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Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008


Friday May 16th

7.30 P. M. The celebration of the Holy Communion with sermon by the present Rector, the Rev. DAVID H. GREER.

Saturday May 17th

11 A. M. Morning prayer, with sermon by the Rev. SAMUEL FULLER, D. D., Professor in Berkeley Divinity School, Middletown, Conn.,-- the first Rector of Grace Church.

5 P. M. Evening prayer, with an historical discourse by the Rt. Rev. THOMAS M. CLARK, D. D., LL. D., Bishop of the Diocese.

Sunday May 18th

10.45 A. M. Morning prayer, with sermon by the Rev. ALEXANDER H. VINTON, D. D.

7.30 P. M. Evening prayer, with sermon by the Rev. C. GEORGE CURRIE, D. D., Rector of St. Luke's Church, Philadelphia.


The Rev. David H. Greer entered upon the Rectorship of Grace Church, September 15th, 1872.






Friday Evening, May 16th, 1879.




HEBREWS XII., 1st and part of 2nd.--"Wherefore seeing we also are
compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every
weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with
patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus."


FRIENDS AND BRETHREN:--Fifty years have elapsed since the first sermon was preached in Grace Church Parish by the Right Reverend Alexander Viets Griswold, D. D., Bishop of the Eastern Diocese. From that time to this the Parish then inaugurated has been steadily increasing in numbers and strength until it has come to assume its present considerable proportions. There are those here to-night who can remember this adult when it was a child, who were identified, more or less, with its youthful career. Its early struggles were their struggles. Its early hopes and anxieties, trembling in the balance, were their hopes and anxieties; and the phases of experience through which it passed are the phases of experience through which they passed. Its official record is part of their personal life. Its history is their reminiscence, and its measure of success is a measure of their reward.

[4] To all those persons, therefore, both clerical and lay, who have done so much towards building up this Parish into solidness and permanency of structure, I give to-night, in the name of the Parish, a most affectionate greeting, and extend a most cordial welcome.

In the work, however, of building up the kingdom of Christ in any particular field on earth, the process can never be said to be complete. The appointed laborers come, at appointed times, perform their several tasks, as they have gift and opportunity, then retire altogether from this earthly scene or withdraw to other engagements. But the task itself, once begun, is an endless task, and the superstructure of one period is but the foundation for the builders of another.

Fifty years ago the ground was broken, and the work upon this Parish-temple was commenced. From that time until now "hath it been in building, and yet it is not finished." I do not propose to-night to tell the story of the past, that will be done by another, at a later stage in these exercises. Neither shall I undertake the dangerous experiment of trying to forecast the future. But in response to what seems to be the requirement of the occasion, I shall venture here, in the presence of the sons and daughters and friends of Grace Church, to "consider the race that is set before us" to-day, the great duty devolving upon the Christian Church, and therefore upon all parochial fractions of that great integer at the present time.

What is that duty? Comprehensively stated, it is the duty of trying to redeem the life of this generation from a debasing and engrossing materialism, by the [4/5] quickening power of a positive faith in a supernatural and spiritual world. To a consideration of that topic I ask your attention.


You cannot be unaware--it is not worth while for me to assume that you are unaware--that there is a current of thought, that there is a line of influence in our time whose tendency is to undermine or weaken faith in the reality of the supernatural. It does not pretend to say that there is no supernatural background to human life and the universe. It simply declares that that supernatural background has not yet been discerned with such clearness and fullness of apprehension as to justify any positive affirmation concerning it by anybody whatsoever, and that confessed ignorance, however lamentable, is a better and healthier state of mind than the fancy without the reality of knowledge.

"If I am asked," says one [* Dr. Tyndall in an article on "Virchow and Evolution," in the NINETEENTH CENTURY for November, 1878.] whose words are much quoted in these days, "if I am asked whether science has solved, or is likely in our day to solve, the mystery of the universe, I must shake my head in doubt"; but then he adds, "if the materialist is confounded and science is rendered dumb, who else is prepared with an answer?" "The rational attitude of a thinking mind towards the supernatural in religion," says John Stuart Mill; "is that of the purest scepticism, as distinguished from a positive belief on the one hand and a positive unbelief on the other." "The only attitude which, in [5/6] strict logic," says the anonymous author, "Physicus," in his book on Theism, which it is admissible to adopt towards the question concerning the being of a God, is that of "suspended judgment"; and "this," he adds, "is the attitude which the great majority of scientifically-trained philosophers in our day actually have adopted in regard to the matter."

Now this doubtfulness, this uncertainty, touching the supernatural and the reality of the spiritual, is by no means confined to the laboratory of the physicist, and the study of the philosopher, but is distilling, by subtle, untraceable, imperceptible processes, down into the street, into the drawing room, into the market-place, and is permeating, more or less all minds; for whatever the current of thought that is flowing at any period in the upper stratum of intellectualism, it is sure in time to send its moisture throughout all the strata below, so that it is not only in the higher circles of thought, but among people generally, that we find to-day a great and lamentable want of theological assurance, of positive faith and conviction, and a little weakening of belief in the reality of the supernatural all along the line of doctrine, from belief in "hell" to belief in "heaven."

People do not invite this incertitude to come on, as Bacon says, by "an over-buckling towards it." The incertitude is in the air, they breathe it, they absorb it, it somehow gets into the system, it stays there like an intruder, or like a most unwelcome guest, undermining old confidences, insinuating new and at times startling suggestions, and provoking strange inquiries.

[7] While it were a great mistake, therefore, upon the part of the Christian Church to-day to ignore such a condition of doubt, inasmuch as such an ignoring would make the church anachronistic in her ministrations, while it were a great mistake upon the part of the Christian Church to denounce such a condition of doubt, inasmuch as such denunciation would imply an utter misapprehension of the character of that doubt, it were a still greater and more lamentable mistake upon the part of the Christian Church if she should do anything to encourage it, inasmuch as such encouragement would be a surrender upon the part of the Christian Church of one of the very first and noblest of her functions.

For what is the Christian Church, and therefore all parishes that compose the Christian Church? Not an aesthetic club, not even an ethical club, not a grand, venerable institution for sentimental exercisings. Her primary office is to teach and enforce religion, and the primary office of religion is to teach and enforce faith in the supernatural, to conduct men into a positive belief in the reality of a supernatural world, to seek to establish their lines of life, their conduct, their emotional, their moral, and their intellectual nature upon a supernatural and spiritual basis. That, to be sure, has been the great duty confronting, and the "race set before" the Christian Church at every period in her history. But it is in an especial sense the duty confronting and the "race set before" her to-day. The Christian Church to-day is challenged, not at the outworks, but at the very central citadel of her faith, and she must meet that challenge, she must face the enemy [7/8] squarely, and attempt most earnestly and conscientiously the performance of the great duty that is thrust upon her. She may not try to hide her head or take refuge in the alias or disguise of certain very plausible and most bewildering phrases,--speaking of God as a "stream of tendency," or as a "power that makes for righteousness," or as a "cosmic force,"--or of the doctrine of immortality as a "posthumous influence that survives physical decay and outlives the tomb,"--hoping by means of such an alias, like a culprit self-condemned, to escape the vigilance of the police. Never, I think, has there been a time in the history of the Christian Church when it was more important than it is to-day for her to point with steady, unwavering index to those high, supernatural verities and spiritual realities on which religion rests, and in which she herself finds her raison d'etre.

That, then, is the race that we have before us; that is the duty we are to try to perform;--nothing lower than that. How shall we run that race? how shall we perform that duty?


This brings me to say that the sanction of a supernatural faith,--the only sanction and enforcement which it is possible for parish Christianity to give,--possibly the only sanction required,--is the sanction or enforcement of a supernatural life. Consider this matter a few minutes.

Human nature is always unduly dominated, and circumscribed in its capacity for belief, by the immediate [8/9] and the passing experience. The kind of life that we are living at any particular time is, for that particular time, and as far as we are concerned, almost the only kind of life. We may not be prepared to say that there is no range of legitimate experience lying beyond the borders of that particular experience; but it does not strongly appeal to us, and we cannot easily believe in it. Every person looks out on life through the medium of his own engrossing occupation. To one person, this world is just a great and convenient opportunity in which to cultivate personal ambition and the love of power. To another it is a big and fruitful field in which to dig for money and get rich, and all things--even religion--all things are rated by standards of commercial value; while to still another it is but a variegated pleasure-garden, where he can gratify his senses and appetites and the lusts and the prides of life. Alleged realities, apart from the strongly flowing current of the particular experience, are always indistinctly and sceptically apprehended. It is not surprising, therefore, that in these days when material science has done so much for the benefit of society, when it has corrected so many disorders, broken down so many barriers in the path of a beneficent progress, multiplied so many conveniences about us, and contributed so efficiently to the development of a high and splendid civilization, it is not surprising that the men of this age, with such an undisturbed, vivid and grateful consciousness of material truth, should not be conscious much of any truth besides, or that material truth should come to be to [9/10] them "the key-note of all truth." It would be surprising if it were not so. They see and they feel continually what material science has done. They are living under its influence perpetually, in all departments of life. Commerce has been quickened by it; agriculture improved; distance has been annihilated; physical pain relieved; pestilence stayed; disease arrested in its course; health diffused; thought accelerated; words have been given wing, and manifold blessings disseminated; railroads, telegraphs, telephones, microphones, microscopes, telescopes, printing presses,--"ubiquity-engines in general!" What wonder that in the almost exclusive engrossment of the attention, with these inestimable benefits of physical science,--what wonder that there should be but vague, dreamy, sceptical apprehension of any alleged realities over the physical line.

Why we all know, from our own experience, how we can become at times so engrossed in some one line of thought or conduct as not to know what is going on about us, the singing of the birds on the trees, the sounds upon the street, the forms of people passing by, even the striking of the clock upon the stairs or upon the mantel,--we are not conscious of any of these things. We are conscious only of that one thing that is going on so vehemently and so engrossingly in us; until, by some sharply-asserting, interruptive influx of life from that outside world, that part of our nature which had been asleep is wakened up and we become conscious of the things that are going on about us.

So upon this material age there must break in, through the agency of the Church, the sharply-asserting, [10/11] interruptive influx of life from a world that is other than physical; so that that part of the nature of this age which has been asleep may be wakened up, and that it may become conscious of, have developed in it, the capacity for believing in a great kingdom of God going on about it. Faith in the supernatural, in the reality of a spiritual universe, can not be enforced to-day by the sanction of Authority. That has had its day and it has ceased to be. Faith in the reality of the supernatural and the spiritual cannot be enforced to-day by the sanction of reason; for reason brings in a verdict of "suspended judgment." Philosophy and Authority, are both exercised in vain; and the Church to-day must attempt the enforcement of a supernatural faith by returning to methods that are indeed primitive, as primitive as Jesus Christ,--and attempt the enforcement of a supernatural faith by the sanction and the reflection of a life that is impetused and motived by a belief in supernatural things. A relapse into "obscurantism" will not do. The fulminating of a terroristic thunder that is no longer terroristic will not do. Making a gorgeous display of old, worn-out mythologic scenery, and dreaming over again the old and beautiful medieval dreams will not do; will not do. Faith in a God, faith in a soul, faith in a spiritual kingdom, touching us, encompassing us, with a spiritual Christ at the head of it, must become to-day habilitated in flesh and blood and clothed in concrete expression. It must get into our business and into our civilization with the railroad and the telegraph, so that men may become conscious of it as they are conscious of a locomotive, of an engine, of a warehouse, of [11/12] a plough-share, of an oil painting upon the wall. They must look at it, touch it, handle it; it must walk with them by the way, go with them into their houses, sit down with them at their tables and break bread with them,--so that that "divine and superior sense of the soul," of which John Bunyan speaks, may assert itself within them; that they may come to recognize the legitimacy of that sense as an integral part of their nature, and that the data which it registers over the physical line are equally trustworthy with the data which are catalogued by the senses of the body.

Do we not all know what it is to come into the consciousness of new worlds and into the possession of new faiths by coming into contact with some new and sublime life? We stand before the patriot and as we stand there looking up into his loyal face we believe in patriotism. We stand before the soldier who has just come home from the wars--bringing a gallant record with him and scarred with many wounds, and we believe in courage. Pure and unalloyed nobleness of motive and conduct, supreme unselfishness and charity, utterly disinterested benevolence, possibly we do not much believe in these things in the movement of our ordinary life, because in the movement of our ordinary life we do not much see them. Some day we stand in their presence, we look up into their eyes; they speak; we hear them; we catch their inspiration; we kneel down before them and ask them for their benediction, and the faith in the love of money, of pleasure and of power, which had been the great, driving, cardinal belief in our life sinks almost out of sight, and for the moment at least we believe in the [12/13] reality of those high and exalted virtues, there is nothing else so real.

So long, however, as the capacity for belief in those realities had been lying in us unexercised and latent we could not possibly come into the consciousness of those realities, although none the less real for that. In like manner this material age can not possibly come into the consciousness of a great kingdom of God about it, so long as that spiritual capacity, by which alone it can apprehend the realities of that kingdom of God, is lying buried, and smothered beneath the superincumbent stuff of the study of sense phenomena and the engrossment of sense pursuits. And yet the spiritual universe, is there! And the spiritual faculty is here--in the heart of this generation! And this world to-day--to-night--is rushing on upon its path of material enthusiasms, full of dissatisfaction,--full of unrest, of overwork and worry,--because its best and divinest endowments have not been called out into exercise in their appropriate sphere; like a man with some divine genius-gift for music or painting or other noble art,--which has not yet been called out. He does not know that he has it. He does not know what it is that he is wanting; he only knows that he is constantly wanting something very much, which he never gets; and so he goes on more busily than ever with his stone-breaking and his book-keeping, and his shoe-cobbling and his hammering, and yet the thing he wants does not come;--until some day he chances to stand before the magnificent picture, or he chances to listen to the magnificent strains of the music of a master; then the divine genius-gift in him discovers [13/14] itself to his apprehension, by contact with its proper element, and he rests in his appropriate sphere.

In some such way as this, by a high spiritual life, the Church must restore to this generation the consciousness of its soul,--must make that consciousness a large, active, throbbing factor of civilization,--like railroads and telegraphs; must redeem it from its engrossing, and debasing materialism, by bringing it so into contact with the reverberated music and the reflected beauty of a spiritual universe, that its spiritual faculty may become more fully developed, and that it may find rest in its appropriate sphere.

It were a great mistake to suppose that the scepticism of to-day is actuated by hostility to religion; in some cases it may be, but not in the case of those who are most sincere, influential and thoughtful. The coarse and rowdy infidelity of two or three generations ago is an anachronism to-day. It is out of date, and to no persons is it more insufferably offensive than to the best representatives of our modern agnostic school. The scepticism of our time is not a devil's laugh. It is not a fiendish shout; it is a most heart-broken cry,--like that of the Magdalen's on the resurrection morning,--"they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him." "I am not ashamed," says one of this school, "to confess that with this virtual negation of God the universe to me has lost its soul of loveliness, and when at times I think, as think at times I must, of the appalling contrast between the hallowed glory of that creed which once was mine and the lonely mystery of existence as now I feel it, at such times I shall ever [14/15] find it impossible to avoid the sharpest pang of which my nature is susceptible." That does not sound like an enemy's voice, like the voice of one who hates religion; whence then comes this scepticism--this apparent inability of men to believe in what they so much desire to believe in--the reality of a supernatural and a spiritual universe around them? Partly at least because they are so much consciously in contact with a natural or material life, and so little consciously in contact with life that is impetused and motived by a faith in the realities of a supernatural world, in a kingdom of Heaven and God. And this generation, instead of lifting up its arm to strike religion, is rather stretching out dumb hands in prayer to the Christian Church, and saying, "Oh! show us the Father. Do not simply point to him far away; do not merely reason about him, because we can reason too, we have reasoned in logic and philosophy, and we have brought in the verdict of 'suspended judgment', but oh! show us--show us the Father and it sufficeth us!" That is the duty set before us,--just that,--nothing lower than that. We have nothing to fear; but we have great duties to perform.


Where shall the Church get her faith in the supernatural, her belief in a spiritual universe. "Laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus." The Christian Church [15/16] does not evolve her faith in the supernatural out of her own consciousness. She does not spin out of herself the encompassing meshes of a Kingdom of God about her. She does not say, "go to, I will believe in God, in a death-surviving soul and in a Kingdom of Heaven," and then exercise herself so assiduously in such directions that those tentative beliefs come at last to be actual verities to her consciousness;--like a person who has dreamed a beautiful dream and then tries to live for days and months as though that dream were true until at last he comes to regard it as an actual occurrence, oh, no, not in that way; but there afar off, upon the background of the great historical picture of the Christian civilization, is the bright and ever-brightening reflection of the splendors and realities of a spiritual world brought down and into this world through the medium of a personal Life. There it is. How it came there? Who put it there? How exhaustively and exactly to define it? These are interesting and legitimate, but incidental questions. There it is. There is no doubt about that. The miraculous phenomena associated with it do not prove it true. It proves them true. It makes them presumptively probable, to begin with. It carries them along and supports them by its own inherent consistency with them. It verifies itself by itself. Its evidence, as Coleridge says, is in its existence; it needs no proof to commend it; for there it is, and that is enough. The spiritual world has been revealed, verified to the consciousness of the Church, through the medium of a Life. It is not a dream, nor a hope, nor a speculation. There it is,--irradiating a glory that cannot be [16/17] accounted for upon any other hypothesis except that it is the glory of a God. From that Life the Church receives her faith in the supernatural; to that Life she must come and come again and continue to come; for the strengthening of her faith, and as she is quickened more and more by its influence she becomes the body, the flesh, the blood, of that Life, by which it communicates its quickening influence to all the generations, awakening the slumbering spiritual faculties of men, redeeming them from an engrossing materialism, and performing forever the great office of saving the world's soul.


But there are some other and lesser sanctions; the quickening influence of the personal reflections of that greater Life,--"the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of martyrs, the Holy Church of God throughout all the world," the Church at large has her catalogue of saints; and so has every fractional part and parish of that Church.

And we have ours, my brethren. And as we stand here to-night on the verge of the celebration of our fiftieth anniversary, there comes to us--so readily to some of us--the memory of those whose characters have been purified and whose labors have been quickened by that personal faith in that personal Jesus and in the reality of that spiritual Kingdom which he illustrated, and at the head of which he stands. We remember to-night the burning enthusiasm of a John A. [17/18] Clarke; we remember to-night the unselfish and wise counsels, the self-denying labors of a Bishop Henshaw, and the pure hearts and lives of those to whom they and others ministered. Some of them have been gone these many years. Some of them have more recently departed, aye! even this very week one has gone who looked forward with pleasant anticipations to this jubilee service, whose calm, serene face, whose hoary head in the ways of righteousness, I miss as I look around in the congregation to-night. And as we think of them the Kingdom of God seems to be very near to us. It seems almost to touch us. We seem to be standing in its very midst. "Seeing we are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses" let us understand our time, and the great responsibilities that it devolves upon us; let us address ourselves to our duty and laying aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us; let us run with patience the race that is set before us in this generation, looking unto Jesus.

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