BEING A SERIES OF SIX LETTERS WRITTEN
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2016
Text courtesy of the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, of the Harvard Divinity School,
45 Francis Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
WORK OF THE CHURCH IN MEXICO.
In the heart of a country where twenty years ago the public circulation of the Bible would not have been tolerated, in the capital city of that country, on the principal street of that city, where every day its wealth and fashion passes by to kill time in the pleasure of a drive on the beautiful “Paseo,” which leads to the celebrated castle of Chapultepec, stands a magnificent church, in which several times each day assembles a devout congregation of earnest listeners, gathered together to hear the untrammeled preaching of the pure Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This is the great church of the ex-convent of San Francisco, the oldest-established convent in Mexico, whose extensive walls embraced in the prime of its existence several of the spacious squares of buildings of modern Mexico, and must have contained many acres of land. The property is now, as I have intimated, cut up by the streets which divide it, and occupied by a very promiscuous variety of owners and dwellers.
The church of the old convent is owned by the ecclesiastical corporation known in title as the “Mexican Branch of the Church Catholic of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This title describes the Church which, under the superintending providence of God, has sprung spontaneously from Mexican soil, with the object of purifying the land from the corruptions of Rome, opening the Bible to the people, and conserving the propagation of the true faith by adapting itself to the needs of the Mexican population, and holding fast to evangelical doctrine and truly catholic order.
I had heard of and read much about the magnificent church building of this ex-convent of San Francisco, but nothing that I had heard exceeded my own impressions of it when, on arriving for the first time in the land, I entered its grand portals and found myself beneath its lofty domes; and when I stopped to consider the immense moral influence which must come from its possession by the devoted advocates of the pure evangelical faith, I felt that it needs a personal visit to impress that consideration in its full magnificence. It is entered from the calle (street) of San Francisco, through a highly-elaborated portal of stone, which opens into a beautiful garden some twenty yards in width, and which is fragrant with the tropical trees and plants with which it is filled. Passing through the thirty-two yards which form the length of this garden, whose charms are enhanced by the bright sky and genial sun of Mexico, we come to the wide doorway of the chapel through which the great church is entered. As we approach the chapel front we are struck with the beauty of its impressive facade, intricately carved in stone, after the usual mode of Mexican church adornment. Once this facade was filled with images, which covered its front as they stood in the numerous carved niches upon which we are looking. Now the fine old architectural front, deprived of those images, seems only to gain in impressiveness as their absence speaks to the passers-by of the only true God.
We enter the chapel, and here our first impressions of the grandeur of the interior seize us. We find ourselves in a building which puts to shame most of the churches of which we are so proud in the United States. We are to cross the width of the chapel, some eight yards, before entering the church, but are compelled to stop and admire the [3/4] beauty of the first structure. It extends to our right, some twenty-five yards, in graceful Roman arches. We are standing at its eastern end, under a vaulted concave of stone some twelve yards in diameter, while on the side toward the west we see, rising over the remainder of the chapel, two splendid domes which let in the light of heaven. As we look on we are struck by the thought that this building alone will easily accommodate four hundred persons seated for worship, and wonder what the church itself can be. Of this we are soon satisfied. Two or three steps lead us to the door, constructed, as generally in the larger churches here, of two smaller doors hinged within the wooden frame which forms the barrier by which the building can be closed. In another moment we pass within, and the grand old church of San Francisco is before us. At first, as in the case of St. Peter’s in Rome, the impression is one of doubt, for it is impossible to take in at a single glance or at a first look the full magnificence of its architectural beauty and proportions. There is something in the symmetry of its lines and curves which at first deceives us, and it is only after we have walked its extensive length, paced its transepts and carefully dwelt upon the graceful curves and startling altitude of its domes and arches, that we can settle down to an appreciation of its character as a masterpiece of architecture, or form an adequate idea of its dimensions. If any criticism remains to be made after a careful study of the splendid structure, I conceive that it would relate to the effect of a slight lack of width in proportion to its other dimensions; but it is very plain that any thought of actual narrowness is completely disarmed when measurements are taken, and the criticism is driven from consideration by the absorbing admiration which is compelled by the other beauties of the magnificent building. The principal dome over the intersection of the nave and transepts rises to the enormous height of over ninety feet, to which is added a surmounting cupola of twenty-four feet, making a total altitude of more than one hundred and fourteen feet. So lofty is it that, when it was being repaired, the workmen on the scaffoldings seemed like little flies; and the real danger of working at that height was so great that the devout and worthy sexton was in continual prayer to God that the work might be accomplished without accident to those engaged upon it. His prayer was answered, and, singularly enough, one of the workmen thus saved by faith almost immediately after lost his life by a fall, while making similar repairs in a building owned by others. Besides this principal dome there are three others scarcely less impressive, which form the superstructure over the length of the body of the church, and each rises to the height of perhaps eighty-five feet. As one passes beneath them there is something of the sensation which overawes when enjoying nature under the arches of some grand old forest—the handiwork of God, no doubt enhanced by the realization that they are consecrated to the worship of the same Almighty Creator, in the same purity of aspiration as is symbolized in the forests by the “wind which bloweth where it listeth.” The apse of this church is surmounted by an equally lofty half-dome, overarching the deep and capacious chancel, which is raised from the level of the ground floor by the height of four steps, and measures in the greatest depth of its curvature sixteen yards, while its widest breadth is eighteen yards.
From the year 1861 this grand old building had been untenanted, and exposed to all the unbridled ravages of the revolutionary spirit, and when first obtained for purposes of pure worship was in use as a common stable! When the young Church undertook its repairs it was necessary that they should be conducted upon a scale commensurate with its means. Accordingly, its adornment and furniture are of the simplest character. Its walls are kalsomined in a gray-stone tint, to which the chancel forms an exception, being tastefully, though very simply, decorated in blue and gold. The pulpit, placed at the south-west angle of the space covered by the principal dome, is surmounted by a sounding-board, and, with the two chancel lecturns, is of varnished cedar wood. About 500 chairs are placed in the body and transepts of the church. The musical instrument is a small but sweet melodeon, which is placed near the centre of the north transept. A tasteful carpet in black and red covers the chancel floor and steps, and extends down the central aisle. The communion table, in the centre of the chancel, is covered with a rich, red velvet cloth. Around the chancel are chairs for the officiating clergy. These ordinary chairs should be replaced by stalls. Before leaving this subject of the furniture, I will mention two important wants. In putting gas-burners [4/5] into the church the utmost economy had to be observed, and consequently the light at evening service is very insufficient. A comparatively small cost would remedy this deficiency, by suspending suitable chandelier reflectors from the magnificent domes, and thus rendering attendance at evening service inviting to the throngs of idlers who pass by, too ready to cast contempt upon the worshippers in this church, once so famous among the Roman Catholics. The other want that I would name is a handsome organ to take the place of the little melodeon, and thus contribute to promote the exercises of praise for which both the people and the building are so wonderfully adapted.
I cannot in this letter, without risk of over-passing proper limits, go beyond the subject of the old church buildings owned by those who form the Mexican branch of the Church, and must leave for a later occasion considerations which have to do directly with the people and their active work of evangelization. I must therefore remind my readers that this great church of “San Francisco” is not the only one held by these Mexican brethren. They have also another in the capital, which, but for the circumstance of the superiority of that of which this brief description has been given, would, from its size and importance, claim a first place in our thoughts. This is the church of “San José de Gracia.” It is situated on the street of the same name in the heart of the city. Its lofty dome rises over handsome residences and scenes of busy traffic. This grand church, also once famous among Roman Catholics, was attached to another of those large convents which once characterized the city of Mexico. The part of the ex-convent adjacent to the church is now occupied as quarters for government troops, some of whom are to be seen from time to time about the church doors, even strolling in to take part in the services. The church itself, like all the others in this city of magnificent buildings, is of solid stone, its vaulted roof rising to the height of some eighty feet from its flooring. The form of the ground plan is an oblong of about fifty yards in length by twelve or thirteen in width. This was the first church building occupied by the brethren here, and it has been in constant use for nearly ten years, during which it has played a most important part in the history of the Church restoration in Mexico. It has a seating capacity for six hundred people, which at once places it in rank for size among the larger churches in the city of New York, while for altitude and architectural effect it far surpasses most of them.
These grand old buildings were acquired soon after the abolition of all monastic establishments by the liberal government. The friars in these monasteries had become, through their gross immoralities, a scandal in the land. The pope’s emissary, who was sent to regulate some of their disorders, was laughed at in the face by them; and the people were aroused in just indignation against those who ought to have been their examples, but had become the disgrace of Mexico. Further than this, the friars were the chief actors in encouraging rebellion against the legitimate government of the land, and gladly harbored its worst enemies in their immense establishments. Under these circumstances it became necessary for the government, under the presidency of the distinguished liberal, Benito Juarez, to abolish all such institutions, and, as far as possible, to restore them to the people, with whose funds they had been built. The various orders were disbanded, and the proceeds largely appropriated to public education. It is on record that in the case of the convent of “San Francisco,” so great was the indignation against the enormities of its friars, that an officer was sent by the government at the head of 300 soldiers, who, entering the church, completely sacked it, destroying everything within. This act of vandalism resulted favorably to the reformers, for the devastated church was purchased for a comparatively small sum from some persons who had obtained it from the government, and it has become the cathedral of the new Church. The church of “San José de Gracia” was passed over by the government to the brethren engaged in this reform for a merely nominal sum, which was given so as to secure a legal title to the property.
What shall we say of the moral effect upon the population of Mexico of the possession of these magnificent church edifices by those who, in the very centre of Roman Catholicism, are successfully establishing a pure branch of the Church of Christ? Twenty-five years ago these very buildings were strongholds of Romish ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance. Their treasuries were inflated with wealth. Their interiors were all ablaze with gilded magnificence. Their altars and walls were covered with images and shrines, and any [5/6] one who would not kneel at the elevation of the host within them would have been knocked on the head or ignominiously carried off to prison. What can we say, but that the hand of God has been wonderfully manifested in the providence which has given these grand old buildings to the restorers of a pure faith! May we not hope that through the munificence of Christian brethren in other lands, who have been more signally blessed with earthly abundance, our struggling brethren in Mexico will be enabled, through these monuments of their success, to show the mighty power of the movement, and be made the instruments of divine influence by which many persons of position and wealth in the land, who formerly entered these churches to worship at the shrines of saints, may be led, through the open Word of God, to join their brethren there in the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving for the rescue of their land from spiritual blindness?
 From thoughts about the grand church buildings owned by the brethren in Mexico I pass on to give some account of the present condition of their work of evangelization, as exhibited in its organization and instrumentalities.
It is now well known in England and the United States that the episcopal organization of this young Church was completed on St. John Baptist’s Day, 1879, by the consecration of the Rev. Dr. Henry Chauncey Riley as its first bishop. The Rev. Prudencio G. Hernandez, a native Mexican of pure Aztec blood, has been elected for consecration, and it is hoped that ere long he will also be formally appointed to the office. Including the latter, there are connected with the work nine native presbyters. There are also many lay preachers and teachers. The field is divided between Bishop Riley and Bishop-elect Hernandez into two parts, one embracing the city and valley of Mexico, the other all the congregations and missionary stations outside that limit. The former includes the congregations which assemble in the churches of San Francisco and San José de Gracia, and eighteen others in as many towns and villages in the beautiful valley, which extends for many leagues in every direction from the city, until it loses itself in the encircling sierras which bound its circumference of over two hundred miles. The latter, the jurisdiction of the bishop-elect, comprises fifteen congregations in and about Cuernavaca, forty miles to the south of the capital, in the State of Morelos; six in and about Nopala, seventy miles to the north, in the State of Hidalgo; and about a dozen others, some of them in the States of Puebla and Vera Cruz, distant, respectively, seventy and two hundred and thirty miles; besides many other as yet unformed congregations in various localities. It is evident from these statistics that the bishop and his coadjutor in supervision are not in the enjoyment of sinecures; and when it is remembered that the only completed railway line in the country is that from Vera Cruz to the capital, and that the only other methods of travel are by diligence, on horseback, or on foot, and by the lakes in canoe, and that the whole country, beyond the protection of local government guards, is exposed to the depredations of outlaws, the difficulty of communication between stations separated by so many leagues is not to be wondered at, nor the delay in obtaining information from them to be regarded as unreasonable.
Let us briefly glance at the instrumentalities engaged in this work of sowing the seed of the Lord’s harvest. The two great churches in the city are open on Sundays for morning and evening worship, and once a month for the Holy Communion, and on every working day in the morning and afternoon. An additional service is held in the evening on Wednesday in the church of “San Francisco,” and on Friday in the church of San José de Gracia, and on all these occasions the services are accompanied by preaching. In this way a constant invitation is extended to passersby, and many a poor native finds himself, unawares, within sound of the preaching of the pure Gospel, as is evident from the genuflections and crossings which characterize his entrance into the house of prayer. The daily services are more particularly for the benefit of the children connected with the schools of the Church; and yet, occurring as they do at the laborers’ busy hour, the average attendance of adults is remarkable. The congregations on Sundays and special occasions are, of course, larger. On Sunday morning their number in the church of San Francisco reaches two or three hundred. On the occasion of the thanksgiving service on the last evening of the past year (a service held annually on December 31st), many were obliged to stand from inability to find seats.
The character of the worship is deeply impressive. The prayers of the liturgy are full of simple fervor and devout aspiration, the preaching earnest and full of Christ. The hymns, in the singing of which the voices of some thirty of the little boys predominate, are clear in their evangelical tone and beautiful in their sentiment, and as the full chords of harmony rise from the hearts and lips of the congregation [7/8] and are caught up by the echoes of the lofty domes, the hearer feels that for once he has come near the ideal of praise, and almost imagines that he hears the angels on high lending their voices to swell the chorus.
There is something peculiarly touching in the character of the congregations. Only a few give token of any worldly possessions. By far the larger portion show that they have to work hard for their living. Many of these come neatly and becomingly dressed; others, even poorer, attend in the coarse native dress which frequently, by its tatters, allows their extreme want. Fathers come, leading in their little motherless children; mothers are there with their babes at the breast; children are there who have no parents; and old people who are nearing the end of their earthly pilgrimage. In all these cases the deportment of the worshippers is serious, attentive, and devout. I cannot but think that it was much such congregations that our blessed Lord was accustomed to address.
These city congregations, however, are but the centre of the fifty in the country round about and far beyond the limits of the capital. From hence all these have to be supplied with preachers, missionaries, and teachers. Some of these outposts are very flourishing; others need continual watching. Most of them need pecuniary assistance for the effectual maintenance of their work, yet some, with a faith that is surprising, manage bravely to carry it on alone in the face of poverty. The congregations range in the number of their attendants from thirty to three hundred, and the arrival of a missionary among them often brings crowds who flock from long distances to listen to the Word of life. It has been my pleasure during my visit to Mexico to meet with a number of the brethren from these outlying stations, as they have come from their distant homes into the Church office. One of these is a hoary-headed veteran in the army of the Great Captain. He has long served faithfully at his post in the village of Joquicingo, twelve leagues away. After this service, in which he looks back to the earliest days of the struggling Church’s history, this venerable man, at the age of 76, too far advanced to continue preaching, returns to his charge to perform the other functions of his office as the only ordained person within the range of many leagues. Another, a young man from Atzala, a town in the fanatical State of Puebla, sadly renowned for a terrible massacre by the Romanists, in which twenty of the brethren fell martyrs to the faith, had come in to visit the centre of the work, and to carry away to his much-tried brethren what cheer he might be able to gather.
From his lips I heard the story of the massacre and his own escape from death at the time, when, having taken refuge in a tower with ten others, they were bound and dragged to a neighboring village, and cast into prison for twenty-four days.
Still another came bringing news of the congregation of Cocotitlan in the valley some six leagues away, and of other congregations in its vicinity. He had a sad tale to tell of efforts made to break up the work of the Church by bribery, but he could also relate with joy a story of the fidelity of brethren whose loyalty revolted from so base an attempt. A fourth had walked all the way from Nopala, nearly seventy miles, occupying three days in the journey, and was momentarily expecting to start on his return, so as to reach home before Sunday. He had come in to ask for a large Bible with references, and to carry back the monthly pittance which the Church is able to afford toward the maintenance of six organized congregations and four other gatherings of brethren, in all of which are some 400 regular attendants. This man, whose fine, mild face and earnest words betokened the reality of his faith, was simply clad in the native costume, and as he stood enwrapped in his “sarape,” his feet shod with sandals, and the large Bible under his arm, all in readiness to start on his long and exposed journey, bent on the welfare of souls, his presence seemed a more instructive sermon than could well be written. As I write I have just come from having been introduced to a young brother from Cuernavaca, who, some four years since, was driven from his father’s house for becoming a Protestant. He has since made his own way in the world, and is receiving a good salary on an estate. His father has now become reconciled to him, and receives him kindly.
These few instances serve to introduce my readers to some of the distant outposts in this work of the Lord as perhaps they would not be able otherwise to see them. For myself, I seem to have gained an insight into the missionary part of the work through these interviews, which have been deeply impressive.
 We have, then, brought before us, at various distances from the capital, congregations numbering over fifty, with almost unlimited opportunities for establishing others. Nor does the extent of the work appear less if we reflect that there are, more or less, connected with this movement something like 7,000 souls, of whom about one half are active members.
So far we have only spoken of the work among congregations; certainly a part of it which is most important to the generation which is passing away. But there is another part of it which is more important to the future evangelization of the land, and in considering it we are brought face to face with the institutions which have been established for the education of a ministry and the Christian nurture of the young. There are several young men studying for the ministry in two theological schools—one in the city of Mexico, the other in Cuernavaca. Three of these young men, after having long desired admission into the institution in the capital, which was denied them only because the poverty of the Church would not allow their reception, were no longer able to resist their impulse, and having no means of their own, walked the whole way from Puebla, where they were living, a distance of seventy miles. The poor fellows arrived, footsore and well-nigh exhausted, at the doors of the church of San Francisco, and presented themselves in their wearied condition as applicants for admission who would not take no for an answer. They were, of course, taken in, and the scanty treasury of the Church was made to stretch itself over their necessities at the risk of entailing added self-denial for others engaged in the work.
It is not alone to the present inmates of these institutions that we are to look in evidence of their great excellence, but to the brethren who have been graduated from them, and who have been actively engaged in the work as missionaries and preachers awaiting ordination; for it must be borne in mind that from the year 1875, when the Rt. Rev. Dr. Alfred Lee, Bishop of Delaware, in the United States, visited Mexico and ordained several persons to the ministry, until 1881, there was no opportunity for the laying on of hands through lack of the presence of a bishop to ordain. In these graduates the theological schools have been eminently justified. Those whom I have heard preach have been men of more than average pulpit gifts, giving evidence of the high culture and careful training bestowed upon them. Their doctrinal statements are clearly defined and loyal to truth; their manner is persuasive, devout, and eloquent; and the graceful fluency with which they all preach, never using notes, indicates an attainment which is too generally neglected in more favored lands.
Connected with the Church there are eight schools for the young. Three of these are in the capital. Of these the largest is the Church school and orphanage for girls under the care of Mrs. Herman Hooker, the widow of a clergyman in the United States. Mrs. Hooker has devoted her life and means to this good work, in which she shows a mother’s affection for those under her charge. These are girls ranging in age from two to sixteen years; many of them have lost one or both parents, and are brought to the school with a pitiful application for admission. It is very touching to see several groups of these anxiously awaiting the word which is to decide the question of their reception. They may sometimes be seen in the great church of “San Francisco” after one of the daily services. Some of these little girls are utterly penniless; others have friends or parents who are able to contribute something to their support. Some of them are children of Protestant families, who, by their confession of the faith, have lost the favor of the Romanists, and with it their daily support. Others are taken directly from the influence of Romanism, or from frightful exposure to the most immoral courses. The number in the institution is sixty-four, and in their instruction Mrs. Hooker has the assistance of two young Mexican ladies. Besides being taught habits of neatness, to which some of them were utter strangers, these little girls are instructed in the rudiments of a common-school education, and are taught useful work. I have been present at several of their examinations, and have been much interested, among other exercises, in their attainment in English reading and recitation. Many of these are bright and pretty young girls, some of them maturing into womanhood, and a sense of sincere gratitude fills the heart of the visitor as he reflects upon the Christian influences which now encompass them, and thinks of some of them who have been rescued from sinful surroundings of the most degraded character.
The other two Church schools in the city are for boys. The larger of these is the Church school and orphanage of San Francisco. [9/10] In it are fifty-seven boys, ranging from three to fourteen years of age. Of these, twenty-seven are inmates, and the rest day scholars. They are under the care of Señor Ponce de Leon and his excellent wife and daughter, who are like parents to these destitute children. The head teacher is Senor Trujillo, who is assisted by one or two others. The little boys of this school, which is conveniently near the church of San Francisco, are daily to be found at all the services of that church, where they surround the melodeon, and are led as a choir by the precentor.
The school of San Jose de Gracia is a day-school. Were the necessary means at its disposal, many hundreds of little waifs, now exposed in the city to every evil influence, could be gathered in, carefully trained, and brought to the knowledge of the Gospel.
Besides these three schools, and the other half a dozen outside the city of Mexico, Sunday-schools are also gathered. Those in the city church are composed, not only of children, but of many adults, who assemble with eager desire for Christian instruction. It is deeply impressive to enter the chapel of San Francisco, and see that building filled with classes of all ages surrounding their earnest teachers.
“La Verdad” is the name of the semi-monthly publication which maintains the standard of the Mexican Church, and seeks to promulgate, by a wide dissemination, the principles of the Gospel. This sheet has been welcomed in the columns of several of the secular papers. It has been seen to be the advocate of religious liberty, and has found its way into many quarters where its higher errand has at first been scarcely appreciated. It maintains its evangelical position unflinchingly, and has bravely entered the lists with the ablest champions of Romanism in the free and triumphant discussion of its perverted creeds and unscriptural dogmas. This species of controversy has been rendered necessary by the fanatical attacks which have been made upon the Church; yet far the greater part of the duty of La Verdad has been the positive proclamation of the “Truth.” In this proclamation it has of course had to speak out boldly concerning the idolatries of Rome.
In the desire to secure more extended sympathy, and to stimulate the esprit de corps of those already united in its glorious work, the Mexican Church has organized two societies—the “Society for the Protection of Children,” and another which is entitled “La Alianza.” These societies meet alternately every Monday evening. The former is especially devoted to literary exercises by the boys and girls of the schools. These are interspersed with vocal and instrumental music volunteered by members of the Church or other friends of the work. La Alianza addresses itself more to adults, and has for its direct object the pioneer work of gaining those not already interested. Its exercises are such as to call out the talent of its members, and are both literary and musical. These societies are alike in two respects. Their atmosphere is that of Christian enjoyment. They are opened and closed with devotional exercises. The reading of the Scriptures is a prominent feature. At various points during the evening all unite in the singing of hymns, and no one present can fail to be impressed by the wholesome influence which prevails. The other point of similarity is that the doors stand open to all, and a welcome is given to as many as the halls will contain. That this welcome is not unheeded is evident from the numbers in the two halls, which on these occasions are opened into each other. The indefatigable bishop is always present, surrounded by his corps of earnest coadjutors, to welcome with a cheerful word those who enter, and the occasion is made one which cannot but win the kindly feeling of all who attend.
What I have been able to say of the instrumentalities employed by this branch of the Church in the interest of perishing souls, in whose midst it stands as the champion of eternal truth, may have served to interest the reader and to give some idea of its present condition. That its work is being conscientiously done cannot be doubted. That it is not commensurate with the extraordinary opportunity presented is not the fault of the faithful band which is here struggling against immense earthly odds to establish the kingdom of the Saviour of the world. There are many adversaries. Of these I would write later on. Notwithstanding their multitude and zeal, if the Christian Church throughout the world would arise and come manfully to the help of their struggling sister, these adversaries would “fade away suddenly like the grass.” Meanwhile there is nothing to fear. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
 In order to understand the past history of the Mexican branch of the Church we must briefly review some of the political conditions which, humanly speaking, made its existence possible. It would be more correct to call them providences, which opened the way for its development. Almost at the beginning of the nineteenth century the abolition of the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico betokened the advent of greater enlightenment for the land. For three centuries it had been subject to its Romish conquerors, and at length human nature began to ask for relief from a tyranny which not only enslaved the bodies, but the souls of its victims. The first step sought was freedom from the yoke of Spain. The first voice publicly raised in this behalf was that of the Roman Catholic presbyter Hidalgo, who soon fell a martyr to the cause which, at the head of a few followers, he espoused. This was in 1810.
Mexico became independent of Spain in 1821. At this date the gigantic system of oppression which had previously prevailed in the land gave existence to two great and antagonistic political parties—the Roman Church party and the Liberals. From that time until within a few years the land has been the scene of the bitterest civil contests. The two great parties—the one monarchical and ecclesiastical, the other the party of human progress—have struggled for supremacy. In 1857 was enacted the constitution which legalized liberty of religious opinion. But the contest was not yet over. The prestige of Roman Catholicism was still a mighty power in the land, and held a sway not only over the more ignorant classes, but also over many others who had been from their earliest youth taught to regard it as the only true religion. Now, however, some, and chief among them some Roman Catholic ecclesiastics, as more liberal principles grew in estimation, began to realize certain practical abuses of their traditional religion. Several documents are in existence bearing date 1860 and 1861 which testify to efforts made in the direction of the reform of these abuses. In 1861 a more decided voice was heard from the State of Tamaulipas. In Santa Barbara, a town of that State, a Roman Catholic presbyter of the name of Ramon Lozano boldly outlined the establishment of an independent Church, which he called the Mexican Catholic Apostolic Church. Only a little later, during the years 1864 and 1865, a very important congregation was gathered in the city of Mexico. It was ministered to by a former Roman Catholic ecclesiastic of the name of Francisco Aguilar. This true reformer had sought in sincerity to find the truth, and had found it in the earnest study of the Word of God.
Feeling keenly the spiritual needs of his land, he had broken away entirety from the Church of Rome, with the devout determination to seek the establishment of a Church which should enjoy the open Bible, a pure faith, and catholic order. In this he was greatly aided from England through the distribution of copies of the sacred Scriptures in Spanish, furnished by the British and Foreign Bible society. In these copies of the sacred volume he enjoyed the perusal of the Word unembarrassed by Roman Catholic notes. At this time Señor Prudencio G. Hernandez was the treasurer of this congregation, which assembled for worship in a hall on the street called “La Calle de San José el Real.” Having been formerly a fellow-student of a Roman Catholic bishop at this time noted in Mexico, Señor Hernandez was commissioned by the presbyter Aguilar to visit his old friend, and to try to induce him to join the Mexican Church movement. This effort gave no practical results. After about three years of earnest labor and much success, Francisco Aguilar died. The death-scene of this remarkable man was most touching. With the Bible by his side, he urged upon Señor Hernandez the constant care of the little growing Church, to whose interests he had sacrificed everything, and for which he had worked so hard. At this time many influential citizens of liberal political opinions, some of them connected with the government, had witnessed with much interest the struggles of the incipient Church, and, feeling that its influence [11/12] was strictly in accordance with their opinions, had strongly disapproved of the efforts of the Roman Church party to destroy it. In 1868 a duly accredited Mexican gentleman, of wide celebrity in his land through his published works, visited the city of New York, asking for sympathy and aid for it. The Secretary of State of the United States having been applied to by the American Church for information as to the advisability of sending a clergyman to Mexico, replied, discouraging the thought in view of the personal danger to which such a representative would be exposed. At this time the Rev. Henry Chauncey Riley was the minister in charge of a Spanish Episcopal congregation in the city of New York. The bishop of the diocese had urgently pressed upon him the charge of this congregation in New York, recognizing his special personal qualifications.
The Rev. Mr. Riley was born of North American parentage, in Santiago de Chili, and until nearly 16 years of age lived in that Spanish-speaking country. Educated from that time in the United States and in England, he entered the ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York, where his parents were residing. Possessing the spirit of consecration to Christ, and, in addition to his intellectual culture, many natural gifts of a high order, and retaining a special interest in those who spoke his native tongue, the Rev. Mr. Riley was peculiarly fitted for the position which he held, as well as for that to which he was now to be called. Among other qualifications important to the undertaking, the Rev. Mr. Riley was possessed of independent means. To him the messenger from the little struggling Church in Mexico applied, soliciting his personal
interest in the important movement. So unexpected an application overwhelmed him with surprise. He asked for time in which to consider so responsible a charge, and after reflecting upon the wonderful opportunity afforded by the opening up of Mexico for the evangelization of that land, and thinking of the probable extension of its influence over the whole Spanish population of the globe, he made up his mind to go at once, in person, at his own costs, to the help of the struggling brethren in Mexico, severing all his home associations, and leaving the Spanish congregation to which he was deeply attached. He well knew the personal danger to which he would be exposed as the exponent of Protestantism in a land of extreme Roman Catholic fanaticism, but feeling that the call was from God, he did not hesitate, but placed himself under the shield of the Almighty. He reached Vera Cruz in December 1868, and as there was then no railway, made the long and tedious journey to the capital in diligence, reaching the city of Mexico in January of 1869. He found the little band of sixty souls, the remnant of Aguilar’s congregation, ready to welcome him, warmly, and at once began to gather again those who had become scattered upon the death of their former minister. Besides the central congregation other groups of worshippers gathered in various parts of the city, meeting wherever they could in the face of the bitterest opposition of the Romanists, who left no means untried to crush out the life of the movement. Sometimes these little groups would hold their meetings within the ruined walls of old buildings, with no roof over their heads but the vault of heaven. Sometimes they would gather in out-of-the-way rooms. The Romish priesthood took whatever means they could to hunt them out and prevent their assembling, imposing to the utmost ecclesiastical penalties, burning their books, and visiting upon them every species of contempt. The result of this was sorrow, poverty, and isolation for these poor brethren, many of whom were thus deprived of the means of livelihood for themselves and their families; but still these little bands held bravely on, willing to suffer the loss of all things for Christ.
One evening, not long after his arrival in Mexico, the Rev. Mr. Riley found upon entering his room a folded piece of paper which had been pushed under his door. Upon opening it he discovered that it was a warning that six persons were in league to take his life! He now felt the comfort of committing himself to the care of God, and was determined by this threat to devote whatever term of life remained to him to the best use for the extension of his Master’s kingdom. He was soon hard at work preparing a Gospel tract, which he entitled “True Liberty,” this title being aptly in accordance with the political aspirations of Mexico, and affording abundant scope for the powerful presentation of the “liberty of Christ.” Only a short time before he had heard of the martyrdom of a former Roman Catholic ecclesiastic, who had been cruelly tortured and then shot for his [12/13] fidelity to the truth. Just before the fatal shot was fired this martyr, in the face of certain death, had triumphantly exclaimed: “May Jesus reign!” Mr. Riley, basing his little treatise upon a well-known tract by the Rev. Dr. J. C. Ryle, now Bishop of Liverpool, made it ring from end to end with the noble cry of that dying martyr, “May Jesus reign!” He then scattered printed copies of it broadcast throughout the capital.
The Romanists at this time had formed an organization known as the “Catholic Society,” and through this organization they were now actively endeavoring to destroy the new Church movement. Prominent in their cathedral was Manuel Aguas, a distinguished Dominican friar, confessor of the canons, one of the ablest preachers in Mexico a man who, for his superior education, brilliant talents, courteous temper, and noble bearing, was regarded by all the Romanists with profound respect. This prominent friar was engaging all his powers to crush out the life of the new movement. With sincere loyalty to his Church, and with the ingenuousness which was a lending quality in his character, he sat, one night, surrounded by books, both Romish and Protestant, from which to draw arguments which should accomplish his purpose. Among them a copy of the tract “True Liberty “ had found its way into his study. He sat pondering its vigorous scriptural reasoning till long after midnight. Then, being unable to answer its clear statements, he yielded to the voice of his conscience, which told him that his arguments were unsatisfactory. This led to his earnest study of the Bible without Romish notes, and to his clear understanding of the simple truths of the Gospel. His experience was much like that of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. He was subdued by the power of the voice from heaven. “Why persecutest thou Me?” ‘‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” He turned from his attitude of hostility a converted man, and made up his mind to seek an interview with the Rev. Mr. Riley. The latter, though not prepared for so unexpected an event, received the distinguished convert with the utmost satisfaction and gratitude to God, and welcomed him most cordially to the little circle, who recognized in this occurrence the distinct intervention of heaven in their behalf. The news of this change in their former champion filled the Romanists with alarm, and in one of their circles when the tidings were first announced, a well-known priest expressed his astonishment in the ejaculation, “What, Manuel Aguas a Protestant? Nothing now remains but for the pope himself to become a Protestant.” We can imagine the consternation of the canons to whom he had been confessor when they saw the possessor of their secrets transformed into a leader of those whom they were seeking to destroy.
His connection with the reformers was followed by his formal excommunication by the Roman Church and the loss of his previous emoluments. The former did not concern him greatly; the latter necessarily involved him in great personal sacrifice. The event gave a new and important impulse in the work of evangelization. On the other hand, the Romanists redoubled their efforts to annihilate it. Notwithstanding this, its progress could not be suppressed. The Rev. Mr. Riley, recognizing the importance of the connection of Manuel Aguas with the new Church, placed him at its very front, and his voice was soon heard preaching the pure Gospel. Until about this time their principal congregation gathered in a hall, but now, by a coincidence of providences, they were enabled to open the large former Roman Catholic church of San Jose de Gracia, at the very first service in which this well-known and powerful preacher occupied the pulpit. Manuel Aguas devoted himself to the interests of the Gospel with greater vigor than had characterized his opposition to it. His abhorrence of the errors of Rome stimulated his desire to proclaim the Gospel in its purity. Around the immense stone platform upon which the great Roman Catholic cathedral—the largest church by far on the American continent—stands, there are massive stone posts at intervals of say fifteen feet, through which the heavy iron chain passes which forms the boundary line of that extensive paved platform. One night, at a season when the celebration of the superstitious rites of Rome were at their height, Manuel Aguas had these massive stone posts, as well as the walls at the corners of the streets and other conspicuous points, covered with placards, upon which were printed in large letters the Ten Commandments, and beside them the same as mutilated by the Church of Rome, and which called attention to the idolatrous discrepancy. The next morning they appeared in the full light of day, crowds of people pressing around to read them. The excitement produced by this bold act led shortly after to a [13/14] challenge from a well-known priest to the reformers publicly to discuss the question between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. This challenge was posted on the cathedral doors and the street corners. Manuel Aguas accepted it with alacrity, and, being the challenged party, claimed the privilege of stating the question for discussion, which he did in these words, “Is the Church of Rome idolatrous?” This he had printed in very large letters and placarded in the same way on the church doors and throughout the streets, with his printed acceptance. The place chosen for the discussion was the church of San Jose de Gracia, and the time was fixed upon. The excitement now became intense. Crowds thronged around the posted placards wherever they appeared, and a political election, which was in progress at the time, was overshadowed in the interest taken by the population in the coming religious contest. Now that I am in Mexico, and have seen the habits of the people and the very places where these things occurred, I can well conceive of them, and can almost see the transaction taking place. In the midst of it all the archbishop had a small notice put upon the cathedral and church doors forbidding the discussion. In their apprehension the Romanists had searched their records and found an old, obsolete canon, which till now had been utterly ignored, upon which this prohibition was based. The challenging priest, whose name was Bustamante, had retired from the turmoil of the city for greater convenience in preparing his arguments, and, on learning of the prohibition, issued another series of placards, in which he said it was too late to withdraw, and that, in the interests of the Roman Catholic Church, the discussion must be had. Manuel Aguas, who well understood the subterfuge of the archbishop, now issued other placards sustaining the position that, for the sake of truth, the discussion must proceed.
When the day arrived, as the hour fixed upon for the debate drew near, the street was so thronged with people that it was almost impossible to approach the church. The building itself was packed. Platforms for the two representatives had been arranged on either side of it. On each of them was placed a table with a Bible upon it. In the crowded audience were many fanatical Romanists, among them a band of assassins, headed by a priest, who appeared with his face concealed to the eyes by his cloak. These had come prepared to do their worst. On the other hand, knowing the danger to Manuel Aguas there were present by previous arrangement a force of police, and besides these several officers from an adjoining barrack, who, of their own accord, came to protect him in case of need. Manuel Aguas bravely pushed his way through the dense crowd and took his place upon the appointed platform. When the hour arrived he stood there in all the dignity of his noble bearing, with the open Bible before him. But all eyes turned in vain to look for his opponent, who, at the critical moment, failed to appear in advocacy of the Romish Church. The effect of this upon the expectant audience, who had so long been anticipating the discussion, may well be imagined. Manuel Aguas perceived his opportunity, and at once proceeded to address that eager throng, boldly unmasking the idolatries of Rome, and proclaiming the simple “truth as it is in Jesus” with a power which held the riveted attention of his audience, and no doubt reached the consciences of many of those who hung upon his burning words. In this event Rome received a severe shock, and the eyes of the Mexicans became more open to her weakness. Manuel Aguas, whose name will always be prominent in the history of this Church, even as it must always be dear to those who reap the advantages of his self-sacrifice, his devotion, and his fearless advocacy of truth in the midst of danger, died in 1872, after several years of untiring consecration to his Master. His body was carried to burial under the symbol of the open Bible, carved in wood. His simple grave is in the American cemetery in the suburbs of the city of Mexico.
The Rev. Mr. Riley found himself called upon to resume the position at the front of the work left vacant by this death. Under his faithful and efficient management it continued to flourish as it had done from the time of his arrival in Mexico. The remarkable events of which I have just spoken naturally imparted to it an important additional impulse, and its increase was not only great, but rapid throughout the country.
 Mexico is an interesting country, whether looked at in regard to its antiquity, its conquest by Spain, its present government, its religious history, or its natural beauty and resources.
Having had little opportunity to go beyond the limits of the capital I shall base what I have to say chiefly upon it as representing the whole republic. The visitor coming from Vera Cruz enters the city on the northern side, and after passing through the “aduana,” enters a “coche,” the typical hack of the place, and in twenty minutes finds himself at any one of the half dozen hotels which enjoy a central situation. The railway journey has been a sort of introduction to the city, and so the feeling of strangeness and novelty is somewhat modified. But soon he is attracted by the peculiar features of the capital. The massive buildings, relics of the glory of former palaces, convents, and churches, now turned into hotels, residences, or warehouses, rise up before him in their splendid proportions. A few palaces retain their old families, and many of the churches continue their religious ceremonies, but for the most part the city in this respect is revolutionized, and as a rule its grandest buildings have changed their uses, and in every case the splendor of the artistic past has faded away before the more practical character of the republic. The two most prominent points in the city are the Grand Plaza of the cathedral and the Alameda, or principal park. The former, bounded on its different sides by the immense cathedral, the national palace, the municipal palace, and the Portales, a series of arched porticos of heavy masonry, has in its centre the Zocalo, a beautiful little park. The Alameda, about a mile further to the west, is of magnificent size, and, like the Zocalo, contains an abundance of trees and plants, and is adorned with fountains and statues. Uniting these two parks is the Regent street or Fifth avenue of Mexico. Following the rule of all the streets, this one changes its name at every intersection by another. This arrangement necessitates a map for the pedestrian tourist who is aiming for some point designated by the name of the street in which it is situated. The easiest way to gain his object is to call a “coche,” whose driver will set him down in the desired locality for a quarter of a dollar. Upon this main street of which we are speaking, rather nearer to the Alameda than to the Zocalo, stands the church of San Francisco, the cathedral of the Episcopal reformation. In wandering about the city one is surprised at the great number of convents with which it was provided, their former existence being witnessed by the many lofty walls and church buildings which tell of their past. Two principal “paseos,” or pleasure drives, lead from the city, one of these being the drive to the celebrated castle of Chapultepec, the site of the ancient residence of the Montezumas. The other paseo follows the Viga, or rapid stream, which joins together the distant lakes of Texcoco and Chalco, emptying the fresh waters of the latter into the former, a salt lake with no outlet, a sort of Dead Sea, receiving the drainage of the whole valley of Mexico. Once outside of the gates of the capital, by either of these magnificent drives, the tourist is surrounded by a panorama of beauty unsurpassed by any scenery in the world. It may be particularly enjoyed from the castle of Chapultepec, or from any of the eminences in the valley. The whole horizon is bounded by a belt of lofty mountains, conspicuous among which are the summits of Popocatepetl (smoking mountain) and Ixtaxihuatl (white woman), which are perpetually covered with a mantle of snow. Add to the description the clear, bright sky of Mexico, its lovely temperature, and its many birds of beautiful plumage and sweet note, and little will be left to suggest the enjoyment of a drive or a ride in the exquisite valley.
But the nature of my subject draws me to the city, and I have been thinking of a walk which I took a few days since with Bishop Riley. We went into the old part of the city, behind the Roman Catholic cathedral, and pushed our way northward. This part was formerly fullest of churches. We made our way to the plaza where stands the old church of Santo Domingo. This is one of the most [15/16] painfully interesting sites in Mexico. Here was the convent of the Dominicans. Remnants of it still exist, but, like all such buildings, it has yielded its uses to modern times. Opposite to it stands the old building of the Inquisition, a large part of which is now occupied by the National Medical College. The old dungeons with their mournful history are comprised in another part, now occupied by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Mexico, and therefore not open to visitors. In going through the medical college we were doubtless in many passages which in former times sounded to the footsteps of the remorseless tribunal, and it was with serious disappointment that I learned that the dungeons could not be seen. We came out on the plaza, the scene in olden times of many an “auto da fé,” and the whole past with all its horrors seemed to rise up in benediction of those who had here suffered the most exquisite mental and bodily tortures, and had borne them all in witness to the truth. Leaving this we passed on a square or two till we came to another large stone building, formerly the college of the Jesuits. There it stands, its long front looking as of yore upon the street. It is now occupied by the national college, in which 500 Mexican youths are admitted freely to all the advantages of its library and lectures. Not far from this, on another street, is the national college for girls. Here 700 scholars receive their education, passing through all grades—introductory, primary, and secondary—a course of nine years in all, most of whom have in view the thought of becoming teachers of others. This walk seems to me to be full of instruction with regard to Mexico. These national colleges are only samples of others in the republic, and beside them there is a large number of municipal schools, whose curriculum, if less complete, is still a power whose value cannot be computed. In conversation with the gentleman and lady who respectively showed us through the male and female colleges, I learned that they have been established for about ten years. Now, if we look back seventy years we see the old Inquisition in full operation; twenty-five years, and we see the college of the Jesuits, with its subtleties and carefully limited instruction, and we see the masses outside of its walls being carefully kept from education. If, then, we recall ourselves to the present of Mexico, how striking the contrast, and how wonderful appear the providences by which so rapid strides have been made toward the intellectual development of the country! It seems indeed the regeneration of the land. Old things are passing away; all things are becoming new. As we walked and talked, many topics of interest were suggested which show the wonderful opportunities offering for the Christianization of Mexico. Not least interesting were those relating to the numerous old church buildings by which we passed. Those of them still occupied by the Romish Church furnished the usual sad commentary upon the evils of its system. Filled as they are with huge dolls dressed up to represent the Virgin Mary, the saints, or even the sacred form of the Saviour of the world, the heart of the intelligent Christian who enters these vast temples is filled with sadness at the degradation which permits such childish superstition and such bald profanity, and he mourns over those of this still ignorant land who are the victims of these vagaries as they pass in and out kissing the feet of some wretched caricature, or bending in adoration before some repulsive idol. Our visit to one of these churches provoked a smile in spite of the sad associations produced by this idolatry. Hard by the palace of justice, the headquarters of the lawyers, is a church in which is an image representing an aged saint. This benignant personage is supposed to have the power of granting a husband to those old maids who for three successive Fridays come urging their request. Accordingly, on those days numerous supplicants are seen passing along to enter this temple of their desires, while the lawyers richly enjoy their opportunity to make heartless fun of the silly devotees. The day for such superstitions is rapidly passing away, and even the church buildings of Mexico are calling for better things. During my walk with Bishop Riley it seemed to me very often that he pointed with a sigh to one or another of these, now, since the sequestration of the convents, occupied for secular purposes, and told me that for a mere song he could have had possession of them for the preaching of the pure Gospel. Even now, for a few thousand dollars, some of them could be purchased and so occupied; but, alas! Christians in other lands fail to appreciate the opportunity, and so for lack of these small sums these fine buildings, often the subjects of profitable pecuniary investment, are being suffered to pass from their proper uses and [16/17] often to fall back into Romish hands for the propagation of their idolatrous system.
Some very serious thoughts are connected with the wonderfully rapid commercial progress which has been initiated in Mexico as the result of her intellectual advancement. The country, through the false policy of her religious system, closed for over three centuries against intercourse with other nations, has now become open to the encouragements which are begotten by such interchange. Scarcely more than ten years ago there was not a railway in the whole republic. Now the enterprises for their construction are “legion.” Until quite recently the line from Vera Cruz to the capital, which has been finished seven or eight years, was the only one in existence in the land. Today millions of dollars are being spent in the construction of two stupendous railways, which in the course of three years are expected to unite the capital with the border line of the United States, and with the Pacific ports of the republic. Another project has been started for similar connection of the capital with the southern States of Mexico, and with the ultimate prospect of pushing on through Central to South America. Two telegraph lines, one of them submarine, and only completed this month, unite Mexico and the United States, and the whole tenor of the times is pressing for the multiplication of avenues of commerce with the outer world. This sort of progress cannot fail to be accompanied by every facility for the extension of learning. It has arisen from the intelligent views of the Mexican government as to the best commercial interest of the land, and behind it lies the promoting cause of the immense mineral and agricultural resources which it contains. Its mines are said to excel those in the United States. Its rich soil and favorable climate offer the most attractive opportunities to the agriculturist. Labor is very cheap among the lower classes, who have no requirements beyond the simplest food and dress; and their industry, when properly directed, must result most favorably to capitalists who invest their money for the development of the land. Capital is the one needed element for this sort of development, for Mexico, after her past oppressions and unhappy revolutions, is very poor. But capitalists have already seen their opportunity, and every day adds to the numerous list of those who will reap tremendous fortunes from their investments here. Side by side with the development of education and commerce there is another to be thought of by the truest philanthropists—viz., the development of Christianity. Here, on the one hand, are tremendous opportunities for religious reformation. The Roman power is effectually paralyzed in the land, and it is tottering to its final destruction. The progress of civilization—a progress scarcely surpassed in the history of any country, if measured by its rapidity—invites the cooperation of every good influence, while the development of commerce opens the way for the heralds of the Gospel of peace.
On the other hand, there is danger in the unrestrained progress of what are called liberal principles. Already the pendulum has swung from superstition to rationalism, and the liberality of Mexico is fearfully tainted with modern positivism. The recoil from Romanism has begotten a contempt for religion, and the country is in the great danger of falling into the baldest infidelity and atheism. These will only be encouraged by the temptations of commerce and the pride of intellectual learning, unless, by the grace of God, the Gospel of reconciliation shall prevail; Here, then, is a grand opportunity for the evangelization of Mexico which must not be neglected. In the providence of God, under the most startling exhibitions of His favoring care, the Mexican branch of the Church Catholic has been initiated. It cannot be that for the lack of a few thousand dollars true Christian hearts will permit it to fail of its mission. How many capitalists today are investing millions of dollars here who will double their immense fortunes? And shall there not be found among the disciples of Christ those who will come forward determined that this pure branch of His Church shall do successfully its appointed work?
 In writing of the past history of this reformation I postponed any reference to some of the earlier trials through which this Church has passed. My present theme affords a fitting opportunity to refer to this part of the subject.
From the very first, as we have seen, the movement met with the bitter opposition of the fanatical Roman hierarchy. They did all that they could to stamp out the fire which had begun to kindle. But when, in the face of these efforts, they saw the reformation gaining in influence, and perceived that it received the favor of some distinguished persons; when they realized the effectiveness with which the work was being prosecuted with the Rev. Mr. Riley at its front; above all, when they saw their champion, Manuel Aguas, boldly throwing his whole personal influence and energy in its favor, their fanatical efforts to stay it were redoubled, and wherever the beginnings of any of its new congregations were seen they were instantly made the object of their bitterest attacks. In Puebla once, where the little group of Christians had gathered together for worship in a room adjoining their chapel, which was being repaired, suddenly there was heard the sound of an approaching mob. Some of the brethren, terrified, escaped by the windows. The leader of the little gathering bravely advanced to the door, which was soon broken open. He was seized by one of the mob and rudely dragged out into the streets. A huge stone was thrown at him, which, in God’s providence, failed in its aim, and striking his captor wounded him so severely that he was obliged to relax his hold, and thus the leader of the little Christian band was enabled to make his escape. The mob burst into the building, destroyed all the furniture, and burned the books of worship. The hand of a favoring Providence was seen even in this sad occurrence, for one of the ringleaders of this fanatical mob was converted through reading some of the half-burned leaves, and afterward became one of the most devoted and determined of those united with the reformation.
A similar occurrence took place some 200 miles to the south of the city of Mexico. One of the native missionaries of this “Church of Jesus” went to Oaxaca, to which town the movement had spread, to inaugurate religious services. He was received with a good will by the governor of the State, who at once placed at his disposal one of the fine church buildings of the town. This was as encouraging as it was unexpected, and the missionary lost no time in accepting the offer. When this became known, this young man received a notice stating that if he should hold a service his life would be taken. Undaunted by the threat, he published the day and hour when the service would be held. Accordingly, he was found at his post. In that fanatical town a dangerous mob of excited Romanists was assembled about the building by such an unusual event. Many of them entered the church with the congregation. As the first sentences of the liturgy were being read some of them began to throw stones at the reader, who barely escaped being hurt by them. This exhibition of hostility was the signal for great excitement both within and without the building, and there was serious danger of bloodshed. The missionary, unable to quell the confusion within by his voice, made his way to the church doors, which he locked against the furious mob outside. Then, turning to those within, he warned them that all would be taken for Protestants and murdered alike by the excited populace should they gain entrance. In this way he held them in abeyance, the rattle of stones against the doors giving fearful evidence of the determination of the assailants. But here again the favoring hand of God was seen. Soon another sound was heard outside. News of the disturbance had reached the governor, and now the soldiery had come and were beating the fanatics down with the butts of their muskets. In a short time order was restored, and the missionary, with a guard of soldiery at hand, proceeded with the service which had been announced.
Such events as these were common during the early history of the movement, but worse results frequently followed these persecutions. From the initiation of the Church upward of forty martyrs have met their deaths at the hands of the fanatics in various parts of the country. In Coatinchan lived one of the [18/19] Christian brethren. He had the daily habit of reading the Bible in his doorway. Opposite to him lived a Romanist judge. This judge was heard to say that the practice of this young man must be stopped, and that for this purpose he must be killed! A short time after he was induced by treachery to visit the suburbs, where his dead body was afterward found lying on the banks of a stream covered with stabs. The foul deed was traced to the judge. After the death of this martyr the congregation of the town, far from being dismayed, pressed on, stimulated by his faith, until with their own hands they had finished a chapel capable of accommodating sixty persons. A similar case occurred in Joquicingo, where an earnest man, who was in the habit of gathering his friends for the study of the Bible, was murdered very much in the same way, and his corpse likewise found all scarred with the wounds of a dagger.
Such instances are deeply instructive as to the perils and persecutions by which the brethren of this Church have been beset. The most terrible of them was that which occurred in September, 1878, in the town of Atzala. This town, is situated in the State of Puebla. It is perhaps the most fanatical of all the States of the republic, as it has always been the most distinguished for its observance of the Roman Catholic religion. On a Sunday morning the assembled brethren were assaulted by a large band of fanatics, incited by the priest of the village, armed with pistols and daggers and hatchets, and very soon twenty mutilated corpses lay upon the ground in token of martyrdom. The poor widows and children of these, with no earthly hand to aid them, fled from their homes in the utmost terror and distress; but the bells of the Roman Catholic church in the town were made to ring out a triumphant peal in honor of the horrid result! It would occupy many pages to recount all the sad experiences of suffering and sorrow and death through which the brethren of this Church have passed at the hands of the persecutors. Again and again has the arm of the fanatic felled the husband and father in death, while the broken-hearted widow and the orphan have come in their distress to seek the consolations of the Gospel and the aid of the Church. Other brethren, escaping with their lives, have been the victims of the most barbarous assaults, of which they bear the sad evidence in life-long scars or broken health. Others, again, as the result of their union with this Protestant reform, have been subjected to the most cruel physical and mental suffering, for at the instigation of the Roman hierarchy they have been dismissed by their employers, deprived of their livelihoods, and cast out with their wives and children upon the charity of the world. This sort of sorrow has not entirely passed away. Yet in the very nature of the case, as the former corrupt religion is on the wane as an influence in the land, and as more liberal views are rapidly taking its place, such intolerance cannot be openly exerted without incurring the displeasure and interference of the government. With this gradual amelioration a brighter day would soon dawn upon the Church of Jesus, were it not that it has to contend with other serious difficulties.
It will be borne in mind that from the first the character of this Church reformation has been thoroughly evangelical and its polity primitive and catholic, and that during the first years of its existence it had made great progress in the capital, and had extended, in the face of bitter persecution, to many towns and villages of the outlying country. At the same time its earnest people, who were largely drawn from the humbler social ranks, were rendered still poorer by the depredations of fanaticism. Those of them who had brought their fortunes, and consecrated them to the spiritual welfare of their fellow-countrymen, soon found these exhausted and themselves numbered among the poor in this world’s goods. It became more and more necessary that every effort should be made to obtain the sympathy, prayers, and pecuniary aid of fellow-Christians in other lands. The Rev. Mr. Riley was spending his own means without stint to supply the needs of the work, which would oftentimes, humanly speaking, have entirely collapsed but for his willing self-denial and consecration to its highest interests. To his generous gifts he added the most indefatigable efforts to interest the Protestant world in its behalf, and spent much of his time in the United States, laboring to awaken its citizens to the responsibility which was resting upon them in connection with the land adjoining their own. While his earnest appeals were listened to by quite a number of Christians, they fell too often upon listless ears, and many individuals who, out of their own pockets, without missing the money, could have supplied all, and more than was being asked [19/20] for, permitted the opportunity to pass by neglected! A serious responsibility rested upon the American Church, which was not met; for the little, struggling Church in Mexico, in the forefront of the hottest battle, with streaming eyes and bleeding heart, was calling without avail upon her to lend a saving hand. Meanwhile, one of the greatest mistakes on record was being made by other Christian bodies in the United States. These—instead of recognizing the tremendous power of the movement as a united effort to extend the Gospel through the Spanish world; instead of taking the broad Christian view, which would have inspired them to ignore the petty differences which are the bane of the Christian Church all over the world, and to strengthen in every way the hands of this native Church—committed the great error of trying to plant their separate missions in a land where the very mention of foreign intervention had become hateful, and where the people had already learned to love their own little struggling Church, even to the degree of welcoming martyrdom for the sake of that Saviour whose name it was planted to glorify! In this effort, which was destined to create unhappy rivalries among themselves, and to hold up before the Roman Catholics and before the eyes of those composing the little native Church a picture of discord and dissension, Presbyterians and Methodists came to Mexico and planted themselves where, before, unity had been the characteristic of the work. Of course the Romanists rejoiced at this picture of Protestant dissension and rivalry; but the poor little Church of Jesus was made heart-sick by the ill-judged contribution which was threatening their fondest hopes. The mistake was emphatically recognized by gentlemen belonging to the denominations, and who had come to Mexico uninformed as to the true state of the case. The Rev. Mr. Parkes, an independent Congregationalist, who for a time held the agency in Mexico of the British and Foreign Bible Society, boldly stated in New York city, in the parlor of my lamented father, the late Mr. Stewart Brown, his convictions as to the fatal error being made in Mexico by the denominations, and threw his whole influence in behalf of the Church of Jesus.
The Rev. Dr. Carter, of the Northern Methodists, whose thorough knowledge of Spanish enabled him to clearly understand the whole question, even resigned the position of preacher in their mission in Mexico, having been unwilling to stoop to some of the acts of interference in which he was expected to engage by the leader of the mission. A member of the family of Dr. Carter has since forwarded a generous contribution in behalf of the work of the native Church of Jesus. Thus this grave error has been seen, even by members of those Christian bodies which have committed it, to be a stumbling-block in the evangelization of Mexico. The method of the operation of some of those who represent these bodies in Mexico has been certainly no less objectionable, and often characterized by acts totally wanting in Christian courtesy and lacking in the element of Christian honor. Their missions are planted as close as possible to the central operations of the Mexican Church. A person who is an unbeliever has lately come every Sunday morning to count the number of attendants in the congregation of San Francisco. What his precise object was is known to himself. I feel sure that if he came with any sinister purpose, he must have been surprised to find so many present.
These things have taken place during my stay here. Besides them, I have listened to various natives as they have come into the capital who have told me of the actual interference which has been suffered by their congregations at the hands of representatives of some of these bodies, who have not scrupled to go among them, making offers of salaries and other aid if they will leave their own Church and join the missions represented by these seducers. It is well known that some of the natives employed by these bodies as missionaries are men of no moral character—men who have been dismissed from the Church of Jesus for the grossest immorality of life. It is also unquestionable that in some cases their unfitness has been known to some of their Church officers, who have not scrupled to use them to gather in congregations of members of the native Church of Jesus. Many are the instances which might be cited where bribes have been offered to its congregations with the design of absorbing them into the mission from which these offers have emanated.
Thus, from the time when these missions were first introduced, has this system of interference being going on. I think the first of these to be planted was the Presbyterian. This occurred three days before the death of Manuel Aguas. When he heard of it, [20/21] his anxiety for the little Church for which he had sacrificed everything was aroused. With a prophetic eye he foresaw the trials of the future, and prayed that the little Church might be sustained to accomplish its purpose.
The Church of Jesus receives scarcely more than $25,000 per annum even now! This is a sum far below its actual requirements, to say nothing of its extraordinary opportunities. Against this much more than $100,000 is being expended annually among the missions of the denominations referred to, whose increase is chiefly obtained by the absorption of congregations already formed throughout the country by the energy and self-sacrificing efforts of the Church of Jesus. Thus an effort is being made to tear this great work to pieces by those who should be aiding it, and thus, for the lack of a few thousand dollars, is its very existence being risked. The evil, unfortunately, has not been confined to the disintegrations which are being caused on the spot by denominational missions. I am told that some of them, with their friends, have wickedly engaged in spreading the falsest calumnies in the United States against the work, and that they have even leagued themselves with the ritualists there in order to create a reaction against Bishop Riley and the Mexican Branch of the Church. Thus, not content with the use of dishonorable means in Mexico, they have thrown dirt at this work of God in their own homes.
Had the effort of the denominations been solely to extend the work of evangelization in Mexico by saving congregations which the Church of Jesus could not support, however mistaken in their judgment of the true course to pursue, not a word could have been properly raised against them by those who have permitted that Church to remain without sufficient means. Upon these still rests the real responsibility. One word more and I conclude.
Another adversary has appeared in the recent introduction of Mormonism into Mexico. The apostles of this scandalous community are scattering their vile tracts far and wide throughout the land. The action of the government of the United States against them appears to have turned their attention to this rapidly-developing country, and it seems as if they are determined to make their stand here.
Imagine the ravages that they are likely to make among the simple-minded and uneducated natives. Here is a new reason for the Church of Christ to arouse to the performance of her full duty to a people who, through the Mexican Church, are asking for aid in the name of their common Lord and King.
 The little “Church of Jesus” has not been without friends and helpers, God bless them!
Sometime before the year 1864 the British and Foreign Bible Society practically opened the way for its existence by the introduction into Mexico of large numbers of copies of Bibles in the Spanish language.
At the date mentioned a clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was sent here as a missionary. He met with Francisco Aguilar, and saw the work of reformation in which he was engaged. This clergyman spoke of Aguilar and his work in the following terms: “He is a practical man, and combines with the amenities of life and high social qualities the eminent traits of a Christian gentleman and a devout and earnest preacher. In breaking away from Rome he gave up a good living. The cause of Church reform has taken a deep and strong hold on the minds and hearts of many people in Mexico, and, if wisely and rightly directed, cannot fail of success. The work now open to our Church in Mexico is full of promise. That God invites us to its prosecution admits of no question.” The report of this missionary to the Church in the United States led to their extending aid to the Mexican reformation. Meanwhile, the Bibles were accomplishing their blessed work among the people. In their report for the year 1866 the British and Foreign Bible Society published a translation of a communication from Aguilar, in which he said: ‘‘The Holy Book is in good circulation; the liberal party, which is the great body of the nation, receive it with enthusiasm, and those of the working class with veneration and faith, and the Indians carry the Bible to their homes and to their families to study religion. All this, and, above all, the divine intervention in the work induces me to believe that after a while the Bible will be in the hands of all and studied as the book of truth.”
A so-called Episcopal Committee having been organized among themselves in the city of Mexico, this committee sent a duly authorized representative to the United States asking for sympathy and aid in behalf of the work. In response to the earnest request of this representative, the Rev. Mr. Riley came to Mexico in the beginning of 1869, at his own cost. He at once began to interest others in the work. Three societies were conspicuous for their sympathy with it—the American and Foreign Christian Union, the American Bible Society, and the American Tract Society.
A short time afterward he gained the interest of several gentlemen in New York, and a small organization was formed in the interests of the Church reformation in Mexico. This society for some years rendered valuable assistance to the work. About the year 1873 the Rev. Mr. Riley, seeing the rapid and important growth of the movement, and perceiving the need of increased assistance, applied to the American Church Missionary Society, a voluntary association which had been organized in the American Church by some of its bishops and laity. This society at once saw the importance of the work in Mexico, and for several years generously aided the movement.
In 1874 the “Mexican Mission League” had its origin. This was an association of ladies, and was organized expressly to aid the “Church of Jesus.” From small beginnings it has grown until, under the title, “The League in Aid of the Mexican Branch of the Church,” it is represented in many dioceses in the United States. In 1874 the authorities of the Church in Mexico petitioned the American bishops to take the initiatory steps looking toward their eventually transmitting the episcopate to their sister Church in this land. Soon after its spiritual and financial needs were brought by prominent members of the American Church Missionary Society before the Foreign Committee of the Board of Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church, with the view of obtaining this committee’s cooperation in the work. The American bishops, having appointed from their number a commission of seven to respond to the request made to them by the authorities of the Church in Mexico, empowered Bishop Alfred Lee, of Delaware, who was one of their number, and who is now their chairman, to visit Mexico, which he did in 1875, being accompanied [22/23] by the Rev. Dr. Heman Dyer, of New York. While in Mexico he ordained several natives. On returning to New York he reported that the importance of the Church movement here exceeded the representations of it which had been made by the Rev. Dr. Riley; and the commission, after careful consideration, entered into a formal covenant with the Church in Mexico, pledging it the fostering care of the American Church.
The Board of Missions responded favorably to the application for aid in behalf of the Church in Mexico. Soon after the “Mexican League” became formally united with the Board of Missions of the Church in the United States as an auxiliary association. The annual appropriations for the general work by the “Board of Managers” (the present title of that Board of Missions) since it undertook the aid of the work in Mexico, assisted by the generous contributions made to its treasury through the “Mexican League,” have been, in round numbers, $14,000, $17,000, $25,000 per annum, the last sum having been renewed for a second year. It should be stated that several times during these years money in addition has been contributed amounting to several thousand dollars, this extra assistance having been necessary to aid in the repairs of church buildings and other inevitable expenses not directly bestowed upon the work of evangelization. But meanwhile the amounts received for the work have been lamentably inadequate to meet the actual requirements of the extensive and rapidly-growing movement.
In the providence of God, who seems to be watching carefully over this little Church, its needs have to some degree been met. But how? Christian reader, only through the timely aid of Bishop Riley, who has contributed heavily from his personal resources rather than let the noble work be destroyed! Thus one man has been largely bearing the responsibility which rested upon the whole Church! But for this, humanly speaking, the credit of the American Church in the discharge of her duty toward her little struggling sister in Mexico would have been permitted to suffer. Many a time the work would have been absolutely ruined but for the fact that Bishop Riley, taxing his own resources to their utmost, has promptly come forward and met the impending crisis! With cheerful faith and hope that those named by the name of Christ would come to the rescue of their endangered sister, he has in this way, from first to last, laid out, at great personal cost, the large sum of over $70,000! May not the Christian Church well blush at the mortifying statement? And now he finds himself unable longer to bear the strain, and turns with most earnest words asking, in the name of the Lord Jesus, that evangelical Christians throughout the world will save the precious work of this faithful little Church which God has so manifestly named for His own!
Over $100,000 are being spent annually by the denominations already spoken of to destroy its unity and to rend it in pieces. The congregations gathered by means of this large sum are not, as a rule, formed upon new ground, but are composed of those taken, by the sheer force of money in the hour of the greatest need, from under the spiritual protection of the Church of Jesus. Are there not in the world Christians who, of whatever name, are large-minded enough to look beyond the petty limits of sect, and to join in the effort to establish here this native evangelical Church? Yes: there are some such. There are those in the United States who have contributed most nobly in this behalf. Then let us hope that kindred spirits will be found ready to forget the miserable and un-Christ-like rivalries which bring shame to the Christian name, and here in Mexico, where the opportunity is so richly offered, to follow the noble examples of the Rev. Dr. Carter and others already mentioned. Let the wisdom not be forgotten of presenting a common front to a common foe! That foe makes himself known in Mexico under many aspects. I have already noticed some of them: The fanaticism of tottering Romanism, which has done its utmost to crush the little Church by its bitter persecutions, even unto death; the unwise rivalries of sectarians, whose efforts to rend it in pieces may well be illustrated by the words of one from their own midst, who was fully informed of what was passing, and who, soon after Manuel Aguas’s death, finding the Rev. Dr. Riley in New York city, urged upon him at all costs to hurry back to protect the little Church, the assaults upon which, said he, could best be compared to the hungry attacks of eagles when they are fiercely seeking to pull some animal to pieces. Then there are the inroads of infidelity and Mormonism, the lack of money, and all other discouragements incidental to this unhappy state of trial.
But in the midst of all the shadows a light [23/24] falling from heaven upon this earnest little Church reveals a power within it which seems to rebuke all doubt connected with the work. There is here manifested a bright faith on the part of those at the front which brings out in bold relief the encouraging aspect of the work. Here is a native ministry which has been tried and not found wanting. Here are men who will give their lives, as they have given up their livelihoods, rather than be disloyal to their native Church, and whose consistency of principle has led them to refuse with sublime contempt the glittering offers of money which have been made to them if they would betray their Church into the hands of others. Had I the space I could enumerate the details of such offers which have been made to some of those at the very front of the work. Others more humbly situated in the stations outlying from the central work have been many times thus approached, and these offers repulsed with scorn, although out of a condition of actual want. These are noble examples of Christian heroism which should not be lost sight of by those wishing to help forward this little Church. These Mexican Christians love their Church because it is pure and because it is native; it is quite a common thing to see some of them, who from surrounding circumstances have been forced to join with the other Christian bodies, bringing their little ones to be baptized in the Church of Jesus, as if, after all, their home was only to be found in its bosom.
Christian reader, we must not forget the truly consecrated character of those who are leading on these struggling, these often mutilated battalions in the army of Christ. They are men of undoubting faith, men of earnest purpose, men of undying determination to spend and be spent in the Master’s cause. I have often heard of this before. Now I have seen it, and the conviction impressed upon me, after careful observation during nearly three months’ stay among these brethren, is that this Mexican Church of Jesus, in spite of all the difficulties thrown in its way, has triumphed, and triumphed grandly. It stands firm to-day, planted on the Rock of Ages, a little knot of faithful, earnest disciples. It has already spread with marvelous power, and it will continue to grow and extend far and wide throughout this beautiful land a mighty force for God, and will also exercise a most important influence among the whole fifty millions of our fellow-men who speak the beautiful language of old Spain, provided—provided that Christians in other lands respond with power in behalf of its glorious work.
Noble-hearted members of the American Church have for years been generously seeking to promote the cause of Christianity in this vast portion of the great field by contributing in behalf of the work of the Mexican Church of Jesus. The Lord has blessed and owned the gifts of those who have thus contributed, whether out of abundance or from the savings of the humblest. They have not been in vain.
Within a short time past, encouraged by the earnest words of that most noble English bishop—the Bishop of Liverpool—some loyal and true members of the grand old Churches of England and Ireland have been sending their contributions also.
From the very midst of the earnest work of this faithful Church in Mexico, impressed with the feeling of responsibility which is forced upon me by personal observation of it, I implore my fellow-Christians generally in England, Ireland, and America to unite with those few who are nobly aiding this work, and I appeal to those who thus are helping it to redouble their efforts, and, if possible, to increase their gifts. From the heart of Mexico I send this appeal to my fellow-Christians far and wide. For Christ’s sake be faithful to His cause in Mexico, as well as in other portions of the great field!