HEBREWS 13—VII V.
Remember them which had the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of god; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
The Apostle directs us in these words, to cherish the memory of our spiritual guides, of whom death has deprived us, that influenced by their example, we may adhere to their faith, and imitate their virtues.
The instances of mortality among the elder clergy of this town and its vicinity, within these few years, have been numerous and striking. *Five eminent clergymen of Boston, at the head of large and respectable congregations, with two distinguished officers of the University, have experienced the stroke of death; and we are now assembled, my brethren, to lament another victim of his power, not less to be regretted for the ardor of his piety, the soundness of his virtue, and the usefulness of his life. These affecting events solemnly admonish us all of the frail and perishable tenure on which we hold our existence, and loudly exhort us to lead the life, that we may die the death of the righteous. In the mean time let us employ the short space allotted, ere we consign his mortal remains to their kindred earth, briefly to review the life and character of the deceased, that inspired by his virtues we may follow his faith, remembering the end of his conversation.
Bishop Parker was a native of Portsmouth, in New Hampshire, and though educated in a different communion, grew early attached to the Episcopal form of worship. This attachment increased with his years; and after he had completed his academical education, and spent nine years in the honourable but laborious employment of tuition at Newburyport, Portsmouth and its vicinity, he sailed to England, for the purpose of receiving orders as an Episcopal clergyman.
On his return to America, he entered upon the office of assistant Minister of this church, for which he had been invited by the vestry to take orders, in 1773, where he gradually won the respect and affections of the congregation, by the solidity of his discourses, and the virtues of his life. But he had not long been thus agreeably settled, when the disputes between the colonists and parent country arose to an alarming height, and the secret fire of animosity, which had gradually been kindled, burst into an open flame.
As the Episcopal Church had shared the royal bounty and favour, and in this country, had been always unpopular, among the zealots of other religious Persuasions, she naturally became an object of jealousy at this crisis, and her ministers the objects of resentment. Alarmed for their personal safety, in this moment of menace and peril, they fled. Mr. Parker alone remained, and constant to his duty persevered in its execution, amidst the grossest insults, which often violated his ear, even when engaged in the most sacred offices of his profession. But supported by the spirit of conscientious rectitude, he sustained all these indignities unmoved, and continued publicly to pray for the Sovereign, to whom he conceived allegiance due, until the declaration of independence.
It may be questioned how far this conduct was consistent with his usual prudence, but his conscientious intrepidity is doubtless highly deserving of admiration, ready as he was, to sacrifice ease, property, and life itself, to the disinterested discharge of duty. Nor is the circumstance less honourable to the humanity of Bostonians, who, wrought up to the highest pitch of resentment against the monarch, whom they conceived the chief author of their injuries, yet abstained from all violence against the person who publicly prayed for him.* However they might differ from him in political opinion, they could not but respect his firmness and the unspotted integrity of his character.
To the noble conduct of our deceased friend must doubtless be attributed the preservation of the Episcopal church in this town. Nor was the spirit he displayed less disinterested than firm. Repeatedly did he refuse the rectorship of this church, anxiously desirous of leaving open a path for the return of his senior colleague; and it was with difficulty, and after a considerable space of time, that he was prevailed on to accept it. From that moment, he gave himself up to the promotion of its interests, and such were the efficacy of his preaching, and the respectability of his character, that the pews of this church have never been sufficient to answer the numerous demands for them. His reputation extended throughout the Union, and was rewarded with a doctorate from a respectable University. He was looked up to as the head of the Episcopal Church in New England; and inferior to no clergyman on the continent, in the essential accomplishments of that sacred character. In whatever point of view we consider Bishop Parker, his loss will be long, and severely felt, whether we regard him as a man, as a citizen, as a clergyman, as a husband, as a father.
As a man, he was endowed with great and distinguished virtues. With a sound understanding, he united a most humane and feeling heart. No child of misfortune was ever turned from his door without relief, and often have I seen him turn aside, to conceal the tear of sensibility that had started in his eye at the appearance or recital of distress, in which he had no reason to be peculiarly interested. To avarice he was an entire stranger. He despised money for its own sake, and valued it only as necessary to procure the conveniences of life, and relieve the wants of the poor and unfortunate. No clergyman in this country ever exercised more extensively the rites of hospitality. His doors were always open to his numerous friends and acquaintance, and his table spread for their entertainment. He appeared to the greatest advantage under his own roof, where, in the presence of his numerous family, amidst the pleasures of social intercourse, he relieved the cares and fatigues of the day, with cheerful and agreeable conversation. Those who were most interested in his welfare, would often hint to him the propriety of saving a portion of his income, for the future support of his numerous family. But the generosity of his nature forever struggled with his conjugal affection and parental tenderness, and too frequently proved victorious in the contest. His rank in society, and the profession of a gentleman, he considered, required a style of living, rather beyond what is merely decent and necessary, and though his people were liberal, yet his income was not more than sufficient to satisfy the demands of a very large family; and his own sense of propriety.
There was a general impression that he was a proud man, among those who knew him but slightly. But never was there a charge more unfounded. A certain loftiness of deportment, perhaps a little stiffness of manners, and the occasional neglect of returning those salutations in the street, which the courtesies of life seem to require, might have given rise to this supposition, and can alone serve for its apology. For never did I know a human being, who entertained a more humble opinion of himself, was more diffident of his own talents, or less inclined to give pain and offence to any living creature. What I here affirm, I affirm on my own personal knowledge and observation, and should consider flattery of any kind, on this solemn occasion, the worst species of hypocrisy.
Bishop Parker was a man of distinguished prudence, and this virtue in him was pure and unalloyed. It was entirely unmixed with cunning, the despicable vice of little minds, and mean capacities. He scorned to gain a moment’s popularity by a trick, and simulation and dissimulation he utterly disdained. His prudence was of the most manly kind, the result of naturally good feelings and intuitive good sense, which led him to think, and speak, and act the very thing he ought, and to support a character of dignity and propriety at all times, and in every situation.
As a citizen, he was in the highest degree useful, and in this view of his character, there is not, perhaps, an individual in Boston, whose loss will be more extensively felt. There is not a society in town, established for the promotion of public good, or private benevolence, of which he as not a distinguished member, and in most of them an active officer. Whatever tended to improve or ameliorate the condition of his fellow-citizens, was the constant object of his care and attention, and he zealously co-operated in every plan devised for that purpose. Such was his acknowledged integrity, and so great the opinion of his judgment, that he was often chosen as umpire, or arbitrator, to decide the disputes of individuals, and if his decisions were sometimes unsatisfactory, they were always just and impartial. To the widow and orphan, he was the comforter, adviser and friend. Whatever property they inherited, he laid out to the utmost advantage; and if it proved insufficient for their support, he was zealous in promoting subscriptions for their relief. As an executor, or administrator, he was able, punctual, and upright. He always closed the accounts of the estate within the shortest possible time, and to the general satisfaction of all parties; and in every transaction of this nature, displayed the most disinterested integrity. In a word, usefulness appeared the object of his life, and like that divine master, whose doctrine he enforced, and whose example he followed, he went about doing good. He “was eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, a father to the fatherless; and he made the widow’s heart to sing for joy.” You who have known his goodness, and experienced his bounty, to you I appeal, if this picture be overcharged. Your sighs and tears assure me that it is not. But sorrow not my friends, as those who have no hope, but confide in your heavenly father, and he will send you another comforter, who will abide with you forever.
As a Clergyman of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Parker was equalled by few. He read with propriety, and impressive solemnity, our excellent Liturgy, and performed all the ordinances of religion, in a manner best calculated to impress the heart with their importance. In the pulpit, his voice was clear and sonorous, and his delivery energetic; nor, when occasion required, was he ignorant of that touching pathos, which moves the springs of sensibility. His discourses were serious and solid, explaining some important doctrine, or enforcing some moral virtue. He was deeply imprest with the necessity of inculcating the essential doctrines of Christianity, which peculiarly distinguish it from other religions, and from a mere system of ethics. The divinity of the Saviour, the doctrine of atonement, faith in the Holy Trinity, were, he conceived, essential parts of the Christian system. But though zealously attached to these important doctrines, he never for a moment lost sight of reason and good sense, and would as vigorously oppose the advocates of blind faith and absolute predestination, as the defenders of loose and latitudinarian sentiments in religion. But when not engaged in the duties of his profession, he carefully avoided religious controversy, fully sensible that disputes on theoretical points rather engender strife than promote the cause of Christianity, and that combatants, in contests of this nature, frequently depart, alienated, but not convinced. He lived on the most friendly terms with the respectable clergy of all denominations, whatever might be their secret sentiments, or acknowledged opinions. Though strongly attached to his own church, he had no portion of superstition or bigotry in his composition. He attended the public performances of his congregational brethren, on all important occasions, and seldom failed to contribute his offering, at their charitable Lectures. Of his clerical brethren, of all persuasions, he always spoke with candour and affection, throwing a veil over their failings, and dwelling with pleasure on their virtues.
To his professional duties he was scrupulously attentive, never failed to preach in his turn, even when prudence might have prompted him to forbear, and observed all the fasts and festivals of the Church with conscientious exactness.
His attention to the poor and to the sick, was unremitting. He administered every spiritual and temporal consolation, which their situation demanded, and cheerfully sacrificed all engagements to the calls of duty.
After the decease of Bishop Bass, he was unanimously chosen to succeed to the Episcopal office, and it was not until many months after his election, that his reluctant consent was obtained. There was no affectation in this; his hesitation was conscientious and sincere. It arose from the humble opinion he entertained of his own merit; for he was the only man living, who thought that he possessed not the necessary qualifications. Having received consecration he returned to his family and parish, and, ere he had discharged a single duty of his new dignity, was seized with his last fatal disorder.
The loss to this church is, I fear, irreparable, as it will be difficult, if not impossible to find another, so well qualified to perform the important duties of a Parish-minister. He was, indeed, my brethren, “a man, take him for all in all, you ne’er will look upon his like again.” But that being, whose judgments we cannot fathom, and to whose dispensations it behoves us to submit, has thought proper to take him from you, in the midst of his usefulnesss, when, according to the course of nature, you might have enjoyed his society and instructions many years. To the decrees of that being, we must yield, with uncomplaining resignation, for he is wise in all his works, and holy in all his ways. He made, preserves, governs, and best knows how to dispose of his creatures. Father of Mercies, thy will be done!
Could that sainted spirit, whose loss we so deeply deplore, look down from heaven, and once more address you in person, what, my brethren, would be his language? Would he not say? weep not for me, but for yourselves. Remember my instructions, imitate the example of your Saviour, and hereafter you will partake of my happiness. Cherish then, my brethren, the memory of those virtues, and strive to imitate them in your lives; the ardour of his piety, the goodness of his disposition, the soundness of his principles, the benevolence of his heart, and the usefulness of his life.
And here I could expatiate on the private and domestic virtues of the deceased, on his conjugal affection and parental tenderness, in the endearing relations of husband and father. But the widowed mourner, and fatherless children, need no monitor, but their own feelings, to remind them of their loss. But though they mourn, they will not “mourn as those who have no hope,” but repose their trust in that being, who is “a father to the fatherless,” the protector of the orphan and widow.
The respectable lady, left with eleven children, will remember the important duties imposed on her. Deprived of one protector and guide, they will look up to her for advice, instruction and consolation. She must supply the place of her deceased consort, and perform the offices devolved on her with fidelity. The task is indeed arduous, but it is noble, and great will be her reward. She will recollect, that those, whom God loveth, he chasteneth, that wholesome, though unpalatable, is the bitter medicine of adversity. She will call to mind the frailty and uncertainty of human life, the diseases that torment, and the vexations that harass man, during his short pilgrimage on earth, that he is born to trouble, that he is destined to affliction and sorrow, that he has a short time to live, and is full of misery, that he cometh up like a flower and is cut down. She will call to mind, that her calamity is not peculiar and uncommon, that many noble instances of passive courage have been displayed by her sex, which as far surpasses ours in true fortitude, as in numerous other virtues. Above all, she will remember, the promises and consolations of her religion, and feel assured, that the righteous widow’s barrel of meal will not waste, nor her cruse of oil fail; that the righteous woman will not be forsaken, nor her seed be left to beg their bread. Next to her Heavenly Father, she will repose confidence on her numerous and respectable connexions, and the countless multitude of her friends. Every support and consolation, which they can afford, she may be assured of receiving; and while thus sustained and consoled, she will exclaim, in the language of Christian resignation, “the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
And you, ye youthful mourners, who have lost the best of fathers, transfer your duty and attentions to your surviving parent. Break the violence of the blow she has just received, by your endearing assiduities, and by the cultivation of good principles and virtuous conduct, endeavour to make her less sensible of the affliction she has experienced.
And let us all, my brethren, from the continued instances of mortality which we see before our eyes, “learn to be wise and consider our latter end.” Every moment brings us nigher to eternity. It is surely our interest, to make that eternity a blessed one. We glide down the stream of time with imperceptible rapidity, and shall soon be carried into the ocean of futurity, whence we shall return no more. “We all, says Isaiah, do fade as a leaf.” Some are blown from the tree of life early in the spring, others drop off withered by the heat of summer, few survive the chilling blasts of autumn, and those few are shrunk and scattered by the deadly breath of winter. The hand of death shakes it, and we mingle with our kindred dust.
In that sable tenement lie the remains of your much loved pastor, which will shortly be consigned to the peaceful grave. His immortal part, we trust, has already ascended to the mansions of peace, and will there rest, in partial bliss, “till the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, and we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; for every man shall give an account of himself to God.” Then, if you have duly profited by his instruction and example, you will meet him once more, never again to separate, and with “the souls of just men made perfect,” enjoy everlasting happiness. In the mean time, “remember them, which had the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.”