The Best Mode of Working a Parish
Considered in a Course of Lectures Delivered in Denver Cathedral, January and February, 1888,
and in Some Sermons Prepared for Various Occasions.
S. Luke iv, 18,19: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
WHEN Jesus came back to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, after His baptism, temptation and full entrance upon His ministry, He went to the synagogue and took these words as the text of His discourse. He preached such a sermon as His auditors had never heard before. Applying the words to Himself, assuming that the prophet had so intended, He set forth distinctly the purpose and the nature and benefits of the Gospel. They were all astonished at His doctrine. Often as they may have read the text, they had been without the slightest conception of its meaning. How often you have read or heard it, dear brethren. The words are quite familiar; but do you understand it much better than they?
 What is Christianity? For what purpose arc you in Christ? For what purpose does the Church of Christ exist? The application our Lord made of the text is to teach us. It gives to such questions the answer. On so important an occasion as the first preaching of Jesus in the home of His youth and early manhood, He would naturally take a text from which He would strike the key note of His whole ministry. He would show once for all what was the great purpose of His coming into the world. He would pro-claim what He was to be to men; what His Church was to be; what Christianity was to be; what was the meaning and end of His Gospel. If you study His life from this time onwards, until His death on Calvary, you will see that all His teaching and all His acts were in perfect accordance with His great sermon in Nazareth, and were, in fact, the practical exemplification of its meaning.
In entire harmony with His preaching, were the proofs He gave of His Messiahship in the presence of John's Disciples, who were sent to ask Him: "Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" "Go and show John," said He in His all sufficient answer, "go and show John what things ye do hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them, and blessed is he whosoever is not offended in Me."
Such was Christ's work. Such was His Gospel. Such [131/132] were the things which He "began both to do and teach." Take it literally. Do not be offended at it and pervert it. The words are plain enough. He came to do, His Church was to do, His people were to do just these things; "to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Do you understand it? Do you not see that this is your work and duty as members^ of the Church of Christ?
The Church of the Apostles understood it, and they went forth into all the world to continue the work which Christ Himself began "both to do and teach" (Acts i, 1), and the poor, "the common people," the great masses of mankind, the afflicted and the sorrowing, as when Jesus preached, "heard them gladly." They demonstrated that in Christ Jesus there is no distinction of rank or of race. They brought into active operation in all the great centres of population throughout the Roman and Greek speaking world those spiritual forces, that were to do away with caste, that were to renovate and purify the life of man and of society, that were to minister to the ills and heal the maladies that flesh is heir to, and establish the life of peace and joy upon our earth.
The Apostolic primitive Church understood it, and finding her richest treasures in her poor, whom the Lord had said ye have always with you, she began to fill the world [132/133] with homes, asylums, refuges and hospitals for every form of sickness, infirmity and distress. She brought health and life into the effete and decaying institutions of heathenism, abolished the barbarism, the cruelties, the dissoluteness, the shameless vices and putrid corruption which the conventionalities of civilized heathen society had sanctioned and upheld. She infused into her memberships the "enthusiasm of humanity;" made real and effective the idea of human brotherhood; lifted men up to the consciousness of their recovered freedom in Christ, and their relation to God as His children; created the Christian home and the loving ties and sweet amenities of pure domestic life; planted the germs of the Christian State and of all that is pure and good, refining and elevating in our Christian civilization. So Jesus Christ, in His Church, went forth, conquering and to conquer, and raising mankind up into His subjection, which is the ground of perfect freedom.
And to-day all that is best in our society and institutions, all the moral purity of our homes, all the love we find for man as man, the beneficence that cares for and relieves the afflicted, and the exaltation of the poor to the fellowship and privileges of men in Christ: all these things and a thousand others which distinguish us of this land and this age, are due to Christ working in and through His Church and the principles of His Revelation. The Spirit of the Lord is upon the Church as upon Him, [133/134] upon her as His body, His organ, intrusted with His work, anointing her to preach the Gospel, the glad tidings of temporal and spiritual salvation to the poor, to those not favored with wealth, to those who in the sweat of their faces earn their bread; to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord, the jubilee of freedom and peace.
In some measure all this is done through the Church, though many of us who are her members and agents of her work, are ignorant of her character, and obstructive rather than helpful to her mission. But what might she not do if we, her members, were all faithful to our real "vocation and ministry" as Christians!
Why are we not? Doubtless for many reasons, but largely this: Because we have somehow lost the true conception of what Christianity really is and what is the Church's mission and work. Many have come to make Christianity almost altogether a doctrinal system, and so the Church, so far as committed by them to the preaching of barren speculations without the heat and warmth of love, has alienated multitudes of the benevolent in whom Christ's Spirit was working, though in outside and irregular channels, a truer and diviner life.
Added to this, the Gospel which was first preached to the poor and the rude and unlettered masses, came to pervade all conditions and to equalize all ranks of men. The [134/135] rich and the highly cultured received it, and their wealth and culture were subsidized by it and became in the hands of the Church, as was most meet, potent instrumentalities in her missionary work and the moral and spiritual elevation of the people. But by and by, little by little, they began to appropriate it to themselves as if it were their exclusive possession, and the poor, the less favored classes, were left to grope their way uncared for and undirected in the spiritual darkness and gloom of sin.
Whatever the explanation, in our own day, among us in this city, the Gospel in its true character is not preached and brought home, as the Lord intended, to the poor, the captives, the bruised, the broken-hearted, the great masses of the people. Whatever other reasons there may be for the prevailing indifference to this paramount duty, these at least may be regarded as practically among the greatest. It has somehow come to be the popular opinion: first, that Christianity consists only or chiefly of its doctrines; and secondly, that it is the possession and property of what are called by a miserable misnomer "the better classes." These two misconceptions arc working most disastrous consequences.
The importance of sound doctrine cannot be exaggerated. But we must distinguish. What is sound doctrine? All doctrines that are essential in Christianity are summed up in the ancient and universal Creeds. And these are primarily and for the most part facts of the Gospel history. [135/136] Rightly understood, all the doctrines of the Christian faith, as the Church Catechism teaches us, are contained in the Apostles' Creed. This faith and Creed all men are sworn to in their baptism; and all that is or ever was or can be required of them in becoming members of the Church, is the faith of the Creed of the Apostles, interpreted and understood in the light of the so-called Creed of Nicaea, to be thenceforward exemplified in holy and consistent lives.
But in the last few hundred years the idea of the Creed has been indefinitely extended and strangely perverted. Multiplied and interminable confessions of faith have been drawn up by good and devout men, embodying many abstract theological opinions, colored by the prevailing philosophy and metaphysics of the times of their production. These, by a strange perversion, are taken to be Creeds. And so Christianity is by many conceived to be but little else than dogmas. Amidst the disputes of theologians on points of opinion altogether outside of what is essential to salvation, the real Creed, the true Faith, is by many forgotten, and the beneficent work of the Church in saving men from sin and elevating and blessing them in spirit, soul and body, is lost sight of. The Redeemer of man is shunned, the Saviour of man is rejected, through ignorance for which Christians are responsible, and through prejudice which is natural, which can only be removed by the Church showing herself to be Christ's body and [136/137] living representative, and doing the work for which He came into the world.
Consider the innumerable treatises upon Christianity. They are almost all in explanation of its doctrines. One would scarcely suspect from them that there was anything more in it than doctrines; and yet a large part of these "doctrines" is matter of dispute. Consider the tens of thousands of sermons preached and published. They are mostly of the same character. So at least it appears to those of whom we speak.
There is, dear brethren, a remedy. The Church constantly presents it. For doctrine, that is, of faith and not of mere opinion, she bids us come back of all this literature to the old Creed of Christendom, which expresses the soul's loyalty, faith and fealty, to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the facts of the Church, Christ's Body, of pardon and peace in Him, of Resurrection, Life and Immortality. Here is what we want, what the heart of man requires of doctrine, always the same and forever true, like the Lord Himself, yesterday, to-day and forever. Of the high themes of "Fate, Foreknowledge, Knowledge Absolute," in which acute disputants find themselves "in endless mazes lost," leave all that where it belongs, to the sphere of opinion, and so of the innumerable doctrines, true or false, outside the faith of the old Creed, that divides Christians into parties and sects; and then come back to the old and true Gospel as the text presents it, as [137/138] the Lord in His life on earth, going about doing good, exemplified it, and as the Church of all ages has been commissioned to proclaim it, and to carry it out, and make it effectual in the redemption and salvation of the world.
And as for that other perversion, that Christianity is for a class or classes, that it is in any degree a caste religion, if you have, any of you, even for a moment, even in thoughtlessness and unconsciousness, entertained any such idea, repent of it, repudiate it, get rid of it, despise it as it deserves.
To the poor the Gospel is preached. Preach, then, in your lives, in all your actions, the Gospel of universal love, and sympathy, and kindness; the Gospel that confers all spiritual and temporal blessings; the Gospel that refines and elevates all who receive it in its saving power; the Gospel that binds all men, of all classes and conditions, in bonds of fraternal affection, in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus,--the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Church of Jesus Christ. He took upon Himself our common human nature. He lived here in poverty. His associates, disciples and Apostles were tax collectors and fishermen, and men of the people. He bore our sicknesses and infirmities. He died for our sins on the Cross of Shame. His greatest Apostle could say, writing to the Church at Corinth, planted in the midst of Greek refinement, culture, elegance, luxury and dissipation: "Ye see [138/139] your calling, brethren, how that not many mighty, not many wise men after the flesh, not many noble, are called." You know the passage. I need not quote further.
What, then, is the practical conclusion of the whole matter?
First get the true realization in your minds and hearts of what Christianity really is, what it means to be Christians, what is your "vocation and ministry," how you are to be Christ-like in conduct and in life; how you are to have in all the depths of your being that love for men as men, that brought Jesus Christ into our world, and to give His life in sacrifice for man.
And then having the mind that was in Christ Jesus, show it. Exemplify it in word and deed. Prove it by the way in which you honor, and fellowship, and welcome the poor who come to this Cathedral to worship and to hear the Gospel preached. Go out into the highways and compel them to come in; organize the work of gathering and teaching them. Give it your time, your thought, your money. Show to all the people such kindness, such tender, sympathetic interest as they can quickly see comes from loving hearts, and to your own spiritual growth and blessedness make the Church grow and the Word of God to have free course and be glorified.