Preached by the
Very Reverend William M. Grosvenor
Dean of the
Dedication of the Pulpit
Mrs. Russell Sage
In memory of
Bishop Henry Codman Potter
September 10th, 1916
DEDICATION OF POTTER MEMORIAL PULPIT
Sept. 10th, 1916. 11 A. M.
Acts XX, 27: "For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God."
Although this is the first sermon preached in this pulpit, the beginning as we believe of thousands of messages concerning Christ and His Church, which will be given to listening multitudes, in the long years to come; yet we do not know of any words more fitting than that most touching and eloquent address which was St. Paul's farewell to the elders of Ephesus. Simply to have read that from this pulpit without note or comment would have been a sufficient sermon, but I have chosen it as the second lesson and I trust that as it was read in your hearing you have so retained it in your memories, that it will go with you not only throughout this service but into your life.
The whole counsel of God, uttered, spoken; yes, how otherwise would the world be taught the truth as it is in Jesus, but spoken by the lips of a preacher who first of all had lived so close to his Lord that he could say "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course in joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." The Master had said "By thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." For awhile words may deceive but the time quickly comes when we discern unreality and we know the eloquence that is as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. St. Paul said distinctly that he was not eloquent, that his speech was halting and his presence mean. But in all literature there is no greater eloquence than in those simple words which after all these centuries still move and stir our hearts in their vivid revelation of the sacrificial manhood that will forever live in them. Nothing but words we say, but there are times when words are deeds, and here and now these words, because they show us the Living Christ, and the Heavenly Father, and the truths by which we must live and the lives of the disciples who lived them, those words fully justify the Saviour's prophecy, Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away.
We want all the words of eternal life, a well rounded, wide visioned message, as complete as human knowledge can give it to us. The total message of the whole gospel of the Incarnate Christ for all time and for all people. It is with that thought in mind, that we are arranging the symbolism of this great Cathedral. The Altar and reredos are crowded with symbols from the Gospel of St. John. Some day the decorations of the Choir will speak to us in the language of St. John's Epistles, and gradually the great Clerestory windows will depict some of the mystic visions of the Apocalypse, the Revelations of St. John the Divine.
Here in this beautiful pulpit into which the Architect Henry Vaughan has built so much of his own genius and the simplicity and strength of his own Christian character--this pulpit speaks to us of the whole gospel of Christ and of some of the greatest preachers of that living word.
How could we possibly approach the gospel story without reading with new understanding the glowing words of Isaiah, the prophet of the suffering and victorious Messiah, victorious only through suffering. And then we must always let St. John Baptist lead us to Him whose shoe latchet he is not worthy to unloose, to the Messiah who is the preacher of the new law and of the Kingdom, and the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world. With those two prophets standing at the gate we enter. And all around us is pictured the life of our Lord. We love to linger with the children around the cradle in Bethlehem, for this little Child is the Incarnate Lord. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
All that the incarnation means we must strive to preach. No more hopeless pessimism; for the world can be saved. No more despair of the worth of living, for the world is worth saving. No more triumphs of sensualism for the Divine Son took our nature upon him. No necessity for evil to conquer us, for Jesus our Brother, was tempted, resisted and conquered and so can we. No more scorn and cynicism and brutal hate for Jesus is the manliest of men and lives the life of love. No more greed and selfishness for the Son of God loved us and gave himself for us.
And then we see Christ sitting in the midst of the Doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. Christ learning the law of God and being made obedient to the law, and fulfilling all Righteousness. Jesus loved the Synagogue and the words of the ancient prophets. He becomes the teacher. He is our Master. We must learn of Him. He loves and teaches the truth. His words are in the open book of truth. He says of Himself I am the truth. All truth belongs to Him. He promises the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. And in him we can do nothing against the truth but for the truth, for when we know the truth we shall be free.
And directly in the center is the crucifixion. We preach Christ crucified. Not a garlanded god around whose shrine we dance with festive joy. Not a cruel god to appease whose wrath, we cut ourselves with knives. But a true, loving and righteous champion of divine truth, who will not tell a lie, whose rule of life is to live for others and when his love for the world demands it is willing to suffer and die. A crucified Saviour who becomes by his cross and passion, the glorious leader among a host of loyal followers, who henceforth live not unto themselves, but for the redemption of other men, live unto Him who died for them. And then comes the Resurrection. All would have perished in despair. But something happened that changed the temper and the tone and then the conviction and then the life of the disciples, whatever one may say about miracles and their meaning. The something that happened on that first Easter morning, has revolutionized human history and all life is changed since men began to sing I believe in the resurrection of the Dead and the Life of the world to come.
The last scene carved with such skill into these stones is the supper at Emmaus. Ever since those wondrous days the disciples have been crying out "Abide with us O Lord for it is toward evening and the day is far spent." We are all of us, whether we always know it or not, seekers for the Divine presence. Life is full of temptations and trials, full of pain and grief and loss. We cannot get rid of the terror and the agony of the world. The news of each day recalls it all. The only way of escape that I have ever heard of is to turn our minds and imaginations away from it into mystic union with a spiritual presence. We must live in the Spirit, seeing Him who is invisible. Some of the mystic seekers after God, have gone forth in silence to find Him in the sea, or among the stars, or in the vast unfolding of the universe. Some seekers after God have dwelt in prayer, have lost themselves in monastic isolation; have sought Him in mystic rites and ceremonies. They remember the Lord's words "Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the ages." And they need His presence every passing hour. It is in the memory of Him that they will resist temptation, and find power to flee from evil, and do that which is good. It is the angel of His presence who will save them. But when we said the only way of escape is in taking our minds away from the evil and concentrating them upon Christ, we forget what Jesus did. He took bread and blessed it and brake it and gave it to them, and their eyes were opened and they knew Him, and He vanished out of their sight. To constrain Him to stay with us forever we must break bread and feed the people. He will not give us His physical presence nor even His spiritual presence just for selfish contemplation and perpetual adoration and personal delectation. When the mystics begin to live only and chiefly for themselves, Jesus vanishes, for always and forever He is found in the service of the least of all his brethren. Out from the room in Emmaus, heartened and uplifted, those disciples must go back into the storm-tossed life of the world. He will abide in their souls only when they do things for others and when they live through some of those vivid experiences, when for their sacrifice the world gave them rods and shipwrecks, and journeys and robbers and weariness and painfulness and watchings and hunger and thirst and fastings and nakedness. They will find the vanished Christ once more when they forget themselves and forget even Him for a moment in the unconscious gift of the cup of cold water. So in the length and breadth and height and depth of this wondrous gospel all who will stand in this place will find an adequate and inspiring message for all people. As the years go on and this pulpit becomes the place for many messages of priests and prophets, of scholars and teachers, of missionaries and saints, we will find that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost. That there are diversities of gifts, but by the same spirit; and there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
And to remind ourselves of this manifold grace of God, we have chosen eight illustrious names in Christian history and have carved their figures in stone. First there is St. Peter, the apostle that stands for authority, the order and organization of the Church of Christ. Then St. Paul, the apostle of freedom, of the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. Then St. Jerome, the scholar who in the 4th century translated the Bible and gave us the famous Vulgate edition; who also was the great preacher of righteousness to the Court and people of Rome. Then St. Gregory, the preacher of marvelous power in Rome, the scholar, theologian, the last of the four great Latin Doctors, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory. The man who stood at the close of the old epoch, and stamped with his thought the new world of medieval civilization and life. Gregory who as Abbot of St. Andrews in Rome, saw the Angles, whom he called angels, and later sent Augustine to their country for the conversion of England.
Then St. John Chrysostom, John the golden-mouthed, who against his will was compelled to become Archbishop of Constantinople and whose marvelous preaching of righteousness so stirred the forces of evil that at last they drove him out. The man who rebuked Kings and Queens and Nobles, Archbishops and Bishops and clergy, soldiers and people, and who for his boldness was banished to die.
Then we have the figure of sturdy Hugh Latimer, the plain spoken, heroic preacher of simple righteousness, the great popular orator, of whom it is said that it was the preaching of Latimer more than the edicts of Henry the Eighth that established the principle of the Reformation in the hearts of the English people. And when at last the authorities could no longer stand the truth, he and Ridley became martyrs, and as flames leaped up around them, Latimer said "Be of good comfort Master Ridley and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England as (I trust) shall never be put out."
In talking recently with a leader of the extreme Anglo-Catholic party in the English Church, he said to me "But you know England is unalterably and incurably Protestant." Yes, it always has been, way back in its history it was concerned for its liberties, and it was an Archbishop, Stephen Langton that won for the race Magna Charta. Latimer's candle will burn for centuries.
And then we go to France, that splendid race who out of its present agony is rising into glorious heroism, and we have chosen Bossuet the incomparable orator, who spoke the truth without fear or favor and stood manfully for the liberties of the Gallican or French Church, and against that ultramontane demand for papal infallibility, which more than anything else has weakened and almost destroyed spiritual and intellectual freedom among those who yield to its authority.
And last of all we remember Bishop Phillips Brooks, whose spiritual vision and noble tolerance has shown us in his own life how true his definition of the sermon is, that it is truth through personality. He interpreted for New England, for America and for us all the eager aspirations of our modern religious life, and make it easier for us all to win and follow that spiritual truth in which the broken and distracted Church will find its outward unity and peace.
Surely he to whose memory this pulpit is built has his rightful place in the midst of these great names, for like them Henry Codman Potter was a preacher of righteousness and the upholder of the freedom of the peoples of the earth. Like them he cared for men and for the truth that keeps men free.
Two qualities of mind and heart are found in all these great preachers.
First: An intimate and absorbing knowledge of Holy Scripture, and
Secondly: A passionate love of human freedom.
St. Peter's sermons show his intimate knowledge of the prophets and the law.
St. Paul was a Pharisee knowing all the letter and saturated with the spirit of the Old Dispensation.
St. Jerome went into the desert and into the monastery in Bethlehem that he might give himself utterly to the study of God's word.
St. Gregory was a profound scholar of the Bible.
St. John Chrysostom said "that ignorance of the Scriptures was the source of all heresies."
Latimer was converted and lived henceforth in the deep contemplation of the Word of God and Christ.
It was said of Bossuet that his life showed that "the Bible was transfused in a man" and
Brooks lived in prayerful meditation on that larger truth that was forever breaking forth from God's word.
All men who know and love the Scriptures, become champions of human freedom, and lovers of their fellow men,
They who give themselves to the study of God's word with unremitting devotion will come forth to the people with a glowing and inspiring message which will surely help to solve the pressing practical problems of our modern life. For the sake of life as it is today, life in the midst of this war and tumult, life in the rush of the city, life in East and West, we must dig deeper and deeper into that vast treasure mine of God's word, for in that deeper knowledge of the Christ and His mission to the world, is our only hope for the future.