We have met to rejoice together over a sort of anniversary that is all too rare. We do well to solemnize it. That a minister should have stood by his people, and that a people should have stood by their minister, for five and twenty years ought not to be a thing of uncommon occurrence, but all the same, a thing of uncommon occurrence it is. Happy that pastor of souls, who, to the chief Shepherd's question "Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?" is able to make answer, as this our brother does, after his quarter of a century of service,--"Behold it is here, Lord."
I begrudge the time that is sometimes devoted on occasions like this to the recital of statistics. If any one desires to know how many baptisms there have been in this parish since the present rectorship began, how many Sunday School scholars have been gathered, how much money has been contributed, the items may all be found in the journals of the Convention of the Diocese for the years that have elapsed since 1870. What I have it in my heart to do this morning is to speak rather of the ministry itself than of particular ministerial acts. Suffer me to talk with you about the cure of souls.
The Christian religion has its philosophical side on which it fronts the intellect, and it has also what we may call its sympathetic side on which it fronts the affections. I am [3/4] not undertaking just now to say which of the two is the more important. I simply bid you observe that they are different, even though they may, as in point of fact they do, lock into one another so closely as to make disengagement difficult.
Looked at on its philosophical side Christ's religion is a disclosure of certain distinct and definite truths. These truths admit of being stated, of being put into affirmative sentences, grammatical propositions, they can be taught and learned, and taken in their wholeness they make up what we know as the Catholic Creed. Just at present there is a strong disposition in some quarters to blur and slur this aspect of Christ's religion, but it cannot be blurred or slurred for long. Christianity has always professed to be a religion with a message, and the Church must cease to be the Church if forced into the confession that she has nothing to tell. That the appeal of religion to the intellect may be too heavily emphasized, that the importance of correct thinking in connection with things spiritual may be cruelly and even absurdly exaggerated is of course true. The theologians who once held sway in New England, and no where more absolutely than in this ancient town, may, possibly, have erred in that direction. Strong minded men find in the play of brain power the same sort of excitation that athletes have in feats of bodily strength; they "drink delight of battle" with their peers; and it is no wonder that in days when more men of strong mind went into the ministry than went elsewhere, religion should far too often have come to be reckoned a form of thought only; a message to the mind, and to the mind alone; a thing to be argued for and defended, illustrated, systematized and explained.
But the Christian ministry has been set here in the world to do something more than teach. Man hungers for [4/5] the bread of knowledge but he thirsts for the wine of love and that is but a mutilated sacrament which gives him the one and withholds from him the other. Religion has, as I have said, its sympathetic area, its realm of the affections, its domain of what is personal as contrasted with what is impersonal and abstract, and it is here that we come upon that cure of souls the worth of which we have undertaken to appraise. According to the Christian conception of the thing, a minister is one who has had a group or cluster of persons, of conscious, thinking, feeling, purposeful and responsible persons authoritatively committed to his charge for a distinct and definite purpose, namely, that as persons, each one differing from every other one, and yet sharers all in a certain common possession which we know as human nature, that as persons, I say, they may spiritually be helped and bettered, watched over and fed. It was in making provision to this end that our Lord Jesus Christ more especially disclosed his heavenly ambassadorship, gave proof of the divineness of his mission. He taught truth even as the philosophers who were before Him had taught it, but He did also what no philosopher has ever essayed before or since, He ordained a ministry, he chose men and sent them forth with power, yes power to heal, power to help, power to console. You see what increment accrues to the thought of ministers as teachers the moment we apprehend this further thought of them as men charged with that highest prerogative sympathy.
Did it ever occur to you to consider what a large place the principle of cure or care holds in the world's life? Things, as well as persons, tend to deterioration unless they are looked after. If a man builds a house he must take care of it or it will crumble; if he plants a garden he must take care of it or it will run to weeds, the young of all animals have to be cared for a little while or they [5/6] perish; and the higher the grade of animal the longer and more anxious will be the period of care. Even so it is with the souls of men, they call for care, watchful, assiduous, patient, loving care. We were put into this world to help each other. God's law for nature may be the survival of the fittest through the struggle for life, but his law for man as promulgated through his Son is that they who are strong shall bear the infirmities of the weak. Of this principle the minister is the appointed representative. He stands for the truth that men owe one another care or cure, and only in so far as he in his own person, and work exemplifies the Good Shepherd's watchfulness over the flock does he deserve his title. There is no harm in thinking that one reason why the chosen people were suffered in God's providence to become a pastoral people rather than any other kind of a people was that this conception of tenderness as blended with carefulness might become ingrained into their whole habit of thought, thus making such a Psalm as the 23d possible and such a chapter as the 10th chapter of St. John intelligible.
We trace the apostolic succession of the good Shepherds all the way down from Abraham to Him who alone completely and perpetually embodies the conception. Men they were, full of generous devotion to the well-being of their flocks and with that sense of responsibility which is the measure of character never absent from them. Leaders they were, not drovers, shepherd-kings, but never shepherd-tyrants. Jacob was such a one, conscientious in the keeping of the flock, "In the day the drought consumed me," he declares, "and the frost by night." Moses the great, he also was a shepherd during one of the reaches of his long career. He was leading the flock of Jethro on the slope of Horeb when the call to go after the lost sheep in Egypt reached him. David as a boy kept the sheep at [6/7] Bethlehem, and when the lion and the bear came prowling about the fold he slew them. Thus gradually was evolved the type to which the mission of the Son of God was destined to give an everlasting significance. And now that He has come, the great shepherd of all souls, and has set up on earth his sheep-fold, men are having their eyes opened to understand how the whole human race is potentially his flock. What then are we who are called and who call ourselves ministers, priests, clergymen? Simply his under shepherds, that is all. When the title is searched, when the tokens tarred upon the fleeces are investigated, we find that all the sheep belong to but one owner, the Eternal Father, that they are shepherded but by one shepherd, the Eternal Son, and that we who help him are but his servants, servants entrusted with authority, to be sure, servants who have a right to be respected, not drudges, not menials, but still in a true sense men acting under commission, the custodians, not the originators of power, representatives, not principals, men sent by one higher than ourselves, charged with an errand and a task. These distinctions that I am drawing are significant ones. I do not think it is possible to overstate the dignity of the office of the Christian minister. I do think it is possible grievously to misstate it. The real dignity of the office lies in the fact that it is designed to be symbolical of the work of Christ Himself. "Feed my sheep," He says to Peter just as He is on the point of taking a last leave of Him; "Feed my sheep." It is not a general instruction to Simon Peter to take up the calling of a shepherd, it is a definite and particular command to attend to His, Christ's sheep. The minister's function is, therefore, a representative function and like every representative he is bound never to lose out of sight or out of mind the thing he represents. He must never, so to speak, set up for himself. [7/8] Cannot the origin of all or almost all of the grievances which, here or there, at one time or another, have been alleged against the Christian ministry, be traced to a forgetfulness of this cardinal truth? How comes it that we have in our language such a sinister word as "priest-craft?" If a priest be a reputable person his craft ought not to be a disreputable craft. Whence, again, such unpleasantly suggestive phrases as "sacerdotal assumption," "prelatical tyranny," "hierarchical pride," and the like? It is easy enough to attribute the coining of such words to pure spite, but while that would account for their getting into circulation it would not account for their staying in circulation. A far more probable account of their genesis and of their prevalence is that they stand for and describe certain very real and objectionable misrepresentations of what the ministry was designed by Christ to be. Theirs is an entirely false conception of the dignity of the Christian ministry who would have us suppose that that dignity can be enhanced by high-sounding titles or by the loud assertion of spiritual prerogative. The dignity of the ministry consists in the fact that it is a service rendered to the sons of men in the name and by the authority of the Son of God. When we think of it, the origin of most of what the world recognizes as distinction is traceable to service rendered. In monarchical countries titles are transmitted by heredity, just as estates are, but if you follow the title back to the day when it was conferred, you find that in the first instance it was earned by service. At a given crisis in the kingdom's history, on some battlefield, at some council board, a man made himself specially useful to the king and was ennobled. Yes, depend upon it "I serve" is the proudest of all the armorial ensigns, and the one that best expresses what is most central to the religion of Jesus Christ.
 Is it not just because your minister has held and has illustrated this conception of the sacred calling that you love him as you do? He has gone in and out among you simply, unaffectedly, without pretentiousness or ostentation of any sort whatever, but you have known perfectly well that if you should happen to find yourself at any moment in that sad company pictured in the prayer for the Church Militant as made up of "all those who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness or any other adversity" you could depend upon finding in James Franks a friend.
And as there has thus been good reason for your loving him, so has there also been good reason for his loving you.
To the shepherd of the sheep who has in him the true conception of what his calling imports any flock that may in the providence of God be assigned to him is his "beautiful" flock, beautiful for the simple reason that it is a flock, and that, in a sense, it is his. A group of people, a little company of men, women and children, an actual family of human souls, to care for, to look after, to counsel, to pray for, to extricate from their troubles, to guide in their perplexities, to console in their sorrows, to strengthen in faith, to cheer with hope and to incite to charity,--what could possibly be more attractive to the mind's eye than this? what better deserve that supreme epithet beautiful?
How strange it is that more young men of high spirit and able mind are not drawn towards a calling which can be so described. After all nothing interests like people. Pope's declaration that "the proper study of mankind is man" has become trite just because it is so true. We rail, and very properly, at what is known as gossip, but the one excusable thing about gossip is the humanness of it. That curiosity about people should surpass curiosity about things is inevitable. People are, really, ever so much more important than things, and to be more interested in people [9/10] than in things is not only not blameworthy, it is creditable. It is the animus of gossip that degrades it, not the fact that it has the sayings and doings of our neighbors for its subject matter. People, I say, are interesting just because they are people, and the charm of the ministry is that it puts a man into the most sacred of all possible relations to people. Others may serve them in a hundred ways, may amuse them, may instruct them, may kindle their interest in this or that art or science or adventure, but his is the high function, the golden privilege of showing them which way heaven lies, and helping to start them on the journey. What could be more worthy of any man's best effort than such a task?
What form of life-work promises anything one-half so good? The question of the desirability of different flocks, so often mooted, sinks into utter insignificance when set alongside of the high privilege of having any flock at all. Every parish is "a good parish," if I may be pardoned a bad phrase, which offers to our earnest man the opportunity of doing good.
You complain that my picture of the minister's calling and of its privileges is idealistic and overdone. The pastorate may have such possibilities, you say, but nowhere do we see them realized. Well, perhaps you are right, but consider, I pray you, my dear friends, why it is that you are right. In simple justice to us stewards of the mysteries of God, make allowance for the disadvantages under which we labor in trying to be of use to you.
Doubtless that minister sustains the ideal relation to his people who knows, personally, intimately knows every single one of them. A beautiful flock, indeed, is that which is so known. But who is sufficient for these things? Possibly the village minister, and therein lies the great compensating advantage of his position, humble in the [10/11] sight of men, it may be, but really enviable in the eye of any one who appreciates what the thorough cure of souls really involves and demands.
Many years ago it was my privilege to carry a note of introduction to an English clergyman who had been settled for a long, long time in a quiet little village in Somersetshire. I call it a village--really it was scarcely more than a hamlet. It did not look to be more than half the size of one of the less considerable of your Essex county farming towns. Yet there I found the most cultivated and altogether charming man whom I had met in Europe, an intellectual thoroughbred, a scholar to his finger-tips. With my crude and boyish notions of what constituted greatness, I knew not what to make of such a choice. More years passed, and taking up the morning paper one day I found among the items of foreign news the announcement that my friend of the little south of England rural parish had been suddenly lifted out of his obscurity, and by the prime minister's appointment made guardian of the great cathedral which stands in "London's central roar." And yet, when Dean Church died, they buried him, at his own request, not where he had a right, in virtue of his office and his fame, to lie, in the crypt with Wellington and Nelson, but in the soil of the modest Somersetshire village, where for eighteen years he had known the happiness which comes of the thorough as contrasted with the superficial cure of souls. His beautiful flock, when he came to look back over the whole stretch of his life's past, was not that which he had seen gathered weekly under the huge dome of St. Paul's, for that he had only looked upon, it was rather those few sheep in what some had accounted a wilderness, but which had been to his mind only the more beautiful in that they had been not merely collectively beheld, but actually and severally known and loved.
 Such, dear friends, is the pastoral office, the cure of souls, a benign and gracious thing, as we must needs acknowledge, whether it be looked at from the minister's or from the people's side.
How highly privileged the man who, for five and twenty years, no such insignificant fraction of all the years that have been since Christ Himself was treading the roadways of Palestine, how highly privileged the man who, through five and twenty years, has had it for his whole endeavor to make goodness look to his fellow-men more fair, God's service more inviting, heaven's coast-line more distinct, death's countenance less grim.
In a few moments we shall be engaged in that most solemn of all the offices of our religion, the Holy Communion. Under no combination of circumstances could the rich and varied significance of that sacred right more clearly manifest itself. Love, sacrifice, sympathy, gratitude, all these have lot and portion in the occasion which has brought us together, and all these are signified and symbolized in the sacrament. We are to enjoy fellowship with Him who is the great Shepherd of the sheep, and we are to enjoy fellowship with one another as members of the one beautiful flock, the holy catholic people of his pasture. Nor can we fail, as we gather at this altar of Grace Church, to bless his holy name, for all his servants departed this life in his faith and fear, beseeching Him to give us grace so to follow their good example that with them we may be partakers of his heavenly kingdom.