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  • THE LIFE OF THE REV. ADAM CLARKE:
    BOOK 3, CH. 1, THE PREACHER

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    CHAPTER 1

    THE PREACHER

    “The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” This beautiful representation receives one example of its truth in the career of the subject of our memoir. He arose at the call of God, and went forth on a path way of progressive brightness. We have seen how from his youth he looked and toiled upward; and now, the discouragements of early years left behind, like the sun surmounting the morning clouds which had threatened to obscure its light, and pouring his benefic rays on all around, the man of God comes forth to the view of the church and the world, completely furnished for his work, to shed the healing beams of truth upon myriads of minds. Mr. Clarke’s appointment to London, in 1795, opens a new era in his life; in which each successive year unfolded attributes of heart and intellect which rendered him an object of confidence and admiration. As a public instructor, we shall find him both from the pulpit and the press serving his own and coming generation s, according to the will of God. If ever a man followed out a course intended for him by Providence, it was Adam Clarke. “You will find,” says Lord Bolingbroke, (and here, for once, he wrote the truth,) “you will find there are superior spirits who can show even from their infancy, though it be not always fully perceived by others, perhaps not always felt by themselves, that they were born for something more and better: their talents denote their general designation; and the opportunities of conforming themselves to it, that arise in the course of things, or that are presented to them by any circumstances of rank or situation in the society to which they belong, denote the particular vocation which it is not lawful for them to resist, nor even to neglect.” And that is most emphatically true of a vocation to the work of the evangelist. A man who receives it, and disobeys it, never prospers. Woe is unto him if he preach not the Gospel!

    But Clarke was faithful to the heavenly calling. Through toil, and storm, an d want, as well as sunshine and competence, like John the Baptist he “fulfilled his course,” and, like Paul, “kept the faith,” and won the crown.

    As a preacher, Mr. Clarke was distinguished by his originality. With a mind always inclining to the dialectical, [prone toward investigating the truth] he thought clearly, and on most subjects reasoned with a conclusive force which the most obtuse could apprehend, and the most sophisticated was constrained to acknowledge. But, though a thinker on his own account, by his extensive reading he availed himself largely of the thoughts of other men, only making them in a manner his own by processes of the mental laboratory, and always reproducing them with the mint-mark of his own intellect, and in combinations which genius only is able to form. His mind thus gave back an affluent return of interest upon the principal for which, in any amount, he was indebted to others; and that, not only in the ratio of quantity, but of quality as well. He improved on what he read, and worked within the deep recesses of his mind, by the secret of an alchemy which could transmute baser metals into gold. Exercising thus the faculties with which heaven had endowed him, he did not depend on factitious aids, but gained even at the outset a standing among those nobler intellects who think for themselves, and for others too. He remarks, in one of his letters to Mr. Brackenbury “To reduce preaching to the rules of science, and to learn the art of it, is something of which my soul cannot form too horrid an idea. I bless Jesus Christ I have never learned to preach, but through His eternal mercy I am taught by Him from time to time as I need instruction. I cannot make a sermon before I go into the pulpit: therefore I am obliged to hang upon the arm and the wisdom of the Lord. I read a great deal, write very little, but strive to study.”

    All the way through his long career, he was, more than most men of the pulpit, an extempore preacher. In the course of his life he wrote many sermons, which are now extant in his works; but the greater number of these give but in inadequate idea of his style and manner of preaching.

    Some of them were written designedly for the press, and may be considered more as theological treatises than pulpit-orations. He wrote as a divine, but preached as an apostle. Many of his most effective pulpitefforts were achieved with no previous aid from the pen. The Rev. J. B. B.

    Clarke, in the retrospect he has published of his father’s life, says “He hardly ever wrote a line as a preparation for preaching. I have now in my possession a slip of paper, about three inches long by one wide, containing the first words of a number of texts; and this was the sole list of memoranda on which he preached several occasional sermons in various parts of the country.”

    Once, when on a visit at Plymouth, he preached for two hours on the great question in Acts 16:30, — “What must I do to be saved?” Several of the clergy of the place were present, and united afterwards in requesting him to publish the discourse; one offering to take a hundred copies for his congregation, another two hundred and fifty, and another five hundred. Yet he had to tell them, in reply, that he had “neither outline nor notes of the subject, nor any time to commit the discourse to writing.”

    Such a habit of extempore speaking can be recommended to the imitation of but few; and these, men in whom more than common power of ready and correct speech is added to more than common stores of knowledge.

    But it enabled Dr. Clarke to seize upon any passing incident and turn it to advantage, or to shift the topic of discourse, if some important object required it, without inconvenience to himself. On one occasion, after he had preached at City-road chapel, a friend remarked to him, “I could not but observe that in the sermon you seemed suddenly to quit the subject in hand, and fly off to a series of arguments in proof of the Divinity of my Saviour, with which your previous subject was not connected. Had you any reason for so doing?” “Yes,” said he: “I observed Dr. K.” (a celebrated Unitarian) “steal into the back part of the chapel; and, after a few minutes, plant his stick firmly, as if he intended to hear me out. So, by God’s help I determined to bear my testimony to the Divinity of our Lord, trusting t hat He would touch his heart, and give him another opportunity of hearing and receiving the truth.”

    From time to time these free outgoings of his soul were attended by an uncommon influence, “the demonstration and power of the Spirit.” In his letters to Mrs. Clarke he mentions such occasions, not in a temper of egotistic boasting, but with a devout and wondering acknowledgment of the condescending goodness of God in so employing him. For example: — “I was obliged to preach this morning at Oldham-street. The congregation was really awful. Perhaps I never preached as I did this morning. O, Mary, I had the kingdom of God opened to me, and the glory of the Lord filled the whole place. Towards the conclusion the cries were great. It was with great difficulty that I could get the people persuaded to leave the chapel. Though the press was immense, yet scarcely one seemed willing to go away, and those who were in distress were unable to go. Some of the preachers went and prayed with them, nor rested till they were healed. God has done a mighty work.”

    Again, from Bristol: — “I am this instant returned from King-street. The chapel crowdedcrowded! And God in a most especial manner enabled me to deliver such a testimony, from 1 Thessalonians 1:3, as, I think, I never before delivered. I did feel as in the eternal world, having all things beneath me, with such expansions of mind as the power of God alone could give. I was about an hour and a half, and am torn up for the day.”

    Mr. Clarke’s pulpit-ministrations were substantially biblical. He preached the word. Here was the secret of his power. He brought a rule to bear upon the conscience against which there was no appeal. His congregations were summoned to the obedience of faith, not in the formulas of creeds, the decrees of councils, or the sentences of the fathers, but in the Scripture which cannot be broken. He “read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”

    In the “true sayings” penned by the inspired prophets and apostles, he recognized and demonstrated a revelation from God to man, and, as such, the sole canon of faith and morals. “There is nothing certain,” he used to say, “in the things which belong to salvation, but the plain word of God; no safe teacher but the Spirit of Jesus Christ; and that Spirit teaches the heart what the word teaches the understanding.” His habits of study in elaborating his Commentary had rendered him master of the entire scope a nd contents of the sacred volume, and contributed to give his ordinary pulpit-discourses a rich expository character. All his learning was brought to bear on this blessed duty, — to explain the words of God, that he might bring the people to the knowledge of the things of God. What was said respecting a prelate of former days might be affirmed of this eminent preacher: “He unfolded the grandeur of a prophecy, or the comfort of an Epistle; and alarmed the conscience, or bound up the wounded heart. He brought tidings of foreign learning to the scholar, of discoveries to the naturalist, and of manners to the people.” Thus he was the ears of the idle, gave matter for reflection to the thoughtful, and satisfaction to the inquisitive. He “taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with him, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people.”

    One consequence of this method was an inexhaustible variety in his preaching. The Bible contains a universe of truth; and the longest life of man becomes momentary when brought to the task of unfolding it. We have heard of a German professor who spent years in a course of lectures on the first chapter of Isaiah, and died without completing it; and we can easily conceive, that such expository preachers as Owen and Matthew Henry would review their labors with dissatisfaction, as having been employed too much, to their feeling, on the surface, without having penetrated the mysterious depths, of the solemn, solitary volume which riveted the gaze of their lives. Mr. Clarke, even in the earlier years of his ministry, adopted a method which insured a wide range of Bible subjects for the pulpit, in preaching from the Lesson, Epistle, or Gospel for the day: all which portions of the holy Book he carefully examined, marking in a large textbook the verses which drew his special attention as likely to afford topics of public address.

    A preacher commanding such an amplitude of topics would always have something new. And therefore it was that Mr. Clarke’s hearers, to whatever chapel they followed him, very seldom listened to the same discourse. The late Mr. Buttress, who always accompanied him when Mr. Clarke was stationed in London, affirmed, that he never heard him preach the same sermon twice. Reflecting thus the present exercises of his intellect, his discourses had a perpetual freshness; they came warm from the living heart, and brought life and warmth to the heart of the hearer. And that, especially, because they brought the Gospel. We have said he was a biblical preacher, in the truest sense, ever holding forth the grand evangelism which pervades the Bible, as its soul and spirit, — namely, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

    In making known this truth in all its solemn bearings and consequences, he was remarkable among th e ministers of his day. In the constellation of eminent preachers who moved at that time in the intellectual sky, but who have now nearly all disappeared from our sight, Mr. Clarke was in this respect a star of the first magnitude. From his rising to his setting hour, unnumbered multitudes rejoiced in his light as a witness and guide to the mercy which could save them. In his ministry Christ was all in all; the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. He essayed to unfold the entire evangelic revelation, the whole counsel of God with respect to the way of salvation by Jesus Christ. He showed the sinner his mighty need of such a Saviour, and led him in repentance to His feet. By him “The violated law spoke out its thunders; And by him, in strains as sweet as angels use, The Gospel whisper’d peace.” “The only preaching,” he said once, in a letter to a brother minister, (and the maxim had its embodiment in his own practice,) “the only preaching worth anything in God’s account, and which the fire will not burn up, is that which labors to convert and convince the sinner of his sin; to bring him into contrition for it; to lead him to the blood of the covenant, that his conscience may be purged from its guilt; to the Spirit of judgment and burning, that he may be purified from its infection; and then to build him up on this most holy faith, by causing him to pray in the Holy Ghost, and keep himself in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. This is the system pursued by the apostles, and it is that alone which God will own to the conversion of sinners. I speak from experience. This is the most likely mode to produce the active soul of divinity, while the body is little else than the preacher’s creed. Labor to bring sinners to God, should you by it bring yourself t o the grave.

    Again, to another: — “These are not only the first rudiments of heavenly teaching, but the fulness of Divine truth in reference to salvation:

    1. Thou art a sinner, and consequently wretched.

    2. God is an eternal, unfailing Fountain of love.

    3. He has given His Son Jesus Christ to die for men.

    4. Believe on Him, and thou shalt be saved from thy sins.

    5. When saved, continue incessantly dependent upon Him; so shalt thou continually receive out of His fulness grace upon grace, and be ever fitted for, ever ready to, and ever active in, every good word and every good work.

    This is the sum and substance of the revelation of God; and, O! how worthy it is of His infinite goodness, and how suitable to the nature and state of man! These are the simple lessons which I am endeavoring to learn and teach. This is the science in which I should be willing to spend the longest life. O God! simplify my heart.”

    No man, since the apostle St. John, seems to have had more large and soulstirring views of the love of God than Adam Clarke. Here and there in his Commentary the reader will find some bursts of feeling on this grand topic, which will give an idea of the spirit and manner of the man when in the pulpit. When this mighty truth began to move in his soul, he became irresistible. The first time I had the privilege of hearing him, the text was, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” It was then that I witnessed, and felt too, how this man could master and control the entire intellect and heart of a great congregation by the simple, honest, and earnest exhibition of the faith once delivered to the saints.

    Ille regit dictis animos, et pectora mulcet.

    No wonder that, with this victorious sceptre of truth, the first preachers vanquished the world. We were all subdued: the tears of repentance, the uplifted eyes of prayer, the swelling emotion of triumphal joy, which longed to give itself utterance in one loud thunder of thanksgiving, all showed how powerful is the uncorrupted Gospel when preached aright.

    What I then witnessed helps me to understand his meaning, when on one occasion he said, after preaching: “I would not have missed coming to this place for five hundred pounds. I got my own soul blessed, and God blessed the people. I felt,” (stretching out his arms, and folding them to his breast,) “I felt that I was drawing the whole congregation to me closer and closer, and pulling them away from the world to God.”

    In expatiating on that Divine mercy “whose height, whose depth unfathomed, no man knows,” Mr. Clarke found endless resources for the conversion and comfort of the soul and heart.

    The love of God,” he was wont to say, “will convert more sinners than all the fire of hell.” His confidence in the efficacy of the glad tidings, that God is LOVE, was unlimited, and lasting as his life. Thus toward the end of his days, in conversation with his dear son Joseph, he said, “After having now labored with a clear conscience for the space of fifty years, in preaching the salvation of God through Christ to thousands of souls, I can say, that is the most successful kind of preaching which exhibits and upholds in the clearest and strongest light the Divine perfection and mercy of the infinitely compassionate and holy God to fallen man, and which represents Him alike compassionate and just. Tell then your hearers, not only that the conscience must be sprinkled, but that it was God Himself who provided the Lamb.”

    In the same spirit he delighted to illustrate the pleasures and advantages of a life devoted to the service of a reconciled God. The Rev. Joseph Clarke has given a good description of his father in the pulpit, which, though it takes us to a later period of life, we quote here, to render our idea of Mr. Clarke as a preacher as complete as we can: — “The appearance of my father, and his effect while in the pulpit upon a stranger, would probably be something like this: He” [the stranger] “would see a person of no particular mark, except that time had turned his hair to silver, and the calmness of fixed devotion gave solemnity to his appearance. He spreads his Bible before him, and, opening his HymnBook, reads forth in a clear distinct voice a few verses, after singing of which he offers up a short prayer, which is immediately felt to be addressed to the Majesty of Heaven. The text is proclaimed, and the discourse is begun. In simple yet forcible language he gives some general information connected with his subject, or lays down some general positions drawn from either the text or its dependencies. On these he speaks for a short time, fixing the attention by gaining the interest. The understanding feels that it is concerned. A clear and comprehensive exposition gives the hearer to perceive that his attention will be rewarded by an increase of knowledge, or by new views of old truths, or previously unknown uses of ascertained points. He views with some astonishment the perfect collectedness with which knowledge is brought from far, and the natural yet extensive excursions which the preacher makes to present his object in all its bearings, laying heaven and earth, nature and art, science and reason, under contribution to sustain his cause. Now his interest becomes deeper; for he sees that the minister is beginning to condense his strength, that he is calling in every detached sentence, and that every apparently miscellaneous remark was far from casual, but had its position to maintain, and its work to perform; and he continues to hear with that rooted attention which is created by the importance and clearness of the truths delivered, by the increasing energy of the speaker, and by the assurance in the hearer’s own mind that what is spoken is believed to the utmost and felt in its power. The discourse proceeds with a deeper current of fervor; the action becomes more animated; the certainty of the preacher’s own mind, and the feelings of his heart, are shown by the firm confidence of the tone, and a certain fulness of the voice and emphasis of manner; the whole truth of God seems laid open before him; and the soul, thus informed, feels as in the immediate presence of the Lord.”

    To this account may be appended a few lines by Mrs. Pawson, all the more appropriate as they relate to the time already reached in our biography. This lady, the wife of his venerable colleague at Liverpool, has the following memorandum in her journal: — “Brother Clarke is, in my estimation, an extraordinary preacher; and his learning confers great lustre on his talents. He makes it subservient to grace. His discourses are highly evangelical. He never loses sight of Christ. In regard of pardon and holiness, he offers a present salvation. His address is lively, animated, and very encouraging to the seekers of salvation. In respect to the unawakened, it may indeed be said that he obeys that precept, ‘Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet.’ His words flow spontaneously from the heart; his views enlarge as he proceeds; and he brings to the mind a torrent of things new and old. While he is preaching, one can seldom cast an eye on the audience without perceiving a melting unction resting upon th em.

    His speech ‘distils as the dew,’ and ‘as the small rain upon the tender herb.’ He generally preaches from some part of the Lesson for the day, and on the Sabbath morning from the Gospel for the day. This method confers an abundant variety on his ministry.”

    The end and aim of every sermon with him was to do good there and then.

    One day, as he entered the vestry at City-road after preaching, a friend remarked, “What an admirable sermon you have preached to us this morning, sir!” “Brother,” he replied, “Satan whispered that to me as I left the pulpit. But I told him that by the mischief alone which it did to his kingdom God would judge it. I am afraid of any other good sermons than those. It is solemn work to stand up between the living and the dead!”

    In style and manner, Mr. Clarke’s discourses derived no advantage from artificial rhetoric, the mellifluous [pleasing, musical, flowing] charms of elocution, or the little embellishments on which the artist in public speaking depends so much for his popularity. The harmony of cadences or the aesthetic grace with which the orator moves to group his thoughts and words so as to win the ear, and charm the sense of music in the soul, were things quite out of his line. We are not sure whether he was endowed with that kind of talent more than in a mediocre degree; but we know that he cared nothing about using it. Yet the absence of these circumstantials in no way interfered with the universally acknowledged grandeur of his ministry.

    The Divine Spirit has endowed the teachers of the world with a variety of gifts. He who wrought powerfully in St. Peter to convince the Jew, conferred on St. Paul the ability to persuade the Greek. Among the great preachers of the early church, the men whose ministry shed sunlight on the ages in which they lived, we see gifts many, but all emanating from one Spirit. It was grace that sanctified their natural endowments, and made itself visible in “the serious end careful perspicuity of Athanasius,” in Basil’s refined and graceful sweetness, in the eloquence which flowed from the lips of Chrysostom like streams of liquid gold, in the self-possessed dignity of Cyprian, the power with which Hilary could drape his thoughts in tragic pomp and glory, or the vivid meditations with which Ambrosius could pierce the soul, “as with arrows dipped in honey-dew.” So, in more modern times, the thunder-storm of Luther, and the placid vigor of Melancthon, and (why not say it?) the ornate clarity of Massillon, the penetrating unction of Fenelon, and the imposing grandeur of Bossuet, all betoken His still merciful presence. In the mighty bursts of truth from Whitefield’s lips, or the tranquil, sincere, and soul-commanding evangelisms of Wesley, we hear His awakening voice. Did not He who clothes the lilies with their beauty, and spans the heavens with the rainbow, give to Chalmers the imagination by which he brought visions of truth before men’s minds like a gorgeous panorama; and enable Robert Hall to show us the river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb? Thus, too, in the pulpits of Methodism, the exuberant pathos of Bradburn, the searching fire of Benson, Richard Watson’s majesty of mind, Robert Newton’s bland and evangelic grace, and Jabez Bunting’s unaffected but beautiful and potent oratory, all display the operations of that same Spirit who, “Plenteous of grace, descends from high, Rich in His sevenfold energy,” to distribute His celestial gifts according to the counsel of His own will.

    The servants of God, having these faculties differing one from another, cannot be expected every one to resemble his fellow; and though Adam Clarke may not be said to have possessed the peculiar character of any of the men we have named, yet was his pulpit-ministry distinguished by attributes which set him, in point of effectiveness, on a level with any of them, the apostles excepted. As an able critic says of Augustine, in comparison with some other of the Fathers, “he had less of beauty, but more of power, than they.” In Dr. Clarke’s preaching there was such a breadth and depth of information, such strength of feeling and fixedness of solemn purpose to save men’s souls from death, that all who heard him knew within themselves that they were face to face with a messenger from God; and while the learned and the illiterate were alike brought under the same spell, and earnestly attended to the words spoken by him, he so rightly divided and faithfully applied the word of the Lord, that the conscience of the sinner was awakened, and the contrite heart comforted, by its efficacy working in the soul.

    His preaching had all the more heart in it from the experience which he himself enjoyed of the saving power of the truth. Why did the hearers feel so? It was because the preacher had felt first. He came before them fulldressed in the mantle of salvation, with his lamp burning. He told them of a mercy which he had found, and which they must seek, or perish. He told them of a Saviour who would be presently their Judge: — “Before him came, in dread array, The pomp of that tremendous day When Christ with clouds shall come:” — and, with the awful light of these revelations on his soul, he persuaded men as well by the terrors as by the compassions of the Lord. He delighted, as we have said, to set forth the mercy of God; but it was done in such a way, that the whole sermon was at once a warning to the wicked, and a voice of consolation to the repentant. And preaching as he did under the conviction that this life is the only span of opportunity for the evil and hell-condemned to obtain remission and renewal, — that, in respect to some of his hearers, life was verging on its latest hour, and that on the very moment then present hung eternity itself, — he so preached that the truth came from his own to the hearer’s heart; that attention was arrested, feeling excited; the dreamer awoke from his abstractions, the worldling felt the power of another life, the infidel insensibly believed; of the reprobate, hovering angels said, “Behold, he prayeth;” at Christ’s omniscient glance, poor backsliding Peter again wept bitterly; and, ravished at the sight of a Saviour who was dead and is alive again, another Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord, and my God!”

    Thus the Gospel came not in word only, but in power and assurance, and with signs of salvation. Moses struck the rock.

    In presence of these substantial and heart-satisfying powers, the auditors of Clarke forgot the want of artistic accomplishments which have contributed to make the modern pulpit sometimes attractive. A comparatively homely manner, and a voice not tuned at all times to melodious cadences, were not once thought of. He was not a mere orator.

    He brought strong thoughts, and clothed them in honest words, as a means to an end. He had a purpose, and one in which you, as his hearer, had an everlasting interest. He wanted to make you a better man: he wanted to save your soul; and to do this, he sought to lay hold on you by the conscience. The ear with him was only the avenue to the heart. Unless a man has this purpose and aim, it is in vain that he draws the bow. The arrow from his hand will never find its way to the mark; or, should it chance to do so, will fall without effect, like the shaft that Homer tells of, so uselessly launched by Priam against the shield of the Grecian hero: — “This said, his feeble hand a javelin threw, Which, fluttering, seem’d to loiter as it flew; Just, and but barely, to the mark it held And faintly tinkled on the brazen shield.” But Clarke drew not the bow at a venture, and seldom without success, in one degree or another. A multitude of sinners were converted under his ministry; and, among them, not a few who have themselves been made instruments of salvation to others.

    And these works and services were sustained by him for half a century of time, and over a great extent of area in the social world. Some excellent ministers are all their lives restricted to a circumscribed and narrow locality. They pass their days, by the ordination of Providence, in comparative obscurity, witnessing the truth but to a few persons, and shining as lights in dark and unthought-of places. But this man’s career was more like that of the sun when he comes forth in his strength to bathe a hemisphere in light. He went literally through the length and breadth of the land. From the Norman Isles to the ultima Thule of the storm-beaten Zetlands, he revealed the glorious Gospel of the grace of God. The English nation, one might say, knew and revered him. Men in high places, and men of low degree, in crowded cities and sequestered hamlets, alike waited for his coming, and welcomed the sound of his voice. “How beautiful upon the mountains were the feet of him that brought good tidings, that published peace; that brought good tidings of good, that published salvation; that said unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”

    One great charm, that rendered his ministry so attractive, was found in the well-known qualities of his own upright and holy life. It gives one a sacred and edifying satisfaction, to remember how finely the precepts of the Gospel which he preached harmonized with his personal character. He lived the Gospel. His doctrine and life, coincident, proved him to be at once a great and good man. His life recommended religion; and was itself a ceaseless homily of things profitable to man, and pleasing unto God. It was a life not only unblemished by glaring inconsistencies, but adorned by practical excellence; and I believe that no man could have used the words of St. Paul with less of impropriety than he: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there he any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, a nd heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” In this respect it will be our wisdom to imitate him, considering the end of his conversation, Jesus the First and the Last. Christum pectore, Christum ore, Christum opere, spirabat.

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