorate this day, lived and died for the faith once delivered to the Saints. He was not the author of any new doctrine or scheme of salvation, but the steward of that which Christ had committed to his trust. His life was a consistent testimony to scriptural and apostolic truth. He knew nothing among you, but CHRIST and Him crucified.

He preached not himself; neither the wisdom of this world; but the same gospel, which, even when St. Paul preached it, was the stumbling-block of the Jew, and foolishness to the Greek.

But while Christian was his name. Catholic was his surname. The terms should, indeed, be synonymous; but in an age when many whom we would not deny to be Christians are, nevertheless, sorely departed from first faith, and first love, it would savor of affectation, in speaking of a life so marked as Dr. Croswell's, to say nothing of that primitive and apostolic character which distinguished his religion from the current Christianity of our day. In a word then, he was a Christian of no sect; such a Christian as all Christians would have been, had the stream of undefiled religion continued to run without admixture, from St. Paul, and St. James, and St. Peter, down to our own times. And as he was a Christian of no man's sect, so he was a theologian of no man's school. Never a divine ran his course, from his diaconate to his decease, with a theology, according to the standards of our Church, more simply orthodox, uncolored, and unmingled. Such as he was, in the diocese of Connecticut in his amiable novitiate, such he was here, when he bowed his manly head, and fell before this altar, in the raiment of his priesthood. And this I specially remark, because it was his lot, in the middle stage of life, to encounter the trying experiences incident to a great theological excitement, which, as it rose subsequent to the period when his own theological character was formed, so it became violent, and spent itself before he rested from his labors. And yet, there were not wanting some who failed to consider, that however its consequences may have affected him in his relations to others, it found and left him the same; always serene, and unmoved; shining on, like a star, above the region of tempest. But any one familiar with his history, must know that if some who moved in a curve, and who drew near only to diverge, seemed for a moment to walk with him, his path was always a straight line; and that if his course, for awhile, appeared to mingle with discordant elements, it was only as, sometimes, a bright river passes through a turbid lake, and yet keeps itself transparent, and emerges and flows on pure as ever. His uniform consistency with self, and with the truth of his first love, was beautiful to behold. I look back, and marvel at the composure, with which, amid heats, and paroxysms, and outbreaks; amid perils on the right hand and on the left; and through trials, which were fiery for a time, he kept his even way; and hoped, and made, the best of others; and simply walked with GOD. And as I have spoken of him as a steward, I must be indulged in another remark upon his character. A man who is the inventor of his own doctrines, may do with them as he will; but it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. A steward must keep that which is committed to his trust. But our age has a notion of liberality quite the reverse. Tenacious of personal things, men would be liberal with that which does not belong to them; and compromise for everything else, by meeting on the common ground of a surrender of the precious truth of GOD. In this sense no Churchman can be liberal. The testimony of JESUS he must keep entire, and even earnestly contend for it. But this being reserved, he can be tolerant and charitable; and of this we have an example in our departed Croswell, to which I can think of no superior. How faithful he was as a steward, yet how liberal as a man! In him there was fidelity but no bigotry; and no one could drive him into intolerance by any intolerance towards him. His lips could speak no bitter word; his neck could wear no party yoke. Towards brethren, widely differing from him in theological opinion and policy, he cherished kindly relations; and if a man was but good and honest, however mistaken, he was sure of a friend in Croswell. His spirit, if I mistake not, was precisely that of the moderation which is characteristic of our Church, in matters not fundamental; and oh, that with his departure into Paradise, a double portion of his charity may have fallen upon his brethren! It is what we most need among us; it must not be buried with him; let us cherish it as we do the memory of that radiant countenance, in which the dignity of manhood was so marvellously blended with the innocency of the child, and which reflected, together, the meekness and gentleness of the Lamb upon Mount Zion, with something of the majesty of the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

I have spoken of the simplicity of the Gospel as his entire testimony. He lived it, as he preached it, in the integrity of the New Testament, and according to its faithful witness the Prayer-book. Yet his mission was, confessedly, a peculiar one, as meeting the wants and emergencies of peculiar times. It was his to be a repairer of the breach, and a restorer of paths to dwell in. Much of his labor was, of necessity, given to things which ought not to be left undone, rather than to things he longed, above all, to do. But in this he followed the example, and lived over the experiences of apostles. When St. Paul preached to Jews and Greeks the same unalterable gospel which was ever at his heart, did he also adopt, with these diverse people, one unalterable method of presenting it? Did the same things need to be done, in utterly different circumstances? Or when to the Jews he became a Jew, did he then glory the less, in the offence of the Cross? How broadly significant is the lesson taught us by the fact, that an apostle, the very last to be impeached of Judaizing, did nevertheless consider it part of his work to shave his head, and perform Jewish rites in the temple, at the instance of St. James, that he might gain the Jews! Here was indeed an act of concession, and one confessedly extreme; but it was founded on a fixed principle, which is largely illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles, and from which we may infer that nothing can be more adverse to the spirit of the Gospel, than the idea, too prevalent in our times, that the Gospel is to be preached only in one way, and according to certain conventional prescriptions of local society. The Church has need of the richest diversity of gifts in her sons, and of ways and means the most various, for bringing them to bear upon her work. Without disparaging the task of any faithful minister of CHRIST, or condemning him who, taking things as he finds them, performs a round of duty closely graduated to what the people absolutely exact of their religious teachers, I am sure that the exigencies of these times demand inventive efforts to gather in the wanderers, and to save the lost; and that to this end, every blessed art known to our Communion, and coincident with her institutions and services, should be put forth by zealous priests and laymen, to catch men. We want again the missionary who shall lift up his voice in the wilderness like Elijah, and the street preacher who shall stand up like Jonah in the city. We want churches, in which the rudest solemnities shall he dignified by zeal and unction in the worshippers, and we want churches in which a like devotion may express itself, with all the accompaniments of Christianized art, which are familiar to our Mother Church. The religion of CHRIST is meant for all men; for all ranks in society, for all circumstances, and for all times; and in this, it differs, radically, from the religion of sect, which is always adapted only to a peculiar sort, or class, or tribe of men, and yet denounces all whom it fails to inoculate with its narrow enthusiasm. The Church alone can employ everything that is not sinful, to the glory of GOD, and the edification of his intelligent creatures; and by methods as various as the minds He has made, and as different as the manifold circumstances in which sinful consciences are languishing, she knows how to minister the same gospel, and bring souls to the foot of the same Cross of CHRIST. And although she has been greatly impeded, by external hindrances, in the exercise of her abundant gifts, I think the history of the Anglican Communion, since the era of her happy Reformation, will be found richly illustrative of these remarks.

From her pulpit at Paul's Cross, to her missionary tents in India and Australia; in her Universities and her Cathedrals; in her schools and hospitals; and in the noble works of her theologians, and in the rich tributes of many of her laymen to her common treasures, what extraordinary resources have been subordinated and sanctified to the preaching of the gospel, and the purification of society, by the sublime morality which it involves! In spite of defects in the work, and of obstacles to its completion, the world may be searched in vain for the parallel of such a perpetual flood of blessings, as for three hundred years has been pouring forth, in consequence of this large and fertile economy, from the bosom of our Mother Church upon her own immediate household, and through them upon the universal family of man. But in renewing the vitality of the Mother Church, in this western world, while we have gained some privileges unknown to her, is it not to be feared, that Ave have lost something of her richness and completeness; and almost of necessity, contracted something that is meagre, from surrounding influences of sect? I ask the question, not that I would see the identical details and features of the Church of England, reproduced in the widely different circumstances to which we must adapt ourselves; but only to suggest that something corresponding, and of the same character, though national and becoming to our social state, is exceedingly desirable, and daily making itself felt as a want. In a word, instead of allowing ourselves to be stifled and cramped, by the cold and heavy pressure of surrounding sects, it is the Church's duty, to break forth on the right hand and the left, in her own free spirit, and to impress society with her innumerable forms of mercy to mankind.

It would be unjust to the memory of departed Saints, and quite as unfair to living worth, to insinuate that such a development of our Ecclesiastical life is not already largely begun. The venerable prelate who has just dropped his patriarchal mantle, and rested from his labors, will ever deserve grateful mention, as a pioneer in missionary enterprises, which have done much to draw out the zeal and energies of our Church; and many others have labored, successfully, to elevate her theological learning, and to make her the fostering Mother of Christian Education in our country. Fresh notes of life and activity abound on every side, in spite of many scandals, and discouragements; and many are the apostolic bishops, and parochial priests, and faithful laymen, who, in noiseless self-devotion, are extending the influence and power of the Church, and laying foundations for future and permanent good. But, with these heartfelt tributes to others, let me claim, that it was the peculiar work of the departed founder of this parish, to institute among us, a high and primitive type of the pastoral ministry, and to demonstrate the entire consistency of our ritual, and worship, with a perfection of parochial organization, hitherto hardly attempted in our land, and too generally despaired of as impossible. By it he being dead yet speaketh. I am far from believing that the peculiar characteristics of this Church of the Advent, although furnishing a high and noble pattern, can be universally, or generally adopted, at present, in our Communion. I believe that other parishes must be worked in other ways, and that wisdom will be justified of all her children, in their several vocations; but, as a pastor, I rejoice that the Church of the Advent exists, to prove what may be done, and done successfully among us; and that the pure and holy example of its first Rector is before me, to inspire me with a spirit of pastoral devotion, and to furnish me with such a standard of pastoral fidelity, as many a true-hearted minister of the preceding generation has known only from the records of the past, and credited, in large measure, to the affectionate imagination of biographers, or to the mellow light through which we are fond of looking back to primitive antiquity.

II. But in recurring to my primary observation upon the character of Croswell, as a witness for the truth, let me say that in thus preaching Christ and Him crucified, in the pastoral office, he not only preached the faith of Abel, but adopted Abel's way of preaching, in the essential point which St. Paul commends. For the sacrifice of Abel was distinguished from that of Cain, not only in the faith which inspired it, but in the obedience with which it was performed. The institution of bloody sacrifice, and its celebration by the worshipper, in the solemn offering of a spotless lamb, was in that age the divine ordinance, in which the visible Church showed forth her Lord's death, until He should come. The faithful observance of this divine institution distinguished Abel's religion from that of Cain, who worshipped upon a theory, and with inventions, quite his own. Now, our times are distinguished by nothing, in religion, so much as by the flagrancy with which it substitutes will-worship for the ordinances of GOD. Our age is full of a fundamental error, with regard to Christianity, but it is the old mistake of Cain. Keligion is regarded as an idea; as a sentiment; a philosophy: but the Gospel is an institution; an organized society; a kingdom;--the kingdom of heaven. Organic Christianity, as a direct and historical product of the Incarnation; deriving life from CHRIST himself, through the HOLY GHOST; a life diffused by veins and arteries, through a body knit together by joints and bands; such a Christianity, although nothing less was ever imagined until lately, as answering to the name, is absolutely unconceived by a large majority of those who call themselves Christians, in our enlightened country! Yet this Organic Christianity it is, which alone has unity of faith with the Apostles, or can ensure the perpetuation of unalterable truth, from age to age. Let the history of religion, in this city, illustrate my remark. In such a city, then, distinguished by many characteristics of preëminent merit, but isolated, by its peculiar sectarianism, from the sympathies of Christendom, in a degree unparalleled by any other city which is called Christian upon the earth, it was Croswell's mission to give prominence to that pattern of the Gospel, to which the times are so indifferent. This altar, like Abel's altar, was set up, in testimony to the fact, that JESUS CHRIST was the founder of a family, and not the author of an idea, or the doctor of a system of morals. In the same spirit of faith, it has been diligently served, day by day, and year by year, in season and out of season, through good report and evil report, with many and with few,-- always with the promised presence of CHRIST, till at last, the good servant was called by the Master, while his loins were girded, and his light burning, in his appointed lot; and by it he being dead yet speaketh. No matter how noiseless his task--though the world took no note of him while he thus ministered, the altar has been fed with sacrifice; GOD in CHRIST has been worshipped; and he has been like Antipas, a faithful witness in the midst of another Pergamos; and CHRIST will use his ministry, and make it fruitful in His own way. His sudden, but beatified death, has already spoken to many, in behalf of his work, to whom the protracted beauty and purity of his life might have appealed, year after year, in vain.

The Church of the Advent, then, was instituted to survive men, as part and parcel of that kingdom which was founded upon a Rock. It was not set up by an admiring people, for the display of a popular orator, nor for the gratification of personal ends and wishes: but, with only a secondary reference to human instruments, it was intended to supply spiritual necessities, and to develop special faculties of Christian benevolence, which needed to be called forth, and wisely applied. There was an emergency; work waiting to be done; an opportunity not to be lost; it would have been an injury to the Church, if no one had come forward to meet it. In such circumstances, Dr. Croswell returned to Boston. Without hostility to existing parishes, but leaving to each its peculiar work, this parish began to fulfil its mission. It was intended to perpetuate the daily public service of GOD, and the supply of a house of prayer, to all people. It was designed to unite all classes, in the brotherhood of faith; and to demonstrate that our Communion, so far from being the Church of the rich, is the place where the poor and the rich may meet together, because the Lord is the Maker of them all. It was designed to promote systematic charities, and to make them in reality gifts to the altar and oblations to the Lord. It aimed to enfranchise the Sacraments, as preachers of CHRIST crucified, and to legitimate the function of oral preaching, as the means of inflaming Christian worship, and not the medium of its total eclipse. It aimed incidentally to consecrate sacred art, and personal talent, by calling them off from worldly uses to adorn the Sanctuary, and to elevate the solemnities of worship. In entire conformity to the laws of the Church, and the practice of our Anglican Mother, it proposed to enrich the service, at suitable times, with the heavenly accompaniment of music, and with the introduction of anthems, and choral responses. These indifferent things, as occasion might prescribe; but, at all events, the diligent observance of the Festival System of the Church, and the vitalizing of all its ordinances and prescriptions; in process of time, the founding of parochial charities; and at all times a careful attention to the spiritual and physical wants of the needy; the establishment of a parish school, and of an asylum for orphans; and many like institutions of benevolence, were constantly kept in view. "Against such there is no law!" Who dares say aught against them? Love to God and good-will to men were, in short, the entire spirit of this foundation; as they were preeminently the spirit of the founder, from whose fraternal lips, now cold and silent in the dust, I have gathered these details, in many privileged communings. Such was his work, and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

But I speak to those who know all these things even better than I do, by daily familiarity with his labors, and by a long and affectionate strengthening of his hands in GOD. Why do I dwell on such a review? Because, my brethren, they yet depend upon your fidelity, for their entire realization. Much has been done; behold how much! When I compare the scene before me, with my first recollections of this parish, I am astonished by what GOD has done for you: and yet much remains to be accomplished and secured. The mysterious dispensation which called away your first pastor, while his work was yet in progress, has hallowed it, and taught you practical trust in GOD, while it has demonstrated that the undertaking does not depend on man. GOD has provided for your immediate wants, in a manner so providential, and signal, as to afford you every consolation, and encouragement. In the abilities and in the apostolic office of his successor, you have marked reason to believe that GOD is with you, and a very present help in time of trouble. At the same time, while the sanctity of your departed Rector's memory is a rich endowment, it is a perpetual call upon you, for perseverance, and renewed effort. By it he being dead yet speaketh. From his grave, he bids you be fruitful in every good work; and exhorts you, by devotion to this parochial enterprise, in particular, to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints."

III. To be a good shepherd is preeminently Christ-like, and such a shepherd was Croswell. To this, he devoted extraordinary gifts, and sacrificed many worldly advantages. The refinement and delicacy of his character are proverbial; but not every one imagines how rich were his mental endowments, how brilliant his fancy, and how inventive his genius. His intellectual qualities were rare, and his literary attainments-- poor things to speak of, though the world values them--were elevated in their range, and large in scope. His critical skill, though rarely exercised, was happy, and full of spirit; and in epistolary composition, I have never known his superior. As a sacred poet his name is dear to the Church, and will always be affectionately cherished; his verse was faultless; his conceptions extremely felicitous and epigrammatic; and all his productions were warm with devout and heavenly aspirations. In him, there has lived, in Boston, a man of genius worthy to be remembered as a glory to her civic name, and one, who, if he had studied to please her, in her own way, might indeed have been her idol. But "his soul was like a star, and dwelt apart;" he could not stoop to vulgar artifices; he could not pander to popular appetite; and those things which were gain to him, he counted loss for CHRIST. To be a good pastor to CHRIST'S flock, and a faithful steward of his household;--to be a servant of CHRIST'S poor; this was the aim to which he subordinated those things in himself, which the world finds in so few, and worships so devotedly where they are displayed. Holy man of GOD, my dear, departed friend and brother, there are those, nevertheless, who know how rich and precious were the gifts, thou didst consecrate to CHRIST! Happy in thy noble choice, and sublime in thy humility, how refreshing is the example of thy life; and how harmonious, withal, the opportunity of thy death! In the spot to thee most dear, and sacred, and in the work most sweet; on the holy day, and in the holy place; thine hand toward the altar, and the word of blessing on thy tongue--so the Master found thee, so called thee away! Good soldier! thy fight of faith was fought; thy palm of victory was won: "henceforth there is laid up for thee a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give thee at that day!"

Reverend Father in GOD, my reverend brethren, and you parishioners of the Church of the Advent,--while he has been in Paradise, where they measure not joys by time, we have lived through another year of this dull earth, and here we are, where the Master called him, drawn together by the consolations of CHRIST, in commemoration of his life and death! Are we prepared to be called as suddenly? Are our lamps like his, trimmed and burning? In the Epistle read this day at the Eucharist, he seemed to give us a message, and even "by it, he being dead yet speaketh!" If there is aught else to be added, by mortal tongue, amid associations so solemn, that the very wood and stone around us seem to have a language, as relics of his life and labor, I will venture to say, it is this--Be ye also ready, for at such a time as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.

Project Canterbury