Project Canterbury








Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011


"Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only." St. James, I: 22.

WE have in these words the two elements of human excellence,—Knowledge and Conduct. Neither of them by itself is sufficient to make a complete and symmetrical character. Conduct without knowledge is a blunder: Knowledge without conduct is an abortion. Human life therefore, in order even to approximate towards perfect movement, must move on both these lines. There are difficulties to be met in the way of thought and in the way of action,—speculative problems which address themselves to the mind and practical problems which address themselves to the will. And when in the Collect of the Church we ask that we may perceive and know what things we ought to do and have grace and power to fulfill them we give expression to the ideal scope of all human endeavor.

[4] My subject this morning, as suggested by the motto which you have taken for the Year Book of your parish and which I have selected for my text, is, Knowledge and Conduct; or, The Schoolhouse and the Church.

It is not easy to generalize the distinctive characteristics of any particular age, especially of this age, which has so many counter and cross currents in it; and yet I presume it would be at least true, if not the whole truth, to describe it as an age whose mental activity has seldom before been equalled in the history of mankind, producing such a general appetite for knowledge. This appetite for knowledge is increasing more and more and spreading among the people, who, having been set free by this new mental awakening, which like the quickening touch of some Ithuriel spear has given their freedom to them, are trying now to find a freedom more complete.

All this of course is good, very good, much to be commended, much to be encouraged. And yet today the question is beginning to be asked, is coming to the front and forcing itself upon us,—What effect does all this growing knowledge have on character and [4/5] life? Does it in and of itself and by its own momentum make for better conduct, morally better conduct? Does the growing intellectualization of the age contribute of necessity to a growing moralization? It does indeed contribute to many useful ends, many advantageous ends, salutary and serviceable: better transportations, better communications, a larger and a better material equipment, in telephones and tools and rapid transit cars; many other kinds of material investment. And these are bulking large today and adding very greatly to our comfort and convenience and our physical well-being. And yet I fail to see that we are after all, and because of these things, so very much better morally in character and life than those who before us did not have these things. We have gained much to be sure, very much. Have we not also lost something, in moral tone and fiber and quality and view-point? Says the writer of a little book which has been much read of late, in speaking of the present age, "Many of us can remember when the question was, 'Is it right or wrong?' Today it seems to be, 'Is it sterilized?' And human life," he adds, "which used to be a [5/6] brave fight between heaven and hell, has come to be a long and anxious tiptoeing between the microbe and the antiseptic."

That is terse and clever; too clever; and in coining such a sentence the writer has sacrificed accuracy to rhetoric. And yet without doubt it is true to say that much of our modern knowledge, while adding very greatly to our comfort and convenience, our health, our safety, our longevity, does not so much moralize as materialize the conduct by making it more dependent on material conditions.

But then there are other kinds and categories of knowledge of a more purely intellectual character, categories which begin and end upon themselves without material uses: the humanities, the letters, the fine-arts, and other higher forms of learning. These are what may be called the aristocracy of knowledge; they do not go into trade, or not very much; do not meet and minister to material needs and uses, or not very much, but dwell apart and by themselves with but little if any material value in them. Do not these exert some degree and measure of moral tone and refinement? Is not the intellectual life, as such, and which is today so strongly emphasized [6/7] and stressed, a moralizing influence? It may be, and it may not be, just because it is an intellectual life, separate and apart, and which as such is apt to halt upon itself. Let me try to make this clear. In his essay on the Natural History of the Intellect Emerson refers to a certain tendency or disposition in us to detach ourselves from our intellectual perceptions; or, to put it in his own words, to "clear ourselves from the thing we contemplate," creating an interval between it and us. In illustration of which he cites the case of Goethe, the sublimest intellect of modern times, who, while perceiving the spiritual with such a full and clear intellectual perception, was not himself spiritual. His intellectual perceptions in this respect did not go into him, making him spiritual, but halted on themselves, as simply the intellectual perceptions of the spiritual. But the classical illustration of this divergent cleavage line between intellectualization and moralization is seen in classic Greece, than which no nation has ever reached a higher form of intellectual dialectic; and if intellectual culture is itself a force which makes for moral culture then should [7/8] we find in ancient Greece that purest moral culture. But we do not. Its pure intellectual culture instead of going into moral culture, making that pure, did for the most part halt upon itself, stopping and staying there. And some persons today are stopping there with it, substituting in their conduct and their life the beautiful for the good, intellectual culture for moral culture, intellectualism for moralism.

Other illustrations of this non-moral and at times positively un-moral trend of culture, of intellectual culture, may be seen and found on a large and tragic scale in the modern world. I need not be more specific. Neither is it necessary to cite further illustration. Enough has been said to show that intellectual culture instead of being always a moralizing influence, as we are today disposed somewhat to think, may indeed become, and does at times become, a substitute for it, taking the place of it and halting on itself. And if that be true, then we see the need, as today we are beginning to see and feel it and have experience of it, of something else besides intellectual culture, something else besides the training of the mind as a [8/9] moralizing factor in our human life, with more moral force and moral compulsion in it; something that will touch and move, more surely, more strongly, more profoundly, the springs of action in us, of moral action in us, and with a more certain issue in moral life and conduct.

Now that is what precisely the Christian Church is, is what it claims to do or what it claims to be,—that moralizing force in our human life, in and through the force, the moralizing force and power of Jesus Christ. And yet while it claims it, it may not in fact possess or exert it, and for the very reason of which I have been speaking,—for the very reason that our perception of Jesus Christ has itself become such a highly intellectual perception, is largely through the medium of a highly intellectual creed or a highly intellectual theology. Jesus Christ in other words has become a highly intellectualized Jesus Christ to our perception of Him. And that may have the effect, and does have a tendency as in the case of other intellectual perceptions, to detach and separate Jesus Christ from us, to detach Him from us, creating an interval between us, between our perception and our practice, our profession and our performance, [9/10] our creed and our conduct, our faith and our life; creating an interval, and disposing us to substitute the creed for the conduct; the creed, which we do indeed so fast and firmly hold, so bravely, so gallantly, so polemically defend; the creed for the conduct, the formulated Faith for the Christian Life,—creating an interval and deceiving ourselves.

And if that, my friends, be true, or just so far as it is true, it cannot continue true. For one thing at least this age of ours demands,—not that the Church be orthodox, or Catholic or Protestant or anything else, but that it be consistent and sincere and square its conduct with its creed whatever its creed may be. And no more urgent question, more vitally urgent question, confronts the Church today than this, of how to close the gap which now too much exists between the Church's creed and the Church's Christian life. For this at least is certain, it must somehow be closed, otherwise the Church will lose its influence in the world, its leadership and power, and will cease to be a force and factor in the world's affairs.

How then may it be closed, the gap, which [10/11] now exists between the Church's creed and the Church's Christian life? There are different ways of doing it. One is by taking away the creed, having no creed at all, as some today suggest. Religion has come to be, they say, too highly intellectualized with dogmatic statement; let us make it simpler, make it just religion, without dogma, without creed, without doctrine of any kind. That certainly is very simple and would close the gap. There would not be any gap. And yet in that case, would there be any Church for any length of time? Would there be any religion, or if so, would it not soon take on, explicitly or implicitly, some definite creed again? Can there be any Church, can there be any religion, without definite statement?

Another way of closing the gap between the Church's creed, its old historic creed, is not by taking the creed altogether away, but by the critical process of refining it away, with such critical refinement as would tend to bring it down to our lower human level, where we could more easily and without a jolt, an intellectual jolt, take possession of it. Well, those of us who love truth—and I assume that we all do—should have no objection to criticism. [11/12] We should welcome it, and we do welcome it, whether high or low. Let it come and give its new and latest word and latest message to us, for we still have much to learn; and the truth which we seek in this inquiring age is greater far than what has been already learned or ever will be learned. As Jesus the son of Sirach said, "The first man knew her not perfectly, no more shall the last find her out; her thoughts are more than the sea, her counsels are profounder than the great deep."

Yes, let criticism come and give its message to us; but let us not be swept away or carried off our feet by every critical breeze that blows, or every gentle zephyr:

"Old things need not be therefore true
O brother man, nor yet the new;
Ah, still awhile the old thought retain,
And yet consider it again.

The souls of nigh two thousand years
Have laid up here their hopes and fears,
And all the earnings of their pain.
Ah, yet consider it again."

Yes, let criticism come; let truth from every quarter come, only let us be careful not [12/13] to refine away the true with the false, the tares with the wheat, lest we refine the Church's self away, with nothing but a spectre left, a phantom or a shade, with no religion in it.

But there is one other way in which to close the gap between the Church's creed and the Christian life, more needed and more timely albeit it is harder; and that is, TO CLOSE IT. It is to take the Church's creed, its old historic creed, which has been in the past a great and mighty fortress, not only for the safety and protection of the Church, but also for the safety and protection of society at large, to take its old historic creed, with its old majestic terms, the greatest and the strongest which the human intellect could coin, and with which it tried in some way to measure the unmeasurable greatness of Jesus Christ; to take its old historic creed and put it into action, put it into work, put it into life, not merely into personal life but social life, national life, all life, into the life of the world, and so to make the Creed alive in the worlds life. Then the Christian Church will have its own distinctive work and mission in the world, a mission that will differentiate it at once and by a leap from [13/14] every other social organization on the face of the earth. Then will it be not merely another school of ethics in the world, not merely another school of philosophy in the world, but something more than either the Lyceum or the Porch. Then will it be an incarnation in the world, the incarnation of God, and so continue in the world the Incarnate Jesus Christ. Then will it leap into its leadership again. Then will it exert again its moralizing power to moralize the world, its conduct and its life, to moralize its knowledge, to moralize its passions, its coarsening and corrupting materialistic passions, to save it and redeem it, not by an intellectualization but by an incarnation. And not merely as an Incarnation creed but as a creed at work, working on and on and in and through the world and gathering up into God all the world's life.

That is the great and urgent need of the world today, not so much human rules and laws, however wise and right or however highly intellectualized, for its guidance and control. These are not enough, as experience is showing. What it chiefly needs is to be gathered up in its world-life, its real world-life, [14/15] into the life of God, as God has expressed Himself in His Incarnate Word. And that is above all else the task of the Christian Church.

Why do I bring, my friends, this message today to you, on this eventful day in your parish life? Because you are what you are, a great parish, with a great far-reaching influence. The adjective is not carelessly but carefully and with deliberate judgment chosen. Your building is great, your membership is great, your resourcefulness is great; and, situated as you are, on one of the great thoroughfares of this community and this country, like a city set on a hill, your example cannot be, in its reach and scope, otherwise than great. But better and more than this, you have, and have shown, in your parish life, a great potential energy, a great spiritual and vital force, which, in the face of circumstances calculated to dissolve, scatter and disintegrate—as when on a summer night your beautiful building went up in flames—still held you together in one great corporate life, unbroken and unimpaired. All this I may be permitted to say, as voicing you on this occasion as well as myself, is, with the gracious help and guidance of God, in large [15/16] measure due to the brave, indomitable and indefatigable leadership of your Rector.

Because therefore you are all this, with great possibilities in you and great opportunities before you, you have it in your power to enforce, and by your example to commend to the Church at large today, this timely and this needed message of St. James,—Be ye doers of the Word; Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only!

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