The Prosperity of the Church dependent in equal measure upon Priest and
PREACHED AT THE
EIGHTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEDICATION
The Fourth Sunday after Trinity, July 13th, 1862,
REV. WILLIAM F. MORGAN, D. D.,
Rector of St. Thomas' Church, N. Y.
C. A. ALVORD, PRINTER.
Digitized by Richard Mammana from a copy supplied by Meg Smith, Archivist of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, 2011
"In one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel." PHILIPPIANS, i., part of verse 27.
THIS is the highest ideal of a Christian Church—unity of spirit and of purpose, in maintaining, advancing, and practically exhibiting, in daily lives and mutual labors, the Faith of the Gospel. A Church that has approached this ideal upon earth has approached the Church of the glorified in Heaven, the main difference between them being only this: that the members of the one are striving together to secure a grand result in the midst of many difficulties, while the members of the other, released from the struggle, contemplate, as one united company, ail issues tending to that result, and are engaged in promoting it, under a higher ministry, in the world of light.
St. Paul, my brethren, kept this ideal before himself continually, and did his utmost to keep it before the early Churches, as you may learn from all his epistles. Unity, sympathy, singleness of aim, generous co-operation, these were the watchwords of the heroic pioneer. For himself he did not imperiously demand the assistance or the sympathy of any man, or any class of men. There was that noble independence about him which spurned help, as a condition of his own diligence and faithfulness. If the necessity was laid upon him, looking up to God he could act alone, and during the greater portion of his ministry he did act alone; calm, [5/6] self-reliant, unterrified, he held himself equal to solitary, single-handed labors in his Master's service. It was in this spirit that he vindicated his Christian manhood at Philippi, at Athens, at Corinth, at Thessalonica, at Ephesus, at Illyrium, at Troas, at Myletus, at Caesarea, and at Rome. For the most part he stood solitary and unsupported, and in recounting his strange hardships he does not hesitate to use the first person singular: "Five times received I forty stripes save one: thrice was I beaten with rods; a day and a night have I been in the deep." You remember the glowing, the almost exultant recital of his griefs and his perils.
Never was a mind more divinely attempered to its unaided, individual work than his, and never did a minister of the Lord Jesus so magnify his office by personal adventure and devotion, in season and out of season, by day and by night, by sea and by land—running; as one of the Christian Fathers has said, from ocean to ocean, like the sun in the heavens, sooner wanting ground to tread upon than a desire to propagate the faith of Christ.
And yet, like Daniel the prophet, St. Paul the Apostle was "a man of loves." While there was no maudlin, spurious humility about him, no affectation of weakness, or dependence—while he indulged in very lofty assertions of his official dignity, and in very distinct appeals to his own peculiar services as a minister of Christ—he was, nevertheless, as loving, as confiding, as affectionate as a child. You cannot fail to recall, beloved, the warm-hearted greetings which begin and close most of his epistles. He loved the disciples; he knew them, and could call them by name, wherever they were scattered in little companies and congregations; his heart was anchored in their midst; he knew the humblest of them, and had a salutation for them all, male and female; and never did he forget them, or cease to invoke upon them, in most tender and pathetic words, the blessing of God Almighty and of Jesus Christ. However remote from them, he looked back, and sent messages; he leaned upon them as upon a reserve corps; he, their instructor, their guide; he who had tasked his [6/7] mighty energies to enlighten their minds, to disperse their doubts, to correct their faults; he from whose lips they had first caught the utterance of saving truth and the doctrine of life eternal; he, the majestic and eloquent preacher, enfolded all his scattered households and flocks, and held them upon its loving breast; spake of them as the sharers of his labors, his worthy associates, co-workers in the Gospel, striving with him for the maintenance and publication of the Faith, and dividing with him the cares, the toils, and, in a measure, the responsibilities of the Christian ministry. This was ingenuous, whether in a man or an Apostle. Who cares for official assumption? Who would detract from Episcopal prerogative, when its chief desire is to acknowledge and succor the feeblest lamb within the fold?
My brethren, precisely where the great Apostle loved to repose his confidence, and where, usually, he found himself sustained, there must every humbler minister of the New Testament turn for strength and support, aye, for success in the discharge of his exalted mission. Admit that St. Paul, with superhuman gifts and endowments, might, upon occasion, disdain every prop but the arm of Omnipotence, we messengers of a later day,. not equipped as he was, are more dependent. Our feet are less swift and less beautiful, as we publish peace upon the mountains of salvation, and we absolutely require what he generously encouraged. It matters not that the intellect of an angel be his; it matters little if he be master of a divine utterance, fervid, impassioned, thrilling; it matters little if he possess the spirit of a martyr, or the burning purity and piety of a seraph, unsustained by the love and ever-ready responsive upholding of his spiritual charge, his ministry will be as void as if he spake to them with stammering lips, and another tongue; he will falter, and sink beneath a weary burden. Nor is the minister of the present day an anomaly in this regard. I look back and remember that the sublime Lawgiver of Israel would have been overwhelmed by his tremendous charge but for the friendly hands which held him up; and the dear Lamb of God Himself gathered to His side a little company, [7/8] who should follow Him with their simple-hearted trust, and be near Him when the clouds of desolation were gathering around His path; and, my brethren, if upon that path which lies between the Manger and the Cross, there is any one part or portion which more than another gives us the full idea of His loneliness and utter abandonment, and stirs within us mingled sentiments of sorrow and indignation, it is when He stands deserted, forsaken of the Twelve, the most valiant of them all following afar oft; and then denying Him. Yes. Behold the Man. This was the crowning deprivation of Jesus. Our Divine Surety "trod the winepress alone," forsaken of God while "of the people there was none with Him." Oh, wonder not at this cry from the Cross about the ninth hour! wonder not at this piercing, agonizing exclamation, "Eloi, Eloi; My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!" It is the despairing cry of the desolate in a tempest of horrors. The disciples are fled; the Father utterly withdrawn; wonder not that when they gave Him wine to drink mingled with myrrh He received it not. His desolation was beyond the mockery of relief. Wonder not that, having cried again with a loud voice, He gave up the ghost.
From the Messiah, then, to His humblest minister, it is the chief of mortal trials to be left alone; to crave sympathy, and find it not; to look for support, and be denied; and if the absence of sympathy and co-operation is thus to be deprecated, what an infinite blessing is its presence, its active working, as it cheers the heart of a Christian pastor in the midst of his flock—as it girds his soul with strength, and in every high or in every simple undertaking sustains him with the glad assurance that he and his people are one, by a living holy compact, striving together for the Faith of the Gospel, in one spirit, one mind.
Now, beloved, under the full persuasion that you realize this golden blessing of unity and efficiency in a high measure, a persuasion strengthened by all that I have heard, and confirmed by all that I see, I am the more forward to enlarge upon certain relative duties and obligations which stand [8/9] connected with such a blessing, and are most likely to preserve and perpetuate it. It will especially befit this anniversary, in the memories and associations of which I am permitted, by the kind favor of your rector, to share, if we briefly recount some of those elements which combine to the prosperity of a parish.
And permit me to say, in passing, that where there is no visible prosperity in a parish, anniversaries are apt to decline and cease from observance. Where divisions have crept in, where there are swellings and animosities, where the sheep care not for the voice of the shepherd, there an anniversary is a witness of grief and of shame; it returns with a sad and rebuking voice; it is a day of mortifying contrasts and mournful recollections. Our late national anniversary disclosed to us the forced and cheerless character of a commemorative day, when it dawns upon the embroilments and bloody strife of a nation divided and belligerent. Its suggestions were painful—there was a weight upon the spirit of gladness. Who could recall the purchase or the promise of the Republic, and not mourn for her perplexities and her wounds, "as one mourneth for his mother;" and so with every occasion like that, or like this—life, prosperity, progress must animate and inflame the general pulse. And this is your joy, my brethren, although tears and painful memories are mingled with it. It is the joy of this your dedication-day, that in one spirit, and with one mind, striving together for the Faith of the Gospel, you have prospered hitherto.
Striving together. Words of great significance! Striving together! Pastor and people—with separate functions, but a common work. Distinction in office, but unity in aim. It is the secret of all parochial success. It is the secret of yours.
Consider, first, the priest or pastor. There are ministerial acts which can neither be delegated or divided: they belong to that divine commission which every lawfully ordained minister of Christ, receives from the great Head of the Church. They are sacred, exclusive, derived from the eternal source of all authority and power; and whoever intrudes upon [9/10] them, or officiously intermeddles with them, hazards the awful curse which fell upon Korah and his company. In guiding the devotions of the sanctuary—in the administration of the Holy Sacraments—in expounding publicly the word of God, and in the administration of many other solemn and most important offices—the minister of Christ can receive no relief at the hands of his people. He must stand in the strength of God, and when his heart dies within him, he must stand; and when his insufficiency overwhelms him with disquietude, and when perplexities multiply upon his path, he must stand and bear his burden, for it cannot be transferred. If he has help, he must look for it, to the everlasting hills. I know that there are those in all our congregations, who deem this burden a light one. They err exceedingly. It is weighty beyond the power of language to express, not merely as the intellect is tasked beneath it, and the time engrossed, and the strength consumed, and the sensibilities often torn. I will make no account of these. But turn to the “Ordination Office," and mark what the man of God undertakes to do. Mark what he will be compelled to answer for. He is the guardian of souls. Set to watch for them, to follow hard after them, to plead with them, to guide, to enlighten, to console, to save them. He is the shepherd of an undying flock, a flock to be kept away from the dark mountains of transgression—a flock to be conducted upon the ways of pleasantness and peace, so that if possible, not one be turned aside. A flock to be fed in green pastures, and to be led by the side of still waters—a flock! nay, only in metaphor—immortals, accountable beings—individual spirits—souls as precious and as richly freighted as his own, are left in his keeping, with the distinct requisition that not one of them through his neglect, be lost. Nor is there any respite to his anxiety if he be a true pastor; for when his strength and courage are well nigh spent, there is the grand reckoning of eternity to terrify him. The doom of the faithless servant is ringing in his ears. I repeat it, idle, and utterly away from the truth are those ignorant speculations which ascribe to the Gospel [10/11] Ministry a light employment. For their work is such—so awful—that if they trifle with it, you despise and execrate them. God frowns upon and condemns them. They stand accursed, covered with blood-guiltiness. And if it is not trifled with, then, till heart and flesh fail, they must "watch in all things, endure afflictions, preach the word, be instant, in season, and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, and make full proof of their ministry."
Here, then, within prescribed limits, the priest, the pastor bears the burden of his own toils and his own accountability. He has a trust and a settlement which lie alone between him and his Judge.
I remark again, that whatever may be exclusive in the functions of the priest, the people must recognize those functions by a steady co-operation, or they are ineffectual and dead. His labors and theirs must be all in common. His interest on behalf of the Church—its prosperity and increase, is to blend with and be strengthened by theirs. In fact, it lies within the scope of their ability to contribute vastly to his success and his power in all that concerns the edification, spiritual or temporal of his pastoral charge. It is for the people to crown his prayers and to stablish his heart, by making the sanctuary a blessed place, where full assemblies meet, where God is honored by a devout and reverent homage—a place of punctual resort and Christian activities and warm attachment. Or, it is for the people to reverse the picture and render the holy place a seen of emptiness and gloom, where languid hearts lift up a lifeless worship, and where decency and order are set at naught. Hence, my brethren, they fall into another sad mistake, who speak of any clergyman as sustaining himself. Sustain himself! the thing is preposterous and impossible. He may collect a crowd and hold it for a time, by some surpassing excellence of mind or speech, and in his personal or priestly character, he may do much in the exercise of his vocation; but it rests with his charge to sustain him, to rally around him, to heed his counsels, to support his plans, and with him in mutual endeavors to lengthen the [11/12] cords and strengthen the stakes of Zion. As well were it for the helmsman of a gigantic ship, to anticipate a prosperous voyage across the ocean, without the aid of seamen, or with disorder and mutiny on his decks, as for a minister of Jesus Christ to expect a grateful issue to his labors, without the countenance and co-operative sympathies and energies of his people. He comes among them, ordinarily at their call. He casts himself trustfully upon their love and their support. His duties are plain—so are theirs; both combine to a common result, and that glorious result, he knows full well, cannot be realized; when either pastor or people refuse to strive together, with hand joined in hand, for the Faith of the Gospel or the increase of the Church.
Oh, were it for the matter of hire and salary; that he entered upon his work-were it with the stipulation that he should conduct in some formal way this holy worship, or from Sunday to Sunday hold the assembled crowd agape by displays of learning or eloquence, his claim upon the people for help might justly be withstood. But no, his relation to them is not that of a hireling, it is not that of an orator, it is not that of a clerical convenience, employed at a fixed rate, to keep up the semblance of religion in their midst. Perish the thought! No, he is an ambassador from Christ unto them, to go in and out among them, at all seasons, in joy, in trouble, in sickness, in death, and with them for his helpers, to spend and be spent in the service of Christ and the Church.
But consider again, beloved, and a little more in detail, how, in this united work, the people may most effectually strengthen their pastor. And I would say, without hesitation, that the highest favor he can enjoy at their hands, is remembrance in their prayers. Many blame their pastor who never pray for him. Oh, it should ever be borne in mind that he is dust, as frail, as infirm as those to whom he ministers, as likely to be a castaway; and the assurance should be as a girdle of strength to his soul, that he is lifted daily to the mercy-seat on the incense of household supplications. Next to this—a cordial, energetic concert with him, in the current enterprises of Church work and Church welfare, [12/13] nerves him with needful power. Recall the Apostle's words—not standing together, not holding together, but "striving together:"
That prosperity which comes without toil and self-denial is hardly to be desired. It is easy to inherit a name, it is honorable to obtain one; it is easy to accept and enjoy a title to distinction upon the merits of another; it is glorious to struggle toward and reach a distinction by virtue of individual energy. So with the prosperity of a Church—it is an end to be gained, not merely to be accepted and enjoyed. It is effort that brings peace, and that brings prosperity to Jerusalem; not accident. The adorable Founder of the Church died for her, and upon His mediatorial throne of unapproachable light and glory, He guides her destinies with an unwearying interest, as for the purchase of His blood, and the travail of His soul.
This was the spirit and the sentiment of her earlier and most eminent children, under both dispensations—interest, laborious and absorbing in her success. Even Moses, and Eli, and Samuel, and Nehemiah, were quickened by it to superhuman devotion, and the captives of Babylon found a true interpreter to their undying love for the Church, in that impassioned wail: "If I forget thee, Oh, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy." It was this strong and whole-souled affection for the Church of God, which led the apostles and primitive disciples of the Redeemer into every strait of peril, and every form of martyrdom. Her children loved her, labored for her, and died upon her bosom; and where these peculiar and holy sentiments are dead, there the Church is dead; where there is not a vital, actuating attachment for her, as when holy men of old took pleasure in the stones of Jerusalem, and favored the very dust thereof, she must languish, and become a thing of humiliation and reproach. Woe to her in those days, when her children instead of regarding her with filial love, instead of striving to the uttermost to promote her advancement, and bestowing upon her cheerfully their prayers, their labors, their means—woe [13/14] unto her, I say; when instead of this, they sit as aliens beneath her shadow and her smiles, and are content merely to find accommodation within her walls, and are satisfied with an irregular attendance upon her Services and Sacraments, and are pleased to glide on from month to month, and year to year, as spectators, and critics, and transient sojourners in her courts, without so much as lifting a finger, or uttering a word, or rendering a service, or making a sacrifice, which shall promote her strength, or contribute to her welfare. Oh, there can be no prosperity in a Church composed of such cold, unsympathizing, self-indulgent members, and the pastor's heart must wither as he looks around upon his barren field. The children of the Church, her sons and her daughters, must be fired by a loyal spirit, rendering a hearty service, as to a spiritual mother—not leaning upon her, like idlers and dependents, but with hands and hearts holding her up as the ark of a world's hope, and their own salvation.
Again: another source of strength to a pastor, and of prosperity to a parish, lies in that prevailing spirit of welcome which invites, which conciliates, which sympathizes, which spreads abroad a generous, far-sounding appeal for "all who are athirst to come and taste the waters of life freely." When you have made the Church a home, you have brought it nearest to heaven. When you have excluded all worldly and ambitious distinctions, so that one redeemed family can sit down together and partake of one spiritual feast, then you have made your Church conformable to the teaching and intention of The Head. In this respect, dear brethren, ye have done well. I do not anticipate that the conventional, and as I cannot but think, unchristian barriers, which so often utterly divide God's people in His own sanctuaries, will soon disappear. Would that they might. They are terrible hindrances to the Church and Faith of the Gospel. They bring coldness, and dissatisfaction, and jealousy into our holy places. I hail the Scripture legend over yonder portal: "The rich and the poor meet together, the Lord is the maker of them all," and heartily rejoice that its blessed spirit is so fully exemplified here; so should it [14/15] be with sinful creatures before a common mercy-seat. But it is too often to be observed, that even when they meet in God's house, they do not mingle even to the extent of Christian courtesy, though the Lord is the maker of them all. Such is the vain-glory of human pride, such the assumption of fashion, that our days of rest and our temples bear witness forever that Pharisees and publicans have gone up to pray. The bonds of a true and heartfelt brotherhood are broken. The exclusiveness of the week-day circle is preserved at the Church porch and the chancel-rail. So that they for whom the Lord of glory suffered, and whom He made to differ, “shall unite in the same prayers and praises; they shall listen to appeals from the same lips; they shall handle the same symbols of a Saviour's broken Body and shed Blood, and bend beneath the same holy Benediction, and yet occupy from year to year adjoining pews, without exchanging one token of fraternal regard, or even of courteous recognition." This, surely, ought not so to be, and. where such disdainful neglect exists, it should be rebuked as with a thunder-cry of shame and warning. Sirs, ye are brethren; made of one blood, by one blood redeemed. Ye hope to meet at last as ransomed prodigals, in one Father's house. "Be ye therefore kindly affectioned one to another."
"Quit thy state,
All equal are within the Church's gate."
Finally, the Faith of the Gospel and the welfare of the Church are grandly promoted when the people strive together with the pastor, to make holy worship a real and acceptable oblation. There is a marked difference, my friends, between heartfelt devotion and languid performance; between a drowsy conning of the Prayer Book, and a soul kindled and in earnest above its almost inspired pages. I grieve to say that neither animation nor unanimity make the worship of our Churches that glorious articulate outpouring of the heart which it might be, which it ought to be, which it is in the Church triumphant. We have the noblest of divine songs, and harmonies adapted to them, as rich and sweet as human skill can weave; but we [15/16] do not lift them up, in one spirit, with one mind, pouring them in one swelling surge of praise upon the ear of God. We have Confessions, but we make them in muffled tones. We have Creeds, but we repeat them as if ashamed. We have Thanksgivings and Amens, but they die upon our tongues "like spent waves upon the shore."
I need not say, my brethren, that public worship throughout the Church, especially on this continent, is greatly devoid of earnestness and reverence, and is too generally a dull, cold, sluggish performance, without animation and without effect. We come and depart without the unction, the fervor, the enjoyment of those who worship God in spirit and in truth. But I believe a brighter day is dawning upon the Church. I welcome the glad tokens of its approach here among yourselves to-day. Yes, I do believe the time is not far distant when worship will he a nobler exercise in our assemblies, a more inspiring and a more acceptable sacrifice, in which the entire congregation shall bear a part, and proclaim themselves for the time engaged earnestly, individually, unitedly, with all their heart, and soul, and mind, engaged, in the business of devotion.
Such then are two or three elements of vigorous life in a Christian Church. Combined effort between pastor and people, friendly communion, engagedness in holy worship.
These are your treasures. Beloved, may they be yours in all the years to come, and yet more abounding. Cherish them, increase them. May the growing life of your congenial and united labors be more and more apparent, in every department of this Christian household; may each member fill his place and do his proper work, and, led on by your wise-hearted shepherd, may ye walk lovingly together, being joined each to each in the unity of the Spirit, and in the bond of peace. May this sacred abode be a delightsome place to you. May joy fill your dwellings, and may the blessing of God descend upon you and your children evermore! Amen.