Project Canterbury

A Sermon




Rt. Rev. Henry Codman Potter, D.D.





April 22nd, 1902

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.

St. John xx, 21-22.

ST. LUKE'S account of this incident discloses the fact that the eleven disciples were at supper, and that others of the little Christian fellowship were with them. It must have been a moment of supreme perplexity, and that for a reason that does not lie, at first, upon the surface. Jesus was risen, some said, Mary and the rest. But, was He risen, and if He was, what then? Plainly, something tremendous had happened; and, no less plainly, if it had, their relation to their Leader was somehow immeasurably altered. What were they to do? How were they to work? Who was henceforth to lead them? And then He comes suddenly, mysteriously, silently, but with all the old and infinite tenderness and thoughtfulness for them. "He stood in the midst of them," [3/4] and straightway calms and steadies them. "Peace be unto you." He shows them His hands and His side, and then, when terror and perplexity have suddenly been transfigured into ecstasy, with equal tenderness and wisdom He calms the ecstasy; and then He gives them their commission. It is with one particular note of it that I desire to concern myself, this morning. Jesus does not merely say, "Steady yourselves, My children: be calm, and take up your great task. The world waits for your message. The time at last is ripe, the hour has struck; the nations are expectant. To a waiting world I send you!" All that, in one way or another, by parable, miracle and prediction, He had already said. But now there is something more. It is not merely "Go, I am sending you." Now it is, As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you."

It is impossible, here, to ignore the force of that tremendous "even so." If I am reminded, at this point, that such [4/5] force and significance as it might otherwise carry are qualified by the fact that the two terms in the Greek that stand for the words "sent" and "send" are not the same, I would make haste to say that I do not forget it. Jesus says, "As My Father hath sent Me"--apestalken me; and then not apostellw umaV, but pempw umaV. But is not this simply to recognize the fact that apostellw, from which 'apostle' and 'apostolate' are derived, refers to a mission with a definite commission, or rather for a definite purpose," as Edersheim has so clearly shown, "while pempw is sending in a general sense"? [The Life and Times of Jesus, Vol. II, p. 614.] And above all must we not remember that both are elsewhere used, and used alike, of Christ and the disciples? And therefore this mere verbal difference cannot destroy what I have called the tremendous significance here of the form of Christ's words. To a handful of men who have as yet grasped but dimly their relation to himself, and even less [5/6] clearly the work to which they are called, Jesus here announces its oneness with His own. That work of His, He bids them understand, is so far as yet from being accomplished that it is only just begun. He speaks of "His mission," as the late great Bishop of Durham has with such rare learning and exquisite insight pointed out, "as present, not past; as continuing, not as concluded. [Westcott, The Revelation of the Risen Lord, pp. 84-85.] He says: 'As My Father hath sent Me,' and not merely 'As My Father sent Me.' He declares, that is, that His work is not over, though the manner in which it is done is changed. Henceforth He is and He acts in those whom He has chosen. They are in Him sharing the fullness of His power; He is in them sharing in the burden of their labors."'

And then the highest significance of this incomparable truth is at once illustrated and emphasized by the act with [6/7] which its enunciation is accompanied. "And when He had said this He breathed on them and said, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost.'"

It is thus, men and brethren, that matchless words and matchless act reach down among the foundations. And to recognize what foundations they are which they touch, let us leave, for a moment, that ecclesiastical realm with which, naturally enough, our thoughts at this time may appropriately be occupied, and step forth for a little to that wider realm which is outside of it. If you were asked to designate or, to be more specific, by a single phrase to describe the conspicuous characteristic of our modern life, how would you describe it? I think there will be little difference of opinion if I say that the answer to such a question would be, "By the note of organization." Other ages and other civilizations have had their distinctive characteristic--monadic, pastoral, war-like, artistic, or what not; but it has [7/8] remained for these times and for modern thought and energy to express themselves mainly and most distinctively by forces and mechanisms that are organized. Just as machinery has, in such countless instances, taken the place of hand-labor, and just as the man behind the machine has in so many other instances been reduced step by step below the grade of a sentient creature, to be often little more than a mere cog in the great and multiform mechanism of the world, so it is coming to be, more and more, with all that which, on the higher planes of being and action, stands substantially for machinery. We are narrowing all the time, e. g., the range of professional training and experience; and as the old family doctor has almost entirely disappeared under those conditions of the modern hospital, which more and more classify human ailments and mechanicalize the methods by which they are dealt with, so is it all the way along, until we come to the modern church [8/9] and its machinery, and the modern ministry of whatever order, and those auxiliaries which in so many forms are supposed to be indispensable to it.

Well; let us own, frankly, that in one sense they are. The complexity of modern life cannot arrest itself, arbitrarily, at some purely arbitrary point, and insist that it will go no further. If the Church is to exist at all, it must exist as a real and visible mechanism; and not as a mere ghost in the world. No profounder philosophy was ever uttered than that homely aphorism which long ago declared that "we must not let the devil have all the good tunes;" and what at the bottom does it mean but that Christ and His Kingdom are here in the world to claim all honest and innocent things by a divine touch, and then to consecrate them to a divine use? That splendid argument of the great Apostle, in the first Epistle to the Corinthians concerning meats, and drinks, and holy days, and the rest, to [9/10] which so long the world, and especially (forgive me, brethren, that I must say it here), Puritan New England, has been blind, for what does it stand but this--that the office of Religion in the world is to redeem and disenthrall,--not alone man, but the things which man, by misuse and a blind superstition, has perverted and degraded? And so, do I look at an army with its cavalry, infantry and artillery and the rest, and say, "How splendid and how potent that is!"--do I look at a factory, with its myriad wheels and marvelous precision of production and say, "How superb and creative that is!"--do I watch the giant progress of that larger mechanism that covers a continent with iron rails and sends its never-resting trains flying hither and thither, with the swift and untiring precision of the weaver's shuttle, and cry out, How magnificent and all-inclusive that is,--so must society be organized and correlated,--nay, so must the forces of the Church of God be marshaled and [10/11] mutually adjusted for their most august tasks."--Such a cry is wise and timely. Nothing is more ghastly in some aspects of it, than the enormous waste of religious force in our generation simply because, for reasons and from motives which I shall not venture, here, to characterize, the children of light elect to furnish a daily demonstration, in this connection, of the words of Jesus that wiser than they are the children of this world.

We have seen, it is true, in the present generation a wide and significant though tardy recognition of this fact. Not often has any younger clergyman to whom I am speaking this morning shown an older one, for instance, a modern parish-house, without being told by the latter that, in his day, the ministry had to do its work without any helps and mechanisms of that sort; nor has the elder always refrained from the modest intimation that they did not always do it so badly, either. For one, I am sure they did not; but [11/12] neither you nor I can doubt that, with modern methods and mechanisms, they might have done it better. It is idle to deny, however much we may be fond of saying "the old is better," that, in towns and villages all over the land, the Church is touching more lives, and touching them in more quickening and ennobling ways, than in this land she has ever done before. A divine of my acquaintance, referring to the institutional work, in a great city, of a parish very unlike his own (which, outside of maintaining its own services, was doing no work at all), remarked loftily that that was not doing the work of the Catholic Church, but pure humanitarianism," which prompted some one coarsely but conclusively to reply that "as it was the kind of work that Jesus did, apparently Jesus, who was supposed to be the Founder of the Catholic Church, didn't know His own business!" Plainly, it must be owned that the modern Institutional Church, as it has been called, [12/13] in reaching out to man through many avenues of contact, and, in recognizing the whole man as divine in his origin and therefore a redeemable quantity, has been doing high and wise work.

But, no less plainly, it is work of a kind the value of which may easily be exaggerated. Even if it were not true that in such work there is a constant tendency to worship the net and the drag--to say, "Look on those great buildings which we have builded--these libraries, and reading-rooms, and club-rooms, and the rest; "--there is, at any rate, as I fear it must be owned, a tendency to regard the work that is done in and through these various mechanisms as making up the larger part of the work of the Christian ministry; and certainly there is much food for grave thought in the fact that, coincidently with that remarkable growth in institutional work in the modern Church of which I have spoken, it is not claimed, I believe, that there has been any [13/14] corresponding growth, or, indeed, any growth at all, in the vigor, grasp, or sovereignty of the pulpit; nay, rather, that in many minds the decay of this latter has been supposed to be somehow atoned for by the development of the former.

The question is too large for discussion here, and I have raised it only because it is closely cognate to that other and, in connection with the service of this day, more imminent question, "What is the true office and calling of the Episcopate?" To that question there is one usual answer, as to the force and pertinency of which, I freely own, there is no question.

"A bishop," it is said, must be a man of administrative aptitudes; by which, I suppose, is meant a man who has had various training in the smaller diocese (dioikhsiV, housekeeping) of a parish; who has learned how to rule; how to be just; how to be patient; how to hear both sides; how to efface himself; how to forecast, and largely and wisely plan; and all [14/15] the rest which is indispensable to good government anywhere, whether it is in a nursery or on a throne. A bishop, too, we are told, must be a leader, whether as a missionary in waste places, or a founder and builder of schools, hospitals, and the rest, in great centres. And a bishop, it is still further said, must be a man of affairs, and have his place and hold his place in the larger life of that world which is outside of parish boundaries or Episcopal routine."

Yes, undoubtedly, all this is true enough, and truth which on such occasion we may wisely remember. And as a consequence of its wider and more cordial recognition, it is undoubtedly true, also, that the modern bishop is a very different personage from his predecessors. Time was, as it has been said, that "if a bishop in England had ridden in an omnibus it would have been regarded as a gross indecorum, if not an indecency; and the time might come," it has been added, "when if he [15/16] rode in anything else it would almost create a public scandal." Exaggerated as is the sarcasm, it is the shell of a revolution of sentiment of which we must all be conscious in both hemispheres. The modern ministry, whether of the Episcopate or any other order, is expected to be a rather handy, quite informal, and almost altogether secular mechanism which we may put to almost any task with equal fit ness, and from which, in all alike, we expect little more than good business aptitudes, and a faculty for energizing ecclesiastical affairs along what we are wont to call "practical" lines.

It would be an interesting, and I apprehend a somewhat startling, task to take such a conception of a bishop's office and put it alongside of those portraitures of it which we find in the pages of the New Testament. There is no smallest doubt that there and then, as now, it was expected of the Episcopate that it should discharge an administrative office in the [16/17] Church. "And the rest," says the Apostle in a certain place, "will I set in order when I come;" [1 Cor. ii, 34.] and when we turn to see what he means by such a phrase, we find that they are questions of methods of worship with which he is dealing, and especially those arising in the Church of Corinth, in connection with the Celebration of the Holy Communion. Plainly enough, these questions, and others like them, in which local tradition and local partisanship were involved, were destined almost inevitably, at the first, to divide those of different races, and originally of different religious beliefs; and no less plainly it was the duty of one who both by his office and his gifts stood in a sense outside of and above them, to deal with them in that explicit and authoritative way in which, as a matter of fact, St. Paul did deal with them.

But when you have collated all the passages in the Apostolic history which raise [17/18] such issues and discuss them or rule upon them, it is impossible not to recognize that the men who laid the foundations of the Church in the world were concerned with other and much larger questions than those of mere ecclesiastical mechanism or ceremonial order. No man can read the Epistle to the Romans or the Galatians, or those discourses of St. Paul preserved for us in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, without recognizing that however local or comparatively insignificant the question with which he has to deal, circumcision, forbidden meats, sacred days, and the rest, he is forever lifting the discussion of them into a realm where they were but introductory to the declaration of great principles and the foreshadowing of a divine and inspired policy; in other words, that the Apostolate was most of all great and mighty, not for its definitions, or for its defense of mechanisms, but for its enunciation of pre-eminent and enduring principles.

[19] I believe it to be no less the office of the Episcopate to-day. It is sometimes said of the clerical mind that it has no sense of proportion; that it cannot distinguish between great and small, and that, in dealing with questions that challenge its interest and its action, it is as likely to be engrossed with the mint and anise of an issue as to discover the essential truth or falsehood which lies at the bottom of it. I do not undertake to say that the imputation is just; but I am here, if I have any business here at all, to maintain that such is not the office of a Bishop. He is often faulted because he will not concern himself with controversies which, at one time or another, have threatened to rend the Church in twain, and concerning which he has, we say complainingly, no word to speak. Well, when we have gotten tired, brethren, of saying that he does not speak because he does not dare to, it may some day dawn upon us that he does not speak because the question is really not large [19/20] enough to make it worth while for him to concern himself with it.

Your neighbor in the next parish uses wafer bread, does he, my reverend brother, and you have gone to your bishop to insist that he shall discipline him; and the bishop is--well, quiescent and inert, and you are going to denounce him as a traitor to the Protestant religion. Well, do so if it will make you any happier and relieve your scruple of conscience. But one of these days it is just possible that it may dawn upon you that your bishop is passing sleepless nights and perplexed though prayerful days because, looking at the Church and our modern life with a little wider outlook than yours, he sees perils that you have never dreamed of--and that are much graver than the use or non-use of wafer bread; that his breast is aching over problems that you have never recognized at all, and that his soul is agonized with fears for the hold of God on the [20/21] heart and faith of man which you, my brother, have never dreamed!

Ah, no! no! It is not merely business energy, nor administrative ability, nor even pulpit power that we want in the Episcopate. It is not alone the paternal temper and the sympathetic word in its Bishops that our times are waiting for. Somewhere, somehow, at some time or other these men must, like him of whom the prophet Isaiah tells us--when the burden of Dumah was heard and one called, "out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?"--be able to answer out of whatever thick darkness envelopes the Church and the world in some hour of supreme danger and supreme uncertainty, with that other watchman of the olden time, "The morning cometh"--yes, most surely cometh in God's own time and way--even though "the night cometh also." [Isaiah xxi, II, 12.]

In other words, men and brethren, an [21/22] Episcopate of true power must be an Episcopate of vision! Through the sophistries of the moment, through the fallacies alike of superstition and fanaticism, the Bishop's must be an eye that penetrates beneath them all to those great and unchanging truths that underlie them all! Nothing is more tragic in religious history, in this connection, than the way in which the re-adjustment of men's points of view from time to time all the way along in the progress of the Church, has seemed to threaten foundations, which such a readjustment has at last disclosed to be only more sure and stable. That quality of discrimination the absence of which is closely allied with that other absence of a sense of proportion, to which I have already referred, has more than once menaced the Church more gravely from within than error or enmity has menaced it without. And it is precisely at this point [22/23] I believe, that a greater, if not the greatest, office of the Episcopate is to find its sphere. Its calling it is, supremely, in all the questions with which it is called to deal, to strive to see the whole rather than a fragment. Its office is forever to purge its vision from inherited opinions, from local traditions, and most of all from personal prejudice. And that it may do this, its office it is most of all to remember how, when Jesus commissioned His first bishops, He breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost!" To that mightiest and ever-present ministry, the ministry of the Holy Ghost, the Bishop, before all men, as I believe, is set to witness. He must take his questions first to the Standing Committee, if you please--when he can get them to advise him, which some of us are not always able to persuade them to do! But when he has gotten through with them he must take his questions up to a much higher court than that, and on his knees cry out for [23/24] help, and in the still hours wait and brood and watch for light!

Alas, that, to all this, the whole constitution of our modern life is so unfriendly and so increasingly unfriendly! Its demands are not less upon the Episcopate, but from day to day increasingly more urgent and exacting. And so, my brethren of this new diocese, I plead for him. who is to be your Bishop. Do not expect or exact of him too much! Do not be guilty of the crass stupidity of complaining that he is overlooking Diocesan claims, if sometimes he recognizes and owns, those larger claims that lie beyond them. Do not suppose that because he is not always on the road, but rather sometimes, in his study, waiting there for light from books, from men, and most of all from the Holy Ghost, he is not doing Episcopal work. In an age which waits most of all, I think, for the man of courage and the man of vision, you must at least give him time: to brace the one and to purge the other!

[24] And to you, my brother, called to large and difficult and often solitary tasks, let me offer the loving salutations and the brotherly sympathy of those whose office you are soon to share. You come to it, they cannot but remember, bearing a great name and enduringly associated in the history of the Church with ministries of rare power.--Massachusetts will never forget Alexander Hamilton Vinton, as New York will never forget his brother Francis. One of them made the pulpit of Trinity Church, New York, to ring in troublous times with dauntless and enkindling tones, and the other helped to train for the pulpit of Trinity Church, Boston, the preacher, first, and prelate, later, whose fame has girdled the world. Nay, more, yourself a soldier's son, you come to your high tasks, I am persuaded, resolved to discharge them with unswerving loyalty to God and His Church and with unshrinking fidelity to your fellow men. To you and the Clergy and Laity, who are to be yours, [25/26] is given a unique and most interesting work. The Diocese and you and they begin that work together. It has the charm of that freedom which comes with opportunities largely new, and if it have also those difficulties that come from problems yet untried, you have in the mother who bore you, that older Massachusetts out of whose loins you came, in her Bishop, her Clergy and her people, whose generous interest already shown to you, is pledge of an affection that will not die--in these you have, I say, the earnest of wise counsels and watchful solicitude. Go, then, to your tasks, but not with these alone. "And when Jesus had spoken unto them, 'Peace be unto you,' he breathed on them and said, 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost.' "Fountain of Life and Strength divine, descend on this our brother, and abide with him forever!"

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