"And it is hereby made the duty of every Clergyman having a pastoral charge, when any euch letter is published, to read said Pastoral Letter to his congregation on some occasion of public worship."
BRETHREN AND FRIENDS, BELOVED IN THE LORD:
It again becomes the duty of your Bishops, being assembled with your Clerical and Lay Deputies in General Convention, and at their request, to address to you a Pastoral Letter on the state of our churches.
Since the last meeting of this Convention, it has pleased the Lord, in his merciful goodness, to continue them generally in a state of prosperity and increase. But with deep feelings of sorrow we find another vacant seat in our House. We have to lament the decease of our much respected brother, the Right Rev. Nathaniel Bowen, D.D., who, in the midst of his useful labors, departed this life on the 25th of August, 1839.
Still, in the midst of judgment, the Lord remembers mercy. We are happy in being able to report, that, through his goodness, no less than six others have been added to our number. The Right Rev. Leonidas Polk, D.D., was consecrated to the Episcopal office in 1838, as Missionary Bishop of the South West, having for his jurisdiction, Arkansas, and some part of the Indian Territory, with the provisional supervisions of the Dioceses of Alabama and Louisiana. And at the request of our Foreign Missionary Committee, he has extended his visitations to the Republic of Texas, of which we have been favored with interesting information.
The Right Rev. William H. Delancey, D.D., was consecrated Bishop of Western New-York, on the 9th of May, 1839; under whose administration that new Diocese is highly prosperous.
 The Right Rev. Christopher E. Gadsden, D.D., the successor of our much lamented brother, Bishop Bowen, was ordained to the Episcopate of South Carolina, on the 21st of June, 1840.
The Right Rev. Wm. R. Whittingham, D.D., was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland, September 17th, 1840.
The Right Rev. Stephen Elliott, Jun., D.D. was, on the 28th of February last, ordained Bishop of Georgia.
And during the session of this Convention, the Rev. Alfred Lee, D.D. has been ordained Bishop of Delaware.
You will, we doubt not, rejoice with us, and bless God for these additions to our apostolic ministry; and that they have been made with unanimity, and to the great satisfaction of the churches over which they arc appointed to preside; and for the lively hope which we already have, that the work of God will prosper in their hands. Our brethren now, in all parts of the United States, have the benefit of Episcopal supervision.
We would again "write unto you of the common salvation'' which is in Jesus Christ, "and exhort you, that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once," by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, "delivered unto the saints," and faithfully perform those things which are required in the word of God, that we may obtain eternal life.
The religion taught us in the holy scriptures may be included under two heads:--What we must believe, and what we must do. Under the former head is included a belief in all things respecting our religious hope, and final salvation, which are revealed to our understanding in God's holy word; such as the creation and fall of man; the character of the Saviour, and what he has done to redeem us from sin and eternal death; the merits and other doctrines of his cross; the institution and nature of his Church and its ministry; the number and efficacy of his sacraments; the persons of the Deity; the agency of the Divine [4/5] Spirit, and the life and immortality brought to light in the gospel, which his ministers are sent to preach. These are among the principal things which we are to believe, and which are essential to that faith which is required of those who would have a sure hope of salvation in Jesus Christ.
But the great practical question for those who have this faith, the question, which, in different forms, was often put to Christ and his apostles, and which his ministers still should be willing and prepared to answer to all who ask it, and to all who have ears to hear, is, What must we do to be saved? This, in the same scriptures, we arc clearly and so fully taught, "that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."
Our Church has taught in her catechism what are "the first principles of the doctrine of "Christ," and in her articles and homilies, what is most necessary to the obtaining of a sure hope of salvation in Jesus Christ, and to the perfection of the Christian character. The more carefully you, as Christ commands, "search the scriptures," the more will you see and have cause to admire the wisdom and piety of those holy men, who were instrumental in reforming the Church of England, and who compiled, on true scriptural grounds, Articles of Faith, and a Book of Common Prayer. Since this branch of the "one Catholic and Apostolic Church," to which we have the happiness to belong, became independent of the Church of England, in its ecclesiastical polity, our fathers of the American Episcopal Church, as we may now well call them, made some few alterations and improvements, that our worship and discipline may be better adapted to the state of this country, and the manners of the age; but, as you may easily see, they have carefully adhered to the sure word of God.
But though all Christians may agree that our religion is included under the two heads:--What are we required to believe, and what to do, that we may be saved in Jesus Christ? On [5/6] the comparative importance of these two parts, and what influence they have in our justification and acceptance with God, there is unhappily some diversity of opinion, to which we deem it expedient to ask your attention. Many Christians, indeed, seem to find some difficulty in reconciling or in clearly understanding what the scriptures teach of faith and of works. To remove any doubts or uncertainty of this kind must evidently be of high importance.
The principle or ground on which we are accepted of God, and may hope to be blest in heaven as righteous in his sight, is what chiefly distinguishes Christian theology from all other religions. On the much controverted question, what influence our works have in our justification, some have erroneously thought, that the apostles even are not wholly agreed: as when one "concludes that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law;" arid another, "that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." But not only are the apostles, on this momentous doctrine, agreed; but among Christians truly pious, the difference is probably less than is generally supposed.
The scriptures teach us that, man is naturally in a fallen, sinful state, from which God, in his merciful goodness, sent his Son to redeem us. By the sacrifice of himself, he made expiation for our sins: by rising from the dead, he has raised our hopes to life immortal; and through faith in him, as "the way, the truth, and the life;" as our advocate with the Father, and "the end of the law for righteousness to those who believe," we are authorized to look for pardon and acceptance.
This is indeed an "unspeakable gift":--it is a work of mercy and grace which passes man's understanding, and that Christians of honest hearts and sincere piety, should have views somewhat different respecting what is required of men, that they may obtain the salvation offered us in the gospel, is a matter of regret rather than of surprise. Respecting the counsels of God in the vast work of redemption, we know in part only, and can prophecy but in part. In that plan of Divine love which clothed [6/7] "the Lord from heaven" in human flesh, there are depths of wisdom and knowledge, which no genius of man can in this life wholly investigate, nor human reason fathom. God is graciously pleased to reveal to our understanding, what is necessary for us to know during this present life; and with this should we be contented, and for it thankful; not indulging any presumptuous curiosity, nor pretending to be wise beyond what is written for our learning.
They who carefully read the Holy Scriptures, cannot be ignorant that salvation is of grace;--that it is not of works, lest any man should boast, and that we are justified through faith in the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. Nor is it less evident that we are required to work out our salvation,--to save ourselves,--to make our calling and election sure. These, and other like passages, all appertain to the sure Word of Cod, and that is their true sense which reconciles them, and shews their agreement with each other, and with the whole of the sacred volume.
In searching the scriptures, our great desire should be to know what God has taught, uninfluenced by what we may prefer, and without any attempt to circumscribe "the power of God and the wisdom of God" within the narrow limits of our own understanding. If we search the scriptures for texts or for arguments to confirm what appears to us the most reasonable, or what we have already adopted as our opinions, we shall be less likely to come to the knowledge of "all the counsel of God." Sincere and pious Christians, by regarding chiefly, what certainly merits very much regard, the gratuitous dispensations of God's mercy in Christ,--the hopeless, spiritual state of fallen man,--the predominence of his selfish, worldly, and carnal affections; and many passages of God's word, which speak of our works as unprofitable to God, and in his sight without merit, may naturally be led to make too little account of good living, and of what we must do to be saved. A simple belief in the merits of Christ may be so relied upon, as to "make void the law through faith." Others may incline to an opposite and not less dangerous [7/8] error. By giving their chief attention to passages, of which there are also very many, that teach the necessity of obedience to God's word; that all will be judged and finally rewarded or punished according to their works done in this world, and that they who live in wilful violation of God's laws, shall not inherit his heavenly kingdom;--by considering further, what encouragement the scriptures give, and what blessings and reward they promise to those who "live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world," they are no less naturally led to place undue reliance upon what they deem good works and the merits of their obedience to "the holy commandment given unto them;" they are in danger of dishonoring the doctrines of grace,--of degrading the merits of Christ, as a perfect and complete Saviour. Too little may be allowed to faith, as the principle on which we are accepted of God.
St. Paul in his epistles, in those especially to the Romans and Galatians, shews the anti-christian tendency of this latter error; shews that we cannot be accounted righteous for the merits of our obedience to the laws of God;--but on the contrary that our transgression of his laws is what condemns us; it is what shews that we are sinners. By the law is the knowledge of sin: even "when we would do good evil is present with us." It is from this curse of the law that Christ has redeemed us. This apostle shews that no works which we can do are so good and perfect, that they will merit acceptance with God and eternal life. But St. Paul no where teaches that we are justified by a dead or inactive faith:--by a faith which does not bring forth the fruit of good living. He speaks of that lively faith which renews the heart, and produces obedience to what the gospel requires: and how it is that we, who are concluded under sin, may be accepted as righteous. He shews the error of those who expect salvation as the reward of what they do. The most holy and faithful Christian has no foundation for hope to rest upon, but the merits of his crucified Saviour. From God, "all holy desires, good counsels and just works do proceed": it is he who makes us in any thing which is good to differ from others; by his grace we are what we are.
 It appears that St. Paul's remarks on the doctrines of grace, were misunderstood in his day, as they also have been in ours. They were considered, St. Peter says, as hard to be understood, and were wrested from their true sense to the support of error. We have also reason to believe that others of the apostles, as Peter and James, John and Jude, designed, in their epistles, to rectify the erroneous notions, which some Christians even then began to entertain respecting the necessity of godly living;--"to vindicate, (as St. Augustine says,) the true doctrine, from the false consequences charged upon it, and to shew that faith without works is nothing worth." St. James, in his bold manner and strong language, speaks very decidedly on this point;--he shews the dangerous error of supposing that a mere belief in Christ rendered the works, which God's word requires of believers, unnecessary, or that we can have a good hope of being saved in Christ, while we neglect what Christ himself commands.
Faith is required not as a substitute for good living, but rather as necessary to our living according to the word and will of God. The works which the gospel of Christ requires, that men may be saved, they can not, or certainly they would not perform without a belief in him as their Saviour. Who could truly pray in the name of Christ, or in his name, and from love to him, give a cup of water, if he does not believe in him 1 St. James teaches what St. Paul taught, that we do not through faith make void the law. The unprofitableness of faith, without submission to God's righteousness, he illustrates by the case of one who should give the needy nothing but fair words and empty wishes;--" Be ye warmed and clothed." There is no more of true justifying faith, in believing the scriptures to be the word of God, while we live in the neglect of what they teach, than there is of charity in knowing the wants of the poor, while we refuse or neglect to relieve them. St. James teaches us that the faith which justifies, is a living faith, fruitful of good works:--it is that faith of the heart, by which "man believeth unto righteousness." St. Paul teaches the same doctrine when he says, "Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." And again, "If ye live according to the flesh, ye [9/10] shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Our Saviour teaches this doctrine when he says, "Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father." And Peter says to the same purpose, "It is better not to know the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment." He shews the necessity of adding to our faith, virtue,--knowledge,--temperance,-- patience,--godliness,--brotherly-kindness,--charity: "If--he says--ye do these things, ye shall never fall."
A careful study of the holy scriptures, with prayer, will convince you of their perfect harmony and agreement on the doctrine of faith and works. You have but to observe well, in what sense we are justified by faith only; and also how it is that good living is essential to our salvation in Christ. By the apostles, Paul and James, you are warned of two opposite errors. By the former you are taught not to rely on any works which you do, as profitable to salvation, but such as are wrought in a Christian faith; while the other shows that faith, without the works which the gospel requires is unavailing. This doctrine he had learned from his Divine Master, who was careful to teach that the tree is known by its fruits; that the man whose heart is truly renewed by a lively faith in Christ, will shew it by his submission to God's righteousness; "will shew his faith by his works."
The agreement of those two apostles is made more evident by their appealing to the case of Abraham's readiness, in obedience to God's command, to offer his son in sacrifice. St. Paul shows that what rendered that act of obedience acceptable, was Abraham's belief in God's word, and trust in his promises. Had he done the same thing of his own will, supposing it meritorious, like them who offered their children to Moloch, and like myriads of other self-righteous people, who think to gain heaven by useless sufferings, and "voluntary humility," it would have been sinful. And St. James with equal truth shews, that if Abraham had not obeyed God's command, his faith would not have been [10/11] reckoned to him for righteousness; he would not have been honored as the Father of the Faithful, and as "the Friend of God;" he would not have heard from heaven these most comforting and gracious words; "Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son--thy only son, from me." "By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son--thy only son,--that in blessing I will bless thee,------because thou hast obeyed my voice." "Faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect." Abraham's obedience was the fruit, and of course the evidence, of a lively faith. By these fruits it was manifest to the world, that with his heart he believed unto righteousness; that he would sooner hope against hope, than doubt whether the word of God is true. God in his wisdom and goodness has been pleased to set before us this very remarkable case of the obedience of faith, for an example and encouragement to his people to the end of the world. We are called to no trials greater than that, and in what trials then should wo turn from the commandment given unto us? Let our faith be thus fruitful. Regard carefully what St. Paul shews you in Abraham's example, that it is faith in Christ and in the word of God, which renders your works religious and good. And learn too, from the same example, that you are not authorized to hope that your faith in Christ is truly religious, and will of God be accounted to you for righteousness, except it bring forth in you the obedience which Christ himself requires. From one apostle you learn, that what renders you acceptable to God, is the renewal of your mind--the conformity of your heart to God's word and revealed will: and from another you learn, that your heart is not truly renewed or conformed to God's word and will, unless you obey what he commands.--They unite in teaching you not to trust in your own righteousness; but to submit to that righteousness which is by faith in the Son of God;--that a religious faith and a holy life are both "necessary to a lively hope: they are as the soul and the body of pure and undefiled religion, and death is the consequence of their separation. They teach you to place your hope of pardon and peace with God, in his mercy obtained through the [11/12] redemption and merits of Jesus Christ, while at the same time they lift their warning voice against your making that hope, or trust, or faith, or any notion of your being justified, or of God's elect, for living carelessly or neglecting to work out your own salvation. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. You can not safely trust in any faith, or "all faith," to save you, which does not produce obedience to the gospel; nor in any works which you can do, except that they are wrought in God, and are the fruit of your faith in Christ. "Whatever is not of faith is sin."
This doctrine of faith and works you may find to be fully taught and sustained in the Articles and Liturgy, and in all the standards of our Church. She has taken the true mean or middle way between the two opposite extremes, and is careful to teach you not to turn to the right hand or to the left.
We are truly said to be justified by faith and to be saved by faith, because, as the Apostles shew, our faith it is which renders our works pleasing to God; because, indeed, it is by faith only that we can truly do what God requires, and be conformed to his will. The works required of Christians shew, not our merits, but our belief in Him, who is truly meritorious, and our hope and trust in the word and promises of God; they should be intended to manifest not that salvation is of us, but that we seek for and accept it as the free gift of God. By faith, we receive Christ as "the Lord our Righteousness." It is a belief in what God has revealed, a trust in what he has promised, and a lively sense that all the glory of our salvation is his alone. It is "not of works, lest any man should boast." But so far is this faith from excluding the necessity of repentance and hope and charity and good living, that it is what produces them. It is the good tree, which, as our Lord says, brings forth good fruit; and the wisdom of God in requiring it, as the principle of our justification, is evident. It is thus required not because faith is the greatest of all Christian virtues or graces;--charity is greater than faith. What gives to faith its exalted rank in the religion of Christ is its truth. It sees no merit but in Jesus Christ: it humbles the sinner, exalts the Saviour, and gives all glory to [12/13] God; and also, through his grace, it enables the Christian to "walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
And here, too, as St. James says, "you see how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." "The tree is known by its fruits;" "by works is faith made perfect;" its fruitfulness and its life are shewn. We are justified by works, as being the fruits which make faith valuable. Hence it is said that we shall be judged according to our works, or according to the fruit which our faith produces. "He that soweth little shall reap little, and he that soweth plenteously, shall reap plenteously."
It is remarkable and much to our present purpose that St. Paul, in speaking of what will avail--what the Lord requires that we should be and do that we may be saved in Jesus Christ, says, in one place, "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." But in another place he says "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God." And yet in a third passage he declares, "In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love." Here it may seem to some that the Apostle is not consistent with himself--that he advances three discordant principles respecting our acceptance with God; but in truth not only do these three agree in what avails to our salvation in Christ, but they very much confirm the view of a living faith, which in this Letter we would commend to your devout consideration. For the "new creature," mentioned in one of these passages, is what circumcision did, and baptism now does represent: it is the "new birth unto righteousness," "the inward part or thing signified "by those rites. Faith is the gift or grace by which the heart is renewed. We are begotten again by the word of truth. God purifies the heart by faith: Christians are sanctified by the faith that is in them. Faith, therefore, avails as producing the new creature; and as "with the heart man believeth unto righteousness," "the keeping the commandments of God "also avails. These are works by which faith is made perfect--the fruit of a living faith--a faith, says the Apostle, [13/14] "which worketh," which influences our conduct--produces that obedience to God's word, without which faith is dead.
There may, indeed, be an active faith, and yet the fruits not good. Faith, in many instances, has produced prejudice, bigotry, and divisions. Actuated by a blind belief and ungodly zeal, Christians have been guilty of a thousand persecutions. Will such a faith avail?--a faith which produces "envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness?" which swells the heart with spiritual pride? which breaks out in a fiery zeal for a sect, excites party spirit, and makes men more uncharitable? Not so: that which avails is "faith which worketh by love." By such works it is that faith is made perfect. With this addition, you have a comprehensive view of what is necessary to your salvation in Jesus Christ. "Love is the fulfilling of the whole law:" it is the moral principle which the gospel is intended to produce and to cherish in the hearts of men, and by which we are best known to be the disciples of Christ.
That faith avails to our salvation the scriptures abundantly teach; a new creature avails, as being the sanctified state of a believing soul: it is the inward disposition to hate sin, to love God and obey his word, which is called a new birth, and without which no man can see the kingdom of God; and of course keeping God's commandments avails, because, as we have seen, it is the fruit of faith--the work done by the new creature. A lively faith in Jesus Christ disposes the Christian to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world: it does no ill to any one, for it worketh by love. In these passages of the Apostle you have a guide to the knowledge of your own Christian state. If you have faith which worketh by love in keeping God's commandments, you may well trust that you are 4i born of God." "Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God; if we love one another, God dwelleth in us; hereby we know that we dwell in him and he in us."
In viewing this subject of what you must believe and what you must do, that you may be saved with an everlasting [14/15] salvation, you should carefully remember that neither faith nor works is the meritorious cause of your salvation. "By grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." We are said to be saved by faith, and to be justified by it rather than by our works, not only because, as we have seen, it is that which alone can produce the works required of us, but chiefly because, through the operations of the Divine Spirit, it is a conviction of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment; it is a belief that we are included under sin; that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to those who believe in him, and that a day of judgment is approaching, when we must all give account of the works done in this present life. Faith moves us to seek for life eternal as the gift of God through the merits of Christ, and to render all glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
This subject rightly considered will teach you profitably to use the means of grace. Because circumcision now avails nothing you must not infer that the Christian ordinances are of but little importance--that without peril to your soul you may neglect baptism, or confirmation, or the Lord's supper, or prayer. By a right use of these means, as our Church teaches and the scriptures teach your faith will be strengthened and grace increased. God has commanded the use of them, and they who neglect them must either think that they are wiser than God, or they must be in want of that faith which produces obedience to his commands.
The ordinances appointed by our Saviour Christ and administered by his Apostles, should not be viewed merely as duties, but rather as blessed privileges which claim our thankfulness to God. In mercy to mankind and to help our infirmities they are given us as sanctified means of bringing us to himself, and by which we may obtain his heavenly benediction.
Your Bishops ask your attention to this subject the rather, because, in our visitation of the churches under our care, we are often and much pained in observing how large a part of the people of our congregations appear to be in doubt, or undecided respecting the use of these means; how many of them live in the [15/16] neglect of making an open and public profession of their faith in Christ and submission to his righteousness: and this we the more regret, from considering that not a few of them manifest a sincere regard for religion and a serious sense of its importance. Their morals, too, and their lives in other respects, are, in a happy degree, such as we desire to see in the disciples of Christ. They appear to have a reverence for God and right views of the Saviour's character and office; and they shew such benevolence and charity towards their fellow men, that we may say of thousands what Christ said to one, "They are not far from the kingdom of God." Our sorrow is that they are not visibly in his kingdom. For reasons known perhaps to themselves and to God only, they do not confess Christ before men and become members of his Church. While they so continue they are not assured of God's favor and goodness towards them, "and that they are members incorporate in the mystical body of his Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people." Into a Church so apostolic as this, having a faith so primitive, doctrines so evangelical, a worship so scriptural, and other institutions so truly liberal, we might reasonably hope to see people crowding as doves to their windows.
Our Saviour Christ sent his ministers to preach, "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved;" and so far as we know of their acts and their history, they who did believe immediately made that profession of their faith. It is also evident in the Acts of the Apostles that they confirmed baptized believers by laying their hands upon them, and praying for the aid of God's Holy Spirit to strengthen them in the performance of their baptismal engagements, and enable them to "lead the rest of their lives according to that beginning." And it is the request and the command of your Saviour that you receive the other sacrament in remembrance of him, in a thankful and devout commemoration of his "one sacrifice for sin." In that sacrament you shew forth his death--you manifest your faith in the merits of his cross, and your thankfulness for such unspeakable mercy. By faithfully receiving these memorials of his love, you are also authorized to hope for the strengthening of your souls by the spiritual efficacy [16/17] of his body and blood, broken and shed for your sins, as your bodies are by the bread and wine.
Some seem to think that the rivers of Damascus are better than the waters of Israel, or that if they live honest and good lives they shall not be the worse for neglecting religious ceremonies. And who does truly live an honest and good life 1 Who loves God with all his heart and soul and mind, and his neighbor as himself? Who has in all things done to others as he would have others do to him 1 In many things we all offend: there is none good but one. Christ died to save, and his gospel is sent to call "not the righteous but sinners." Are you so whole, that you need not this Divine Physician? We might remind you of the inestimable benefits, visibly signed and scaled in baptism, to those who rightly receive it. We might say much to you of the fitness and Divine authority of confirmation, and the blessings which have evidently attended its right and faithful ministration. We might shew that communing in the Lord's Supper is a great comfort to those who believe in Christ, and that it strengthens them much in their Christian zeal. But is it not enough to know that it is the will of your Saviour Christ that you should submit to his ordinances?--that he, who so loved your soul as to die for its salvation, has appointed his sacraments for your benefit? Such a Saviour, you may well believe, has not ordained rites which are unnecessary, or which may safely be neglected; nor has he required you to do that which is useless. Our wisdom, when opposed to God's word, is but foolishness. He has "chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the mighty." When some inquired of Christ, "What shall we do that we might work the works of God; he answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." We are to believe in him as the great Prophet--as the word or wisdom of God, by whom the Divine will is made known to men; and as the only true Priest who has made expiation for our sins, and ever lives to make intercession for us. "Through him we have access, by one Spirit, unto the Father." And we are to believe in him as our King, unto whom all power was given in [17/18] heaven and in earth. Him we are bound in all things to obey. He is "made both Lord and Christ;" and well may he ask, as he does, "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" While we disobey his commands, by our actions we deny that he is Lord; we rebel against him.
But there is an opposite error which is no less carefully to be avoided. There is little use in drawing nigh to God with our lips, if our hearts are far from him. Our Church is faithful to declare, what the scriptures clearly teach, that "the sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon,--but that we should duly use them. In such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation." And she is faithful also in warning us of the peril of receiving them unworthily. In using the means of grace, according to your faith it will be done unto you. We may err in making not only too little, but in making too much of external rites. There is a sense in which neither receiving baptism, nor neglecting it, will avail. The outward performance of religious rites will not be profitable, without the sincere co-operation of the mind and affections. The ordinances of the gospel are to be observed, as the consecrated channels of God's grace to your soul; as the means whereby you may hope to receive his heavenly benediction. We should use them in faith and submission to God, making no account of our own righteousness; but remembering that "Jesus Christ is of God made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; that according as it is written," by the prophet Jeremiah, "He that glorifieth, let him glory in the Lord."
It is a very essential part of religious knowledge to have right views of all the means of grace, and with what intention, and what faith and hopes, you observe them. They are as instruments put into your hands, by the right use of which, you obtain what is truly good. If we ask we shall receive; if we seek as the Lord directs, we shall find. They are as a test of our faith, and they manifest that we seek for salvation as being the free gift of God. It is in compassion of our weakness, and [18/19] to help our infirmities, that they are appointed. And the doctrine that you are saved by grace--that you cannot of yourselves and in your own natural strength turn to God, and be and do what he requires, without his aid, far from discouraging those who desire to be saved in Christ, should enliven your hope, and cause you the rather to strive to enter in at the straight gate. Accordingly St. Paul urges this most comforting truth, that "God works within you to will and to do," as the reason why you should "work out your own salvation." We preach the doctrines of grace to render your hope of salvation more lively and sure. We can do all things, Christ strengthening us, and his strength he is more ready to give, than we to seek for it by prater, and by the use of those means which he has appointed and blessed for that purpose.
This doctrine that salvation is not of ourselves but is the gift of God, increases our thankfulness. Did we suppose it to be of us, that it is due to our merits, or within our natural power, that we can sanctify our own hearts and by our own strength become what God's word requires, we should feel self-sufficient, and arrogate to ourselves the honor which belongs to God only. But when we know that "our help is in the name of the Lord"-- that our knowledge is from his teaching--that our strength is his gift--that it is the Lord who opens our minds to understand and our hearts to receive the doctrines of life--that in patient goodness he hears our prayers, and in mercy gives us what we truly need--that his sanctifying grace makes the means which we use profitable to our souls, and that it is his Spirit which works within us to will and to do what is acceptable to himself, all boasting, all trust in ourselves is excluded--we shall be ready each one with the Apostle to acknowledge, "By the grace of God I am what I am." Good works are not the cause but the fruit of our goodness. It is God who makes the tree good, and who requires of us the fruit of good living: the fruit itself, indeed, shews that the work is his. It is in perfect agreement with this doctrine of grace that we are commanded to "seek the Lord while he may be found," and to "save ourselves from this untoward generation." When we rightly understand the freedom [19/20] of his grace, we must feel the justice of his reproof, "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life." Our part is to do what God commands, believing his word, trusting in his promise, and relying upon his grace. We must plant, and we must water, not the less, but the rather because it is God who gives the increase.
We "beseech you then, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation." Consider well what you must do to be saved;--how great is the peril of halting between two opinions, and of neglecting this great salvation. We would be ever cautious not to encourage an undue reliance on religious rites; but without the use of those which God has graciously appointed for our use, how can we hope to increase in grace and in godliness of living? "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." We know well that you cannot change your own hearts;--that God alone can renew a right spirit within you. But he has promised to bless your sincere efforts to know and to do his will. "Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find." While you are faithful to do what he commands, you may humbly hope that he will enlighten your mind, and sanctify your affections. To him that hath shall be given. To those who "order their conversation right, shall be shewn the salvation of God."
The kingdom of God, or his Church, is the spiritual ark, which Christ, the true Noah, has prepared for the saving of his house, and your safety requires that you be not only "not far from," but in it. The promise of salvation is to those who are within its pale. The sense in which, as St. Peter says, "Baptism now saves us," is its being ordained of Christ, as the entrance into this spiritual ark, where we are entitled to all the means of grace, and if we are faithful in the use of them, to all the promises to those "who are "members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom heaven." As our Church teaches, "they that receive baptism rightly, are grafted into the Church, and the promises of forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed."
 We should use this and the other Christian ordinances as a manifestation of our faith in Christ, of our trust in his merits, of our hope in the promises of God, and of our submission to his righteousness. In the right use of them there is great comfort; for they are tokens of his love of our souls, and of what he has done to save them. They are sanctified means, of God's appointment, whereby we may draw nigh to him in full assurance of faith, and obtain his heavenly benediction. Where these ordinances are devoutly and faithfully observed, we may well hope that true religion is increasing. It is encouraging to all who love the gates of Zion to see multitudes thus openly confessing the name of Christ; coming to Baptism, and bringing their children; renewing in Confirmation, their Christian covenant, and regularly communing in the Lord's Supper. "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
ALEXANDER V. GRISWOLD,