Be ye thankful.
Colossians iii. 15.
Thankfulness—the feeling of the heart—thanksgiving—the expression of that feeling—these hold a foremost place, I had almost said, the foremost place among the duties of Christ's servants in the teaching of S. Paul.
It is so here. Quite unexpectedly, quite abruptly, the injunction is thrust upon his readers. It has no special reference to what has gone before; it is no obvious introduction to what follows after. But it must have a place. Whether in season or out of season, it matters not. This duty of thankfulness, this obligation of thanksgiving, must not be forgotten. It is of all times and all places. Nor is the Apostle satisfied with once enforcing it. Two verses lower down he repeats it with increased emphasis, lest it should be overlooked: 'Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.' It must be the never-failing accompaniment of every word uttered, of every action done.
And so elsewhere. A thanksgiving forms the all but universal commencement of his letters. Thanksgiving is the crown of Christian worship; thanksgiving is the purpose for which the Church exists. The glory, which redounds to God through the thanksgiving of His people, is the ultimate end and aim of their being. The thankful heart, the thankful lips, the thankful life, these alone fulfil the purpose for which they were created.
And the Church has caught up and prolonged the Apostle's teaching. To the highest act of Christian worship, to the service which links us most closely with our Lord, the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood, she has given, as its proper right, the title of thanksgiving, Eucharist; thanksgiving for God's gift of His only-begotten, thanksgiving for the sacrifice upon the Cross, thanksgiving for our participation in that sacrifice, for our cleansing and sanctification through the shedding of that blood. In that one eucharistic service we gather up, as it were, all special thanksgivings for all special mercies, we fulfil the apostolic injunction, 'Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.' The transcendent mercy of Christ's death on the Cross, which we set forth in that Holy Sacrament, unites, harmonizes, illumines, glorifies all lesser mercies which we owe to God's goodness.
But while thanksgiving is never misplaced and never ill-timed, it is nowhere more appropriate than on an exceptional occasion like the present, the day of S. Philip and S. James, set apart as the tercentenary commemoration of your own local saint and hero, Bernard Gilpin". Whether we consider the festival of our Church calendar, or whether we contemplate the epoch of which the tercentenary celebration reminds us, or whether our eyes are centred on the particular man, we have abundant cause for thanksgiving.
1. First and foremost; what sources of thankfulness does the apostolic anniversary itself suggest? If the festival of S. Thomas teaches the lesson of doubts overruled, and scepticism convinced, by the power of the Cross; if the festival of S. Matthew presents to us the temptations of secular callings overcome, and worldliness sanctified, by the presence of Christ; if the festival of S. Stephen throws a halo of glory over the sufferer for Christ, and administers strength and comfort to the persecuted, has not the festival of S. Philip and S. James likewise its special message to our souls? What corresponding lessons of thanksgiving do the notices of Philip, the foremost of these two Apostles, suggest? Our thoughts are recalled to those earliest scenes on the shores of the Galilean lake, the very birthday of the Church of Christ. Philip belongs to the first group of four—all natives of Bethsaida, 'the house of fishing'—who at Christ's calling left their all and followed Him, that they might become fishers of men. But this name not only reminds us of the first foundation of the Church of Christ . It recalls likewise the universality of His Church. Philip summons to Jesus' presence Nathanael, the true Israelite in whom there is no guile. Philip—the same Philip—is afterwards the means of introducing to the Master those Greeks who came to worship at the feast, the first and only Greeks of whom we read in such a connexion. Thus he is the forerunner of a Stephen, the forerunner of a Paul. In his action he typifies the great truth, which the Church embodies, that Christ recognises no distinction between race and race. I seem to see therefore why the framers of our present Lectionary, while they provided special lessons for this festival in the three other cases, permitted the second lesson for the evening service alone to remain undisturbed, as it occurred in the ordinary course of scripture reading— this third chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians,— because in it is enunciated the great principle which was embodied in the few notices of Philip's work; 'There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all, and in all.' Yes, at length the visions of psalmist and prophet are fulfilled; the distant islands bring their offerings to the God of Israel; the children of the far-off North gather together to the sanctuary of the spiritual Jerusalem. So then, when we commemorate Philip's work, we are reminded of all the vast consequences which flowed from his initial act, flowed ceaselessly and are flowing still through the long centuries—of Paul, the great Apostle of the Gentiles; of Columba, our spiritual forefather, the abbot of lonely Iona; of Aidan, the gentle, sympathetic, devoted missionary, the first evangelist of these Northumbrian shores. Should we not therefore open wide the flood-gates of our thanksgiving, that it may flow freely, and rise up to the throne of grace? We, the Gentiles, we, the barbarous islanders of the far-off West, are the direct heirs of Philip's work transmitted through the ages.
2. But secondly; the word 'Tercentenary' suggests another abundant topic of thankfulness.
We are reminded of the great crisis—the greatest in the long course of its history—through which the Church passed three hundred years ago. The life of Bernard Gilpin spanned the whole period of the
s English Reformation from its first impulse to its final consummation. In the very year of his birth Luther fixed his famous theses to the church-door at Wittenburg. Here was the primary step in a movement which spread far and wide, the one overt act from which we may date the commencement of the Reformation throughout Europe. Again, when Bernard Gilpin breathed his last, the plottings of Spain and of the Papacy against England were at their height, plottings which culminated soon after in the Spanish Armada. This may be regarded as the last scene in the great religious drama, as the other was the first. The dispersion of this huge armament, destined for the spiritual and political slavery of England, crowned the work of the Reformation, and set her free to develope her capacities without molestation from foreign tyranny. Looking back on the Reformation from the vantage ground of three centuries, we may criticise the faults without depreciating the blessings. We may deplore the selfishness and greed of some agents; we may mourn over the timidity and inconsistency and time-serving of others; we may lament the extravagances, the shortcomings, of the movement itself. But the fact remains that after every deduction made for these defects, it has been fraught with incomparably great blessings, religious, social, intellectual, political, to England and to the world. We at least who have lived to see the errors of Rome stereotyped and the tyranny riveted by the promulgation of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility ought not to be insensible to the blessing which fell to England's lot, that three centuries ago England's Church threw off the yoke of the oppressive despotism, that during this period she has developed an independent life, that she has grown with the growth of the English people, and spread with the spread of the English tongue, that she has ramified throughout the known world, and that thus a central standard is erected round which the Churches of the future may rally, and a strong fortress is reared which the growing infidelity of the age will assail in vain. Surely, surely, we shall pour out our hearts in thanksgiving to-day to God, for bestowing upon England and the English Church this His inestimable benefit. If the foundation of the Church is the first cause of thankfulness, the Reformation of the Church must be the second.
3. But thirdly and lastly; we are met together to-day for the special commemoration of one man. If the channel of our thanksgiving is thus narrowed, it will not flow the less fully or strongly on that account. Of all God's gifts to mankind the highest, noblest, most precious is the gift of a saintly example, a saintly life. Such a boon He has bestowed on you, the people of Houghton, in him whom we this D. S. 9
day commemorate. Other parishes in this diocese likewise are linked with his name78; but your connexion with him was the longest, the closest, the latest, the most enduring. Here he lived, and here he died. For a whole quarter of a century this parish was the scene of his labours. And as you are his crown of rejoicing, so is he yours. Other rectors not a few you have had, good men and famous men, from age to age; but a fragrance, a beauty, a halo of saintly glory, rests on the name of Bernard Gilpin which rests on none other in the same degree. Houghton is known and honoured for his sake. .
A truly good man's career is a rich inheritance for any parish. It propagates by its influence in life, and it fructifies by its example after death. It is a continuous living parable of God's mind and will. It is God's truth translated into action, a book easy to be understood, known and read of all men.
Bernard Gilpin was the true product of the English Reformation, born with its birth, growing with its growth, yielding up his spirit to God at the moment of its consummation. He was its noblest representative also. He appropriated only its excellences, while he was altogether free from its faults. He lost nothing that was valuable in the old. and he apprehended all that was true in the new. Do we enquire what was the secret of this exceptional position? It was his absolute and entire sincerity and unselfishness. He kept his spiritual ear open to God's voice, and therefore God spoke to him. He desired before all things to do God's will, and therefore it was given him to know of the doctrine whether it was of God. He meditated long and seriously over the principles of the Reformation; he went into retirement abroad that he might observe for himself, and ponder by himself; he took every pains to arrive at the truth; he let no worldly interests stand in the way. While the Reformers were in power under Edward, he still clung to the old. When the Roman reaction set in under Mary, he espoused the new.
One feature in his religious life meets us again and again. He was an ardent student of the Scriptures. He did not underrate the value of primitive tradition; but the Bible was his constant companion, his never-failing guide. The Scriptures emancipated him from the errors of Rome.
And he became in his own personal and ministerial life the exponent, the noblest exponent, of the teaching of the Reformation. The changed condition of things required a changed ideal of the pastoral life and work. He was the prototype of the English parish clergyman. Even at this late date, after the lapse of three centuries, he is still the best model on which the priest of the English Church can frame and fashion his life. He anticipated too by three centuries the supplemental work, which in our own age for the first time the clergy have grafted upon their parochial ministrations. He was not only the faithful, earnest, loving rector of Houghton, the father of his flock, but he was likewise the enthusiastic, fearless, impassioned missionary preacher of Tynedale and of Redesdale. His work at home infused his work abroad with sympathy and love ; and his work abroad charged his work at home with the fire of zeal. Each acted and reacted on the other.
And in another respect too he was the true exemplar of the English Church. He led the way in that care for education, which happily has (with rare exceptions) been the general characteristic of the English clergy. His grammar-school79, standing face to face with his church, is a fit emblem of his principles. Religion must go hand in hand with education, that so we may lay on God's altar a higher, fuller, more complete sacrifice of self.
But of the man himself what shall I say? The first feature which strikes us in his character is his absolute disinterestedness, the entire absence of selfseeking, and the complete forgetfulness of worldly advantage, which marked his whole life. Again and again tempting offers are thrown in his way. Again and again they are rejected. They have no temptation for him. It is easier for him to refuse or to resign, than to accept or to retain. 'How tender a thing conscience is,' he wrote on one such occasion, 'I have found by too good experience. I have found, moreover, that as it is easily wounded, so it is with difficulty healed. And for my own part, I speak from my heart, I would rather be often wounded in my body than once in my mind.' In an age of worldliness and self-seeking he was most unworldly.
And allied with his unworldliness is his courage. Witness the spirit which drove him despite all the remonstrances of his friends to return to England a convert to the Reformation when the Marian persecution was raging, and the prospects of the Reformation seemed most hopeless,—to put his head, as it was thought, in the lion's mouth. Witness again his bold denunciation of abuses in the kingdom to his sovereign, and of abuses in the diocese to his bishop. Witness once more his dauntless intervention amidst clashing weapons in that deadly feud of faction and faction in Rothbury church80.
But unworldliness and courage, when developed in a very high degree, are commonly associated with some weakness or defect of character in the opposite direction. The unworldly man is careless, unmethodical, without capacity in common affairs; the courageous man is hard, exacting, unsympathetic. Bernard Gilpin's character is open to no such charges. We are especially struck with the even balance of his character. No one good quality is developed to the expense of the other. He is bold and fearless, and yet he is tender and loving; he is most unworldly, and yet he shows a business capacity of no common order; he is most profuse in his beneficence, and yet he exercises the strictest and most careful economy. 'I am very much moved concerning him,' said one who came in contact with him in his youth, 'for he doeth and speaketh all things with an upright heart.' 'Cheerfulness,' writes another who lived in our own times, 'cheerfulness was in his soul, because it was in good health. He saw his way through all the paths of life by the lamp of his conscience, which he kept well trimmed. In all things he kept by the model of Christ. Like his Master, he was a sharp sword against the scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; a place of refuge to the naked and destitute, a shepherd to the flock, food to the hungry, and drink to the thirsty81.'
This is the man for whose life, for whose influence, for whose memory—far and wide where the English language is spoken, but more especially in this place— we thank God this day. On his death-bed85, he called the poor people of Houghton about him, and said to them that 'he found that he was going out of the world'; and 'he hoped they would be his witnesses at the Great Day.' 'If ever he had told them any good thing, he would have them remember that in his stead.' Does he not make the same appeal to you their descendants, speaking from yonder grave this afternoon? Yes, be ye his witnesses at the Great Day. If he has taught you any good thing by his life, remember it in your lives. This is the highest and the truest form of commemoration.
Now therefore, we pray thee, dear Lord, grant to us full and grateful hearts that they may overflow with thanksgiving to Thee this day; for that Thou didst purchase a Universal Church by the precious blood of Thy dear Son, and gather it in one from all nations and peoples and tongues; for that in the fulness of time Thou didst through much anguish and many trials purge it from the errors of long centuries; for that Thou didst give to the people of this parish the teaching and example of a heroic and saintly life—an inheritance, a light and a crown of joy to all time.