Project Canterbury







Cathedral of St. John the Divine




Trinity Sunday, 1900







Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2007

[3] St. John VIII. 58.--"Jesus said unto them 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was I am."

THESE two words "I am" could not be shorter nor simpler, and yet they are the most profound in human language. Their full meaning can only be exhausted in God Himself. As used in the Old Testament, they signified the unsearchableness, the unfathomed mystery of the nature of God, and when Jesus Christ uses them of Himself, He makes Himself one with God. He proclaims Himself as Pre-existent.

When St. John wishes to express the being and nature and character of the Logos, the Word of God, Christ Jesus the Eternal Son, he uses the short and simple words "was" and "is."

How often do we need to learn the lesson, that obscurity is not depth, that length is not necessarily strength, and that the greatest facts of human knowledge and human experience can only utter themselves fully in simple form.

On this Feast of the Blessed Trinity, it would be interesting to study the great question suggested by the text, of the pre-existence of the Son of God. It would also be profitable for us to think of that great truth, because the great central thought of the religious world to-day, is [3/4] the person of Jesus Christ, and our understanding of Christ Incarnate will very largely depend on our faith in our Lord's pre-existence.

But interesting and profitable as such a study might be, we recognize the fact that we have come here for a very special purpose, and that our first thought must be of those who to-day are receiving Holy Orders. For them this day is critical. What happens here can never be as if it was not done. Life will flow henceforth in channels of new experiences and larger responsibilities. We would speak with great simplicity and directness to those who stand at this gateway of their new journey.

You are called to-day to a ministry that has within it a three-fold service. Christ gave three commands to the Apostles of old:

1st. Preach the Gospel to every creature.
2d. Baptize all nations. This do in remembrance of Me.
3d. Feed My sheep, feed My lambs.

Our Lord Himself was Prophet, Priest and King. "As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you," and we must be prophets, priests and pastors. Not one to the neglect of the others. Not despising what Christ commanded. We must be true and faithful in them all. Never thinking nor saying that "preaching is of no consequence." Never forgetting that Christ has left the Church, and that in her sacramental life there comes to the sons of men, new grace for daily needs. Never neglecting the one sheep lost in the mountains on the dark and dreary [4/5] day. Be a prophet. Make your pulpit a throne, not a place for casual remarks, for haphazard platitudes, for inane fluency--but a throne for the royal message, where the ambassador of Christ the King, speaks forth the royal pardon and the royal law and the royal life, to men and women who are kings and priests unto God. Be a true priest, bearing upon your heart the varied and importunate needs of the people, yourself like Christ, sanctified, dedicated for their sake a willing offering, that you may bring to God worthily the infinite pleadings of men, and the spiritual sacrifices of their deepest life. Be a true pastor. Spend and be spent, untiring, unflinching, calm, serene and wise; as the old Evangelicals used to say, with a great love for perishing souls, and with a passionate earnestness that all men of all classes and conditions shall be welcomed and protected and folded in the Kingdom of the Good Shepherd. But who is sufficient for all these things? None of us. Yet it will never do to narrow and lower the ideal. The Master gave us that ideal, and difficult as it is to fulfill it, we must strive to do it. The three must go together, and we will find that the priestly and the pastoral service only enriches and deepens and broadens the prophetic work, and the preaching of God's word must utter itself in prayers and in living deeds to win the allegiance of the people.

But with this three-fold service of our ministry kept well in view, let us think of two characteristics of it, and these are contained in those words "I am." [5]

I. It is first a personal ministry and then
II. It is positive.

I. When God the Father would save the world, He sent a Divine person, His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Henceforth the Divine will and purpose was summed up in a Person. Christianity is Christ. In Him all Christians live and move and have their being. "For me to live is Christ." Personality is the strongest force in all the universe. It is the source and fountain of all other forces in the life of men. It creates institutions, and is the only thing that can keep them alive, and the only thing that makes them worth keeping. It lies behind all literature and art and science. It is the one controlling force in society, and in the life of nations, and in the progress of civilization. Take away all those elements that are the very web and woof of personality, and this entire structure of life becomes dead and valueless. So forever we must be saved by the Incarnation of the Son of God. Christ Himself must be, and is, greater than all. He is "the head over all things to the Church which is His Body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all." He is greater than His Church. That we need to remember. Christ Himself is the Word of God, the Revelation of the Godhead, the express image of the person of the Father. Christ is greater than the Holy Scriptures. That we also need to remember. The body should always utter the inward beauty of the Spirit. The written word should truly reveal the Divine [6/7] Truth. But they do not always do it. We to-day are asked to face an age wherein there is much distrust of the Church and doubt of the Scriptures. We cannot go as formerly and say to men "Hear the Church and hear the Scriptures." They crowd us back of both these things. What shall we do? What message shall we bring? Just the message which the Church of all the ages ought always to have brought, Christ Himself, the loving, living Son of God. We must answer the deeper question--What does Jesus Christ teach us in the Church and in the Holy Scriptures? The Church left to the ecclesiastics would have been overwhelmed by the world long ago. The Scriptures left to the theologians and critics, would have been discredited long ago, but both remain to-day, because there is abiding in them, that strange, subtle, divine force, which we call the personality of Jesus Christ. Popes and Bishops and Councils and Emperors and Kings and Priests, would have ruined the Church forever, but thousands of saints and humble priests and people, found in the Church the presence of the personal Christ, and learned there, to follow Him and Him alone, and so the Church remains. "Lo, I am with you always." That promise was a divine necessity, for when the Church loses her vision of the personal Christ, she will vanish from the earth. And so with the Bible. We may analyze, criticise, discuss, and amend it, but it will be precious, inspired and divine forever, because in it and by it and through it, while the scholars are [7/8] disputing, thousands upon thousands of men and women are finding, with ever new and marvelous surprise, the inspiring presence of the Incarnate Christ.

As a matter of practical experience, what does the average man to-day say to us when we go to him. Well, he begins with himself. He is anxious about his own life, about the universe, his sins, his present living, about God and about his future. Life, he admits, is a mystery, and he is in darkness. Life is a conflict and he seeks success. Life is uncertain, and he seeks the Eternal. When you say to him "Hear the Church," he answers "I do not care anything about the Church. I am tired of it." When you say "Hear the Scriptures," he becomes critical and skeptical. But suppose you go to him with the Gospel of the Personal Christ and say to him "Will you not listen to Jesus Christ?" Then surely he must listen. He has nothing against Christ Himself. Then perhaps he will say to himself, Christ may be able to help me. This wonderful Saviour who has helped and enlightened so many men, perhaps He can solve the mystery and help me win the conflict, and give me the assurance of the Eternal. All other teachers have failed. We will listen now to Jesus Christ. "Sir, we would see Jesus."

If you create that as the deep longing of the heart; if you make that the imperative demand of the intellect; if you make that the imperious necessity of the conscience, what happens? Wherever we can find that Master, thither we [8/9] will go. Who ever can guide us to Him, or tell aught of His words, with that man will we go. Can we find Him in the Church, in "The Breaking of the Bread," in the prayers, in the spoken word? Can we find Him in Holy Writ, in the prophecies and spiritual longings of the older times, in the witness and the history and the experience of the Apostles? Wherever we can learn of Him, there will we eagerly go--because we must have Him for the mystery and the battle and the future of life.

Now how can we possibly bring that personal message to the people? How can our ministry be that, and stand for that, among the people, if we ourselves are not forever seeking for, and living in the realization of our personal relation to that personal Christ? To-day as of old, the people will marvel and will be won, just in proportion as they take knowledge of us, that we have been with Jesus. A personality mastered and controlled and guided by Jesus Christ, will touch and convert and uplift, where all else will fail, and though we have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have not that deep constraining love of Christ, the message and the work will lose their power. As God sent the Son of Man, so the Son of Man sent men, to save men. Poor and frail and tempted as we are, it is at last by what we are that we touch and heal and uplift and save the world. It is much more difficult to live than it is to preach, or to administer the Sacraments or visit the sick. Over and over [9/10] again, when the people praise us and compliment us, and cheer us with their words, and look up to us, will we be driven to our knees and cry out: O Lord, have mercy. Over and over again as we become familiar with sacred things, as we write our sermons week by week, as we become immersed in the routine of some parish, as we strive and toil for the Church and enter into her controversies and become eager over her conflicts, and fling ourselves into some of her issues, will we need to go back and stand in the immediate presence of the personal Christ, until we are willing to learn over again the lesson of His sacrifice. When the day of preaching is over, and the week of living begins, then must we often end and begin it, with the prayer, "O Lord, save me," "lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away." And then when we are overwhelmed with failure, and the work drags heavily, then also must we see the vision of the Master, for "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."

II. And now we must hasten to our second thought, the positiveness of our ministry. Any man who thus lives and believes in the person of the Incarnate Christ, so that Christ is forever the inspiration of all he is and says and does, will, when he comes to the people, bring a living but also a positive gospel. Christ Jesus is a real, living, effective force in his own life, and in his own mind, and when he speaks for Christ and worships Christ and serves Christ, he is uttering [10/11] a real and effective gospel. All that Christ is, and all that Christ does in His Church and in the Bible and in the world, are positive moving forces. We need to remember over and over again, the truth of that remark made by Bishop Ewing to John Caird, "Revelation is not a mystery superadded to the mysteries of nature, but a key given to us to unlock those mysteries." Christ forever is. He said of Himself "I am that I am." "I am the way, the truth and the life." "I am the light of the world." "I am the Resurrection and the Life." "I am the King." The world is in darkness anyway. The world is full of sorrow and weakness and failure and sin. The world is doubting and weary and careworn and cynical and sensual. The world is full of fear and pride and anger and malice. The people are far enough away from Christ and His Church. It is so easy to pull down. Change and decay eat out the heart of men. All things drift of themselves into ruin and into death. It is most simple to cut down. Pessimism is a creed that calls for little brains. Detraction and fault-finding and bitter words and contentions are very cheap.

Preach and live what you believe; but see to it that you love to believe and insist on believing the constructive and upbuilding and helpful and eternal truths. If you have any doubts keep them to yourselves. They probably are not new, and we do not want to hear them. If men are drifting out in the ocean, and trying to make for land, the man who every ten minutes [11/12] assures them that there is no land, is a curse. They want some one who can pull an oar, or guide the rudder, or cheer with a word of courage. Oh, but you say, "criticism and the destruction of error is necessary." Yes, but it takes only a very few people a very short time to pull down a house. Difficult and necessary as it may be to clear the field of rocks and weeds, yet why do it unless we enrich the soil afterward and plant fruitful seeds? Criticism is always a preliminary and temporary preparation for the positive and constructive process, in which men can find truth for life. Never close a single sermon, nor count your priestly act of value, nor be satisfied with your pastoral work, until you have brought some clear, strong, life-giving, cheering message to the disheartened and perplexed and sinning life around you. Come as men who know Him, in Whom they have believed. Bring the Creed of living power--the Creed of Christ Incarnate, Christ the Master, Christ Crucified, Christ Risen, Christ Ascended. Bring all the convictions and certainties and affirmations concerning Him. Bring His Divine interpretations of life, His Standards of Righteousness; His far-reaching moral cleansing; His pardon; His Joy; His promise of life for evermore. Bring the message of the Holy Ghost, the life-giver. Cheer and comfort and encourage and uplift all the dull hopelessness of unbelief with the inspiration of a positive faith, and then bring glorious visions of the [12/13] Celestial City where life will be crowned forever in the presence of Christ the King.

My brothers, you are going from here to-day into varied paths of service. Go not to have the Church serve you, but to serve the Church. The Church does not owe you anything. You freely give yourselves to her. Then the laborer is worthy of his hire. All you can ask is a chance to live and work and plead and suffer for Jesus' sake, and your best reward will be that you have helped and cheered and saved those for whom Christ died. Whatever you may do, wherever you may be, whether in the western mission field, or in the country village, or in the city, or in college, or in far distant lands, Christ Jesus will go with you and you can over and over again repeat those words of the great Scotch preacher: "I am never weary of recurring to the thought of the personal nearness, the mysterious, yet most familiar sympathy, the profound and unerring wisdom, the mingled majesty and tenderness of that divine, yet gentlest of counselors 'Jesus Christ Our Lord.'"

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