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.
1 John ii, 14: I write unto you, young men, because ye are strong and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
IT is the Apostle of love who thus writes. It is near the close of his life and of the first century, long after all his brother Apostles had departed. Love, as always, is his great theme, the love of God manifested in Jesus Christ, love one towards another. Love prompts his loving instruction to the Churches. He thinks of all. He has a word for all--the fathers, the young men, even the little children of the Church. Those little ones had received remission of sins in their baptism, and were therefore responsible for growth in Christ and in the knowledge of God, which was thereby rendered possible. Fathers were responsible for the use of their gifts, their knowledge and experience, their maturity of life and character, in the service of the Church. Young men were to be strong in grace as by nature, by the Word of God abiding in them for overcoming the wicked one, for resisting evil, in behalf of the Kingdom of Christ.
I propose to take this thought of the strength of young [174/175] men as a basis for some remarks upon the work which ought now to be expected of the young men of this (Cathedral) congregation and of the other congregations of our Church in this city. Others besides young men, older men and fathers, and the women of the Church may take useful hints from the suggestions to be offered.
The glory of young men, says Solomon, is their strength. This attributing of strength to young men is very suggestive. They are full of life, activity, energy, enthusiasm. They have a keen pleasure in exertion. They delight in manly effort. Their most pleasant recreation is in physical exercise and feats of agility. They know no fatigue nor weariness when their interest is thoroughly enlisted, in efforts that would be to men of middle life laborious and exhausting.
So always the labors of love are a delight. But it is spiritual strength rather than physical that the Apostle has in view. He thinks of them as strong in the Lord. They have received the strength of grace in their regeneration and in the covenant of grace. The energy that comes from the spirit of strength and grace is within them and actuates them. They are supposed to have grown in this grace, to have been confirmed in it, and had it confirmed in them by the sign and seal of its increase. They are supposed to be carrying their natural earnestness and enthusiasm into their spiritual life; having renounced the world, to be fighting against the world, and [175/176] standing in and maintaining that renunciation; to be putting into use their spiritual armour in earnest warfare against sin, making the Word of God in their hands the sword of the Spirit, and wielding it with power, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
It is the well-known practice of the sacred writers to speak of the baptized as Christians, as regenerate, enlightened, and to use language of all members of the Church which is strictly applicable only to the spiritually minded, who are walking worthy of their vocation. Some may be very far from the life and character required of them. Still they are in the Church. They are not excommunicate. Therefore they are, by a charitable judgment, presumed to be in heart what they are in rights and privileges, members of Christ, the children of God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. As they are all this in outward relations, so they are assumed to have at least in some measure the inward character and the life of Christian men. So of all the baptized dead; the Church, committing their bodies to the ground, makes no judgment, utters no censure, but uses rather the general language of Christian hope. When S. John says of young men that they are strong and have the Word of God abiding in them and have overcome the wicked one, he presumes of all the young men in the Church what is true in the fullest measure of but few of them. In all of them it is, he trusts, coming to be true. This is his hope and expectation. [176/177] They have the Christian vocation. They must not be false to it. They must do their utmost to fulfil it. The germs of the Christian life, the beginnings of the Christian character are in them. In the relations in which they stand, in the vows which are upon them, in the grace and privileges of their membership of Christ, they are strong. The Word of God abideth in them. In potency they have overcome the wicked one, whom they have once for all renounced.
And therefore I cannot be in error if I use S. John's language of the young men in the Church to-day, and say to them all indiscriminately "I speak unto you, young men, because ye are strong and the Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one." I may assume that you are all, in some sense, what you ought to be, what your position and relations in the Church require of you, what you desire and, it is to be hoped, are striving to be, through the grace of God given and pledged and always sufficient for you.
The Apostle clearly expects much of young men in the Church. They have large capabilities. The Church has a just claim upon their natural endowments, their earnestness and activity. They ought to be in the forefront of every active movement, the advance guard, and the strong arm in every battle of the Church. They are to stand shoulder to shoulder in serried ranks, irresistible in [177/178] their strength, as they go forth in warfare against the Church's enemies.
He addresses the young men as a class. In other cases where classes of persons are spoken of in regard to any office or work in the Church, co-operation, associated effort is implied. So of the Ministry, whether of Apostles, Elders or Deacons. So of women, deaconesses, widows, under the direction of the Apostles or other Ministers. Of little children it is implied that they are associated in learning, in receiving a training in grace by the Word of God; of fathers, as especially bound together in love, in tastes, habits and duties. Young men are classed together as being strong, as being engaged in work in which their strength is available. Hence we may regard them as mutually co-operating and organizing their work, which is the overcoming of the wicked one and the sin and misery of the world around them.
Indeed, the principle of organization is fundamental in Christianity. It is involved in membership of Christ. All the members have their functions, and co-operate to the perfecting of the Body. It is seen in worship which is common, united, social. It is seen in the work of the Ministry and of all who labor in the cause of Christ. Christianity is indeed in its very nature corporate. It is embodied in an organism, an institution, the Church of God. All work that is effective is organized. The world has derived from the Church the principle of association for [178/179] the accomplishment of results, and it is made the chief instrument of progress and of civilization, and everybody knows how combination, co-operation, is the secret of large successes in all worldly enterprise. It involves division of labor, grades of office and of functions, some supplying what others lack, and all uniting in different ways, by divers means and methods, in the bringing about of great ends.
It is the carrying out of the same principle which is implied in the Lord's choosing the College of the Apostles and the Presbyterate of the Seventy; in theemplo3rmentof the young men as assistants to the Ministry, as seen in the fifth chapter of the Acts; in the appointment of the seven Deacons; in the associate missionary work of the Apostles and Evangelists; in the Conciliar action of the Apostles and Elders and brethren. I insist, therefore, upon this as a legitimate inference, that the young men of the Church must be looked to as a class in associated action for the doing of work in which they have special qualifications. I write unto you, young men, because ye are strong. I claim in behalf of the Church the use of that strength which God has given you, in the service of the Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The idea of an association of young men for Christian work in the Church is a grand and noble one, and ought to be realized in all our large parishes. In cities like this, it should be formed of all the young men willing to engage [179/180] in active Church work, in all the Parishes and Missions. Ultimately there would be a Diocesan association formed of all the local associations in the several citie3 and towns. Many of the English Dioceses have their lay helpers' associations of men who have already done great things for the Church. By visitors, readers and teachers, the Gospel has been brought home to many souls. Districts that had been abandoned to heathenism have been reclaimed, purified, enlightened, civilized. In this country at least one Diocese, that of Long Island, has its lay helpers' association admirably organized and doing most effective work for the Church, in its missions to the poor and working people, and in the administration of its charities.
Let us see what the idea is. No principle can be more obvious, whether in the light of Holy Scripture or in the experience of Christian history than this: that every Christian association, whether of men or women, whatever its objects, to be wise and safe and largely beneficial in relation to Christianity, must be in the Church, under its authority, and a part of its living organism. There must be no self-will in it. It must be loyal to the Church, its doctrine, discipline and usages. Love, obedience, hearty co-operation, thorough devotion are essential. Whether there be preaching and exhortation, or Mission services and Sunday-schools with district visiting, whatever it be that is undertaken, it must be under authority and strict accountability. The association, to be permanently [180/181] Christian and justify its name, must be in the Church, in subordination to the officers of the Church, actuated by the Church's spirit and principles, an ally of the Church's Ministry.
Other associations may be needful and useful for other purposes. I am not questioning the legitimacy of scientific associations, musical or art associations, lectureship and literary associations. These and other like associations may claim the membership and receive the aid of Christians, for not all secular things are evil. It is altogether another kind of association I am advocating: one that is Christian, the very idea of which involves its being in the Church, the very object of which is to do some portion of the Church's work in alliance with and in subordination to the Church's Ministry, and under her laws and government.
The work which the Church is set to do imperatively requires such an Association, and cannot well be done without it. The work is pressing. It must be done. Failure to do it will be fatal.
The Church needs the strength of young men. The Church believes in them, yearns for them, loves them. She would marshal them into combined and effective action in her glorious work of breaking down the kingdom of sin, Satan and death, and extending the Kingdom of our Redeemer.
What we want here is a young men's association, or [181/182] brotherhood, for charitable and missionary work. It should be organized in connection with the Cathedral, but each parish should have its chapter, all united in the central organization on equal terms. Its work should be to establish and conduct Missions, Mission Sunday-schools, cottage lectures, and to aid the hospital and charitable work; to secure subscriptions, friends, helpers, in aid of the parochial and other authorities in charge. There will be various committees for different departments of effort. Some will superintend schools. Some will be teachers. Some will be lay readers. Some will be visitors. Some will look after the sick and afflicted. Some will secure funds for designated objects. Some will visit families, and seek out the children and indigent and uncared-for people for whom the Church is responsible. All will seek out strangers, and especially young men, bring them to Church and make them feel at home; gather them into Bible classes, enlist their interest in the Missions, and by every means convince all such people as are yet outside the influences of Christianity that the Church is their home and their best friend; its teaching and spiritual helps what their souls need; its work worthy of their strength and labor; its society and associations elevating, helpful, enjoyable.
Thus young men associated together, and organized, and strong in the Lord, might make grand use of their strength in His service. They might carry the Gospel [182/183] and the Kingdom of Christ into all the waste places around us, scattering the darkness with the light of truth and opening the door of hope and salvation to multitudes of perishing souls.
The association should have its regular meetings, at which the Bishop, Dean or one or more of the Clergy should be present, for reports, for consultation, for maturing plans of action. Besides the missionary objects, there might be the further one of social pleasure, mutual improvement or Christian edification. There might be the reading-room, the library, the courses of lectures, the classes of instruction, affording facilities to acquire the knowledge requisite for any branch of business or mechanical or scientific pursuit. There might be debates, readings, dissertations. All this, however, should be subsidiary to the great work in which strength, zeal, earnestness are necessary: the overcoming of the wicked one in all his wiles, the saving of souls from his dominion and gathering them into the fold of Christ. The St. Andrew's Brotherhood, with its branch in each parish and its general chapter of the city and, in due time, of the Diocese, with its twofold promise and vow for its members that each shall endeavor to bring at least one man every Sunday to the Church or to the Bible class and to pray for the extension of Christ's kingdom among men, might enlarge the scope of its work and answer all the purposes necessary. It is an admirable organization. Its plan deserves the heartiest commendation. [183/184] It should be introduced into every Parish. It bids fair to become the right arm of the Church in her missionary work among the classes of people from whom should come her most promising recruits and whom she has hitherto culpably neglected;--I mean the workingmen, the bone and sinew of the country.
Glorious will be the day for the Church (in Denver) when our young men, of whom there are so many, strong to labor, shall unite in all such work as now invites their co-operation. Long have we waited and prayed for the time when this great movement might be inaugurated under such favorable auspices as to promise success. How much of the strength of young men have I seen wasted, lost to the Church, lost to their own souls. How much of it goes to the world and its pursuits, its vain and futile pleasures and their exactions, to yield to which is unmanly and slavish.
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, but remember that if your enjoyment is sought and found only in this world, a day of drear and bitter sorrow will surely follow your joy. Rejoice in your strength, but not in using it at the behests of the wicked one, or of the world, or of self. Rejoice to use it for Christ. It comes from God; it must be consecrated to God. If given to the wicked one it will be a curse. It will make your ruin sure and irremediable. The best, the most noble, the most manly work you can [184/185] do with the strength, natural and spiritual, God gives you, is what you may do for Him, for the Church, for the souls and bodies of men. The most effective work you can do is as united and in co-operation. Set it before you, then, as an object to be speedily attained, to undertake, in association and as a brotherhood, the strong, aggressive missionary work of saving souls, of improving the intellectual, moral, spiritual condition of men, of sustaining the missions, the schools, the hospital, the charities of the Church, and whatsoever else there may be for you to do for Christ. Determine that all shall be done with earnest Christian purpose in the spirit of love, loyalty and obedience, and willing sacrifice for Christ's sake. And let us ask His blessing upon whatever may be done to His glory, the extension of His Church and kingdom, and the salvation of souls.