A Sermon by the Right Reverend Reginald Heber Weller, D.D., Preached at the Consecration to the Episcopate of the Right Reverend Charles Fiske, S.T.D., Bishop-Coadjutor of Central New York Wednesday, September 29th, 1915, in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels, Baltimore, Maryland.
No place: no publisher, 1915.
"Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."--Acts I., 8.
The fundamental fact of the Christian religion is the Incarnation of God. God the Eternal Son wrapped about himself a human body and a human soul, uniting the two natures in the one person of the Eternal Son.
St. Athanasius tells us that the Son of God became man in order that men might become the sons of God, and to this end He founded His Church. Men make organizations. It is the best that they can do. It is the prerogative of God that He makes in the Kingdom of Grace as in the Kingdom of Nature always organisms. The Church is the human tabernacle in which the Incarnate God dwells. As [3/4] God is immanent in nature though transcending it, so the Incarnate Son is in His Church. He says: "I am the Vine, ye are the branches." If we are the branches, He is not merely the root, but root, stem, branches, leaves, flower and fruit,--the whole vine, for the life of the Incarnate God is in every portion of "The Church which is His Body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." Much of the unbelief of our day grows out of a failure to realize in any deep sense this relationship between the Incarnate God and His Church,--leaving the Church here on earth an orphan, a mere association of individuals, a mere organization that in the very nature of the case can give no life. St. Luke begins the Acts of the Apostles by saying: "The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach until the day in which He was taken up," and then he proceeds to tell us what Jesus continued to do and teach after His Ascension, by and in and through His Church. A great deal has been nobly said and written about the Christian life, as "the Imitation of Christ," but that is only the human side of the Divine reality. "Ye are the body of Christ and members in [4/5] particular." Christ began this work during His earthly ministry and is still carrying it on as He began a life of prayer and of teaching and is still carrying it on in His Church. St. Paul says: "to whom I forgave anything, for your sake forgave I it in the person of Christ," and he even dares to say: "I fill up the measure of the sufferings of Christ, for His body's sake which is the Church." Christ, by and in His Church, is still saving the world.
But it is not merely the inner life of the Church which men in our day fail so seriously to understand, but even the outer existence of it as a creation of the Incarnate God. When He began His earthly ministry, standing by the Sea of Galilee He saw Andrew and Peter in their boats mending their nets, and He said "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men," and they left all and followed Him. Again he saw James, the son of Zebadee, and John, his brother, in the boat with their father, and He said "Follow me," and they left their father and all they had and followed Him. He saw Matthew, the publican, at the receipt of custom, and He said "Follow me," and he left all that he had and followed Him. Thus, little by little, He gathered about Him [5/6] the human material out of which he was to form the body of His Church.
From among these He chose twelve whom He called "Apostles," They lived with Him, journeying with Him on foot up and down Judea and Samaria and Galilee, listening to Him Who spake as never man spake, watching the wonder of His works, and the greater wonder of His life. They rocked with Him in the same boat on the Sea of Galilee, and slept with Him beneath the olive trees on the mountainside.
He gave them their commission, first, to preach.
When our great High Priest was about to ascend the steps of the altar, He gathered them in the Upper Room for the Sacrificial Feast of the Passover, and proceeded with their ordination. First, He removed from Him His coat, and girded Himself, and took a basin of water and washed their feet. They all knew the brazen bowl at the gate of the Holy Place in which every priest before he ascended to the altar must first wash his feet. Then He took the unleavened bread into His hands and said "Take, eat, this is My Body which is given for you. Do this as the memorial of Me." [6/7] And He took the cup into His hands and said: "Drink ye all of this, for this is My Blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Do this as oft as ye shall drink it as the memorial of Me." Then on the evening of the great Easter Day he breathed on them and said: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost," and gave them their great commission to remit sin. And in that awful moment immediately preceding his Ascension into Heaven, beginning with the great preface: "All power is given unto me in Heaven and on earth," He completed their commission. "As my Father hath sent me, even so I send you. Go ye, therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." With these words He founded the Apostolic episcopate which, like the trees of creation, continued each its seed within itself. He bade them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father: "Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and [7/8] ye shall be witnesses unto Me," and so on the Great Day of Pentecost, when they were gathered together in one place, the Holy Spirit came into Christ's Church and the Apostles empowered from on high began their great work which is to last to the end of time.
The Apostles immediately after Pentecost under the guidance of the Holy Spirit gave part of their great commission to deacons, that they might be enabled to preach and baptize. Then under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they committed further authority to men whom they called presbyters, authority to bless God's people in His name, to absolve from sin, to consecrate and offer the Holy Eucharist. St. Ignatius, the great Bishop of Antioch, who died in the year 120 A.D., tells us of the three Orders in the Ministry-Bishops, Priests and Deacons--and from that time on until the present the Christian ministry is one Priesthood in three Orders, the fullness of it through all the ages residing in the Apostolic Episcopate, passed on from generation to generation by Ordination.
It is generally said that that portion of the ministry which the Apostolic Episcopate reserved for itself consists, primarily at any [8/9] rate, in conferring Holy Confirmation and Holy Orders and a certain government in the Church. But I would like to impress upon you, with God's help, one other great portion of the commission which has ever rested upon the Apostolic Episcopate, and that is their office as the keepers of The Faith, the witnesses to the truth of the Christian revelation. This is of the essence of their Order.
When, during the ten days between our Lord's withdrawing His sacred Humanity into the central fires of the Divine Life at the Ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, the Apostles met in the Upper Chamber to forge the first link in the long chain of the Apostolic commission by the election and ordination of Matthias to take the place of the traitor Judas, St. Peter preached the sermon, and he concludes it with the great words: "Wherefore of these men who have companied with all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection."
In the earliest stages of the Church's life, the resurrection of Christ was the matter of primary evidential value. In the minds of the [9/10] Apostles it was God's seal upon the new revelation of Himself. Sermons almost confined themselves in those early days to that great witness. St. Peter on the great Feast of Pentecost said: "This same Jesus ... hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses."
The Apostles came before the world with the most gigantic truth the human mind had ever grasped, and they never argued it on rationalistic grounds, but they came with a statement like this: "We twelve men knew the Christ. We lived with Him. We knew not only the form of His body, and the fashion of His face, but every look in His eyes and every tone of His voice. We saw Him die on Calvary's tree. We saw the Roman soldier's spear that pierced his vitals, and the blood and water that flowed out. We saw His lifeless body taken down from the cross and wrapped in the one hundred pounds of spices, and in the winding sheet. We saw it laid in the sepulchre and the great stone rolled against the door of the sepulchre and sealed with the signet of the Roman Governor, and a guard placed there. That was on Friday, and on the first day of the week we [10/11] found,--first, that the body of the Christ was not in the sepulchre. And then we saw Him with our eyes, not once but many times,--not under any one condition or circumstance, but many. Not in the house only, but in the street and on the country road. Singly, as when He appeared to Simon; two at a time, as to the disciples on the journey to Emmaus; ten of us at once, as on the first Easter evening, when "He did eat and drink with us after He rose from the dead"; eleven of us on the evening of the first Sunday after Easter, when He accepted St. Thomas's challenge and bade Thomas put his fingers into the prints of the nails, and thrust his hand into the side where the spear had gone. We saw Him, more than five hundred of us at once, in Galilee. There is no question about the fact if you accept the witnesses."
A great deal has been nobly said about the lofty ideals of the Apostles and the splendid system of morality they taught, the beauty of their lives and the nobility of their nature, and then we hear,--"but the physical, literal reality of the Resurrection of Christ we cannot accept." The Apostles want no compliments. They were officially designated [11/12] witnesses. Deny the witness, if you will, but do not talk about idealism and lofty morality, and splendid purposes and the nobility of martyrdom, for they were here to testify to the great fact on which the Incarnation of God must rest in the life of man.
"Yes," some one says, "but that's all in the New Testament, and we hear so much of the higher, historical criticism of the New Testament that we are a little afraid the foundations are going."
Well, there was a time when earnest, Christian men had some fear for the Ark of God, but, little by little, as the study goes deeper, the atmosphere is clearing, and we are beginning to know definitely where we stand. There are at any rate four undisputed Epistles of St. Paul. One of these is the Epistle to the Corinthians, with its great summary of the things which we have been thinking of this morning. "I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He arose again the third day. He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve. After that He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once of [12/13] whom the greater part remain unto this present but some are fallen asleep."
Among the later works is that of Harnack on "Luke, the Physician," in which he admits that the traditional belief that the Acts of the Apostles was written by St. Luke is a tenable position. This gives us also the Gospel of St. Luke, which begins with the Virgin Birth and the Gospel of the Infancy.
At Westminster when those learned divines met for the revision of the translation of the Bible, they found in St. John's Gospel the incident of the woman taken in adultery, of the charge made in the presence of the Christ, who stooped down and wrote with His finger on the ground, and then rising gave that searching command: "Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone at her," and those Westminster divines took that passage out of St. John's Gospel,--matchless just as a piece of literature, incomparable in substance because it was in the earliest manuscripts--but the man who dared to do this did not remove the Virgin Birth and the Gospel of the Infancy from the first chapter of St. Luke's Gospel.
St. Luke's Gospel, too, goes further than [13/14] that. It gives us the longest account of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament. Every one of the verities of our religion stands enshrined in the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord's Resurrection and His Ascension into Heaven is revealed in St. Luke's Gospel and in the opening portions of the Acts of the Apostles, and the time is coming when all men will realize that "the Word of our God shall stand forever,"--"The impregnable rock of Holy Scripture," as Gladstone called it.
But it is not merely in Holy Scripture that the witness has been written. From the beginning Baptism has been a universal custom in the Church, and no one was ever baptized "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" but we have the witness of the Triune God, the resurrection, and the new life in Christ.
In the Blessed Sacrament the words, "This is My Body, and this is My Blood" is a witness to the reality of the Incarnation. Men tell us of the Johannine and the Pauline doctrines, and one of the things they like to tell us is that the doctrine of the atonement is Pauline,--that St. Paul invented it. They do not stop to remember that the Good [14/15] Shepherd gave "His life for (instead of) the sheep"; and one wonders if they ever heard of the Sacrament of the Altar! That great statement contains all that St. Paul ever wrote, "This is My Blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins." These are not the words of St. Paul, but of the Incarnate God. The Sacrament of the Altar teaches us, in our communions, of the creation of the Church in our union with one another in the Incarnate Life. In the Church's constant devotion to the reality of Christ's Presence in this Holy Sacrament we have the witness to the Resurrection. It also teaches our immortality in the life everlasting--the immortality of the whole man. "Ye are witnesses of these things." It stands there rock-ribbed in the Holy vScripture and in Sacraments of Holy Church. It does not rest there only. If I had time, I would like to show how the Apostolic Episcopate has written these great facts in the very constitution of the world in which we live. You cannot blot out their testimony without destroying the architecture, the music, the sculpture, the paintings, the literature and the moral ideals which are the glory of our [15/16] race. You cannot blot it out without destroying the history of the great races of mankind. The Apostolic Episcopate has leaded it in the rock forever.
The Apostolic Episcopate in the first Council of Jerusalem dared to use the words,--"It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us"; and in the seven great Councils of the undivided Church, they witnessed to the divine personality of our Lord, His two perfect natures, human and Divine, and the manner in which He is to be worshipped. They left their testimony in the "noble army of martyrs" whose existence is their glory. They have written it so clearly that the history of Christianity is full of it. The revealed religion of Jesus Christ rests on testimony which all men can understand. It is a fixed and definite thing. The Gospel of Christ is an unchangeable Gospel, and it is incapable of surrender or compromise.
This testimony is the great prerogative of the Apostolic Episcopate. "Ye shall be witnesses." There is a vagueness about the teachings of these modern days. Men who would like to have some religion, pick and choose this and that from the Christian Faith; they say, "We all accept such and such [16/17] parts of the Christian religion, and we will eliminate what seems to us unreasonable, what we do not like, or do not care to accept." But this is not fair treatment of the Church. The Christian religion, while satisfying the intellect, never professed to rest on philosophy or science but upon revelation. You cannot omit any part of it and say you accept the rest, because we accept it not on the basis of mere rationalism, but on testimony. We accept it on evidence that is outward and clear and definite.
To-day we are adding one more link to the long chain of officially chosen and designated witnesses for the Christian revelation. The Christian revelation is not merely subjective. It is a real thing. It stands before us, not because men think it, but because God wills it. It is here not because you and I like it, but it is perfectly revealed in the marvellous, matchless life of Christ, and there is a body of men that have been on this earth for nineteen hundred years, whose prime duty it is to carry on the testimony and witness for the whole revelation.
In our day, with all the novelties that are in the atmosphere, the talk about a new religion or a new presentment of the Christian [17/18] religion, we are asked what the Church or the religion of the future is going to be. If it is to be Christian at all it must accept the entire revelation. If you give up any part, you have struck the foundation from under the testimony which supports the whole. It is a revelation. In itself it is of priceless value to every human soul, and in the mind of God it is worth His wonderful Incarnation, His great, loving agony, and His awful Sacrifice on Calvary!
My Reverend Brother:
On this day, the feast of St. Michael and All Angels, in this Church of St. Michael and All Angels, you are called of God to be one of these "witnesses" for the Christian revelation. Remember always when your mind goes back to your Consecration that it came on this day when we are taken out of the realm of mere rationalism, out of the merely natural world, into the realm of the supernatural, of revealed religion, that as you come here for this solemn commission there are gathered around you in "the Church which is Christ's body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all," the Angelic world and the great army of men who have borne this commission before you, and every one of them would lift you into some [18/19] lofty conception of it, and warn you that there is nothing so priceless as the Christian revelation, the everlasting Gospel. There is here also the awful presence of the Incarnate God,--you go to Him, with your commission fresh upon you in that wonderful loving Presence at the altar,--I beg you to remember that, when the hands of our Right Reverend Fathers rest on your head, the real hands outstretched to you are the Pierced Hands, and the voices of your consecrators carry the commission of Him who "spake as never man spake.” The awful love of Christ for humanity is a part of the glory of our religion. And that awful love calls you from the midst of your people to stand in the fullness of the Apostolic Episcopate as a witness for the reality of Christ's revelation and of His presence--the Catholic Faith. Quit you like a man, be strong!
The commission you are about to receive is an awful, but also an intensely loving one. The Incarnate God does not call you to stand alone, but in His Church, with the great company of the Apostolic Episcopate here on earth and in the unseen world, and His own words are "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world!"