CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION, NEW-YORK.
JOHN A. GRAY, PRINTER AND STEREOTYPER,
16 AND 18 JACOB ST.
O ALMIGHTY GOD, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief Corner Stone; grant that, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, all Christians may be so joined together in unity of spirit, and in the bond of peace, that they may be an holy temple, acceptable unto thee. And especially to this congregation give the abundance of thy grace; that with one heart they may desire the prosperity of thy holy Apostolic Church, and with one mouth may profess the faith once delivered to the Saints. Defend them from the sins of heresy and schism; let not the foot of pride come nigh to hurt them, nor the hand of the ungodly to cast them down. And grant that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness; that so they may walk in the ways of truth and peace, and at last be numbered with thy Saints in glory everlasting; through thy merits, O blessed Jesus, thou gracious Bishop and Shepherd of our souls, who art with the Father and the Holy Ghost one God, world without end. AMEN.
THIS day is to close a term of more than sixteen years of the happiest Pastoral relations. I dare not trust myself to utter the emotions which are swelling in my heart. Uniform kindness, sympathy, confidence, and affection on your part, could not be spoken of in fitting terms without violating that delicacy which has always been their charm. The providences through which we have passed together have created bonds so sacred, that over them silent memory prefers to weep or to rejoice alone. For the trust which you have expressed, through your vestry and individually, in the motives which have actuated me in this most painful separation, accept my warmest thanks. Next to the consciousness of right, is the consciousness of possessing the confidence of those whom we have learned to esteem. I thank you for the strength and good courage in which this assurance has contributed to confirm me, when about to undertake new responsibilities. So that at the last moment, as throughout our intercourse, I may gratefully say of you, these are "my fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me."
 But I must abstain from pursuing any train of thought which would naturally lead to the expression of feelings, already almost irrepressible. To indulge in them would be unprofitable, and would certainly peril that calmness with which both you and I should contemplate and prepare for the future.
I desire rather, in the last hours that we shall spend together, this morning and this evening, in this blessed Pastoral relation, to leave with you a record of my experience and a testimony to my convictions on two exceedingly important subjects:
The elements of parochial strength; and
The basis of pastoral strength.
This morning, we consider
The Elements of Parochial Strength.
Our experience through sixteen years has been worth little unless it has taught us some valuable lessons on this point; and that, as well by disappointment as by success. In this estimate, for the present, we pre-suppose the presence of the Divine element, the only real source of power. Both, the strength which holy motives give, and the blessing of God, the Holy Spirit, without which all our efforts originate and end in weakness, must be pre-supposed. At present, however, we are to regard the sources of parochial strength from the human side.
1. I name, then, as the first element,
A band of "fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God."
Workers; not hearers only, nor talkers merely, but doers of work: persons who do not satisfy themselves [6/7] with knowing that it is a Christian's duty to glorify Christ by activity in his cause, nor with conversing about it, nor with feeding a religious sentiment by contemplating the grandeur of noble exploits to which they never approach by the only way, the humbler walks of Christian duty; but persons who take hold earnestly of the details of parish labor, willing to expend time and strength, and energetically doing it. Fellow-workers; persons who sympathize in work--not necessarily in every thing, but sympathize in their work--helpful of each other, ready to fulfill faithfully the parts assigned them, each one as happy, and feeling as honored in occupying a part, as if the whole responsibility were laid on them. Fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God; who have the noble purpose of promoting the Saviour's glory, cherish that aim and strive to make it single. A band of them. One such person is a tower of strength in a parish: a band of them inestimable; and parochial power grows almost in proportion to their numbers. Without such fellow-workers a parish is necessarily feeble. For let the Pastor be as richly gifted as he may, no man possesses all gifts; nor is any man endowed for all work. God is just. He has not laid upon any Pastor the responsibility of all duties: to teach, and preach, and counsel, and govern, and plan, and execute. God is wise. Parishioners are to be educated as well as their minister; and they must have a share of work for lessons, besides that it can not be efficiently accomplished without their agency. The attempt to assume for or to lay upon a Pastor the whole burden, is invariably followed by his decrepitude or that of the parish. If faithful, he breaks down [7/8] under the impossibilities, and the distress of seeing important duties neglected; whilst, if unfaithful, the influence and usefulness of the parish come to be measured precisely by the uselessness of one inefficient man. But a strong parish will always exist, where work is divided according to gifts, where a Pastor having a heart to labor finds hands sufficient wherewith to reach success, and where a people, earnest, active, sympathizing, filled with the love of Christ, band themselves, each in his measure, and all with mutual helpfulness, to accomplish every wise design.
It would be injustice to God's grace did I not thank him for putting it in your hearts to be to me such fellow-workers; and injustice to my own heart did I not take this final opportunity, in the review of it, to express my warm sense of gratitude to you for it. No Pastor need desire more cordial cooperation than has been my privilege through all these happy years. I do not remember ever to have suggested an important work to which some of you did not at once respond energetically. From the aged man upon whose head ninety-four years have wintered, to the children whose locks are golden with the smiles of only four summers' suns, there are workers in every class. Through thirty-one years this willingness to work has been the strength of this parish. No words that I can command can express the comfort which it has afforded me. I pray God that it may continue to characterize this people. A parish of such fellow-workers, consciously strong in their sympathy and unity of labor, venture every thing possible that is wise, and carry every venture to success.
2. Following this thought, necessarily, the second element of parochial strength is [8/9]
Plenty of work.
Work is the food by which a worker grows. More parishes perish, or drag along an enfeebled life, from idleness than from any other cause. More Christians are diminutive in their graces from want of work than from any other cause. A parish that is bound together simply by the eloquence of a preacher, or by attachment to his personal qualities, necessarily flies to pieces the moment that attraction of cohesion is removed.
A Christian who lives a contemplative or introverted life has so narrow a sphere that his soul becomes dwarfed. One who lives within himself passes merely the life of an oyster. He opens his shell only to receive, and his inactive power accumulates round a heart that itself becomes callous and hard; no eye, no ear, no hand for Christ. If perchance, within such a Christian's shell, a pearl should ever be found, it will be only because Christ in mercy throws into his selfish lot some grain of trouble, which, at last, developes grace by the effort to remove it. A church without work becomes a mollusc. A strong church exists only by work enough to call out all its energies, and educate all its latent power. Work prevents useless talking; both by preoccupying time, and by furnishing useful subjects for conversation. A parish is full of divisions and strifes, whose members have nothing to do but discuss each other's, and their Pastor's character. A parish is always strong which has no time for such topics, and is necessarily engaged in considering the great interests of Christ's kingdom, or the multiplicity of details which must be met in acts of benevolence. Such a parish expands in proportion [9/10] to the greatness of its thoughts. You and I have seen many a little difficulty arise, and disappear again, simply because those who were interested had higher interests at stake, and no leisure at the moment to expand a difficulty into a collision. We have said: "The work must be done first, and the difficulty must wait." When leisure came, the trouble had cured itself.
Occupation in the cause of Christ must be furnished by a parish to young Christians, if they are really to be weaned from the world. It is vain to call a young person from the activities of a life of pleasure, and expect him to sit contentedly forever either on the stool of repentance, or within four bare walls of a cell for contemplation. He must have work to do; work that will cultivate his newly implanted graces, elevate his religious thoughts, attract his affections. He will not care about laboring for the sake of labor, nor be contented without some good promise of visible results. If a parish can not thus forestall the devil, the world, and the flesh, in their ingenious efforts to recover possession of the young, who by God's grace have escaped them, it must be prepared to mourn over much worldliness of spirit, and to see perilous adventures and sadly slow progress marking the steps of its new members. Nor is it an inferior consideration, that many young people acquire their first lesson in the attractiveness of Christ, whilst engaged in some attractive work for him, upon which they entered with no distinct idea of seeking a Saviour. My own experience confirms that of older ministers, whose opportunities have been greater. I know no better school for young persons, whose [10/11] affections are wavering between the world and Christ, who are indeed religiously disposed, than work for Christ. He often chooses to bless even an unconscious approach to him, by breathing into that soul true love, and by drawing that soul gently to his sacred side.
The minister has no harder task than to furnish such a sufficiency of work. Our plans for promoting the kingdom of God have been formed largely on your own experience and suggestions, and have gradually increased in number and importance. For the details of them, I refer you to the Parish Statistics, which will be published within a few days. But notwithstanding our Sunday classes, the Ladies' Society for Aiding Industrious Women, the Crutch for aiding feeble churches, the Five Points Day-School, the four Committees of your Association for extending the charities of St. Luke's Hospital, and the Committee for visiting the poor who apply to us; notwithstanding the various Societies outside of our parish, among which you have distributed your energy, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Committees, the American Bible Society, the American Tract Society, the New-York Bible Society, the Pastoral Aid Society, the Seamen's mission, the Evangelical Knowledge Society, the Episcopal Bible and Prayer Book Society, the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, the Orphan Asylums, the Widows' Homes, the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, the Juvenile Asylums, the Industrial Schools, the Dispensaries, and other such religious and benevolent charities, in the management of which I have rejoiced to know that you were exerting your energies with effect; notwithstanding every opportunity heretofore [11/12] presented, there is unemployed talent and time in the parish. Many have solicited some farther occupation that will be in direct connection with the parish, which as yet no plan has furnished. It was in my mind, (and the necessary explorations have already been begun,) to suggest a noble enterprise for this winter. The plan must be left for another to arrange, should it still seem best. But if proposed, I doubt not the spirit and zeal and determination of the parish will rise to execute it, doing credit to the principles so long professed, and manifesting in a significant manner gratitude for the free grace of Christ so abundantly bestowed.
Plenty of work leads naturally to
3. The third element of parochial strength, which is,
It has been involved in the points already touched. There can be little fellowship in work, and no banding of parishioners together, without substantial oneness. Disconnected coteries which sympathize in their own little circles, but disagree with each other, are elements of weakness, not of strength. Essential unity should characterize the body; unity in doctrine, in general views, in feeling. Doctrinal differences imperil even personal friendships, how much more the harmony of a parish. Where pushed to an extreme, commented on, nourished into strife, they are ruinous. Doctrinal assimilation is not always, but ought to be, a guarantee of mutual sympathy. Certainly no parish can have strength which is divided on those great principles which lie at the foundation of Christian action. [12/13] General agreement in the policy to be pursued, and general harmony of feeling, are alike requisite to any concerted, which is another name for strong, parochial movement.
Unity in these particulars depends, in the first place, upon the principles which congregate a people. If the aggregation be merely convenience, or the gratification of tastes, harmony is effected only by a happy chance, or by indifference. If religious principles and convictions of truth lie at the basis, harmony is a natural result. But, in the next place, unity depends largely upon the mutual forbearance, discretion, and consideration of a people. The habit of making allowance for slight differences, of not noticing unimportant differences, and of attributing at least honesty of conviction in essential differences, will always prevent, or bring order into parochial dissent. And, in the next place, working together with a common object and a common motive will wonderfully diminish the occasions for strife, and wonderfully resolve discords into pleasant harmonies.
In this parish we have great reason to thank God that these three causes have combined. From the moment that the little band originally gathered round Manton Eastburn to the present hour, one principle of aggregation has moved them, love for the distinctive doctrines of the evangelical system. If any minor differences of views on those points or as to general policy exist, considerate charity has so skillfully hidden them beneath the skirt of her robe, that on the one side they are not mentioned, nor on the other obtruded. And earnest, loving [13/14] work in which all agree, has left no time for fanning trifling dissents into serious schisms. The unity of this parish has been a constant subject of thankfulness to God. For sixteen years I have never known an important disagreement in the vestry, nor a collision in the management of any part of our parochial system, which has affected any real interest. So far as I know it is a unit. The God of all grace be praised! The privilege of having served such a parish, and being permitted to bear such testimony, is very precious to me. The "comfort" which it has been through every stage of my ministry among you, words can not tell. Cherish it, dear brethren; not by endeavoring to cut off dissent or forcing agreement, but by studying truth, charity, patience, and allowing for honest differences. In such unity is strength.
But to all these
4. A fourth element of parochial power must be superadded--
Such liberality to be of much avail must be based in principle, be moved by the love of Christ, must be intelligent, consistent, systematic, and constant. Impulsive charities give no real strength to a parish. On occasions, for a special purpose, they may be employed. But any large parish work, at all commensurate with the necessities to which I have heretofore alluded, can depend only on liberality of high principle, intelligent and uniform.
The substratum of such liberality is the missionary spirit; and whatever is included in that mighty [14/15] term must be inwrought into the heart of a parish before this liberal mind will be developed. The missionary spirit is the spirit of Christ, large in its love, large in its views, large in its impulses. It takes in the whole range of human need. It omits from its charity not an individual who shares our human nature. Such a spirit burns to do good on every side; can not rest contented while a soul in any land, for which Christ died, is without the knowledge of salvation, nor a being in need of Christ's charities without receiving them. It studies the wants of mankind intelligently; under a sense of them investigates its own means; makes systematic provision, for a call which it is perceived must be constant; and deliberately, with a feeling of responsibility to God, devises liberal things. Out of this missionary spirit alone arises the power of a parish to provide generously for a large parochial work. My conviction is strong on this point; and the lessons of our experience have been very distinct.
Liberality requires cultivation. A parochial system may give sufficient opportunities for its exercise; but a uniform habit of conscientiously contributing is formed only by individual effort, under the Holy Spirit's guidance and effectual inspiration. Illiberality may grow as readily, if, for mere form's sake, and without an intelligent or noble purpose, you throw a trifle into the plate, as if you were always to respond to it merely by a benevolent nod. True charity is nurtured in the closet on your knees before God, is instructed in the study by careful investigation of its objects, is practised not by yielding to every impulse of a generous heart, but by [15/16] systematic and conscientious and proportioned devotion of worldly substance to the glory of Christ. The moral influences of liberality upon those who exercise it, make it especially worth a pastor's efforts to cultivate it. The heart of a parish grows by this means, its kindly dispositions, its self-respect, its consciousness of power: and individually, it both opens an irreligious soul to the approaches of the Gospel, enabling it to begin to see the loveliness of Jesus' charity; and forms, in Christian character, an essential element of gracious progress.
We have striven to cultivate this spirit. The children in the Infant school and Sunday-school are taught at least the practice of it; and by some touching illustrations I could show you that many of them understand its principles. In this larger school we often sit at Jesus' feet to study this particular of his character. Whether we have made advancement, eternity will manifest. Liberality is so peculiarly sensitive a plant that even a thought of being possessor of it closes its delicate leaf, and substitutes deformity for native grace. Yet let me thank you for the ready responses which have supported my applications for aid. The comfort, and the courage, which they have contributed in the weary task of meeting pecuniary responsibilities to the Church at large, which multiply in such a position as this, are incalculable. Steadfastly pursue the study of this grace, for liberality is a chief element of parochial strength.
5. The fifth element of parochial strength brings us within the range of a different class of subjects;
I use the term distinctively to indicate the meeting of Christians for prayer, the study of God's word, and mutual counsel. If private, and family, and public prayer are necessary to Christian progress, by similar reasoning, social prayer among members of a household of faith, whose increase in grace is a subject of mutual interest, and whose duty and privilege it is to be banded in the closest ties of mutual Christian love--social prayer is a necessity. We have tried it, with the marked favor of God. Our experience leaves no room to question its wisdom as a means of individual religious advancement and parochial power. For some years we existed without it. For some years we have lived beneath its silent invigorating influences. Compare those years, as I have done, in every particular which marks the real prosperity of a parish; consider that this was the only additional means of grace, and the conclusion which I have reached is inevitable.
We have preferred privacy in these meetings, in order that they might be social, and avoid the prominent evils which have so often afforded a plausible objection to public prayer-meetings. Circles of Christians, not exceeding a definite small number, meet at each other's houses, once a week, to encourage each other in the difficult life of faith, and to supplicate Divine blessings on each other, and on you. During the last year five such circles were thus engaged. Can you estimate the power of faith, and genuine mutual religious affection which were accumulated at these meetings? With what wings those prayers went up to the mercy-seat, as [17/18] they helped one another? With what ready mercy they were received, as realizing the brotherhood which Christ intended for his Church, and that agreement in supplication to which he promised, "Whatsoever ye ask." What blessings have descended on yourselves; the quickening of grace, the kindling of hope, or a new-formed interest in religion, and the first real penitential tear; you will trace them, brethren, in heaven to the instrumentality of these meetings. A quiet, silent, sober, constant, affectionate, earnest, believing power working for your salvation. What strength it has given me! Such a band of fellow-workers, laboring by prayer. What invigoration in the consciousness that at every meeting my name has been carried to the throne of grace, on warm hearts that cared for me! May God return you a thousand fold! Still let my name be mentioned in your common supplications. There is fruit to be gathered yet, (I trust in God,) of the seed which has been sown here. And when you pray for him who is to gather it, let my remembrance also linger on your tongues. We shall yet rejoice together in heaven over the trophies of social prayer.
6. But every element of parochial strength which I have mentioned is weakness unless the result of all be
Heavenly-mindedness is the strength of a Christian; the strength of a parish. I mean weanedness from the world, separation from its enervating pleasures, moderation in its necessary pursuits. I mean concentration of thoughts, and purposes, and affections on Christ. I mean that elevation of soul above the [18/19] range of what is earthly and grovelling, which is the offspring of studying the deep things of God, communing with him in prayer, learning the feebleness of self, the sufficiency, the all-sufficiency of Christ; and comprehending with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, of his immortal love. I mean that humility which comes from standing at the foot of the cross, coupled with chastened joy, which, as they look out from Calvary to the rest that remaineth for the people of God, count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. Such spiritual-mindedness is power in an individual; aggregated power in a church. Of such a people, men say that they have been with Jesus. The mouth of blasphemy is stopped; for the inconsistencies of religious professors, which are the curse of Christ's visible Church, do not appear. And while nevertheless irreligious persons dislike them the more, they are compelled to respect them. The very estimate in which the world holds such a church is moral power. Would to God! that, now when I sum up the results of my ministry, I could say that we had reached this heavenly mind. Spirituality has visibly increased among you, especially in later years. But, oh! how far we come from the measure of Christ's dear likeness; how little do we live as a people whom he has purchased to himself, by his own blood, for a peculiar people! I covet this distinction for you, I pray for this blessing on you. May he, who is now to become your pastor, be privileged to find that every one, who has named Christ's name among you, habitually rejoices to follow, as he shall lead them [19/20] to green pastures, beside the still waters, where the Chief Shepherd dwells.
7. I pass naturally from such considerations to the seventh, the last element of parochial strength which comes into this present enumeration
It is perhaps included in some of the former, yet not necessarily, and deserves a distinct mention. For it is possible that even spiritual-mindedness may exist without producing mutual affection; although never complete without it. But a parish can possess no power unless mutual regard confirms its unity, and inspires its fellowship in work.
I shall not attempt to sound the praises of such a spirit, nor paint for you the pleasant picture of brethren dwelling together in love. Your mutual esteem, which in very many cases has ripened into personal friendship, is a pledge of sympathy, and harmony, and earnest cooperation; promising peace, and prosperity, and strength to this church of my love. How our affections have clustered about it! How our souls have knit themselves to its very stones, as in the mysterious fellowship of sorrow or of joy, we have met here to consecrate the dearest hours of life! How much more have our hearts grown to each other! God be praised for the affection which you have shown to me, although so little worthy of it. My heart leaps over the bounds which I had set for it, to utter the deep, warm, earnest, loving thoughts which your constant kindness, your considerate kindness, your uniform kindness have taught [20/21] me. We shall talk of it again in a better land, where even the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple will be found neither to have been without its influence, nor to have lost its reward. We shall trace together then the blessed influence upon himself, and the reflex influence upon them, which result from the affection of a parish given freely to its Pastor, deepened as years roll by, and outlasting--thank God!--outlasting the shock of separation.
"My fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me," accept my last words, as addressed especially to you, of counsel, gratitude, and love. Within yourselves lie the elements of strength for this dear church. Within your reach, under Divine favor, and with a future ministry which must contradict itself unless it meet your every exigency to your entire satisfaction, is an unlimited power for this beloved Church of the Ascension. I say a future ministry which will carry out the principles that have bound you together, and which will confirm you in every good word and work: for so entirely is the mind of the vestry fixed on these points, in making their selection of a Pastor, that I feel confident, in God's favor that neither you nor they will be disappointed. Until the day when you will be privileged to meet again under a Pastor, I have great satisfaction in leaving the principal charge to my assistant, whose sympathies are with me, and who has already proved himself so capable of a higher ministry, and so efficient in this which God has granted him. My brother, may you ever have God's holy guidance and abundant blessing! Within your reach is an [21/22] unlimited power under Divine Grace. A band of fellow-workers, having plenty of work, at unity, encouraging the missionary spirit, and supported by a liberal congregation, animating each other by social prayer and securing thereby the rich grace of our covenant Lord, seeking spiritual-mindedness, and bound in mutual affection, have possession of the elements of parochial strength. God has put in your hands the means and opportunity of greatly glorifying Christ; see that you employ them. Rally round your work. Let your coming Pastor find a hearty welcome from a united people. May he be blessed, as I have been, with your confidence, your help, your prayers, and your warm affection. Let nothing separate you from the love of Christ. At the altar fire where he offered himself, kindle afresh each day the flame of your own devotion and zeal. Keep your eye upon that pattern of Christian life. Strive to plant every step in some foot-print of the Saviour. Look as he did to the promised end of your pilgrimage. Gain humility, and penitence, and faith, and love from the gracious Spirit, as each day you invoke his gracious offices. Acquire strength by devout employment of means of grace, especially by hearing the word, and sharing this holy sacrament--gathering inspiration from the hopes which thoughts of heaven enkindle. And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall present your work well done and accepted through his merits, following him in pleasant places whithersoever he shall lead.
My fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, I will not say farewell. You have been a comfort unto me [22/23] through all these years; your confidence and sympathy a comfort still. We are journeying together "unto the land of which the Lord hath said, I will give it you." This sacrament of the Lord's Supper reminds me that we shall eat bread together in the kingdom of our Lord. We will not speak of parting, since after only a short night's tarry at a different inn, we shall meet to go no more out forever in our Father's home.
THE BASIS OF PASTORAL STRENGTH.
"THE God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Jesus Christ, that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
"The God of peace be with you all. Amen."--Romans 15: 5, 6, 13, 33.
THERE is strength from such a prayer. It lifts up the head to drink of such a brook in the way. It braces the soul in presence of a great sadness, or in prospect of a stern endeavor, to taste, at the very fountain-head, patience, consolation, hope, and peace. The two angels who came down to Gethsemane had surely filled their cup from that stream, just where it bursts out of the everlasting hills, close by the throne of God, for the comfort, which they offered, strengthened Christ. We shall be most profited to-night by thoughts which strengthen. The silver cords which sixteen years of uninterruptedly happy pastoral life, have wrapped round your hearts and mine, can not be loosened without trying our endurance. Nor will you be able to enter bravely on your work again, (for I will not affect to think that the separation which I feel [24/25] so deeply does not also cost you something,) nor can I go forth courageously to new duties without the friends, upon whose strong sympathy and affection and prevailing prayers, day by day, for years, I have rejoiced to lean, unless we both find power from communion with our Father in heaven, who hath promised, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." I know not where we can part with calmer spirits than beneath the shadow of the "Rock." I shall take my leave of you at the side of
"THE GOD OF PATIENCE AND CONSOLATION,
THE GOD OF HOPE,
THE GOD OF PEACE."
Great and wonderful name! suggestive of all which God has revealed himself to be in the Gospel of his Son. As thus suggestive I have chosen the text. For we must turn the brief hour of Pastoral life which remains to some higher use than the expression of mere emotions. Emotions are transient; principles, eternal. Let us endeavor to treasure up some principles tonight. The remembrance of them will outlast even the deep sympathies of the hour. I desire, then, to leave with you this evening a record of experience and a testimony of my convictions as to
The basis of pastoral strength.
I say the basis. Many elements combine to give power to pastoral labor. Some refer to the Pastor's own character, some to the character of his people; that one, without which nothing is strong, to the grace of [25/26] God, shed abroad in his soul, poured out upon his people, following, confirming, blessing his work. But underneath all these, influencing both his character and theirs, and securing God's grace, the real basis of pastoral strength is
The preaching of the Evangelical system.
I use the term distinctively to indicate a certain way of understanding the Gospel. We might employ that term, for the Evangelical system is certainly the Gospel in our apprehension of it. But others equally conscientious preach the Gospel, understanding by it either less or more than we, and something different from the Evangelical system. So that by using this term, no doubt will be left upon your minds as to what I mean.
The Evangelical system is a series of doctrines together with a mode of proclaiming them. It is not a system of ecclesiastical polity. Nor is it a system of ecclesiastical policy. It relates entirely to the great truths which affect men's salvation. On minor truths it allows differences of opinion; but upon these no essential differences. An Evangelical man may be a good Churchman or otherwise, he may have definite views on one side or the other of great questions in the Church, or he may be in that unfortunate class, victims of the impulse of the hour, who are on neither side. His polity and his policy are of trifling moment, except as they may trench upon or influence his doctrinal views. These doctrines, together with a mode of proclaiming them, make up the Evangelical system.
I venture to set them before you in detail; for, I know not how otherwise to reach our inference clearly that this system bases pastoral strength.
These doctrines are:
1. That man by nature is utterly ruined and helpless, incapable of saving himself.
2. That salvation is entirely by the grace of God, communicated to us and made effectual in us by the Holy Spirit.
3. That Christ's work is entirely sufficient as the ground of this salvation.
4. That this salvation is received by faith, simply, solely, efficaciously; so that we are justified by faith, faith only.
5. That a whole consecration to God and practical godliness are necessary fruits of a genuine faith and real conversion.
You will not be surprised that I have considered the mode, in which these doctrines are proclaimed, only second in importance to the doctrines themselves. The system necessarily includes a mode of preaching them; for all these truths may be uttered, and yet be so confounded with other truths, as to lose their distinctiveness. The navigation of this sea is confessedly difficult; nor can any man without earnest study of his divine chart, and without that strength of hand which prayer imparts, hold the channel between many a Scylla and Charybdis.
There is danger, for example, of representing necessary means of approaching God, such as repentance and prayer, as conditions of salvation; thereby detracting from the freeness of God's offer of grace. There is danger of representing faith itself as a condition; thereby attributing a merit to it. There is danger of yielding to the attractions of natural goodness and the [27/28] winning influences of social virtues, in an unconverted heart, a certain degree of acceptableness in God's sight; thereby diminishing our impression of man's utter ruin and helplessness, and the necessity of the Spirit's inspiration before he can do any act acceptable to God. There is danger of substituting a corporate for an individual faith, the faith of the Church for the faith of the person; thereby inducing an undue exaltation of the Church, and leading the soul away from that certain peace which is to be found in resting directly upon Jesus, to that false security which results from resting in ecclesiastical privileges. There is danger of elevating means of grace into sources of grace, putting sacraments and ordinances in the place of the Holy Spirit; thereby distracting the view of the blessed Comforter as the only Giver of all spiritual strength. There is danger of representing the good works of God's children as pleasing to him in such a sense as to become deserving; thereby detracting from the glory of Christ, whose merits alone secure our eternal felicity. And there is danger of considering that practical godliness is so necessarily a result of true faith that neither its principles nor its particulars need to be stated or enforced; thereby leaving a Christian to grope his way toward a consistent, judicious, exemplary practice without the assistance of practical rules of life, and therefore greatly imperilling his chance of finding it, and retarding his growth in Christ-likeness. Amidst all these difficulties the evangelical system steers its way, discriminately teaching truths in the proportion which the Bible gives them, constantly in such a manner, as to humble the sinner and exalt the Saviour. And [28/29] herein lies the strength which the consistent maintenance and preaching of it gives to a Pastor:
1. In the first place it leads him to
Rest entirely on God.
The key-notes of this system are the ruin and helplessness of nature, and the sovereignty of divine grace. He looks upon a company of human souls, to every one of which his own soul is bound, every one of which, until the spirit of God has breathed life into it, is dead in trespasses and sins. He looks upon a spiritual nature which lies in fragments beneath the frown of God; upon hopes, once the fairest, now blasted by the curse; upon immortal men stricken with the direst helplessness, sinners all of them, utterly ruined, lost! There is no help but in the grace of God. The first breath of hope comes on the dying groan from Calvary; the next, more cheerily, on the mighty rushing Wind from Pentecost. He is forced to look up into the hills from whence alone cometh help. He must carry his people on his heart before the throne of God: he must induce them to follow him there. When Pastor and People are both bowing within the shadow of Divine presence, both supplicating Almighty grace, both depending solely on the exertion of omnipotent love, they have strength. I need not attempt to unravel the paradox; I have endeavored at least by preaching it to make it familiar; in the humility of faith is power; power for any Christian, especially for a Pastor. And that system, which leads most directly to this humility and simple faith in God, must be the basis of pastoral strength.
2. In the second place it leads him to
Deal habitually with great truths.
 Both in their essence and connections they are the grandest within the range of human thought. Every one of them is experimental or practical. He is not dealing with untried or useless theories. These enter at once into the life of the soul; manifest themselves in the life of religion. He can see these mighty truths taking possession of hearts; see how they dispossess pride, and sin, and worldiness, and self; how they develope humility, and faith, and peace; sometimes holy joy, and triumph in divine grace.
He can trace them working in domestic and social life; reforming habits personal, family, business, or professional. They are the truths which underlie the whole of that admirable exhibition of practical godliness which the epistles give in details. Basing his exhortations upon such principles, the Evangelical Pastor avoids on the one hand the danger of trusting in good works, by directing all eyes to Christ's righteousness alone as meritorious, and on the other the discouragement which arises from the necessary imperfections of human obedience, by pointing every thought to the grace of God which enables, and the mercy of God, which for Christ's sake accepts. He can safely instruct in every particular of practical religious life, entering into details and pressing rules of action without fear of being misunderstood, with good hope of their being followed. That system is the basis of pastoral strength which furnishes, for habitual preaching truths, great truths, experimental and practical truths, truths [30/31] which lead directly to applying them to the guidance of his people's lives in every relation.
3. Kindred to this topic is another equally indicative of the strength which evangelical preaching contains. Under the influence of this system,
The Pastor gets rid of the temptation to make much of non-essentials.
The truths constantly before him are the vital truths, on which his own hopes as a sinner saved by grace, on which all his people's hopes of salvation, depend. He can not venture to touch those which are not essential to salvation, except occasionally and aside.
Every truth of God must indeed be proclaimed; ought to be set forth precisely in its Scriptural proportion. The divine constitution of the ministry in "these orders, Bishop, Priests, and Deacons," the wholesomeness of ordinances, the value of a Liturgy, and such like truths, all have their Scriptural place; must be preached: but lose nothing of their force by being kept in the subordinate position which Christ has assigned to them; nor can they ever be proclaimed with such power, or so strongly fasten themselves on Christian conscience, as when from the stand-point of the Evangelical system they are seen to be revelations of the grace of God.
By thus avoiding minor topics the Pastor gains an additional strength, for he avoids the arena of ecclesiastical controversy. No conflicts are so painful, or so useless, as those which originate in questions about the lesser matters of the Gospel. And happy is the Pastor who, being so much engaged in the great work of saving [31/32] souls, can not and will not come down to the unprofitable effort to make all men think alike in things not essential.
He gains still greater strength from the consciousness of being at unity with the great mind and heart of the "Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints." On these great doctrines of evangelical truth there is no controversy among God's children; difference perhaps in the statement of them, but not difference in the personal experience of the truths which are meant by them. And so the Pastor, who by divine favor has placed his feet on this foundation, finds himself in blessed fellowship with all the people of God in all churches, and all lands, and all ages, and both earth and heaven. He has share in the oneness of truth which binds them all to each other and to Christ.
That system which relieves one from the burden of harping on non-essentials, and permits him conscientiously to feel a spiritual fellowship with all God's people, must be the basis of pastoral strength.
4. In the fourth place these truths
Produce the elements of parochial strength.
Out of a conviction of them proceeds every element of the strength of a parish which we presented this morning; the banding together of fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God; a Pastor's earnestness and their own skillfulness in devising plenty of work; unity; the missionary spirit, and a true liberality; social prayer; spirituality of mind; and mutual confidence and affection. Evangelical views are the true basis of them all. An Evangelical pastor may not always attain them, but he has it within reach as no other man can have.
 What can band the people of God together in a loving cooperation for the glory of their Master so effectually, as the thought, that they are in common trophies of omnipotent grace; snatched from one common ruin; indebted absolutely to one Saviour? What will rouse the ingenuity of a Christian to devise plans, at cost, at hazard, with difficulties, with self denial, which bring no return but the gratification of laboring for Christ, unless it be the sense, that the priceless love which bought him from death deserves the consecration of every energy in return? What will carry a Church through its work but faith in God; faith educated and matured in the school of Christ; faith that has experienced the power of the promises, and knows the omnipotence of the Holy Ghost? So a living faith and love toward Christ is the bond of unity, and the source of a missionary spirit with the liberality which grows out of it.
Social prayer is an acknowledged result of the Evangelical system; whether its reproach or its glory, still its own. It is a direct result of its abhorrence of the idea, of corporate acts in the dealing of souls with God, and of vicarious human prayer or sacrifices. It individualizes the sinner saved; counts valuable only his individual acts of faith: in the sanctuary aggregates individuals in common prayer; and in the social circle for devotion, carries the same principle into a less restrained activity.
Spiritual-mindedness ought to be the constant result of these Evangelical views. One who looks upon himself simply as a sinner saved by grace, indebted to the Spirit for the first thought which turned his feet home-ward, [33/34] and to the same Spirit for all the strength by which he has made progress in religion, indebted to the Saviour for every promise to which his faith clings, for every hope by which his heavenward way is enlivened, bound to the Saviour to follow in his footsteps, privileged by the Saviour to bear his name and to be made in his image, an epistle of Christ among men, an heir with Christ of eternal glory--such a sinner saved, ought surely to live above the world. He will seek only the mind which is in Christ Jesus, and live in preparation for the pursuits and conversation of heaven. Strictly Evangelical views are in harmony with such a state of mind. They tend to that whole consecration and practical godliness out of which such spirituality grows.
And hence it happens, that as a general rule, in parishes where this system prevails, worldliness does not prevail; worldly amusements and fashionable frivolities are in disrepute. God be praised for this influence of the Gospel; for invariably--such is my experience--where a Christian has suffered himself to relapse into, first, the tolerance, and next, the love of worldly pleasures, and in the proportion by which he yields to them, does his heart become cold toward Christ, and his religion begin to vanish.
Such principles of earnest devotion to the Saviour adopted in a parish, and made the basis of real unity, secure a hearty mutual affection. I know not whether any other system produces this blessed fruit; but this I know--one church which professes it, where, as in ancient times, it may be said, "see how these Christians love one another," and from which the sorest grief of parting is, that I must relinquish my share in the habitual [34/35] enjoyment of the truest Christian friendships. They are friendships which many a change of fortune has tried, but none has broken. If at the Master's call, I relinquish this privilege, yet let me trust to renew the enjoyments we have here taken in earthly fellowship, when we shall reach the city within whose glorious walls the children of God have communion without interruption; where no changing fortunes mar the repose of affection, and love goes forth in its interchanges fearless of disappointment, or of an end.
Meanwhile, let that true brotherly love knit you together in closer bonds. Prepare to throw its cords around the one, whom God in his own time will send to stand in this place. Let him find a congregation at unity in itself, and strong in that unity to maintain the interests of the Saviour's kingdom.
Such as I described them this morning, are the elements of parochial strength; and thus, according to my experience and convictions are they the legitimate outworking of an inward spiritual fidelity to Evangelical views.
5. But lastly, this system is the basis of pastoral strength, because it
Accomplishes the pastoral work.
In every phase of the labor of bringing souls to Christ or of leading Christians through their education for heaven, the doctrines of this system are a Pastor's strength. I will not compare its efficacy with that of another gospel. I understand none but this. This meets every sinner in every peculiarity of his experience, and if any thing can, will bring him to the foot [35/36] of the cross. What can unbolster a man whose trust in his morality, or pious education, or social virtues, props him up to a fancied superiority to the provisions of the Gospel; what, but the truth, that as an unconverted soul he is dead, as an unbelieving soul he is condemned already, as an unrenewed soul he can not see the kingdom of God unless he be born again? What can rouse a careless sinner from his thoughtlessness, but to place him in the presence of a Saviour, whose precious blood is pouring out that he may not perish? What argument with any thoughtful mind for the necessity of the great salvation, like that simple statement of the word, "God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten Son that whosoever believed in him might have eternal life?" I want no gospel but that of the sovereign grace of God, to keep a Christian within the way of life. If the thought of Jesus' undeserved love will not make him steadfast in following Jesus, no teacher will. If the thought that God in mercy snatched him as a brand from the burning, set his feet upon the Rock, endowed him with the heirship of everlasting life, will not lead him to abjure worldly conformity, to renounce all sin, to be an example to unbelievers, to magnify God's grace, there is nothing in the whole range of legal views of religion, nothing in the duties which he owes to the Church, nothing in his sacramental vows, which will keep him by the Saviour's side.
These are the truths within which sinners find life, and saints are nourished into the hope of glory. On the faith of these truths I have seen many a soul among you take up the cross of Christ. I have watched their [36/37] penitence, rejoiced when faith laid hold on the promises, rejoiced with them when peace came down upon their troubled minds. We have gone together to the footstool of divine mercy; together wended our way to the cross; and together wept for joy when we heard the gracious words: "Son, daughter, thy sins be forgiven thee, go in peace." I have seen the strong man bowed by these truths. I have seen the mighty trembling beneath the power of these truths. I have seen the weak made strong, as these truths were apprehended, and taken lovingly to their hearts by faith. I have seen these truths calming the tempest of the soul, when the first cold wind from Jordan has swept across the springs of life. I have seen them bearing the spirits up amidst pain and suffering, and the sympathy of friends. I have seen them like eagles' wings for those who apprehended them; and you and I have watched as, on their might, the soul went triumphing across the river, scarcely touched by its spray, borne into the keeping of angels, within the presence of Christ; and you and I, lifted up by the power which such faith and hope exhibit, have seemed to hear the welcome, and to listen to the kindling strain of gladness on the strings of the new harp; and have come back sadly to the necessities of an unfinished pilgrimage. I have seen a greater triumph of these principles in their power to comfort the mourners, to tranquillize grief, to put a brave heart within almost despair. I have seen a greater triumph still, the power of these principles to maintain a Christian amidst the tempests of life: young Christians resisting every fascination of worldliness older Christians steadfast through persecutions, holding [37/38] integrity in trials of business, firm, within the very breakers of misfortune; Christians of every age having a good report of them that are without; and, what is higher praise of God's grace, a good report of them that are within; of those who see the life at home, where the pressure of society is taken off, and the Christian exhibits himself as God beholds him. Happy days of Pastoral life! wherein we have walked together in the intimacies of friendly counsel, and confiding sympathy. Happy days! which if they bear a heavy weight of responsibility, come loaded also with the joys sweetest to ministerial life. Reluctantly I part with them; only trusting in God to make my new pastorship an opportunity for glorifying him more. Happier days this side of heaven I do not look for.
These are the principles of Evangelical truth which give strength to Pastoral labor. These are the principles, to which, through thirty-one years this parish has manifested its steadfast adherence. May God grant that you may be evermore kept close to these sacred truths, which are the embodiment of that great salvation which Jesus taught. That I have set them forth before you as they deserve, or even as plainly as I wished, I can not say. That I have preached them honestly, without fear, and earnestly, as God has given me grace, I venture to say, with all humility and with the deepest gratitude to him. If you have taken any benefit from my ministry it is because God the Holy Ghost has enabled me to preach, and you to receive, the doctrine of a completed salvation, freely, graciously offered, in Christ Jesus, to your faith.
And now I take my leave of this phase of Pastoral [38/39] life, and of you, my brethren, who have contributed so largely to its happiness.
Some of you I shall never meet in heaven, unless your hearts shall be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Oh! pray for it! Some of you are very near the kingdom of God. Some, alas! far, far off! But all within the power of his grace. Oh! pray for it! To you my ministry seems to have been useless: possibly worse than useless; for if truth has been heard and rejected, the heart grows harder. If you knew how I have longed after you in Christ, in how many sermons I have labored with no other object than to win your souls, how often my prayers and my earnest efforts have been disappointed--though God very graciously has given me other souls for my hire, but not the friends of years--if you knew all this, you would appreciate the sadness with which I address you for the last time as Pastor. I have often thought that one reason for my removal may be, that God's word, by another's voice, at last, may become effective. If so, my earnest prayers will be answered; not indeed in the manner I had indicated. But if no change shall pass upon your souls, dear friends; if, as unspiritual as you were born, you die, blessed indeed with all the natural gifts which render character estimable, but not trusting Christ as your only Saviour, we shall not meet in heaven. And then that precious blood will have been shed in vain; all those strivings and admonitions of the Spirit will have been in vain, and you will be lost. Lost! remembered no more in heaven; name, not mentioned there; record, not read there; person, forgotten there; once sought after by the Good Shepherd; [39/40] once ransomed among the sons of men; once offered an heirship of eternal life among the sons of God: but then forever--lost! Oh! will you not yet listen to the grace of God? Helpless, ruined, self-destroyed, there is yet pardon for you in Christ. Never did he reject a sinner that came to him trusting. Would to God I could carry you to the foot of the cross! Would to God I could leave you there; you that are weary and burdened--leave you there within the shadow of that sacrifice for sins, thirsty and thirsting by the side of that fountain of salvation.
The God of patience and consolation, the God of hope, the God of peace, be with you all, my brethren! Within the shelter of that gracious name I can leave you, with a strong and buoyant heart. Your future is in His gracious hands. Under His favor, much of individual growth in the divine life, much of the healthful progress of this parish towards higher endeavors and more extended usefulness, will depend upon yourselves. Be firm in adherence to the principles of Evangelical truth; hold them in charity, but hold them unyieldingly. Be united. Let the rallying point be him whom God shall appoint to minister among you. The secret of unity and peace as a people is work for the glory of Christ. Be fellow-laborers unto the kingdom of God. By humble faith in Jesus ever keep within the shelter of the Almighty Name. May it ever be an overshadowing blessing; a cloud to shelter, a cloud to drop its benedictions on your every path. May that Name which I have sealed on so many brows, be the confidence and glory of your maturing days.
By the help of your prayers, though you see me no [40/41] more in this relation, I shall not go out from beneath the shadow of that great Rock. On different sides of it, yet abiding together in his grace, we shall meet again in his kingdom to renew our blessed relationship. The Pastor who has been privileged to win your hearts for Christ, will surely be permitted to welcome you, when both Pastor and People shall approach the throne to cast their crowns before Him. We shall renew these blessed days in a better land. A thousand times I thank you, for all the evidences of confidence and affection which have made my lot so happy. A thousand memories of sorrow and of joy will ever knit my heart to this dear Ascension. May the Lord hear the prayer with which I leave you now beneath the overshadowing grace of his great Name!
"The God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.
"The God of peace be with you all. Amen."
 THE GOOD BYE.
ON Sunday afternoon the children assembled in the church, for the last time, to be catechised, and after the usual exercises, and a few touching last words, the Infant Scholars sang their "Good-bye," composed by one whose contributions to sacred literature are very generally known and admired.
Although in the simple language of childhood, the power of its pathos reached many hearts, and brought tears to many eyes in the large assemblage that had gathered to witness the parting of the Pastor and his little flock.
INFANT SCHOOL OF THE CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION
TO THEIR PASTOR,
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 2d, 1859.
OFT in song our voices ringing,
Thou hast heard and joined our cry;
Now no strains of gladness bringing,
We have come to sing Good-bye!
We have come to sing Good-bye.
Thanks for all thy care and teaching,
Patient with our heedless years;
Thanks for thy sweet stories, preaching
Jesus to our infant ears;
Thanks on thanks with our Good-bye.
Every Lord's day shall remind us
Of thy loving presence here;
And long years, in age, yet find us
Clinging to thy memory dear;
Ever in our hearts, Good-bye.
God be with thee, Friend and Father,
Doing still the shepherd's part;
Seeking still the lambs to gather,
Bearing them a-near thy heart;
Happy they, thy flock--Good-bye.
Parting--parted not in Jesus,
That great Shepherd of the sheep--
Ransomed by his blood most precious,
Thee and us will ever keep;
With this prayer our last Good-bye. A. W. M.
[THE NOTITIAE PAROCHIALES which appeared in the appendix to the above is not included in this transcription.]