Elizabeth, June, 1875.
To the Rev. GEORGE Z. GRAY:
Dear Sir:--In behalf of the "Home Missionary Society" of St. John's Church, I am deputed to tender the thanks of its officers to you, for acceding to their request, by preaching a sermon in memory of their late beloved Rector. The Society requests you will further oblige them, by allowing the sermon to be printed for distribution.
J. PARKINSON ROBERTS, President.
MR. J. P. ROBERTS, President of the "Home Missionary Society" of St. John's Church, Elizabeth.
Dear Sir:--In compliance with the desire expressed in your communication, I send herewith the sermon preached, at the invitation of your Society, upon the life and character of Dr. Clark, doing so gladly, since this request shows that my tribute is endorsed by his people, but regretting that I had not sufficient time to render it worthier of its subject.
Yours very truly,
GEORGE Z. GRAY.
Bergen Point, June 18th, 1875.
"Yet there is room."
Luke xiv: 22.
These words, which occur in the Gospel for to-day, are peculiarly appropriate as the motto for the exercises of this evening. For this Society is based upon the idea which they express,--that there is still room, there are still many unfilled places at the table of God's family; many vacant chairs that should and may be occupied. And it is to gather in wanderers to tenant them that this Society works. It is to record the labors and the successes of another year that it assembles to-night.
But these words may also well serve as introductory to the task imposed upon me, which is to speak of one who ever acted upon then while he lived. You meet, as I have said, to hold the anniversary of your Society, and your first thought has been one of fond remembrance for him to whom this work was so dear and so congenial, and in which he was so efficient, but who meets with you no more. It is but natural that you should, amid the associations and memories of this hour, sigh "for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still."
When, in the spirit, you have asked me to address you respecting the life and character of your deceased Rector, it has been a pleasure to comply, not only because I would gladly lay my offering among the wreaths that you place upon his tomb, but because it gives peculiar gratification [5/6] to join with you in making a memorial service of an occasion connected with a work that possessed his interest so deeply. There are added peculiar gracefulness and significance to this service by the fact that it is not in the keenness of the moment of bereavement that this people meets to offer its tribute to its departed pastor, but when that keenness has past, and sober moments have come. It shows that he is not forgotten with the tears that his death provoked, that his is not this, the lot of so many who go hence. but that his value was so truly appreciated that the sense of it outlives the excitement of his decease. Happy the Pastor of whom it can be said, as of our brother, that, when months had gone by and when his flock had reflected upon and reviewed his life in their midst, they met with undiminished affection to declare that his name still shines with untarnished lustre!
My own acquaintance with Dr. Clark began nineteen years ago, but took the form of intimacy several years later, upon my entrance into the ministry. Since that, he has shown to me a kindness that has been unwavering, and several of his wise counsels, such as a clergyman needs when young and inexperienced, have been of deep and permanent value. It is therefore a privilege of which I cannot refrain from availing myself, to now declare my indebtedness to your late Rector, and express the affection which has been but strengthened since I have lost such a friend as he ever proved to be. At the same time, this very fact makes me wish that his panegyric were in abler hands than mine, so that the lessons of his life and character might be better and more worthily expressed.
In speaking of him at this time, in accordance with your request, it seems best to lay before you som simple considerations regarding Dr. Clark as a man, as a preacher, and as a pastor; not to tell you anything new, but merely to recall some familiar truths, in the aspect in which they present themselves to me. And, in so doing, I would speak [6/7] temperately and soberly. Much injury is often done to the departed by undiscriminating eulogy; and fondness may but injure when it would adorn, by claiming for its object, merits that may be not loftier than, but different from, those that were really possessed. Let us seek to draw a picture that shall be veracious and faithful, accordant with that honesty which so marked our brother, who would rather have us represent him as he was, than as he was not, and rate him justly, rather than so as to mar the precious lessons of his career. Not that I can pretend to make the picture complete. It is all that I can do to notice a few of the most salient traits that rise before us as we consider him, and call your attention to some of the features of that form which is so indelibly stamped upon your memories.
The leading characteristics of Dr. Clark, as a man, were his cheerful temperament and the largeness of his sympathies. As to the former, it is probable that he is chiefly remembered by many as a cheerful man. Was there ever another who had such a kind and mirthful word ready for everyone? Did anyone ever scatter so much sunshine along the very streets through which he passed? In these days, and in this land of ours, there are too few such characters. Our people all seem careworn. They are too heavily engrossed in thoughts of things of time and sense. We meet too many contracted brows and smileless lips. Our departed brother, therefore, lived to present a marked contrast with the most of those about him, and to do them good by showing them how to laugh and cheer up sometimes. Ready wit and bubbling mirth are not such useless things as some may think. They are very useful when rightly handled, and there was much blessed work done by the ministry of his cheerfulness, as he whom we mourn moved about among the tried and the anxious of his parish. Many a pastor and many a citizen would do well to seek to catch a little of his spirit, and thus might they achieve [7/8] more good in lightening weary hearts than they now know how to do. But this cheerfulness was as little the manifestation of a heart that could not profoundly feel, as it was of a mind that could not strongly think. Ah! friends, mirth and sadness are sisters, and where one dwells, the other is close at hand. The heart that has chords which respond easily to laughter, has also others just as sensitive to tears. It was so with Dr. Clark to a peculiar degree. He was very quick to feel for others' trials, and was full of sympathy that was ever ready and sincere. You know, better than I, how he could weep with those who wept, and some of you may be aware also, how sympathy wore upon him. Owing to his sensitive constitution, his feelings were so worked upon by the sight of grief, that it often prostrated him to the extent of unfitting him for effort. It is a precious, but a terrible, heritage, to have a nature that is exhausted by the outgoings of its own sweetness.
The other prominent feature of his character, as a man, was the largeness of his sympathies,--for we have to use this same word, though in another sense. There was nothing narrow about him. He could recognize that which was good in all, and, without compromising his firm and clear convictions, could shake hands and work with those that differed from him on the points that divide our household of faith. He had no better friends, and there were no sincerer mourners among the crowds that met here on that sad January day, than those with whom he did not, and could not, agree in many matters of polity and doctrine. He had taught them to see in him an honest and earnest man, who respected and trusted honest and earnest men, whatever their convictions. It was the same as to his bearing towards those without our own communion. How heartily he could labor in all good causes with Christians of other names, and how many a noble work in this city has been thus aided and promoted [8/9] by him, you well know. But he could do it without any disloyalty to his own tenets or his own church, and you know how he obeyed its laws, although some of them were scarcely defensible, in his opinion. In return for this, he was beloved and is regretted by fellow believers of other folds as much as by those of his own, which, having rewarded him by honorable trusts, felt poorer when he was no more in its councils. He was in this respect, one of a class of which we need many more in these days, and peculiarly in this church of our's. The day for narrow men is past. The kind which we require, and the only kind by which the work of Christ can be done in this community, are such as he, men who know how to combine strong and distinct convictions with large and generous sympathies; men who can disagree without harshness; who can be courteous and fraternal in private relations and in public debate, towards those whose views are not their own. It is only by such characters that we can have harmony and peace within our borders, and commend our church to those that serve the same blessed Lord in other associations. Dr. Clark was in this way a type of man that we can ill afford to lose, and which we may all well study and imitate.
The great question regarding any minister of Christ is that regarding the way in which he preached the Gospel, for to this end, after all, is the sent out to this dying world of sinful, erring, blinded men. In this respect, our brother would be the first to disclaim the attribute of greatness, but he had that which is better than signal brilliancy, or gifts whose very power might imperil the wisdom of their use,--he was faithful, edifying, and sagacious to an unusual degree. His theology was clear, and clearly set forth. To him Christ was "all in all," and he knew no other Gospel but that "being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." It was to him keenly natural to shrink from putting anything between [9/10] the sinner and the Saviour. His whole being would have revolted at the idea of placing himself or his ministrations in the path of access to the mercy-seat. He was content to simply bear witness to the fact that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them," and to point the lost to that cross where a sacrifice was offered for human transgressions,--to that fountain where all may wash their sins away. How he bore that witness, how pellucid was his exposition of that Gospel, how earnestly he indicated the pathway to safety, your memories will tell you; and none here can say that Christ was not made known to them in the fullness and the freedom of His grace. But, with this clear, evangelical theology, Dr. Clark was able--singularly able--to combine the inculcation of Christian ethics. He was faithful and wise in telling, not only how to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but also how to walk in Him; not only how to "receive His inestimable benefit," but also "how to follow the blessed steps of His most holy life." It is not easy to do this well, but he did it well, and he could teach how to make Christianity, not merely a matter of the Lord's Day and of Church, but of the week-day. He taught you to bring religion into the home, into the office and the workshop, in such a manner as to gild the smallest duty with the halo of Christian motive, and render the humblest I task an act of worship or of praise. Some of his sermons to which I have listened; or of which I have heard, manifested striking ingenuity in the selection of themes, and in their treatment, which bore upon the duty of doing "all in the name of the Lord Jesus." In this respect again, Dr. Clark was a man of a sort of which we need many more in these days. This age of hurry and bustle, when new duties and new relationships arise out of the new life of this busy century, brings great demand for preaching which will not be above the heads of people, but which will be food,--food that may be of service every clay. We [10/11] need more ministers who are both able and willing to enter into the life of their people, to understand their temptations, appreciate their trials, and perceive their perplexities; who, instead of living among their books, or in an atmosphere which is merely ministerial or ecclesiastical, live in a human atmosphere, where they can learn what men and women need, and who are then able and willing to speak from the pulpit, in the light of this knowledge and of this experience. The reason why much preaching is vain, and why many services are fruitless, is largely that this feature is lacking in the ministrations of the clergy. Whether purposely or not, they hold themselves too much aloof and do not speak to hearts, so as to answer the questions and meet the needs of those hearts. It is in this way that he of whom we speak was so successful and so eminent, and he has consequently, in all that forms a true minister of Christ, eclipsed many who may have been endowed with greater gifts, which they rendered useless by their vagaries or their frigidity.
It remains for us to speak of Dr. Clark as a pastor. In this relationship he was marked by unsparing fidelity. The amount of labor he performed in the various spheres of parochial duty, was prodigious. He seemed to be able to be ubiquitous when well, and was all the time going about to cheer, to relieve, to visit, or to promote the benevolent operations of his church. More than once, have I done what I know some of you have done, urged him to spare himself,--to so systematize his work that he would save steps and time. But he would reply, "I cannot systematize it, because, if a thing is to be done, I am not easy until it is achieved." Always, and especially toward the end, he acted in the spirit of the great Roman, who, when he was to embark for Asia on an errand of duty, replied to those who told him that the sea was so stormy that he could not expect to pass in safety, "It is not necessary for me to live, but it is necessary for me to go." The result [11/12] of this was success, such as is not often vouchsafed to a pastor. The tokens of it are everywhere. They are evident in the love you bear him, they are evident in the spirit of your assembling here this night. This Society tells of his success, not only in that it was the result of his efforts and the outgrow of his influence, but in that it represents a whole class of benevolent operations which he promoted. But more striking is the evidence of his success in the parish itself, which, under him, grew to be, facile princeps of those in the diocese, and whose buildings, this noble structure in which we are assembled and its adjuncts, are eloquent with his praise. It may be well said of him here, as it is said of the great architect Wren, in the inscription in the grand Cathedral which he built: "if you seek his monument look around you."
Brethren, such are the thoughts that rose prominently before me, as I thought upon him of whom you asked me to speak to you. Well do I know that I have not said all that might be said., nor all that I would fain say, but I have uttered that which seemed most noteworthy and which could be confined within the limits of any time. Of the particulars of his career here, and the history of the twenty years of his pastorate, I did not feel called upon to speak, because that has been already clone in your midst by one who was better able to do so, both by his knowledge of the facts and by his capacity to treat them. If I have succeeded in impressing the general lessons to which I have referred, and in doing justice to a few of the topics which your late pastor's memory suggests, I shall h nave achieved the aim I set before me.
Such was the man and such the life that have vanished from your midst. As we look back upon it, one thought rises before us. What a contrast is there between a career like that and the lives of most men whom we meet. That career was all usefulness. He so lived that he left the world better and richer for his having been in it, and [12/13] from him have radiated many precious influences which, like ripples on a lake, will run on, widening as they go, not to die away until they reach the farthest shore of time. Compared with this, how very aimless and profitless are the lives of many, and even of many who are in the same calling with himself! Does not the comparison show us that it is noble and beautiful to live, not for self, but for God in Christ, and for our fellow-beings--that it is sublime to labor to raise, and better, and comfort men, though it bring weariness while it lasts and though it close early, in exhaustion and fatigue? Yes, it alone is glorious, thus to live and thus to die, and the most en viable of the flowers of humanity are not those that, like some plants, preserve their resplendent beauty to the last and emit no odors as they bloom, but they are those which, like other plants, destroy themselves in the emission of their fragrance, and whose early drooping upon wilted stalks tells of death through giving out their life.
Ah! brethren, well may you regret, well may you love such a man, and cherish the memory of one who was so truly a faithful pastor! What meant that exhaustion? What meant that weariness? It meant labor for you; it meant wearing out in your service. How were spent those twenty years of ministry in your midst? In seeking his own ease? In enjoying the comfortable home and the support you provided him, or the social privileges which his position afforded? No! They were spent in seeking to bless and console and save you; spent in bringing to Christ many that have lived in joy and many that have died triumphant; spent in bringing nearer to God those that had found Him. We hear of large gifts that rich men make, and praise those, who out of their abundance provide means to erect churches and to found hospitals. But what is any such gift of money compared to that of twenty of the best years of one's life, such as our pastor bestowed upon you? He enriched you, not by the [13/14] offering of a part of his possessions, but by the offering of his all, of himself. No bestowal of money can equal this, no wealth can impose such indebtedness upon the recipient. Well do I know that you realize that you owe more than you can ever repay, in return for such self-sacrifice.
But, clear friends, it would ill become me to close this address without reference to another of the servants of Christ who, having ministered to you in spiritual things, now rests from his labors, for this Parish and this Society are bound to the unseen world by a double chord of kind remembrance. Not long after him with whom he had served in such intimacy and congeniality, Mr. Abrams passed to receive his crown. He had just begun to awaken high expectations of usefulness, and gave promise of rare zeal and ability, when the Master called him from that scene of labor to which he had gone from your midst. His departing message was an expression of his character: "Tell my people," said he, "that I go trusting implicitly in my Saviour, tell them to put their whole trust in him. I am going to be with Jesus." This message comes to you, as well as to that bereaved congregation in a distant town, and you should not let it go unheeded. Thus it is, that this parish is to be envied, in that it has the treasure of the memory and of the influence of two true disciples of the Lord, who, now in glory, look back to it as the place where they labored for Him with whom they are, and where they won the reward which they now enjoy.
For they have passed behind the veil! How solemn is it to think that they now see what we can but believe! To the departed, all these things of which we speak by faith: that eternity--that heaven--that God--that Saviour--that rest--all these are realities; and our thoughts go out tonight to them, remembering that they are in the full realization and the full enjoyment of what we see not--of what we understand not--of what is all mystery to us--yet of what we wait for. Alas! how far away they seem [14/15] from us! Yet blessed is the power of faith, by which we can, in such a service as this, overleap the barriers of time and sense, and hold sweet communion with the departed. On the coast of the Adriatic there is a custom, of which you may have heard, in accordance with which the wives of the fishermen go at nightfall to the shore and, standing by the sea, sing their evening greetings to their husbands out on the waves. In the calmness of the hour, these greetings go beyond the reach of sight and are heard by the toilers far away. These sing responsive songs to tell their dear ones that all is well with them, as the day dies and night settles on the deep. Thus reassured, the wives seek their homes and sleep in peace.
So is it that we this evening, gathered on time's strand, send our greetings to those who have passed out upon the sea, and who are beyond the horizon of sense, where the sun has not set. As we sing our hymns, they hear us, we know, and by the ear of faith are caught the responsive accents of those silenced voices which tell us that all is well with them--that their hearts are still with us whom they have left behind.
Yes, these deaths, and thoughts of the reward upon which the departed have entered bring eternal verities very close to us, and they make all that is visible and earthly appear but unreal and unsubstantial. Shall we not go hence to live hereafter under the power of the world to come more than we may yet have done, to remember that the time is short and life is transient, and that it becomes us, each day, until days shall cease, to be earnest and absorbed in the preparation for that great, that ever impending future, which is to be gained as our departed brethren gained it, by penitent trust in the Saviour whom the Father sent into the world that we might live through him.
For thus will you rear the best memorial that can be erected to your beloved pastor's name. Be as consecrated [15/16] to all good works as he was; promote and aid by gifts and labors this Society, and others kindred to it, which were causes so dear to him, and such an expression of his zeal. But above all, show your regard in the manner which the Bishop of Pennsylvania so eloquently pointed out, in that you recall the words that he spoke to you during the twenty years that lie preached the Gospel from this place. Do this, not only to perceive the responsibility which attaches to those who have been recipients of such faithful teaching, not only to permit the Spirit of God to impress its lessons on your hearts, while they are softened by the sadness of his loss, but in order that you may reflect that the best tribute you can pay as the manifestation of your affection. is to live in the faith which he gave his years and strength to teach.
Such is the memorial he would leave beyond all others. Better and more enduring than monument of crumbling stone or corroding brass, for a pastor, is that which is constituted by the remembrance of his labors and the observance of his exhortations. Thus (lid he feel who has left you. For all our recollection of hint tells us that the spirit of his life and his highest ambition were such as has been expressed in these words, which we may take home to be the motto of our own lives:
Up and away, like the dew in the morning,
Soaring from earth to its home in the sun;
So let me steal away, gently and lovingly,
Only remembered by what I have done.
Yes, like the fragrance that wanders in freshness.
When the flowers that it came from are closed up and gone;
So would I be to this world's weary dwellers,
Only remembered by what I have done.
Needs there the praise of the love written record?
The name and the epitaph graven on stone?
The things we have lived for--let these be our story;
We ourselves but remembered by what we have done.
Not myself, but the truth that in life I have spoken,--
Not myself, but the seed that in life I have sown
Shall pass on to ages--all about me forgotten,
Save the truth I have spoken, the things I have done.