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The Right Rev. HENRY C. POTTER, D. D.,








BUFFALO, February 26, 1885.


The Bishops, with a large body of the clergy and laity, assembled in St. John's, Detroit, on St. Matthias' Day, after the consecration of the Bishop of Nebraska, desired the publication of the sermon preached by you on that occasion. A vote expressing this desire was carried, not merely unanimously, but by acclamation. It was no vote of mere courtesy or routine, but was the result of a sincere desire to see your words, in a lasting form, disseminated generally. I esteem it a great privilege to inform you of this action, and to add my very sincere request that you will kindly comply with this request.

And that God may spare you for many like services to His Church, is the prayer of

Rt. Reverend brother,

Yours in the Lord,

Bishop of Western New York.




IN entering upon the task which has been assigned to me this morning, I may not refrain from recognizing the obvious inappropriateness, from one point of view at any rate, of my attempting to discharge it. Whatever may be fitting on other occasions, it would seem as if there could be little difference of opinion as to what is fitting here. It belongs to age and experience in the Episcopal Office, and not to comparative youth and inexperience to inculcate those lessons which are appropriate to this hour and to those august solemnities to which we are in a little while to proceed. It belongs to a large and varied Episcopal. service to tell the people what are the duties and responsibilities of the Episcopal Office, and to tell this, our brother-elected, how best he may discharge them. And in length of service and in largeness of experience your preacher is equally poor. Himself a novice, called little more than a twelve-month since to take up those large tasks which to-day are to be laid upon another, he might well have come here, not to speak, but to listen, content to remember that, as always in the college of the Episcopate, so here pre-eminently it is the office of "them that are elders" among us to teach and to admonish.

But if I had not been constrained by the force of that triple command which has been laid upon me, by our venerable and beloved Presiding Bishop, by the Bishop of this diocese, and by our brother this day to be consecrated, I might venture to remind myself of a usage of our Mother Church in connection with occasions such as this, not without advantages which might make it worthy of imitation among us. The preacher at the [5/6] consecration of a Bishop in the Church of England is not a bishop, but a presbyter; and the custom has at least this merit, that it affords opportunity for setting forth the office and work of a Bishop from a standpoint without rather than within. Doubtless they best know the duties and obligations of a Bishop's Office who have long borne them, and the most intelligent standing-ground in judging of any calling, and its responsibilities is not without but within. Yet as in other things, so here it must needs be of advantage, sometimes at any rate, to look at the office and vocation of a Bishop as those look at it who stand apart from it, not as unfriendly critics, but as friendly and filial observers.

It is in this spirit and with this purpose then, that I venture to ask your attention this morning. Pray, with me, that another Wisdom than my own, may guide and restrain and enlighten me!

In the tenth chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, at the first verse, and in the first chapter of St. Paul's second Epistle to Timothy, at the sixth and seventh verses, there occur respectively these words:

"And when He had called unto Him His twelve Apostles, He gave them power."

"Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee, by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given to us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

There are two views of such an occasion as that which assembles us to-day, equally familiar, if not equally accepted. The one is, that an office-bearer in the Church of God who has been tried and tested in an inferior post of duty is to be advanced to a higher, and that, in connection with such promotion or advancement, he is to be clothed with new dignities and entrusted with new powers. In this view the analogies of secular life and civil or municipal office-bearing occur at once to our minds. Here is a servant of the State, who, by the suffrages of his fellow-citizens, or the appointment of the executive, has been chosen to some responsible office. As he comes to its [6/7] threshold there are certain ceremonies of initiation, or some formal oaths and declarations, by which he is to become legally qualified for his new place and admitted to its duties. All through our civil and military systems of government, and wisely, there runs some law or usage looking to this end and providing for its accomplishment. Yesterday, our fellow-citizen was only our fellow-citizen, and no more. To-day, he has been chosen, it may be, for some high and honorable office. To-morrow, perhaps, he will take the oath of his office and enter upon the discharge of its duties. And in doing so there will come to him the right, not merely to draw his salary and to assume an official title, but to exercise certain powers which are inherent in the nature of his office, or have been conferred upon it by enactment of law. He may appoint certain subordinates, he may veto certain proposed enactments, he may pardon certain criminals, and, in the exercise of all these powers, he may be largely if not solely responsible to himself--to his own conscience--and only indirectly to his coadjutors in the business of government, or to the people.

Now, it is undoubtedly true that there is a very close analogy in many respects between such a conferring of powers, and those with which our brother is to be entrusted this day. The Church is in the world as an organization; as a Divine organization, it is true, and with obligations not so much secular and legal as they are moral and spiritual; but still as an organization. Not as a disembodied spirit, but as a visible kingdom or society is it bidden to go forward to its work. And in this organized and visible society there must of necessity be those who administer its laws and confer its authority and execute its discipline. There must be office-bearers as well as an office to be borne. There must he those who commission as well as those who are commissioned. There must be overseers as well as work and workers to be overseen. And in all these various functions and relations, there must be a right distribution of responsibility, and a law of due submission and subordination to duly constituted and rightful authority.

[8] And hence there arises, the moment we come to speak of the Episcopate, the question of its powers. We cannot admit the existence of such an office as that of a Bishop in the Church of God without admitting also, that along with the office there must go a certain definite authority and certain specific powers. If we believe (as most surely we do believe, or else we have no business to be here) that the office is not one of human invention, but howsoever gradually, as some may believe, taking on its more definite and specific form, of Divine origin and institution, then we must needs believe that, as in the beginning, the Divine Founder of the Church gave to His Apostles certain inalienable powers, so He has willed that something answering to these powers is to remain with those who shall come after them. They were to set in order the things that remained unorganized. They were to ordain elders in every city. They were to set apart those others who were to serve tables. They were to confirm the souls of the baptized by the laying on of hands. They were to decide questions of worship and of discipline, not alone, indeed, nor without mutual counsel. They were to serve, but they were also to rule. They were to preach, but they were also to commission others to preach. In a word, over all that infant energy and activity of the new faith, they were to be Episkopoi--overseers--leading and governing, ordaining and confirming, correcting and restraining those whom Christ and His Church had entrusted to their care. Such, in brief, were the powers to be exercised, all of them, let us never forget, under the guidance and inspiration of the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost, with which the Master clothed His first Apostles: and such are the powers of those who to-day, however unworthy, are in a very real sense their successors.

And if we ask, where now are we to look, in this our own age and Church for a more specific definition of these powers, the answer is, to custom, to canon law, and supremely to the Holy Scripture. Some things are matters of usage, others are defined by precise enactment of canon law, and behind all these is the voice of the Holy Ghost as it speaks to us from the pages of the New Testament, When in the book of the Acts of the [8/9] Apostles we read how, to the Church at Antioch, "the Holy Ghost said, separate me Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have called them," we get a clear and explicit point of departure, in the light of which we may read all that follows. As, step by step the little handful of believers grows and multiplies and disperses itself abroad, as that expectant company in the upper room is enlarged till it becomes a fully-organized and aggressive Christian society, we see how, step by step, the new powers were ordained to match the new responsibilities, and how the freedom and informality of an earlier and cruder condition of things gave place to one in which, as with the deacon and presbyter, each had his separate work and was clothed with his several powers: so with that other, who, father and brother to all the rest, was set over them in the Lord with the heavy burden, but no less with the definite powers, of the Episcopate.

And yet, when we have said all this, and I think you will own that I have striven to say it with entire candor and explicitness, is it not true that there remains something more to be said? We turn back to that first commission of which we read in the words just quoted to you from St. Matthew's Gospel. And what a significant picture is that which it summons before us! The men who were commissioned there were bidden to do the mightiest works which the world had ever seen: "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils, raise the dead." This was their Lord's command. Well, as we know, they obeyed it. Up and down that slumbrous, sin-burdened world of theirs they went and preached, and wrought, and healed. And all the while it was not their powers--canonical, ecclesiastical, Episcopal--that made them strong, but their power. "And when He called unto Him His twelve Disciples He gave them power." I do not forget that the word in the original means more precisely "authority;" but there could have been no real and constraining authority if there had not been behind it human personality thrilled through and through with a divine and irresistible power. And so when we turn from the commission of Christ to the twelve, to that other commission of the aged Apostle to the Gentiles to this son in faith, Timothy, we see that in [9/10] substance and spirit the two are one: "Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given to us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

Men and brethren! The powers of the Episcopate are one thing; the power of the Episcopate is quite another. Need I say that I do not forget that in every Episcopal office and function, the presumption is that that which is done, is done under the guidance, and in submission to, the teaching and moving of God the Holy Ghost. But alas! it does not need much reading of history to remind us that men may be admitted into the highest offices of the Church of God, concerning whom it is not too much to say that nothing in their lives or teaching gave any smallest evidence that they had so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost; and while we may well rejoice that such dark pages in the Church's life belong mainly to its past, we may not forget that in every age of the Church and in every office of the ministry, there has been a tendency to confuse its powers and its power; to mistake the assertion or the exercise of the one for the mighty and transcendent spell of the other. In one word, to mistake that which is the voice of authority for that which is the far mightier constraint of example, of wisdom, of love.

It is a mistake which we cannot too strongly, or too strenuously, deprecate. A Bishop may not verily forget that which is due to his Office (though he can very well afford not to be oversensitive as to that which is due to himself), and he may as little dis-esteem or neglect those duly-regulated powers which the Church has put in his keeping, not to rust, but to use. But he may wisely remember that the often assertion of prerogative is the surest road to its resistance,--that even the solemn dignity of the Episcopate may easily be in danger of the "vain conceit of officialism," and that the genius of an ecclesiastical martinet is the last spell with which, in an age when, whether rightly or no, men cannot be hindered from reading and thinking for themselves, a Bishop may attempt to conjure.

[11] On the other hand, there is a power of the Episcopate, real and. mighty and lasting, and it is the power

(a) First of all of personal character. The phrase may sound indefinite, but I think you see with me what it stands for. In every other relation of life there are men who are influential for good, not because they have been lifted to great place, but because they fill a great place as they would have filled a smaller one, with a substantive, stainless and righteous manhood. They are known to speak the truth, and to live it, as well as to speak it. They are known for their constancy to duty, and to do it at every hazard. Whatsoever things are pure, and honest and lovely and of good report, they not only think on these things, but daily and habitually illustrate them. They fill their place in the world, not in a spirit of self-seeking, but in large-hearted love and sacrifice for the welfare of other men. They are not swerved from the right by the clamor of any partisanship, or the sneer of any critic. Day by day, they lift their lives into the clear light of those eternal moral sanctions that stream from the throne of God, and strive to live them in that light. Infirmities of temper, errors of judgment, imperfections of intellectual attainment they may have; but all that they are and do, is ennobled by a lofty purpose and adorned by a stainless integrity. And these men, wherever you find them in any earthly community, are pre-eminently its men of power. The multitude may not follow them, but it secretly trusts and respects them. Their fellows may not applaud them, but they do profoundly believe in them. And when any crisis comes--when truth falleth in the streets and equity cannot enter, these are the men to whom the world turns to restore its lost ideals of truth and goodness and righteousness, and to lead it back to the light.

And what is true of men in every other relation of life is true of that sacred Office with which we are concerned to-day. Verily, in him who is to be a Bishop in the Church of God we want a sound and adequate and (it cannot be inappropriate to these days to remember) a many sided learning, a strong and clear faith, a steadfast and burning zeal; but first of all and before [11/12] all, as the soil in which these and all other kindred graces are to flourish, we want a strong and substantive personal character.

(b) But again; the power of the Episcopate resides, I submit also, in a judicious admixture of the paternal and fraternal spirit. In a letter of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, written to the presbyter, whom Christendom knows as Jerome, there occur these words: "And indeed, I beg that you would, from time to time, correct me when you see plainly that I need it. For, although, according to the titles of honors which the usage of the Church has now established, the Episcopate is greater than the Presbytery, yet in many respects Augustine is inferior to Jerome, though correction from any manner of inferior ought not to be avoided or disdained." Ah! with what a spell of power must he have taught and ruled who could so empty himself of merely official superiority to one who was still his brother. If clergymen have, ordinarily, any one sentiment of which they would, I confidently believe, most eagerly be rid, it is, that difference of ecclesiastical rank puts an end to fraternal intercourse. That fatherly relation between the Bishop and his Presbyters, which is one of the most beautiful and gracious things in the organic life of the Church, would be a far mightier power if it could always be brightened and warmed by another relation not so much fatherly as brotherly. There is a frank and generous confidence, there is a cordial and willing dependence, there is a wise distrust of one's own judgment, there is a deference to another's opinion, which are signs, not of weakness, but of strength. And in and through all the often sad and painful business of administering reproof or discipline, or conveying admonition or dissent, it is possible to weave a golden thread of loving brotherhood which shall at once transform and illumine the whole. "Rebuke not an Elder but entreat him as a father, and the younger men as brethren." Inspired words, indeed, which may we never consent to forget!

(c) Once more: the power of the Episcopate will be found to consist, I think, not a little in its open-mindedness. It is a misfortune of that training which one acquires in parochial duties, that it rarely involves a collision with minds that view [12/13] what may be called "burning questions" from other standpoints than our own. The man who is called to the Episcopate is usually one who is summoned from the care of a large and well-organized city parish. But such parishes are usually made up of those who are drawn to a particular ministry by their sympathy with its views and modes of thought. And a minister thus environed by a congenial and like-minded people, encounters little that educates him to recognize the existence, even, of other opinions than his own. He hears of them, reads of them, it is true; but oftener than otherwise it is apt to be through the medium of books and periodicals written or edited by those in sympathy with his own views. From such a training he emerges to deal, it may be, with men, many of whom are his peers in learning, years and intelligence, and whose rights within the Church are no less than his own. To recognize those rights and to be just to them is no easy task. To remember that the Church is a Church and not a sect, a whole and not a fragment, Catholic before all, and therefore not Anglican, or Evangelical, or Protestant, merely--this is something that belongs pre-eminently to one who would exercise the true power of the Episcopate in days like these. I would not be misunderstood here, and I will not be. For that loose-jointed optimism which accounts one man's credo as good as another's, which disregards or dis-esteems the sacred obligation of the Church's historic formularies, which forgets that before the life that is to be lived there is not only a faith, but the Faith to be kept, I have the scantiest respect. But we may not forget that, as in Apostolic days, there was the Pauline and the Petrine presentation of the truths of the Gospel, and in primitive days the theology of a Clement of Alexandria on the one hand and of an Augustine on the other, so ever since then there have been those great schools of thought and opinion in the Church, neither of which I believe may wisely exist without the other, and to welcome whose activities a wise Bishop may well desire that he may have that breadth of vision and that openness and candor of mind which shall freely acknowledge their right to be, and if so, their right to think and to speak.

[14] (d) There is one other element of power in the Episcopate, which, though I name it last, may well be accounted the first and chief of all. It is consecration--the unreserved devotion of one's whole powers, soul, body, and spirit, to the work of his high office. It is for this that our brother is here to-day, and that fresh gift of himself to God which we ask of him in these solemn services, it is his to make day by day through all the months and years of service that are before him. It is for this that we ask for him the seven-fold gifts of God, the Holy Ghost that, quickened by that mightiest Power, he may keep nothing back from the service of Christ and His Church. Happily a Bishop in our Branch of the Church is largely emancipated from those claims partly of the State and partly of what is called "society," which press upon him in other lands. But none the less is he in danger of that secular spirit which spends itself in matters of secondary importance and is engrossed in details of mere worldly business. It is true that even a Bishop may not unduly neglect these: but to hold himself to his high office as a chief shepherd of the flock, to this is he pre-eminently called. And this calling he can hope to fulfil only as he brings his gifts, his office, his powers, day by day to the feet of his Master, and by the surrender of self-will, by that hearkening of the spiritual ear which listens for the voice of God, by a spirit of unselfish devotion which shames the careless and the idle in his flock; by love unfeigned, and by a meekness and patience that are not merely long-suffering but inexhaustible; shows himself to be possessed by that new manhood, that regenerated heart and will, which shall enable him to say, "Not I, but Christ Who dwelleth in me!"

Such, dear brethren, are some of the elements of power in the Episcopate. There are others, but I may not stay to enumerate them, nor do you need that they should here be recapitulated. They can not altogether take the place of outward authority, of canonical provisions, empowerments and the like, but, breathing through them all, the Spirit behind the form, the purpose above the commission, they are, I think we must own, [14/15] the spell and secret of mightiest influence and most enduring work!

It is such power that I pray may be yours, my brother, as you take up the tasks and burdens that are to-day to be laid upon you. If I do not congratulate you on assuming them, it is not because I do not thank God that you have been called to the office of a Bishop, nor because I do not rejoice that the Church is to have in that office the benefit of your ripe experience and your earnest and devout Christian character. But I know your work here, and how dear it must needs be to you; and I know, even better than yourself can yet know, what it will cost you to go out from this people to the homeless, and lonely, and ever-anxious life and work of a Bishop. As I stand and look back upon your ministry, I cannot but remember that it has been richly and singularly favored. From the days when you and I were striplings together, working side by side in that eastern city, where you in your diaconate, and I in the earlier years of my priesthood, learned to prize one another's friendship, all the way on to this hour, yours has been the privilege of ministering to those who were united and devoted in their attachment to yourself, and in their love and loyalty to the Church. Coming here as the successor of the gifted and saintly Armitage you had, indeed, no easy task; but this large and united congregation, its varied and beneficient activities, the rare and unwearied band of Christian laymen whom you have drawn around you, or held to you, the respect in which you are held in this community and in this diocese by all your brethren, the love and honor of your Bishop--who gives you up to-day, I know well how reluctantly--all these testify to the faithfulness of your service and to its abundant fruitfulness. And can I congratulate you that you are called upon to leave such a flock and such a work? Can I hide from myself or from you that you are going forth to labors which will grow larger every day, and to cares and anxieties' that will multiply and not diminish as the years go by? Ah! could we summon him whom you are to succeed, and whose resplendent path of service you are to follow, to speak to you of your work, do we not know the tone of pathos which would [15/16] come back into that matchless voice of his as he recounted. to you how "in journeyings often, in perils in the wilderness, in weariness and painfulness, besides that which came upon him daily, the care of all the churches," he had laid those broad and deep foundations on which henceforth you are to build? No, my brother, it is a word of sympathy rather than of congratulation that springs to my lips to-day, though I am not unmindful of the noble field and opportunity which open before you! But I do thank God that He has called you to this Office, and that, in the face of its large anxieties, you have so much to cheer and support you. The unanimity with which your brethren in Nebraska have called you to be their Bishop, and the earnestness with which they have repeated that call, have, verily, left you no choice. And I am persuaded that when you go to them, they will show you by their welcome, and their co-operation how eager and steadfast is their purpose to strengthen and sustain you in your work.

And, do not forget, that behind them will be the flock from whom you are parted to-day. The work of the Church in Nebraska will have a new meaning henceforth, and a very precious one, to them. Their hearts go with you, and so, thank God, will their prayers and their alms. It is thus that out of our sorrows and partings, comes the enlargement of our love and our sympathy. As you go to Nebraska, remember then, that your going will help to enlarge the heart of this people, and to widen the horizon of their highest interests. Inspiring thought, which makes their loss, their gain, as well, and which transfigures your new burdens and responsibilities into a sacred privilege!

My dear brother, may God make you sufficient for these burdens, and when you are weary and heavy laden with the greatness of the way, may He Himself remind you that "God hath not given to us the spirit of fear, but of POWER, and of love, and of a sound mind."

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