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


"I myself have seen the ungodly in power, and flourishing like a green bay tree.
I went by, and lo! he was gone: I sought him, but his place could no more be found.
Mark the perfect man and behold the upright. For the end of that man is peace."
PSALM xxxvii. 36-38.

IF there were no other evidence that the Bible came from God, we might find it in that inspired insight with which it binds together the two worlds of matter and of mind--the realm of nature and the realm of man. "I have seen the wicked in power," says David, "and flourishing like a green bay tree;" and we have in the words a perfect image of something of apparent vitality, strong, lusty and obtrusive, but essentially [3/4] short-lived and evanescent. For, though we may not be certain just what the writer means here by a "bay tree," it is plain enough that he has in mind some one of those hasty-growing shrubs in which the east is so rich, which shoot from their seed in a night, and which assert an apparent vitality that is seemingly invincible. We all know them, here in the west. Though they may not bear the same names, there are, in every forest and garden, these quick-growing plants that swiftly overshadow their humbler neighbors, and which assert themselves by a kind of domineering and extinguishing pre-eminence. And we know, too, that these are the growths that have no staying power. The frost nips them. The sun scorches them. The wind uproots them; and then the gardener gathers them [4/5] up and throws them over the wall. "We go by, and lo! they are gone. We seek them, but their places can no more be found!"

Is there anything that answers more precisely to this than, e. g., that intellectual quickness, in which our time is so rich, and which seems to achieve so much? Was there ever in all the world such nimble-wittedness as makes itself heard by a thousand voices and pens to-day? What a gift our modern literature reveals of quick growth and large and self-asserting expansion! How it plants itself in all the paths of thought and hurls its keen shafts of criticism at all things sacred and secular! Here is some one whom yesterday nobody had ever heard of. To-day he is dictating "leaders," indicting a creed, expounding a [5/6] philosophy, or inaugurating a school of reform. Stop a moment, and think of the teachers of science, of art, of theology (or of something that they called theology), who have come and gone since you and I were children! Where are Combe and Fourier, and St. Simon and Auguste Compte, in France, and Schleiermacher in Germany, and the Apostles of Brook Farm in our America? Where are they? Where are the systems that they propounded, the seeds that they sowed, the trees whose leaves they were so sure were for the healing of the nations? The question is easily answered. In every library there is a rubbish shelf. Climb up to it, if you will, and read the titles of the books that you will find there, and ask yourself if by any chance anybody will ever read them again, except [6/7] as curiosities of literature or encyclopaedias of human folly. They grew, they spread, they challenged men's wonder and admiration. And then, in a night, their power was gone, their leaf withered, and out of the places that knew them they have vanished for ever.

But the Psalmist reminds us that that world which, in contradistinction to the world of matter we call the world of mind, or of man, includes not only an intellectual but a moral element. Men are not only clever or stupid, they are good or bad. And it is not of the clever people that he is chiefly speaking here, but of the wicked people. "I have seen the wicked flourishing like a green bay tree." And who of us has not seen that, too? The prosperity of people who do not deserve to be prosperous [7/8]--is there any commoner spectacle, or as it seems to most of us, more perplexing than that? Indeed, there are plenty of persons who are daily saying, in substance, "do not tell me that God is a good God and that He is on the side of Righteousness. Do not tell me that there is a God at all! I know better! A Being who was great enough to rule the world, and who was on the side of virtue, would not suffer virtue to walk and vice to ride. If He ever looks down on the world that you say He has made, He sees selfish power lifting itself into the high places, and honest poverty ground into the dust under its chariot-wheels. He sees an ignoble nature drawing to itself all the juices of that associated life in the midst of which it lives, and enriching itself at the cost of virtuous and [8/9] defenceless weakness. And He suffers it to be so. He never interferes to hinder it!"

Stop, I beseech you, right there, my brother, and ask yourself whether that is true? On the contrary, is it not true that just as certainly as there are physical tornadoes in which the bay-tree and its kind are torn up by the roots and blown away into everlasting oblivion and nothingness, so there are moral tornadoes, irregular and long-delayed it may be, but coming in the history of every nation, every community, every man, when the thing that is not rooted in righteousness comes in its turn to be swept from what seemed to be its strong foundations, and made to vanish as though it had not been? Verily, I think if we have never been able to own that before, we might have the candor to [9/10] own it this morning. No people ever had more wholesome illustration of the existence of moral forces in society than we have had in this very land and commonwealth of ours. Whatever else is uncertain, this is certain that no bad thing, no matter out of what noble traditions and policies it may seem to have grown, has any power of survival, when once it has been false to these great moral ideas which were originally its strength and glory.

And this, which is true of policies, is supremely true of men. Does any one say that wickedness is stronger than goodness, and that the thing that succeeds is the thing that has the elements of success in it--popularity, social following, wealth, force of will, cleverness,--everything or anything that goes to make success--then I ask him [10/11] simply to sit down for a little, and imitate the example of the writer of this Psalm. He was an old man. He tells us so, himself, in an earlier verse when he writes, "I have been young and now am old;" and he is not delivering his opinion from the oracular standpoint of the man of twenty-five or thirty, who, having seen his first ideals shattered, is settling down to the cynical faith that society is a fellowship of liars, and that the prosperous man is the man who is the shrewdest and the strongest and the most hard-hearted. No! He has lived through that earlier period of distrust of goodness--it was the period in which, as he tells us, he said in his haste, all men are "liars;" and he has come to that loftier table land which is reached with a ripe old age, and from which he can look back on a [11/12] life-long and thoughtful experience. And from this standpoint it is that he says "I have seen the ungodly in great power, and flourishing like a green bay tree. But I went by, and lo! he was gone. I sought him, but his place was no where to be found!"

To you, O sons of men, I call this morning. Answer me out of your own mature experience, is David right or wrong? You have lived, let us say in this community, or some other. It is no matter. You have seen the rise from obscure beginnings of many men who have come at length to be in great power. Some of them were men about whom you could not speak certainly; but of some of them you could. There was no doubt about their aims, or motives, or character. They were [12/13] wicked men. What has become of them?

On the other hand, says David, "Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace." Hold fast here to the image with which the writer begins. It is an image borrowed from the growth of a tree. There are things that grow superficially, and then there are trees that have roots; and there are men who are just like such trees. David calls them perfect men, not because they were without a flaw--there are flaws enough in the bark of an oak if you will look for them--but because they live their life after the law of a perfect ideal. An oak is the noblest thing of its kind, and that which strikes us in it is that in root and trunk and branch it is so intrinsically grand [13/14] and steadfast. Men have worshipped it as a symbol of strength, and they might have worshipped it as a symbol of perfection. It is built on a great scale, and it lives in obedience to a high ideal, or as we prefer to say in nature, of a great law.

And there are men who are like oaks. Faults they may have--for they are human--but they are dominated by a Perfect Ideal. His life rules theirs. It is that in which theirs is rooted, and by virtue of it they endure. "Mark the perfect man"--the man who believes in a perfect law and a perfect Friend and Saviour, and who aims to be like Him, and in him you will behold the upright--something that stands erect, that has columnar qualities, and that has not only leaves but roots. Such men do not disappear. They die, but their virtues live. [14/15] And when they die the curtain falls upon a serene and peaceful hope, the pupil passing out of the school-room into the Head Master's house, the ripe scholar in the university of human discipline taking at last his good degree.

It is of such an one that I would fain speak this morning and so re-assure your faith and my own in the face of a great and irreparable loss which within the past few months has come to this church. By virtue of his office as Senior Warden of this parish, Mr. Adam Norrie was known to almost every one in this congregation; which, when he passed away last June, must have read with something of surprise of the great age to which he had attained. His presence was so fresh and vital, his step was so quick and elastic, the light that [15/16] played in his eyes had so much sometimes that was almost boyish in its vivacity, that few persons would have suspected that when Mr. Norrie left us he was nearly ninety years of age. For myself, I lived to see in these physical tokens the triumph of that inward law of renewal, which gives to a Christian old age a perennial freshness, and which tells of a peace of mind and a manly simplicity of faith that blossom out thus with the tokens of a life that is immortal. Mr. Norrie never grew old, and so when he passed away there were some of us to whom his departure seemed something to which we could not soon or easily become accustomed.

It belongs to us to-day to remind ourselves, in view of that departure, of the positive witness which is to be found in [16/17] such a life as his to the words of this thirty-seventh Psalm. It is due to him, to his place in this community, to his services to this church, that we should recall the story of his career and give expression to our loving admiration of his personal character.

Mr. Norrie was of Scottish birth and descent. He was born in the year 1796, in Montrose, Scotland, and he never forgot it. He went in early life to Gottenberg, Sweden, and nine years later he came to New York. But he never grew cold to the land or the city of his birth, and with a punctual regularity which was his conspicuous characteristic, made the poor of his native city the annual recipients of his thoughtful bounty. It shows in what estimate he was held by the people of his birth-place, that he received at their hands the gift of the freedom [17/18] of the city, a dignity reserved in its annals for men of no lower rank than Richard Cobden.

Of Mr. Norrie's career as a merchant in New York I would that I might speak at length. It was not one wholly without reverses, though it was one of substantial and permanent success. But the aspect of it which may chiefly interest us here, is that which reveals to us the progress of a Christian merchant, shrewd, prudent, diligent in his daily business; but, better than all this, dominated, from first to last by lofty and resolute principles. Mr. Norrie came speedily to be known in New York after he had removed here, and won quickly an honorable and eminent position among New York merchants. But from the beginning to the end it was simply true of him that [18/19] no one ever came to know him, without feeling that the man was a great deal more than his belongings, and that his personal character was one of exceptional purity and nobleness.

Such a man had great opportunities for usefulness, and he did not neglect them. Thirty years ago there was living in this city a clergyman whose name will never be forgotten in this community, and who had the rare gift of drawing to himself the sympathy and co-operation of earnest Christian laymen. Dr. Muhlenberg would have left his mark upon the Church, under any circumstances, but he would never have been able to build St. Luke's Hospital and found St. Johnland, if he had not been able also to draw to his side such men as Robert B. Minturn, and John David Wolfe, and [19/20] Adam Norrie. Mr. Norrie became the Treasurer of St. Luke's Hospital from the outset, and his absolute identification with its work continued from that hour until his death. Between himself and Dr. Muhlenberg there grew up a most tender and intimate friendship, and a friend, to whose graceful pen I am indebted for many of the data of his life, records how Dr. Muhlenberg was wont to speak of Mr. Norrie's rare qualities of head and heart, often summing up the whole with the words, "And such a gentleman!" It was one of those finer touches of which Dr. Muhlenberg alone was capable; and it recalls that rare union of courtesy with dignity, of gentleness, and often playful kindness, with uprightness which make Christian manners the exponent of the Christian man.

[21] It was owing to Mr. Norrie's association with Dr. Muhlenberg in the work of St. Luke's Hospital that he came, later, to share with him the large responsibilities of the beautiful charity known as St. Johnland. An experiment which to many minds seemed wildly visionary, was made through the munificent co-operation of those personal friends of Dr. Muhlenberg, to whom I have just referred, and their immediate kindred, a substantial success. But when Dr. Muhlenberg was taken away from the head of St. Johnland, it is not easy to see how it could have continued its work, if it had been deprived of the wise counsel and unwearied personal interest of Mr. Norrie. He was the calm adviser in all perplexities; the gentle healer in all dissensions; the sympathizing friend in all [21/22] discouragements. When one of the sisters who, had charge of the work at St. Johnland, was robbed in the cars of a sum of money, she received it back again a few days later, enclosed in an envelope, addressed in a disguised hand, and containing a note with these words: "If he had known who you were when he picked your pocket, he would not have been guilty of so sacrilegious an act, and he now desires to make restitution." That was, I imagine, the only anonymous letter that Mr. Norrie ever wrote!

But all the while that he lived among us he was making a permanent record, a record of good deeds, and of blameless and upright living. He was for more than fifty years a communicant of this Church, and from first to last adorned his Christian profession [22/23] by a consistent and exemplary walk and conversation. He had a clear, simple and masculine Christian faith, which, in the substance of it, was worthy of his Scottish training and ancestry. The fogs into which mere speculatists find their way, he knew nothing of. God was a present reality to him as a righteous Governor and a loving father, and, in those sorrows which came to him, he knew what it was to lean, in a faith at once manly and childlike, on the arm of that Elder Brother, whose cross was to him a message first, of forgiveness, and then of strength and of hope!

And so we remember him to-day, the warm heart, the kindly hand, the upright and honorable man of business, the trusted counsellor, and, best of all, the loyal Christian disciple. This community will miss [23/24] him at many a Board and in the wise conduct of many a corporation with which he was identified. His church will miss him from his post of senior warden, in which he was the worthy successor of Wolfe, and Barclay, and Bradish, and others who have passed on to their reward. The home and kindred to whom he was so much will miss him most of all. But to us and to them it belongs to remember that nothing that is really essential in such a man has perished. The peaceful departure of such a presence is not death but advancement. We know that it survives under conditions of enlarged and ennobled activity. And meantime its influence endures, a living and helpful power, and will endure. How many men there were whom Mr. Norrie saw as they came--and went. What fortunes and what [24/25] reputations were made and lost during his long life in this community. It does not need to be very old to recall some of them--their brilliant promise, their swift rise, and seemingly splendid successes, and then the end--tragic sometimes but always significant and inevitable. Over against such histories there stands such a life as his whom we recall to-day. What a message in it for young men in New York, what a message in it for all of us who are tempted to mistake short-lived success for enduring growth, and sudden prosperity for the priceless treasure of an unstained personal character! In the presence of such a character we learn what it is that lasts, and remembering in what faith and prayer it was nurtured we see how heaven's law, that runs through earth and air and sky, is [25/26] one and is eternal. The life that lasts is the life that has roots. The character that lives and grows is a character imbedded in righteousness. Great fortunes may crumble into ruins. Human cleverness may be beaten with its own weapons. The triumphs of to-day may herald the dishonor of to-morrow. But God is from everlasting to everlasting. His righteousness endures, and the man who has planted himself on Him shall not be moved. The winds may blow, but he can calmly face them. The floods may arise, but he can defy the floods. For his feet are planted upon the Rock, and that Rock is the Rock of Ages. Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, for the end, nay the beginning and the middle and the end alike with him, are peace.


At a meeting of the vestry of Grace Church, New York, held pursuant to notice on Friday, June 16th, 1882, the following was unanimously adopted and ordered to be entered on the minutes of the corporation:

The vestry of Grace Church, New York, assembled to take action in regard to the death of the senior warden, Adam Norrie, Esq., unite in placing upon record this minute :

In the departure of Mr. Norrie, the corporation of Grace Church loses its most venerable member, and one whose personal services made him no less venerated than beloved. Connected with Grace Church for a period of twenty-one years as a member of its vestry, Mr. Norrie illustrated during all that time an unwearied and painstaking interest in its welfare. Though engrossed for most of his life in active business, and by the claims of philanthropic enterprises to which he gave his means, his time, and his counsels, he nevertheless found leisure to attend carefully and vigilantly to the interest of this corporation. As he grew old in years, he grew neither narrow nor obstructive, but sympathized cordially in every effort to widen the influence and extend the usefulness of [27/28] the parish with which he was identified. For these services, and for his generous sympathy with all its work, his associates here desire to express their grateful appreciation. For his example as a Christian gentleman, they owe devout thanks to Almighty God, to the influence of whose gracious Spirit all that was best and most engaging in him was supremely due. To a clear and masculine faith, he added a simple and unaffected walk and conversation. Clear in his intuitions, unswerving in his principles, and from youth to old age of pure and spotless life, he exemplified the loftiest type of personal and commercial integrity, and he leaves behind him the best and most priceless heritage of a godly example and an unblemished life. To his children and to the large circle of friends by whom his greeting will be remembered as a benediction, the vestry of Grace Church offers its heartfelt sympathy: and it thanks God that it is its privilege that one of such exceptional characteristics was permitted for so long a time to be its associate.

Resolved, That a copy of the foregoing be furnished to the family of the late Mr. Norrie, and be inserted in the Churchman.

Grace Church, New York.

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