OF THE DEPARTURE INTO LIFE ETERNAL OF THE
REV. WILLIAM CROSWELL, D.D.,
LATE RECTOR OF THAT CHURCH.
SERMON. St. Luke x.: 24.
FOR I TELL YOU THAT MANY PROPHETS AND KINGS HAVE DESIRED TO SEE THOSE THINGS WHICH YE SEE, AND HAVE NOT SEEN THEM.
FIVE years ago to-day, there stood here one who had faithfully ministered to this people in holy things. He stood here then for the last time. On the spot where I now stand, the hand of Death, unseen, yet mighty and irresistible, was laid upon him; and he went, in gentle submission to the summons, to render the account of his stewardship to that Supreme Being from whom he had received his office and commission.
Standing here to-day, my thoughts recur to him with more than ordinary interest. Often present to my mind as a goodly pattern of a Parish Priest, he seems to-day to come back in spirit, and to survey with quiet glance the scene of his labors, his trials and his death. One who was learned in the sacred lore of the Church, has said, that perchance the Holy Angels, who are the guardians of the faithful on earth, do, after their departure from the state of the Church Militant, convey to them tidings of its progress and welfare, and refresh their waiting souls, [3/4] even amidst the felicities and the repose of Paradise, with good news of its advancement towards the state of its final consummation.
I have thought, that, perhaps, our brother departed is not without those consolations, ministered by the celestial attendants who were his guardian Angels on earth; and I have dreamed, I trust not too fondly, that his sanctified spirit has ofttimes been cheered by the messages of peace and prosperity, which they have borne to his willing soul, of those whom he loved and for whom he toiled while still in the flesh. If it be so, how radiant with happiness must be his rejoicing spirit to-day, when he learns, from some returning Angel, going home from his earthly ministry, that our eyes now see that which he most devoutly desired to see, but which, in the wise providence of his Master, he saw not.
This is the first thought which the text suggests to me to-day. But it is not the only one. Coming lately from the meeting of the General Convention of the Church, I think that I may, with reference to a larger topic, adopt the language of the Saviour, and say to you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them. The truth of the remark may be best illustrated by some account of what my own eyes have seen and my ears have heard, while witnessing the representatives of the Church, from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South, gathered in one great assembly, for deliberation and counsel upon the interests of our Communion. .
 In common with many others, I went to Philadelphia with more of apprehension than of pleasant anticipation. I do not, in so saying, allude to the affairs of this Parish, but to the general welfare of the Church. I had seen, or believed I had seen, something of a disposition to adapt the Church to the masses, (as the favorite phrase went,) by the sacrifice of some of her traditional and conservative principles. I could not say, that the Catholic faith, which she holds pure and undefiled, was immediately in danger; but there seemed to be the gradual opening of chinks and leaks in her immortal constitution, which might, in the end, prove to be for the letting in of the waters of schism and infidelity.
I had seen, or thought I had seen, the progress of what is sometimes called "Broad-Churchism." The recent invention of the name seemed to indicate the rise of a new phase in the Church's life; since strange titles are not commonly sought for old and established things. It denoted, too, a reality, of a most dangerous, because most subtle and delusive, tendency. The object of it was to relax the strictness of the Church's rules, and, in some measure, of her divine institutions, in order to present her in a more inviting aspect to those who are wanderers from her Fold, as well as to afford a larger ground for practical union and co-operation to those who, although within her embrace, had hitherto been wont to work in separate combinations.
Now, every right-minded Churchman is ready to sacrifice personal feeling, surrender prejudice, and labor with hearty good will to lessen the distance between [5/6] himself and any of his fellow-Churchmen with whom he is still compelled to acknowledge that he has not a perfect sympathy. His Catholic principles and the law of the Church's unity reigning in his heart, if so be that they are enlivened by the spirit of Christian love, must lead him to desire the intimacy of fraternal intercourse with all who bear the common seal of the Baptismal Cross upon their brows, and are partakers with him of the one Bread and the one Cup by which we all alike live in Christ our Lord.
But when the proposition for union of effort goes so far as to trench upon some of the sacred doctrines of the Church, (that, for example, of Baptismal Regeneration,) when it is suggested and agreed, that books teaching that doctrine, (as, for instance, that invaluable little work, "The Sacrament of Responsibility,") be excluded from the publications of a Church Society which provides religious literature for our children, in order that Churchmen who do not clearly declare that doctrine may be induced to contribute to the labors of the Society, I will venture the opinion that then the spirit of compromise is stretched beyond its lawful limits, and the advantages of co-operation are gained at a cost which will find no equivalent in any good that can be attained by the sacrifice.
There was an evident disposition, also, in the minds of many, to relax the strictness of our settled rules in the order of our worship. The earnest, and, in itself, laudable desire to carry the glad tidings of the Gospel into the highways and hedges of the [6/7] world, had led to the thought of sacrificing, for this object, our Liturgical Services, which were supposed to be unadapted, in their length and character, to those whom we would fain win from the purlieus of schism, vice and unbelief. Such men seemed to have forgotten that the worship of the Church is, in itself, a powerful teacher of truth; and that, if those who are wandering in error need to be taught the rudiments of the Gospel, they need, also and equally, to learn how to bend the knee and offer prayer before their neglected Creator and Redeemer.
I am not required to prove, since it is evident to all men, that there are times when the entire Service of the Church is more than the occasion and object demand. But it has always seemed to me, that, for such extraordinary purposes, the Bishop of each Diocese had already authority, after the manner of the ancient Bishops, to provide Liturgical Offices, according to the actual wants of the Flock committed to his care; and that, therefore, special legislation for this object was unnecessary.
It was, moreover, the apparent wish of many, to alter the rubrical arrangements of the Prayer Book, so as to allow, even in the ordinary worship of the Church, a greater latitude, of curtailment and omission on the one hand, and of addition and amplification on the other, than had been generally practised.
On the Sunday preceding the meeting of Convention, I expressed to you, in this place, the doubt whether any of these dreams, fancies or aspirations would be realized. But it was impossible to ignore the fact, that a strong current of feeling and effort [7/8] was setting in favor of them. Add to this, the danger which always has, in all ages, and, I presume, always will, to the end of time, beset the convention of any and every Council of the Church, the danger, namely, of doctrinal or sectional divisions and discords, and, moreover, the special danger of this year, and particularly of that period of it in which the Church was to assemble, arising from the universal agitation of men's minds upon a great political subject, which had already rent in twain every principal religious Denomination in the land, and you will see, in the combination of various perils which presented itself, reason sufficient why every instructed and thoughtful Churchman might look forward to the opening of our General Convention, if not with fear, (for, the revealed destinies of the Church forbid so faithless a feeling as fear,) at least with trembling anxiety, and an earnest wish that it were all well over.
Of our own particular causes for solicitude, I spoke to you fully before I bade you farewell for the month. I need not enlarge upon them now, farther than to say, that, if others, on general grounds, looked forward with apprehension mingled in their hope, we had, in addition to all these, our own especial occasion for uneasiness.
And now, what has been the result? Our own experience, in our own particular object of interest, has been the type of the general experience of the Church in respect to all those matters which had awakened universal solicitude. How we fared, you [8/9] all know. The Church, with united voice, restored to us the privilege which we had so long lost. No one of our apprehensions grew into a reality. By the unspeakable goodness of God, and the guidance of His Holy Spirit, ruling the deliberations of the Church, our rights were recognised, sustained and amply vindicated.
Looking back upon our own experience in Convention, we have occasion for hardly any other emotion than that of humble and devout gratitude.
And such, I will venture to say, is now the emotion of every faithful son and daughter of the Church, in contemplating the more general issues of Convention. There is occasion for little else than thankfulness, and for that encouragement and hope which gratitude for the past throws forward upon the uncertainties of the future. For one, I can say, that I never felt so well satisfied with our American Church as now. I never felt so much confidence in her position. I never saw, or read of, an ecclesiastical Council in which the claim to be a true branch of the Church Catholic was more beautifully or more thoroughly sustained.--I shall best present, at least one portion of my impressions, by a comparison of this Convention with that held in the same city in 1844, at which also I happened to be present. The contrast, which the sameness of the place at once suggested, was one of the most forcible associations of this kind which I remember ever to have felt.
In 1844, the tide of religious controversy was at its height. Crimination and recrimination, theological differences running into personal animosities, [9/10] bitter assaults against official and private reputation growing, m two instances, into ecclesiastical trials, the memory of which will one day fill the hearts of our sons and of our daughters with shame, angry and vituperative debate, an intense struggle of opposing factions in the Church for victory, these were some of the features of the times with which the Convention of 44 began, continued, and ended. An agitated spectator might have reasonably predicted that what was openly threatened would come to pass; that the Church would be rent by an incurable schism, and would, thereafter, appear in two hostile and contending bodies. No one who passed through those exciting scenes in the "City of brotherly love," is likely ever to lose the fearful impression which they made upon his mind.
Compared with that alarming experience, the Convention of 1856, in the same city, has reminded me of the contrast at which I lately looked, in two beautiful engravings, the one representing the smiles and blessings of gentle peace, the other the smoke, the wounds, and all the varied horrors of war. One could not but suspect, at first, that the placid aspect of peace might be a treacherous compromise of truth. At least, going thither with the excited apprehensions on this point which I had previously entertained, I was disposed, at the outset, to look upon this goodly display of quietude and composure as springing from a growing indifference to the distinctive doctrines and principles of the Church, but I was gradually, and, in the event, thoroughly undeceived. On one of the first days of the session, [10/11] I felt disposed to controvert the opinion expressed by a brother Bishop in a company of five or six members of the Episcopate, (who all agreed cordially with the sentiment,) that the "Catholic element" was growing stronger and stronger in the Church; but, before the Convention closed, I had been forced to give in my own adhesion to the opinion.
One thing was especially apparent. No member of Convention seemed willing to allow himself to be called less than a conservative Churchman. However low and radical he might formerly have been supposed to be, the Church in her integrity had now become the watchword of his zeal. This marked change from former days is to be attributed, I believe, in no small degree, to the perilous condition of Christianity outside of the Church's pale. Men who once sought to bring her peculiar glory down to as near an approximation as possible to the features of the Sects, have now learned to appreciate more highly that blessed unity and steadfastness which keep her erect and vigorous amidst the decay of other religionisms and the endless multiplication of heresies. They have seen that She is fast becoming the only safeguard of the truth on earth, the sole haven where the Ark may ride securely amidst the storms that are gathering, from all quarters of the Heaven, against the primitive deposit of the Faith. They have seen, in the rage for progress, men breaking away from every olden institution; and they know that sound religion, no less than long approved theories in political and social life, is in. danger of being merged and lost in the rushing flood. [11/12] Hence, the Church has come to appear to them in a new light, the surety of the Gospel which they love, the only abiding Witness to the Faith once delivered to the Saints.
Hence, doubtless, it arose, that, from the beginning to the end of the late session of General Convention, not a single party speech was heard, not a single party manoeuvre was detected, not a single measure was adopted, or defeated, by a party vote. The members seemed all to take a high and large view of the Church's interests, and to work together, with wonderful harmony, for a common end.
Hence, too, it arose, that every effort for the alteration of our standards, from whatever quarter it came, (and such suggestions did come from quarters very diverse,) was met at once by general opposition, and, almost unanimously, defeated. Nothing was done in response to the famous Memorial, except some slight, and, as I must regard them, unimportant, because unauthoritative, declarations by the Bishops; and the Church, in her Prayer Book, remains as unchanged as in her doctrines.
It was from this prevailing spirit of Convention, also, that the fact, otherwise strange and unprecedented, arose, that this Parish appeared before that Body in an attitude which, in 1844, would have aroused a storm of party abuse and obloquy; and yet its claim was readily heard, and, from the first to the last, was respectfully considered, without a word that would imply that it had not the hearty sympathy, theologically, as well as morally, of the great body of both Houses.
 But I must turn, before closing, to another theme; and I trust that, in introducing it, I shall not seem to be treading upon forbidden ground. There were gathered there, Northerners and Southerners, Eastern men and Western men, and Middle States men. An excited political strife was raging out of doors. Many of those present had been active partizans in that eager conflict of opinions. Probably every man had his own decided views respecting it. And yet, from first to last, not a breath of that intestine discord which was penetrating into every home, and almost every heart in the land, entered there, to pollute the fair spectacle of the Church's unity, or to mar the harmony of her fraternal deliberations. There, every man seemed to feel that every other man was a brother; and when it was proposed, that the next meeting of Convention should be south of "Mason and Dixon's Line," so that all men might see that the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world, there arose such a swell of joyous assent as merged every other consideration, (and there were certainly important considerations opposing,) of convenience and expediency. Massachusetts, in her delegation, sat next to Alabama; two pews in front sat South Carolina; across the aisle was Georgia; a little in her rear was Virginia; and behind Virginia was Connecticut. Maine and California, Iowa and Florida, and all the goodly States that intervene, were there, not one lost, not one inharmonious, each a star of equal lustre in the Church's coronet of glory; and one could not tell, by word or deed, whether the brother who sat next him was from one extreme of. the Union or the other.
 My eyes have looked on many a scene of grandeur and beauty in other lands. In every land, I have witnessed cheering proofs of the oneness of the Church. Often, here and elsewhere, have I beheld how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. But never have I seen, nor, on this side of Heaven, do I expect to see, a scene at once so august and so lovely as that exhibition which I have depicted to you, of Catholic truth bound together by the golden cincture of love.
Beloved, it was a king of the ancient dispensation who said, that the dominion of the Son of God should be "from the one sea to the other." It was a prophet of the same dispensation who said, "I will bring thy seed from the East, and gather thee from the West. I will say to the North, Give up; and to the South, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth." King and prophet have long since gone to their quiet repose. We remain, the children of the Saints. Without us, they were not made perfect. In the fulness of the ages, the promise which they received not, is becoming a reality; for, these things of which I have told you, are among those things which kings and prophets have desired to see and have not seen them.