POLITY OF THE CHURCH IN THE GENERAL THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY OF THE
PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES.
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST OF THE WARDENS AND VESTRYMEN OF
ST. PHILIP'S CHURCH.
As a token of affectionate pastoral sympathy with them in their bereavement, and of the sincerity of his prayers that the blessing of God's providence and grace may over-rule the judgment to their good, and continue to rest on their portion of the flock of Christ, the author dedicates this sermon.
"I AM a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were," exclaimed the pious Psalmist. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims," said the Apostle. And truly no terms can better describe the state of man in this life. A stranger and a pilgrim, indeed, he is, a sojourner where he has no continuing city, and a traveller where he can scarcely find rest for the sole of his foot. In the morning of life, he may set out with bright and encouraging prospects; but ere the evening dose, he sees full cause to exclaim, in the language of experience, All is vanity, and vexation of spirit. With a mind naturally bent on the pursuit of happiness, he makes it the object of his search. As he journeys onward, he thinks he sees it. Some airy phantom assumes its shape, but eludes the grasp. Some gilded tinsel invites endeavor, but is tarnished by possession. Something of more real worth delights, but is transient in duration. Sources of pain and inquietude, assuming the form of pleasure, allure to dire experience of their true nature; while the unmasked ills of life present their appalling obstacles in the traveller's way. Awhile he is supported by the powerful influence of the social and sympathetic feelings with which our nature is blessed. His disappointments and misfortunes, by being shared, are mitigated. The strong hold with which his affections cling to beloved objects, affords a sanctuary from the trials of his pilgrimage. But he is robbed of this greatest earthly good. The king of terrors interposes his universal sway, and extends the dark cloud over that last beam of comfort which shone upon the soul. Wearied with the pursuit of what he finds beyond his reach, disappointed by the unsatisfactory nature of what engaged his fondest hopes, disgusted by the satiety of what he imagined could never cloy, and borne down by [5/6] the weight of sorrow and affliction, he pursues, with heavy heart, the short remainder of his pilgrimage; until earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, is its mournful close. The place which knew him knows him no more. The chambers of death receive him. Corruption and the worm are his portion.
And is this all? Is this the end of him who was created with a nature susceptible of infinite improvement and exaltation, and whose mind, unsatisfied with any advances in cultivation, or any experience of happiness, which this world can give, nature prompts to pant for another state, and fills with a longing after immortality? Man is not disposed to think it. He lends a willing ear to that tradition, which, with a still small voice, tells him he is immortal, and that this appearance of death is but a change of life. He listens, with grateful attention, to the whispers of his own reason, which confirm the welcome truth. In the nature, capacities, and desires, of his soul, he sees such confirmation; traces it in the dispensations of the Great Supreme, displaying irregularities, to be remedied, if ever, in another state of things; and would fain put implicit confidence in these and like grounds of probability of a future state. But he finds them not sufficient for a sure and certain hope in this most important and desirable truth. They are not enough to afford that strong confidence which the mind requires, before it can derive the full advantage of belief in another state of being. The light of nature, and the ray of tradition, do not come with sufficient clearness fully to dissipate the clouds and darkness that rest upon the tomb.
Such has been the uniform experience of those who, having been guided solely by this light, have tested its fullest powers; and therefore such is the determination of unbiased truth.
But, blessed be God! we are not left to tradition or reason. The day-spring from on high hath visited us. The Sun of righteousness has arisen, dissipated the dark shades of death, discovered to the traveller through this vale of tears the eternal world that lies beyond; m clearly illumined the path that leads therein to happiness and glory. The instructions of Him who proved Himself divine fix the reality of a future state on ground that cannot be shaken. Without a moment's attention to the varied gradations of proof by which mere human intellect would elucidate and confirm that truth, the mind may at once embrace it, and cling to it with a security which nothing can weaken. It comes with all the high authority of a voice from heaven.
With what gratitude should it be received! And what a deep and permanent impression should it make upon the mind! Are [6/7] we to live forever? Is this state but the preparation of our being? Let then the afflicted pilgrim bear up under all the trials with which he meets in the journey of life. He is destined for another world. He is to experience another and an eternal life. Let not this, then, occupy his chief attention, limit his views, or imprison his hopes. Its sufferings can be of but short continuance. Will he despond from enduring pain, which he knows will last but a few hours, and leave him, the remainder of his days, blest and happy? Will he resign himself to unrestrained grief for disappointments and losses which he knows will be succeeded by the fulfilment of all his heart can desire?
Compare the longest time with eternity, and you have a disparity infinitely exceeding that between the least distinguishable portion of life, and the most protracted earthly pilgrimage. Yet a very little while, and this life, with all its crosses, will be forever past, and "we shall be changed."
Would to God this could be urged, only to mitigate the sorrows, and encourage the hopes of men! But the indefatigable tempter so perverts nature, so deceives by appearances, and so allures by dangerous attractions, as often to succeed in persuading men that they not only lose nothing, but will gain much, in pleasure, profit, or applause, by living with a sole or main regard to present interest or enjoyment. Therefore revelation, unfolding the true nature of the futurity which if brings to light, presents it in connection with the infinite justice which it will display to those who risk the distinction then to be made between the righteous and the wicked, between him who feareth God, and him who feareth Him not.
The prospect of a future world is opened to both these characters, and the declaration, "We shall be changed," applies to both.
By all the hopes, then, which the former would entertain, and by their desire to be delivered from the awful recompense which the latter must expect, if they persevere, we are all deeply concerned in a practical consideration of the truth, "We shall be changed."
"We shall be changed" in our bodies, and in our souls.
The bodies, which here are the subjects of pain and disease, are pierced with the shafts of death, and see corruption, will be revived. The bodies which, in this life, are companions of our souls, will be re-united to them. The bodies, which here are instruments of effecting the purposes of the will and inclination, will participate in the eternal consequences of their indulgence.
The hour is coming, in which all that are in their graves shall [7/8] hear His voice, and shall come forth. The bodies of men only are consigned to the grave: therefore their bodies shall come forth. In the vision which St. John had of the last judgment, the earth and the sea gave up their dead. The bodies of men only can be holden by the earth and the sea: therefore, their bodies shall be given up. "Though after my skin," says Job, "worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh, shall I see God." He, therefore, spake of the resurrection of the body. "This mortal," says St. Paul, "must put on immortality, and this corruptible must put on incorruption. The bodies of men only, and not their souls, are mortal and corruptible. Therefore, of the restitution of their bodies, and not their souls, does the apostle here speak. "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body;" are expressions which point incontestibly to the resurrection of the body.
Therefore we fully believe that these bodies will, after death, be resuscitated; that wherever their disjointed particles may be, whether incorporated with their parent-earth, or united to the substance of some other animal, or scattered by the winds of heaven, or lodged in the caverns of the great deep, they will, by the mighty power of Him who first formed them, be recalled, and made to compose again their respective frames, and be re-animated by their former vital principles. In the power of God, we see the possibility, and in His revelation, the certainty, of this great event.
But though at the resurrection these very bodies will be formed anew, they will not be exactly what they now are. The purpose for which they are to be raised, revelation declares to be, the reception of eternal reward, or punishment. To be fitted for this, a change must be undergone. In what precise degree this will affect them, is not given us to know. Thus far we are certain:--"This corruptible" body "must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." And so it truly must be; or the body would not be preserved to enjoy the eternal happiness which is in store for the righteous; and it would soon be consumed by the sore punishments which will be inflicted on the wicked.
The bodies of the wicked will become such, that the gnawing worm will never devour them, or the scorching flame consume them. How awful this portion of the ungodly! There will be no more death, in which to hope for oblivion of aggravated suffering. There will be no more grave, in which to hope for refuge from galling pains. Forever must their bodies endure those tortures, [8/9] of which the severest pangs in this world are but shadows and faint resemblances.
Do I address any whose bodies claim their supreme devotion, exercise their pride in their decoration, or their sensuality in their indulgence? Let them think of that state wherein they will be changed. Sufficient humiliation it might be, to know that what now engages their pride will soon be unfit to remain on the surface of the earth. Sufficient determent it might be from a course of sensual extravagance, that they thus accelerate this humbling doom. With what force, then, should they be affected by the awful reality, that to all who obey unrighteousness, there is as signed a part in the lake of fire whence the smoke of torment ascendeth forever and ever! How can they resist the dreadful warning, that they that have done evil shall come forth to the resurrection of damnation, and have their bodies restored, but that they may be cast into hell-fire, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
There will also be another change. The bodies of the righteous will come forth. But it will be to the resurrection of life. Their corruptible, too, must put on incorruption, and their mortal, immortality. But this change will be wrought in them, that there may be no end or diminution to the happiness to which they will be called. They are "sown in corruption"--subject to decay and putrefaction: they will be "raised in incorruption"--infinitely removed from these effects of mortality. They are "sown in dishonor"--bearing marks of their humble origin from the dust of the earth, and exposed to shame and deformity: they will be "raised in glory"--shining in celestial splendor, purity and beauty. They are "sown in weakness"--subject to disabilities, diseases, infirmities, and accidents innumerable, often disqualified for the discharge of duty, and often failing therein through weariness and exhaustion, and by their weakness, paralyzing the efforts of the willing spirit: they will be "raised in power," with no hindrance to the active, vigorous, and constant discharge of Jehovah's will. They are "sown natural" bodies--with an organization requiring for its support constant nourishment, and leading inevitably, in its operations, to its own destruction: they will be "raised spiritual" bodies, free from the grossness and necessities of this life, infinitely removed above all causes of dissolution, and fitted for eternally partaking in the pure enjoyments, and spiritual exercises, of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Let us learn, brethren, from these considerations, by a course of holy living, by keeping under the body, bringing it into subjection, [9/10] and accustoming it to yield to our infinitely more important spiritual concerns, to use the means of preparing it for the happy change that is offered. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." Therefore this change will be wrought in the bodies of all who, by crucifying the flesh, with the affections and lusts, find their chief pleasure here in the spiritual joys of religion, and devote their main anxiety, care, and effort, to the search of those celestial joys which are reserved for the righteous hereafter.
They who make this their humble and faithful endeavor, should derive comfort from the doctrine now considered. Whatever pains, diseases, or misfortunes, here assail their bodies, they will be changed, and raised superior to them all. Yet a little while, and these sources of disquietude will be removed, and remembered but as a dream when one awaketh. In patience, then, let them possess their souls, and submitting to the sovereign will, wait the good time of their Creator. He will surely keep and perform His word. Their mortal will put on immortality, and their corruptible, incorruption. The dishonor, weakness, and natural infirmities, to which their bodies are now subject, will be changed to glory, and power, and spiritual perfection.
To the bodies thus restored and changed, our souls, called from the place of departed spirits, where they will have passed the time of their separation, will be reunited. And they too will be changed; not indeed in their character, but in their circumstances. For with the marks of character with which they leave this world, they enter the next. With the same with which they are separated from the body, they will be reunited to it. The love of holiness or iniquity by which they were here controlled, will remain. But they will be changed, inasmuch as they will be removed from a probationary state. Those of the wicked will have no farther restraints from the good Spirit of God, to check the full current of their malignant and self-tormenting tempers; while those of the righteous will be removed from the difficulties and temptations which were wisely suffered as trials of their constancy, and the frailties and weaknesses which stamped so much of imperfection on their religious character. They will be taken from the mixture of good and evil which this world affords. Those of the wicked will no more be objects of that long-suffering which spared to them some sources of enjoyment, and put off the evil day of full and final recompense; while those of the righteous, removed from the varied changes and chances of this mortal life, will be admitted to unalloyed happiness. That inequality which here marks the course of Providence will be entirely repaired. The [10/11] souls of the wicked will be deprived of the forced and unnatural, but alluring pleasure, which was even the consequence of their iniquity; while those of the righteous will know no more the trials and sufferings to which, even for their piety, they were exposed. The souls of the wicked will be forever deprived of the opportunities, once within their reach, of being saved from endless wo; while those of the righteous, freed from the dangerous exposures, and unavoidable lapses, of frail, humanity, for which they ever found it necessary to be on their guard, lest they should unhappily forfeit the great reward, will be secure in the eternal possession of it.
Thus, my brethren, will the souls of men be changed. Their characteristic traits will, indeed, remain unaltered. But every circumstance will be removed from them by which the happiness of the righteous, or the misery of the wicked, can be at all abated.
In the dismal doom of the accursed, irreligion will still mutter its desperate complaints against that God whom it neglected in the world; profaneness will still insult the majesty of the Eternal, but meet not the foolish and impious smile of companions in iniquity; envy will still warp the temper, but forever uncheered by the malignant hope of having its designs effected, or its wishes gratified; vengeance will still plot its purpose, but in despair of execution; devotion to the world will retain its disappointed fondness, though that world will be lost forever; eternal banishment from the presence of the Lord, despair, self-reproach, and torment never to be ended or mitigated, will be the portion of those whose miserable companions will be they only who are come into like condemnation.
But there is another prospect of the changed state to which the souls of men will pass. There will be a change fitting those of the righteous for their glorious and eternal reward.
"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things which God hath prepared for those who love Him." They will be like the angels in heaven. They will be blessed with the immediate vision and fruition of God,--their Maker, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Grace will have had on them its perfect work, and removing the frailties and corruptions of this probationary state, make them holy even as the "God into whose presence they are admitted is holy. Raised to spiritual and intellectual perfection, they will know even as also they are known. The glory and beauty of the heavenly Jerusalem, the society of angels, archangels, the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesu the Mediator of the new covenant, the [11/12] Savior whose love has been the subject of grateful praise, and the motive to lively faith and devotion, in the church militant, will be sources of the bliss of the righteous in their glorious change. And as this bliss will be unending, so we may also hope that it will be heightened by being shared by those with whom on earth they took sweet counsel, and walked in the way of holiness--by the beloved relatives and friends who will have gone before, or will have followed them to the rest that remains for the people of God. Yes, they are changed. Time, sickness, misfortune, death, have lost their power; and when ages innumerable will have passed, their bliss will be as if but just in its commencement.
But of whom, my brethren, may these comfortable words be said? Who are they whose change from time to eternity will be thus blessed and thus glorious? The Savior hath drawn a distinction which man may not gainsay. He hath declared that there will be, besides a resurrection of life, a resurrection of damnation. And this is the word of the great God, which, though heaven and earth pass away, will stand for ever. Awfully momentous, then, is the question, Whose shall be the resurrection of life; and whose the resurrection of damnation? That merciful feature in the divine dispensations, which, by offering to every man grace sufficient to enable him favorably to fulfil the momentous responsibility, leaves to each the decision of the great question for himself, puts that question with thrilling interest to the conscience of every intelligent being. The sacrifice for sin has been offered in his behalf. The great intercession at God's right hand waits to include him in its all-sufficient pleadings. The influences of the Holy Ghost are ready to apply these great and precious privileges, by grace, through faith, to his sure salvation. Of that grace let him avail himself: that faith let hint embrace and cultivate as a living practical principle: then to him, to die will be gain--the infinite gain of that change which will remove him from all the sins, sorrows, and trials of this mortal life, and secure to him glory, honor, and immortality in heaven.
But now is the only surely accepted time for this. Now is the only certain day in which our salvation may be wrought out, the resurrection of life chosen, and the resurrection of damnation avoided. A very short delay may put this out of our reach forever. To-morrow may be too late. Let not, brethren, the solemn warning of this with which we are surrounded be lost upon us. The, summons from time to eternity is often given with mournful suddenness. Business, enjoyment, the brightest anticipations, are made to bend to the most unlooked for destruction; and in an [12/13] hour when least expected, life, health, and joy, are changed to the agonies of the dying, and the still coldness of the dead. It has been so with others--it may be so with us. Our days, our hours, may even now be near their close; and the nearest, perhaps, to the youngest, the healthiest, the gayest, and the most careless among us. The great change which will fix our destiny for eternity may be at hand. Ere another dawn has risen upon the earth, it may have come over us, with all its unspeakable and everlasting consequences. In Jesus there is hope that that change will be a blessed and a happy one. Without him there is no hope, but utter and irremediable despair.
Brethren, the blessed hope that comes of Him, sheds its sweet and consoling influences over us in this hour of mournful funeral celebration. With what but hope can we commit to their parent earth the remains of a good and faithful Christian With what but hope, the remains of a good and faithful Christian pastor? Such remains are now before us, soon to be laid in that rest which will be unbroken until "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." That shout, that voice, that trump, shall call those honored remains of a holy minister of Jesus from whatever of change the process of dissolution may bring over them; and the same shout, and voice, and trump shall call from its place of rest, and hope, and joy, the soul which has just been severed from its connection with that tabernacle of clay. And then, in the person thus formed anew, there shall appear before the judgment-seat of Christ--my brethren all, there shall appear before the judgment-seat of Christ--a fellow-Christian. How shall we appear--for we all, too, must there appear with him--how shall we appear in comparison with his appearance?
If God has given me right judgment in the matter, he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith. He received, in their genuineness, the blessed doctrines of the everlasting Gospel. Converted, and become as a little child, he yielded, with child-like simplicity, to the teachings of that Gospel. Whither it pointed, he went. He clung to the Cross which it exhibits, as presenting, in the dying Victim thereon offered, the only satisfaction for sinners to divine holiness and justice. He clung to the Church, which it presents, as opening the divinely appointed channel through which the merits and efficacy of the great atonement of the Crucified are to be conveyed to His redeemed. He clung to the faith, and holiness, and virtue of the Gospel, as the only [13/14] qualifications and conditions on which, in the one body, the Church, he could be reconciled to God by the Cross.
Are we, in these things, as he was? Then may we hope that, like his, ours will be the change which will bring us to be, with him, ever with the Lord. And no matter how suddenly that change may come over us. O, how can that change come too suddenly, which takes the true Christian from labor to rest, from suffering to joy, from faith to sight, from hope to glorious fruition How blessed to him, if, as was the case with the departed one before us, having retired to take the rest of sleep, he should awake, not to the light of this world, but to the glorious splendor of paradise! [Mr. Williams retired to rest, in his usual health, on Saturday evening, October 17, 1840, and died about three o'clock on the morning of Sunday, 18th.] How blessed, if instead of seeing here another holy day of rest, and again bowing in the sanctuary of God on earth, he finds himself borne to that rest which remains for the people of God, and to the enjoyment of that purely spiritual worship, which is only not equal to the hallelujahs of the celestial courts! But O, how sore the guilt, how fearful the punishment, if it be not so with us; if the cross in vain invites us, and the Church opens in vain the way wherein the cross is, in its sanctifying and saving efficacy, to be indeed our glory and our joy!
My reverend brethren, the pastors of the flock of Christ, when that good man shall have been summoned from the grave, and the place of departed spirit; to meet the Lord in the air, we shall there see in him a partaker of the heavenly gift of ministerial commission with which we have been endued. Many of us have seen the fidelity with which he stirred up that gift. It was my privilege, as I know it was of reverend brethren now before me, to be often the depository of the cares and anxieties, the longing desires and earnest endeavors, the watchful solicitude the cheering hopes, the affectionate fears, and withal, the humble faith, and practical dependence on God's grace, with which be gave himself, instant in season and out of season, to his pastoral charge; And at one call, could the spirits of the departed join living witnesses, thousands would rise up and bear testimony to the fidelity with which the sacred services of this altar, desk, and pulpit, were per formed by him.
Let me not be charged with adulation. That were to use the pulpit most unworthily. But I have often said, and would now say, in conscious sincerity and integrity of heart, that in all the wide range of my observation, I never knew a pastor whose whole soul seemed more engaged in the great work to which he had [14/15] been set apart. I have seen this in the happy results of his ministry, and felt it in the many occasions on which he has taken counsel with me in matters pertaining to his high and holy trust.
But wherefore say this here! O, not to eulogise the dead; but that we, dear brethren of the clergy, may lay these things to heart, and ask if we could thus appear before our great Lord and Master, if now our summons should come; if we could--should our call be as sudden as was his--go with a conscience as purely washed as we may trust his was, in the blood of atonement. O, ours is, indeed, a momentous responsibility! God give us all grace, that we may never lay our heads upon our pillows unprepared for the awful alternative of never raising them again.
Good people of this parish, what I have now said to your late pastor's reverend brethren, should go most powerfully home to your hearts. I know that those hearts are now wrung with grief. They have good reason to be. You have lost a friend, a pastor, a beloved father, who was worthy of all the affection, esteem, and gratitude, with which I know you viewed him. You do right to mourn his loss, and in paternal and pastoral sympathy, I mourn it with you. But I owe to your souls a higher duty than mere condolence. It behooves me to press upon you to lay to heart the great privileges that were yours in having such a pastor, and warn you that you fail not seriously to a your own consciences how you have improved them. Just twenty years have this day elapsed since, on this spot, he was vested with the ministerial commission which made him your pastor. [Mr. Williams was ordained Deacon by the Right Rev. Bishop Hobart, in St. Philip's Church, October 20th, 1820; and Priest by the same Bishop, in the same Church, July 10th, 1826.] I will not ask you--for vain would it be to do so--what account has been carried with them to their Judge by the multitudes whom death has deprived of all further opportunity of profiting by his ministry- But I will; I must ask you, what account could you carry, if you were now summoned before that Judge? I see before me the hoary head and the mature in years, to whom the whole of that ministry has been a standing call to walk in the way they should go, and a standing warning to flee from the way of sin and death, and to whom it has constantly offered the established means and pledges, in the Church of God, of grace, mercy, and salvation through Jesus Christ. And I see those of every age, who, for a longer or shorter period, have shared the blessing. Which of you, laying his hand upon his heart, and looking to God, in sincerity and truth, for [15/16] grace that he may not deceive himself, can hope and trust that he has thus been carried forward in the way of life? O! I doubt not that there are such; that there are those among you, who have a true Gospel warrant for looking forward to union, in a better world, with the loved pastor whose loss you now deplore. God bless you with abundant grace to persevere until you are thus brought to exchange with him the services of this temple made with hands, for those of that temple eternal in the heavens, whose Builder and Maker is God.
But not so with all of you. O, no; calls have been given to many, warnings held out to them, means offered them, pledges of mercy placed within their reach, so that they had but to take them; and yet they most unthankfully have refused. They have walked on still in impenitence, worldly-mindedness, spiritual in difference, and Sin. The life of their pastor was spent in vain for them. O, shall not his death arrest them, effectually strike their hearts, lead them to reflection, repentance, and conversion? Or will they refuse and rebel, and continue in refusal and rebellion, until they are called to meet that pastor as a dreadful witness against them at the bar of God? O! forget they not how suddenly and unexpectedly the summons may come, which bids them to their account. What if they, too, like him whose loss they now deplore, should retire to their nightly rest in all ordinary prospect of rising the next morning to their daily vocation, and ere that morning dawns, should find themselves in the eternal world! It may be so with them. This night it may be so.