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Rt. Rev. Henry C. Potter, D. D.,




Pittsfield, Mass.:


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007


The sermon that follows was preached, as the title-page sets forth, at the Consecration of the new Trinity Church, Lenox.

The Church which this replaces was begun and completed in the year 1816. It remained without any material alteration till 1873, when it was repaired, and enlarged by the addition of a transept.
In the course of a few years it became apparent that in order to accommodate the Congregation a larger Church must be built.

Accordingly, the preliminary steps having been taken, the work was begun. The Corner-Stone was laid on the 8th of September, A. D. 1885, by the Rector assisted by the Rev. Arthur Lawrence of Stockbridge, the Rev. W. W. Newton of Pittsfield and Mr. Chester A. Arthur, ex-President of the United States, who spent the summer of that year in Lenox and was a regular worshipper in the Church.

The Consecration by the Rt. Rev. Bishop of Massachusetts took place on the 19th of June,--one of the loveliest days of this delightful season. It was attended by a large Congregation, from Lenox and the neighboring towns.

The service was deeply interesting and impressive. The musical portion was rendered by the Choir of the Church of the Advent Boston, led by Mr. S. B. Whitney.

Of the sermon, which follows, by the Rt. Rev. Bishop of New York, nothing more need be said here than that it was heard throughout with undivided attention and interest.

Many, certainly, of those whose privilege it was to be present on this occasion, might have expressed their feelings in the words of the Patriarch, "Surely the Lord is in this place: this is none other than the house of God: this is the gate of heaven."

J. F.
LENOX, July 9, 1888.


Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it a time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses and this house lie waste?

Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts consider your ways. * * * Go up * * and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it and * * * will be glorified, saith the Lord.

And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, * * * and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the House of the Lord of Hosts, their God.

Haggai i. 3, 4, 5, 8, 14.

So it was of old, and so it is to-day. I shall speak to you this morning of the reconstructive power of revealed Religion, and its relation to this occasion.

And, at the outset it may be well that I should remind you of that double process, which from the beginning of history has been going on in human society.

When we trace that history to its vanishing point we find that it disappears where there is no longer any trace of law and order and organized life. There was a time, doubtless, though there are only the most meagre records of it, when people roamed about without rule, without homes, without plan or purpose. The beginnings of history are where that condition of things began to cease. There was a patriarch, a chieftain, a law-giver, who conceived the idea of a state; who saw the might and the beauty of order, to whom was revealed the power and the peace of government. And such a man, in some far-off age, began to turn his vision into fact,--to rule, to set in array, to make symmetrical, in one word, to build society. No matter who he was-Moses, Alexander, Caesar, Peter the Great, William the Silent, Washington,--this is the large [3/4] idea that shines through all that he did and was. Civilization, in a word, is constructive, and that is the supreme distinction between it and barbarism. A great state, like a great family, has its periods of rise, of growth, of achievement, and of decline. But, in the one case as in the other, you may trace these periods by what they constructed. The domestic architecture of England or Italy is a history of great households that built themselves, their ambitions, their idiosyncrasies, their triumphs, into the homes in which they lived.

And so of states and of the Institutions which they create, or perpetuate. In these you may read the march of ideas, the evolution, noble or ignoble, of national tendencies,--the expression in one word, of national character. Doric simplicity,--Corinthian luxury; we take a column from a temple of the one era, or the other and it tells the whole story.

And this fact, which we may trace anywhere that men have lived and wrought and fought, we may trace, pre-eminently, in that story of the Hebrew people, from whose pages I take the text. In the beginning of its national and religious life there is no temple, no tabernacle, no tent,--nothing but an Arab Sheik with a vision of God, to whom there comes, one day the message "Fear not Abram, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward" and "I will make of thee a great nation and thine offspring shall be as the sand upon the sea shore."

And then there come the successive steps: the vision at Peniel, as we have read it this morning, with the gleaming ladder reaching from earth to heaven and angels going to and fro upon it; the tabernacle in the wilderness: the visible Shechinah: the Ark of the Covenant: the Temple of Solomon; and, rising side by side with these, a tribe, a group of tribes, a leadership of patriarchs, a ruler-ship of priests, a government of judges, a sovereignty of Kings. Social progress, structural progress; these are the two things that move forward hand in hand, and the story of the one is forever repeated to us in the characteristics of the other. Besides what Herodotus tells us, how little we know of Egypt! But we go there, and along the banks of the Nile in those tombs and palaces which the sands of ages have at once buried and preserved to us, we read the least and homeliest details of a nation's religion,--of a nation's daily life.

Such considerations prepare us for a line of reflection which, [4/5] I hope you will agree with me, is not inappropriate to this place and this occasion. We who are Americans may not disassociate ourselves from our remoter past; that past which runs back into distant centuries and distant lands. But neither may we forget that we have a distinct and distinctively national life and national history. And in the light of that history, the act for which we are gathered here, to-day, becomes, I venture to submit, profoundly impressive.

The ancestors of most of those to whom I speak this morning, came to these shores for a definite reason and with a tolerably distinct purpose. Out of an age of luxury, of wide-spread corruption, of ecclesiastical intolerance, they came forth to found in a new world, a new Commonwealth for God. They were, as a rule, without wealth, without social prestige, without force of arms or numbers. They had certain profound convictions and an intense though narrow piety. The ideas of toleration, of religious liberty, of true Catholicity, of temper which some of us fondly impute to them, they neither held nor dreamed of, and such ideas were as much in advance of their time as the developments of modern science.

But they had a profound conviction of God, and of the binding obligations of duty. And these began to find expression, just so soon as they began to build. They appear in their laws, harsh enough doubtless in many particulars, such as those relating to the observance of Sunday, and the convenient jest of our modern license, but shot through and through with the golden thread of a reverence for what they understood to be divine sanctions. They appear no less in their structures, wherein, whatever was the meagreness and bareness of their homes,--made so by their struggles and their poverty,--their sanctuaries were always somewhat less mean. The New England Meeting-house, standing usually as with you, upon some commanding hill, dominated the community in more ways than one. Thither the tribes were wont appropriately, even as the Psalmist sings, "to go up," and bare and austere as they were, there was always something of sober dignity,--a touch of richness and costliness, not usually to be found elsewhere. Much of the first mahogany that came to our part of the world went into the desks and handrails of New England pulpits, and the velvet hangings and fringes were, to many a youthful imagination, the only interpretation that it knew of the fringes and draperies of the Tabernacle and the Temple. Our fathers had not much of worldly substance to give, but they gave to God of their best.

[6] Well; the old era has come and gone. On what a new world the American of to-day looks out, when he contrasts its aspect with the past! I have seen a statement by Mr. Gladstone, that the increase of the world's wealth during the last 50 years is greater than the sum of all the accumulated and transmitted wealth at the beginning of the Christian era. And in no nation on earth has this increase been so rapid and so gigantic as in our own. It is needless to say that such a fact as this has revolutionized our national life. We have come, in art, in architecture, in manners, as a little while ago in the state, to the era of re-construction. Our cities, builded once, are being rebuilded. On every hand the old is giving place to the new. The narrow proportions, the meagre space, the simple decorations are all, disappearing before a movement of renewal which pulls down that it may build again, larger, statelier, costlier than our fathers ever dreamed of. Culture enlarges itself, the tasks widen their horizon, and all that ministers to these grows ampler, richer and more expensive.

I do not know that there is anything greatly to fault in this. A certain harmony between powers and environment is what we see in nature, and there is so much of really helpful education in the exercise of the constructive powers, that we may not deny them exercise.

But at this point there arises the question "What is their worthiest exercise?" Given wealth, knowledge, enlarged tastes, the genius of the designer, the trained skill of the builder, art, and opportunity, how may these be best employed? To be sure, even in a great warehouse there is a chance for such constructive skill as shall express solidity, adaptability, a certain dignified refinement, as though the building had said "Yes, I am in trade, but my tastes are not all mercenary, my aims are not merely utilitarian." A steamship may be so designed as to look like a hideous hulk, and again, it may be so drawn and modeled as to seem a very race-horse of the sea. A house may be planned with every convenience and so constructed as to hold within its walls every needed facility of eating, idling and sleeping, and yet be an uncouth and tasteless thing that disfigures the landscape and offends every eye that sees it. We have learned all this very thoroughly. Our domestic architecture in America is, whatever its frequent faults, and they are obvious enough, that which foreign critics most praise.

[7] But there our distinction ceases. Our Institutional architecture shows tokens, here and there, of marked improvement, and there are halls of science and learning in many places worthy of hearty admiration. But we have not, even here, done as yet our worthiest work, and when we come to those ideas which should have the noblest housing of all, the deficiency is at once the most general and the most conspicuous. For, the noblest idea of all I take it, Men and Brethren, is the DIVINE IDEA--that your life and mine is related to a Being above us from whom that life is derived; that this Being is at once Creator and Father; that He has revealed Himself in the person and work of His Son Jesus Christ; that He quickens man by His Holy Spirit, and that to Him who unites in Himself these powers and personalities, we owe our love and service, and our homage. This, as I understand it is Religion,--the religion whose disciples we are and by whose inspirations man is to be redeemed and transformed. This, if I understand, is the Force of all other Forces, pre-eminent and supreme, with the mightiest lifting power that has ever entered the world. We turn the pages of history, and see them scarred by warfare, treachery, and sin. We see the horrible tread and trend of evil, cursing, blackening and destroying. And over against this evil we see but one Force strong enough to face it, to subdue it, to banish it. I speak of the pages of history; there is one single book which, dismissing all others is enough for our purpose here. Take Mr. Lecky's History of Civilization, and read the story of Roman decadence and Christian reconstruction. Make every allowance that you please for the favoring force of circumstances, and yet here was a power, so new, so resistless, so triumphant, that, not to own its transcendent character is to trifle with facts and to disparage our own intelligence.

At any rate, we who are here are in no doubt what that power was, nor whence it was! We are in no doubt that to it we owe all that is best in our own lives, and brightest in the world's future. And as little are we in doubt, I venture to affirm, whatever may be the not-always-reverent persiflage of our lighter moments, that this power has not lost its capacity to lift men out of their meaner selves and to transform and ennoble the race. The earlier formulas in which especially our American forefathers were, many of them, wont to state their beliefs and transmit their sacred traditions are undoubtedly largely disesteemed if not absolutely disowned. The theology that [7/8] was taught by men who lived among these hills a hundred years ago is in many features of it an extinct species, whose peculiarities most people scan curiously, but disown unreservedly. To many amiable and devout minds there is in this fact doubtless, much that is disquieting and alarming, and as a consequence of it, there is unquestionably a good deal of rash and irreverent and unsettling speech and teaching. It is the law of reactions that it should be so. You can not re-construct without pulling down something, and rashness is as common in dealing with ancient theology as it is with ancient architecture. It requires almost more genius to restore a cathedral wisely, than to build it. But that, on the whole this process of theological reconstruction is going on among us wisely,--that religion is vindicating its possession of that capacity for re-construction of which I spoke at the outset,--of this I think no candid observer of the situation can be in any honest doubt. The awakening among us of what may be called the historic instinct in matters of religious form and worship, the conception of the Church as a Divine Institution and not a human society, the impatience of those needless and harmful divisions in Christendom which are the fruit of self-will and exaggerated individualism, the longing to recover out of the past whatever is true and beautiful and good, and to prize and venerate it for its associations as well as for itself; the disposition to own frankly that ages which we have been wont to despise, bore fruit for God and for humanity, and that we can afford to own and honor sainthood and service without embracing the errors with which they were disfigured,--all these signs are tokens of that reconstructive process in religion which is not indeed without its perils, but which God is ordering and overruling, I verily believe, for His own greater glory. When they built the beautiful All Saints' Church in Worcester not long ago, my Right Reverend brother, your Bishop, will remember that they wrought into the walls a stone which they had brought from Worcester Cathedral, and in the Cloister of Trinity Church in our Boston, (is it effrontery for a New Yorker to speak so of that fair and stately capital of your Commonwealth in which I think all Americans have a genuine pride?) there are, unless I am mistaken, stones which were once inwrought with the fabric of the old parish Church in the English Boston. Such incidents are symbolic and prophetic. How some of the Puritan fathers hated the Prayer-book! How multitudes of their children and their children's [8/9] children love it! How abhorrent to elder New England was what we mean by the Christian year,--Christmas-tide and Passion-tide, and Easter-tide and the rest! And to-day these holy Feasts and Fasts are cherished in Sanctuaries and homes all over this Commonwealth where the beauty and blessedness of the Church idea has come, and has come to stay. This is what I mean by the process of religious re-construction,--a larger vision, a more reverent retrospect, a more dispassionate and therefore a juster judgment, and therefore again, a more intelligent and a more hopeful Missionary activity.

And out of this has come to pass that while we know less than our fathers knew about the damnation of non-elect infants, we know more of the calling of the Church of God as a Divine Society in the world, sent here to grapple with its miseries, to uplift its fallen ones and to conquer its sin. This is the new note of hopefulness, which, unless I mistake its strain, rings through all our Christian work and life to-day. We are not dealing with out-worn superstitions; we are not clinging to exploded fables. We are feeling anew the thrill of that fresh paliggenesia, that quickening stir of the Spirit which as it comes once, and again and again, in the history of the race proclaims "Behold I make all old things new."

And this brings us to that visible result with which we are concerned to-day, in its relations to that national deficiency to which I have already referred. I have endeavored to indicate how the social progress of a great people has written itself in the buildings for domestic shelter, for traffic, for science and for art, which it has reared, and is rearing on everyhand. It is a cloud upon the escutcheon of our American fair-fame, that hardly anywhere, or at all adequately, have they as yet been matched by buildings for the highest uses of all. There has been, there is, a process and progress of Religious reconstruction among us, but structurally, (in more ways than one!) it has as yet by no means found adequate or worthy expressions. Here and there, there are one or two buildings (and it is your honorable distinction that two of them are in New England) that ARE distinctly adequate for a great use, and worthy at any rate, in some degree, of a great people. But as a rule, in our great cities and out of them, our ecclesiastical architecture lags a long way behind our civic, our social, our domestic.

Men and brethren, the peril of such a fact is greater than we [9/10] are wont to recognize. You can not treat a great personality, or a great idea, meanly, without, sooner or later, coming to that condition of mind where your thinking is as mean as your behaviour. And that means, ultimately, the death of reverence, the death of Faith, the death of Religion. If our homes, our places of amusement, our Exchanges and our Insurance Offices are made, as they are coming to be, so widely in this country, stately and magnificent, and all the while the house of God is left to be mean, and cheap and shabby,--be sure that our children will understand perfectly well what we think about the whole business! "God is a Spirit and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." Yes, most surely; but, for the present, you and I are in the flesh; and unless we are prepared to maintain that, when Christ himself instituted that highest act of Christian worship in which we are soon to unite, saying, "Take and eat:" "Do this in remembrance of me," He did not mean that our love and faith and homage should have visible, symbolic, material expression--and if visible expression--then fit and appropriate expression,--then the best and stateliest that we have, we must give to Him!

And so I bless God that I am permitted to come here to-day, and see in this impressive structure such substantial tokens, not of the death of religion but of its life. Since I first came to Lenox, a stripling in the ministry, from across the border yonder of what was then still a part of the diocese of New York, (now Albany,) the whole aspect of things here has changed. Your honored Rector had just come here, and only a handful of people sought among these hills for the health and refreshment which they have since brought to so many tired and overtaxed dwellers in our great cities. But since then, there has come to be a new Lenox, and, none too soon, I think you will own has there come to be a new and worthier Trinity Church. I venture to think, dear brethren, that you who have built it will not sleep less peacefully under your own roofs because, now, you have seen to it that the House of the Lord doth not lie waste! I congratulate you, my dear and right reverend father, as Bishop of the Diocese, and You my reverend brother, the Rector of this parish, upon a result so substantial and gratifying. The faithful ministry which has gone in and out among this people for more than a quarter of a century, finds its fitting recognition in what those, mainly, who are strangers and not home-born, have done [10/11] for this parish. Many of them are my own people--children of the Diocese of New York, and for a time more than one of them bound by a still closer tie, and others not of our own communion--nor all of them dwellers in the great city which some of us call our home, have left on these walls and in these windows, "richly dight," the costly evidences of their generous and large-hearted interest in this Church. It is a happy ordering that it should be so. "I believe," we have said together this morning, "in the Communion of Saints." I look for the Resurrection of the dead and the Life of the world to come; and this chancel, yonder tower, and all that cost and toil have wrought and expended here proclaim that faith! God be praised for the integrity of purpose which has planned and labored here, and which has builded honestly and solidly, as the old Cathedrals--not alone where the eye of man can see, but where alone the eye of God sees. God be praised for the love and gratitude that have wrought themselves into all that, in whatsoever way, has gone to make this Holy and beautiful house more fair and meet. Said one who, not long ago reared in this beautiful valley of the Housatonic another costly sanctuary, speaking to a friend of his the other day, "nothing that I have ever done gave me so much pleasure as that!" I can well believe it! It is a great honor and privilege to build, not for man, but for God.

That privilege has been given to you, dear friends. May God make it the portal of many others. "This," cried Jacob at Peniel, "is none other than the gate of heaven." May many a tired heart and burdened soul that kneels within these walls find it to be so, here! And out from these walls may there go forth a saintlier manhood and womanhood, strengthened and upbuilded here, to bless the wastes that lie about us, to preach Christ by loving sacrifice and service for their fellow-men, and so to bring more near the day of His eternal triumph.

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