Through the merciful goodness of our heavenly Father, the General Convention of our churches has again been permitted to meet in council; and according to our custom and to the canons of our church, we, your bishops, at the close of our. deliberations, and at the request of the House of the Clerical and Lay Deputies, address to you this letter on the present state of the churches under our pastoral care, and the duties incumbent on those who desire the promotion of their prosperity and peace.
But, in the performance of this duty our minds are filled with mournful recollections of the past. He who so long presided in our councils, and to whom, with the most reverential regard, we have been accustomed to look, as a father in Israel and a spiritual guide,--he, on whose wisdom and pen we have chiefly depended in expressing our sentiments and advice in these our Pastoral Addresses, has been called from his earthly labors;--his spirit has departed to the church above, and his mortal remains now rest in the tomb. But though dead he yet speaketh in the excellent productions of his pen, which remain as the lasting monuments of his piety and wisdom. Like the apostle Peter, he has very successfully "endeavored that we may be able, after his decease, to have in remembrance the things" most essential to Zion's prosperity. On this occasion there is a peculiar fitness in our directing your attention to what he has taught.
 We are called on this occasion to lament the decease of another of our Episcopal brethren, the Right Rev. William Murray Stone, D. D. who has been more recently taken from the field of his faithful labors. From our small number have two been taken since our last convention, admonishing us who survive to labour with diligence, and to be also ready.
With thankfulness to the Giver of all good we are permitted to report that others have been added to the House of Bishops. Soon after the close of our last convention in 1835, the Rev. Jackson Kemper, D. D. was consecrated to the Episcopal supervision of our churches in the states of Indiana and Missouri, and not long after the Rev. Samuel Allen M'Coskry was ordained bishop of Michigan.
This Convention has been fully attended; the bishops have all been present, and the business has been conducted with much diligence, perfect harmony, and brotherly-kindness.
The doings of the Convention will be seen in its published journals. As among the things most interesting, we may here mention, that Dioceses have been duly organized in Florida, Louisiana, and Indiana, and have all been admitted into a union with this convention. Some new canons have been made and others altered, and, as we trust, improved. We hope soon to have such a code of ecclesiastical law, that further alterations will be seldom needed.
The calls for more episcopal labors and supervision are many and urgent, and after deliberation and prayer, the House of Bishops have nominated and the House of Deputies have elected the Rev. Leonidas Polk, of Tennessee, to be a Missionary Bishop of Arkansas, and whose labours, It is expected, will at first be chiefly bestowed on the vacant dioceses in south-western parts of the United States.
The proposed alteration of our General Constitution, so as, under certain restrictions, to allow very large Dioceses to [4/5] be divided, has been adopted; and the Diocese of New-York is availing itself of this permission, and taking measures to form a new Diocese in the western part of that state, which business, it is expected, will, in November next, be completed.
Your Bishops, deeply feeling the need which the Church has of more ministers, from a solemn sense of duty request our clergy to present the subject before their respective congregations, exhorting parents and others to give the children under their care such religious education as may lead their thoughts to the christian ministry, and prepare their minds for its due exercise, and to call upon those who have piety and talents, which are suitable to a right exercise of this sacred office, to consider, with all seriousness and prayer, whether they are not called of God to labour in this work.
The report on the state of our churches, which we have received from the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, is highly gratifying, and calls for our united thankfulness and praise. Throughout the United States, and especially in the western parts of our country, the number of our clergy and of our churches, and the calls for our ministrations are rapidly increasing.
The advanced age and other infirmities of the Bishop of the Eastern Diocese, has induced the Convention of Massachusetts, according to the Canon, for such case provided, to elect one to assist him during his life, and to succeed him, in that State, after his decease. The Rev. Alonzo Potter, D. D. was almost unanimously elected; and it is hoped, that after his return from Europe, which is soon expected, he will accept the appointment.
Among this large body of people composing the present Convention, assembled as they are from all parts of the United States, with, as we may suppose, various opinions and conflicting interests, their deliberations on these and many other subjects, have uniformly been conducted with such [5/6] harmony, peace, and love, as to he a striking and very affecting proof that the Spirit of God has been with us; and it should cause us to bow before him with thankful adoration.
If, in this present address, we again direct your attention to some things which have been noticed in our former letters, let it be remembered that we need line upon line, and that the religious instruction which is most profitable, consists not so much in curious speculations, or the invention of new things, as in the repetition of old and important truths, and in urging again and again those doctrines of Christ, and duties of religion which are the most essential, and the most fatally neglected.
In whatever concerns the order and worship of our church, and the points wherein we are chiefly distinguished from other denominations of christians, we ever deem it highly important that you should be well instructed and firmly established. But, in our former letters, we have so repeatedly addressed you on these points, and in the most of the Addresses, and Charges, and Pastoral Letters, which have been made public in our respective dioceses, we have so often and so fully discoursed on these distinctive principles, that we shall at present suppose that you have less need of instruction in them.
The great object of our ministry, and of all the institutions of our holy religion, is the salvation of men through faith in Jesus Christ, and obedience to the precepts of his Gospel. The chief obstacle to our success is the unwillingness of "the natural man to receive the things of the Divine Spirit;" or, "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." It has been a common thing in every age, for good men to complain of the wickedness of that in which they lived; and in every age has there been abundant reason for such complaint. In no other age, perhaps, has infidelity and irreligion been more generally and openly avowed in christian countries than at the present time. But we have the promise that "when the enemy shall come in like a [6/7] flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him." The fulfilment of this promise is manifest in the signs of the present time; in the increase of religious knowledge and love of Christ; in the decline of bigotry and of persecution; in the extensive circulation of the holy Scriptures; in the vast increase and right application of missionary zeal; and especially in the Protestant Episcopal church, in an awakened and growing love of evangelical truth. The fulfilment of that promise do we happily experience in the blessing of God upon the means we use, and in the present prosperity of our churches. In regard to externals, certainly the Lord has done great things for us, and much reason have we to thank him, and take courage.
But our thankfulness for his goodness has not, we may well fear, been sufficiently shown, even with our lips; and still less is it seen in our lives. A part only has been done of what the Lord has put it in our power to do, in extending the borders of the Redeemer's kingdom, and promoting true religion. This is evident, not only in the prevalence of vice and irreligion, but in the scantiness of the funds of our Domestic and Foreign Missions; in many unanswered calls for our ministrations; in the faithless neglect of the means of grace, and in the want of a holy zeal, and more general and united efforts, in striving together for the faith of the Gospel. Though every good and perfect gift is of Him, "from whom all holy desires, good counsels, and just works do proceed," we are not authorized to expect his favor and blessing but in proportion to our own efforts to obtain his grace and to do his will. We must plant and we must water not the less, but the rather, because that God only gives the increase. As infidelity waxes bold, let the christian warrior awake to righteousness, and put on the whole armour of God.
What is first, necessary, and the most essential to the promotion of religion, and to the increase of our church, and of every thing truly good, is a sound faith in the doctrines of [7/8] Christ and in the truths revealed in the word of God. What is our natural fallen state, and what the redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ, should be clearly and faithfully taught, cordially received, and well understood. To man, in his natural state of alienation from God; the Gospel brings the good tidings of salvation, revealing that greatest of wonders, how God can be just in justifying those who believe in Christ. If we would be saved in him, and by enlarging the borders of his kingdom, and extending the means of grace, promote the salvation of others, we must build on this only sure foundation. It is of high importance that we have right views of the character of the Saviour, as "the Lord our Righteousness," even the "one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him;" who "for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was made man," that he might "put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." By him, as the Word or Son of God, was the world made by him it has been redeemed, and by him shall finally be judged in righteousness. And it is by faith in him, and the doctrines of his cross, that we may hope to obtain that salvation which is of God, and inherit immortal blessedness. These momentous truths, which the Scriptures fully reveal, and which are clearly expressed in the Articles and Homilies, and other standards of our Church, the ministers of Christ are commissioned and sent to teach; and they who would be saved in him should so receive them, as with the heart to believe unto righteousness. To some, indeed, they "are a stumbling block, and to others, foolishness;" but to those who rightly view them, they are "the power of God unto salvation."
The minister of Christ goes forth with his commission in his hand, and may not go beyond the word of the Lord his God to say less or more. And to him should the people hearken, as did Cornelius and his friends to Peter, when they said, "We are all here present before God, to hear all things which are commanded thee of God." As the one is bound to declare, so are the others to receive "all the [8/9] counsel of God." The preacher is not allowed to prophesy smooth things, nor to accommodate his doctrine to the wisdom or to the desires of men; his business being not to please, but to save them, he must teach that which humbles the sinner, exalts the Saviour, and gives all glory to God. The Gospel preacher should imitate the faithful physician, who regards not so much the taste of his patients, as the nature of their disease, and prescribes that which will restore them to health, rather than what will give them immediate pleasure. Every congregation of God's people should be aware that when the preacher's words are most delightful to their ears, he may be departing from his duty, and unfaithful to their souls.
There is danger, from the infirmity of our natures, of being too much influenced by a dislike of some doctrines or tenets, or by a partiality for others, and of giving, by forced construction, to passages of the Scriptures the sense which we prefer, rather than that which the Divine Spirit intended. It is natural, and not uncommon, with serious and well-meaning christians, to cite chiefly the texts which seem best to agree with their own views; to confirm their favorite creed, or the distinctive principles of their own sect or denomination;--to urge them much, and dwell upon them, while they neglect, or more seldom refer to such passages as seem to be less favorable to their own sentiments. We should be aware of this weakness, and of the evils which it produces, being ever ready and desirous to teach and to hear the truth, and the whole truth, as it is in Jesus Christ, though it may not be according to our own wisdom. Every thing which the Scriptures make essential, whether of faith or of works,--of doctrines or of duties, let us cordially receive. Some christians prefer to hear chiefly of the doctrines, while others prefer the precepts of the Gospel. To please some, the preacher must dwell most upon what the Lord has done to save them, while others desire chiefly to hear what they must do to be saved. One is delighted with reasoning in sermons; another with declamation. Some think it most [9/10] profitable to dwell on the terrors of the law, while others are satisfied with nothing but the invitations of the Gospel. Let it be remembered that the faithful preacher must give to all their portion of meat; he must keep back nothing which "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, or for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." He must not be partial in dispensing the word, lest some part of his flock should be sent empty away. And whatever God's minister is commissioned to teach, let his people devoutly and gladly hear.
The great subject of our preaching is to be "repentance towards God, and faith. towards the Lord Jesus Christ." The morality we teach must be christian morals. We can build on no other foundation than on Him, "who, of God, is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." We would not that the preaching on moral duties should be underrated but without that faith which reneweth the heart, and "worketh by love," we can never do, or be, what the Gospel requires. Little good has resulted, or is likely to result, from all the fine things that have been preached on moral rectitude, as unconnected with faith in Christ, and christian love. What is called natural religion is too obscure to bring life and immortality to light; It is the grace of God bringing salvation in Jesus Christ which renews the heart in hope and love, and constrains men to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." It is the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, accompanying the preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified, which alone can make men wise unto salvation;--which can show "how man can be just with God," and how God can be just in justifying those who have transgressed his laws: how they who have been dead in trespasses and sins may be pardoned, and accepted, and rewarded, as righteous in the sight of God. There is nothing devised by the wisdom of man which can authorise those who are concluded under sin, to [10/11] raise their eyes in hope to a reconciled God. No human comforter can pour the balm of forgiveness into the wounds which sin has inflicted, disarm death of its sting, the grave of its victory, and give songs of joy amidst the heaviness of sorrow.
Permit us, then, to repeat and to urge upon your devout consideration, that preaching Christ is the great instrumentality appointed of God, for diffusing the knowlege of eternal life, and renewing the heart with a lively faith and holy affections. We know from experience, and as matter of fact, that it has this effect. Preachers who in some things differ one from another,--they indeed who in other respects are faulty and erroneous, if they preach the doctrines of the cross,--if they exhibit the Saviour in his true character, and the scriptural doctrine of justification through faith in him, their preaching is in fact successful in converting souls to God; it is made, through divine grace, instrumental in renewing the heart by faith, and bringing forth the fruit of good living. Though some should "preach Christ of contention, not sincerely," God may overrule it to the effecting of some good, and we may well, even in such case, rejoice with an apostle, that Christ is preached;--that he is made known to man in his true character of Prophet, Priest, and King, and that men do in fact submit to the righteousness of God. But be it carefully remembered, that the less these true doctrines of the cross are mixed with error, in other points, the better will be the effect. From any material error we humbly trust, and may well believe, that the doctrine and worship--the order and discipline of our Church are free; and that, if we adhere to our own standards, and are as zealous and faithful as others, none will be more successful.
The belief, we know, has extensively prevailed that we, as a denomination, have not been so decided and faithful as others in teaching and receiving the doctrines of Christ;--that in practice we have deviated from our own Articles and [11/12] Homilies. However unfounded we may think this belief to be, it evidently renders it more necessary for us to be explicit, decided, and consistent in regard to those doctrines of grace, which are certainly and most fully in our standards maintained.
Let it also be remembered, that "charity endureth all things;" and that when falsely accused, she is "not easily provoked." Far from being provoked when thus accused, let us not be hasty in ascribing it to prejudice even; but reflect rather whether there may not have been in times past, some ground for such opinion respecting us. When accused of error, it is more safe and more profitable to examine than to justify ourselves. When falsely accused, the best. manner of defence is the letting our conduct show the mistake of those who speak against us. The propensity of our fallen nature to notice and to magnify the faults of others, while we are blind to our own, We should also be aware of. As it is the duty of individuals to consider their own faults, rather than their neighbors'; so is it of sects and denominations. Christian charity "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but in the truth:" she is more ready and disposed to notice and to praise what is good in other christians, than to expose their errors, or to censure their faults:--she believeth and she hopeth all things, which are most favorable to their good motives and christian character. Our clashing opinions and differing views of religious subjects, as also the censures and the opposition which we meet with from others, are, like afflictions, trials of our faith, and patience, and charity. Unreasonable opposition, and censures most unmerited, did our Saviour endure with patience and compassion, and the best of his disciples must expect the like. It is enough for the disciple to be as his Master. Had we no trials of this sort, how could we know, or the world know, that the spirit which was in Christ, is also in us? How, without such trials, can we honor our profession, in the exercise of christian graces?
 Respecting your treatment of christians not of our communion, we would refer you to our letter of 1817, 1823, and 1832. In the present divided state of the church, one of the things most difficult in practice is the conducting of ourselves, as the Gospel requires, towards Christians of other denominations: on the one hand, to contend earnestly for the true faith; on the other, to "hold the faith in unity of spirit, and in the bond of peace." We should so contend for the truth, as to show that the truth is in us. It is not more our duty "to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines, contrary to God's word," than it is "to maintain and set forward, as much as lieth in us, quietness, peace, and love among all christian people." By unsanctified efforts to eradicate the tares from the field of God's kingdom, the wheat is injured. In contending for small things, weightier matters are too little regarded. We are ever in danger of thinking too well of ourselves, and too ill of others. While we are careful "not to boast of things without our measure," let it also be remembered that the greater are our advantages, the more perfect our standards of faith and worship, the greater also is the sin of turning from the holy commandment delivered unto us.
"Quietness, love, and peace among all christian people" is highly essential to the salvation of men and to the prosperity of religion. How many and great are the evils resulting from the dissentious of those who profess and call themselves christians is too obvious. These, more perhaps than any other fault of christians, retard the spread of the Gospel. Did they all, as their duty is, unite in faith, and lover and evangelical zeal, the Redeemer's kingdom would be rapidly extended throughout the earth, and at no distant period would all the ends of the world see the salvation of our God. These divisions cause thousands to doubt, and many to deny the truth of Christianity. They are what chiefly disgrace the otherwise glorious Reformation; they tend very much to countenance and to perpetuate the idolatrous corruptions against which we justly protest, and to diminish that love, [13/14] among pious believers even, which is "the end of the commandment" and the "bond of perfectness." It is mournful to see how much, and with what asperity the disciples of a meek and humble Saviour sometimes contend for light shades of difference, and for things of little or no importance. Such were the things which first and chiefly caused the divisions in the Church of England,--things which scarce any now pretend to view as essential parts of religious truth. Those divisions, so long continued and so obstinately maintained, are a mournful proof, that schisms in the Church, after having been commenced, are with great difficulty healed. Solemn warnings should they be to us, to let no diversity of opinion, in things not essential, disturb the unity of the Church, or cause unfriendly feelings among its members.
The wonderful preservation of the Church of England, and the success of her great and increasing efforts to extend the Word of God and the light of truth to various people and nations of the earth, may well excite our thankful admiration. Her present arduous struggle amidst foes and perils, calls for our sympathy and also for our prayers, that He, who has thus far sustained her, and made her the instrument of incalculable good, will continue to be her safeguard and defence.
While speaking on the subject of christian unity, permit us to observe that your Bishops have noticed, with painful concern, that our religious journals, which ought to he to our Churches as messengers of peace on earth and good will towards men, diffusing among our people the knowledge of Christ and the love of God, are too much filled with unprofitable controversy; and what is worse, that they not unfrequently manifest a spirit of strife and contention, inconsistent with brotherly kindness and christian love. It is an evil which in the judgment of some, more than balances all the good which those journals effect. It is injurious to the cause of religion, and to our Church especially, causing us to appear before the world, as what we certainly are not, [14/15] a divided Church. In no other way is the bond of charity oftener broken, and unity disturbed, than by judging illiberally of the tenets and practice of others. This is now the way in which the spirit of persecution chiefly operates. It is happily, in a great degree, disarmed of its tortures and flames; but in slanders, and "hatred and malice and all uncharitableness," it still exists. From which let us pray in our hearts, as with our lips we do, that the Lord will deliver us. If we have occasion, which we should never seek, to speak of the errors or failings of any christians, meekness, humility, and compassion should possess our hearts. Ascribing the cause and blame of schisms or disunion to others, is more likely to increase than to diminish the evil; it is far better to give them good examples of unity and peace.
It is not necessary to true charity, though much to be desired, that Christians should be, in every thing, of one mind; nor that all should be of the same denomination. We may love as brethren, though as such we do not commune together in all the ordinances of Christ. But to he truly his disciples, it is necessary that we should love those who love him, and because they love him. It is a profitable and a pleasing exercise of charity to view with compassion the errors and mistakes of pious, well-meaning people, and to love those who love the same Saviour and worship the same God. When we consider what numbers amongst us scoff at all religion, and how many, professing to be christians, reject what we deem essential doctrines of Christ, "making his cross of none effect," and how many others have disfigured the truth and simplicity of the Gospel by the inventions of man, they, who happily agree in what is essential, should delight in cultivating love and living as brethren, not permitting strifes of words, and questions of expediency to disunite them.
Our late venerable brother, Bishop White, in his Charge on "the Past and Future," which he then considered as his last advice to the people under his pastoral care, has remarks on our feelings and conduct towards those of other [15/16] denominations, which merit the regard of all our churches. Our endeavor should be to win souls to Christ; by showing that his Spirit dwells within us. "By this," he says, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one towards another." According as we treat others with forbearance, kindness, and love, will his work prosper in our hands.
The adherents of the church of Rome, who are yearly coming amongst us from foreign lands, are, many of them certainly, to be pitied, more than blamed, for their prejudice against Protestants. Let them be treated with kindness and love. Harsh opposition will confirm them in what we deem to be their errors. We shall best convince them of the hope that is in us, and impart to them the knowledge of Christ, by treating them as brethren; by manifesting a sincere desire to do them good, and to promote their salvation through faith in that Saviour who alone, is our Advocate with the Father, and the one and only Mediator between God and man. In our lives let them see what are the fruits of the Spirit, and what that "faith which worketh by love." They will judge of the Reformation from the effects it has on those who boast of being reformed. If we protestants contend among ourselves, and manifest no love for them, what we say of our better knowledge will seem to them as a vain confidence of boasting.
To be ready always, and willing to give to those who ask it, a reason of the hope that is in us, provided it be done, as an apostle directs, "with meekness and fear," will have a good effect in promoting christian love and true religion. The divided state of professed christianity makes it very much our duty to examine well what we teach, and what we believe, and also what are the tenets and distinctive principles of differing denominations of christians among whom we live; that, while we treat them all with christian love, we may associate with those who are most conformable to what our Saviour taught and his apostles practised. Frank and friendly conversation on the doctrines of Christ, and the [16/17] duties of religion, will be profitable to yourselves and to them. By carefully ascertaining what are the views and belief of others, prejudices will in some cases be removed, and charity increased. The propensity of our nature to justify ourselves, and obstinately to defend our own opinions, often excites unkind feelings and unprofitable controversy.; but these evils will be avoided if you maintain your opinions with meekness and fear. Meekness and humility, which are essential to the christian character, our Saviour has carefully taught us by precept and example. By pride, man fell from his first estate; and it. is the greatest obstacle to his restoration to the favour of God. "Whatsoever harm there is," says the judicious Hooker, "in private families:--whatsoever, by strife amongst men combined in the fellowship of greater societies;--by tyranny of potentates, ambition of nobles, or by heresies, schisms, and divisions in the Church; naming pride, we name the mother which brought them forth, and the only nurse that feedeth them. Give me the hearts of all men humbled, and what is there that can overthrow or disturb the peace of the world? Many things are the cause of much evil; but pride, of all." A wiser than Hooker has said, "only by pride cometh contention:" and He who is infinitely wise, declares, "pride I hate." The disciple of that Saviour who was eminently meek and lowly, should be "peaceable; gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy, &c. without partiality," showing all due respect to the opinions of our fellow-men.
In discoursing on religious subjects we have need not only of meekness and humility, but of religious awe and godly fear. Religion.often suffers much through want of reverence in those who discourse upon it. In speaking on such subjects as the state, and the immortal destinies of ourselves and all mankind;--on the word and the will of God--the work of redemption--the character of the Saviour--the doctrines of his cross, and the means of grace, we have surely reason to fear, lest we should be influenced by pride or self-will; [17/18] lest, like the friends of Job, we should not speak of God the thing that is right.
The spirit of meekness, and of benevolence, and of liberality, truly so called, is remarkably manifest in the institutions of our Church; and happy will it be if all its members imbibe this spirit, equally free from enthusiasm, bigotry, and superstition. This, with union and love among ourselves, and a holy zeal in imparting to others a knowledge of Christ, is necessary to our prosperity and the more rapid increase of our churches. A thankful sense of God's mercy in Jesus Christ will naturally increase our brotherly affection;---we shall feel that "if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another."
There is danger of an undue reliance upon the soundness of our creeds, and the excellency of our order, and worship, and discipline. They who have the word of God, and the practice of the earliest christians in their favor, naturally incline to rely too much upon their orthodoxy. Supposing that truth will support itself, or that it can easily be defended, they are more remiss in the Lord's work; while they-who broach novelties, or make innovations, or teach unsound principles, depend more upon their zeal and activity. We would not recommend to you zeal without knowledge, nor the proselyting arts of sectarianism; but that holy energy and manly zeal in the cause of truth; that rational and persuasive earnestness which evidently becomes those who believe in Christ; who would live and act in the fear of God, and do works suitable for those who are labouring for eternity. Our orthodoxy should be seen in the doctrines we teach, the faith we profess, and the fruit which it produces. If we are blest with more or better privileges than some other christians, we are bound to excel them as much in all virtue and godliness of living. A correct creed is good, but a godly life is better. People will judge of us, and their Saviour has taught them to judge of us, by our fruits. "A good [18/19] tree cannot bring forth evil fruit." What the tree is, the fruits will show.
It should be carefully understood that "we do not, through faith, make void the law." We are required to work out that salvation which is by faith. We preach the doctrines of grace, not to render good living the less necessary; but to produce such works as God requires, and has promised to bless. We are to do what he commands; to show not our own righteousness, nor our merits, but our faith and love, and that we are obedient children. Salvation is not the less of grace, or the less free, because something is required of us "to do to be saved." The doctrine of our Church is, we trust, the doctrine of the Scriptures, "that good works are the fruits of faith--that they do spring out necessarily, of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may as evidently be known, as a tree discovered by the fruit." Obedience is the best evidence of conversion: a new heart is evinced by good works; a sound faith by a holy life.
We would particularly recommend, and urge upon those who believe in Christ, and desire the salvation which is of God, a right and faithful observance of the christian ordinances; and particularly Baptism, Confirmation, and the Lord's Supper. These you should view not merely as duties, much less as a burden, but as great and inestimable privileges mercifully ordained, in compassion of our weakness, to strengthen our faith, and increase in us true religion. Use them as sanctified means of obtaining God's heavenly benediction; not as supposing that the observance of them is meritorious, or any evidence of your own righteousness, but rather as a declaration before the Church, and before the world, of your trust in the redemption and the merits of Jesus Christ, and of your desire to draw near to God, in the way and by the means of his own appointment.
Though in these United States our number is small [19/20] compared with the other denominations around us, let it not be forgotten, that in all the points which we deem essential to christianity, we agree with what has been, and still is, held by far the greater part of christians throughout the world. It is our duty, certainly, to labour in that way which we believe to be according to the word and will of God. In reforming the Church from the corruptions which had accumulated through its darker ages, many protestants, for various reasons, and with differing views, have rejected some things which in our view are essential, and we dare not reject them. In those things of course we differ, and with regret are constrained to differ from many, who, we doubt not, are pious believers in Jesus Christ. It is not for us to judge them; but we must take heed to ourselves, and adhere steadfastly to what we believe to be the truth, as it is in Jesus Christ. This truth we are cordially to receive and faithfully to teach. If others walk not with us, God will be their Judge: "to their own Master let them stand or fall." Let us endeavor "both by our life and doctrine, to set forth his true and lively word," and to "stand fast in one spirit and with one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel:" let us. respect and love all christian people, but not turn aside to the right hand or to the left, from the straight and narrow way which leads to life. Let it be manifest that we are a Church of Christ, by building on him, the only true foundation, and "holding the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life." Let our Church he the happy resort and refuge of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ; who willingly submit to his righteousness, and desire to live in harmony and love. To the doctrines of his cross, and to all the essentials of his Gospel we must steadfastly adhere, not turning aside to accommodate the taste or the views of any sect or individual; but to all who will build on the true foundation of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," let the doors of his Church be ever open. Let us "be so merciful that we be not too remiss, and so administer discipline that we do not forget mercy," nor take from any one the liberty wherewith Christ has made him free. So far as the [20/21] truth of God will admit, would we "become all things to all men," and bring every penitent, believing soul into the pale of his Church, that all may be of one fold, under one Shepherd. Our care should be, by teaching and by example, to exhibit this "house of God as the pillar and ground of the truth," "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
We would also recommend, as what will contribute much to the increase of the Church, and the happiness of its members, the cultivation of mutual love and brotherly kindness between the ministers of Christ and the people of their pastoral charge. This interesting relation is, we fear, at the present time, losing something of its very salutary influence. And this, we cannot doubt, is in part, if not chiefly caused, by the frequent removals of clergymen from their parishes, contrary to the warm affection, and earnest desires of their flocks, and sometimes, perhaps, in violation of solemn engagements. We know, and we deeply regret the pecuniary exigencies, which, in many cases, seem to constrain our clerical brethren to this painful measure. But we fear, that, in cases not a few, they yield too easily, and too soon, to discouraging circumstances; and that in some instances they are influenced by motives and views of a worldly nature. Is there not amongst us a too general deficiency of trust in Him who is the head of the Church, and the Bishop of our souls?--In Him who has promised, to his ministers especially, that if they "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," the things necessary for their temporal comfort shall be added unto them? The many and great evils resulting from such frequent removals are evident and well known. To remedy or diminish these evils, the people who are blest with the labors of a worthy, faithful pastor, should be thankful for so great a blessing, and do all that is reasonably in their power to strengthen his hands, and to aid him in his labors, that he may exercise his ministry "with joy, and not with grief." And let the ministers of Christ trust more in Him whose ministers they are; let them [21/22] not be soon or easily discouraged because all things are not according to their mind, nor because they see not much fruit from their labors. They who truly labor in the Lord, 'will not labor in vain. Let them labor also in patience, willing and praying that the Lord's will may be done. Our willingness to suffer for the Lord's sake, is an evidence that we are truly his. Let the clergy, according to the example and precept of the apostles, endeavor, by good economy and frugal living, not to be more burthensome to the people than is necessary. This is daily becoming more the duty of Christ's ministers, and the more necessary to the prosperity of religion, on account of the increasing divisions of the people into smaller societies of various denominations, by which preachers are multiplied, and the burthen of supporting them is increased.
The length to which this letter is extended, constrains us to omit much that we would have added on the subject of prayer. You do not, we trust, need to be reminded that the constant, earnest, and faithful performance of this duty is, more than any one thing, necessary to the promotion of godliness and the increase of true religion. Except the Lord build the house, in vain shall we labor to build it. The work is his, and without his grace to direct and bless our efforts, we can effect nothing good. It is according as we trust in God, looking to him in prayer, and seeking for his aid in the way of his own appointment, that we may hope that his work will prosper in our hands. "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is." Let the services of our Church be regularly attended, and, by ministers and people duly performed. "Brethren pray for us." If the holy apostles, with all their gifts and graces, needed the prayers of christians, that the word of God might have free course, and their ministry be blest, much more do we need your earnest supplications to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, that his Spirit may be with us, and that we may have wisdom and grace to exercise the office [22/23] committed to our trust, to the glory of God, the increase of his Church, and the salvation of his people.
By order of the House of Bishops,
ALEXANDER V. GRISWOLD,
President of the House of Bishops.