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 viii, 38, 39: Now the man out of whom the devils were departed, besought Him that he might be with Him. But Jesus sent him away, saying: return to thine own house and show how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.
THERE is difficulty in understanding the miracle of which the text is the sequel. There is a "border land" between sanity and insanity. There is a psychological region on the confines of mind and feeling which has not been well explored. There is a possibility of a double consciousness. Thoughts may find utterance through our vocal organs that are not truly our own. There is a part of our nature which is liable to intrusion by evil spirits. As wickedness may possess a man, so the demons of wickedness and of uncleanness may invade his nature and control him. And through Jesus Christ, the great healing and restorative power for man's salvation, such demon spirits may be cast out.
What relation there may be between such demon spirits and the dumb, swinish nature, we do not know. [162/163] As man is a microcosm of the great world without him, as his nature includes, sums up and comprehends all inferior natures, it is not improbable that men and beasts may be alike possessed by alien powers in the parts of their natures which they have in common, or in which they have a likeness or affinity. Until we know a great deal more than we do at present of that part of man's nature that borders on the brutish and of what in brute beasts is in nearest likeness to the sensibilities and appetences of man, we have no right to say that the fact recorded in the Gospel is impossible. We must take the Gospel facts as true, as we do all other facts, until the contrary is proved. If we should give credence to no facts that we cannot understand in their causes, we should believe and know very little indeed. None are skeptics in everything. If they were, they could not live in human society. They could transact no business with their fellow men. Let us be careful how we deny what it is impossible for us to say is not actual and real.
It is not necessary to dwell further upon the miracle of the casting out of the legion of devils from the man so terribly possessed, as read to-day in the Gospel. It was a work of mercy as easy to our Lord as any work of His omnipotence. It is the after-demeanor of the man so wonderfully restored, it is his natural request and the Lord's answer, and his subsequent conduct, that contain the lessons we are to learn to-day.
 A passing word is enough to give to the owners of the swine that had met with such a fearful end. There are people now-a-days who are not unlike them. They were not moved with gratitude to the Great Deliverer who had perfectly restored the poor sufferer. They did not rejoice when they saw him sitting and clothed, and in his right mind. They cared nothing for this wonderful work of mercy at which Angels rejoiced. They felt no concern in the redemptive work of Christ upon the bodies and the souls of men. They were absorbed in their selfishness. In view of their own pecuniary loss they had no thought nor sympathy for another's gain. Therefore they were amazed and affrighted. Their property, unlawful if they were Jews, had perished. Therefore Jesus was a dangerous person to have among them. They began at once vehemently to beseech Him that He would depart out of their coasts. So men reject Christ and His blessed work! So their selfishness makes them blind to the most beneficent work that is going on in this world, the extension of Christ's Kingdom and the salvation of men.
Not so with this poor, healed demoniac. He clings to Jesus. He feels that he cannot leave Him. He prays that he may remain with Him. He desires to enter into the ship with Him and pass over to the other side, to join the disciples, out of and away from this semi-heathen country of Perea. He would go with Jesus and demonstrate his love and gratitude by his life-long devotion and service.
 We cannot doubt but that the Saviour was deeply moved by such evidences of love and faithfulness. But what answer did He give to him? Surely at first it must surprise us. He said, No, I have other work for you here in your own country. Go home to your kindred and friends and tell them what things the Lord hath done for you, and how He hath had compassion on you.
These selfish, unsympathizing people of Gadara certainly needed a Missionary. The Lord would place this devoted follower where he could do the most good. Where should this be, but in his own home, among his relatives, friends and acquaintances, who had known him in his terrible madness, to whom he had been an object of terror and dread?
The man's home and surroundings were wicked. Yet Christ bade him stay there. He had not chosen that home, but it was his. He must remain in it. We are not to seek scenes of danger and temptation, but being in them are there to glorify God by our work for Him. The highest duty is generally that which lies nearest to us. The Christian must, at our Lord's bidding, stay and be the leaven to Christianize and the salt to make and keep pure the place and neighborhood of his abode.
What did the man reply to Jesus? Did he remonstrate? Did he decline to fulfil the Lord's bidding? Did he still insist on remaining with Him? Timid as he might well be, fearful as he might be to trust himself alone, [165/166] and needing, as he felt he needed, the presence and the companionship of Jesus, and doubtful as he might well be whether he could do any good for the cause of Christ in his old home and country, still he is ready. He does not for a moment hesitate. He thinks no more of self. In faith he obeys, doubtless feeling sure that his Lord knew best where he should be and where his presence and work would be most effective for His cause. And so he goes home immediately to his kindred and friends and shows what the Lord had done for him, and he publishes it abroad in all Decapolis, the ten cities of Perea. Poor a subject as you would think him out of which to make a Missionary, his ministry was most effectual.
I need not dwell upon the manner in which his ministry is performed. What must have been the effect of his very presence, in perfect sanity and health? See him at home and going in and out among his people. His countenance is expressive only of love. His eyes, that once flashed forth the fires of madness, now return the look of affection. He is calm, collected, entirely himself, and he ascribes all the glory and praise to Christ. What a sermon was this! How powerful to convince and to persuade! But he does more than merely to stand, clothed and in his right mind, among his people. He goes about preaching Jesus. All who have known him, and many others, hear from his lips the story of his healing and salvation.
 Here, then, brethren, is an example for you. This man is what every Christian must be. He only does what is the plain duty of every one who is saved in Christ. He preaches to you to-day a most effective sermon. Listen to its teaching, impress it upon your hearts. The message to you is "Go and do thou likewise." Obey as he did, the voice of the Lord, through Whom you are redeemed and saved. Show yourselves to be Christ's by your lives of soberness, righteousness and godliness. Tell alike by your conduct and your fitly spoken words what the Lord hath done for you. Let the power of your example and your life of active goodness, and the positive influence of your untiring efforts by word and deed, bring those with whom you come in contact nearer to Christ and to His healing grace in His Church.
Let those who profess to be saved in Christ, prove it to the world by their lives, their conduct and their teaching. Let them see to it that among their nearest kindred, in their homes, in the circle of their friends and acquaintances, among their neighbors and those whom they meet in the relations of business and of society, they shall fulfil the Lord's command, and tell and show forth what the Lord hath done for them, the power of His healing grace, the moulding influence of His love, making them Christ-like in character.
There is no principle more fundamental in Christianity than this: That every one who is a Christian must seek [167/168] to make others Christians. Christian love is diffusive. If it be in you, it must constrain you. It must determine your conduct. It must form your character.
How is it with you, brethren? You are in the Church. You are baptized into Christ, into His death, His sacrifice. Is His love in your heart? Is His Spirit yours? Does it actuate you? Does it make you like Him? Does it lead you to follow Him? Does it impel you to give your lives for others? Does it constrain you to do His work, and give your active help in carrying on that redemptive process by which Jesus Christ is saving men and repairing, restoring the ruins sin has made in this sinful world?
It was said to me not long since by one of your most thoughtful and influential business men: "This congregation is dying of selfishness. Its work is all for itself. It thinks only of its own comfort and enjoyment." This is a terrible arraignment. Is there truth in it? How much of truth is there in it? God forbid that it should be so bad as this. If it have any grounds at all, God forbid that it should so continue for a day.
If you resent such an imputation, try at least to understand how any one could have made it. The criticisms of friends should be helpful.
I must not take the position of an accuser. The congregation ought to be as its individuals. If the members are worthy Christian livers and active Christian workers, the congregation should be the same, and the [168/169] corporate life of the body should manifest itself in the Christian activities to which the individuals are pledged and should be devoted. And this corporate action should be resistless. The corporate life should manifest itself in effective organization to make the work in the highest degree successful in the greatest good of men, to the greater glory of God.
Let us lay down an imperative Christian duty -- a duty that rests on a most essential principle of the Gospel. We can thus test ourselves. We can see wherein we are delinquent, and what we have to amend. I speak now only of duty about which there is no question among Christians. It is the duty of every one of us and of all of us combined to evangelize, to Christianize the people around us. This means the people of this city, of all classes not yet reached by the Gospel. It means the people of all the wards and all the suburbs of this town, and the surrounding country. It means the people of this State, of this Diocese, and of the country at large. It means the people of these United States, and of the whole world. More than it is a duty to support the government, the state schools, and the state institutions for the common good, it is the duty of all Christian people to support the Church and her agencies for the evangelization of our home, our neighborhood, our country, and the world. And such support involves personal activity, in zealous, devoted, self-sacrificing exertion. If there are [169/170] many who cannot bear their part in the Missionary work incumbent upon them, by personal service, they are not therefore exempted from the obligation. The soldier who cannot fight must employ a substitute. They who cannot go into the field must provide the support of others. It requires money for this. The propagation of the Gospel in the extension of the Church at home and abroad is largely a question of money. And offerings of money are the most ordinary and practical proof of interest. Under the present arrangements in the business world and the social organism, not to give with free-handed liberality for the missions and charities of the Church, is to be, like the Gadarenes, blind, indifferent to the power and beneficence of Christ's Gospel. It is equivalent to doing nothing whatever towards accomplishing the end for which Christ came into this world, and to lose all share in His work and His rewards.
Now, what are you doing? How much are you giving for Missions, in the Parish, in the city, in the jurisdiction, in the domestic and foreign field? Must the answer be, almost nothing? Must you make such answer to yourselves? When the exigencies of the work demand one-tenth, or one-half, or for some even the whole of your income, must you confess that you are only, year by year, giving nothing that has called for any thought, or occasioned the least degree of sacrifice? Are you Christians, then, and do you expect for yourselves spiritual growth and health, and [170/171] for your Church prosperity and success? Under the law of Christ's Kingdom, no such expectation can be realized. To be selfish is spiritual death. To think only or chiefly of what concerns only ourselves and our own well-being, temporally or spiritually, is the way of poverty, spiritual destitution, drought and barrenness in all the springs and sources of life. "He that saveth his life shall lose it."
It is the custom and law of the Church that offerings be made for various missionary and charitable objects. A healthful condition of spiritual life depends upon a glad and generous compliance. Your own experience is wide enough to infer with certainty that habitual neglect of meeting such demands brings on a state of deadness which will imperil the prosperity and kill the life of the Parish. The congregational demands that were made the excuse for neglect of Diocesan and general requirements, after a time will not themselves be met, because interest dies out. Indifference, deadness, failure is everywhere.
There is no congregation, whether of Mission or Parish, in which the minimum number of offerings for outside objects should be less than once a month. And for these there ought to be an organized System of solicitation and pledges to be redeemed. It is a sure conclusion from a wide deduction from facts, that it is for the best interests of every congregation as such, to perform this duty with whole-souled generosity and large-heartedness. To do so will bring life into the congregation, and the practical realization [171/172] of the corporate nature of Christianity, which will intensify all parochial activities, while to neglect it habitually will surely bring on barrenness, torpor and death. The law that determines such result is irreversible.
So much was needful to be said as to the proofs of interest and the practical manner in which those who can do little by personal work may and must show it, and thus follow in spirit the example before us.
The poor restored demoniac was told to go and publish Christ as his Saviour in his own home. He did so, but also beyond. Charity begins at home, but is not circumscribed and does not remain there.
Here is your home. What can you do here? You can do much. Would that you all might open your eyes to see what you might do. You ought to form such Mission districts as are needed in and around your Parish Church. You ought to have half a score or a score of men who would, under appointment as Readers, hold cottage services in as many populous neighborhoods, securing such Clerical supervision and help as may be possible. You ought to have Christian men as well as women organized for such work, banded together for its accomplishment, going out into the highways, inviting all to the Church and to the Missions, and telling all of Jesus the Saviour. You ought to make your Parish or Mission felt as a power for good in every street, in every suburb, in every outside hamlet within your reach. You ought to [172/173] make the influence of your Church so potent and so beneficial, that indifference should be attracted, deadness revived, and infidelity itself abashed and silenced. Men and women of every class from all around you, from all your populous streets and outlying districts, as the result of your efforts, should arise and say, "We will go with you, for we have heard that the Lord is with you." So should the Gospel spread from ten thousand centers and "the knowledge of the Lord cover the earth as the waters cover the sea." Who can for a moment doubt that if such were the earnest purpose of all our people, if we were determined upon it, would give and work and sacrifice ourselves for it as is the bounden duty of every Christian, such glorious results would follow in due time. Awake, then, to your duty and your privileges. Make your lives Christian. Give yourselves with real interest to your Lord's work. Spread abroad a Christian influence. Build up your Church, extend it far and wide, and thus array yourselves on the side of Christ and those saved through Him.