The Glory of Christ as Manifested in a Faithful Episcopacy:
The Sermon in Emmanuel Church, Boston, at the Consecration of F.D. Huntington, First Bishop of Central New York, April 8, 1869.
By Arthur Cleveland Coxe.
Utica: Curtiss and Childs, 1869.
The Messengers of the Churches and the glory of Christ.—2 Cor. VIII. 23.
The fragrance of the Paschal Festival, yet lingers with us, and seems to suffuse the very air we breathe on this blessed occasion. It affords a cheering proof of the quiet working of those influences which our Church has brought to bear on the popular mind of America, that this Easter has been observed by thousands who never kept it before, and almost with a general consent among Christians the most divided in other respects. Let us trust that they have agreed to keep it henceforth with us, “not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Yet there is, in fact, no true celebration of Easter, when it is kept in isolation, as a mere anniversary, and not in the continuous chain of the Christian year, with all its tributary and dependent fasts and feasts. Ours only is the rich reward of fidelity to the Apostolic system of liturgic and ritual services and of times and seasons. Our Easter comes to us with due preparations, and stays with us after the day is gone. And besides, there is a blessed unity in our observances, by which we all feel and pray and praise together, and listen to the same lessons and join in the same songs. We are gathered here, today, from all quarters and from distant parts of the land; but we are all fresh from the same experiences. We have together reviewed the same Scripture narratives and lived them over together. We have all glorified the risen Redeemer in the same words; and together, on Sunday last, we were all prepared for this day’s solemnity by the words of the Gospel which were read in all our Churches, “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.”
We were thus reminded of the origin of the Apostolic ministry which is now to be refreshed by an addition to its continuous chain; and also, of the great truth that the historic, continuous Church, in its uninterrupted visibility, is the conclusive evidence of the Resurrection. For, when Jesus died on the Cross, He had not established His Church. His Apostles had received no general commission. The idea of a Gentile Church, much less of the Church as Catholic and inclusive of Jew and Gentile made one in Christ, had never possessed their minds. Scattered and desponding, they resumed their wonted occupations even after they had seen their risen Lord. It was not till the forty days and the Ascension were fulfilled; it was not till the Holy Ghost came down, that they were awakened to the great conception of their work and mission. Even then St. Peter had to be instructed by the vision of the great sheet, before he could baptize Cornelius, or admit the full idea of Gentile membership in the covenant and faith of Abraham. And so we argue that the great evidence of the Resurrection is the visible Church, which is the body of Christ—not the body of His humiliation, but a mystical body raised up in Him from death, and imbued with the power of His resurrection.
The commission we are to convey, by the Spirit, this day, proceeded from a risen Master; from One who, as He spake, displayed the pierced hands and the wounded side; and this is the philosophy of that which is written—the Church is the Church not of a dead Christ, but “of the living God;” and as such, it is, in its very nature, the pillar and ground of the truth: “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
The American mind needs to be taught the evidences of Christianity in this way. Naturally incredulous in all matters of true faith, it has learned how to circumvent all purely dialectical proofs. But God has erected, in His historic Church, a visible monument, which is before their eyes, and which refutes all gainsaying.
For that Church exists, and can only be accounted for on the grounds of that story which she bears in her hands, in the four Gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles. But how are those Gospels authenticated? To what evidence did the Primitive Church appeal in establishing the canon? Every scholar knows, although the popular mind does not, that it was authenticated by the line of Bishops, in the chief Sees, in which, with the succession, these Scriptures had been handed down. We defy any one to establish the canon of Scripture itself, except by a process which proves how absolutely that holy deposit was dependent for its preservation on the scrupulous fidelity with which the Primitive Church perpetuated the Apostolic Succession. So, in the office of this day, you will see the Holy Scriptures placed in the hands of the new Bishop, as a sacred trust of which the Church is witness and keeper.
As the famous challenge of Jewel, at Paul’s Cross, has never been met by the Romanists, so it may be safely said that no divine on the Puritan side has ever answered the short, pithy, syllogistic demonstration by Chillingworth, of the Apostolic origin of the Episcopal Office. Nor is it probable that any scholar of repute would now venture to deny the fact that even before the death of St. John, the faithful in the chief cities were generally settled under officers superior to presbyters, who are called “Messengers of the Churches”—that is, angels, or apostles, words which are simply the equivalent Greek. If, then, as is commonly allowed by the learned, such an Episcopacy existed generally before the last apostle died, it is evident that it was formed under the eyes, and by the counsel of the original apostles of Christ, acting on the Master’s personal instructions, and with inspired wisdom.
But now, when the Master came to St. John in Patmos, to sum up all Scripture by a final Revelation, did He denounce, or did He adopt and confirm the regimen which His delegates had established in the Churches? We find Him not only recognizing these messengers, or angels, of the Churches, but holding them as stars in His right hand. He praises the angel of Ephesus, for trying and refuting the pretensions of “false apostles;” pretensions which could never have been made, had the number of the apostles been limited to the twelve, of whom only one was now surviving. It is not supposed that these false apostles were mere impostors, personating some of the original eleven; and the only natural suggestion is that they were such as assumed a preeminence to which they had never been called. So, then, while our Divine Master sharply rebuked the faults of these “angels of the Churches,” He in no way intimated any displeasure with their office itself, nor with the existing regimen of the Church. On the contrary, as we have seen, He recognized and confirmed it; and by thus associating with Himself these secondary apostles, the successors of His eleven, He gave new force and beauty to the promise, “Lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
When our Lord visited Patmos, let us remember, that the last of the original college was about to expire; but the successors of the Apostles were recognized as “the messengers of the Churches and the glory of Christ.” As the first Apostles were the halo about His head, each one displaying especially some one of the glorious features of their Master’s beauty, so the secondary Apostles, or Bishops, as we now term them, were the glory of his right hand. He held those angels in his hand with a sublime significance. It was to show, as we learn elsewhere, that His is the hand which they stretch forth to bless. He works in them and through them; and they are “the glory of Christ,” because His is the authority, and His the power, which are manifested by every faithful messenger who receives the Apostolic Commission.
I have thus illustrated the text by known facts, and have shewn that it becomes rich with significance, when compared with the ecclesiastical system which undoubtedly existed in the lifetime of the inspired winters, and with which it entirely agrees. The argument for Episcopacy is quite independent of the text, however. I use it only in a subordinate manner, but I do so for a two-fold purpose. In the first place, it deserves inquiry whether it be altogether so evident, as some imagine, that the messengers or apostles here mentioned, are so called without reference to any apostolic office; and second, it deserves to be said that even could this be established, which I deny entirely, the text is an important one, and may be legitimately used, at it is by the devout Bishop Wilson, to illustrate the magnitude and character of such a Bishopric as is to be conferred this day—by which our brother elected will become, in an eminent sense, the angel or messenger of Christ to a particular Church. It will be his blessed privilege in that office, to manifest the Master’s glory by simple fidelity in a work of which Christ is the author, and with which He is pledged to an especial presence, always, and to the end of the world.
If any text of scripture can be legitimately and devoutly saved, for a permanent benefit to the Church, instead of being habitually slighted, as if it were the passing remark of a sacred author, designed only for a momentary and a very inferior utility, I hold it to be important that this should be done. I think so highly of the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth, that I shall exult if I may make this solemn occasion in any degree subservient to so worthy an end. It is an ignoble token of our times, that criticism should be so constantly employed only to sink and to degrade the Scriptures, by giving to many important texts the lowest and most superfluous meanings to which ingenuity can degrade them. This is often done with texts which are capable of the noblest uses, at least by accommodation, and when they may be lawfully employed to illustrate some fact or some verity which they might not absolutely demonstrate. The wonderful system of “undesigned coincidences,” which has been shown to exist in the Bible, is sufficient proof that no text should be slighted, which can be reasonably harmonized with established truth; and it is sound logic to conclude that we have argued right from the many texts which are not obscure, when we find that “all things rise in proof;” so that evidences and probabilities the most minute, and texts that seem to search for illustrative facts, all square with our conclusions, as such things never can be made to coincide with what is false.
I. In the Epistle to the Philippians, Epaphroditus is called their apostle, in a passage which almost sinks to platitude, if we suppose it merely to refer to the message which he bore from the Philippians, and to the alms which he brought. It is just so here. The brethren who were referred to, were undoubtedly messengers from Macedonia, in the lower sense of the word. But, while a sort of double reference is eminently Pauline, I ask, where is the force in the passage, if we insist on restricting the technical word apostle, to its meaner meaning, that of one sent on any sort of errand? If, on the contrary, the Macedonian Churches had sent their chief-pastors, their apostles or bishops, on this errand of love, how full of eloquence and of import is the language in which St. Paul commends them to the Corinthians as messengers in a two-fold sense!” As to Titus,” he says, “he is my partner and fellow-worker, toward you; as to the other brethren, they are the apostles of the Churches and the glory of Christ.”
And let it be always remembered who it was that made this word a technical one. It is not only recorded of Christ that He chose the twelve, but also it is expressly narrated by St. Luke, the Pauline Evangelist, that He “named them apostles.” There is reason for our interpretation, therefore, in St. Paul’s characteristic use of words; for he “magnifies his office,” and rarely degrades a word of official dignity, when nothing in the context requires it. Here, then, nothing calls for the anticlimax which the lower sense would create, but the reverse is true.
In the corresponding passage, from the Epistle to the Philipplans, how forcible is the remark of St. Paul, if we apply the same rule. “I supposed it necessary,” he says, “to send to you Epaphroditus.” Why necessary, if he bore no extraordinary relation to the Philippian Church, which, as appears, was served, in his absence, by elders and deacons? The reason of this necessity he goes on to show when he calls him, antithetically, “my brother and companion in labour, and fellow-soldier; but your apostle.” There is, therefore, no tautology when he subjoins his lower character as a more ordinary messenger, adding the words, “and he that ministered to my wants.” We know from historical sources, that Epaphroditus was Bishop of Philippi, and this fact must be borne in mind, if we would fully appreciate the Epistle.
For, with this understanding, the residue of the passage is a preeminently beautiful portrait of the primitive relations between a Bishop and his Diocese. “For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick, nigh unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I sent him, therefore, the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him, therefore, in the Lord, with all gladness, and hold such in reputation, because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life “to supply your lack of service toward me.” “What called for all this extraordinary sympathy with the whole Philippian Church, and for such words to its presbyters and deacons? What led Epaphroditus to peril his life to supply the lack of that whole Church? What could make this his duty, save that as “their apostle,” he was in some sense chargeable with their sin, as were the angels of the Seven Churches of Asia with the sins of their people? Who can resist the inference that he presided over that Church as Bishop? Thus explained, how beautiful and how instructive is the picture as to Episcopal duties and the tender relations between a Diocese and its Chief Pastor? Why, then, should not the other Macedonian Churches be represented by their Chief Pastors in a similar work of Christian love? And why should not the case of Epaphroditus give force and character to what is said of these also, “as apostles of the Churches and the glory of Christ?”
II. But, even if it be still insisted, that the lowest and meanest interpretation of the text is the only one it will bear, there is no denying that the term “apostles of the Churches,” gives dignity to the humbler work so denoted, and prepares the way for the strong language, “They are the glory of Christ.” It is as much as to say, They are associates of the apostles, and share with me that manifestation of Christ’s glory, of which the apostleship is the preeminent instrument. If such a high distinction belonged to any temporary office as apostles or messengers of the Churches, how much more to that permanent apostleship with which Christ is present, even unto the end of the world! For the Apostolic Episcopate is the plenitude of those gifts which Christ received for men when lie went up on high. In every Christian life and priesthood, provided it be faithfully fulfilled, Christ is glorified; but the Episcopate is the glory of Christ above all, because of the richness and fulness of those gifts with which it is endowed. “Remember, that thou stir up the gift that is in thee, by the putting on of mv hands.” He who receives the laying-on-of-hands for the office of a Bishop, receives an unction for his office, which, if he rightly trims his lamp as in the Aaronic Sanctuary, will make him a burning and a shining light. Or, the figure may be that of the coals of the altar, which the priests “stirred up,” to make the offering burn with a brighter flame. The gift is in the Apostle or Bishop, and he may make it a radiant manifestation of the glory of the Master. Nowhere else, as in the Episcopate, is there such a treasure committed to the faithful steward. It is the five talents which can be made ten by simple fidelity. Christ is with His servant in all the toils and labours to which he is called. If he be faithful, it is Christ that shines forth in all the offices he performs, in all his preaching, in all his works. This it is which constitutes the true grandeur of the Episcopate. It is something added to and crowned upon all other gifts, whether of nature or of grace. It completes a Christian man for the most noble of all works. It is attended, indeed, with such sacrifices and with such responsibilities, yes, and with such perilous honours, that it should never be coveted ambitiously; but when a man is truly called to the Episcopate, let him rise, in his Master’s name, not conferring with flesh and blood, but obeying and humbly confiding. It is as when a new youth is shed upon maturity of years; it is as when eagles renew their strength, and it is chartered with a special promise to a faithful messenger, that “he shall run and not be weary; he shall walk and not faint.” He is the “angel” of the Lord to His Churches, and as such, he is “the glory of Christ.”
Let us apply these principles to the case of the American Episcopate. Disentangled from old feudalism, (thank God!) it exists among us in all its primitive simplicity. It is not even constructed into those hierarchical forms which were not in themselves to be censured, but to which the subsequent history of Christendom has given a less pleasing aspect. We are the restored Church of Ante-Nicene ages, but preserving the great Nicene principles in all their spirit and essence. And such may we long continue. Can I be mistaken in supposing it our wisdom and policy, instead of copying the out-worn and ill-savoured forms of feudal ecclesiasticism, to build up the American Church, with an aspect of its own, (simplex munditiis) plain even in its adornings, in its pageantry severely chaste, and sober even in the overflowings of its festive joy.
The text, in the light I have endeavored to concentrate upon it, sets forth two ideas which are one: (1) an apostolic system, and (2) the glory of Christ, as organized and manifested therein. The American Episcopate meets the inorganic faith and piety of our countrymen just here. Our Church is what they need. She loves their piety, and she rejoices in many noble tokens of its existence; but she faithfully warns them that inorganic piety cannot be securely transmitted through successive generations; nor can it be brought to bear, with power, on the forces of irreligion and the vices of society. This is our mission in America: to give organic life to all that is precious in its religion, but which, while held in solution, is almost impalpable, and totally devoid of that columnar and visible strength which belongs to the pillar and ground of the Truth, as a witness and keeper of Holy Writ.
Time fails me to pursue this thought, in all its suggested relations; the other idea comes forward and claims, at least, a word. The organic forms which the Apostolic Church would impart to the faith of the American people is a manifestation not of human glory but of the glory of Christ. Inorganic Protestantism has largely glorified man. Every sect has its human law giver—its Apollos if not its Moses. In one Luther is glorified, in another Calvin. But, the Episcopate, as it knows no other origin but the risen Redeemer, and bears no other testimony than that of the Gospels and the Creeds, is everywhere “the glory of Christ.” It builds churches not for a favourite preacher, nor for some popular human idea, but for the Word and Sacraments of Christ, as such; and wherever it goes in the master’s service, it goes on a definite errand, not only to save individual souls, but to gather them into the communion of the Universal Church, and to make them, as thus aggregated, part of Christ’s mystical Body; compacted and knit together, in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, to perpetuate the unchanging Truth of the living and immutable God.
In the new Diocese over which our elect brother is now to be set, the fairest opportunities will be afforded him for the sort of work I have indicated. God only knows with what feelings of heart-felt sorrow I now bid it farewell, and resign that charge concerning it which I received from the revered DeLancey. Mysterious and strangely mixt are the emotions of this moment with me; I grieve that I shall see that beloved flock no more as their shepherd; I rejoice with exceeding joy that my work devolves on a brother so able and so worthy. It is a beautiful flock. I know it well, and am sorry it is not better known and understood by the Church. If it were so, no question would remain as to the comparative claims of a parish in Boston, and the Episcopate of Central New York, upon this brother’s eminent gifts and godly zeal. When one eminently fitted for influence and power in a commanding sphere like this, which our brother has so largely benefited and adorned, is advanced to the Episcopate in a Missionary Diocese, I am well aware of what is commonly objected. Men speak of “talents to be buried in the earth,” and of a splendid influence to be forfeited. The missionary work of a Bishop is supposed to be something to which inferiors are sufficient; the civilization of a great city is imagined to be the only fitting sphere for so shining a light. Want of due appreciation of the gift of the Apostleship; want of faith in the Invisible is at the root of all this. It is a great thing for any man to be “called of God, as was Aaron,” to receive this gift by the laying-on-of-hands, and to be permitted to stir it up daily for augmented life and wisdom, as mere bodily strength declines. I have no sympathy with that worldly condolence which often clogs the zeal of a presbyter, who parts with an attractive parish like this, and takes up the staff of a Missionary Apostle. “What is life made for, what is faith given for, if it be not for such sacrifices for the glory of Christ?” “Lovest thou Me? Feed My sheep.” This, according to St. Chrysostom, is the highest work of love to Christ; and more especially is it so, when the shepherd goes willingly to seek His scattered sheep amid the thorns and brambles of a naughty world. But though such will be our brother’s glorious work in large measure, let nobody imagine for a moment that his Diocese will not tax his noblest powers, and reward the investment of his best gifts. Two considerable cities, in which are men of culture and of mind, and numerous smaller cities of which the same is proportionately true—these are to be his seats of power and centres of influence. Even in remote regions, he will meet with clergy and laity inferior to few of their brethren; he will enter the abodes of refinement as well as of piety even on the verge of that wilderness which skirts a portion of his Diocese which will remind him, as he gazes on its spreading solitudes, of the place where Jesus “was with the wild beasts,” till “angels came and ministered unto Him.” Away with the perverse idea that any parish in the world can be for a moment compared, in its claims on such a man, with the Episcopate in such a Diocese! St. Paul lingered not in Athens, among those who “spent their time in nothing else but to hear or to tell some new thing;” but wherever he went as a messenger of Christ, whether among tent-makers and purple-sellers in Philippi, or in the humble synagogue of Beraea, he was not less “the glory of Christ” than when he stood on Mars Hill among lawyers and Stoics and Epicureans, or when he preached the Gospel upon the Palatine, among those of Caesar’s household.
My reverend brother, my brother tenderly beloved in Christ, it is not without the deepest sympathy that I have proclaimed these stern truths here amid the tears and sorrows of your loving flock. But I have made a plea for them as well as for you. Nothing less than such truths would justify you in leaving such a people; nothing less than a true appreciation of them can be at the root of that graceful submission with which they have resigned you to the higher demands of our mother, the Church. In fact, the train of thought which I have adopted for this occasion was suggested by the correspondence which passed between you and your vestry in severing relations of unwonted experiences and affections. It was a very praiseworthy correspondence, and one which does honour to all concerned in it. You told them the office to which you are called is divine in its origin; they responded that they could not detain you when the Master called. Thanks, dear brother, for a true exposition of your case; thanks, noble people, for your gift to the whole church of Christ! Yes, to the whole church; for though I have had no time to speak of the Universal Episcopate, reflect, dear brother, that you will have in that an undivided share. At this grand historic-epoch when the Spirit is moving in all the Churches; when our mother Church, amid new experiences and difficulties, looks to her daughter for practical lessons, as to the great crisis though which she is passing; and when the unsolved problems—social, moral and religions—of this great republic are daily more and more appealing to our own Church for solution; at such a time, you are added to the sacred college of the messengers of the Church, which is the glory of Christ. All you have and all you are will be tasked to the utmost in this glorious work. But, be not dismayed. In this great city you have not been ashamed of Jesus; you have “witnessed a good confession,” and through this diocese as through all the American Church your labours have been felt for good. He who has supported you heretofore, will henceforth hold you as a star in His right hand. This is not rhetoric, it is Scripture promise and Gospel truth. Ennobling truth; blessed promise from a Faithful Promiser. Happy is he who reads the messages of the Apocalypse as a true Bishop only can, feeling that Jesus upholds him as he did those ancient angels of the Churches, and that, in such special sense, “underneath is the Everlasting Arm.”
May the Great Bishop and Shepherd of souls be with you, brother, in this solemn hour, and may His Spirit assure you that His grace shall be sufficient for you. It is your blessed privilege, as I chance to have learned, by special associations of this day, to recall the tenderest memories of a mother’s piety and a mother’s love. Remember that such love is made by Christ Himself a symbol of the Church’s claim upon her sons, and render to the Church, henceforth, as mother of us all, that filial devotion and gratitude which in the abodes of Paradise, we may well believe, a Christian mother will regard as the most fitting tribute that can be rendered unto her. Hear therefore, as from a mother’s lips, the words which the Church will now address to you as to a son, in the name of Christ: “Receive the Holy Ghost for the office and work of a Bishop,” and “remember that thou stir up the grace of God which is given thee by this imposition of hands.” Oh, glorious gift of God! It will enable thee to glorify Christ as no other gifts can do; and He in turn will not fail to glorify the faithful bishop in the day when “they that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the firmament and as the stars forever and ever.”