Seventy Years Since. A SERMON, PREACHED FEBRUARY 27, 1848.
That we should not hide them from the children of the generations to come; but show the honor of the Lord, his mighty and wonderful works that He hath done.--Ps. lxxviii. 4.
THERE is much to be gathered from the fact that so many of the Psalms are poetical summaries of historical events. They were part of the Jewish liturgy, as they are part of ours: and thus GOD took care that his people should never forget the marvellous works He had wrought in their behalf. Day after day, and year after year, these histories were recited to the praise and glory of GOD. Theywere not only continually brought to mind; but they were publicly commemorated with thanksgiving. Hence we may infer, among other things, that it is our duty to trace the more modern history of the Church; to learn, and to feel what we owe to GOD, and to his chosen instruments of blessing; and to take care that after ages shall learn from us, not only the noble works which the LORD is doing in our day, but also what he hath done in the old time before us. Such I take to be the spirit of the text, and of the glorious ode from which it comes: and I could wish it were never recited in the Church, without recalling to every heart the parallel events in the history of the Christian Church; or at least a grateful recollection of GOD'S manifold dealings with our own Church, of whose short but interesting story a Churchman cannot be blamelessly ignorant.
It is now just fifty-two years since the first American Bishop rested from his labors. He was our own diocesan; and after half a century, during which the mortal remains of this good and great man have been lying in humble but venerable repose, the diocese of Connetcicut has thought good to "give commandment concerning his bones." The parochial Church of New London [1/2] of which he was both Rector and Bishop, and which has flourished under the rich legacy of his pastoral blessing, is now rebuilding; and from its durable material, and architectural beauty, is worthy to be made the final resting-place, in which his dust shall rest in hope. It is proposed, therefore, to remove his remains to a sepulchre under that holy house, and to adorn the walls of the chancel with a fitting monument, by the voluntary contributions of Churchmen throughout the diocese. The open burial-place which now contains his relics is not only liable, but even likely to be disturbed by the progress of civic improvement; and at all events is no suitable spot for those affectionate visits to his grave, which it is the instinct of many hearts to pay. To the memory of one senior Bishop--the venerated White--a monumental Church has been erected in Philadelphia: Bishop Griswold--his successor--is commemorated by a sculptured effigy, executed by command of the diocese of Massachusetts; to the second Bishop of Connecticut filial piety has reared a becoming tribute in the Church, beneath whose altar he sleeps in New Haven; but to the memory of her earliest shepherd, Connecticut has not raised a stone; and though private regard has not left him without a monument, it is not undervaluing it to say that it is such as might be thought due to the humblest parish-priest, and is quite unworthy of the present circumstances of this wealthy diocese, and of the grave of SEABURY. I am glad, therefore, than an opportunity is given us of contributing to the design of a more suitable memorial; and I likewise rejoice that so good an occasion is afforded me, on the principle of the text, of reviewing the history with which the name of Seabury is connected. It is not to commemorate him so much as to refresh your souls with the story of what GOD wrought by him for his holy Church; and I have chosen this time for the purpose, because it was on the 25th of February that he fell asleep; just surviving the celebration of the feast of that apostle whose admission to the vacant bishopric of Judas began the unending succession, which we received through Bishop Seabury.
The Revolution has proved a great blessing to our Church, but at first it threatened it with destruction. It was then a feeble thing, brought up as it were by a dry-nurse, and dependent for its support upon the patronage of the Venerable Society in England. Of course the war put an end to the imperfect supervision [2/3] which had been extended to us, by the Bishop of London; many of our missionary pastors were recalled; others were not permitted to officiate, because as British subjects they felt bound to pray for the King; Churches were shut up, or allowed to fall into ruins; flocks were scattered; and every where church-property and church-principles went to waste. Deprived of the care of their own pastors, many nominal Churchmen became imbued with false doctrine and heresy; others, from the life they led in the army, or from the reading of infidel or rationalistic books, privately adopted the worst forms of irreligion, and yet adhering nominally to the Church, endangered its faith and worship, by favoring the most fatal alterations. The Clergy themselves were much divided in principle, and alienated in feeling; part believing that the oath of allegiance, taken at ordination, made it perjury for a priest to share in the revolution, and part regarding it as merely obliging them to obedience to magistrates, and maintaining that the indepedent States had become, to them, the "powers ordained of GOD." It must also be owned with shame and sorrow, that some of the Clergy had availed themselves of the confusion to renounce their orders and return to the world; while others had allowed their theology to degenerate into that cold and barren system of morality, which, as owing its existence in the Anglican Church to the deadly influence of the first Georges, has been called Hanoverianism. It is delightful to remember, however, that there were everywhere exceptions to this sad rule of degeneracy; exceptions, the more noteworthy, because to be an exception was to be a martyr. It was the day that tried men's souls; and none stood firm, but such as were willing to strive for the truth unto death: yet it is not boastfulness, but truth, that makes me add, that the Clergy of Connecticut stood almost alone in fidelity to church principles, and patient trust in GOD. Such is the impartial testimony concerning them of the present Bishop of Oxford, in his valuable History of our Church. Elsewhere, every thing portended ruin. We had no Bishops, and the prospect was that none could be obtained. A Church without a Bishop was a Church that could not surivive the passing generation; and the prospect, according to human probabilities, was that the American Church would soon cease to exist, or only survive as a sect among sects, having no part or lot with the Catholic and Apostolic Church.
 Such was the state of things as the war drew to a close, and the Independence of America assumed an air of reality. There were three classes of Churchmen; those who did nothing and cared nothing; those who despaired of divine help, and suggested human expedients; and those who with the faith of righteous Abraham, "against hope believed in hope," and remembering the promise that GOD will not fail His people, "were fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform."--Nothing proves the extremity of the times more forcibly than the humiliating fact that one who afterwards showed himself one of the best of men, and who has left a name in the Church to be cherished through all generations, as second only to Seabury's, was for a moment "staggered through unbelief," and on the ground that necessity knows no law, ventured to proposed and defend the adoption of a nominal episcopacy, until genuine consecration could be obtained. A suggestion so suicidal, yet withal so plausible, and from a source so respectable, filled the few and faithful with alarm. To estimate the danger, we must pause a moment, and suppose this counsel had been adopted. The Church would have become by the very act a schismatical society. There is not in the whole land, a fanatical sect whose commission to teach and baptize would have been less invalid than hers; and our hold upon the promises, with those inestimable blessings and comforts which flow from a confidence that we are indeed built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, would have been forfeited like Esau's birthright, and all for want of "faith as a grain of mustard seed," to trust in the LORD, and await His time! Had this inconsiderate advice prevailed, moreover, the Church of Rome would have entered the field without an adversary, bearing the only apostolical commission in America, and forcing many souls to embrace all her evil, in order to gain the good, which we had thrown away.
It would have been a consummation at which Popery would have clapped its hands, and at which, not less than Popery, dissent would have exulted, pointing the finger and crying in derision--"art thou become as one of us." How great, then would have been the sin of such a course! The issue has proved that the supposed necessity was only "the lion in the way," which slothfulness is always ready to discover; and it furnishes the best comment upon the position of those congregations in Europe, which acting accordingly, on a similar pretence [4/5] have so generally shown themselves by increasing heresies to be cut off from the vine, "trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots." That we were saved from such a fate, all glory be to Him who walks amid the golden candlesticks, and holds its stars in his right hand! Yet, under GOD, the praise is due to that little band which in those trying days, held themselves together, as the Clergy of Connecticut. They saw that the danger was imminent, and that the time had come for action. While others amused themselves with theories, they on the other hand, set themselves to deal with facts. The facts were that they were a flock without a shepherd, and had a right to expect one from the Great Shepherd of the sheep, at the hands of His Church in England. As soon, then, as the peace made it possible, they assembled, almost with the privacy of the eleven at Jerusalem, and finally elected, from among themselves, the man whom nature and grace had best qualified for the office; at the same time addressing a petition to the Bishops of England, to consecrate him, and make him their Bishop. The Bishop elect was Seabury.
Before the British troops had evacuated New York, he was on his way to England, with little to encourage him that his errand would be successful, but with characteristic energy resolved not to despair, while any thing remained to be done. Though kindly received in England, his anticipations of difficulties were fully realized. The Bishops were disposed to give him a hearing, but it was a new idea, an experiment, a grave and responsible question, on which opinion was divided in America, and much more in England. But besides, even if they should be convinced of the propriety of consecrating the Bishop elect--their hands were tired.--Without an act of Parliament, they could not legally proceed to consecrate any one, refusing the oath of allegiance to King George. To get such an act the ministry must be conciliated. But the ministry were tired and sick of American affairs; provoked at the issue of the war; indifferent as to the Church; and secretly desirous of forcing American Churchmen to emigrate to Nova Scotia, or other provinces, for the enjoyment of their religion. After nearly a year had been consumed in fruitless negotiation, and much correspondence with Connecticut for the satisfaction of the English Bishops, it became apparent that nothing could be expected from the ministry, and the Archbishop of Canterbury [5/6] was obliged to discourage any further expectations. Here, then the worst predictions of the expediency-party appeared to be fulfilled, and the supposed extremity, confirmed. A spirit less resolute, a discrimination less clear, and a faith less firm than Seabury's, would have yielded to the apparent necessity; and who then would have ventured to deny its existence, and to stand up for the truth of GOD?
The ancient Church of Scotland was at this period a little smouldering coal, to all appearance, just about to expire, under overwhelming misfortunes. For a long time its worship had been illegal, and had been celebrated in upper rooms and secret places; and even then it was barely tolerated, and so far as it was known was the object of the bitterest prejudice. Still it had preserved not only the apostolical succession; it had maintained THE FAITH in its purity; and, having been deprived of all its temporalities, was entirely free from the State, and able to act for itself. When Seabury began to think seriously of applying to what were sneeringly called the Jacobite Bishops, for the boon which our mother Church, in her gilded fetters, could not grant, his daring purpose must often have been shaken by anxieties which only prayer and faith could dispel. The obscurity of such a source of Orders, must have been the very least objection which he had to confront and put aside. The whole responsibility rested upon himself.--How his course would be viewed at home, and in England; what effect it would have upon the different parties in America; whether he would be welcomed as a deliverer, or censured and disowned for having transcended his instructions; whether it was an expedient suggested by human wisdom, or was an act of faith in God who had opened an unexpected door-all these questions must have been thoroughly canvassed in the circle of his few advisers, and in the lone watches of the night. His decision, and its issue, show that his head was as clear, as his heart was sound. Those who have never studied the political questions connected with the Scottish Church, cannot possibly estimate aright the delicacy of his position, or the real greatness of his determination. The Church to which he now addressed his petition was almost unknown in America; in England it was scorned; in Scotland it was persecuted. Yet it was this suffering Church, that was now honored to send an apostle to the New World; and she that was ready to perish, was made the blessed means of saving us from [6/7] perishing. How wonderful are the ways of God! When, a century before, that Church was despoiled, and all but destroyed, it seemed an inscrutable providence. But suffering had purified her, and fitted her for a noble work; and after a hundred years it began to appear that when William of Orange--the butcher of Glencoe--became the spoiler of Scotland's Church, he only enabled her to extend herself into another hemisphere, and to become a blessing to the ends of the earth! So, then, the Church which they counted dead and buried, was alive again; and privileged by her Master to do that for America, which the Church of England, with all its outward glory, was not permitted to perform. See, dear brethren, how God overrules the wrath of man, and makes the princes of this world work out His good pleasure, when they suppose they are only doing their own!
When I review this remarkable history, with some of its bearings and consequences; when I observe its ripening fruits, and anticipate its yet unfulfilled results; results that are even now reacting on Scotland, and England too; I cannot but recognise and adore the visible hand of God. And in spite of our present degrading difficulties and awe-suggesting dangers, when I reflect upon this signal proof of His goodness and favor towards us, and compare it with passages in the History of the Primitive Church, and that of the ancient people of God, I cannot but feel that He has called our Church into being for some noble end, and that she is destined to perform some magnificent part in His great plans of mercy to the world. Let it teach us, in all trials, and under all temptations, to have steadfast faith in God!
From the Scottish Church, Bishop Seabury returned to America with the apostolical commission; but that was not all-for by communion with those primitive Bishops, he had been established, strengthened and comforted in the Faith; by examining their condition and learning their experiences, he had been fitted to lay the foundations of a great Church, entirely independent of the State; and he had been animated, by their sympathy, to resist with new zeal and steadfastness, any attempts of false brethren, to destroy or mutilate the ancient standards of the Church. On the 3d of August, 1785, he met his clergy at Middletown, and was received as their bishop with tears of gratitude and joy! For the first time in America was seen, that day, a Bishop administering holy orders; strengthening the brethren; and sitting among [7/8] his presbyters and deacons, like St. Cyprian risen from the grave, to take sweet counsel with them for the flock of God, which He purchased with His own blood,
Connecticut,--under the good hand of Christ--had saved the Church. Her triumph had proved that there was no excuse for temporizing; no expediency in desperation. Good Churchmen, in other States, could point triumphantly to her example, and insist on its being followed; rind as the result, a Convention of the Southern dioceses was held; Bishops were elected; and the application was made again to England to consecrate for America. The wisdom of Seabury's conduct soon began to appear. The application now presented itself in a new light. A Bishop was actually settled in America, and governing his diocese without molestation. There was, therefore, no use in the pretence which had been urged before, that a Bishop would not be tolerated in America. Besides, the ministry were now obliged to abandon their hopes of forcing American Churchmen to quit the country in search of their religion. The applicants for consecration were independent of them; and it only remained for ministers to decide whether the Jacobites should acquire new consequence, by identifying themselves with the Church in America, or whether American Churchmen should be conciliated by an act of courtesy, which, before the Revolution, they had been entitled to demand, and which even now was their moral right. Better motives influenced the Bishops and clergy, sums of whom made noble efforts in our behalf: but such were the considerations that prevailed with courtiers. The act of Parliament was obtained; and three American presbyters, as you are aware, received English consecration at Lambeth; but no candid examiner of the history, at which I have glanced, will be disposed to deny, that, so far as we are indebted to any human instrumentality, we owe our English, as well as our Scottish succession, to the labors, the intrepidity, the sound judgment, and the bold resources of Bishop Seabury, he was our first Presiding Bishop, and all our Bishops have derived their orders in part from him; and though he assumed the presidency by the courteous request of Bishop White, and resigned it, at the unbrotherly and bitter demand of Bishop Provoost, his true position rests upon too broad a foundation to be affected by his meek waiving of his conventional precedence Time is deliberately settling all false issues, in favor of claims [8/9] which he never urged, but which history cannot forbear to press as his just due, presenting his name to the grateful memory of future generations as that of the apostle of our American Church. But it is not alone the services of which I have spoken that give him so honorable a name: it is due to him for his successful efforts to establish us in the profession of the Faith. I have spoken of the unsound views which characterized some of our clergy: alas! it has already become matter of history, that none of them were more deeply infected than two of the three, who had been consecrated Bishops, in England. The first Bishops of New York and Virginia, however well bred as gentlemen, were men wholly unqualified for their work; and the former appears to have been corrupt in doctrine, beyond what would now be sufferable in an intelligent lay-communicant. Their theological education was doubtless very defective; they were men of no fondness for the work of the ministry; and the idea of extending the Church seems never to have entered their minds. The Church had Bishops, but was in some respects worse off than before. The only failing in the pure, lovely and patriarchal Bishop White, was just that which rendered him incapable of withstanding the blind prejudices of his brethren; and there was danger on their part of high-handed innovations; on his, of ruinous compliance. The Athanasian creed had been violently thrust out of the liturgy, by a bare majority, of a very small convention; the invocations that begin the Litany were threatened; the Apostles' creed had been tampered with; the Nicene creed had been reluctantly retained, at the demand of the English Bishops; and many of the noblest and most essential parts of our ritual were marked for a similar mutilation, on grounds which it was heresy to suggest. Perhaps much more would have been effected by the destructionists, were it not that latitudinarianism in divinity usually involves indolence in action, and indifference in morals. On the contrary, the opposite principles, from the days of Athanasius have ever been the nerve of conscience and the main-spring of energy. God had fitted Seabury to do for America, what Athanasius did for the whole Church. He fought alone. Yet I mean not to disparage the services of the excellent Bishop White. The Lord had need of both these good men. Seabury was deliberate and judicious, but withal resolute, efficient, unyielding White was gentle, conciliating, and prudent. What Seabury preached with boldness, [9/10] White recommended with suavity. White maintained, when Seabury was with him, what he would have conceded by himself; and the opponents yielded to White, what they would have contested with Seabury, to the death. In fine, the union of the Churches as one national Church could not have been effected without White; but we owe it to Seabury that they united on principles substantially sound. The LORD gave us a Peter to preach truth, as well as a John, to teach love.
The Office for the HOLY EUCHARIST, embracing the Creeds, is the very marrow and soul of any liturgy; and where that is essentially sound, no liturgy can be consdered as substantially imperfect. To Seabury, and through him to the Scottish Church, we owe it, under GOD, that this lively token of a standing or a falling Church remains to us, not only entire, but imbued with a fulness of organic health, of which even the English office has been in a measure despoiled. As this Office is emphatically the Liturgy, its integrity and beauty should comfort us for some minor beauties of our ritual which were marred, or taken away, by our reviewers. On the whole, the Common Prayer remains to us, next to Holy Writ, our dearest treasure; and gratefully ought we to remember, if we love it as we ought to love it, that Bishop Seabury saved the Prayer-book.
If the faith was imperfectly held in those times, it may be inferred that the theology of the day, was very loose and defective; for theology is only the faith illustrated and applied. Of our pulpit, though there were not wanting noble defenders of the primitive teaching, which distinguished the theology of England in the 17th century--I fear that Hanoverianism was the prevalent tone. Witnesses for Catholic doctrine were indeed posted here and there throughout the land; but Seabury was their champion and chief, and strange as it may sound--New England was their tower of strength. By the blessing of GOD, those inspiring principles, into which he baptized and catechized and reared his people, have gradually spread through the length and breadth of our Church; and before them the cold rationalism with which it first contended has dwindled away. In spite of the rapid increase of our members, and the almost indiscriminate additions which have been made to our ministry, on account of the wants of our population--it is impossible not to see the most encouraging proofs that sound principles are taking deeper and deeper root, and more and [10/11] more leavening the whole mass of our people. Disorganizers and fanatics among us seem only to develope our strength, and work their own confusion and rebuke; and successive sessions of our great legislature, representing the recent, and the older dioceses ogether, shew that we have, on the whole, an intelligent and faithful laity, the best proof of a sound and working clergy, and an index of what may be hoped from their children, when they shall succeed to the care of the Church, as humble and devoted laymen, zealous priests, or reverend fathers in GOD. For these blessed results, contrasted with a beginning so inauspicious, to whom are we chiefly indebted! I do not forget to acknowledge, first of all, beloved brethren, the HOLY SPIRIT, manifesting His presence with us; guiding us into all truth, and causing us to take root downward and bear fruit upward. I do not forget the sanative and plastic influence of a primitive ritual, correcting and amending the abuses of those who would administer it unfaithfully, and like a living stream clearning itself, as it goes on, of all that would discolour its brightness. Nor do I forget the noble labors of Bishop HOBART; a prelate to whom, under GOD, our theology owes more directly, than to any other man, its purification and the practical energy with which it has been imbued.--But I remember that Hobart wore the mantle of Seabury, and ever rejoiced to bear testimony that the principles which he afterwards proclaimed throughout the land, were witnessed, and carried into consistent practice, from the beginning of his episcopate, by the first Bishop of Connecticut.
To this hasty review of what I may call his metropolitical services to the Church, I might add much to prove that he was not less a benefactor to his immediate diocese. But you can be no strangers to what we in Connecticut, owe to Bishop Seabury. He was not a man of abortive schemes; of enterprises hastily projected, and soon abandones: and hence in the evils days in which he laboured he was not ambitious to effect much that is showy, or that starts surprise. But he laid deep and strong foundations: and whatever is liberal in learning, sound in doctrine, wise in operation, large in charity, and discreet in zeal, that he encouraged, stimulated or inspired; leaving us to direct and apply his great principles to particular objects, but himself furnishing the impulse and the power.
And let me commend all that he did to your hearts, by reminding you in conclusion, that the good [11/12] he gave us was not such as cost him nothing; it was purchased by a life of poverty, self-denial and suffering. Seabury was in fact a confessor, and in will a martyr. He endured want; he endured imprisonment; he endured reproach; he endured contempt; he endured perils by land and sea; and all that we might enter into his labours, and enjoy the blessed privileges in which we live, and train our children, and in which we hope to die. He was, in short, a man who in Milan, would have been found an Ambrose; in Constantinople, a Chrysostom; at Smithfield, a Ridley; in Lambeth, a Sancroft; on Tower-Hill, a Laud. Posterity will confirm this judgment; and for ourselves, let us not forget our benefactors; but if our brief review this day of the early history of our Church awakens within us any sense of gratitude to God, for the great dangers through which He has preserved and handed down to us the blessing of a pure faith, a primitive ritual, and the communion of saints, let us remember the duty "that we should not hide them from the children of the generations to come; but show the honor of the Lord, his mighty and wonderful works that he hath done."
It was a beautiful congruity that the last holy-day which Bishop Seabury kept on earth, was the feast of St. Matthias, which he only just survived. Thus having become the first of a long line of Bishops, and the founder of a Church, his last breath seems to have gone forth in the Collect for that holy feast, beseeching God in behalf of his diocese, and the whole Church of America, "that being always preserved from false apostles, it may be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors, though Jesus Christ our Lord." Amen.