PREACHED IN ST. THOMAS’S CHURCH,
THE TWENTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PARISH.
Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even unto death. Psalm XLVIII. 13, 14.
This Psalm is a song of triumph, in which the strength and glory of Jerusalem are celebrated, and God is acknowledged as a sure refuge. It is a beautiful picture of the security of the Church, centered in Zion, and there is reason to believe that it was composed after the sudden and miraculous overthrow of the army of Sennacherib under the very walls of the Holy City. That proud conqueror had swept the land with his victories, and it seemed to all eyes, except the eye of faith, impossible that the enfeebled garrison in Jerusalem could successfully resist his approach and rise up in triumph. But the Lord of Hosts, who keeps watch and ward over His people, sent the oppressive stillness of death into the vast camp of the Assyrians, and thereby a deliverance was wrought which filled [3/4] the whole nation with wonder and joy. The Temple, the towers, the palaces within the besieged gates were left in all their beauty, saved from the hand of the spoiler by a mighty miracle; and the sacred poet, kindling with emotion as he surveys them and thinks of Jehovah “great and greatly to be praised,” pens what is here entitled a “Song and Psalm for the sons of Korah.”
Some dreadful danger, at least, had been passed, and under images borrowed from the earthly city, newly rescued from her enemies, is described the fabric of the spiritual Jerusalem, wonderfully raised, and as wonderfully preserved. It is one of the special Psalms appointed by the Church to be used on Whitsunday, not only because it bears internal evidence that it was designed to be sung in the service of the Temple, but because it speaks of the accomplishment of predictions which relate to the effusion of the Spirit, and the enlargement, establishment and preservation of the Kingdom of the Messiah in the Gentile world.
The text is that portion of it which directs attention specially to the beauty and firmness of the old and earthly Jerusalem, and we see in these words that its material glory was to be admired, not so much for the sake of raising the proud shout of deliverance as of transmitting the memory of Jehovah’s mercy and protection to future generations.
 “Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death.”
Thus it seems evident that the people, were to rely upon the objects of faith rather than upon the objects of sense, that the “bulwarks” they were to mark were figuratively the beauty of holiness, the presence of God in His Church, and His precious promises in regard to its perpetuity. Indeed, the destruction of the Temple in the minds of the Jews was viewed as coeval with the end of the world, or with that new constitution of things which they supposed would take place at the Advent of the Messiah. On one occasion, when the disciples pointed our Saviour with wonder and pride to the great buildings, adorned with goodly stones and gifts, He uttered a prediction that all should be thrown down and not one stone left upon another. God would not be our God forever and ever, and our guide even unto death, if His mercy and protection had been limited to the Temple, and to the metropolis of the whole Jewish nation. The Psalmist, therefore, under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, must have looked forward to the Christian Church, and seen it founded on the Rock and guarded in its ministry and ordinances by Him who neither slumbers nor sleeps. The inheritance of which faith and hope make this Church the blessed [5/6] possessor lies in the past and in the future, and one unaltered Author and channel of mercies are visible alike in both the origin and fulfillment of Christian triumph and joy.
The old foundations of the Jewish economy are a part of the “bulwarks” and “palaces” of the new dispensation. We build upon them “in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day and forever,” and we build upon them with the certain hope that our labor will not be in vain. Though the cycles of God’s providence transcend our grasp, “one day being with Him as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”—yet we may not pause in our work when discouragement overtakes it, nor leave to “the generations following” an example of the least distrust in the promises of the Gospel. The duty is ours, the fulfillment is His. We are not to be judges of results, for much of the glory of the Church is invisible to mortal eyes, and we cannot, if we would, undraw the veil that hangs before the Eternal Throne. The Church lives without actually beholding the vivifier, and because Christ has promised to be with it “always, even unto the end of the world,” its individual members must rejoice to know that the precious inheritance of faith is independent of the success of human speculation. Those who are Christians more in name than in principle,—who, though within the walls of the holy temple, worship only in its outer courts,—cannot help [6/7] owning a sympathy with enterprises begun and carried on for the good of souls and the welfare of society.
As each believer, my brethren, is to be a witness of the truth and to vindicate in his person the true worship of God, so the aggregation of believers in parishes should testify by works their love of the Divine law, and preserve as far as they may, the sacred framework of the Church in its perfectness, and the good deposit of Christian doctrine in its integrity. We commemorate to-day an event which proves that He who undertook the office of Mediator was equal to the mighty work, and did indeed restore that access to God the Father which human transgression had fatally interrupted. We welcome the notes which remind us at this season that the Resurrection of Christ is a manifestation of His complete authority over the power of physical decay and death. This doctrine is one of the “bulwarks” of our faith,—for if it be not true, if Christ be not risen, we should preach in vain, and there would be no “first fruits of them that slept.”
The great Easter festival revives for us memories that run back over a period of twenty-five years; and it is well at this point of time to take some notice of our progress as a parish, and of events associated with its prosperity. Not many among you have any personal knowledge of the little company of worshippers that gathered, Easter Sunday, April 23d, 1848, in the Lecture Room near the foot of [7/8] Orange Street, to participate in the first public services of St. Thomas’s Parish, conducted by your present Rector. A legal parochial organization had been effected on the 24th of February, two months previous to this date, and the intermediate time had been spent by the projectors in securing a Rector, and arranging and providing for his support. It was a parish without a house for public worship, or a lot on which to build one. The faith of those who originated it was larger than their personal influence or their pecuniary ability, and because the enterprize was thus commenced, some honestly feared that it would prove a failure. Before much had been done, and while the new organization was attracting the attention of Episcopalians in the city, a zealous Christian woman, now gone to her rest, was one day asked by a friend “why it was named St. Thomas’s Church?” And the rather sarcastic reply was given, that “she did not know unless it was to indicate the doubtfulness of the project.”
At that Easter festival, celebrated when the opening services were held, twenty-five communicants were present, and about thirty families originally composed the congregation. I pass over in this review the usual trials and obstacles which beset all such enterprises in their commencement,—the hired room too narrow for the growing congregation, and every way unchurch-like and uninviting; the cautious steps, taken before the year in which the [8/9] parish was formed had closed, to purchase this lot on Elm street, and then the preliminary measures to erect upon it without delay a temporary Chapel; the influx of another class of worshippers, and soon the demand for a better, more beautiful and more spacious edifice; the long and earnest consultations touching its erection, the final decision to go forward and the shelter which we found for ourselves in a “large upper room,” while the work of building the Church was in progress,—all these points I pass over now, because they were principally gathered up on the occasion of our tenth anniversary, and the sermon which contains them, delivered at that time, was printed and made accessible to you.
The last official act of Bishop Brownell in New Haven was to consecrate this Church, on the 19th of April, in Easter week, 1855,—and though he lived for a period of nearly ten years, yet he performed only once again the same service elsewhere. None but those who have gone through the many solicitudes and vexations incident to the erection of a house of public worship, and who have witnessed day by day the slowly-rising walls, can really understand, in all their length and breadth, the meaning of the prophet’s, words applied to the completion of the second Temple—”He shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.” After having been wanderers for more than a year, we were glad to come back to the spot [9/10] around which our thoughts had centered, and to take possession of a sanctuary as tasteful as it is beautiful, and of such appropriate architecture, that if “the stone shall cry out of the wall,” “the beam out of the timber will answer it.”
Since the consecration of the Church much has been done for the outward prosperity of the parish, because much remained to be done. A burdensome debt has been removed,—the first great step towards it having been taken in the summer of 1858,—when, with the aid of a few friends not belonging to the congregation,—friends who cannot and who will not be forgotten, so long as the records are preserved,—a subscription was commenced, filled up and paid, amounting to fifteen thousand and seventy-five dollars.
Then the Easter offertory, seven years ago, of about eight thousand dollars, was another evidence of your generosity and self-sacrificing zeal for the improvement of your financial condition. Besides extinguishing a mortgage which had been left upon the land from the date of its purchase, a small fund was thus created for future use, and this fund led you into expenses for the interior decorations and a new organ, which fell but little short of nine thousand dollars. The amount contributed since we have worshipped in this consecrated edifice, for objects within the parish, exclusive of the current expenses and Communion alms, omitting fractions, is $48,288, and [10/11] for missionary and charitable purposes without the parish, in the same time, $11,191, making a total of $59,479. It is a satisfaction to feel that we have paid back in the shape of missionary and charitable contributions almost three times the amount received from our few outside friends, when we were weak and needed a little assistance. I trust that with God s blessing, we shall show in the future how our liberality as a parish in such contributions can “abound more and more.” It is a satisfaction to know also, as will be shown by the report of the Treasurer tomorrow, that your condition financially was never so good as at this very moment. If those who come after us and take our responsibilities, will manage with equal wisdom, and keep the world as much as possible out of the Church; if they will be careful not to be pushed into extravagances of any kind, or made to think that God owns and blesses works and ways which are not described in the letter of His appointment,—then this parish may have a glorious future, and you who have done so much for it hitherto will be remembered, and have a claim of gratitude upon “the generations following.”
Probably no one, as he moves on towards the end of his days, has any but pleasurable feelings in recalling his charities, and the good deeds which God has enabled him to do for His house and people. Men, eager for this world’s riches, toil night and day to gather them, and make investments in institutions [11/12] which are occasionally wrecked by mismanagement or dishonesty,—but nothing given for the Lord is ever really lost, or fails to be an element in storing up for the true-hearted believer a good foundation against the time to come. As it is the duty of the Pastor to sympathize with his people in their sorrows and afflictions, so it is his right and privilege to rejoice when he beholds the blessings of a benignant Providence descending upon them, and rich-rewarding gains attending their honest and diversified occupations. But he would be untrue to the Master whom he serves, and unfaithful to the Church of which he is a minister, if he did not often appeal to them in their prosperity, to remember from whom they have received, and to exercise a just stewardship of the things which have only been lent them of the Lord. Because the day of human life is short, he would teach them, what they ought to accept without much persuasion, that the opportunities of usefulness are soon closed, and that the peace and welfare of society demand that they should not forget the scriptural rule, “to whom much is given, of them shall much be required.”
It is not, however, in temporalities that we are to look for the best measure of parochial growth. No compact purely can be made between the Church and men of business, that if the one will keep their consciences and take care of their souls, the other will supply the means of supporting and extending [12/13] Christian ministrations. While Christ would have us faithful stewards and show by our charities that we are alive to the outward beauty and maintenance of His house, this, let me say, is not the highest demand. It is not what He died and rose again for,—not what He instituted His church and appointed His ministry for. He would have us take up the cross and follow Him. He would have us receive into our hearts the Gospel which we preach, and “by which,” as St. Paul says, “ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”
Hence it is that we place before outward prosperity and first in our ministrations the inner life, the growth in spiritual things, the being blessed and built up in that which is far better than all, the walk of holiness and righteousness. It is hardly possible in a discourse of this kind to avoid some egotism, and you will indulge me, therefore, when I say, that I did not come here twenty-five years ago to make a nest for myself, in which to find repose when the infirmities of age should, appear. Not to speak of its being a forgetfulness of duty and a violation of solemn vows,—it would indicate singular folly and weakness in a minister to do this, since there are so many ways by which the nest might be disturbed, and he shut out from its enjoyments. I came here to do the work of my Master, under a new parochial organization, and I have felt all along a woe [13/14] impending over me if I preached not the Gospel. However unfaithful I may have been in other respects, you have had no reason to complain of long and frequent absences on my part, nor, thank God, have sicknesses, which are the common lot of us all, prevented the uninterrupted fulfillment of my public duties. Except when I was out of the country for a few months in 1870, only one Communion Sunday in twenty-five years, and then a domestic sorrow detained me from the sanctuary, have you failed to see me in my place, consecrating those elements which Christ has made the symbols of his dying love.
Our statistics do not show large and sudden accessions,—but they show quiet and steady progress. Four hundred and thirty-two have been baptized, three hundred and forty-eight infants, and eighty-four adults,—two hundred and eighty-eight confirmed, six hundred and eleven admitted and received to the Holy Communion,—the communicants at the present time numbering two hundred and fifty-seven. I have married three hundred and sixty-three couples, and officiated at three hundred and ninety-four funerals. Death and removal make great changes in a congregation during the lapse of a quarter of a century. One vestryman alone remains of those who composed the original officers of the parish, [A. P. Wood] and he was re-elected at your last annual meeting, after having been separated from us [14/15] for a season,—and besides him, of the first members of the congregation, but three heads of families are now pew-holders in the Church. [Frederick Botsford, John Lego, and Stephen Sears.] We have sent out from us to New York and Brooklyn and other places, families enough to constitute a respectably-sized congregation, and if they have carried with them the instructions which they received here, if they “have kept in memory what was preached unto them,” it is believed they will make their influence felt in their new connections, and so do good in their day and generation. This thought mitigates the pain of separating from those who have long worshipped with us in the same sanctuary, and when they go from us, we cheerfully give them, what, they deserve, our best benedictions. The pain is mitigated too by the fact that others are constantly coming in to supply the vacancies occasioned by their removal.
The last twenty-five years have produced great changes in the relative strength and feeling of the Church in this city, as well as great changes in the city itself. The Episcopal families in New Haven reported in 1848 were 680, and the communicants 831. There are now about 1,250 families, and 2,000 communicants. The Church (St. Paul’s) whose Rector and some of whose influential members doubted at the time the expediency of forming this third parish, and did not hesitate to express their doubts, planted afterwards, under the support and [15/16] guidance of other counsels, two mission churches in the outskirts of the city, one of which has developed into St. John’s Parish, and the other into the Church of the Ascension. Christ Church is the fruit of a Mission founded under the auspices of Trinity Parish in 1854; Grace Church, in the Seventh Ward, is of spontaneous growth; and with this increase in the number of our congregations, and a corresponding increase of ministers, no one Rector in this city can ever again be called upon to officiate at so many baptisms, marriages and funerals as did the late Dr. Croswell.
Changes in the religious bodies outside of us have been very perceptible. The Congregationalists have added to their societies and houses of worship—but not a Pastor among them retains the position he held when I came here. All have died, resigned, or been dismissed. The Methodists have increased in numbers and strength, and found it necessary to provide more room for their adherents. The Baptists, who were broken into two bands twenty-five years ago, have come together, and the Pastor, whose ministry in New Haven antedates my own about two years, is over the united congregation, and the house of worship which his people formerly occupied has become the resting place of a body of Universalists. The Baptists have also formed a new Society and erected lately a somewhat expensive edifice in the western part of the city. The Roman Catholics in 1848 had [16/17] but one church—a small wooden building near the General Hospital, which was burnt down, the same year. Now they have three, large and durable structures, filled mainly with devotees who brought their faith with them from the old country. The Protestant foreign element has Created a demand for German and Lutheran churches, and the Jews, who are everywhere in the world, have become possessed of one large Synagogue, and within the past week another and smaller one has been opened.
The progress of the city in the same period has been great. The population has trebled, and the advance in wealth and public improvements can only be measured by going back and comparing the past with the present. It must be owned that the Episcopal Church in New Haven has done no more than keep pace with the growth of the town. In common with other Christian bodies, it has had evils to contend with which have served to deaden its true life. The late civil war, that rocked the nation to its center, not only checked for the time the prosperous business of the place, but left here as elsewhere a legacy of sufferings, sorrows, and bereavements. Though, in the providence of God, it settled political questions forever which had long been perplexing, yet out of that momentous struggle has issued a brood of uncomputed mischiefs overspreading the land, and working injury in various ways to the cause of pure and undefiled religion. The greed for [17/18] gain, the spirit of speculation, the extravagances of living, consequent upon suddenly acquired wealth,—the intense worldliness which is confined to no class,—the blunted moral sense of public servants, reaching down from the higher to the lower stations,—the awful desecration of the Christian Sabbath, the neglect of God’s house,—the forgetfulness in families that there is a retribution for the infraction of His laws,—the sensuality which runs into absolute and direct vice,—the latent scepticism of scientists, the misbeliefs of men and women, the sneers at virtue, the denials of truth,—the cold scorn of the doctrine of the Cross of Christ in all its simplicity and soul-dividing power,—what are these but hindrances to the work of the ministry and the progress of the Church?
This is certainly a very important and interesting period in which to live. Our lot is cast in an age of movement, and quickened impulses, and religious thought has not the sobriety of former years. It has taken on many new and strange aspects, but we are not to be dismayed by them, or by what some appear to regard as dangers of the gravest character. “God is our God forever and ever.” The old truths remain, the old promises stand, and it is our wisdom as well as our safety to cherish them; to abide steadfastly and unitedly, as in years gone, by the Church, by that which is well known and well approved in faith and practice. “Mark ye well her bulwarks, [18/19] consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.”
We cannot expect in such an age to pursue in everything the precise steps of our fathers. They loved, for example,—because it was the fashion of the day, or because they could not build any better,—the plain wooden churches of half a century ago, with uncomfortable pews and inconvenient chancel arrangements; and they sung to the music of the flute, the clarionet, and the bass viol,—but he would be a churchman of singular tastes and conformation who should be willing to go back to these, and give up our improved churches and chancels; and the sound of the organ which is designed to accompany the voice and help the people, “yea, all the people praise Thee, O God.” What we may, and ought to imitate them in is a simplicity of devotion, and a reverence and affection for the venerable formularies of our faith. We ought to hold fast the treasures we have received, and transmit them to “the generations following” as they have come to us,—neither misled with the idea that any mortal can think out a new gospel or change the rule of Christian duty,—nor giving subjection for one hour to minds that seem to bury the truth in doubts, or to overshadow the Cross with Ritualism. If in any respect we have had opportunities of rising to a better, tone of religious or church feeling than our fathers, let us be thankful, and pray God to bless and keep us in all the [19/20] ways of truth and righteousness, that our works and charities may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Let us continue in the things which we have learned and been assured of, and let us lift up our souls to God, the Holy Ghost, that He may breathe over them His renewing influences. We need Divine help as much to enable us to live, as we need it to strengthen us to die. The Gospel is for life, not for death,—and the more we soar upward to the mercy-seat now, the better prepared shall we be to endure days of trial, and the firmer and truer will be the strength and beauty of our Christian life,—just as the forest tree which, while flinging its trunk and branches high towards the heavens, strikes its roots for safety and nourishment ever deeper and deeper into the soil beneath.
I have already referred to the changes which death and removal make in a congregation during the lapse of a quarter of a century. There are others which have not been noted,—for among the men and women before me to-day are some of the children whom I have taken in my arms and crossed in Baptism. They have entered upon those “waves of this troublesome world,” which we prayed here at the font that they might so pass, “ being steadfast in faith, joyful in hope and rooted in charity,” as finally to “come to the land of everlasting life.” Not a few reached that land before they had learned to know a parent’s love, and in each of those who have [20/21] grown, or are growing up, we begin to read an answer to the question which, in spite of us, will sometimes rush through the mind when the Christian name is given,—the question which was once asked in fear concerning the forerunner of Christ,—”What manner of child shall this be?” The Pastor who has stood for almost a generation in the same place cannot but have peculiar solicitude for the young of his flock. He would see them in the path of life. He would see them all ratifying and renewing their Baptismal vows in the Apostolic rite of Confirmation, all coming in due time to strengthen and refresh their souls in the blessed Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, because he remembers that the hope of the Church for the future is in them; and if they are negligent of religious duties and find no pleasure in piety, how can he be without gloomy and sorrowful apprehensions?
It is full time, my brethren, to close our Discourse, and I will not detain you longer than to say,—that, this hour, with all the joy of the Easter festival, is crowded for me with strange yet holy memories. Some of them, like domestic privacies, are too sacred to be mentioned, and others are too personal. What the next twenty-five years will be or will produce for the parish, not many of us who have passed the meridian of life will survive to know. It is morally certain, before that period closes another Rector will stand in my place, and while he may be more faithful in some things and more diligent in others, he cannot be [21/22] more self-sacrificing than I have been, or more devoted to your parochial and spiritual prosperity. I bless God that, with rare exceptions, you have not been a people with itching ears, and I desire here and now to thank you for standing by me and this Church in the days of trial, and allowing no slight and unworthy reasons to separate you from our services and take you to other Christian homes in the city. I bear in grateful remembrance all your kindnesses, your faithfulness in critical moments, and your zeal for the good of your fellow-men, and for the honor and glory of God. May He have us in His keeping, and may it be our blessing to be built up in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. Amen.