Project Canterbury

The Good Bishop.
A Sermon preached in the Church of St. John the Divine, Oban,
on Quinquigesima Sunday, 1906, being the Sunday after the Funeral,
by the Very Reverend Charles Pressley Smith, M.A.,
Dean of Argyll and the Isles.

"HE was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of Faith" (Acts xi. 24).

This is the best, the highest commendation which could be given to any man. It is what S. Luke says of the Apostle Barnabas. The words come at once into our minds when we think of our dear Father in God, the beloved Bishop, who has just passed away from this world into the rest and bliss of Paradise. The outstanding feature of his life, that which all saw and knew, was the singular measure of real goodness with which he was endowed. Full of the Holy Ghost, strong in faith, walking with God, he delighted in and he loved that goodness, which is the innermost, most essential, and most characteristic excellence of God. Ever looking unto Jesus, after His example, he went about doing good unto all, everywhere and at all times. How frequently in his lifetime we have heard men of all kinds and classes say of the Bishop—"He is a good man," "there's no doubt about the Bishop's goodness," and now that he has been taken from us into the Church Expectant he will be known to those who come after as pre-eminently "The good Bishop."

It is not my purpose this morning to preach a funeral eulogy in the ordinary sense of the words. I could not, even if I would. Nothing would be more distasteful to our dear Father in God, and nothing, in my opinion, could less become the occasion. A life such as his has been is something to ponder over seriously, something to contemplate and think over quietly. It is too holy to rudely handle, or to speak of in hasty words of praise. It has been a great gift of God to our age, not to our Diocese or Church alone, but to our whole country and people. Here are a few examples of what has been written to me in private letters from clergy in England within the last few days:—"He seemed the very model of what a Christian Bishop should be." "His memory and example will live on as an encouragement to Catholics, and to all who desire to lead a Godly life." "Your Diocese, the Scottish Church, the Anglican communion, and the whole Church are all widowed." Another speaks of "The Saintly Bishop," another "A prelate of saintly life and scholarly attainments, whose praise is in all the churches," and yet another says, "His memory will live in all our hearts while life lasts." My brethren, to have been brought into close contact with a life like our Bishop's; to have had his presence and influence amongst us; to have had the great blessing of his friendship, teaching, and example; to have been continually in his thought and prayers, has indeed been a blessed privilege; but it also means for us, the clergy and people of his much loved Diocese, a great and a solemn responsibility. "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required."

Self-surrender, consecration, the giving of one's-self without reserve to God: that is the mark of a saint, that constitutes saintship. It needed no long acquaintanceship with the Bishop to see how wholly surrendered he was, how his sole aim in life was to glorify God, to do the work of his Divine Master, with singleness of purpose and steadfastness of aim. In him there was nothing of the attempt to compromise the claims of God and of the world, which makes havoc of so many a life. The Divine Christ was ever before his eyes as his living, loving Lord and Master. To Him he had surrendered himself, all he was, and all he had; and, owning Christ as his Lord and King, his God and Saviour, his constant delight was to do Him service. It mattered not what he had to do, however humble or seemingly unimportant, if it came to him in the way of duty, it was done cheerfully, joyfully, as part of the service of his Master. In everything, his one aim and desire was to co-operate with the purpose of God for His Church and people, and to glorify God as he had the opportunity. Was not such a life the gift of God to our age and country? The great need of our time is devoted, surrendered lives. What the world needs, says the Bishop of Birmingham, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, is "not so much more Christians as better Christians." We may add that what the Church needs is not so much more Churchmen as better Churchmen, Churchmen who love their Church because it is Christ's Church, because they have found Christ, and been found of Christ, in the Church. Our Bishop's consecrated and surrendered life should encourage us, and stir us up to give ourselves more definitely to God, to live for God, to witness for God, and to serve Him, in all we say and do, with all our powers of heart and mind and will.

Another characteristic of the saints of God has always been their attitude towards sin and repentance. Nearness to God involves, of necessity, a deepened and a growing sense of sin. In His presence, in His light, man realises how many and how grievous are his sins. Isaiah, when he saw the vision of the Almighty, high and lifted up, when he realised the nearness of the presence of God, cried out, "Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts." S. Peter, when on the Galilean Lake he realised that the Lord was near, fell down at Jesus' knees, overwhelmed with a sense of his sin, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." S. John, when the vision of the Glorified and Ascended Christ appeared to him, in the lonely isle of Patmos, fell down at Jesus' feet as one dead. So it has ever been, and ever must be. It is this which explains the seeming paradox of the saintly life: that the holier a man becomes the deeper grows his sense of sin in God's sight, the fuller his humble confession of guilt. As more and more we learn to see all things in the light of God, as we increase in our realisation of the presence of God, as we walk in the light, and live in the light, so much the more clearly do we see what sin really is—how intensely evil, how deserving of punishment, and how great is our own need of repentance. What a light this throws upon that touching and beautiful prayer which our dear Bishop wrote at the beginning of his illness., and which so many of us, knowing the saintliness of his life, found it so difficult to use! What a lesson it teaches ! In the philosophy of to-day, sin is represented in a trivial light, as a mere misfortune, as of no great importance, as natural to man, and sometimes a necessity. Men too readily make mock of sin, and treat it as something to jest or laugh over, or point a story with. The Bishop's prayer, so truly representative of his attitude of soul before God, reminds us of the revealed truth that sin is an outrage against the holiness of God, an intense evil, that in the presence of the All Holy One, Who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, Who sees us through and through, even the holiest of men can only say, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner"; "Lord, have mercy"; "Christ, have mercy"; "Lord, have mercy." How continuously in his charges, sermons, and addresses he enforced the need of true repentance as the one remedy for sin, as the one and only way to forgiveness through the precious blood of Christ! If, in the presence of God, he realised his own unworthiness, there, too, he found the strong assurance of the pardoning grace and forgiving mercy of God, and was never weary of urging the reality of that forgiveness which, through the mercy of God, is to be found in tire way of repentance. Free, full, sovereign pardon is in the hand of the great King, and, full of faith, his whole being stretched out to God, and rested on the Person of Jesus—True God and True Man—crucified, dead, buried, risen, ascended, and ever living to exercise His prerogative of forgiveness and mercy. Never, while life lasts, will I forget the tone and accents of his voice, as, holding my hand, in what we thought was a last farewell, in Edinburgh, he said to me—"Tell the people, again and again, that to know and to love the Lord Jesus Christ is what is above all things necessary." It is a message needed in our day—a message which points out the way of forgiveness, healing, and restoration to a world weary and heavy laden with burdens of sin and misery. "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins."

Again, the Bishop's life continually reminded us that the Christian life can only be lived in the power of the Holy Ghost. In the very last conversation I was privileged to have with him—and what a privilege it was to be allowed, from time to time, to sit with him, to hear him speak of the verities of our Faith, and to receive his blessing—he spoke much of the work of God, the Holy Ghost, and told me that he had made it one of the aims of his episcopate to promote the honour due to the Holy Ghost, as God, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. His life was daily lived in conscious dependence upon the Holy Spirit. He truly lived in the Spirit and walked in the Spirit. We felt it when we consulted him, or sought his help and advice in any matter of difficulty or perplexity. How it was evident at his Confirmations. How it came out in times of personal sorrow and bereavement—some of us know from personal experience too deep to speak of. How clearly it was seen in all his episcopal and ministerial acts. I remember being much struck with this soon after coming hero. Going with him on a visit of great difficulty, at a time of anxiety, as we landed on the shore from the boat, taking off his hat, he said, quite simply and naturally, "Let us say the Veni Creator together," and, as we walked across the pebbly beach, we invoked the special presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such instances were of daily occurrence, and might be multiplied without number. They witness to the atmosphere in which he daily lived and moved. We at S. John's are not likely soon to forget the humble and complete dependence upon the Divine Spirit with which, on last Good Friday, he led our thoughts and meditations at the Three Hours' Service. His single-minded devotion towards God, the Holy Ghost, has been a great gift to our age—an age in which it is said to be true that "the Holy Ghost is the least known, the least loved, and the least worshipped of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity." How full of the Spirit he was. How truly a man of God. How spiritually-minded. How absolutely unselfish he was. How deep was his humility. How real his sincerity. How wonderful his patience. How strong his faith. How genuine his goodness of heart. How great his generosity in thought and word, as well as in deed. How abundantly the fruit of the Indwelling Spirit was manifested in his daily life and conversation. He has gone from his place on earth into the nearer presence of the Lord he loved so truly, and served so faithfully. Let us rejoice in his increased happiness, and think of him as "forever with the Lord." Let the memory of his life and example abide with us, to encourage us to nobler efforts, to more entire self-surrender, to more heartfelt penitence, and to more humble dependence upon the Spirit of Life, and of Love, and of Strength. The similarity between our dear Father in God and our great Celtic Apostle—Saint Columba—in many ways, has been remarked upon by more than one writer during the past week. To me, it seems as if the last-recorded words of S. Columba might almost have come from the lips of our beloved Bishop. S. Adamnan tells us that, in the hearing of his attendants, S. Columba gave this last command to the brethren—"These last words, O my children, I commend unto you; that ye have mutual and unfeigned charity among yourselves, with peace. And if, according to the example of the holy fathers, ye shall attend to this, God, the Comforter of good men, will help you; and I, abiding with Him, will intercede for you. And not only shall the necessaries of this present life be sufficiently supplied by Him, but He will also bestow those rewards of eternal riches which are laid up for them that keep His Divine laws."

May our dear Father in God rest in peace. May light perpetual shine upon him. May he be a joyful partaker in the blessed Resurrection at the coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Project Canterbury