A SPECIAL CONVENTION
STATE of CONNECTICUT,
TRINITY CHURCH, NEW-HAVEN,
ON THE FIFTH DAY OF MAY,
OCCASIONED BY THE DEATH OF THE
RIGHT REVEREND SAMUEL SEABURY, D.D.
BY ABRAHAM JARVIS, A.M.
PRESBYTER AND RECTOR OF CHRIST'S CHURCH IN MIDDLETOWN.
NEW-HAVEN--Printed by T. & S GREEN.
At a Convention of the Clergy and Laiety of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Connecticut, holden at New-Haven the 5th Day May, 1796:
RESOLVED, That Rev. ASHBEL BALDWIN, Rev. PHILO SHELTON, and ELI CURTISS, Esq. be a Committee to return the Thanks of the Convention to the Rev. Mr. JARVIS, for his Discourse delivered before the Convention this Day in Trinity Church; and request a Copy for the Press.
Signed by Order of Convention,
PHILO PERRY, Secr’y.
TO THE CLERGY, HIS ESTEEMED AND SINCERELY RESPECTED BRETHREN; AND TO THE LAY MEMBERS OF THE CONVENTION, THIS DISCOURSE IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED, BY THEIR AFFECTIONATE BROTHER AND HUMBLE SERVANT,
HEBREWS 13 ch. 7 v.
Remember them who have the rule over you,
who have spoken unto you the word of God:
whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
WHEN the Gospel was first published to the world, the Jews who embraced the faith, were, above all other Christians, hated and persecuted by their unbelieving brethren. As their discouragements were more severe, and their temptations stronger, to renounce that holy religion, to which they had been so lately converted; they stood in need of greater aids to enable them to persevere, and to keep them steadfast in their holy profession to the end.
To these Hebrew converts, the Apostle sends this epistle, wherein he expounds unto them, in all the scriptures, the things concerning Christ; his character and offices; what he should do and suffer, as foretold by Moses and the Prophets. The ministry of Moses was representative and prophetical, the law given by him was preparative, to endure but for a time, until, according to the wisdom and good providence of God, every thing should be prepared [5/6] for the coming of Christ, by whom, the religion he taught would be fulfilled and completed; who was to put an end to that law, and give a new one, which ever after should be the rule for his church, and in him, the spirit of life and salvation unto men. Moses truly was faithful in all things unto which he was appointed, but he was a servant only in that house, of which Christ was the master and builder. Similar to Moses and the law, was Aaron, and the priesthood annexed to it; temporary, and figurative of the priesthood of Christ, which should be unchangeable and eternal, through which, not the Jews only, but all nations were to partake, in the sovereign mercies of their almighty Creator. From thence he argues Christ's power and readiness, to succour and protect them in all their adversities, and to relieve them in all their necessities. And to confirm them further in the faith of the gospel, against every jewish pretention, he represents the great sin and hazard of apostacy; neither could they expect any benefit from their past labours and sufferings, without perseverance. He therefore exhorts them to constancy and patience in their faith, by the examples of former saints, and also by those of their own time, whose faith and lives were well known to them; who had kissed the cross with joy, as it was a sure passport to the embraces of their glorified Redeemer. Remember them who have had the rule over you; who have stood firm under the severest trials, and faithfully spoke the word [6/7] of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
The full purport of which words are expressed in the following paraphrase: "Set before your eyes the bishops and governours that have been in your church, and preached the gospel to you; observe their manner of living, and their perseverance till death; and make their faith, their perseverance, and constancy in the doctrine of the gospel, the example for you to imitate and transcribe." [* Hammond.]
Although we are to set before us, in every instance of duty, the perfect and divine pattern of Jesus Christ, who suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps; yet we see it is (not) unauthorised to propose human and imperfect characters, for our imitation. The history of men in every age affords ample testimony, how much they are influenced and led by the authority and power of example. Among the multitude, small is the number of those men, who are able to mark out to themselves a rule in every part of their conduct. It requires more leisure, and greater capacity, than most men either can or are willing to make use of for that purpose. To their wise men and industrious guides, the bulk of mankind are greatly indebted, for their labours, in teaching them the knowledge, of salvation, and guiding their feet in the way of peace. The respect paid to such labourers in word and doctrine, is no inconsiderable evidence, to what degree religion [7/8] actuated the minds of men, in the early days of Christianity. Their pure faith and pious zeal, we have thus expressed: "We adore the Son of God, but the martyrs, we deservedly esteem for the love which they have borne to their King and Master; and desire to be their disciples and companions." That they might cherish the remembrance of their piety, and perpetuate the influence of their virtues, it soon became customary, to solemnize their memory upon the day of their death, which they considered as their birth-day to a life of happiness and immortality. Thus whilst God was honoured and glorified in his saints, who had enabled them to endure, and then rewarded them for their perseverance; the body of believers was encouraged and excited to follow their examples with firmness and constancy.
That which distinguishes a Christian, from a Jew or a Heathen, is his faith, his knowledge of Christ and the Gospel. By his faith, as it comprehends all the great motives of action, the Christian professes to live, that is, to have all his aims, desires, and actions, governed by what God has revealed. On that foundation he builds his hopes of happiness, derived from the divine promises.
In the eleventh chapter of this epistle, the apostle illustrates, with a beautiful variety of expression, the sovereign efficacy of that divine principle, in the actions and sufferings of the old patriarchs, who lived in the different ages [8/9] of the world, before the coming of Christ; and shews how they overcame all difficulties and temptations, and proved themselves superior to all the snares and corruptions of the world, by the support of that steadfast faith and trust in God, to which all Christians are called.
In the beginning of the twelfth chapter, he applies the account he had given in the foregoing: that since Christians are called to the same faith, which actuated those eminent saints, and thereby were encompassed with such a cloud of witnesses, bearing testimony to its great power and efficacy, all might thence have the fullest assurance, of what they themselves might be able to accomplish. As a finishing support and encouragement in all the duties of their holy religion; and to complete the argument drawn from example; they should fix their minds invariably upon the holy Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith; who for the joy that was set before him, as man, endured the pain and despised the shame of the cross, for which as a due reward, that nature is exalted to the highest dignity and glory, at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Had no other pattern of holy living and dying been prescribed to us, but that of our divine Saviour, the infinite disproportion might have been discouraging; and the perfection of it, might have lessened the force of the example. Absolute wisdom and goodness, therefore, hath not only given for our use, a model of human virtue [9/10] in perfection, that by looking at what is perfect, we might be perpetually growing in grace, until at last, in a future state, we should arrive unto the perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: He hath moreover left on record, for our instruction, instances of men, having no higher privileges than ourselves, and given to them the testimony that they were approved of by him.
In such instances, raised up by the good providence of God, we are led to behold the faith and grace of the gospel, formed in visible image, to which it is highly proper to pay a well directed attention. For certainly, we cannot conceive of a method more effectual, to impress on the minds of Christians, the doctrines of the gospel, than to lay before them particular samples, of what that faith hath been able to effect, under which they profess to act. In this way, men are taught by their eyes, and all their senses; and are left without excuse. So that it must be the personal fault of every particular Christian, if his faith does not produce, under equal circumstances, the like degrees of virtue and holiness, to which others have attained under its influence.
Let it be noticed then, that the man, who confidently asserts, that he was not a whit behind the chief of the apostles; and who calls upon his brethren, to mark well, and to be followers of him, as he was of his holy and crucified Master: this first of saints, that he might [10/11] minister strength and resolution to the faith of Christians, of that day,--and the same stands to awaken, and to quicken ours;--advises--To remember them who have spoken the word of God; and to follow their faith, considering the end of their conversation.--That being compassed with so great a cloud of witnesses--to lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth easily beset us--and to run with patience the race that is set before us.--"Herein alluding, (to use the words of the elegant and pious Bishop Horn) to that prodigious assembly from all parts of the earth, convened at Olympia, to be spectators of the games; before whom the candidates contended, having in view those venerable personages from whose hands they were to receive the palm, and who were immediate witnesses of their respective conduct and merit.--Alluding to these circumstances, St. Paul places the Christian combatant in the midst of a most august and magnificent theatre, filled with all the great and illustrious characters, enumerated in the previous chapter, as having overcome through the power of faith, from the beginning of the world: whose presence should animate and fire him to engage in the contest, with an ambition not to be reprehended, and a spirit altogether invincible."
These ideas, which this beautiful and descriptive allusion excites, prepare us to taste, and feel, the full force and energy of every expression in the passage. It is an argument that can never change, [11/12] or lose its force. That assembly has been enlarging as the church on earth, has, from the days of the apostles down to the present, been constantly sending forth from her bosom, many worthy sons and daughters to add to its number. The Christian combatant of this day, may consider himself as acting upon the same theatre, in the view and observation of the same venerable personages, with the idea swelled, and still more enlarged upon his mind. Happy would be the effects, was the idea cherished in its full magnitude and force. But the argument takes another turn, and stands in a different light, when applied to those characters, while they were in the flesh, exemplifying the power of faith in the Christian warfare. Here we are to consider them as leading the way, and shewing us how mighty is the principle of that religion, to which we, by the good providence of God, are called, to carry us through all temptations, and to keep us steadfast under all trials. In the other state, we are to view them in the full possession of that bliss, to which they were advanced, at the end of their earthly conversation, when their day of labour closed, and this world vanished from their mortal sight; and there contemplate them, as witnesses to us of the unspeakable glories we shall inherit, if we continue to strive and persevere as they did, in the days of their flesh.
Men who lived in former times, we can only remember, by reading their transactions, and commemorating their faith and virtues. By [12/13] contemplating their examples, given in the faithful records of their lives, each one may become his own instructor, and learn a lesson of more value, than all the treasures of the world. How should the lustre of their virtues encourage us to well-doing, and quicken us to an holy emulation? How will they reproach us for our faults, and upbraid our dulness and defects? Let experience be consulted, what we see in others, and feel in ourselves, and this reflection will lead us to see the wisdom and duty of caution, in the choice of our more intimate companions and associates, to whose observation we lay ourselves the more open, as they to ours: and whose pious examples may be to us, a constant and living instruction. It will also direct us, frequently to call up, and contemplate the examples of those, who are deceased; who thereby continue, though dead, to speak and preach to us, what are that faith and life, which are fruits of the spirit, and in the end will carry us to the realm of bliss.
The saints of God at all times inculcate one and the same general lesson. Living by the faith of the Son of God, their holy tempers and purity of manners, deservedly enroll them among the righteous, who shall be held in remembrance, and their patterns in like manner encourage, and engage us, in the uniform practice of virtue and religion.
It is then a tribute, proportionately due to persons of our own age, who are eminent in [13/14] learning, piety and virtue. As they wrought, with all diligence, to gain a clear and right understanding of the doctrines; to follow the faith, and be conformed to the life of those ancient ornaments of Christianity; so are they worthy of being held in remembrance; worthy of the imitation of those of their own times, and of all who shall retain any knowledge of them. "The nearer the example is to us, the more force it acquires. The distant report of confessors and martyrs, of men who died and suffered much for the sake of religion, and the good of mankind: these examples recorded in history, being remote from us, affect us not so sensibly as the instances of piety and virtue, of distinguished fortitude and constancy in our own times, and among our own acquaintances. Their lives, as well as their instructions, admonish us in a friendly and familiar manner, to walk circumspectly and honourably, to be blameless and harmless amidst a perverse generation."--This is the language of those, who rule faithfully in the church of Christ; who speak his word in truth and integrity, and lead the people in the way of holiness, by their own irreproachable life. To remember these men, and to follow their faith, is to retain a lively sense of that affection, esteem and reverence we had of them while living; to recollect their pious instructions, and every help we received from them, which gave light to our understanding of the doctrines, and duties of our holy religion. It is, to give every amiable grace and excellency [14/15] apparent in them, and for which we judged they merited our esteem, such consideration, as will excite us to emulate those excellencies, which heightened their qualifications, and will advance ours, for the glories of immortality.
Let it be regarded then, as highly beneficial, to cherish the idea, and sanction a reverence for the memory of those who have excelled in virtue, and proved champions in the cause of our divine Redeemer. Let it be regarded, as a proof of God's abundant goodness, that he hath let no incentive, adapted to work upon our natures, be wanting, to render us, through his grace, fellow-helpers in the great work of our salvation.--If we nourish in our bosoms the pleasing image of what we admire and love in others, and awaken our thoughts habitually to the immense reward; it will kindle a zeal and resolution to become what we admire, that we may secure to ourselves an enjoyment with them, of what we all so ardently hope for.--Let this be done, and we shall then watch carefully over ourselves, and make it our daily employment to posses our hearts with all those good dispositions, which God requires, which promote our own inward peace, and give pleasure to others. We shall study to be in all things resigned to his will. If he grants to us the good things of this world, and, blesses us with prosperity, we shall believe it is, that we may render him the glory, by doing good according to his bounty. If he sends adversity--that it is to correct and [15/16] amend us, to soften our hearts, and to wean us from the vanities of the world. Then shall we shew that we have faith in God; a faith that will be sufficient and effectual to correct the errors of our souls, and to adorn them with the beauties of the true child of God:--that will prove a shield to guard us against all the attacks of evil:---an anchor to keep us ready and unseduced, by the frowns or flatteries of the world.
By thus taking to us the whole armour of God, and watching with all perseverance, we shall stand, having our loins girded, and our lights burning, and be ready for our Master's coming. So shall we follow the example of those holy persons who are declared blessed for being found so doing.
So shall we hold communion with the saints on earth, by embracing the same common faith and hope of salvation, and by the common offices of piety and charity. We shall at the same time hold communion and fellowship even with the saints departed; by rejoicing at their bliss and happiness; by blessing God for the light of their example; by labouring to follow it ourselves; and by praying, that, together with them, we may at last receive the fulness of joy, and life for ever more.
Thus may we still hold communion with that blessed man, whose deeply lamented death, laid the foundation for this day's solemn assembling. As Christians we must bow with resignation and reverence to the hand of God, [16/17] who with him, has stripped us of so valued a treasure. His vacant seat among us, calls up our sorrow afresh; but we sorrow most of all that we are to see his face no more. We may lament the loss of him, because we feel it; and he that hath chastened us by his removal, certainly wills us to feel the rod, that we may rightly regard it. But he, blessed soul, has fought a good fight, has finished his course, has kept the faith, and is now gone to receive the crown of righteousness; and to be enrobed with that white garment which is the righteousness of the saints. He is gone to the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, who laid down his life for the sheep, and will not fail to reward those who have rightly divided the word of life, and spent their lives in feeding the sheep of his pasture.
Just exceptions, I know, are often made against funeral characters, as exhibiting assemblage of virtues, the portrait of partiality, and the child of fancy, but not formed from a living original. The justness of the exception is allowed--it should give caution, but cannot be a reason for its total disuse. When any person hath been eminent in his station and character, whether sacred or civil; when he has done distinguished service in the church of God; to let such drop unnoticed from the scene would be criminal ingratitude. God hath said the memory of the just shall be blessed. By giving praise, and being thankful to God for the labours of his faithful servants, after they are called [17/18] from their post, and rest in their beds, we do his will. It is a tribute due to those who are gone, and may be greatly useful to those who are yet behind, travelling in the vale, and running with patience the race set before them. Behold we count them happy who endure, are the words of God's spirit and his church, spoken by St. James.
This was the voice of the primitive Christians, when they assembled at the graves of their holy men and martyrs, and celebrated their praises, with hymns, thanksgivings, and funeral orations; exhorting each other to piety and virtue by their examples. For this, the words of our text might be thought an apostolical authority.
In that important light, long, I trust, will Bishop SEABURY be remembered, who Hath left his memorial in our hearts; long will his name live in our church, as worthy of all commendation. In the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty three, as the war with Great-Britain was drawing near to a close; while we were unable to confer with our brethren in the other states, but anxious to take the earliest and most effectual measures our best discernment could suggest, to procure a valid episcopate, on which, under God, the continuance and enjoyment of our religious profession would probably depend; the clergy of this state, agreed to elect some person, to be invested with that important office. Two persons occurred to our minds, Doctor Leaming, and Doctor Seabury. The [18/19] former, by his amiable life among us, and excellent services, merited our affections, esteem and confidence; he had a just claim to our attention, and was our first choice. Debility, and the many bodily infirmities under which he then laboured, caused him to decline, as altogether unfited for an enterprise that required great vigour and firmness of mind. These were conspicuous in Doctor Seabury, who, in every other respect also, was the man to our wishes. He accepted of our choice; and without delay undertook to carry our desires into effect. To the English Bishops, there appeared obstacles existing in the British government, which, it was necessary to get removed, as the first step in the prosecution of the business. Until that was done, they judged it would not be consistent, either with their wisdom or duty, to give him consecration. Efforts were made, but unhappily without success; and no assurance could be obtained, that our application would be more fortunate at any future period. In this situation, what remained to be done? The alternative before him was, either to desert the cause, or to apply elsewhere. To give over the pursuit, and let the object be lost, in his hands, was irreconcilable to his faithful and persevering mind. The circumstances finally compelled him, as they did us to desire him, to lay the condition and state of our suffering church before the Bishops in Scotland, with our requests to them for his consecration. That venerable body readily accepted of the application and freely [19/20] conferred on him the episcopate. This event therefore, we are authorised to believe, laid the foundation for the episcopate that is now in the American States.
After two years absence, and chiefly at his own expense, he returned to us. By which auspicious event, our church was furnished with a proper priesthood; and by his discreet management, and eminent talents we were put on a footing as encouraging as our best reason would suffer us to expect. And this day, my Brethren of the clergy, we are able, and as willing to declare one to another, and to the world, how happy we were under him, as our spiritual father, brother, companion and friend. With manners engaging, and by a method judicious and easy, he would commonly collect our opinions, and if different in any matter, bring them together, and so accommodate them to his own, as, with very few exceptions, to maintain a most pleasing harmony and union among us. His visitations to all the churches in his diocese were frequent, more so than perhaps consisted with his health, usually preaching wherever he went. The people always received him with pleasure, and a numerous audience heard him gladly.
Thus did that excellent prelate, for near eleven years, fill his seat, and with great dignity execute his office. The whole of that time he was an admirable pattern and example, conformed to the character described in the text. He [20/21] had the rule over us, and spoke the word of God; so that we may confidently call upon our people to follow his faith--the faith that was once delivered to the saints.
He was born and educated in this state. To the place where he received his birth he was an honour, as he was to the school of sciences wherein he laid the foundation of his future greatness. Blessed with a clear understanding, and tenacious memory, a quick comprehension, and solid judgment; these happy endowments enabled him, by an extensive reading, and intense thinking, to render his mind a rich repository of solid and useful learning. As his own resources became great, he was indeed conscious of them, but never dogmatical or assuming; the only use he made of them was to be more instructive and agreeable. His judicious arrangement of thoughts, was evident to all he convened with, by his uncommonly clear and easy method of communicating them. This was one circumstance which made him so excellent a preacher. In his preaching he did not affect to appear learned, but his discourses always fully discovered both his natural and acquired abilities. The great and good man, ever appeared in the plain speaker.
Theological niceties, and conjectural divinity were ever his aversion, because too refined and visionary either to be felt or comprehended. His one object, and therefore his chief care was to explain the great articles of faith, and rules of life, what we must believe, and how we must live, that we may be eternally happy.
His own vital sense of religion infused itself into his discourses, and animated them with the same divine passion that warmed his own breast. His mind was too great to seek popular applause, he only wished to have his labours well received that he might do good; that he might prevail upon people to seek their own spiritual welfare, that he might promote the cause of Christ's church, and advance pure and undefiled religion. Confident of the solid grounds on which his religion relied, he was agreeable to the natural firmness of his mind, inflexible in his principles; these he accounted sacred; from which on no occasion would he allow himself to deviate, yet with a graceful ease he could give up any thing, but the truth; and even that he would support, if possible without giving offence.
He deliberately entertained a high opinion of the church, whose most dignified office he sustained; because he believed her to be built on the foundation of the apostles--Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone. Her interest, as a spiritual society, abstracted from worldly power and policy, he endeavoured with great integrity to maintain, as he supported her divine authority with a masterly hand.
His is stability and zeal, his attachment and perseverance in the true faith, claim a more than ordinary [22/23] notice, at a time when so many fit loose to the fundamental articles of Christianity, think lightly of the great mysteries of our redemption by Christ; and if they do not openly avow infidelity, covertly sap the foundation of revealed religion, under the specious name of morality.
Against principles so repugnant to Christianity and dangerous to the souls of men, a number of those discourses he published are an excellent guard. The whole are a set of fine sermons, well calculated for the use of families. Some were professedly composed for their instruction in the nature and economy of Christ’s church, and all are on subjects chosen to teach them, what, as members of that church, they are to believe and practice. Those who read them with attention, will ever find improvement, and all judges of sound reasoning and correct composition, in compliment to their own good judgment and taste, must admire the author.
Though in his last visitation some appearances of declining health were seen with concern; yet it pleased God without any preparatory admonition, to come suddenly in an instant, and at once open a passage for his soul into the world of spirits. He had nearly reached the years, which number the age of man, yet his naturally sound and vigorous constitution, without any apparent decay of his mental powers, gave reasonable hopes, that his useful life would be [23/24] continued for years to come. Unerring wisdom judged otherwise. He was ready, and his Lord hath called him from his station and labours here on earth, to join his church in the world above.
As both are but one church; so we may believe, that those whom he makes rulers, to whom he commits the greatest places of power and dignity, if they adorn their office, and faithfully discharge their trust here, he will not degrade in the other world. This we may infer from those words of Christ to his apostles: Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. That is, your reward and glory in the other world, shall answer to that place of trust and power and dignity, which you have had in the church on earth. And this promise was no more peculiar to the apostles, than their office. Now, if we seriously consider the state of the other world, that the blessed Jesus sits there, enthroned in majesty and glory, king of saints, and priest of the most high God, we may safely believe, that, however little the office of the priesthood is thought of in this world; and his servants often left to do the service of his altar on earth, in much poverty and want; a very different scene will open,when we come into that kingdom, where the king is himself an [24/25] high priest, and will reward the labours of all those who serve him in sincerity and truth. [* When a man is careful to say what is good, and to do what is honest, to speak well and act better, endeavouring to be what he would seem to be, avoiding all suspicions and appearances of evil, when he is zealous according to his capacity for the promoting of public good, acting sincerely, prudently and justly; endeavouring to make the times the better for him wherever he lives, this will be the most effectual means to make his name honourable and his memory precious. Bishop Wilkins.]
We have one Lord, who is our head, one faith, as a principle of action, one spirit to quicken and knit us together in that one faith, one hope of our calling, to animate us in our duty, one church, the body of that one Lord, in which we serve, let the servants be one in peace and love. Let us discharge our duty faithfully in that holy church, and wait patiently [25/26] a while, and the Lord will come, and his reward is with him, and blessed, for ever blessed, are those servants, whom their Lord when he cometh, shall find so doing.
Finally, Let us ever bless God’s holy name for all his servants departed this life in his faith and fear, and beseech him to give us grace, so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of his heavenly kingdom.
And, with our prayers for this unspeakable gift, let it be our incessant care, to make good that apostolic exhortation, which equally concerns, and is equally directed to all.
My beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.
To God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, dominion and power, now and forever more. AMEN.