The Resurrection Life. A Sermon in Memory of the late George C. Shattuck, M.D.
Preached at the Church of the Advent, Boston, on Low Sunday, 1893
By Henry A. Coit, D.D.
S. LUKE'S GOSPEL xxiv, 29: Abide with us: for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.
THE first Easter day was declining when these words were spoken. There had been a long walk among the hills of Judaea that afternoon. The two friends who started out from Jerusalem together were burdened by a heavy sense of loss. They felt desolate and bewildered. The Friend who had been their Counselor and Master, Whom they had leaned upon and trusted, had just died an agonizing, shameful death, the death of the lowest malefactor. True, there had been inexplicable circumstances of wonder and awe around His Cross: the sky had been overspread with a deep pall of darkness; there had been the fearful vibrations of an earthquake: rocks had been rent, graves had opened, the great temple curtain which veiled the Holy of Holies had been torn from top to bottom (so men said), at the very moment when their Master had yielded up His Spirit. More amazing still had been the majesty of the Sufferer's bearing, His gentleness and pity, His matchless patience, in the midst of this dreadful reproach and anguish, this denying and forsaking. It was most perplexing and heart-rending. He had been taken down from the Cross dead; there was no doubt of that. He had been buried in a new tomb. These were unquestioned facts. But all that morning from the first tinge of dawn, the air had been full of rumors. The Sepulchre, so certain women of their company reported, had been found empty. Some had even whispered it about that He Who died on the Cross on Friday had been seen in His Living Person, and that Mary Magdalene could tell an all but incredible story, which seemed far too good to be true. If He could thus take up His life again, why should He have laid it down at ah1? So they set out from the Holy City about noontide, with sinking hearts and clouded minds, and it was not until One unknown to their bodily eyes had joined and communed with them, and traversed with them all the last week's events, and illumined that inward sense of Faith which is the eye of the soul, that their hearts revived, their understandings were opened, and they began to experience a peace and hopefulness which was like a life-giving cordial to the dying. They reached their home in the little village among the hills. He, their Unknown Friend, seemed to be passing on, and they again suffer the depressing sense of loss. He must not part with them with the parting day. Therefore they reach forth to Him with constraining action and more constraining words: "Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." They had had a great, an irreparable bereavement. But the Presence of this Stranger had somehow taken away the sense of bereavement. With Him there, they had the old feeling of being strengthened, consoled, and led. He was as yet unknown to them, but there was the consciousness of a familiar influence. They knew this, though they knew not Him.
The words of the text belong in the first place to this Easter season. They also belong to human life, in all its changes of day and week, springtime and harvest, of youth and middle age and gray hairs. They are suited to the Easter season. For if, in the Lent now over, we have caught one glimpse of a higher, better life than our past has been, or had one desire for it; if one Communion has brought us nearer to the Saviour of our souls, if we have once placed ourselves in thought at the Feet which were pierced for our sakes, and really from our hearts felt the plea of the contrite sinner,
"In my hands no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling,"
then we must wish that to abide with us which for however brief a moment has made the lessons of the Gospel more real to us, and surely this means that Jesus Christ Himself should abide with us, Who is the soul's life, by Whose aid alone we can thread the vicissitudes of our journey, and face undismayed that last tragedy in which each one of us is to be the sole actor, the tragedy of death.
So we pray now to the Resurrection and the Life to stay with us, that we may rise from sorrow's and sin's night of chill dreariness and bondage to the continually growing light and power of the Resurrection morning. Stay with us as the days of this mortal life flee away, stay with us in winter's cheerless storm and summer's burning heat, and be the everlasting springtime of the heart, and drive our sins away, and with our sins our doubts and cares and fears. For the secret of continuance in well-doing, the secret of a happy life and a peaceful death, the confidence of a certain faith, and the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope are surely here. "Abide with us." We are not forced to draw upon the imagination in order to picture to ourselves the strength and joy of the Resurrection Life. As our blessed Lord's Resurrection is a fact, the greatest and best established fact in all history, so His Life planted, continually renewed, and abiding in His Disciples is also a fact, which has been repeated in manifold instances, in His redeemed followers from the first Easter to this present one. His Resurrection Life is perpetuated here in the lives of His followers. One such life in its ceaseless quiet activities of usefulness, in its serene, considerate loving-kindness, in its lively interest in all things pertaining to the kingdom of our Lord on earth, above all, in its secret, persistent self-discipline, its deep appreciation and painstaking use of the means of grace, its never-ceasing prayers and praises, in private, in the family, and in the house of God, is an unanswerable fact, a fact which meets the sin-loving and the sin-haunted, the worldly and the unbelieving in their hard, unlovely courses, like a message from the skies, a message more effective than any argument however cogent, to prove the truth of Christianity, being, after all, a practical living witness of the Resurrection which none of our adversaries can gainsay or resist.
Those who hear me will recall the example of such a life, in all our minds this morning, of one of the original founders of this Parish, for many years identified with its history and interests. The memory of God's saints is blessed, and it is my high honor and privilege to pay my personal tribute of reverence and affection here, on this Low Sunday, to our dear friend and benefactor, Dr. Shattuck. For multitudes called him their friend while he was with us, and he was to each and all their benefactor, by untiring acts of Christian courtesy and loving-kindness, of pleasant greeting and remembrance, by the efficacy of a godly, righteous, and sober life, as well as by countless deeds of mercy and beneficence, which flowed forth from him continually as the refreshing waters from an unfailing spring. It is not for me to relate the early history of the Parish of the Advent and Dr. Shattuck's intimate connection with the sainted Croswell and so many other honored names. There was a beautiful fellowship of good and true and devout men and women, who first gathered together in a simple, unadorned room, which might almost bring to mind the Upper Room in the Gospel History, who had the Apostolic ideal of worship and brotherhood before them, and did most faithfully and earnestly seek to carry out that ideal.
Nor will it be expected of me to enlarge on the wider relations which Dr. Shattuck sustained to this city and commonwealth, his large and provident interest and sympathy in the public charities and benevolent institutions and enterprises for the amelioration of the deprivation and distress, physical, moral, and social, which are continually with us wherever a great population is collected. The profession which he loved and adorned, the calling of him who was both physician and evangelist, put him in touch with that vast and multiplied service of hospitals, asylums, homes, and orphanages which are the real glory of Boston, and her civic diadem.
Only one who has lived here all his life as Dr. Shattuck did, and knows the work and scenes and people thoroughly by heart, has the right or the ability to enter upon this aspect of a life and character which had so many sides and such broad and human affiliations. And time would fail me if I undertook to narrate his active life as a churchman, the life of one who really believed in the Holy Catholic Church of Christ as a Divine Institution, "a supernatural Body separated off from the world, to live a supernatural Life, begun, continued, and ended in miracles," "to whom Baptismal Regeneration, and the Doctrine of the Real Presence were so vital, because they told of the reality of a Living Christ touching and giving life to His members." It was owing to the depth of this conviction that he was so alive to all the present and current interests of the Church, that he was identified for so many years with all that was best and wisest in her councils, both Diocesan and Ecumenical, and that the least duty committed to him in her service called forth his fullest sacrifice of time and strength and devotion. All of these varied and manifold offices and relations will assuredly be taken up, one and another, by the several societies and associations to which he belonged. It may be permitted to myself to speak more particularly of that side of Dr. Shattuck's work and character in which I knew him best, better certainly than any other,--I mean as the founder of S. Paul's School.
The school owes its existence to him. Many years ago he had planned a school for boys in the country, away from the influences and distractions of town life. To use his own words: "Physical and moral culture can best be carried on where boys live with, and are constantly under the supervision of the teachers, and in the country. Outdoor exercise is thus secured. Green fields and trees, streams and ponds, beautiful scenery, flowers and minerals, are educators. The things which are seen are very valuable, and may be used to teach of Him Who made them, and thus of the things unseen. Religious teaching and training," he continues, "for beings such as we are, is all-important. The things of this world are engrossing; but boys ought to be trained not only for this life, but so as to enter into and enjoy eternal and unseen realities. The life of this world is short and uncertain. To live well here, in the fear and love of God, and with love to our fellow-men, is not easy, and teachers and instructors, who have learned and practiced the arts of so living and passing through this world as not to lose the things eternal, are essential to the success of a boarding-school for boys."
The words in their simple wisdom, and what I may call their sweet homeliness, are characteristic of the man. They came from his heart. They embody the governing principle of his life. It was his deeply rooted conviction that there is "no basis for the Christian virtues except the Christian verities," and that "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." Thirty-eight years ago the plan was matured, the trustees were chosen, the corporation was organized, a charter was obtained from the State of New Hampshire; and on Monday of last week the school completed its thirty-seventh year of active operation, during which time it is right to say that the founder's plan has been its governing motive. Dr. Shattuck was an ideal founder. For the latter half of his life he was closely connected with the school. For nearly forty years we have had his unflagging interest and counsel, his frequent help and presence, and the untold benefit of his daily prayers. During these years my own intercourse and correspondence with him have formed a large and recognized portion of my life. Our hopes and objects, plans and methods, have been practically the same. Our mutual confidence and friendship has never been one moment clouded by misunderstanding, or divergence of opinion. The happy early memories of the place are all interwoven with his name. His character and the association connected with him must continue to be the school's best inheritance and really inestimable endowment.
We will not forget in our great loss that this is the Easter season, and the grave has lost its sting. "We sorrow not as men without hope." Our Lord has risen, and those we love still live in Him, and we believe that the precious seed of individual life, sown in corruption on a quiet slope of Mount Auburn, the day before Palm Sunday, shall be raised in incorruption, the natural body transformed into a spiritual body, and reunited to the undying soul which keeps its Easter this year with the unnumbered host of holy, happy souls in Paradise. [On the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25.] The life upon which we dwell in thought to-day, now passed forever from our earthly sight, was a strong, a purposeful, a happy one. The old Psalm of Moses speaks of the natural age of man as threescore years and ten, and "though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is their strength then but labor and sorrow, so soon passeth it away and we are gone." Our friend and brother had reached to fourscore years, but these were so bound, each to each, "by natural piety," that the transition to feebleness and decay of bodily powers was hardly perceptible because of his mental vigor and keen and living interest in all noble and good things. Many a time within these last years have the words in Ecclesiastes recurred to my mind after an hour in his company, "For God giveth to a man that is good in His sight, wisdom, and knowledge, and I have said that Dr. Shattuck's life was a strong one, by which I mean that there was nothing unreal or effeminate about him, none of that craving for bodily ease and self-indulgence, which seems so unnatural in the young, so despicable in full-grown men, and so pitiable in the old. He loved to speak of his plain and disciplined school-life at Northampton, where he and many others, who have taken a distinguished place in our American history and literature, lived roughly, not rudely (which is a widely different thing), endured hardness, tasted the sweets of mental and physical exertion, and "spurned delights and loved laborious days."
One contrasts, with a sense of pain, such a youth as his, so wholesome, so engaged in worthy interests, so alive to simple pleasures, so responsive to the beauties of earth and sea and sky, with the over-indulged, premature, cynical youth we sometimes meet, whose ideas of enjoyment are forced and artificial, a feeble caricaturing of the vices of later years. The love of nature in itself is purifying and healthful. It grew with Dr. Shattuck's growth and strengthened with his strength. To have the strength of genuine manhood, you must have manly training. The strength of boyhood's virtues must ripen and settle into those of manhood, if the man is to have the root in himself, and so become a help and a stay to others.
And Dr. Shattuck's strength of character was full of purpose, i. e., he took his powers of body and mind, which by gift of God were above those of average man, and by assiduous self-training and cultivation made efficient and available for noble use, and deliberately consecrated them to the service of his fellow-men as the natural outcome and expression of his willing service to God. He had by nature a rare sweetness and benevolence of temper, a large and generous heart; he had also inherited gifts of wealth and fortune. And these were laid resolutely, conscientiously, persistently at the feet of his Master. What he did for St. Paul's School was but a sample of his gifts and services everywhere. He was the physician, friend, and tender helper of the poor and needy and sorrowful, a true son of consolation, wherever he lighted upon them. No mission or other object connected with the Church and Kingdom of our Lord appealed to him in vain. When he might have taken his ease and lived in refined selfishness and pleasure-seeking, he chose a toilsome life--to spend and to be spent for others. So this truest gentleman gave himself up to the most blessed of all services, and no priest ever led a life more really consecrated to our Lord than did this faithful layman. "Christian" meant more to him than any other title. He was first and foremost and above all a follower of Christ.
Need I say, therefore, that his was a happy life, that he always gave one the impression of a bright cheerfulness? For "the blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon him; and he caused the widow's heart to sing for joy." Which of us that was honored with his friendship will forget his gentle playfulness, his enjoyment of kind-hearted mirth, his delightful fund of amusing anecdote, the utter absence of morbid self-consciousness and gloom in his speech and bearing?
"Such is the bliss of souls serene,
When they have sworn, and steadfast mean,
Counting the cost, in all to espy
Their God, in all themselves deny."
And now with this poor record and tribute from a sore and loving heart, I come back to the deep inner secret of this life, a life not beyond our power to imitate and pattern after, even though we are aware that our gifts and advantages, natural and social, fall far below his. How he disliked the words of praise, how he shrank from public mention and comment, how averse he was to insist on any personal claim; how, not in words alone but in his inmost heart, he laid all the fruits and honors of his life at the feet of Jesus Christ his Lord.
We do indeed honor our Lord in honoring His good and faithful servants. He gives to His chosen ones these gifts of grace and virtue. Abiding in Him they bring forth fruit. "Such honor have all His saints."
In honoring our dear friend and founder, then, we honor the Master Whose Risen Life he in his station reproduced, in Whom he sought to abide, upon Whom he waited daily in public and private prayer, at Whose Altar he habitually sought to have that Life renewed and strengthened. Such lives are the fruit of the Resurrection. Their peculiar sweetness and beauty are not of earthly growth. Their virtues and their works are not like earth's frail flowers which shine and glow and fade and pass away. They live because they share in the Life and Victory of the strong Son of God.
To use other and nobler words than mine: "Blessed are they who give the flower of their days, and their strength of soul and body to Him; blessed are they who in their youth turn to Him Who gave His Life for them, and would fain give it to them and implant it in them that they may live forever. Blessed are they who resolve,--come good, come evil, come sunshine, come tempest, come honor, come dishonor,--that He shall be their Lord and Master, their King and God. They will come to a perfect end, and to peace at the last." They will, with Jacob, confess Him, ere they die, as "the God that fed them all their life long unto that day, the Angel which redeemed them from all evil; "with Moses, that "as is their day, so their strength shall be;" and with David, that "in the valley of the shadow of death, they fear no evil, for He is with them, and that His rod and staff comfort them." For them will their prayer be answered:--
"Cast me not away in the time of age,
Forsake me not when my strength faileth me.
Even to my old age be Thou He,
And even to hoar hairs carry me."