To the Parishioners of St. John's, Milwaukee.
A SERMON upon the occasion of the death of one so dearly beloved and so deeply venerated as our late Bishop, was sure to create a more than ordinary interest. From this cause, many have expressed a wish to have something which should serve as a memento of their dear departed Father in God, and have requested the publication of the Sermon now presented to you.
The circumstances under which the request has been made can alone furnish an excuse for your Rector's consent to the publication of what was so hurriedly written, and with a heart full of sorrow at the sore bereavement that he, together with yourselves, has sustained.
St. John's Rectory, Whistuntide, 1870.
"Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."--Numbers, 23 :10.
"Let me die the death of the righteous." The true meaning of this wish or prayer is, a righteous life--not simply a righteous death; to die the death of one who has lived righteously.
We must be careful not to mistake the true meaning of a wish like this. In any proper sense, it is not the wish of one who is consciously living an unholy or careless life, but is anxiously desirous to die a good or righteous death--who wishes it, and rather counts upon it, to escape the consequences of an evil life--which is a thing, I fear, too many depend upon; but it is the wish to live the life of the righteous, that we may have in death the hope of the righteous. "Such a death as those die who are in covenant with God, and obey His precepts," says Bishop KIDDER. "Let me die in a mature old age, after a life of health and peace, with all my posterity flourishing about me--the lot of the righteous observers of the law," is the patriarchal interpretation of the wish by Bishop WARBURTON.
Balaam, who used these words, and poured forth this passionate wish, was, alas, conscious of an evil life, and had, in all probability, some forebodings of his own coming, untimely death. And therefore the words in his mouth expressed only what they are too often made to do, simply a desire to escape the punishment to be feared after a doubtful or evil life. To use this wish or prayer aright, we must use it as the blessing of Israel: "Let me die the death of the righteous," or, as the righteous ones die, full of service, full of good, full of days, full of hope--the death that must follow a long and holy life.
The life of our dear departed, and venerable Bishop was all this. In holy service and length of days surely the blessing of Israel was upon it; and his, if ever man's was, was the death of the righteous--a noble Christian life, crowned with a peaceful and beautiful death.
The Rt. Rev. JACKSON KEMPER, D.D., LL,D., was born at Pleasant Valley, Dutchess county, N. Y., on Christmas Eve A. D. 1789, on the eve of the Feast of the Nativity of the Saviour whom he loved and served so well. His parents were of the original Holland stock who first settled the city of New York and its immediate neighborhood. His father was an officer in the Revolutionary Army. His parents must have removed to New York when he was quite young, for he used frequently to relate his early recollections of that city, among others, that he remembered quite well when the present site of the City Hospital was the green fields, outside the City. The Bishop was educated in Columbia College, then as now, one of the first institutions of learning in the country. His family were (I believe) Episcopalians, and thus, he was born to that precious privilege, the heritage of the Church. He was graduated at Columbia College in 1809, and ordained to the Diaconate at Philadelphia in 1811, and became an assistant under the venerable Bishop WHITE. Christ Church, S. Peter's and S. James' were then associate Churches under the Rectorship of Bishop WHITE, and the later was placed under the pastoral charge of Bishop KEMPER.
A few years later he was assigned to the agency of the Society for the advancement of Christianity, one of the earliest, if not the oldest Missionary Societies of the American Church, and of this he was among the first and most active Missionaries.
In his office he traveled much in Pennsylvania. Hearing of isolated communities in Ohio he sought them out and ministered to them. We have every reason to believe he was the first clergyman of the Church who ever preached west of the Alleghanies. About the year 1830 he removed to Connecticut and became rector of S. Paul's Church, Norwalk. He remained in charge of this parish until he was elected Missionary Bishop of the Northwest at the general Convention held at Philadelphia in 1835.
At this deeply interesting Convention, one of the most remarkable in the history of our American Church, the Church awoke to a new life in missionary zeal and enterprise. The Church was declared a Missionary Church, with the whole duty of the original commission upon her to preach everywhere, in heathen lands, and especially in all the waste places of our own land, the blessed gospel of peace and good will. As the result of this new missionary spirit, (besides the provision made for foreign missionary labor) two missionary episcopates were created. One for the southwest and one for the northwest. To the first of these the late Rev. Dr. FRANCIS HAWKS was elected, but declined the office, to the latter our own late venerable Bishop was chosen, and in the full spirit of the missionary zeal that was upon him he accepted the office. And if ever a man carried out the wishes and instructions, nay hopes, beyond the utmost expectations of the mind and thought of those who prompted the commission, surely that man was Bishop KEMPER, for none of those who sent him forth ever dreamed of the wonderful results of his mission.
Bishop KEMPER was consecrated in S. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, on Friday, Sept. 25, 1835. The venerable Bishop WHITE acted as consecrator, the last consecration of a Bishop at which he officiated, and of the Bishops then present our presiding Bishop, Bishop SMITH of Kentucky, is the only survivor, The territory committed to his ecclesiastical authority and care was probably the largest that has ever been entrusted to one man since the apostles were sent forth into the world. It consisted of all the territory unoccupied by the Church from the degree 36 1-2 to the north line of our possessions and westward to the Pacific coast. Never, as we said, had a Bishop a larger field, never one more truly and permanently successful in cultivating it.
Of the condition of the field when he entered upon it, in Church material, there were, I think, in Indiana one missionary and no church--or not more than one church building; in Missouri one church building and no clergyman; in Wisconsin one missionary; and in all the rest neither church nor clergyman. Surely, as we think of the past and the present, we may well exclaim, What has God wrought?
As the result of the labors of our departed missionary apostle, either directly or indirectly, there have been organized eight dioceses, viz.: Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, California, Nebraska and Kansas; and six missionary jurisdictions, now in charge of missionary bishops, viz.: Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
At the time Bishop Kemper entered upon his work in the North-West, Saint Louis was the largest city in his jurisdiction; and in that city he took up his residence, and became Rector of Christ Church, the mother church.
This was his home for some years,--if home he could be said to have, who was so constantly from home. He was often called "the Apostle of the North-West," and surely, no man e the days of Saint Paul was more worthy of being called He was, indeed, an apostle who never spared himself, but who considered it his special call to preach the Gospel of the Saviour everywhere, through the length and breadth of his immense field. In the early days traveling in all kinds of conveyances, and putting up with the rudest kinds of accommodations--in journeys as lengthy and with no less of peril, save that of persecution, with those of Saint Paul. As one writes, "Few men in the service of religion have ever traveled so much, and over such an extensive territory, in the performance of ecclesiastical duties, as Bishop Kemper. His travels were mostly through wild regions, by modes of conveyance far from comfortable, and often beset by the dangers of the frontier. For many years it was not uncommon for him to start on a journey of several hundred miles on horseback or in open wagons. He once remarked, that he remembered making a journey of three hundred and fifty miles, principally in stage coaches, after several years of his western travel, and thinking how comfortable traveling had become."
In 1846, Wisconsin was organized into a diocese, and at its primary Convention, held at Milwaukee in June 1847, Bishop Kemper was unanimously elected its Diocesan. After due consideration, he declined to accept, moved chiefly by reluctance to accept any position that should look to a resignation of the office of his heart and pride, namely, that of Missionary Bishop. At the Convention of 1854 he was again elected; since which date he has been Bishop of Wisconsin, At the General Convention of 1859 he resigned his missionary jurisdiction, and from that time confined himself to his own diocese.
But though his labors were now limited to a single state, and his years advanced to the three score years and ten, he was very far from taking that rest to which--from advanced years and growing infirmities--he was entitled. Every year of his life seemed only to increase his zeal and burning love for souls. Up to the very last his zeal and labor, and earnest wish to preach the Word of Life knew no abatement. The Sunday following the commencement of his last illness, he had appointed to administer confirmation in this church; and it was with difficulty he could be dissuaded from making the attempt to be present with us. When he found he could not make the appointment, he wrote me, offering the choice of other Sundays; and when I visited him, he went to find his list of appointments to show me when he could come and see us. So had it ever been,--so was it to the last; he never considered or spared himself, but was ever full of work and full of plan for the extension of his Master's Kingdom. To be the chiefest missionary and the hardest worker in his diocese was his pride and aim, and the object of his most ardent love. His simple plan--the apostolic one of preaching the Gospel--and his ardent love for souls, were crowned with most abundant success; in result for good, far more effective, for his day and time--such is my firm conviction--than all the theories and plans of Church work, of which one hears so much.
But to our notice of his official life, and mention of the apostolic zeal and faithfulness of our dear departed Bishop, we may be pardoned for adding something of his personal character.
He was a Christian gentleman. Whatever is meant or implied in this title found full expression in him. Not only the gentleman in appearance, in refined person and feature, and neatness of dress, he was so in every quality and instinct. He was the soul of honor, integrity and benevolence. His purity of speech and thought was as unsullied "as the snow upon the brow of Diana," and to these were added an unfailing cheerfulness of spirits, good conversational powers, and a gentle humor crowned his talk.
He was, indeed, a gentleman of the "olden time"--upright, noble, grand. No amount of exposure to the rough and careless manners of pioneer life ever had the slightest effect upon him, to lower the standing of his own good breeding and etiquette. He was often sorely annoyed by the rudeness of the people, but he himself remained the courteous gentleman of a time and people, which, he was accustomed to say, he was afraid had almost disappeared--a time when "manners made the man."
In integrity and business habits he was worthy of all example. His word was his bond. His accounts were kept with the nicest care, and he was as prompt and as exact as the bank. Nothing short of the most pressing call upon his benevolence could induce him to obligations beyond his means. All debt he absolutely abhorred,--even though assumed as ventures of faith for good objects; believing, as he did, that nothing could justify the sin and danger of debt. "To owe no man anything but love " was the rule of his life.
But one of his most striking characteristics was his benevolence. The Bishop's heart was indeed the tender spot, and no person or object ever appealed to him in vain. Many, in this respect, will mourn the loss of the dear old Bishop. His clergy were his peculiar care and charge. He watched their circumstances with the closest attention, lest any of them might really suffer. He knew their scant means, and was ever ready, without request, to lend a helping hand; and always in the gentlest and kindest manner. To enable himself to do this, he was accustomed to practice the closest economy--in many instances amounting to severe self-denial. Perhaps it is not quite delicate, and I hesitate to mention it, knowing his dislike to having his good deeds spoken of; but I happen to know that in one of the recent years of his life he gave away two-thirds of his income. And that this fairly represented his habit of liberal giving, I have every reason to believe. It is only a few weeks ago that he said to me, "Money is a talent, and we have no right to keep it to ourselves."
With the most moderate of incomes, he was constantly giving--and with a liberal hand. Missions, Sunday school libraries, church buildings, redeeming church property from debt, and for the founding institutions of Christian education, his hand was ever open. Applications came to him from all parts of the country, and rarely or ever was it a vain appeal.
Kindness, courtesy and tenderness of manner enhanced his benevolence, and his affectionate words ever doubled the value of his gifts.
No one who ever knew the Bishop will wonder at the universal love and esteem that was felt and manifested for him while living, or at the wealth affection poured out upon his bier.
To your Rector he was more than a father, and I bear to his dear memory an affection which no words can express. His relations to me were of the most sacred kind: confirmed by him, and ordained to the Diaconate and the Priesthood, by the laying on of his hands; in holy matrimony twice I received his blessing, and he buried my dear dead. To have served him in however humble and unworthy a degree, and to have gained his confidence, will always be among the most grateful recollections of my life; and my deep sorrow at his loss is mingled with love and gratitude.
To you, dear brethren, his loss is a great one. He was always a most welcome visitor to this parish, and the affection you bore to him was always responded to by deep interest and affection on his part. As he stood before you, every inch a Christian bishop, his holy look and presence was a sermon in themselves that all could feel, and, I believe, were profited, by. His earnest, affectionate teaching, his solemn services at this altar, will, I trust, be always remembered to the purpose he would have us remember them, namely, to the furtherance of holy life and earnest interest in the Church of Christ. Deeply we mourn his loss, and great is our affliction when we remember that we shall "see his face no more."
The good old man had reached his four score years, without diminishing aught from his laborious zeal. It was a matter of common remark, even within the past year, that he was doing more work than ever. To the last, he could not be dissuaded from undertaking long journeys or services. Increasing years seemed only to increase his diligence. All his fear was that he should not be able to continue the active discharge of his ministry to the end. But the wish and earnest prayer of his heart was granted. An object of reverence to all, and with the face of an angel-beaming with love to God and man--the dear old Bishop, after the example of the MASTER, went about doing good almost to the last of his days. His last public work, in the exercise of his office, was to hold confirmation at Pine Lake station on the afternoon of the Fifth Sunday in Lent. It was with difficulty he could get through the service. On his return home home, he felt unusual fatigue, from which he never recovered. From the first it was feared he would never rally again. Unable to take nourishment, his bodily strength gradually left him, but by such gentle degrees that it was hardly perceptible from day to day. His mind was bright and clear to the last.
It was my privilege to see him three times during his last illness; and I always found him full of expressions of loving interest about his work, and the flock over which the great Head of the Church had made him overseer. The last time I saw him--when about to kneel to receive his blessing--holding my hand, he said, "I hope I have been faithful; I hope I have kept the faith." Dear Saint! who could resist to use for him (what his devout modesty alone prevented him from using) the triumphant language of Saint Paul: "The time of my departure is at hand; I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day." (2 Tim iv.) Forty-eight hours before his death he fell into a kind of lethargy, and so continued to the end; literally, he "fell asleep."
The circular letter of Bishop Armitage to the clergy fitly describes the close of his venerable predecessor's life:
"Our dear Father in God has entered into rest. Yesterday, at twenty minutes past two in the afternoon, he fell asleep. His noble life has be crowned with a beautiful death, of which no one circumstance could have been ordered for his more perfect peace, or for our more perfect consolation. Dying at home, tenderly watched and cared for by his children, far from suffering, with his mind clear and active almost to the end, enjoying the reading of late and favorite books, retaining unimpaired his loving interest in his Diocese and its members,--what further outward comfort could we have asked for him? And as to his soul's state, let this one saying of his suffice--we all know how much it meant from his lips--"I have everything to be thankful for; the presence of my Saviour, the help of His Holy Spirit, and a hope full of immortality." We may well pray to be like him in his life and ministry, that our last end may be like his.
Surely, the blessing of Israel was upon our dear departed Bishop. Dying in a mature old age; after a life of health and peace and great usefuless, with all his family around him, his was the lot of the righteous observers of the law. As we think of him, and of his blessed peaceful death, so full of hope and comfort, who does not pray, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his."