THE TABERNACLE DISSOLVED.
Commemorative of the
LIFE AND SERVICES
REV. STEPHEN JEWETT, A.M.,
ST. THOMAS’ CHURCH, NEW HAVEN, CONN.,
SEPTEMBER 1, 1861,
II CORINTHIANS V, 1.
“FOR WE KNOW THAT IF OUR EARTHLY HOUSE OF THIS TABERNACLE WERE DISSOLVED, WE HAVE A BUILDING OF GOD, A HOUSE NOT MADE WITH HANDS, ETERNAL IN THE HEAVENS.”
There is an instinctive feeling in Human nature to shun the approach of dissolution. We pause on the brink of the stream that divides us from the unseen world, and hesitate to cross to the other side. We would linger here, even when our stay is saddened by grief and threatened with new perils, and great and manifold perplexities. We naturally quail and shrink in view of the despotism of death. Unless some mighty impulse lifts us above its terrors and directs our minds to the contemplation of future and eternal realities, we must dread the hour that shall close our eyes forever to earthly scenes, and bring us to the gates of the grave.
And such a mighty impulse the Christian has in the simple faith that moulds and fashions his religious character. For this faith teaches him that, beyond the regions of death, there is a better inheritance in heaven for the righteous; He who brought life and immortality to light in the Gospel proclaims to each and all of his followers, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me [3/4] shall never die.” We are not left, then, my brethren, to the cold doubts of scepticism, when we lay our righteous friends in the graves of the earth. Christianity supplies what was wholly wanting in the calculations of Natural Theology, and to her teachings we are indebted for “the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope,” and for our certain knowledge of the future and eternal reunion of soul and body.
As Christian believers we are permitted to share the confidence of St. Paul, so emphatically expressed in the text, and to say with him, in the immediate prospect of dissolution, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
There is evidently an allusion in this passage to the ancient Jewish tabernacle, which, on all removals of the congregation, was taken down, and the ark of the covenant, covered with its own curtains, borne by itself. When the Hebrews came to a place of rest and encampment, the dissolved parts were reunited, and the tabernacle restored as before. St. Paul, who treats so largely of the Christian doctrine of the Resurrection in this and his other Epistles, puts the shifting tent in opposition to the enduring mansion,—the vile body of flesh and blood to the spiritual body of the glorified saint. His simile will bear the construction, that as the tabernacle was taken down only to be put together again, so the body dissolved in death is to be raised incorruptible and “clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.” The Apostles and early disciples were wonderfully sustained under their complicated trials and sufferings by this promise of the Resurrection, and [4/5] by the sure hope of eternal glory. They knew in whom and in what they believed. They saw, with the eye of faith, beyond the regions of mortality, “a building of God,—a house not made with hands,”—and it reconciled them to every sorrow and every privation, that this house was theirs to enjoy when the perils of life were passed and its labors all closed. If it were the end of us, my brethren, to be laid in the grave,—if what constitutes the man were just left to waste in its gloomy portals, if there were no Resurrection and no Judgment, small would be our comfort or our support in the last hour. But it is not the end. The body may indeed moulder to dust in the grave, but this thinking, hoping, believing spirit within us is not there to participate in its corruption and decay. The two component parts of our nature have been separated; one is commingling with its native dust, and the other, the conscious, immaterial soul, has returned to God who gave it. It dwells not upon earth; but lives in immortality, in the immediate, presence of God and in the enjoyment of the Redeemer and his departed saints. There, sheltered from all the misfortunes and troubles of earth, it awaits the perfect consummation in bliss. In the morning of the great Resurrection, not only shall the body, the grosser component of our nature, be rescued from the abasements of the grave, but it shall be beautified, invigorated, and adorned. “Sown in corruption, it shall be raised in incorruption. Sown in dishonor, it shall be raised in glory. Sown in weakness, it shall be raised in- power. Sown a natural body, it shall be raised a spiritual body.” There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. Hence it is a Christian thing to die remembering that when the [5/6] moment of reunion arrives, one’s own dust, wherever it may be, and however it may be scattered, shall seek its kindred dust, and the soul come down to possess its reconstructed “tabernacle.” The whole man thus living again will pass to the tribunal of the general judgment, to “receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
It seems hardly necessary, my brethren, to enlarge here upon the fact “that our earthly house of this tabernacle” is frail, so frail that we cannot know the period of its dissolution. We behold on every side the marks of decay. To introduce another figure,—we see a thousand avenues leading to the “valley of the shadow of death,” and by some one of them we are all approaching its borders. We cannot be certain that we are not already on the slope and descending,—for “who shall tell what a day may bring forth?” Death is that which baffles all human calculations. Men may permit the cares of life, their pursuits, their relationships, their enjoyments and their engagements to deaden their apprehensions of this solemn event; but it will come, and come as likely in one stage of their pilgrimage as another. It comes to the infant enfolded in a mother’s arms. It strikes down the ruddy youth in the glow of health. It meets the traveler as he pursues his lonely journey. It approaches the man of business While he stands at the desk of his counting-room. It enters the happy household and suddenly removes a cherished inmate, a loved one who seemed its joy and its hope, or its stay and its staff. It spares no age, nor sex, nor condition. Oh! this is the record of human life, always passing away—always reading to us sorrowful lessons of its frailness and instability. Sometimes disease, by long and painful [6/7] premonitions, gives notice of the advent of death. Many an aged believer, when his work of life is over and sickness or debility has laid him by, waits, like the patriarch Job, “all the days of his appointed time,” patiently expecting his “change to come.” As some old family mansion, crumbling into decay yet spared and respected for the good it has done, and the kind shelter it has afforded,—so he stands, the venerable object of filial affection and the grateful care of a new generation. He stands on that eminence of prospect to which the Gospel of God hath raised him, looking back without repining, and forward with cheerful, Christian hope.
Your thoughts, my brethren, in this connection, will turn to an aged servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has just passed from among us, and of whose life and work in the ministry it is fitting that a brief sketch should be given.
The Rev. Stephen Jewett was born in Lanesboro’, Mass., August 18, 1783. His parents were originally Congregationalists, but about the time of his birth his father withdrew from that communion and connected himself nominally with the Episcopal Church. He withdrew because in renewing the covenant, he could not accede to all the doctrines as held by the Congregational Church in Lanesboro’—especially those in regard to Calvinism—the Church having at first received him on terms that did not require a subscription to these peculiar tenets. Stephen was baptized with his sister, when of mature age, by the Rev. Amos Pardee, at that time Rector of the Episcopal Church in Lanesboro’. Naturally fond of reading, and to a considerable extent self-taught in the rudiments of an English [7/8] education, he assisted his father in his humble occupation, until failing health compelled him, at the age of 23, to look for other and lighter labors in life. Mr. Pardee was his first instructor in the preliminary course of classical studies. Teaching a common school in the winter, that he might have the means of returning to his books in the summer, he at length found his way to the Episcopal Academy at Cheshire, that Institution being then in the zenith of its prosperity, and serving to the Church the double purpose of a college and a Theological Seminary. Here he regained, in a measure, his health, and passed four years a diligent and successful student. At the end of his first summer in Cheshire he resumed teaching the common school in Dalton, Mass., the same place where he had previously taught, but now at greatly advanced wages. He had scarcely entered upon his engagement, before he received a letter from Dr. Bowden, Professor in Columbia College, N. Y., offering assistance to the amount of $100 per annum if he would immediately return to the Academy, and prosecute without interruption his studies. As soon as he could get released, the offer was gratefully accepted, and by this means and by the liberality of other friends, he was enabled to complete his education without incurring a debt beyond $150, which, he was afterwards pleased to say, he discharged in the first year of his ministry.
He was ordained a Deacon by Bishop Jarvis, in Trinity Church, New Haven, September 15, 1811, and his death leaves but two survivors in Connecticut, ordained by that prelate, both of whom—one in a green old age, [The Rev. Frederick Holcomb, D. D., Watertown.] [8/9] and the other just ready to depart—still linger at the scenes of their youthful ministry. [The Rev. David Baldwin, Guilford] He was advanced to the Priesthood by Bishop Hobart, October 5, 1813, together with Dr. Wyatt of Baltimore. His life, as a Clergyman, was commenced in Pawlet, Vt., September 29, 1811, and in Hampton, H. Y., the 13th of the ensuing month. To this latter place he removed after the first winter, and with true filial affection received into his house and under his care and protection his parents, both now aged and infirm. Though his cure was large enough to demand his entire attention, yet in the then scarcity of Episcopal clergymen he was a Missionary for all the region from Fort Edward, on the south, to Plattsburgh, on the north. I have heard him say that a child had been brought to him the distance of one hundred miles to be baptized, and that he had himself gone forty to attend a funeral. This was not in the day of railroads, but of slow stages and private conveyances. A faithful ministry running through a period of ten years in the same place, left its abiding marks, and the house of worship in Hampton, commenced by all denominations, with the understanding that it should belong to the body that would finish it, was through his influence completed and quietly surrendered to the Episcopalians. He gathered a congregation, and finished a brick Church, of which he laid the corner-stone, in Granville, N. Y.,—the Episcopalians of Pawlet having no edifice, and coming to that place to worship; and when he left in the autumn of 1821, and removed to Connecticut, hoping thereby to strengthen his health, the new Parish numbered eighty communicants. His [9/10] ministrations in this diocese were begun at Derby, December 9th, 1821, and for thirteen years he divided his time between St. James’ Church, in that town, and Union (now Trinity) Church, Humphreysville. He succeeded the patriarchal Mansfield in the Rectorship, the Rev. Calvin White, who became a pervert to Rome, having been only an Assistant Minister. Divisions had sprung up in the Parish at Derby, and the Bishop, in noticing his appointment to the charge, spoke of these divisions as likely to “be healed by his conciliating and pious labors.” Few know, my brethren, the secret anxiety of a conscientious Rector, who gives his best days and strength to the welfare of his flock. There are those who measure life by great achievements and who seem to think it little for a man in a quiet way, and in humble fear of God, to “do the work of an evangelist and make full proof of his ministry.” Public admiration is by no means a sure test of usefulness. Sympathy with the personal appeals and ministrations of the clergyman is better, for this carries along with it a very close and binding affinity. Christian people forget flights of the imagination and bursts of artificial oratory, but they never forget the earnest Pastor,—with the tones of whose voice are associated many of their most pleasing and hallowed recollections,—the Pastor who guided their devotions, cleared away their difficulties, pointed their path to heaven and first opened to them the plan of salvation, and by his arguments and his expostulations impressed them with the duty of denying themselves, taking up the cross, and following Christ. Mr. Jewett, in Derby—like his contemporaries in the other parts of Connecticut—had a flock to feed and a fold to defend. The old Puritan prejudices against the [10/11] Church, her Doctrines and her Liturgy, seemed to freshen up in the Diocese after the accession of Dr. Brownell to the Episcopate, and the defection of Mr. White,—sowing, as it did, among his people, the seeds of mischief, made it all the more necessary for his successor to he vigilant, cautious, godly, and firm. I believe there are many now living who would cheerfully testify to his fidelity, and to his abundant and unselfish labors in building up and strengthening an ancient and broken Parish. For two years before he resigned his cute and removed to this city, he showed his generous heart, by relinquishing his salary; Providence having thrown into his hands the means of support without calling upon his people. But this was a step which he ever afterwards regretted as wholly unwise. The laborer in the Lord’s vineyard is worthy of his hire, and it is no excuse for the people to withhold it from him, that he is not actually in a state of starvation. There never was a clergyman who had so large an income that he could not find ways to dispense it all in charity. In addition to his Parochial cares, Mr. Jewett, for much of his time in Derby, as in Hampton, had a family school, and several of our clergy are indebted to him for instruction in the preliminary course of classical studies.
In 1823, he was appointed an agent to visit those numerous Parishes of the Diocese that had not paid their assessments to create the Bishop’s Fund, and to confer and settle with them in such way as seemed equitable or expedient under the circumstances,—a troublesome matter, my brethren, which the Connecticut Churchmen of this generation may be thankful was not entailed upon them for adjustment.
Upon his removal to this city in 1834, though in [11/12] feeble health, he did not altogether retire from the public duties of the ministry. He continued to officiate, with intervals of prostration by sickness, for five years, acting some months as an assistant in Trinity Church, but rendering for most of this period gratuitous services to the parishes at West Haven, Westville, and Fair Haven. He revived the first of these, and projected the other two. For the last twenty years of his life an excessive nervous debility and many infirmities have compelled him to cease his public ministrations, so that he has done little more in the meantime, than fulfill his office as a Trustee of those Diocesan and general Institutions of the Church, in which he had long been interested.
But to his praise it must be spoken, that he never, in his retirement, became secularized, and fixed his thoughts on stocks and bonds and profitable investments. He had no passion for accumulation, no desire to make ventures for greater gains; but his taste for reading, formed in his youth and fed in his manhood, was the delight and satisfaction of his declining years. Until his eye-sight failed him, he perused with the eagerness and interest of an active Pastor, the books and publications that kept him informed of the Church, her work and her progress throughout our country, and throughout the world. Frank and outspoken in his opinions, he had no patience with those who inclined to be Jesuitical, and to find reasons for departing from the good old Scriptural lines and landmarks of our faith. He had an especial dislike of the theological fancies that sprung from the Oxford movement, and his visit to Europe, in 1840, did not weaken his belief that this whole movement was of a Romanizing tendency.
 He was given to hospitality, and many of our decreased and living clergy have found in his house acceptable rest and refreshment. He was liberal in his charities, and wisely gave in his lifetime w hat he would to promote objects o f humanity, learning, and religion. His founding of a Scholarship in Trinity College a quarter of a century ago, was up to that point the largest individual gift which the Institution had received. It is too true, my brethren, that many whom God blesses with an abundance of earthly riches and prosperity, withhold more than is meet, and so repay with a slender gratitude the bounty of a beneficent Providence. But it is a false notion which some Christian people appear to entertain, that a clergyman inheriting wealth must and can, for this very reason, open his heart and his hand to every charitable appeal. Men in business—merchants who are princes—may return to the Lord the whole gains of trade; but any one, be he clergyman or layman, coming into the possession and enjoyment of property intended for others, can hardly justify him self in scattering it all, and then quoting the Scripture,—“Cast thy bread upon the waters and thou shalt find it after many days.” The liberality of Mr. Jewett to this Parish is part of its history. It was extended at an opportune moment, and it is due to him and his family to say that the “free gift” of two thousand dollars “for the glory of God and the benefit of His Church,” was an incitement which we all felt and moved under, when, soon after, we struck down, by one large subscription, nearly the half of our indebtedness. An extract from his letter addressed to the Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of the Church, notifying them of the donation, [13/14] and dated Epiphany, 1857, will indicate his feeling on the subject:
“I have watched your work from the beginning with the deepest interest, and have lived to see it completed, and crowned, I trust, with God’s blessing. At my age, and with imperfect health, I cannot expect a long continuance here, or to share very often, as I would desire, the privileges of public worship; but be assured the Parish of which you are the guardians, will never cease to have my warmest wishes and prayers for both its temporal and spiritual prosperity.”
He was not indeed privileged, my brethren, to come “very often” to this sanctuary to worship. He was with us for the last time on the morning of our tenth Anniversary, (Easter, 1858,) and heard me review the history of our Pastoral connection, with all its work and care and responsibility. But from that period he began to feel the weight of his infirmities, and “fears were in the way,” and the grasshopper became a burden. No stranger would have believed, seeing him a year since, that he could pass a week beyond his seventy-eighth birth-day, before sinking to his final rest in the grave.
I ought not to close my Discourse without referring briefly to another trait in his character, which evinced his humility, and also his gratitude to God. He seemed never to forget anybody or anything. He loved to recall the friends of his youth and the toils and self-denials and associations of his early life. Nine years ago I spent a summer’s week with him among his native hills, in Berkshire County. It was his last visit to the familiar scenes of his boyhood, and he used it well in searching for his old acquaintances, and in refreshing [14/15] his varied recollections of persons and places. It was wonderful to note the eagerness with which he would enter the buggy and ask me each morning to drive in some direction, not more interesting to him than new and delightful to me. As we passed over the road from Pittsfield to Lanesboro’, he frequently begged me to stop that he might call my attention to objects of special interest or enquire for friends and acquaintances whom he had known in his youth. “Yonder,” said he, pointing to a large farm-house that appeared in the distance, “was the paternal home of three brothers in our ministry, the Clarks—William, Orrin, and John and there the latter was born.” “And here,” when we had reached the valley below, “is the site of the mill, where I aided my father in his hardy toil,” and then turning to a row of aged willows that dipped their pendent branches, in the stream, he added,—“I helped to plant those trees. How they have grown and how all the face of this region has changed! The hills, the everlasting hills, are here, but the rest is not as it was in my boyhood.”
Other thoughts of a like nature might be introduced, my brethren, to illustrate the same trait in his character. But it is time for me to pause. We go now to the Table of our Lord ; and may He who has “knit together his elect in one Communion and fellowship in the mystical body of his Son,” give us grace to “follow his blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living.” While we bury these old men out of our sight, let us not forget to profit by every part of their example, and especially to be encouraged in adversity by their Christian patience and perseverance. If they had their trials, their solicitudes, their cares, and their responsibilities, in a day when the Church was everywhere spoken [15/16] against, we have ours. We live in times that call for watchfulness, for prayerfulness, for prudence, for self-denial, for activity and piety. Let us decline no service really demanded of us for Christ’s sake. In whatever scenes we are invited to act, and however we are made to suffer, let us remember “His Cross and Passion, His precious Death and Burial.” We shall one day stand before Him in His glory, and have every measure of our faith, and every secret or self-denying work exposed by the brightness of His presence. Let us all, then, so live and do our whole duty that we may come, at last, to the full and exalted fruition of the Divine promises—even of the truth expressed in the text, “if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”