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The Church's Duty to the Germans: A Sermon.

By Clarence Buel, Chaplain of the Church German Society.

New York: James Pott, 1881.

NEW YORK, October 5, 1881.


The following sermon, delivered by me first in St. Bartholomew's Church, New York, and last in St. Paul's Church, Buffalo, was prepared at your request in order to aid the cause of the Church German Society, in whose service I am glad to be your fellow-worker.

In giving it now for publication I yield to the request of sundry friends, who have been good enough to say that its usefulness would thus be increased. But in doing so I avail myself gladly of the permission to dedicate it to yourself as a slight token of my warm regard, and high appreciation of your services in behalf of the Society.

Yours faithfully,

Chairman Church German Society.

To the Rev. G. F. SIEGMUND, D.D.,
Corresponding Secretary, Church German Society.


And they were all amazed, and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? and how hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born? And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?--Acts, ch. ii., vv. 7, 8, and 12,

HOLY SCRIPTURE, which loves to teach both by resemblance and contrast, presents here the counterpart to the picture which is drawn in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. For, while we are told there how man's folly, seeking in its pride to scale heaven, resulted in confusion, so here we learn how God's wisdom, working through grace, effected the restoration of true unity. Man's idea of grandeur expressed itself in the scheme of a material tower which should carry the brick and slime of earth up into the sky; but the divine plan was that of a spiritual building, which, resting on no earthly foundation, should withstand all the shocks of time, and only reach its glorious completion in eternity. Man thought only of a huge structure, whose wearisome sameness would alone have rendered it a failure, but God devised an enduring monument, in which, under all varieties of outward expression, there should be matchless harmony and perfect unity. For what is it other than the blessed Church of Christ, which is founded upon "the Apostles and the Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone?" Yea, and when it is completed it will be His "glorious Church, not having spot [5/6] or wrinkle, or any such thing, but . . . holy and without blemish."

My brethren, the theme which it will be my aim to present, is one which relates to the development of this Church in our own land; and especially with reference to claims now made upon it to work out in a direction which, until very recently, has been wholly neglected. It is to represent the mission undertaken by the Church German Society, and to present such considerations as may tend, by God's blessing, to promote an increased interest in its behalf. But while it might be presumptuous to claim that I can offer anything new in the way of argument on this subject, yet I am not without hope of being able to say something which may, at least, tend to place its objects before you in a favorable light. Yet this hope is based less on the power of any persuasion which I may exert, than on the simple statement of facts which must commend themselves to all who will earnestly consider them.

The fundamental fact which underlies all others is simply this: That the Church to which we belong is an integral portion of the great Church CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC throughout the world. This doctrinal truth rests in our creeds, and may not, therefore, be disputed. But is it not equally clear that every distinct portion of the Church Catholic is so bound to order her ministrations that they may be enjoyed by all men of every tongue who inhabit the territory with which she is coextensive? Does not this follow as a, matter of necessity from the very idea of Catholicity? Nay, does it not come to us as the very first lesson of Church development in Pentecostal days? Were they not all there then, devout men out of every nation under Heaven? And did they not all, strangers, as well as Jews and proselytes, hear, each in his own tongue, the wonderful works of God? Ah! let us be very sure that it was not without reference to a lesson reaching far beyond the results of that first Whitsunday, that all, without exception, were included in the one [6/7] uniform message, which flowed in different tongues from Apostolic lips, "as the Spirit gave them utterance."

But that which is true with regard to any branch of the Church Catholic has even a stronger bearing upon that portion of it in our own land, for which we are especially responsible. Receiving our precious legacy of divine truth through the Church of England, we have been too much inclined to hold it as a treasure only to be shared by the English-speaking race.

And we may possibly have erred in confining ourselves with too much servility to Anglican methods, forgetting the wide differences arising partly from the character of our institutions and partly from the mixed nature of our people and their traditions.

For what is our country--at least to a great extent? A vast city of refuge; and its population--those who have swarmed hither from all parts of the world, bringing with them every form of religion, ay, and of irreligion also, Have we then no duty with respect to this mixed multitude, and yet call ourselves Catholic? Oh! how narrow and selfish is that view of Christian obligation which would limit our labors to those of our own language, regardless of what may befall the rest? Yea, it is much like saying "I believe in The Holy Church Catholic--Apostolic and English;" and as long as our creeds stand unchanged they will read us a solemn protest against all such partial views of Christian duty.

But we have reached a fitting place to consider an objection which has been made in all sincerity by some who are indisposed to favor any enlarged church work in our own land, except through the medium of the English tongue.

They argue that in one or two generations the descendants of all these strangers will use the Anglo-Saxon language, and that all efforts to teach them through the medium of their own speech only tend to keep up distinctions which it will be wiser to obliterate. But is there not something very cold and selfish in a view which thus ignores the spiritual welfare [7/8] of a whole generation? For while it may be conceded that the children of those who have come to us in mature years will grow up English-speaking, shall we, therefore, do nothing for a whole generation which can only be reached through its own native tongue? Is not this very much like the cold-blooded excuse for doing nothing in behalf of the Indians, because, as a race, they are fast being extinguished?

Ali! as we read of what our fathers did in the way of translating the Bible and other godly books into the various Indian dialects, does it not make us feel how comparatively little are the helps which are rendered to our noble-hearted bishop and clergy, who are ministering with such loving zeal to this oppressed and perishing race? But the objection maybe further met by saying, that so far from seeking to perpetuate distinctions, we thus aim most effectually to remove them, by ministering both to parents and children, in divers tongues, the same precious teaching of the one common faith. But it remains for me to present, from my own standpoint, some reasons which seem to make it specially incumbent upon us as a Church--following alike the suggestions of wisdom and duty--so to extend our efforts as to be capable of ministering to our German-speaking population. This stand-point, it may be said, in passing, is that of a prolonged residence in a German city, where, next to the duty of administering to an American congregation, the study of the Lutheran system received much attention, and it resulted in the conviction that, along with some wide differences, there are many points of strong affinity between "der deutschen evangelischen Kirche" and our own.

Surely then it would be a matter of wise expediency for ourselves, as a church, to draw within our household some portion of that large German element which is so rapidly being worked up into our American nationality. For it is self-evident that in thus reaching out to this and all other constituent parts of our varied population, we assert our claim to true Catholicity, and strengthen our hold on the [8/9] people of this land. And there can certainly be no stronger bulwark of public security than the existence of a Church which shall be recognized everywhere, and by all classes, as being at the same time Scriptural and Catholic.

But it may be stated, furthermore, that we possess advantages for ministering to the Germans which are not shared by the various religious bodies with which we are surrounded, and these are such as grow out of ecclesiastical traditions and customs which they observe in common with ourselves. Thus they follow reverently the same division of the Christian year. The German "Weihnacht" is all what Christmas is to us, and more; and many are the beautiful observances, which, having been transplanted from the "Vaterland," now flourish luxuriantly in that of their adoption. And as with Christmas, so too with Lent, Easter, and Whitsuntide. These, as well as other minor days and seasons, are of general recognition in the Lutheran Church, and are also associated with the most valued pleasures and privileges of the people.

All through the holy season of Lent, the earnest pastors of the various parishes in Germany are busily engaged in carefully preparing their large classes for confirmation as at Easter all those who are leaving school or entering upon service are expected to receive the laying on of hands; for in the Lutheran communion not only do the two holy sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper maintain a high doctrinal position, but the rite of Confirmation, which has become obsolete in other Protestant bodies, is preserved by them--at least formally--in full integrity. We know, of course, that in losing the episcopal order they have parted with that which we regard as invaluable in binding us, by an unbroken continuity, with the Church of Apostolic days. And we thank God for the over-ruling wisdom by which the Reformation in the Church of England was wrought out through the agency of those to whom, under Him, its government was entrusted. But if our reformed brethren in Germany have been deprived of this, it is yet surely a matter of congratulation that they [9/10] retained so much else which we both claim as part of a common heritage. For, besides the points mentioned, they recognize--most certainly in theory--liturgical worship; and, with regard to the use of sacred symbols and ecclesiastical adornment, they go perhaps even further than all of us would be inclined to follow. But with so many things in common, as well in worship as in faith, how strong is the affinity which should draw us together. Nay, is there not even ground for the hope that, if a more complete understanding of our several positions could be attained, they would desire to supply through Anglican sources that which they will never accept from Rome, and which, it is much to be feared, even OLD CATHOLICISM, with its extreme conservatism, will never accomplish? How wise then is the permission by which several of our bishops have sanctioned some such variations from our Book of Common Prayer, in things non-essential, as have tended to make the German Liturgy resemble a little more closely that to which they have been accustomed at home? How judicious has it been, especially, to substitute for their use some of the old familiar hymns which they learned in their childhood? For what other words can so reach the German heart as those which they sang with such fervor in their grand chorals at home? "Fin feste Burg, ist unter Gott." Who that has ever witnessed the enthusiasm which this grand hymn of Luther's always evokes in a German congregation would wish to deprive them of it, even if we had not translated it into our own collection? And without some such familiar hymns as these: "Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ." "Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleich."

"Vom Kimmel ham der engel schaar,
Erschien den hirten offenbar,"

there would be something wanting even in the most elaborate Christian service.

But if it has been wise to yield some such concessions to [10/11] our German brethren, it has also been most judicious to graft in the ministration to them as part of our regular parish work, instead of setting them off into separate missions by themselves; for not only have means and space thus been economized, but we have also thereby given to this German work the true character which it ought to bear; and the idea has thus been carried out that our ministrations to the Germans are simply to come in and take their appointed place in the regular routine of services. Only, because they must be carried out through the medium of a German-speaking clergy, it is, therefore, necessary that they should be fostered and sustained by an organization whose entire efforts arc directed to this end.

But if the means and agencies have been thus well adapted to the work, so too has been the economy with which they have been administered. And the results which have been already attained, in proportion to the means employed, may safely challenge comparison with those accomplished in any other direction. Yea, and the prospects for the future are still more encouraging, provided only the interest of churchmen can be aroused and sustained.

Now, there is comparatively little difficulty in securing sympathy and support for church work at the far West, while it is a lamentable fact that we accord to the missions of our own dioceses only a small measure of both. Surely this can only be because we fail to realize their importance, for if facts were set forth in regard to the wants of our own communities, similar to those which are given with so much effect with respect to our great border missions, they would certainly arouse a deep interest on their behalf. And yet while even our children are made familiar with what is going on under the able lead of our Western bishops in missionary fields, how many of their parents know that within fifty miles of our commercial metropolis communities exist to whom the knowledge of the gospel is almost as strange as it would be to a Sioux or Dacotah Indian?

[12] But this work to the Germans is a true home mission, not merely here at our own doors, but in most of the larger communities throughout the length and breadth of our land. For go where you will, North or South, East or West, and you will find that the Teutonic element has effected a lodgement, and is striving in eager rivalry with the Anglo-Saxon for possession of the land. Yes, in many portions of our country, especially in the State of Pennsylvania and throughout the great West, you will find whole settlements where the German language predominates. Nay, one has only to pass through certain streets of our larger cities to prove the troth of this; and it is even asserted that New York, in point of population, is the third German city in the world.

We cannot, certainly, be too thankful for the causes which brought them within the last thirty years, and are now again bringing them in such numbers to our shores. For what have we not gained thereby, as well in the accession of learned scholarship, literary culture, and art development, as also in the acquisition of sturdy labor and honest thrift? And in striking the balance between these and the few whose motives in coming have been less commendable, how well may we be satisfied with our real and substantial gain?

But this tide of immigration which for the last few years had so greatly abated, has again revived. And now comes in the serious question, whether it will continue to bring to us the same large proportion of good and desirable citizens? Nay, must we not rather expect to receive an increased ratio of restless and dangerous elements?

My brethren, as sure as anything which can be predicted, the rising flood of social democracy which originated in Germany within the last quarter of a century, and which is now being so strongly repressed by the iron-handed Chancellor, will seek an asylum in this land of refuge.

Just read, if you will, a thoughtful article on this subject which appeared in the North American Review early in the year 1879, and you will perhaps agree with the writer that [12/13] there is a real danger in accession from this element, as they are being encouraged "under the shrewd and fostering protection" of the Imperial Chancellor. For what might have been impossible in our land twenty years ago, has been rendered quite feasible through the operation of changes which our social condition has undergone. And now, instead of looking on as then, wholly unconcerned with regard to agitations, which were shaking thrones in Europe, but which were deemed impossible here, we are faced by an enemy, which, in the words of the writer, "may at no distant day plunge capital and labor into a conflict calculated to test the strength of a weak government, even more than the late civil war."

This language is worthy of deep consideration, for however great our confidence in the strength of our Government, it rests, nevertheless, more in the people who sustain it than in any immediate power for self-preservation. And, even if we may not doubt as to the final triumph of law and order, yet who can calculate the evils which may be wrought before the efforts of an undisciplined people can accomplish their suppression?

Ah! if these evils can be anticipated and counteracted, is it not the part of wisdom to do so? But while to this question there can be only one answer, the further one immediately arises, how can this be accomplished? Ah! my friends, how can that be done so effectually as by building up a great counter-element, through the agency of the Church of Christ? It is just what the most foreseeing minds of the Lutheran Communion have been attempting at home, and the great work of their "innere mission" has been most effectively employed in that direction. At an anniversary of that great Christian organization in Leipzig, it was my privilege to hear a most eloquent address on this very subject, from Dr. Luthardt, Professor of Theology in the University, and one of the ablest thinkers of the orthodox school. And he took the bold ground that even in a country where the [13/14] arm of the Government is so strong, there could be no such efficient means of opposing this new danger as that which could be furnished by the Church. Moreover, the results accomplished by Stocker, a distinguished court preacher in Berlin, prove that when the power of the gospel has thus been brought home to the people, it has fairly undermined the very positions which the most radical element has arrayed against it. Their theory is, equality, fraternity, and liberty, and they have much to say, in all their political utterances, about "the common brotherhood of man." What use then will they not make of certain clauses in our own much-valued Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence--which, while true enough in a right sense, are yet susceptible of ready perversion? "All men created free and equal!" Yea, most truly so in that blessed liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free, and in the priceless value placed by Him on every soul which He died to save. And so, this faithful servant of Christ, who has been called a social democratic Christian, has gone to these people in the very hot-bed of their strength, and has brought to them the love of God, working out in all practical agencies for the welfare of their souls and bodies. And he has done it, too, with such devoted love and zeal, that, unable to withstand it, they have turned with gratitude to the source from whence such blessings flowed in to them. For they found there in the gospel of Christ, as thus lovingly presented, rather than in their dismal dens of agitation, echoing with bitter hate, the true realization of equality and of a common humanity.

Two pictures, which appeared not very long ago in one of the leading German periodicals, serve to show most clearly the widely different spirit controlling the two agencies by which the masses in Germany are now being approached. The one represents two women with haggard and distorted features, showing the wild passion by which they are controlled, surrounded by a crowd of their own sex, to whom they are haranguing with fierce gesticulations on these [14/15] disturbing topics. The other shows us the earnest pastor, who has already been mentioned, addressing an audience of the same class in one of their own wretched abodes, and conveying to them, in the very spirit of his Master, the blessed Gospel of infinite love. And they listen to it too, and receive with thankfulness its practical application, as it comes to them from the hands of godly men and saintly women, going about like angels of mercy, and bringing light and comfort to their miserable dwellings. For while they have been alienated to a great extent from the church of their own land, because they have been taught to regard it as connected with the State, in which they see only an element of oppression, yet when this same church goes out to seek them in their humble homes, they do not refuse to receive her.

How much more then, when coming to us, they are invited to accept the ministrations of a church in which there is absolutely nothing to remind them of anything oppressive, will they be prepared to do so?

But shall we not also be ready to receive them? And yet how can that be accomplished, other than through the organization of agencies, working in every leading parish, and equipped with all the means for ministering to them fully? They want equality and fraternity, representing visionary ideas which they can never attain. Oh! in God's name, let us give them the realities as they exist most truly in the Church of Christ Let them be told that they are not regarded as "strangers and foreigners," but as "fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." Let them be taught that the Church in this land is not simply an outgrowth from the Church of England, but an integral portion of the Catholic Church throughout the world. Let them see that in religion, as it is expressed through her ministry, there is no mere instrument for bringing them into bondage, but rather a mighty power to lift them up into the pure atmosphere of a holy freedom. And while we take their children and teach them, with our own, the self-same language of love and praise, [15/16] let them be permitted to enjoy, through the medium of their own language, the like blessed privileges of divine grace. But this is the very work which the Church German Society has undertaken to discharge; and the only question is, whether it is such that it can fairly seek the continued favor and support of those to whom it appeals. We have seen how strong are these claims, alike on the score of exalted Christian duty, and on the lower ground of a wise expediency; and we have also seen that our Church possesses, under God, advantages which have qualified her for the work in a special degree. You are appealed to therefore alike as CHRISTIANS, CHURCHMEN, and CITIZENS, to give to this German Mission your cordial support. And surely this is a call which you will not refuse to heed; for if you love the Church which claims you as her children, and the land which enrols you as citizens, you will certainly sustain a work which promises, with God's blessing, to promote the true welfare of both.

Oh, may He hasten the time when the multitude of believers shall again be "of one heart and of one soul," and when even through "diversities of tongues" they shall profess with the same mind, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in them all." Yea, when they shall, "with one mind and one mouth, glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Ah! may He hasten the time when again, as in Pentecostal days, all of every name and language shall hear, each in his own tongue, "the wonderful works of God."

For then, even though the Babel Tower, by which human pride would mark our national greatness, may fail of completion, the building of God, resting on sure foundations, will exalt us to a nobler grandeur, and secure for us a more enduring freedom.

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