For my brethren and companions' sakes I will wish thee prosperity.
Peace be within thy walls and plenteousness within thy palaces.--PSALMS, cxxii. 8, 7.
This is the song of an exile, and it is not surprising that it should be full of an exile's longing. The Jew looked back from his captivity, first to his chosen city, and then to its holy house. To him that stately sanctuary stood as the visible embodiment of all that was grandest in his religion and most dear to his affections. He loved Jerusalem, and most of all he loved the temple, with a passionate devotion which to our colder age seems almost unintelligible.
And yet it is not altogether wonderful that he did so. That ancient temple was at once the depository of his faith, the witness to his strange and romantic history, and the spell and motive of his devotion. Faith, and service, and fellowship, these were the principles which, underlying all his life, took their rise and maintained their strong and enduring influence in and through the temple.
The days of the temple are ended, and the narrow walls of Judaism are expanded into the wider fellowship of Jesus Christ. But here, to-day as of old, the temple, the sanctuary, has its central place, and exercises, or was meant to exercise, its threefold spell. "Take the Churches out of our modern society," some men tell us, "and all that is best in Christianity would still, in its substantial spirit and [3/4] influence, survive." It is as rational a statement as if some one should say, "Take the home and the family out of society and society would not return to barbarism;" or, "Take the temples of justice and the visible representatives of law and order out of the state and the state would not lapse into lawlessness and anarchy." Faulty and imperfect as any ecclesiastical organization, or fellowship, or the visible expression of its beliefs may be, no sooner have you taken the Church and the sanctuary out of human life, than you have by that very act reduced the moral and spiritual side of man's nature to virtual starvation. Man wants a faith, man wants a worship, and man wants a fellowship and service in and through which faith worketh by love.
I. Man wants, I say, a faith, and therefore he wants a Church to hold, to teach, and to bear witness of that faith. "Peace be within thy walls." But how can there be any peace in the soul unless the vagrant faith-faculty has found a resting-place? Some sort of resting-place it will insist upon having. New England, they tell us, has largely lost her hold upon the Christian religion, or the Christian religion has largely lost its hold upon her. Well, there were never so many spiritual mediums, and rappers, and modern necromancers in Boston as to-day. There were never more people, whether in Boston, New York, or anywhere else, who were ready to run after, and fall down before, any shallow and not always quite clean or decent Dagon that human folly and ignorance may set up. And so, as almost never before, the Church exists to witness for faith in God, and in His Divine Son, and in the mission of His Spirit, and in that Divine Society which is here to be the witness and [4/5] keeper of His truth. His Church is here, this Church is here, my brethren, to say to men, "There is a truth to be believed--here it is! In these creeds, in these prayers, in these hymns and anthems that faith is affirmed. The power of these things, creeds, and prayers, and hymns, whether you are conscious of it or no, lies in this: that they affirm certain facts, and that on these facts they rest the cry of need, the confession of sin, the anthem of praise. Take those facts out of them and worship becomes emotionalism, and hope and duty mere illusions. At the basis of every strong and manly life, there must be a truth believed and a truth affirmed."
II. And then man wants a worship. That feverish eagerness with which he rears his idols of clay and falls down to them--the worship of beauty, the worship of genius, the worship of strength--what is it all but the outcome of that instinctive homage of the heart which, by the very perverseness of its expression, implies often most unmistakably the existence somewhere of a worthy Object. And that Object it is the office of the Church of God, first, to proclaim and then to exalt. A Church without a worship--its teachers may be ever so learned and ever so eloquent, and yet it will most surely fail to edify or upbuild the people. There is such a thing as the majesty of God. Even nature proclaims it, and the soul bows down to it. And the most cold and insensible person has somewhere in him an impulse to tell out his homage to his Creator and his King. That homage it is the mission of the Church at once to utter and uplift. By august ceremonial, by strong and simple phrase, by stately and imposing temples, by offices of devotion [5/6] rich and solemn, it was ordained to awaken and quicken and express the soul's instinct of devotion.
III. And man wants still more than this--he wants a visible fellowship of loving service for his kind. Over against the selfish instinct in every human soul there is the unselfish instinct. Overlaid though it may be by sordid maxims, and a habit of self-seeking, and a worldly society, there is no heart of man or woman anywhere that does not own sometimes how much sweeter than its gains or advantages over another are its service and sacrifices for another, and how much happier is that life which spends and is spent for others than that other life which only grasps and hoards. And so the Church exists to speak to man of such a life--to hold up before his eyes the life of One who spent His days and gave Himself in such a service--to seek new channels, and open them, through which may run the never-ceasing stream of a Christian activity, taking on from time to time fresh forms, but drawing its power forever from the same divine Life and from the one incomparable Sacrifice.
Such is the mission of the Church of God to the heart and life of man. And since it is, how shall it best fulfil it? What is the Church which comes nearest to the New Testament ideal and pattern? It is, it must be, the Church in which provision for these needs not merely exists but abounds; it is, in other words, a Church in which provision for such needs is full and plenteous.
(a) Let me be more specific and precise. A Church which is the true palace of plenteousness must be a Church which, first of all, constantly affirms and definitely inculcates [6/7] the Faith. The Church Catholic in all the world rejoices to-day in its priceless heritage of a Christian year and the ancient Christian creeds. One after another in the stately procession of its feasts and fasts, it wheels into view the grand and central facts of the life and work of Christ. These facts it is the office of a Church within whose palaces plenteousness abounds, to declare and to illustrate. It will have its courses of teachings, and lectures, and sermons for Epiphany, and Lent, and Easter, and Advent. It will take the old creeds and translate them into the language, and into the life of common men. It will take the old religions and place them beside the religion of Christ and learn thus their excellencies and their defects. It will take the special temptations and needs of special classes and circumstances and go with them to the teaching and the cross of Christ. By Font, and Altar and Pulpit, it will point men to Christ, and as it does so, it will bid them think, and enquire, and reflect, and so best help them to believe. No Church can long hope to hold its influence over the reason and affections of men unless it speaks to that in them which reasons, and holds up to that in them which loves a worthy and commanding Object. There may be ever so much eloquence, erudition, pathos; but these things lose their power unless behind them there is a person to be believed and a law to be obeyed. In one word, a Church in whose palaces true plenteousness abounds must be a teaching Church, with something which is the truth to be taught.
(b) And then it must be a worshipping Church. There is a shallow criticism which cavils at outward forms and disowns the value in religion of things that are external and [7/8] visible. To be consistent, it would have love without a spoken word, and friendship without the pressure of the hand. It would have patriotism without its historic symbols and monuments, and the heroism of arms without the uniform of the soldier. Out of life it would (if it were still consistent) banish the ministry of art and the simplest graces of architecture. In a word, it would regard man as a disembodied spirit, and religion, in the midst of a material universe, as a thing without material expression. Against such folly a Church such as I have pictured will lift its protest in stately sanctuary, in costly beauty, in hymn, and litany, and anthem. It will say to men: He that made the ear, made He it not as a gateway for great influences to the soul? He that made the eye, made He it not for visions that shall lift men nearer to Himself? Shall we live in a world of sense all the week long, a world crowded full of cost and lavish splendor and often prodigal expenditure in men's homes, and only starve our senses when we strive to lift our thoughts to God? Shall we not in God's house seek to make a ladder out of beauty and cost, if only that we may climb up thus, and gain some faint glimpses of Him who is the King in His beauty? Shall we not, in a word, make the temple of our Master, and the palace of the Lord a place were the instinct of Worship shall find at once its strongest stimulus and its most fitting expression?
(c) But, once more. A Church in whose palaces true plenteousness abounds must be a working Church. Out of faith, out of worship, must come, if either of them are of any smallest value, service. To bid men love Christ and love their fellow men and then not show them how by showing [8/9] them how to do both in service to those who are His brethren, that would surely be the most dismal failure and incongruity of all. And so, a true Church will not only call men to serve Christ, but will point out and mark out channels in which to do it. It will account no interest of humanity remote from its interest and its sympathy. It will despair of no wretchedness. It will turn away from no fallen one. It will forget no need. By what it gives, and even more by what it does, it will strive to take its Christianity and translate it into the vernacular of common life and lowliest comprehension. It will provoke men to say, if at first they can say no more, "This creed I do not quite comprehend nor accept; this worship I do not quite incline to nor appreciate; but if this act of brotherly thoughtfulness and help; if this refuge for tired feet and tired brains; if this library or reading-room or recreation; if this care of strangers, the sick and the needy and out-cast; if this cheapened comfort put within my reach; if this refuge for little children, this school of ignorance, this thoughtful friendliness which follows poor men and women to their homes and strives to make them cleaner, and sweeter, and healthier--if this be Christianity, then I want to know more of it and to come closer to it."
Such, dear brethren, is the ideal, if I read the New Testament aright, of a Church in which true plenteousness abounds. First, Faith--faith in God, faith in His Son, faith in the ever-guiding and enlightening office of His Spirit--a faith that works by love, and so does not hate those who differ from it nor judge those of whom God alone is Judge, but which owning Him owns the majesty [9/10] and righteousness of His law and so shows its faith by its works.
And then Worship, which, believing that God is, holds that it needs to honor Him, and will not do so meanly.
And then Service--a service that counts no task too large, no class too alien, and no office too menial for love's strong and gentle hand to condescend to. These surely you will own, I think, are the true marks of that palace and sanctuary, that family and fellowship of the Most High in which true plenteousness abounds.
It is easy enough to undervalue these things, and there is much to tempt us to do so. There is abroad in the world, and never more actively than to-day, a spirit which belittles both faith and the Faith; which scoffs at creeds and scorns all doctrinal foundations, and floats indolently upon a sea of doubt. If you will stop to listen to them, there are plenty of people who will try and persuade you that there is nothing worthy of being believed, and that if there is, it is of very secondary consequence whether you believe it. And next to these will be those who would persuade you that though there may be something to be believed, there is no One who greatly cares to be worshipped. They will tell you that "the groves are God's temples"--though neither there nor any where else, so far as we can learn, do they ever say a prayer. They will tell you that all days are holy, and prove it by doing what they can to prevent even one day from being kept as holy. They will scorn the formalism of a ritual, but they will forget to worship without it.
And they will equally scorn self-sacrifice, which they [10/11] despise because they cannot understand it. They will preach to you of the survival of the fittest, and show you how Christian philanthropy and love and service for our fellows interfere with the operations of the laws of nature. Yes, all this and more men will say to you, in these days in which you and I are living, and say it with increasing and aggressive emphasis.
And to protest against all this, to bear witness against it, and witnessing and protesting thus, to bear its testimony for God and His Son and His Gospel, does the Church of God exist. "Peace be within thy walls and plenteousness within thy palaces." Such is the peace, the "peace of God which passeth all understanding," and such is the plenteousness--affluence in faith, affluence in worship, affluence in works--which, unless I have misunderstood that mission, it is the mission of the Church of God to illustrate.
And, looking back to-day over fifteen years and more, upon what the story of this parish and congregation has been, such a home of peace and plenteousness, I rejoice to remember, this Church has at least striven to be. May God keep it so, and more and more make it so through all the years that are to come! For these, my brethren, and for my companions' sake, brethren in the common faith and companions in common service, "I will wish thee prosperity. Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces!"
The foregoing words were followed, as those who heard them will remember, by a statement of the circumstances under which my own connection with Grace Church [11/12] was about to terminate, and that of my successor to begin; together with such information as to the arrangements during his temporary absence in search of health as it seemed necessary to make. With this I was obliged to content myself. Merely personal references are of doubtful taste in the pulpit, and if I had been willing to make them I should hardly have dared to trust myself to do so. The memories of a pastoral relation lasting for fifteen years are too many and too tender for public rehearsal, and those whom they chiefly concern would least of all expect that I should particularly refer to them.
But in closing this volume of service I cannot deny myself the privilege of adding to the foregoing sermon this less formal and more private message of love and farewell. Few ministers have had such cordial co-operation and affectionate confidence to remember, and I should be both insensible and ungrateful if I did not speak here of the help and inspiration which have come to me in so many ways in connection with the large and difficult work which we have striven together to do. Entering upon it with very limited experience and under considerable discouragements, I cannot but remind myself, as I look back over all the years that are gone how constantly I have been cheered and sustained by that ready and responsive interest in all my ministry, which has given me courage and hopefulness in the face of its greatest difficulties.
And, more than this. In a parish so large as Grace Church it must needs have been that there have been differences of opinion, whether as to its public teaching and ministrations, or the work of the parish and its methods. [12/13] But alike in the pulpit and out of it, I have found my people willing to give me a candid hearing and to trust me, even where they were not ready at once to follow me; while in their homes they have given me the best and highest privilege of knowing their joys and sorrows, and of speaking to them of the light and consolation which it is the office of the religion of Christ to bring to men. As I remember how freely I have been able to come to them and how often I have been privileged to share in their sorrows and perplexities and so help them to find their way to the Source of all forgiveness and consolation, I may not forget now that it has been largely because of that friendly welcome which I have thus found at their hands that I have been able to make the pulpit of Grace Church more directly and helpfully a messenger of faith and courage and hope to those to whom it has spoken.
I can ask no better thing for him who is to come after me than that he should be received with the same confidence in his purpose to serve those to whom he comes, and that they will give to him the same candid hearing and the same cordial and generous co-operation.
Our Church, as I am persuaded, has been a means to many of deepening the spiritual life and of fixing the hold of individual faith more securely upon a personal Christ. The need of the in-dwelling power of His life, of the renewal of the Holy Spirit, of the daily up-building of character, by the use of every means of grace which the Church has provided, and especially through the help and strength to be found in the blessed sacrament of His body and blood, the obligation to illustrate one's Christian faith by a Christian [13/14] life which shall keep itself unspotted from the world and which shall vindicate its Source by its love and service for others; all these, I rejoice to believe, are among the things that during these years of worship and service together we have come to know and believe.
I pray that this may be the history of Grace Church in all the years that are to come! As I turn my face to other tasks, I shall carry with me many of the most precious memories of my life, and whatever may be my work hereafter, the people among whom for these fifteen years I have gone in and out, their happiness and welfare, here and hereafter, must always have a foremost place in my thoughts and affections.
May God have them always in His holy keeping! May He bind together pastor and people more and more in the bond of mutual love and confidence; and may He give to Grace Church, which He has so largely honored in the past, still larger opportunities of usefulness to the souls to whom it ministers, and of blessing to mankind!