ST. MARK IV., 26, 27.--"And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how."
These words of our blessed Lord, spoken centuries ago, while he was a sojourner upon the earth, working out the stupendous plan of infinite love and mercy, which through Him, as the God-man, was to accomplish the redemption of our fallen race, and make it possible for penitent and believing man to be at peace with his Maker,--these striking words of this gracious Being set before us a great moral principle, clothed in the beautiful imagery of nature. As we pause for meditation upon the parables contained in the chapter from which our text is taken, what beautiful pictures of seed-time and harvest are set before our excited imaginations. We behold the rolling fields carefully prepared by the hardy tillers of the soil; we watch the laborers as they put the mysterious seeds in their temporary tomb, and leave them to the operation of those subtle laws which the Deity alone can fathom: we see the rain and the dew followed by the life-bearing rays of genial sunshine; we gaze with delight at the green sprouts as they, one after another, peep up from their prison-house, and raise their heads to draw in life from nature's perennial sources of supply; we look with wonder at the silent change which goes on from day to day, till the tender sprout becomes the hardened stalk, bearing a heavy ear of ripened grain, ready for the reaper to gather into his garners. Yes, verily, we sleep and rise night and day--the seed springs and grows up--and we know not how. Though we know that the prepared soil, the moistening rain and dew, the quickening sunshine, are necessary to accomplish the sprouting and subsequent growth of the seed; yet we know not how the combinations take place which result in vigorous vegetable life. We can describe the visible phenomena of the natural world, but we arc profoundly ignorant of the subtle causes which, in the good Providence of God, bring about the marvellous results that on every side meet the eye, as it sweeps over fruitful hills and verdant valleys. As we strive to look into the various departments of the natural world, must we not, after all, exclaim again and again, We see certain results following certain causes, yet we know not how? Our Saviour, being the everlasting Word by whom all things were made, could use the imagery of the natural world more strikingly and appropriately than any one else, to set forth and illustrate the great moral principles which he came to promulgate and enforce. How clearly and powerfully does he teach us, by his reference to the growth of the seed, that the doctrines of the everlasting gospel--the principles of the kingdom of God, of which he was the Head--produce their effects upon the hearts of mankind in a silent, gradual, mysterious, unfathomable manner,--that the ripe fruit of Christian character comes at length from the planting in the soul of the germ of the new spiritual life. Our Lord also doubtless intended to teach his apostles that the growth of the spiritual kingdom of the faithful, brought into outward communion by baptism, should start from feeble beginnings and have such a strangely gradual, yet vigorous growth, that they should not know how the work went on. Our Saviour, in his parables upon these subjects, evidently teaches that man must use certain appointed means, believing that, in consequence of the operation of certain great laws of God, he will eventually gather in the bountiful harvest, though he knoweth not how. The truly devout mind draws the divinely intended inference that, in disseminating the truths of the everlasting gospel, the means which Christ has appointed must be used; though he knoweth not how the seed, having been planted, is nurtured by the co-operation of God the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, with the Church, the apostolic ministry, the preaching of the word, the use of the holy sacraments, and other means of grace. Yes, brethren, mysteries in spiritual matters surround us at every step of our pilgrimage, and it is utterly vain for self-complacent philosophers to attempt to fathom them. Must we not, in our littleness, exclaim, "We know not how," as we behold the amazing work which has gone on since the Church of Christ was sent out from the feeble beginning of a grain of mustard seed, on her purifying,, elevating mission, leading multitudes
from their tendencies towards sin and eternal ruin, into that path of life and peace which shineth brighter and brighter unto the perfect day? Yes, brethren, for the sake of Jesus Christ, none the less the Son of God because he was the son of man, the Church of the living God--the pillar and ground of the truth--has gone on, from the upper room in Jerusalem, where the number of the believing company was about an hundred and twenty--a small grain of mustard seed to plant in this world of sin and misery--has gone on, through successive generations, with its ministry, its preaching, its sacraments, its inspired Record of God's dealings with mankind, and the principles of his covenants of mercy--all its holy institutions and godly discipline. It .has gone on, through clouds and sunshine, through good report and evil report--withstanding the attacks of myriads issuing from the gates of hell--surviving the onsets of worldlings without, and the treachery of hypocrites within. It has grown to be the goodly tree, extending its branches from the river even unto the ends of the earth, proving the instrument of eternal salvation to countless multitudes of Adam's descendants--repenting, believing, obeying--and yet we know not how. The growth of the spiritual kingdom, as a divinely appointed organization, is a mystery; and the growth of spiritual life in the hearts of each individual member of this spiritual kingdom, is a mystery. We behold indications, from time to time, marking the gradual progress of these two kinds of growth: we believe in them, as realities coming to pass, in consequence of Christ's redemption, and yet we know not how. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." Oh! let those to whom the gospel announcements have come, be not faithless, but believing. Beholding the wonderful work which God, through Christ, has wrought for mankind by the mysterious instrumentalities of his infinitely wise appointment, let all become genuine, devout communicants of the organization which has existed, though they know not how, for upwards of eighteen hundred years, as the grand regenerator of the human race; and in due time they shall be the possessors of the peace of God, which, passing understanding, is the earnest of the good things to come in the future life, of which it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Oh! let us have entire faith in the Divine arrangements for the growth of spiritual life, although they are to us, in our present condition, unfathomable mysteries.
My brethren, I trust that it will not be considered presumptuous, if, upon this wonderful day of our own parochial life, we venture to illustrate the preceding general views by reference to our own feeble beginnings and subsequent growth. We are an integral portion of the Church of Christ, which has spread upward and outward from the grain of mustard seed. We are, therefore, subject to the same mysterious laws which have marked its growth. Though a young and humble parish, we, this day, fully and joyously, as we take possession of these beautiful and singularly appropriate consecrated courts, stand side by side with those parishes which have in time's progress become venerable and stable, as a Christian church--as a centre of the high and holy influences which, by God's blessing, result in that mysterious spiritual growth of which we have spoken. As we contrast our present cheering position with the one which we occupied less than seven short years ago, we are conscious of genuine, amazing growth, and yet we know not how it has taken place. We can set before our mental eyes a few striking scenes which have characterized our progress; we can speak of having used, faithfully and prayerfully, we trust, the means which God has given us; we can point to scores of earnest friends, who have successively appeared just at the right time to accomplish some very desirable end; we can tell of money flowing quietly into our treasury, in sufficient sums to sustain our gradually increasing growth; we can sketch the history of St. Ann's Church for Deaf-Mutes, and can say that it has accomplished something for the glory of God and the good of man;--and yet, after all, we know not how our present comparative symmetry has been worked out of our inexperienced, crude beginnings. We must, with deep humility and gratitude, exclaim, that the compassionate Being who notices the fall of every sparrow, and numbers the very hairs of our heads, has worked with us, has watched over us, has blessed us; and, in conformity with his mysterious laws of growth, has brought us to this bright and happy day. It may not be amiss, on the present occasion, to refer very briefly to a few of the events which have characterized our beginning and growth, though they cluster about one who would much rather leave the story for another's lips to tell.
In June, 1850, a young man, whose father was the first teacher of deaf-mutes in this country, whose wife and mother were deaf-mutes--who had been for seven years a teacher in the New-York Institute for the Deaf and Dumb--received holy orders in St. Stephen's Church, in this city. In the following September, though still retaining his connection with the Institute, he conceived it to be his duty to look after the deaf-mute young men and women, graduates of various institutions, residing in this city and vicinity. He started a Bible-class, which met once a week, in the evening. The attendance, from one person, soon increased to thirty or forty. The meetings were first held in the vestry-room of St. Stephen's Church; afterwards in a school-room in Bond Street. Two years passed away. Several of these deaf-mute persons had been baptized, confirmed, and received to the communion at St. Stephen's Church; several, in times of sickness and trouble, had sent for their Bible-class teacher, to be their pastor. One darling child of doting parents had received from him, as she lay upon the bed of death, the consecrated bread and wine, in remembrance of the Saviour. What a scene of Christian serenity was that--this lamb of the fold silently told to feed upon heavenly mysteries! She passed away, hoping for the better country, and soon the great thought was planted in the young pastor's heart, that a parish must be founded in this centre of the nation, in which adult deaf-mutes, with their families, could find a spiritual home. It was deemed judicious to have this parish composed both of deaf-mutes and their hearing and speaking friends, in order that it might ultimately become self-supporting, which it could do in no other way. Our church was started on the first Sunday of October, 1852, in the smaller chapel of the New-York University. The service was oral in the morning, and by signs in the afternoon. Our small grain of mustard seed was planted by a small band of the faithful, hoping that they had commenced an effort for the glory of God and the good of mankind, yet not knowing what the future would bring forth. The great majority of our brethren in the churches of the city, though they gave us their kind wishes, seemed to fear that we had started an impracticable movement, one which was hardly called for. A few noble spirits, however, stood by us and encouraged us. Their hopeful words, and their generous actions, will never be forgotten. Months rapidly shot by, bringing their changing vicissitudes. But few of our hearing brethren found us out in our secluded upper room, though the congregation of deaf-mutes steadily increased. Good on the whole was done, and we thanked God and took courage. Little did we think, as the lamented Halsey gave us his kindly greetings from Sunday to Sunday, while his congregation, occupied the large chapel of the University--the room directly over us--that he was erecting the very edifice which becomes this day our goodly heritage. Strange things come about, from time to time, we know not how. A few words must sum up our progress. Among other donations, we received, through the kind offices of a genuine Christian woman, the silver communion set which we use to-day. Soon our beloved Bishop Wainwright, and other friends, started our building fund--more sympathy and confidence were shown in our undertaking; but ours was to be a slow and gradual growth. For five years we held on our way in our quiet upper room. Providence then led us to the Lecture Room of the Historical Society, where we at once established regular evening service with the voice. Here we gained new friends, some of whom have proved themselves friends indeed, in their self-sacrificing efforts to obtain for us this place of worship. The Provisional Bishop, and the clergy and laity of this city, on various occasions manifested their interest in our work, which seemed to steadily prosper. On the first of last October, the rector was enabled to resign his connection with the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, in order to give himself more fully to parochial work. A little more than three weeks ago the grand event of our progress took place, in the purchase of this property. What remains for us, my dear brethren, to do, but to gather up our loins for renewed exertions in the work to which God has called us? Around our green mustard tree, so vigorously shooting upwards and outwards from the small seed which we planted well-nigh seven years ago, there is creeping the poisonous and deadly ivy of debt, whose miasma will eat into our very vitals, unless we strive manfully, faithfully, prayerfully, to cast it away from us. Circumstances made it our duty to take the step which we did in the purchase of this property, and we firmly believe that within a short time, God will put it into the hearts of the faithful to furnish us the means of freeing this parish from all debt, except the one of gratitude to Almighty God for his rich blessings, and to true-hearted friends for their sympathy and aid. Since we started, some of our loved ones have taken their departure to the mysterious abode not made with hands; let us believe that they mingle their joy with ours to-day. With precious memories of the past, and with bright hopes for the future, we occupy this day a noble position. It is none the less real, though we know not how we have reached it. Let us be faithful to our mission, and our Father in Heaven will continue to bless us. For the sake of his dear Son, this Church shall prove the gate to eternal life for many a dusty pilgrim on earth's toilsome way. Spiritual growth shall here go on, though we know not how, of which the fruit shall come to maturity within the walls of the celestial city.
The earliest attempts to give deaf-mutes a knowledge of written language were made by Pedro Ponce de Leon, a Spanish priest, about 1550; Juan Paulo Bonet, a monk of the order of Saint Benedict, who published the first treatise on deaf-mute instruction in Spain, in 1629; John Wallis, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford, in 1650; George Dalgarno, master of a grammar school in Oxford, in 1680; Samuel Heinicke, who applied himself to the education of a deaf and dumb boy in Dresden, in 1754; Thomas Braidwood, who opened a school for deaf-mutes at Edinburgh, in 1760; and the Abbe De l'Epee who established at Paris, in 1760, the Institution which subsequently proved the alma mater of all our American Institutions.
The early instructors of the deaf and dumb differed greatly in their theories. Some gave great prominence to teaching their pupils how to articulate letters and words, and to understand the motions of the lips. This was a mechanical process, dull and tedious. Others advocated the use of signs for objects, qualities and actions to serve as a medium of explaining the meaning of written or printed words, and also of conveying ideas in conversation, lectures, &c. All teachers, however, agreed in the necessity of having certain positions of the hands and fingers to represent the letters of the alphabet, so that words and sentences could be regularly spelled out. The sign-language and the manual alphabet are two entirely distinct means of conveying ideas. The Abbé De l'Epee originated the system of signs and adopted the single-handed alphabet which are now in use through all the institutions of the deaf and dumb in the United States. The Abbé Sicard succeeded this great benefactor of deaf-mutes, in 1789, and proved himself worthy to receive the mantle of his master. lie improved the sign-language, and perfected the art of which he was so bright an ornament. In 1816 he imparted the knowledge of this art to the late Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, of Hartford, Conn., who spent several months at the Paris Institution. After urgent entreaty the good Abbé consented that his favorite pupil, Mr. Laurent Clerc, should accompany Mr. Gallaudet to this country, to aid him in the labor,, he was about to undertake. Messrs. Gallaudet and Clerc arrived in this country on the 10th of August, 1816, and spent several months in giving information relative to their method of educating deaf-mutes. A sufficient amount of money having been raised, the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb was established at Hartford, Conn., and received its first pupils on the 15th of April, 1817.
There are at the present time twenty State Institutions for this peculiar class of the community in different parts of this country, besides the Private School at Poughkeepsie, N. Y., and the Home for Young Deaf-Mutes in this city. These have educated several thousands of deaf-mutes, and must now have under instruction at least fourteen hundred pupils. Graduates of various of these institutions as well as of some in foreign lands, (chiefly, however, of the one in this city,) have become residents of this city and its suburbs, to the number of nearly one hundred and fifty. To these St. Ann's Church (the first with this speciality in Christendom) offers her spiritual oversight and care--affording them the opportunity of publicly worshipping God, in his sanctuary every Lord's day. Much good has thus far been done, for the rector has received upwards of fifty deaf-mutes to the communion. He has baptized twenty adult deaf-mutes, twenty-five children of deaf-mute parents, and one deaf-mute child of hearing parents. He has married fourteen deaf-mute couples. He has performed the burial service for nine deaf-mutes, and four children of deaf-mute parents. The rector has, moreover, accomplished something in a course of weekly lectures, towards improving the intellectual condition of his deaf-mute parishioners. He has also found situations for many who have been out of work. It would be going too much into detail to attempt to sketch, in this brief paper, all the good which has been done among the adult deaf-mutes of this community, by the Church whose exact position and aims are pointed out in the foregoing sermon. It is hoped that this movement may win the confidence of all who desire to glorify God, and promote the happiness of their fellow-men.
It is hoped that "St. Ann's Church for Deaf-Mutes" may speedily be freed from the debt, now resting upon it, that-thus it may be placed where it can work to the best advantage in promoting the highest interests of those who have been so graphically described by one of their own number, as "the children of silence."