|Transcription by Sarah Gilbert.
“Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.”
My dear Friends and Parishioners,
The word “Farewell” has always a sad and painful ring about it. But much sadder and more painful is it in my case and yours when our friendship and connexion have existed for more than thirty years, and when the word means a long and lasting “Farewell,” a severance for the remainder of our time on earth between Priest and People.
To bid you “Farewell”, then, from the pulpit would be far too trying a task for me to attempt, further saddened as it must needs be by the memory of those now passed away, who once occupied the seats I should be looking upon, and of many well-known kindly faces of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, whose bodies now mingle with the dust of former generations in our midst, but whose “spirits blest” have, we doubt not, safely “crossed the flood,” and reached their home in the Paradise of God. I ask you, then, to accept a few farewell lines instead of spoken words, and now and again ponder over the thoughts which they are intended to awaken in your minds.
It was in the Spring of 1862 that I was appointed to the Curacy of Burton Latimer, then a Parish containing less than half its present population. My intention was to remain two or three years only, and then to seek a larger sphere of work elsewhere, but “Man proposes, God disposes.” After more than a quarter of a century, a whole generation having meanwhile passed away, here I am still ! But, happy as my time has been (and God has dealt very bountifully with me and mine in shielding a large family so long from accident, disease, and death), the end is now come. My intention has ever been, when incapacitated for work through age or failing power, to resign the benefice, and not to stand in the way of a younger and more vigorous man. Under such circumstances I have blamed others for clinging to their posts, and it would be wrong for me to do the like. So at the age of three score and ten I relinquish Church, Schools, and a beautiful home, all complete in themselves and perfect in their surroundings, in the full persuasion that my successor - aided by our good and tried friend and colleague, Mr. Priestland - will continue to set before you the Word of God in all its fullness and simplicity, and, I hope, with a larger measure of success and of the Divine blessing than I have been permitted to realize.
The change of Ministers is a serious time for those who go and those who come. As one who is about to leave you, I cannot but look back and put the question to myself, have I been faithful to you and to my ministry? Have I preached Jesus, and Jesus only? I trust that you can bear witness that through God’s grace I have endeavoured to know nothing among you in my preaching save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But when I think of the weakness and want of zeal with which this precious doctrine has been set forth, need I say that I feel deeply humbled, and that it is only by casting myself on the mercy of Him whose blessed Name I have so feebly striven to exalt, that I can find rest and peace in heart and conscience?
But if it is needful for me to ask myself how I have preached, surely it is no less needful for you, dear friends, to ask yourselves how you have listened. Doubtless many of you have joined earnestly in the prayers of the Church, have attended to the Word preached, and have been regular Communicants at the Lord’s Table. You have done all these things from youth perhaps even to old age, and done them gladly, but that is not the present inquiry. The question I want each of you to put to himself is this: Have I profited by all these means of grace? A few words will explain what I mean. You profit, when the Word of God is so brought home to your heart by the Spirit that you feel your own dark, corrupt, lost state, and are led to Jesus as your only Redeemer and Deliverer; when you see how well able He is to supply all your wants ; when His love takes the place of the love of the world in your hearts ; when you are ready to devote yourselves to His service ; when you are willing to suffer Him and to bear His Cross. Try yourselves, then, and examine yourselves thoroughly on this point ; and if you find that you have not profited by my feeble ministration, may the Holy Spirit teach you to profit by the ministrations of my successor! May a large blessing rest upon the labours of all who shall take part in this work hereafter! Thankful shall I be if my departure shall be more blessed to some than my residence among them has been, and if many, who have hitherto heard the Word in vain, shall now hear to the salvation of their souls.
In conclusion, I must put on record my sense of your invariable kindness to me and mine for the past thirty years. To my past and present colleagues, clerical and lay, to a succession of sympathising and helpful Churchwardens, to the Sidesmen, to the Teachers in the Day and Sunday Schools, to the District Visitors, to the Organist and Choir (both men and boys), to the Bellringers and Church-workers of every kind, my warmest acknowledgements and most grateful thanks are due. But not to Church-workers only. To my Nonconformist friends, one and all, of present and of earlier days, I am much indebted for constant courtesy, consideration, and forbearance. Although differing decidedly on certain points of doctrine, and unable to see educational and other matters from precisely the same point of view, I am thankful to feel that there has been no conflict or even a “battle set in array” between us, but rather a zealous rivalry in the pursuit of a noble object, and how best to work each on our respective lines in the Master’s service. And looking back to the commencement of my work, I may venture to say with confidence that no one of my Nonconformist friends can hold the memory of one faithful Pastor, long departed - they will anticipate the name of the Rev. F. May, who was here before me -in higher regard than I do myself. Indeed, I often think I have much to be thankful for in the mere fact that so many of my friends and neighbours had the benefit, for even a longer period than my own term of thirty years, of the ministrations of so able, so God-fearing, so peace-loving a Pastor and friend.
You, my friends, had a desire, as I know, to present me with some memorial of your affection on my departure. With all gratitude to you, I requested that this subject might be dropped. Many years ago I did receive a handsome present at your hands. Anything more than that is wholly unnecessary. I have done nothing but my duty here, and that, God knows, very imperfectly. But such has been the kindness of friends that my duty has been made a pleasure to me, which no testimonial could possibly enhance. It is sufficient satisfaction to feel that something has been done in my time, by others as well as by myself, for the benefit of the Church, the Schools, and the parochial machinery of the place.
After such a retrospect may we not then conclude, “Hitherto the Lord hath helped us”? May we not also humbly add, “What hath God wrought”? But His work is not yet done. Whatever your appointed part in that work may be, I would urge you, therefore, not to rest on your oars, but to follow the noble example of S. Paul, who, when he beheld the progress which the good cause had made, “thanked God and took courage.”
And now, my dear friends, to quote the farewell words of the same great Apostle, “I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give to you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.” And if, after offering up this prayer on your behalf, I may be allowed to add the words of an uninspired writer, a master in our Israel, uttered nearly three centuries ago, “ May Christ Jesus remember us all in His kingdom, where we shall have continual rest, and yet never grow lazy ; where we shall be stronger to resist, and yet have no enemy: where we shall lve and never die; where we shall meet and never part !”
Finally, brethren, farewell !
Ever your affectionate Friend
And Brother in Christ,
FRANCIS B. NEWMAN.
Quinquagesima Sunday, 1895.