NOTE.--The Church of St. Mark was opened on the third Sunday in Advent (December 11), 1869. In the morning the Rector preached, and administered the Holy Communion. The Rev. Dr. Wells, of St. Stephen's House, and the Rev. Mr. Leeds, Rector of St. Peter's, Salem, read Evening Prayer, and the Rector preached. At 7 1/2 o'clock, P.M., the Rev. Mr. Converse, of St. James, Roxbury, said prayers, and the Rector again preached.
"FOR MY BRETHREN AND COMPANIONS' SAKE, I WILL NOW SAY, PEACE BE WITHIN THEE. YEA, BECAUSE OF THE HOUSE OF THE LORD OUR GOD, I WILL SEEK THY GOOD."--PSALM cxiii. 8, 9.
AT last, after years of unquiet, Israel was at peace; and David the king laid aside his sword, and rested from the tumult of battle. The fields, which had been trodden down by the feet of marching armies, and ploughed by the brazen wheels of chariots, grew green again. Men returned to their wonted occupations; and the sounds of busy labor were once more heard in the town, and stillness settled again upon the plains. The fathers of many households with calm gladness received their sons back in safety from the wars; and, in other families, time, the great soother of sorrow, and the consolations of the faith, were beginning to erase the anguish of those who missed their dead. All things told of prosperity. And the people chosen of God looked forward in hope to long years of repose. And now it came into the heart of the king to bring the ark of his Lord up to the place of God's choice. With solemn pomp the rite was celebrated. And, as the long train wound its way towards the holy hill, they sang a hymn to God, which David, in the Spirit, had written down: "I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the House of the Lord. Our feet shall stand in thy gates, oh Jerusalem!" And then, their voices mingling with the joyous sound of shawms and psalteries and lutes, [3/4] they sang how Jerusalem was builded as a city at unity in itself; how thither the tribes of God gathered themselves; how there was the place of judgment, and the habitation of God's anointed monarch,--the king, consecrated by the Holy One. And then the stirring words burst from their lips: "Oh, pray for peace of Jerusalem. They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sake I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the House of the Lord our God, I will seek to do thee good."
So, as the old story handed down among the Jews has it, they brought the ark into its resting-place. And the song they sang that day was not forgotten. It was thenceforward numbered with the psalms appointed to be sung in the service of God's house. It was called the "Song of the Journeying" (a title which our English version unfortunately translates, "A Song of Degrees"), and was sung by the companies of travellers on their way to the holy city, to keep the high feasts. For many days, as these solemnities drew on, the roads for leagues about Jerusalem were thronged with pilgrims. They spoke many differing languages. They wore the strange garments of many far-off countries.
They had come weary journeys across wide seas and over broad stretches of desert lands. And now, at last, they drew near to Zion. And thronging memories came upon them of kings and chieftains and priests and prophets whose names God had made mighty in the days of old,--memories of great deliverances which God had wrought for His own chosen people, of great mercies which He had showed to them in His love. And now, when the dream of their childhood and the hope of their later years was soon to be accomplished, and they [4/5] were to behold the august pomp of the Sacrifice for Sin; when,--passing down the slopes of the hills which stand around Jerusalem, even as God stands about His people, for evermore,--they saw beneath them the shining turrets and marble walls of the CITY OF PEACE, they lifted up their voices, and in the same old Hebrew chant sang the same holy words, which, however far apart might be their homes, they had all alike learned by their fathers' knee: "Oh, pray for the peace of Jerusalem! They shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sake I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the House of the Lord our God, I will seek to do thee good."
Three times in each year, generation after generation, age after age, did these words echo among the rocky passes of Judea. Only when the last woe was fulfilled, and the time had come that not one stone of God's house was left upon another, did they cease to be sung there.
But, though that city is in desolation now; though Mount Zion is no longer "beautiful for situation," nor "the joy of the whole earth;" though the feet of unbelievers walk proudly above the spot where once, between the Cherubim, the awful Shekinah dimly floated, yet the Psalms of David are still sung, over the earth. For they speak of another City, of which the earthly Jerusalem was but the type. They prophecy of a Kingdom, of which the throne of David was only the sign. They tell of the worship of a Temple, of which the ho use that David builded, in all its fair stateliness, was but the merest, faintest, image.
S. Paul more than once directs Christian people to use the Book of Psalms in their devotion. And it would be easy to prove, were it needful, and if we had the time [5/6] now, that there is an inward and spiritual, a prophetic meaning, running through them all. So that they were meant for the instruction, and the comfort, and the warning, not of the Jewish nation alone, but for the people of God through all time. As Jerusalem was the type of Israel of old--the people in covenant with God then; so Jerusalem is the type of the Church--the people in. covenant with God now. And I shall now say a few plain words on the text, as it expresses the feeling we should have, (I.) towards all Christian people; (II.) towards the members of our own Communion; and (III.) towards our own parish.
I. It expresses the feeling with which we should regard all Christians. I said that Jerusalem (the Jerusalem of which these words were first spoken) is the type of the people of God under the new covenant. All persons who have received Christian baptism are members of that covenant. The Church, in its broadest definition, (excepting that definition which carries the thought into the unseen world,) the Church, on the earth, is the whole body of men, and women, and children, who have been by baptism admitted to the new covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whether their membership in this body shall give them an entrance into the everlasting glory hereafter, or whether it shall only deepen their eternal woe, depends, I need hardly say, upon the question, whether they are joined by faith in the spirit, to Him who is a Spirit--but of that truth I am not speaking now. Having received visible Christian baptism, they are members of the visible Christian Church. A sad thing it is, to read of Jerusalem, that it was builded as a city that is at unity in itself--that thither "all the tribes went up," in peace--and then to turn and look about us, and see the warring and wandering hosts of a divided Christendom. Sad and [6/7] sorrowful it is, to read that last solemn supplication of Him who died that He might save us all. "That they all may be one"--and then to know that we are not all one.
Looking abroad upon a community like our own, we see, on one side, a Church, boasting itself of its antiquity, retaining many vestiges--and more than vestiges--of things good and true, but all foul, with monstrous corruptions of doctrine and of practice, and sinking almost visibly into open and unblushing idolatry; ascribing to a woman, many of the most solemn prerogatives of God Himself, and making her, the chief mediator between God and men. And, on the other side, we see a great throng of sects and parties, all of whom have left the care of the apostolic and divinely appointed ministry, and many of whom have wandered very far from the apostolic faith. Sects divided from each other, as they are divided from us; and their members (too many of them) sunk into listless indifference to all definite doctrine, or else in narrow uncharity, withdrawing their sympathy from all who differ from them.
But, let us learn to look on all these in love. If we cannot yet be one in visible communion, let it not be our fault if we are not one in sympathy and affection. It would take long, and it were to no purpose, now, to tell the story of the first breaking off of these bodies from our communion. Whatever may have been the mistakes or the failings of their fathers who left the Church of England, the men about us, have not, of their own act, committed any sin of schism. They have not, of themselves, rent the seamless garment. They have not, of their own accord, violated the unity of the Church. Brought up to regard with indifference, as matters of little moment, or as absolute errors, many customs or doctrines which have a grave importance in our eyes; with minds preoccupied [7/8] with prejudices, or darkened by ignorance concerning much that separates us from them; we cannot think of them as we might regard men who should deliberately and persistently disturb the peace of a Church at unity with itself. No! They belong to us, and we to them. They cannot be "as the heathen," in our eyes. We, and they, have much more in common than some among us dream of, perhaps. Men meet together, and harsh words of theological disputation seem to show an utter separation between them. But, if they be earnest souls, when the hour of stillness has come, and each has entered into his closet and shut to the door, the ear of God listens; and, lo! from lips which never yet uttered the same formula of belief, rise now the same confessions of sin, the same entreaties, the same burning aspirations.
And so it is when that other silence, upon which the noises of earth shall never again beak, thaws over men. So it is when men die. Those who are alive may little comprehend or sanction each other; but there are no misunderstandings in the place of peace. The company whom no man may number, gathered there, believe and worship as one. In that world there is no difference of parties. It is our plain duty in this world, indeed, to contend even for the details of the truth, according to the light that is in us. But that truth is simply and at once discerned by the spirits of just men, when they are made perfect. Additions or modifications or prejudices or ignorances of men never pass with the souls of men into the place which is unseen. They are put off, for ever, when the flesh is laid aside. The most determined disputants, if only the Holy Ghost has dwelt in them, agree, the moment they are dead. And hands which were lifted up in harsh contention here, clasp each other there, in glad brotherhood. Let us try to remember that this is so with [8/9] the holy dead. And let the thought give new warmth to our feelings towards even those who are farthest, and we cannot but feel, most sadly, separated from us; but who, albeit, through dark and devious ways, may be nearing, and that faster than we, the one gate into the Everlasting Mansion. Let us learn to hail with gladness every good deed done, and every good word spoken, for the sake of our common Master, by any, who, having received the one Baptism into His name, are members of the one family; and if they be faithful according to their light here, have a share in the one house, not made with hands, above. "For my brethren and companions' sake I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the Rouse of the Lord our God, I will seek to do thee good."
II. But, if the interests of all Christian people should have a place in our prayers and sympathies, so, more especially, should we regard the welfare of our own Church. We hold this communion, in which by the mercy of God we are, to be a true and living branch of the Catholic church of Christ. It is, then, in a special sense, our Zion, our Jerusalem. We ought to love and cling to the Church to which we belong, instinctively; having the same feeling with which we love the country in which we live. But there are, beside, very many plain considerations which should make our people deeply thankful for their high privilege in belonging to the Church--though I can only allude to a few of them how, and to them only in general terms. When this Church renounced her debasing adherence to the Church of Rome, she retained all those doctrines and customs which could be proved from Holy Scripture, or were universally received in the earliest and purest ages of Christianity. She cast aside only what was corrupt and modem. She retains, then, not only the old faith, "once delivered," but also the old prayers, in [9/10] which, for almost two thousand years, the generations of the faithful have prayed to God; and the old hymns; and the old rites; and even the old garments of the clergy. And surely it is something to be thankful for, that we can, by these outward and visible signs, find ourselves associated with the long succession of those who have gone before us through their mortal pilgrimage. Words which we utter day by day, in our house of prayer, were often and often on the lips of a great multitude who in the old days believed and taught and worshipped, as we do now. The ancient words must needs cheer the thoughtful soul, and bring the dead very near to him. They animate us by their example. They seem to gladden us by their company. They stand about us, on this side and on that,--martyrs, and confessors, and a great host of the faithful, who repeated the same words, and celebrated the same rites, and received the same gospel that we do to-day.
While the bodies around us (and the Church of Rome among the number) are ever changing, our Church, in all that concerns the Faith, remains unchanging, through the generations. How far from the truth a soul may wander, and yet have (however dimmed and clouded) a vital faith in Christ, which shall render it acceptable in His sight, it is not for us to say. It were a profitless and sad, if not a presumptuous task, to speculate upon the matter. I can. but believe that He who deigned to look with favor even on the dark and doubting soul that cried unto Him, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us;--I can but believe that. He receives in mercy many a weary and heavy-laden spirit, that could not frame its confession of belief in any words which we should use. Concerning such, I can but repeat in my soul the words of the Prophet, "The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though [10/11] he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary." And yet what a blessedness it is to feel, that, while many among those about us have wandered far from what we must consider the first principles of our religion, we stand firm; to know that the FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS, which, like Him who taught it, is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever, is our heritage,--that we can receive, unquestioning, what are such fearful stumbling-blocks to others.
But the great glory of our Communion is, her distinct and constant teaching of the doctrine of justification by faith. She never degrades the two Sacraments of our Lord Jesus Christ into mere signs and empty tokens, which may, with safety, be neglected. We hold that the Eucharist is, to the faithful soul, the communion of His Body and Blood, of Whose flesh we must eat, of Whose blood we must drink, or we have no life in us; for He Himself has taught it. We hold that "he that believeth, and is baptized," shall be saved; for He Himself has said it. What God Himself has joined together, we dare not put asunder. And, therefore, we teach that these two Sacraments are "generally necessary to salvation." But, while this is so, in all the offices, in the petitions, and confessions, and hymns of the Church, is constantly and plainly taught one lesson: That no Sacraments, no good deeds, no merits of saints departed, no rites, no professions, can, of themselves, be of the least avail in procuring our salvation unto eternal life--that nothing but a true and spiritual union by faith to Him who is invisible, will save us now or hereafter. The Church sings no syren song. She lulls no soul into false and delusive peace. And Christ in Heaven grant that she may always be, as now, a pure and living branch of that Church catholic of His, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. "For [11/12] my brethren and companions' sake, I will say, Peace be with thee. Because of the House of the Lord our God, I will seek thy good."
III. I did mean to speak at length of the words as they express the feeling with which the Christian man should regard that portion of the Church, which is comprised in his own parish, but the time will not permit. And it surely is not needful to tell them who kneel down to pray, beneath one roof, and eat from the same Holy Table, and drink of the same consecrated Cup; who look in each others' faces, day after day; whose voices join in the same hymns; who listen to the same words, of counsel; who are as one family, and acknowledge one pastor, set as a spiritual father over them,--it surely is not needful for me to tell them that they ought to love one another, and the parish which unites them in brotherhood. It cannot be needful for me to tell you that you ought to pray for its peace, and for your brethren and companions' sake, seek to do it good. Aye, for your brethren and companions' sake, if not for your own, the parish has a claim upon your labors and offerings and sympathies and prayers! Because in this parish is to stand, as long as the parish lasts--ages on ages, let us hope, after the lips which speak to you now are still in death--here is to stand, in the midst of the throng and tumult of this great town, a priest in the Church of God, speaking to poor, struggling, dying souls--which yet, can never wholly die, through unending years--speaking of the things which belong to their PEACE; pointing the desolate and hopeless in spirit to the place of comfort, and helping them on the way.
And now, my dearly beloved people, it only remains for me to offer to you my hearty congratulations, and to wish you joy, on this day of joy. It is a pleasant and goodly thing, after all our vexations and troubles in places which [12/13] were not our own, to find ourselves at home, in a house which is not unseemly, for God's solemn worship. After dwelling so long in tabernacles, to find ourselves in a temple. It is a satisfaction to know that the work has been done by skilful hands, faithfully and well. It is, perhaps, not the less pleasing in His eyes who "hath made every thing beautiful in his time," and it is certainly more pleasing to us, that here is no attempt in any thing to deceive the eye. The building is as honest as the teaching which is to go on within it ought always to be. There is little in it that reminds one of grandeur, and yet it has a certain solemn beauty which well befits the place of prayer. Its form may bring up the memory of those fairer and statelier piles in which, in our dear old mother land, our fathers knelt before God. [The church, which is a simple early English structure, consists of nave and aisles, with chancel, vestry, and porches. At the west end are two stained lancet windows, containing figures of S. Michael and S. Gabriel, the archangels. The chancel has three windows, with the figures of the Good Shepherd, and S. Mark holding the Gospels, and Moses with the tables of the Law. Over the chancel arch is the inscription,--They that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.] Its windows nay serve to recall our thoughts from other things, to the hosts of the Blessed Angels, and to the saints of the old dispensation and the new--the Law and the Gospel--and to Him who said, "I am the Good Shepherd," and of whom the Prophet wrote, "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom" And the words on the wall may preach a sermon before the preacher mounts the pulpit.
Such as it is, we set it apart from all unhallowed uses, and devote it to His service for Whose honor it has been builded. May He who giveth His angels charge concerning His people, have His eye upon it, day and night. May He keep it from all scathe and harm, from wasting flame and untimely decay. Who knows what may be done [13/14] within these walls by His help without Whom we can do nothing? Who knows what souls shall look back upon this poor House from the enduring calm of Eternity, with new throbbings of gratitude to Him whose presence here we invoke.
If only God, even the Most High God, will give us His blessing; if only Christ and the Holy Ghost will come here, and be with us when we meet; if only some sorrowing souls may here find comfort, or to some troubled and hopeless spirit may here be given the gift of that Peace which passeth understanding,--then have we not builded in vain. Without that presence and blessing, had we built a minster we should only have reared a heap of shapely stones. With that presence and blessing, the meanest roof raised for God, covers a holy spot.
And now the thought comes to me of that great Temple, not made with hands, of which this is a place of preparation. Prophets and Apostles have dimly and darkly discerned its glories, and in mortal words have tried to picture them; telling us of blazing light above the brightness of the sun in his strength,--all manner of shining stones, gates of pearl,--a great sea of glass,--a white Throne, and the rainbow spanning it,--a voice as of thunderings, and the sound of mighty waters: but their words have failed them. For one who was "caught up" into that Temple wrote that he "saw UNUTTERABLE THINGS." Far down, beneath the foundations of that Building, the stars grow dark with age, and fade out, one by one, in their courses. But over it, comes no change. It is ETERNAL IN THE HEAVENS. In the inmost court stands One before the Throne. On His head is a crown of everlasting brightness. He wears the ephod of an enduring Priesthood. He stands, and entreats His Father for each among His people. He lifts up hands which were pierced once, [14/15] for them. He speaks from lips which were white, and quivering in the death-struggle once, for them. "Him the Father heareth always." About Him are Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Principalities, Powers, Cherubim, Seraphim,--all the Hierarchies of Heaven. And they bow down in adoration.
And in the outer courts of that Temple wait the people. Age after age has that silent ingathering been going on. From your side, and from mine some have gone to join that congregation of the Blessed. They rest now from their labors, and in glad peace wait for the coming Day. The Day of Consummation shall come. A thrill shall run through the armies of Heaven, and through the hosts of the dead in Christ. From the open gates, He shall draw near, who is the Desire of all nations. And they shall see His face; and He shall say to them, "Come, ye blessed." God grant that we may be joined to that company now, not by signs and Sacraments only, but in deed and in truth! Christ in mercy grant that we may have our part with them when that Day thaws on. Let this be our most earnest supplication, our most abiding hope, our chief care. AMEN.