National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church
 "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" (ACTS XX - 28.)
This text is taken from the passage of Scripture appointed to be read as an alternative Epistle in the office for the Consecration of Bishops--the very beautiful and moving farewell of St. Paul to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus.
It declares the responsibility, the meaning, the purpose of the Christian Ministry: and the words to which I particularly desire to call attention are these, "over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers". The commission comes from the Holy Spirit, and this Holy Spirit is not a mere influence, not a vague expression of Divine favor, but a definite Person Who fulfills and carries on the work of Christ. We must insist upon this truth as the differentiating claim of the Christian Religion. There is a Holy Ghost, the Eternal Spirit, the Lord, and the Giver of Life.
Into this Holy Spirit Christians, by Christ's command, were baptized, and its was the Lord Who said, "when the Holy Ghost is come upon you ye shall receive power". And it was this power that transformed a little band of timid, disheartened disciples into courageous, heroic leaders, whose preaching shook the Roman Empire to its foundations and made the Cross of Jesus Christ the symbol and witness of victorious sacrifice and redeeming love.
 It is this power of the Spirit, which has given Christianity every victory it has ever won in creating the ideals of human civilization. It has revealed a moral and internal holiness in the lives of plain men and women. It has made heroes and prophets and saints and martyrs for the truth. It has inspired men and women of the noblest genius and the most exalted station to forsake all to imitate Christ in His self-sacrifice for the betterment of the conditions of the world. And it still manifests itself in the lives of many thousands, who in the discharge of daily duties, in the routine of the common life, shed a light upon the world about them, which we who have seen it know to be a light from heaven.
As our Lord said, "It is the Spirit that maketh alive". This is the very essence of the Gospel.
So when St. Paul said, "It is the Spirit Who made you Bishops or Ministers, with power to shepherd the Church, which God purchased with His blood", he was uttering the profoundest truth of Christianity. As he said in another place, "The work of the Ministry is the edifying, the upbuilding of the Body of Christ."
This application of the work of the Holy Spirit to the individual man and woman through the community, the fellowship, the Church, is part of the New Testament record. Our Lord promised, as we read in the 16th Chapter of St. John's Gospel, that the Holy Spirit would be given to His disciples in a definite way and the fulfilment of the promise was the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost--not upon the individuals as individuals--but upon the body as a whole. And no account of this stupendous transaction is adequate, that does not recognize that Christ's Kingdom is, and was intended to be, not a mere idea or influence, but a concrete visible institution.
We may indeed believe that the Kingdom in its ultimate scope, its eternal significance, transcends the visible Church: but for us men and women in our mortal life, as we deal with that which we see and know, and not with that of which we dream, the Kingdom is here--the Church is the Body of Christ--the Kingdom in the making, the organic medium of the Spirit. As Clement of Alexandria expressed it, 1700 years ago: "As the will of God is His work and this is called the Kosmos: so also His purpose is the salvation of men and this is called His Church." Or to translate this [3/4] into our modern mode of speech, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love, as it is written, "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost". Therefore the Spirit is, in His very nature, not individualistic but social: and the Church, which is the organ of the Spirit, as a recent writer says, "is the institution where the life of service is systematically cultivated: where the principles of the Kingdom are systematically taught; where the motives of loyalty are systematically inculcated".
We are assembled here today to consecrate one of our brethren, who was elected by the free votes of the clergy and laity of this diocese, to be a Bishop and Chief Shepherd in the Church of God. The solemn rite and ceremony which we use in this service has come down to us through more than fifteen centuries; and it is worth our while to reflect for a few moments upon what the Church stands for and what this rite and ceremony means.
And, first of all, we must insist that Christianity from the first claimed to be a Revelation--not a new religion in competition with other religions--but a Revelation of the source and significance and satisfaction of all religions. As Bishop Temple says: "The Christian does not go to Christ with preconceived notions of who God is and what man is, to see whether Christ's views coincide with his: but he goes to Christ to learn about God and man and to take His word for it",--and it makes all the difference in the world.
In the conflict of varying opinions about God that are prevalent in our time, we are more and more reminded of the Gnosticism of the first and second centuries, which embroidered its terminology with Christian phrases and tried to parade as a Christian philosophy. One of our most popular American writers on religious subjects told us the other day that, "The modern man will submit to no God Who exercises authority. God is love, that is, He is being kind and good to one another". In other words, this preacher turns the Christian precept round and says, "Love, that is, kindness and benevolence, are God", but he says nothing of worshipping that kind of God. We might as well worship gas or electricity.
The same criticism is true of much of the popular literature, which speaks about the "Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man", about immortality and [4/5] the forgiveness of sins. They are Christian phrases, indeed, but all the pith and marrow and substance are eliminated from them. In the effort "to justify God's ways to man" to accommodate the teachings of Christ and the facts in the Life of Christ to the demands of modern psychology, it would seem that the objective reality of Christian truth has faded away into a mist of conjecture, and we are told that dogma is discredited and has disappeared. In other words, there is nothing about God or the Eternal World that we can know certainly, and we ourselves--
"Are such stuff as dreams are made on
And our little life is rounded by a sleep".
As a contrast to this, it is worth while to heed the recent warning of one of the leaders of Modern Philosophy, Professor Taylor of St. Andrew's, who says, "It is high time that philosophers ceased to treat the Gospel history as a fable. We must be prepared to reckon with the possibility that the facts recorded in the Gospel happened and that Catholic theology is, in substance, true. We cannot afford to have any path leading to the heart of life's mystery blocked for us by placards bearing the labels, reactionary and unmodern. That what is most modern must be best, is a superstition strange in an educated man." And again, "Nowhere in life and least of all in philosophy is the solitary likely to work to much purpose unless he has behind him that body of organized sound sense which we call Tradition".
So the Church of Christ, unterrified by that kind of New Testament criticism, which begins in unbelief and ends naturally in unbelief and which ignores the witness of the Spirit in the Living Body, still maintains that there is a faith which was once for all delivered to the Saints. And that faith is not an unknown quantity. It is declared in the two great creeds, which are built up on the central dogma of the unique Sonship and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It is not a question whether this attitude is popular with "the intellectual proletariat of the moment" or not--whether it attracts or repels them. Christianity began as a paradox and must ever be a challenge to faith. As St. Paul said to Timothy: "Guard that which is committed to thy trust"--"Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine"--and again, "No man can call Jesus the Lord but by the Holy Ghost".
 Once more, the Church stands for the Gospel of the Grace of God--because grace as well as truth came by Jesus Christ: and that grace of God through the agency of the Holy Spirit brings salvation. Man cannot save himself. "By grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God". And here again the teaching of the Church runs counter to much of the intellectual religion of the day. In fact, we are boldly told that "religion contains no real perceptions of extra-human force or person"--"It is only the effect of the super-individual collective consciousness that we share"-"Humanity idealized" is all we need: and "we shall not brook an eternally perfect Being".
I think that it can be demonstrated, that the true significance of the Immanence of God and the Divine birth-right of man, grew out of our fuller understanding by the Holy Spirit of the dogma of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, and these truths have certainly widened our vision of responsibility and privilege, as children of God, to believe in and render service to our fellow men. But by a strange perversity in some quarters, these sublime truths have been so exploited as to lead to a denial of the Incarnation and seemingly to exalt man into the place of God.
And of course Humanity so exalted needs no salvation, and is independent of the grace of God. As one of our leading American professors has told us, reinterpreting his German teacher, "to distinguish works of grace from works of nature is sheer superstition--so also is the belief in miracles, the belief in mysteries and the belief in the means of grace". And this confidence in the natural sufficiency of humanity is asserted in spite of the manifest decadence of moral standards, the degradation of marriage and the home, and, as Professor Fitch reminds us, in the face of Humanity's "latest debauch of bloody self-destruction in the recent war".
This philosophy has no place for sin or redemption or salvation--only for the mere machinery of social service without regard to the nature or quality of the service. And although the names of many of those, who in greater or less degree are preaching this philosophy, are widely advertised: and although they claim that this kind of Christianity is the only reasonable and up-to-date Christianity, it is certainly not the Christianity of history, nor the Christianity of the New Testament--"No man cometh unto the Father but by [6/7] Me", said our Lord, and "I am with you always even unto the end of the world". "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God". "Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day". "I came that ye might have life and that ye might have it more abundantly". "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life". This is the Christian Gospel.
If it were true that man is sufficient for himself, needing only the influence of a great Example to evoke his own inherent moral and spiritual power, then the Gospel might be a poem or a picture of Incarnate Goodness, and it would satisfy all his needs. But if man is not sufficient for himself--if, as a down-right fact, he is weak and helpless--if there be such a thing as sin--sin which is more than "maladjustment to environment"--sin which is wilful lawlessness--which means that man has "missed the mark", missed the end for which he was made, and that so deeply as to have drawn the very purpose of God into his finite failure--if this be so, and we believe that it is so, then man needs more than Example. He needs Help, Redemption, Rescue, Healing.
All the painful, passionate yearning of forty centuries of Heathenism cried out for this, and it was given to us in Christ. "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world", and "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us". That is the Creed of the Church,--the Divine Father and Forgiveness: the Divine Son and Redemption: the Divine Spirit and abundant life. Therefore the Church still insists upon the creation of moral rectitude and spiritual character as the end and purpose of religion, aye, as the basic problem underlying all questions relating to human life--social, industrial, civic, and political. The Church still preaches the Gospel of the grace of God, the obligation and blessing of worship, and the meaning and virtue of the Christian Sacraments. And it must be admitted that at least her system is logical and all of one piece. The Sacraments are the perpetual witnesses and guarantees to us of the fact of the Incarnation of God in Christ; and the Incarnartion was the supreme revelation of God's Fatherhood and Forgiveness; the promise and prophecy of God's Incarnation in the race by the power of the Holy Ghost.
 Thus, my Brethren, the consideration of the text has led to an exposition, however imperfect, of the meaning and purpose of the Church and the significance of this service, "Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers--to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His Own Blood".
There are some important lessons that we may all take home to ourselves this morning.
In the first place, we should realize that Christianity is not a mere intellectual system--a philosophy or interpretation of life. On the contrary, it is primarily an agency for conveying the grace of God and for developing in men and women the capacity for worship and communion with God. Ideas alone do not save men. Sermons, "Messages", brilliant utterances, do not save men. Salvation comes by the power of the Spirit and not by mental pyrotechnics. As a clear-headed business man says in a recent book, "As surely as there is a God and a man, there is a Holy Spirit, and the Church must develop this power and give it to the world". This is the more abundant life that all men need. Or, as Amiel said in his "Journal": "The world's culture assumes that the mind of man is everything and that the soul is an inferior state of mind: but Christianity says, that the mind is only one organ of the soul". Again, the world's culture holds that the way to enlighten people is to educate their minds: but Christianity says, that it is not true. It has been tried over and over again, and it has failed. The only way permanently to enlighten people is to begin by making them better.
The old world tried this mere intellectual valuation of religion two thousand years ago, and proved it worthless: and yet it persists among us and expresses itself in essays and sermons and theories and systems, which have vaporized God into an "idea", and which attribute the power of the grace of the Holy Spirit to the influence of the "group consciousness".
My Brethren: we shall not be content to criticise and find fault with our own age and time, but rather we shall pray for the power to see within its questionings and unrest and discontent--aye, its recklessness and apparent failures, the strivings of the Spirit of God. But each man has to win for himself the conviction of the reality of the spiritual order and the [8/9] spiritual life. Therefore: let us believe in and practise the worship of God, "praying always", as St. Paul says, "with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit", or as St. Jude, "Building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost".
So shall our churches be Houses of Prayer, consecrated with the Divine Presence, into which we shall enter not to receive but to give, and by our very giving, by our very self-surrender, find our souls refreshed, enriched and strengthened by the communication of the Living Christ in and through the Holy Spirit.
And thus we shall be enabled to understand more clearly the office and work of a Bishop in the Church. He is not a mere administrator. He is not the mere executive head of a business corporation. His primary and solemn responsibility is that of spiritual leadership--to feed--to shepherd--the Church of God. To him there must be no parties and no classes, only the souls of men and women, precious in God's sight and redeemed in Christ,--the lowliest and the highest, the humblest and the noblest, equal before the Church's altar and worthy of his thought and care. Wisdom and faithfulness, loyalty and devoutness--the profound sense of responsibility for the welfare of the whole Church, and of every individual in it--exercising his authority not to injure but to save--these are the qualifications of a Bishop for which we pray in this consecration service. And who is sufficient for these things? It is the Holy Spirit Who consecrates. It is the Holy Spirit in Whom we trust. It is the Holy Spirit Who will sustain, and strengthen, and guide and bless.
Let us surrender ourselves, then, to the Divine Presence, Whom we invoke this morning, opening wide the windows of our souls that God may come in and dwell with us: praying for our brother, as we recall that little group of earnest men at Miletus nearly nineteen hundred years ago, "Take heed unto yourselves and to the flock in which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to shepherd the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood."
 And now, my Brother, it is impossible that I should close this sermon without permitting myself to utter a few words of personal counsel and appeal.
Your life and mine have been bound together by many precious and sacred memories, by the experience of very blessed and happy relationships. We have shared the friendship of some true saints of God, whose influence on our lives can never die. Therefore, my heart is very full this morning, as I stand here to welcome you into the ranks of the Bishops of the Church, and invoke God's blessing upon you.
And, as I look into the future, and try to realize the tremendous responsibility which will be yours, as Bishop of this great diocese, there is just one thought that comes to me out of my own long experience as a Bishop, and that is that the Holy Spirit's best gift to a man, who has been called to exercise that office, is what St. Peter called "a living hope", which is only another name for the "confidence of a certain faith". It was St. Peter, who received the charge from our Lord to strengthen and establish his brethren, and it was St. Peter, who made the foundation of his leadership consist in the possession of a living hope. For only the hopeful, confident man can be a leader of men--only the man of positive conviction and clear vision. It is his to encourage the wavering and to open the way for the faint-hearted. It is his to brave criticism and to encourage his people, "hidden in the secret of the Presence from the provoking of all men", because he has been begotten again unto a living hope by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, it is his to let that hope trample upon and overcome the defeat of present plans and personal schemes, because it is anchored with resolute optimism in the faith of the eternal purpose of God.
And, my Brother, I pray for you today, that the Holy Spirit may grant you this living hope and that He may renew in you the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and ghostly strength, of knowledge and true godliness, and fill you with the spirit of His holy fear, now and forever. Amen.