An Ensample to the Flock
THE SERMON PREACHED BY
THE REV. GEORGE McCLELLAN FISKE, D. D.,
IN S. STEPHEN'S CHURCH, PROVIDENCE, R. I.
ON JULY 28th, 1910, AT THE "MONTH'S MIND," FOR
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
An Ensample to the Flock
I Tim. V:3
For a month now, we have mourned beside a new-made grave. As the conventional period of external manifestation of our sorrow is fulfilled, and our sanctuaries are about to lay aside their formal insignia of grief, our interior sense of sorrow is all the deeper, and we feel all the more distinctly the desire to utter to one another some of those thoughts of which our hearts are full, and which we always shall cherish regarding him from whom we have parted. The service of this place and hour is a parochial act of love and honor. But we are safe in saying that the sentiment and speech of this occasion and of this particular parish will be confirmed by the clergy and people of all other parishes of our Diocesan family. Bishop McVickar was held in great affection in this parish—in no parish more so. He resided within it territorially. It was adjacent to his daily life. He was our neighbor and our friend. He has lent dignity and benediction to many special events of great importance in our Parish history, beside his regular visitations. On The Ascension Day, May 5 last, he administered Confirmation here, and little did we realize, that memorable afternoon, how fast the eventide of his life was falling, how near he was to his sunset hour. But we do remember, for we all marked it with anxiety, the physical weakness he displayed, and the great effort he was evidently making to fulfill that duty of his office. He was a sick man that day, coming here from a sick bed and returning to it from that service. That last visitation will be precious and doubly sacred to us always, as the act of one spending and being spent in his Master's work, and giving his life for the sheep.
The Bishop, he whom it was a pride and pleasure to call our Bishop, has been taken from us. He was taken, not in a ripe old age, but in his comparative prime; not after a prolonged Episcopate of several decades, but after a brief service of little more than twelve years. His was a death which, according to purely human eyes, was before his time. While, in the course of nature, it was apparently abrupt, premature, and unexpected, although not what would ordinarily be called a sudden death. But as Christians we know that his death was not sudden, not before its time. He had done his work. He had finished his course. God called him at this time and in this particular way to rest from his labours. He has left a trail of light behind him. Let us try to read the writing of that light. Here is one thing written, "An Example to the Flock." That sweet and glowing title shall suffice for the present moment. This title belongs to the First Epistle of St. Peter. I have before this called attention to the mysterious and beautiful coincidence of the Bishop's death with the festival of St. Peter, and of how that great Apostle seems especially to stand for and to be associated with the pastoral function in the Church. He was so constituted by our Lord Himself, to be the representative recipient of the Pastoral Commission to "feed My sheep", and when St. Peter, in his old age, as a venerable Apostle of the Lord, committed to the Church of all ages his parting counsels, one of them relates to that same pastoral office laid on him by his Master. He speaks to the Elders or Presbyters of the Church, "The Elders who are among you I exhort, who am also an Elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:"
"Feed or "tend" the flock of God, which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage (lording it over the charge allotted to you) but being ensamples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."
Whether these words were originally addressed to a lower or a higher order of the Sacred Ministry, to such as are now called bishops or to priests, we need not stop to decide. They apply to those who lead Christ's flock, to His Shepherds, whether now Diocesan or Parochial, with equal fitness. We believe that they apply to the modern Bishop as well as to the modern parish Presbyter or priest, so that the best encomium which can be bestowed upon the Priest or the Bishop is that he is an Ensample to the Flock.
As we come to eulogize our Bishop, we need seek no truer or more eloquent eulogy than this—an Ensample to the Flock. He deserved that title. He has won it. By that title we shall delight to think of him, and to have him thought of by those who shall come after.
William Neilson McVickar was the third Bishop of Rhode Island as a separate Diocese. When men who have served God in positions of peculiar eminence have gone their way, we begin to be aware that they were not accidents. A sense arises in us of their having been prepared in the prevenient Providence of God, for what they were and for what they did. We feel this in the case of our Bishop. He came of gentle blood, in the best and purest sense of that expression. He was the fruit of a long line of a sober, righteous and godly ancestry. In the annals of American life, in the Church in letters, in the learned professions, there is no name more honorable than his family name. And he was reared in the best traditions of such an ancestry. From a christian home, from an atmosphere of devout habits and companionships, the young man came forth from Columbia College and from the General Theological Seminary, to become as a priest, rector of two parishes, Holy Trinity, Harlem, New York City, and Holy Trinity, Philadelphia, and then to complete his earthly career in the Church Militant as Bishop of Rhode Island. It was an unusually straightforward path of pleasantness and peace. In serenity and calmness, with measured step and sunny smile, the youthful Shepherd led his sheep, causing them to find green pastures and still waters, always an ensample to the flock. I say youthful, for even to his latest day there was about our Shepherd a singular impression of youth, hard to describe, but easily and at once to be felt, as he was seen and heard.
It is very remarkable how this character of the Pastor rises to fill the mind as it thinks of Bishop McVickar. Instinctively and immediately it pervades our thoughts. It must be that he was a born Pastor. On a former occasion I have pointed out how the pastoral traits shone unmistakeably in him—his gentleness, his tenderness, his spirit of self-sacrifice—and how his pastoral gifts made themselves seen and felt through all his ministry. And now that he is gone, the outlines of his spiritual figure, like his physical presence imposing and majestic, are traced large and plain upon our consciousness and memory.
He was an Ensample to the Flock. In what ways?—we may ask. How was the evidence of his pastorship thus shown?
I. In the first place, by purity and elevation of character. None could approach Bishop McVickar without being convinced that he was an Israelite in whom there was no guile. There was about him a simplicity which was childlike. It gave one the sense of the virtue of mature manhood, combined, in some wonderful fashion, with the innocence of childhood. One felt himself to be in the atmosphere of a very strong and decided character, and yet with one who was as untainted and unspotted as a little child. Few men whom I have ever known have had these qualities of strength and purity so blended. Bishop McVickar might well have stood for a personification of Sir Galahad, saying:
"My strength is as the strength of ten
Because my heart is pure."
This aspect of the man was to be perceived in his lighter moments. He was a man of a delightful sense of humour, but it was like a fountain of the purest water ever known, clear, sparkling, and refreshing. It came from the depths of a clean and pellucid nature. No slightest admixture of anything coarse, indelicate, or ill-natured, sullied its purity. You could never imagine in it the smallest degree of the alloy of the base elements which sometimes, even in good men, make their jesting, as St. Paul says, not convenient. Among the makers of mirth and cheerfulness, it would have been hard to find one who more perfectly illustrated that felicitous phrase, "The Genial Current of the Soul", than Bishop McVickar, but in him that current ran—a Gulf stream in the waves of this troublesome world—as limpid and pure as if it had its source in that pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the Throne of God and of the Lamb.
II. Our Bishop was an Ensample to the Flock in his humility. He was a very humble-minded man. If you had looked for an instance of the humility of the Gospel pattern, of one who did not think of himself more highly than he ought to think of one who in honour preferred others, of one who was clothed with humility, of one ready to sit down in the lowest room, of one prompt to think another better than himself, you might have found that instance in Bishop McVickar. This real humility made him artless, sincere and unaffected. Without self-consciousness, he took his places of duty and of honor, and filled them simply and with earnestness. His humble-mindedness brought him perpetual joys and strewed his way with flowers, because it made him prize and welcome the simple things of life, which a haughty spirit might disdain or overlook. He went with warm and open heart, and with loving hand outstretched, to receive the loving words, the greetings of affection, and the blessings of poor and rich, of young and old, of boys and girls, and little children, of the sorrowful and the rejoicing; and they, in turn received his blessing and God-speed, as of an Apostle, and of a dear and loving friend.
III. Bishop McVickar was again an Ensample to the Flock, in the simplicity of his mode of life. He was a very unworldly man. There is no denying that this present world has features which make it very attractive, under its favorable circumstances, and it would seem as if these features multiplied, as the comforts, conveniences, and luxuries of living are increased.
Sin continues strong in soul and in society. Sorrow is never dethroned, and the river of tears never dries up. Poverty stalks up and down the earth, death is as powerful and invincible as ever, and suffering is the common lot. Meanwhile, the world is a pleasanter and a gayer world, and a more selfish world. The temptation to yield to the world, to conform to its ideals and standards, the danger of yielding insensibly to its ways and maxims false and loose, is very great. Bishop McVickar, in his exalted station, surrounded by a comfortable world, was never deceived or corrupted by it. He never forgot that sin, and suffering, and sorrow, and poverty, and death still make this present world a scene of shame and a vale of misery. He fought these ills. He stood in the fore-front of the battle, mindful that the faith he represented is the religion of the Cross. He never forgot that the mission of the Cross is to conquer mankind and to subdue the world to Christ.
This made him a missionary leader. He was one of the most enthusiastic champions of church extension that we had. In the Board of Missions he has been for years a great power. Far and wide, all over the world, in China and Japan, in the remote islands of the sea, the name of William Neilson McVickar has been a strength and inspiration to those who are carrying to the ends of the earth the banner of the salvation of our God.
His unworldiness made him a great philanthropist and social reformer. The Negroes and the Indians have known his gracious help and influence. In their humble homes, in the halls of Hampton, and Tuskegee, and Raleigh, they have felt the energy of his personality and the assistance of his material gifts. In every effort for the emancipation of the toiler and wage-earner, the Bishop has been at hand to do with his might whatever God should enable him to do. We all remember how but a few years ago, the Bishop officiated as arbitrator in one of the labor disputes in this city.
His unworldliness, again made him an ardent advocate of political reform. He did what he could. Men might sigh over the hopelessness of such a task, but his knightly spirit could but kindle admiration for one who had the dauntless courage, and the heart of confidence and controversy to stem a tide and lead a hope forlorn.
Innocence—Humility—Unworldliness—these splendid characteristics made a brave, sincere, and chivalric guide and leader. We saw him. He is gone. But we can imitate him. We cannot be to the world, to the Church and to fellowmen, all he was. But we can be something of what he was. In these things he was an Ensample of the Flock. The force and practical interest of that fact, that he was an Ensample to the Flock, lies in this—that we are not merely to admire him. An ensample implies the possibility of its being reproduced, of its being copied, of its being followed. The Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts christians to remember them who had the rule over them, i. e. their guides, their Bishops and Pastors, "whose faith follow", the writer goes on to say, "remembering the end of their conversation Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever."
So let us follow our Ensample to the Flock. Let us follow his faith. Let us follow his glowing charity. He found all these in Jesus Christ, as "the end of his conversation", as the issue of his life. For the one thing fusing in one glorious personality the beautiful elements of Bishop McVickar's character, was that sweetness of nature, that loving spirit, which pervaded him through and through, and made him among men a living fire, the fire of love. All loved him, and he loved all. How wonderfully and universally he endeared himself to every one with whom he came in touch. For one thing we may be especially grateful, and that is for that love-feast between the Bishop and his clergy and people on the tenth anniversary of his consecration. It must always be a satisfaction to us to reflect that, ere he went hence, we made him see, and know and feel how fully we were knit together, and how completely he had taken possession of our hearts.
Only a few weeks ago there died in England a Bishop who was also dearly loved—Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln. Canon Scott Holland, writing of him, uses language which, it seems to me, applies exactly and unqualifiedly to our own dear Bishop. He says, "He drew out love, as the sun draws fragrance from the flowers. He moved in an atmosphere of love, and as we laid him to rest—in a grave heaped high with flowers and carpeted with white lilies—the tears in the voice, as we sang our last hymn over his body, told of the deep passion of love which was following, with its longing prayers, into the quiet place, him who had shown us, as none other had ever done, what the tender grace of the love of Jesus could mean."