Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011
Text Courtesy of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut
Time was, when all the followers of Christ were one; "and continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."
For our present purpose it were bootless to inquire when existing diversities commenced, or why they originated or were tolerated. Enough, that here, in these ends of the earth, and in these latter days, divisions have arisen, and every one saith, "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas;" that a very wide matter-of-fact diversity of doctrinal sentiment in minor matters and of outward religious observances, does exist amongst us; and that we, the very few of the Episcopal Church, are involuntarily, almost every day, brought in contact with bold and ardent adherents of these opinions and practices, and with their leaders, and must, therefore, either intelligently assume, or negligently fall into a certain line of conduct with regard to them, and to their opinions and practices. It were a blessing and happiness beyond price, could we be fully agreed amongst ourselves what that line of conduct should be. And, in order to this most desirable agreement, perhaps nothing can be more conducive than a free and candid discussion of the question, what temper and line of conduct are proper, on the part of Episcopalians towards their fellow christians who are not Episcopalians.
In this connexion, I would that this address were known by another name than a charge; for the extreme delicacy of the question in hand, and the avowed diversity of sentiment with regard to it, on the part of our most venerable prelates, and most able writers, utterly forbid on my part the hardihood and presumption of giving that in charge to the clergy, which is so much mere matter of opinion, and in reference to which their united decision would be entitled to so much more deference and respect than my single judgment.
I enter upon it, therefore, as a grave and very important discussion, to which the exigencies of our position and of the times will more and more compel us to attend. And, inasmuch as the itinerant character of my duties may have constrained me, [3/4] somewhat earlier than others, seriously to attend to the question, I avail myself of the present occasion for committing my reflections to record, in order that their correctness or otherwise may be tested by your more profound meditations, and more varied experience.
I take it for granted, then, that the prerequisite for this discussion must be a true understanding of the relative position of Episcopalians in America, and of their fellow-christians of other names.
I have no over sensitive shrinking from that smile which will be provoked on their part, when I affirm, that in the main, we Episcopalians KNOW that we are in the right. I am sorry to feel constrained to admit that there is much of the same boyish, dogmatical, and petulant assumption of this, amongst us, which provokes us so much when we meet with it from others. In general, however, there is a calm dignity of repose in our strength of conviction, very like that which animated St. John, when he exclaimed "we know that we are of the truth." It is a conviction based upon the word of God, strengthened by the History of the Church, confirmed by the experience of ages and responded to by the very constitution of man. We know that our doctrines are identically the same with those of the Apostles and Martyrs of our God; and our external observances, in the main, accord with the pattern shown in the Mount, and with the practice of the great body of Christ's followers in all ages and countries, since his ascension to heaven. We know that we are right. And it is on this very account that I contend that we can afford to be humble, patient and magnanimous; since our cause is the cause of truth and of God, and therefore in the long run, we must increase and separatists must decrease.
I would that this conviction were tempered by one equally strong: that we are by no means, in all things, perfectly right, particularly in that of which the presumptuous amongst us are most apt to boast, our exact conformity, in outward observances, to the early Church. As, for example, our Dioceses differ greatly in size from the primitive Dioceses; the office of our Deacons from that of the early Deacons; the arrangement and length of our Liturgy from those of the highest antiquity; the times and mode of baptism; the methods of catechetical instruction; the disuse of the office of Deaconesses, and of communion in the Lord's supper every Lord's day. A profound consciousness of all this, would screen us from the danger of advocating all which we have received from our venerable mother, the Church of England, just as she holds it, right or wrong; and would impart a tone of modesty and moderation, when [4/5] we exhort others around us, to return to the bosom of the early church, not dogmatically obtruding our most excellent and beautiful branch of it upon their acceptance; but cordially extending to them the proposition, that we stand ready, heart and hand, to return with them to the primitive model, whether it be the Church of Rome, or the Church of England, or the wildest Reformers from either or from both, which have deviated farthest from, or most nearly approach to that most glorious pattern.
From this survey of our position, we should proceed with equal candor and impartiality to observe the position of our many most excellent fellow-christians around us--and first comprehensively--afterwards, more in detail.
In reference to the great cardinal doctrines of the Christian Religion, most of them may well feel as confidently as we do, that they are mainly right; and, as it appears to me, I set up the strongest kind of claim to be regarded and treated as brethren beloved in the Lord. It is the misfortune of our position in this country, to be constantly tempted to undervalue the saving truth in which we are all agreed, and to magnify the importance of the metaphysical opinion, or external practice, in which we differ. This is the crying sin--this the inherent curse of sectarism. At the outset, it buried in forgetfulness fundamentals essential to salvation, and exalted, as of infinitely more importance than unity, charity or peace--the modern opinion or minor practice for whose wretched sake the sect started into being. And that which at first was its sin, is still its blighting curse. And it falls upon all alike; for to some extent the guilt was common. We will go out, said the separatists, notwithstanding our substantial agreement, because we cannot be tolerated in our ism--and you may go out, was the unfeeling response, notwithstanding our substantial agreement, because your ism is intolerable. And so the curse reigns this day over all--to overlook our agreements--to magnify our differences!
We are further to remark, that a matter-of-fact separation is one thing, and the active guilt of participation in it, is quite another thing. Agreeably to the Laws of Nations, revolt and rebellion in the sires, is often transformed into loyalty and patriotism in the sons. From the universality and perpetuity of the Church, this entire change of character cannot indeed attach in ecclesiastical matters to the same act; and yet our sense of the guilt of separation--and the consciousness of guilt on the part of the separatist, is exceedingly different, whether he himself cause the separation, or was only born in it, ages after it had been effected. Estimate the guilt as you will, [5/6] in the one case it is mainly negative--in the other it is palpably positive. And for myself, born as I was in the midst of the least excusable of all separations, as I now regard it, except that of the Methodists; and early convinced of its groundless and pernicious character, I must confess that my conscience never inflicted upon me one pang on that account; and I believe that far the larger part of those, the sons of the Puritans, amongst whom my early lot was cast, are checked by no compunctious visitings on this account; and that it widens the difficulties in the way of their acceptance with God, by not so much as a hair's breadth. And therefore, their state of separation has the full benefit of my commiseration; and my heart is scarcely repelled from them at all by a feeling of blame; I may say, not at all, if they do not close their own eyes upon the light which is now shining around them.
The glowing, heaven-born sympathy, then, which binds my heart to those who bear the moral image of Him whom my soul loves; and who, by the labors of the Apostles, Missionaries and Martyrs of our God, have like me, been brought to a blessed agreement in all essential revealed doctrines; is no more repressed and checked in my bosom now, than it appears to have been in the English Reformers, towards their continental fellow laborers, by those shades of difference in opinion and practice, which, however we may deeply regret, may yet be accounted for, with about the least shadow of blame that can be attached to human actions. And it rejoices my heart to see the same spirit still working, in these days of exasperated sectarian bitterness, wherever our Missionaries meet others on the foreign field. The houses of all are the homes of all. All lines of separation sink into nothingness, whilst the Episcopal Missionary ministers at the sick bed of his Congregational fellow-labourer, and the Missionaries of the Board join cordially in the responses of the Liturgy, or make their home by the fireside of the Missionary of the Church of England. In most cases it is only necessary that want, or suffering, or the claims of hospitality should mellow the cold and repulsive surface of sectarism, to make two noble christian hearts, almost in all things one.
As your Bishop, I often greatly feel the lack of this feeling on the home-field. I enter a retired village of Kentucky to spend the Lord's day. A few christian hearts are there, which, if they knew the warm pulsations of mine towards all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and in truth, would receive me, with all the cordiality with which they now receive, the few who utter the peculiar shibboleth of their sect. Such a meeting would animate and warm all our hearts; confirm our [6/7] reliance in the efficacy of the gospel, and invigorate all our christian graces. But as it is, how often does such a Lord's day pass away sad and solitary, only partially blessed with the public services, which I perform before a cold, distant, and too often suspicious auditory. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. And they would not, if the one sentiment which I am now endeavoring to enforce, were deeply engraven on all hearts. Christians are bound to love one another for the dear sake of their common Lord. Amongst those of them who are orthodox, the points of substantial agreement are thousands; the points of unessential differences, are units; and there is, generally, quite as little ground for boasting on the part of those who are nearest right, as of blame on the part of those who are most grievously in error.
At this point, I almost fancy I hear the cry of amalgamation--amalgamation! Those who know me best, have felt, I am sure, no disposition to utter it. Except on the principles of "the comprehensive Church," interchange of religious services even, not to say amalgamation, would be highly injurious. Except within these limits, union without harmony would be but the laying of a train for a more fearful explosion. Conciliation itself, as a line of policy, is half as wicked, as it is altogether weak.
As I have thus considered the state of feeling, in a comprehensive point of view, towards others, somewhat at length, I am now brought to the discussion of the line of conduct towards them, somewhat in detail.
And first, towards their Church judicatories, as, afterwards, towards their several ministers.
I bring forward this great position first, because it has been so strangely overlooked, and seems to me, in principle, to settle the whole question. We Episcopalians do not cut off others--we are cut off by them. And so it happens with regard to every denomination, which is older than the next successive split. They shut us out of their church judicatories. They thereby declare that they consider themselves the Church; and those whom they will not permit to sit with them, as not of the Church. Separate Church judicatories, are the fountains of separation. Union in benevolent societies, and in prayer-meetings, the exchange of pulpits and other courtesies, can never bring about union, whilst separate ecclesiastical organizations are kept up. I have yet to hear of that wild enthusiast who has to propose that all ministers so called, should have seats, and a vote, in all so called Church judicatories. Such a proposition would be amalgamation with a vengeance!
I give utterance to a universal sentiment, then, when I say [7/8] that as Episcopalians, we are to have nothing to do with the ecclesiastical organizations of our fellow christians who are not Episcopalians. For as they, on the one hand, would indignantly repel it as a most unauthorized and impertinent interference with what is none of our business, so on the other hand, we are neither called upon to acknowledge or deny the validity of their acts.
This view, it seems to me, settles the whole question of our intercourse with their individual ministers. Collectively, they have cut themselves off from us. And as they refuse to be acknowledged by us, in their collective capacity, they have no reason in the world to complain, if we neither affirm nor deny their clerical character, in their individual capacity. Each sect has set up an exclusive Church. We belong to the comprehensive Church. Each has originated a new mode of appointing ministers and exacting creeds. To us there is only one creed and one ministry, the Apostolic and Primitive. The Ecclesiastical Councils of all who hold to the Head, and retain these, we do acknowledge; all such we receive to our Councils, and to all such we are received, only under such restrictions as grow out of provincial or national divisions. For the life of me, then, I can perceive no obligation that we are under to acknowledge their ministry, either by word or deed, any more than we are, to submit to the acts of their Church judicatories. Neither can I see any reason why we should deny the validity of their ministry, any more than to squander an idle opinion on the validity of their ecclesiastical acts. In a word, we have nothing to do with them, but to deplore their matter of fact existence, and their manifold evil consequences. No man on earth is clothed with authority to say how extremely irregular baptism may be, and yet remain valid; how altogether irregular the decision of an ecclesiastical council may be, and yet be binding; or how utterly irregular an ordination maybe, and yet the commission be authentic. Enough for us, that the validity of the perfectly regular, cannot, by any possibility, be gravely questioned. We know that the organization of our Ecclesiastical Councils, and the ordination of our ministers, is substantially, nay almost perfectly regular; and we therefore know that their acts are perfectly valid. With regard to others, let us be silent, and yet charitable; whilst yet we religiously abstain from any act, which, fairly interpreted, can be construed into an acknowledgment of the validity of their organization or of their ministry.
It is hoped that these considerations will prove sufficient to define the PRINCIPLES upon which our intercourse with others should be based. The MOTIVES which should regulate that intercourse, [8/9] may well claim separate and very emphatic consideration.
There are those, and very intelligent and excellent men, too, of whom it is charitable to think that they consider themselves as specially called by Providence, to be living admonitions to all separatists from the one true Church, of the exceeding abomination of their sin of separation, a sort of "thorn in their eyes," "and messengers of" Heaven "to buffet them." They seem determined to carry the world by storm, to make them Episcopalians, whether they will or not.
It is very much to be doubted whether this spirit of ecclesiastical knight-errantry results in a good, at all commensurate with the evil which we know must be inflicted by it upon the real cause of the Redeemer upon earth, the cause of truth, of peace and love. As a matter of mere expediency, open aggressive measures are sure to provoke not only open hostility, but open aggression in return. As a matter of principle, it would not be difficult to prove that it is utterly wrong and unjustifiable. To test this, we are only to ask ourselves what we think of the man, and how we feel towards the christian, who conducts himself in a similar manner towards us? It is the worst of the evil spirits which have survived the age of persecution for conscience sake. Who made me a ruler or a judge over another man's conduct or conscience? To his own master he stands or falls. Enough for me, carefully to endeavor to avoid being partaker of other men's sins; and to interpret every opinion and every act of a brother whose whole life shows that he is deeply read in the school of Christ, with that charity "which beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
It is only necessary to sketch this picture in the strong coloring which I have chosen for the purpose, in order to show how utterly repugnant, aggressive, and ultra-churchmanship it is to the genius of the age and country in which we live; and to the spirit of that gospel which we all profess. It is utterly subversive of its aims.
For what should be our leading aim, in our intercourse with fellow christians, differing from us in some points, but agreeing with us in a thousand more? Why, evidently, "to confirm one another in our most holy faith," "to provoke one another to love and good works." And "to speak those things whereby one may edify another."
Think of our common position in the midst of this sorrowful and dangerous world! Think of the common temptations by which we are continually assailed, requiring not only personal watchfulness, "but that we should exhort one another daily, [9/10] lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." Think of the common foe--"the world, the flesh and the devil;" and with what united effort we need to contend against them, "watching thereunto with all supplication and prayer." Think of our mutual sorrows and trials, laying continual claim upon our common sympathies, "that we may thus learn to bear one another's burdens, and so to fulfil the law of Christ, which is the law of love." Think of the catholic hymns written by good men of every name, and incorporated into the devotional services of almost all those who, on this continent, call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours; in singing which we might much more profitably pour forth our breath, than in vain disputations, profiting nothing! Think of the common salvation, as yet unproclaimed to so many nations, and of the multitudes of mere nominal christians for whose dear sake, first and foremost, we should be stirring to send abroad the living word! Think of the volumes of forms of prayer, that we might kneel and offer together at the footstool of our common Saviour, no word erased, no sentence altered! And then estimate, if you can, the exceeding deadness of the life of God in the soul of that man, who would rather avoid his fellow christian than entertain him, or be entertained by him; who would rather exasperate him by a rough and unfeeling remark, than win him by the voice of love and pity; who would rather wrangle with him and denounce him, than sing praises to God, and pray with him!
By a course like this, whenever the question of our differences did arise, a word spoken in love might stir thought, and lead to investigation; and a volume seasonably loaned, might result in large advantage to the cause of God and of his truth. I have found myself preserved from unprofitable verbal jangling and useless metaphysical disputes, by confining the attention of the multitudes who, in this age and country of theological disputation, challenge me to debate, to the one point, the laws of evidence, by simple and childlike subjection to which, it appears to me, we might all so easily be led into all essential truth. It is a subject of primary importance, but little understood. It bears alike upon all departures from primitive truth and order, whether in the Church of England or elsewhere,--it completely neutralizes the suspicion of over-sensitiveness for or against the peculiarities of the denominations, between whom the debate is proceeding; and its tendency is, to settle all truth upon its only true basis, and so to bring Christians nearer together--all marching, whatever may be the points of divergency from which they start, by the guidance of the same chart and the same compass--onward and upward, to the same [10/11] point, the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth--one, scriptural, apostolic and universal.
There is a subject collateral to that which we are discussing, which I approach with sensible pain and embarrassment, but which I cannot well avoid. I mean, the temper and course of conduct due from one Episcopalian towards another, on account of the line of conduct which he may see fit to pursue towards his fellow christians who are not Episcopalians.
One would naturally suppose, from the exceedingly subordinate character of this question, that it never, by any chance, or wrong-headedness, could grow into a cause of separation between brethren, and of mutual recriminations, even more bitter than between opposing sects. One would certainly suppose that members of the same Church, a Church avowedly based upon the broadest principles of comprehension, even on points of the greatest magnitude, would have learnt, if not in the school of Christ, at least in the school of good breeding, not to denounce one another, because one conceives that a course of aggressive ultra-churchmanship will best promote the cause of truth, and another believes that a course of courtesy and kindliness will be most likely to win over those who oppose themselves.
But so it is. Ultraists are always dogmatical and denunciatory. They run everything into extremes. And beginning with denouncing wrath against their foes, they commonly end by uttering anathemas upon their own friends, and the best friends of the cause they advocate, because, forsooth, they cannot run with them into the same excess of fiery zeal--"calling down fire from heaven," and "forgetting what manner of spirit they are of."
The moderate can always afford to be temperate and just. They have no disposition to dictate to others the course of conduct they shall pursue; nor to denounce them if that course is not pursued which moderation requires. But such persons are usually very firm and determined in their resistance, to any attempts to drive them into a course which their moderation forbids. The repellency here may be equal; alas! that the violent should always keep it alive and active, and even exasperate it, by their sneers, their censures, and their curses!
The only sounds of discord within our otherwise most peaceful borders, are wafted over the land by the mad violence of a few ultraists, who, not content to think independently themselves, claim that odd and dangerous species of independence--the right to compel others to think and act as they do. And if there be a solitary danger, threatening the growing harmony and prosperity of the Episcopal Church, it exists in [11/12] the disposition of the few to compel all others to think and act towards their fellow Christians around us, just as they do--with the same lack of candor and charity (as it seems to me) and with the same suicidal indiscretion and bitterness.
But, brethren, we have not so learned Christ; we have not so learned HIM, by the study of those scriptures, which inculcate charity, forbearance and good will towards all, "especially towards those who are of the household of faith." We have not so learned HIM, by experience, by the experience of the apostles and martyrs of our God, who, when they were reviled, reviled not again; when they were persecuted, threatened not; but by their meek conversation endeavored to win over their opposers. We have not so learned of HIM, by the wise precepts and blessed example left for us to follow by our first two illustrious Presiding Bishops. Would that our ardent young men were constrained to study (if they could only understand and appreciate them) their most wise and meek example in this respect. Would that the editors of our so called (by courtesy I presume) religious Journals, could be induced to review their articles in the light of those precepts which Bishop White and Bishop Griswold have left, as an invaluable legacy to the Church. But, alas! as in the case of the parting counsel of the Father of his Country to our modern politicians, so, there is too much reason to fear, that the precepts of these great and good men, will be forgotten, by those very young men who most magnify their virtues; so much easier is it to build the sepulchres of the Prophets, than to imitate their virtues!
In my youth it was my happiness to be the pupil of our late venerable and lamented Presiding Bishop. But for that, it is little likely that I should ever have been a minister of this Church. Like scores of others, I was won over to the Church before I fully understood her claims, or was capable of appreciating all her surpassing excellencies, by the radiance of his meek and blameless example. By his guidance I subsequently became an Episcopalian, after the most thorough investigation and upon the deepest convictions of mind and heart.
For twenty years, more or less intimately, for many of them very intimately indeed, was I acquainted with all those wise maxims by which, with such signal success, he governed every thought, and word, and action, towards his fellow-christians who were not Episcopalians. Their wisdom and their truth commend them fully to my conscience in the sight of God; and they have left their impression on the present condition and prospects of the Church in Massachusetts and Rhode Island; as if from under the broad seal of the Great Head of the [12/13] Church himself. Sudden and short-lived success is by no means an infallible test of the approbation of Heaven; yet success upon the whole, and in the long run, is one of the surest of such tests. That venerable Bishop, who was honored as the instrument of bringing over more than two hundred young men from other ranks, to become the ministers of this Church, could hardly have erred in the temper and line of conduct which he pursued towards them. And these were remarkably free from every thing censorious, harsh, or denunciatory. And however, through the infirmity of my nature, I may have failed to carry out these principles, I feel the highest degree of confidence that they are just; not because they are mine, but because I was taught them by that wise and good old man. And I doubt not but that I may have been insensibly led into the train of remark embodied in this Charge, by being made daily to feel, how few are left behind, like-minded with him; and by that growing admiration of departed wisdom and worth, to a full sense of which it would seem we are never sufficiently awake, until we are deprived of it forever!
My Brethren, there probably never was a time when the great body of our Clergy were so thoroughly united in sound Churchmanship, pure doctrine, ardent zeal, and a wise discretion, with regard to those who are without. Perhaps that is the reason why ultraists are running into such wild extremes; it stings them to the heart to find themselves growing so rapidly into an inconsiderable minority, and they feel that their time is short.
Certainly there never was a time when such almost perfect harmony on all points, existed amongst the Clergy of this Diocese. It is a cause of profound thanksgiving to the Father of Mercies and God of all grace. The task of conducting ourselves as we ought towards our fellow christians who are not Episcopalians is, perhaps, nowhere, so delicate and difficult. The farther we go West and South-West, the more numerous the various sects become; and I am afraid that in a still larger proportion they become presumptuous and bitter. In no Diocese, perhaps, is the proportion of Episcopalians so exceeding small; in most parts of the State, indeed, almost utterly unknown. And yet, in no Diocese, except Rhode Island, perhaps, are the elements afloat in such commotion so little likely to be drawn together by any other centre; or so likely, by a powerful and speedy reaction, to concentrate upon the one, scriptural and apostolic Church.
Nothing is to be gained (but rather every thing to be endangered) by a course of policy and conciliation, as such. At the same time, nothing could be more suicidal than a temper and [13/14] course of conduct which would repel others--which would tend to check a free and fraternal, a friendly and christian intercourse amongst all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth; or would impress them that our Church is haughty, repulsive or denunciatory. The temper and course of Bishop White and Bishop Griswold, appear to me to be best; and I have chosen my present theme of discussion on purpose to recommend them--not by any means forgetting however, that we have a much higher and brighter pattern, "who has left us an example that we should follow his steps." "And may the God of Peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great shepherd of his sheep, make you perfect in every good work, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord." AMEN.