A Messenger of the Churches and the Glory of Christ:
A Sermon in Memory of the Reverend Thomas Henry Cocroft, B.D., Priest and Rector of the Church of the Messiah, Providence, Rhode Island
Preached, by Request, in the Church of the Messiah, on the First Vespers of the Feast of S. Michael and All Angels, September 28th, A.D. 1898.
By George McClellan Fiske.
Providence: Snow and Farnham, 1898.
The sermon, at the time of its delivery, was prefaced by the following address, read by the Rev. Dr. Fiske:
My Dear Doctor.—If you are willing to read the enclosed paper when you deliver your sermon in memory of Mr. Cocroft, I shall be greatly obliged to you. His death came so near the time of my delivery of the address to the Convention in 1897 that I was prevented from saying at that time what I would like to have said.
Thomas M. Clark.
Newport, R.I., September 20th, 1898.
I am unwilling that this occasion should pass without asking the privilege of adding a few words in memory of our departed brother, who has now entered into his eternal rest—rest from all painful and unrequited labors, from all fears and anxieties and disappointments, but not from all useful and active service.
He could hardly be happy, even in Paradise, if there were nothing for him to do in God's name, and in behalf of those, who need his aid.
It seems to me a long time since he entered upon his ministry at Crompton, where he passed his childhood. It was no disadvantage for him to prosecute his labors among a people who were familiar with the story of his early days, for no dark stains blotted the bright record of his youth. The Church in Crompton which was feeble when he entered upon his duties there, grew gradually stronger and stronger under his administration, and after many years of faithful and self-denying service, he accepted a call to the Church of the Messiah in Providence, where he found an unlimited field for the exercise of his peculiar gifts. Here he was always at work, and the number of baptisms and burials reported by him, exceeded that of some of our smaller dioceses and missionary jurisdictions. His influence was felt, not only within the bounds of his own parish, if that could be said to have any bounds, but it reached out and embraced the various social relations of life, and in times of high excitement, when the conflict was impending between the operatives in the mills and their employers, he was most influential in abating the hostile feeling which was naturally excited, and there could be no doubt, that by his intervention, great benefits accrued to the proprietors.
No stranger can fully estimate the bitter sorrow which his departure has brought upon his own household, and upon all who knew him intimately. We must leave the bereaved and darkened household in the hands of Him Who knows whereof we are made, and remembers that we are but dust.
The Lord Jesus, Who once wept over the dead as we do, will come in and abide with them in their hours of solitude.
It is possible that our Sainted brother himself will be allowed to watch over and protect them and join them in their prayers. I can never forget how kind and earnest was his sympathy, when he came to me in my hour of darkness, neither will the last visit which I paid to him, in his closing hours, ever be blotted from my memory. It was a touching sight to see one, whose movements had always been so active and vigorous, slowly entering on his crutches the little room which he occupied at the hospital; and how hard it was for him to get upon his knees, as we said our last prayers together. With him all was calm and cheerful as might have been expected, and for him, we have no occasion to mourn.
Whenever our summons may come, God grant that we may all be found as ready to depart as he was.
“Whether ... our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers of the churches and the glory of Christ.”—II Corinthians, VIII: 23.
On such wise did S. Paul speak of some companions, presumably his fellow-clergy. Though the word he used—ἀποστολοι (apostles)—is Englished, “messengers,” textual authorities believe that he did not use the word “apostles" in the official sense, but in its simple literal meaning of, "those sent,” envoys, and that therefore this word, “messengers,” correctly stands.
What a splendid encomium of fraternal love this is, which fondly and proudly proclaims to all comers; “our brethren are the Messengers of the Churches, and the Glory of Christ!” And what dear and holy brethren they must have been, who won this title of lofty honour. I am here to give a solemn, public, and formal answer, as it were, to enquiry about one, who was my brother in the priesthood, and who was a brother, yea, more than a brother, above a brother, even a spiritual father, to many of you. And I am bold to say, in S. Paul’s words, that, if this my brother be enquired of, as he will be, not only in this generation, but in coming ones, he was the Messenger of the Churches, and the Glory of Christ. Would that this my account of him, given not in words, which my wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, might become permanently associated with his name. The Messenger of the Churches and the Glory of Christ! Nothing less than that will adequately sum up and describe the life, the character, the deeds, the enduring fame of Thomas Henry Cocroft, Priest.
It might seem a tardy tribute, which we pay to-night. In the measurement of time it is. But silence does not mean forgetfulness. Sometimes grief is too intense to be able to compose itself to speak [5/6] at once. To be sure, more than a twelve-month has flown since the body of the late Rector of this Parish was committed to the ground, looking for the general Resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world too gem, through our Lord Jesus Christ. But time has abated naught of the overflowing affection, which poured itself out around that grave. That tide is still at the flood. His image has not grown dim to eyes that perpetually mirroured his gracious and beloved features. Nor has the love of survivors’ hearts grown cold. His memory, in this Parish, in this Diocese, in this State, in this Community is imperishable. As time goes on, his loss is realized all the more keenly. We miss him, as we miss out of the atmosphere some quality, which gave tone and buoyancy to the vital breath. The truth is, I suppose, that some mysterious change in the arrangement of the spiritual forces, which surround and pervade our life, has taken place, and this soul, holy, pure, and ardent, has passed into a sphere, probably not distant from us, but beyond the apprehension of our present senses. He has joined that cloud of witnesses encompassing us, the spirits of just men made perfect and the innumerable company of angels. Now is the time, fit above all other times, to entertain such thoughts of Departed Christians, and more especially of this Departed One of whom we speak. The Feast of the Holy Angels begins to-night. And on this Festival, the 29th of September 1848, in East Greenwich, in this State, Thomas Henry Cocroft was born. One likes to think that these lovely and loving servants of God's will and pleasure rejoiced even more fervently than usual at his birth, and presided with special interest over the course and destiny of his life. They are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them, who shall be heirs of salvation.” They are, as they have themselves declared, our fellow-servants, and of our brethren the prophets, and of them that keep the sayings of the Book of God’s Revelation. Full of helpfulness and love, and adoration, their doing of God’s will in Heaven a pattern for our doing of our Father’s will on earth, joying over even one sinner that repenteth, it [6/7] must be that the angels of God are a powerful element in the guidance and protection of all human lives, particularly of their lives, who hear the Gospel, who serve God day and night, and who keep, as the angel said to S. John, the sayings of Holy Scripture; and still more particularly are angels most concerned with those certain choice vessels of God’s grace, the lights of the world in their several generations. Our Lord says that they, which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, are equal unto the angels. It would seem that there are those, who are already, as if in anticipation of the rising from the dead, of specially kindred spirit to the angels of God. And such an one, I firmly believe, was our brother, priest, and father. There was that about him; about his work towards God and on behalf of men; about the spirit in which he did it, which unerringly found its archetype in, and derived its significance and likeness from the angelic character. He verily seemed to have a birthright in the traits and offices of angels. He had, as you all will remember, a joyousness, a spontaneous, almost rapturous delight in the service of his vocation, there was an alacrity in the exercise of his ministry, which are among the most conspicuous characteristics of the angels, who stand before and speed swiftly from God’s Throne upon His errands of mercy and of love. There are four words, which this festival, and my text, and the theme of our eulogy, group together in a unity of grandeur. Angel, Apostle, Messenger, and Missionary. These are all aspects of one idea. Two of them, Messenger and Missionary are cognate in etymology. The idea of one who is sent is in them all. An apostle is one who is sent. A missionary is one who is sent. A messenger is one who is sent. Angel, and its most familiar equivalent, Messenger, are perhaps the more ample words of the four, as they contain the idea of one, who is not merely sent, but who is sent with a message—one, who has something to tell—to announce. The angel is a herald. He brings a message, which he utters. Angels are therefore the sources of our ideas of the messenger and of the missionary. The angels are the [7/8] first, the original messengers and missionaries. It is a pity that this is not more often borne in mind. For modern Protestantism, and by that term I mean that mass of Christian belief and thought, which has detached itself from the continuous tradition, in Fellowship, Worship, and Doctrine, of the historic Catholic Church—modern Protestantism has somehow degraded the conception of the Missionary, and managed to bring it into contempt. Caricature is useful in indicating beneath its extravagance and exaggeration, popular, current conceptions of men and things. How does it portray the missionary? Its conventional representation of him is generally a puritanical, prim-looking old gentleman, dried up and withered, carrying an umbrella and a hymn book. In other words, it is as much as to say that people generally conceive of a missionary as antiquated, dull, and uninteresting, out of touch with his era, and as one who has outlived his usefulness at home. Now that is not at all the Scriptural, the Church, the historical Catholic idea of a missionary. In the Catholic conception, the missionary is akin to his prototype, the angel. Angels in the Bible are represented as young men, bright and beautiful. The angels are gallant figures. They are the soldiers of God. S. Michael, the warrior, “your prince” as he is called, and S. Gabriel are the missionaries, on whose model the earthly ideal is framed. They are young. They are eloquent. They are brave. They are beautiful. They are full of fire and enthusiasm.
You, of course, perceive the application of all this. You have anticipated what I am going to say. What is that character in which Mr. Crocroft is most easily recalled? What was it, which impressed itself first and most deeply on every one, who knew anything of his career in the church? Was it not this? That he was a missionary! That fact stood out plain, and was writ large in the man and in his labours. He was preeminently a missionary. He was a born missionary. He was as one called and chosen, and set apart to fulfil and magnify that office.
The Catholic Church is like a flower garden. It is one form of [8/9] the Revelation of Almighty God. There is—in the Kingdom of Grace—as in the Kingdom of Nature, and as there will be in the Kingdom of Glory, where one star differeth from another star in glory, infinite variety, a gorgeousness of shape and colour, which paints the sky, and embellishes the landscape. There is a touch of this thought in what the Epistle to the Hebrews says of God’s successive revelations; “God spake at sundry times, and in divers manners.” And again S. Peter, speaking of the Grace of God calls it the manifold, or literally, the many-coloured Grace of God. The glory and magnificence, of sunrise and of sunset, of the rainbow and of the blossoms, of mountains and of woods, of songs of birds and plash of waterfalls, rise to our imaginations, as we are led to see how God appears in perfect beauty. It is so with the Saints of His Church. In one of the ancient, National Churches, it was customary to vest the altar for All Saints’ Day, with cloths glowing with many bright and brilliant hues, in token that the holy ones of God were not all just alike, but came from all sorts and conditions of men, that they comprised the old and the young, the married and the single, the man and the woman, the boy and the girl, the infant of few days, the rich and the poor, the bond and the free, the master and the slave, the high and the low, the learned and the unlearned, that all have their own places, each his gift, each his talent, each his calling, and each contributes something to the endless beauty of the fabric, in which God's elect are knit together in one communion and fellowship. Eusebius, the historian of the early Christian Church says, in the same figure, of the martyrs; “their martyrdom was finally distributed into various kinds, for platting and constituting one crown of various colours and all kinds of flowers, they offered it to the Father.” And so of the Sacred Ministry. Some are Theologians, and some are Pastors, and some are Preachers, and some are Missionaries. The Missionary, whether we consider his antecedents as a minister of Angelic Succession, or his actual place in Church history, [9/10] ancient and modern, is one of the most striking and picturesque of all sacred figures. About him floats an atmosphere of romance, adventure, and incident, sanctified, and almost supernatural. He combines the soldier, the hero, the discoverer, and the pioneer of the Kingdom of God. He leads the van. He explores unknown regions. He sounds the trumpet where never heard before. He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord. He is a Knight of the Cross—a herald of the good tidings of the Saviour, of Peace on Earth, Good-will to men. The missionaries, ancient and modern, who have evangelized the world, and have irradiated the continents and islands with the glory of Christ, have been men of extraordinary and in many cases of brilliant personality. The missionaries, like S. Paul, S. Columba, S. Patrick, S. Francis Xavier, S. Augustine, Selwyn, Martyn, Hannington, and hundred of others, were men of gifts and graces, who, because they turned many to righteousness, shine as the stars forever and ever.
Mr. Cocroft met, as we recall him, the measure of the ideal Missionary. In the first place he was a man of profound and vital piety. Born and reared in the Church, there flowed in his veins the good, pure blood of honest English hearts, of ancestors, sleeping their last sleep in quiet English churchyards, under the shadow of venerable parish churches, which, because they reared souls for heaven, made them faithful servants of their own generation on earth. None at the close of life could say more truthfully than he, “Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy House, and the place, where Thine honour dwelleth.” Like some of God’s saints, he was sanctified, we well may believe, from his very birth. Like Hannah, his mother devoted him to the Lord, for when her son was first laid in her arms the youthful matron exclaimed out of her pious and thankful heart. “This is my little minister!” And the child grew to become the complete answer to the mother’s prayer, and the full fruition of her hope. As a boy, he was ever found, like Samuel in the Temple, [10/11] waiting on God’s voice, and as a young man, he was like that young man Joshua, the son of Nun, who departed not out of the Tabernacle. He was always in church, and loved its services, its worship, and its ways, above all other scenes and associations. His father dying very soon after his birth, his Baptism by the Rev. Geo. W. Chevers, took place in S. Philip’s, Crompton, whither his widowed mother removed. He was confirmed in the Church of the Messiah, Providence, by Bishop Clark, under the pastorate of the Rev. De Lancey G. Rice. These churches, thus eventful in his spiritual birth and unction of the Holy Ghost, were, later, to become still further memorable by his ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood, and were to be the spheres of his entire ministry on earth. His was a holy and a loving youth, full of filial affection, neighbourly kindness, works of mercy, spiritual and corporal, and of hallowing influence upon, and example to, playmates, companions, and acquaintances. In his early years he made himself revered, and that he should come to be the pastor of the people of his youth, seemed natural enough, for he had ever loved holy things, holy places, prayer, and praise, and God Himself.
And next, Mr. Cocroft was a man of distinct intellectual gifts, of the degree and quality, which make the Missionary a living voice to living men. While never granted the opportunity to become what would be called a scholar, or a learned man; denied any exceptional privileges of culture; without the advantages of the ordinary curriculum of a liberal education; a pupil of the public schools and then of private tuition; he approached the Sacred Ministry, decorated with no Academic honors or diplomas. Yet he had all the intellectual capacity for such attainments. Under more favourable circumstances he might have won distinction in the field of letters. But such was not God’s Providence for him. It was as if God had purposely withheld from him any marked degree of human or artificial mental discipline, in order to emphasize the force of natural gifts illuminated and consecrated by His Grace. He had a quick and receptive mind. [11/12] And the opportunities he did have, he faithfully improved. He was a diligent student. He absorbed information readily and thoroughly assimilated it. He read profitably, stimulated by the desire of acquisition for the glory of God alone. So that when he came to receive the supernal gifts of Holy Order, he entirely satisfied the requirements of the high standard of the Church, and was found to be apt and meet, not only for his godly conversation, but also for his learning, to exercise his Ministry duly, to the honour of God, and the edifying of His Church. And then withal, he had a power of ready utterance, a simple, earnest eloquence, which made him as a speaker, always interesting, and to all men welcome. As a speaker he far surpassed many men more carefully trained and more solidly equipped than he was. As an off-hand, extemporaneous speaker on the work and mission of the Church, he had few equals. None could listen to him, without feeling that God, while not admitting him to the learning of which he was naturally so well qualified to be the master, had yet bestowed upon him a mouth and a wisdom, which none of the adversaries of the truth could gainsay or resist. How his persuasive, vigorous words, as he stood up, in the dew of his youth and manhood, to urge and spur on the army of the Lord. No meeting was ever dull or unsuccessful, when Mr. Cocroft was one of the speakers. There was an inspiration always in his presentation of the cause of Christ and His Church. In simple, straightforward phrases, carrying conviction, he pleaded for the Master. Full of telling illustration, and of the unction of the Gospel, he rarely if ever failed to move his hearers in a real and substantial way.
Again, Mr. Cocroft was the ideal Missionary in possessing a remarkable personal magnetism. There was that charm about him, which attracted men and held them. Wherever he appeared, cheerfulness, hope, and brightness entered. There was a fine nervous energy in his personality, which conveyed itself to others like an [12/13] electric current. He was a favorite everywhere and with all. Men, women, and children, received him gladly. House and home and hearts were thrown wide open to him. He was known but to be loved in all parts of the Diocese, and beyond its borders. Whenever and wherever yon encountered him, upon the street, in the Church porch, in public assemblies, or in private houses, he came upon you like the very sunshine itself. You were drawn to him irresistibly, and you passed on, refreshed in spirit by the meeting. Genial, sweet-tempered, with a delightful sense of humour, full of pure and exhilarating mirth, it was most pleasant to linger in his company.
There was no place he ever visited for the first time or even for the briefest sojourn, where he did not leave friends behind him. They never forgot him, and were always eager to renew and continue the acquaintance. They were friends for life. And is it any wonder, that, where he abode, and among those with whom his daily life was spent, he was loved to distraction, if I may use that phrase, that he was well nigh idolized, as one in whom the troubled and anxious could confide, one on whom the feeble and weak-hearted could lean, one from whom the faint and timid could draw courage. The passage through the world of such a nature is like a triumphal progress. He conquers hearts. Men flock to his standard and follow him with devotion. He shows the power of Divine love, breaking down strongholds, rousing, uniting, and sweeping along in its channel the unruly wills and affections of sinful men. A man like this, is of necessity a missionary.
Yet again, Mr. Cocroft realized the missionary ideal in possessing the martial spirit. He was of the soldier stuff. His were the very bearing and carriage of the soldier. Erect, alert, and manly, he had the soldier’s kindling, beaming eye, and the soldier’s firm and elastic step. When he rode through our streets, as the Chaplain of the First Light Infantry, and when its grenadiers stood guard around his bier in this church, all seemed in place and as it ought to be. He was, in manner and in mind, a true soldier, both to obey, to serve, [13/14] and to lead. One of the aspects, under which the angels of God appear in Holy Scripture is that of soldiers. They are the first soldiers that we know of. They are the armies of heaven. Michael and his angels are warriors. God is named, in reference to them, the Lord of hosts, that is, the Lord of armies. One English translation of the Bible, in the narrative of the Nativity reads—“there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly soldiers.” Mr. Cocroft as the Messenger of God had the soldier's enthusiasm; enthusiasm for the standard, enthusiasm for the monarch, enthusiasm to do and to dare—enthusiasm to fire and embolden others. Can you not see him before you now, with the spirited poise of the head, the reassuring tone, the sanguine word, the call to arms, the summons to do valiantly as good soldiers of Jesus Christ?
Mr. Cocroft had another most valuable missionary qualification. He was a person of innate refinement. He was a born gentleman. Some men reckoned gentle, on account of their descent, their education, their associations, are only conventionally gentlemen, in spite of all the wealth and leisure, and cultivation, which went before them, or which they enjoy, for they can be rude and haughty and disagreeable on very slender provocation. Mr. Cocroft was a gentleman born, not made, for he was incapable of rudeness. He was equally at ease in the drawing-room of the rich, and in the one living room of the poorest. and moreover, he was a man of the people—of him, it could be said in the words of the Psalmist—“I have exalted one chosen out of the people.” He could sympathize with the toilers and the lowly. He had known the narrowness of temporal things. He had been a wage-earner himself. As a boy he stood day after day at the loom in the factory. Later, as apprentice he learned a trade, and handled the tools of an artisan. In his chosen craft, success attended him with unusual promptness. His native superiority was bound, whatever he undertook, to bring him to the front. When barely past his majority, he was virtually one of the “Captains of Industry.” A partnership in his chosen trade was [14/15] offered him. A comfortable house of his own, competence and even wealth were within his grasp, at twenty-two years old. This was the turning point, the crisis of his life. Prosperity and commercial success have chilled many a man’s love towards God, and made him content to bear the image of the earthy, and indifferent as to the image of the heavenly. It was not so here. At this most alluring moment of his lite, with ease and probable luxury in prospect, this promising and popular young man, flushed with unusual success, smiled not at Fortune when she smiled at him, but stopped abruptly, and asked himself; should he now forsake his mother’s prayer and wish at his birth, should he now forsake what had been the desire and aspiration of his own whole life, to accept riches and pleasures? He was not long in deciding. All his score of years he had listened to the Voice of God. Now that the world was lifting up its voice in seductive accents, he turned the more loyally to follow that Divine Voice still. It bade him leave all the occupations of this world to serve at the Altar and to preach the Kingdom of God. That call was heard and felt only to be obeyed, and thus Mr. Cocroft, at a costly sacrifice from a worldly point of view, turned to the Sacred Ministry. It was felt unanimously that he was called of God. The youth, spotless and without reproach, stood amid his people, his neighbors and acquaintances, and if he had said like Samuel, “I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day, Behold, here I am: witness against me before the Lord, and before His Anointed;” he would have found Samuel’s answer—“He is witness and His Anointed is witness that ye have not found aught in my hand.” He had been a holy child. He had been devoted to the Church, to the Sacraments, and to Righteousness of life. He had been a Sunday-School teacher, Superintendent of the Messiah Sunday-School, and Lay Reader. The suffrages of the people declared him, in their estimation, fit to minister in holy things. And his spiritual pastors thought him “meet to be ordered.” These endowments and circumstances, which made up the [15/16] emphatic marks of an unusually distinct vocation, were developed and adjusted for actual use and service by his immediate theological training for the Priesthood.
It seems, as if the marvellous Providence of God, Who has ordained and constituted the services of angels and men in a wonderful order, is shown in some lives in a specially glorious manner. Mr. Cocroft’s was one of these. Then; was an admirable harmony between what ho was, what ho was to be, and the means employed to make him ready for his life-work. Here, on the Eastern limit of this great land, on the very Atlantic shore, this Angel, Messenger, and Missionary was raised up. He was raised up for work here, for home missions. In his own coasts he was to be made watchman. Among his own people was he to live and labour and die, and be buried by the grave of his father. But a thousand miles away, far hence, Westward, was he to find that, which was to gird him for the field. It reminds us of Moses and Elijah sent into the wilderness, and of S. Paul going down to Arabia. In the heart of our broad country, in the Wisconsin forests, by the still waters of those twin placid lakes, which give it name, is that school of priests and prophets, which, in its comparatively short life has come, from its solemn, supernatural associations, and from its goodly line of Sacred Ministers, to seem old, and to be accounted venerable. Nashotah is a name to conjure with. It is a name, which thrills the heart of every sound American Churchman. It is one of the chief glories of our National Church, and is worthy of and has gained a prominent place in the history of the Holy Catholic Church throughout the world. Nashotah was conceived and born in the purest spirit of missionary heroism. I can scarce refrain myself from digressing here to rehearse the story of Nashotah. But some of you already know it, and to those, who know it not, let me commend it, as one of the most beautiful and profitable chapters of modern Church history, which you can read.
Nashotah, dating from 1841, was an associate mission in the then [16/17] unbroken solitude of the far West, for missionary work and teaching on “the staunch Catholic principles of the Church”—(I quote from the original principles of the house drawn up under the advice of the great Bishop Whittingham of Maryland), preaching from place to place on circuits; route, mode, etc., to be determined by “the Bishop or his representative” in the mission. The idea of a mission of this sort was derived from the study of Church history, and from the splendid examples of the missionary organizations, which Christianized our forefathers, under Columba, Aidan, Augustine, Boniface, Willibrod, and Anskar. The mission thus established by those three immortals, Breck, Hobart, and Adams, became not only a mighty agent of evangelization, but it grew into a nursery and training school for clergy. And for half a century it has been the mother of Missionaries and of Saints. The missionary patriotism, in which it was born, has been perpetuated. It is the genius of the place. And it is said that as a rule all, who are educated under the sylvan shadow of its influence, and dwell amid its traditions, become imbued with its spirit.
It will not be out of place here to remind you, how intimate and memorable has been the connection between Rhode Island and Nashotah. The Rev. Azel D. Cole, D. D., who for many years presided over Nashotah, and whose name was a household word throughout the church, was a Rhode Island man, a graduate of Brown University, and for some years a member of this Diocese. The Rev. Walter R. Gardner, D. D., one of Dr. Cole’s successors, was another Brown graduate, and was, during his college course, a member of S. Stephen's parish. Nashotah is also the alma mater of the esteemed Rector Emeritus of this parish. One of your former fellow-parishioners, the Rev. Herbert C. Dana, to-day one of the best priests of this Diocese, is another of Nashotah’s sons. Nashotah was truly, as so often called, “a venture of Faith.” Its founders had nothing, and so for years the institution was maintained by the offerings, known in the Church papers of those days as “Daily Bread,” [17/18] which came each day through the mails. Nashotah therefore stands for the noblest principles of the Gospel and the Church. It is a living monument of trust, self-sacrifice, and spiritual bravery.
This seminary, Mr. Cocroft entered in 1871, for the preparatory and theological courses. With his beautiful and chivalrous nature and gifts, with his burning zeal and whole-souled devotion; could any place have been found, so congenial and appropriate as Nashotah for the nurture of a missionary priest? There was every thing about the institution to appeal to him, and there was every thing in him to respond to that appeal. It would seem the very place best suited for him, for his temperament and destiny, and from its seclusion, its study, and its prayers, he came forth in 1875, with the degree of Bachelor of Divinity, to be indeed the Messenger of the Churches and the Glory of Christ. Let me recite to you a portion of the special prayer, daily offered in Nashotah House. “Bless, O Lord, this House, set apart to the glory of Thy great Name and the benefit of Thy Holy Church; and grant that Thy Name may be worshipped therein, in truth and purity, to all generations. . . . Bless all, who may be trained therein; take from them all pride, vanity, and self-conceit, and give them true humility and self-abasement. Enlighten their minds, subdue their wills, purify their hearts, and so penetrate them with Thy spirit and fill them with Thy love, that they may go forth animated with earnest zeal for Thy glory; and may Thy ever-living Word so dwell within their hearts, that they may speak with that resistless energy of love, which shall melt the hearts of sinners to the love of Thee.” Does it not seem to us all as if those happily chosen words had been completely answered in Mr. Cocroft’s life, and character, and work?
On May 3, 1875, Thomas Henry Cocroft was ordered Deacon by Bishop Clark, in the Church of the Messiah, Providence. And on July 11, 1876, in S. Philip's Church, Crompton he received at the hands of the same Prelate the Gifts and Powers of the [18/19] Priesthood. From the time of his admission to Holy Orders, how tireless and abundant were his labours! Did he not fully prove the claim I make for him to the title of Messenger of the Churches? At Apponaug he built the present church. At Phenix he bought the land, and laid the corner stone, and secured the plans for the church there. He officiated at Scituate. At Crompton, of which he took charge as a deacon, and of which he was rector from 1876 to 1883, he built, not only the Guild house, but the beautiful church, consecrated in 1876. In 1883, he became the Rector of this Parish. He was also Rector of S. Peter’s, Manton. He began the mission on Mt. Pleasant, now the flourishing parish of S. Andrew. In conjunction with the Sisters of the Holy Nativity, he began the mission at Thornton. He officiated also for some time at S. Bartholomew’s, Cranston, and crowned his efforts by the erection of this superb church, at once the pious and munificent offering of your devout and ever-to-be-remembered, benefactress, Mrs. Gammell, and the enduring recognition of your late Rector’s profound hold upon the confidence and affection of those, who beheld his unwearied fidelity. What monuments he has reared up and down the Pawtuxet Valley now further consecrated by his sacred dust, I have just reminded you—And here, in this city and its suburbs stand the landmarks of his activity and wonderful power over souls. But there are works, which are not expressed in timber and stone. The labour of love he did in going out into the highways, and hedges, and forests to find and minister to scattered solitary souls is known to the angels and to God. It is little known to men. No solitude was too remote for him to penetrate. No cold nor heat, nor rain, nor snow interrupted his seeking for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for His children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ forever. His record is on high. His name is written in heaven. Praise GOD for the good example of His servant! And praise Him for that perennial monument to His good and faithful servant—the love, which glows in [19/20] the hearts of all the people. None of us who witnessed it, will ever forget, were wo to live a thousand years on earth, that demonstration on June 7, 1897, when this venerated priest was laid in the grave. That vast concourse of people, who thronged this church for hours to gaze for the last time on the beloved countenance, and to join in the solemn services of the funeral, the multitudes, who lined the streets, the Sunday stillness, the total suspension of trade and traffic in busy Olneyville, the hush and awe of a grief-stricken population, the tears, and sobs, and lamentations, formed a spectacle rarely beheld twice in a lifetime. This man was a Pastor, a Priest, a Saint. Your parish is rich in being the shrine of his name and memory. The chief treasures of a parish are its holy dead. In them the parish has part and place in Paradise. Mr. Cocroft’s life and labours will ever be the pride and renown of the Church of the Messiah. His name is and will be a tower of strength to his successors in his pastorate here. They will cherish his deeds, and dwell upon them lovingly from year to year. It is a part of the Communion of Saints that every true parish priest feels that his predecessors are a support to him. They are. They help him, out of Paradise. He appeals to their example. He says to his people as he points to their departed pastors, who have spoken unto them the Word of God—“their Faith follow.”
And to the people of this parish, Mr. Cocroft will be ever a comfort and an inspiration. He will follow them with his intercessions at the Throne of Light. They will reflect upon and tell the story, the beautiful story of his life. And for his sake, they will love to try to be as he was. That they may meet him in our Father’s Kingdom, they will keep themselves from evil, and walk in truth even as he walked. But Mr. Cocroft was far more than a local parish priest. He was a Missionary of the Cross. He was a Messenger of the Churches. We shall hardly look upon his like again. He was the Glory of Christ. In the service of the Gospel, in mercy towards mankind, he spent himself without reserve or stint. Like S. [20/21] Martin, who divided his cloak with the beggar, this modern saint of GOD would literally strip the clothes from his back, and the shoes from his feet, and carry forth food from his table to warm and feed the poor. And he was a poor man himself. I am certain that to Thomas Henry Cocroft, will come in the Day of Judgment, will come from the Throne of Glory, that most joyful voice—saying, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: Naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me. Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”
But his restless zeal, like a consuming fire, shortened his mortal life. It might have been said of him—“The zeal of Thine House hath even eaten me.” He died in the meridian of his days. His sun went down while it was yet day. Yes, at the zenith of his usefulness, in the noontide of his years. In one way, his death seems almost to reproach that great Communion to which he belonged. One is sometimes led to feel that our Church too little appreciates the willingness and ardour and unselfishness of a priest like him. She is far too apt complacently to allow him to toil and labour without coming to his help. One is sometimes tempted to feel that our Church is a hard mother toward enthusiasms. She is not quick to spring to the aid of those, who love much, and give themselves unsparingly. It is easy to stand by and coldly say, “He need not do this or that,” instead of coming warmly to the rescue. Was it right, for the Church at large, to permit this choice and consecrated man to struggle, much of the time, single-handed with the burden of the needs and claims around him? I speak not of this parish. I believe it has done its part, nobly, and to the fullest extent of its ability. But, it does seem, as if a Church as large and as well-to-do as ours, nay, a community as rich as ours, ought to supply, what a parish like [21/22] this cannot do for itself, and maintain a band of clergy to do this teeming work, and improve and redeem these golden opportunities at hand. I say community, for such a work as Mr. Cocroft represented here was of inestimable value to the general welfare, irrespective of Church lines. As a citizen, Mr. Cocroft was one of the truest and most efficient. The part he took in the peaceable solution of angry industrial conflicts proved him to be one of the saviours of society, and the salt of the earth. Who contributed more than he to the preservation of social and economic tranquillity around us? This city, which owes so much to Mr. Cocroft, rises up to call him blessed.
As a Churchman, Mr. Cocroft was one of the soundest and most real. He was one, whose teaching and practice corresponded with the Creed. He was not one to say, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church”—and then repudiate the name the moment after. He was a Catholic Churchman. He believed in the Church as a Divine Body, as the Body of Christ, as the Custodian of the Sacraments and other Means of Grace, as the Witness and Keeper of Holy Writ, and as the Pillar and Ground of the Truth. He loved and inculcated the church's Faith, its Worship, and its system of Nurture. And those, who followed his teaching found rest and refreshment for their souls. In that Faith he lived and died. Called to suffer protracted agonies, he strengthened himself in the inner man by the grace of the Sacraments and the power of the Holy Spirit. He fed on Christ, and conquered death before it came. In serene composure with clear and stedfast vision he calmly moved on into the light, and rest and peace of Paradise. With true patriarchal wisdom, as father and as priest, he assembled his family around him, and gave counsel and commandment. He bore sturdy witness to the reality of the unseen world, and to his unshaken faith in the certainty of what he believed. He assured them that not far distant, he should watch and low them with his constant love and prayers. He bade them think how in the rest and felicity awaiting him, he should have more [22/23] spacious opportunity to pray for them—and pray for all than he had had while in the flesh. And then he said a word, which many mourners would do well to heed. He said—“Some people in their grief stay away from Church and Sacraments. Do not you like them. But go to the Altar of the Blessed Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, and I will meet you there.”
And so on Friday, June 4th, A.D. 1897, was he gathered unto his fathers, having the testimony of a good conscience; in the communion of the Catholic Church; in the confidence of a certain Faith; in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy Hope; in favour with Thee, our GOD, and in perfect Charity with the world,” this Messenger of the Churches.
“I heard a voice from Heaven, saying unto me, Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: Even so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours ; and their works do follow them.”
This life, my friends and his, is a source of power to us all. It is the Glory of Christ. It will illuminate this Diocese. It will bless this Community. It will adorn and glorify this Parish. Follow his Faith. Believe as he did. Do as he taught you, and more and more in his name and memory shall you rejoice in the Glory of Christ.
“Devoted shepherd of thy Saviour's flock!
From thy sublime and loved vocation rent,
'Tis joy to know the overwhelming shock
Of thy bewept departure shall augment
The multitudinous army of the good,
And raise thee to that holy brotherhood.
Ashes to ashes, dust to kindred dust,
Thy body is committed to the ground;
Thy spirit, with all Christian graces crowned,
(Such is our certain confidence and trust,)
Enjoys communion with the sainted just.
Long may such servants of the Church abound,
And, from the altars where thy light has stood,
Shed burning lustre on the land around.”