Polity of the Church, in the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant
Episcopal Church in the United States.
PRINTED BY T. AND J. SWORDS,
No. 99 Pearl-street.
THE author of this sermon deems it proper to make the following statement, in explanation of the manner in which his subject has been treated.
As mentioned in the sermon, all the Free or Charity Schools in the city of New-York were made, by the act the Legislature of 1813, equal participants in the distribution of the portion of the common school fund of the State falling to that city. Application was made to the Legislature in 1824, by the New-York Free School Society, to pass an act which would withdraw from most of the schools attached to religious communions nearly all the aid which they had experienced from that fund. The proposed bill passed the Assembly, and was pending in the Senate, when the Legislature adjourned. Successful measures were adopted to prevent its passage in the Senate, at the subsequent meeting of the Legislature. In lieu of it, however, a bill passed both houses, in which all parties agreed, and which gave to the Corporation of New-York the entire disposal of the common school money apportioned to that city. As great efforts had been made to depreciate the character, and oppose the interests, of the religious charity schools, the author supposed that the benefit both of religion and the community would be promoted, by a full and fair consideration of the claims [3/4] of those schools to public approbation and encouragement. He thought, too, that as it fell to his turn, at this season, to preach in Trinity church and its chapels, the annual sermon for the benefit of the Episcopal Charity School, a peculiarly suitable opportunity was thus afforded of bringing the subject before the congregations of which he is one of the pastors. The publication of the sermon he neither designed nor anticipated. It has been urged upon him on the ground of expected benefit from the more general diffusion of the principles it advances. In the humble hope that the expectation may not be totally disappointed, the sermon is committed to the candour of the public.
New-York, January, 1825.
IN these words, the greatest of kings and the wisest of men states the object of those proverbs in which he was the instrument of the Holy Ghost for imparting, in the most familiar and impressive style, the important precepts of religion and morality. And in no way, truly, could he have been engaged in greater accordance with the superior wisdom with which he was endued, or with the best interests of the community of which he was the head. The wisdom of the wise is then rendered the most truly and permanently useful, when, from the stores of knowledge, gathered by extensive study and deep reflection, those truths and precepts are drawn which may guide and govern men in their discharge of social obligations, and in their pursuit of social and individual happiness; and efficient measures are adopted for their general diffusion. Then is the welfare of the civil community best promoted, when that knowledge which raises the character of man, informs his understanding in religious and moral duty, and brings to view the most effectual motives to the discharge of that duty, is generally diffused.
These, my brethren, are the principles on which another [5/6] appeal is made to you in behalf of an institution humbly aiming at the same object for which inspiration dictated Solomon's unrivalled proverbs; to cause "to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty"--or prudence, caution, wariness of evil designs--"to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion."
This institution commenced its benevolent operations at an early period of our parish. [* The parish of Trinity Church was incorporated in the year 1697. In an abstract of the proceedings of the Society in England for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts, February, 1711, occurs the following passage:--"In the city of New-York, they" (the society) "have given a little pension to Mr. William Huddleston, the chief schoolmaster there, upon condition that he shall teach forty poor children gratis, after the same manner as they are instructed in our charity schools here in England." This was the origin of our school. From that period, until the revolution, the state of the school, and its gradual increase, are noticed in almost every annual report of that venerable society.] More than an hundred years ago, it was imparting to the children of the poor and destitute the inestimable blessings of useful knowledge; and from that period it has constantly gone on doing good. We may cherish the delightful confidence, and indeed, the history of our school gives us the certain knowledge, that society has been blessed with many of its most respectable members; our country with virtuous, industrious, and useful citizens; and the church with pious, faithful, and exemplary members; who have become such by the divine blessing on the exercises of this school. We may carry infinitely higher our views of the beneficial effects of this institution. The pure gospel, principles and precepts which it is its object to impart, have, we cannot doubt, been blessed to the preparing of many under its care for a triumphant death, and for entrance on the joys of paradise; many who, at the [6/7] last great day, will be found on the right hand of the Judge, will receive the invitation--Come, ye blessed children of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world; and entered on that heavenly inheritance, will unite with all the ransomed of the Lord, in the everlasting enjoyment and adoration of Him that sitteth upon the throne, and of the Lamb.
Contrast this, brethren, with what might have been the case, had the objects of this best of charities been left to the ignorance, and to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual degradation, from which they were thus rescued--the characters and conduct, which, too probably, they would have sustained through life, the unhappy deaths they might have encountered, and the eternal wretchedness to which they might have been doomed; and what reasonable mind will not approve of such an institution? What pious, what philanthropic heart will not be warmed with the deepest interest in its welfare?
Our Charity School was established, and until the revolution, continued, under the auspices of the venerable Society in England for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts; an institution to which the friends of primitive and evangelical doctrine and order owe a large debt of gratitude, for its extensive and efficient instrumentality in establishing that doctrine and order in all parts of our country.
After the revolution, the support of the school devolved entirely upon this parish, and the vestry became the sole managers of its concerns. In the year 1800, the school was made over by that vestry, with a certain endowment to aid in its support, to a board of trustees, which was afterwards legally incorporated as the Trustees of the First Episcopal Charity School of the City of New-York. The act of incorporation gives them the general power gratuitously "to board, lodge, clothe, and [7/8] educate, or to educate only, at their discretion, the children of the poor." [* The language of the charter has been exactly quoted, because it has been confidently charged upon the religious Charity Schools, that some of them have departed from the spirit of the act of 1813, by not clothing their children, and by thus enlarging their numbers. It is said, that when the religious schools were made participants in the State bounty, it was expected of them that they should clothe their children, and thus necessarily prevent their attaining to a size which should appear formidable to the New-York Free School Society. The above language of the act incorporating the Episcopal Charity School places the argument in its true light. Nor are the opponents of the religious schools more fortunate in their assertion, that those schools were also expected to be limited to the children of their own poor. The above mentioned act allows the school thus incorporated to educate the poor at large. The truth is, the feeling of sect never entered into this business, nor was ever thought of, until the public mind was to be biassed by unmerited clamour against institutions which had been uniformly engaged only in doing good. The wisdom which apportioned the school fund did not so little resemble that wisdom which cometh down from above, as to dictate, that because many poor families are too indifferent to spiritual concerns, to care about calling themselves by any Christian name, therefore their children ought to be brought up in the like indifference.]
In 1813, this and other establishments for gratuitous education, including those connected with other religious societies, and such similar institutions as might, from time to time, be formed, were allowed, by an act of the legislature, to divide among them the portion of the common school fund of the State, which falls to the city and county of New-York, in proportion to their number of scholars respectively.
Thus, from that time, our school has enjoyed a degree of State patronage. We are thankful for it. We believe in our consciences, that we have faithfully employed it, as faithfully as any other Free School without exception. We think that this appropriation of the State bounty was a wise and politic measure. In the good faith of its [8/9] continuance, we have enlarged the bounds of our operations, and consequently increased the measure of our usefulness. Designing still to deserve this encouragement, we trust that it will not be withdrawn.
Many of you, however, my brethren, are not ignorant that efforts have of late been made to enlist the public sentiment in favour of objections to the appropriation of any part of the State bounty to schools under the control of religious societies; and of course, to divert the whole of that bounty to the support of schools from which special religious instruction is necessarily and systematically excluded.
Merely civil questions are, undoubtedly, always out of place in the pulpit. Often, however, there is such an inseparable connexion between the duties of the Christian and the citizen, that the latter are necessarily involved in the former. This is thought to be the case in the present instance. And presuming that an occasion when the concerns of our Charity School are naturally brought to mind, will be deemed a very seasonable one, I purpose considering the reasons why our wishes, as Christians, that the religious charity schools may be suffered still to enjoy the encouragement and aid which have heretofore been extended to them, are not inconsistent with our character, and duties as citizens.
One motive for embracing this opportunity of laying before the members of this parish what appears to be the true view of the subject, is the circumstance, that the matter may continue to engage public attention, on account of the recent repeal, to take effect during the present year, of the act giving to our school, the bounty we have heretofore enjoyed, and the committing of the whole disposal of the common school fund to the city authorities. The question, then, will necessarily arise, What schools shall enjoy the benefit of that fund? The friends of our school ought to be made acquainted with the reasons [9/10] why we think that its past share in the fund should not be withdrawn; and why, therefore, we cherish the fullest confidence that the highly respected body which is to determine the point, will not deprive so ancient, so reputable, and so useful an institution, of the encouragement and aid which it has heretofore enjoyed.
As I stated before, our school was in operation more than a century ago. Soon after its establishment, and at subsequent periods, other religious societies formed similar schools. These institutions were the only provision for gratuitous education until the year 1805. In that year, a highly respectable society was incorporated under the denomination of the Society for the Gratuitous Education of the Poor "who do not belong to, or are not provided for by, any religious society." This designation of the body thus incorporated, shows the favourable light in which the religious charity schools were viewed by the public, and by the Legislature, and the confidence which was reposed in them; inasmuch as the new general society was not allowed to encroach upon them. Many pious people, of various denominations, and many, too, who were deeply interested, and personally engaged, in their respective charity schools, inasmuch as those schools could not embrace all the poor in the city, united in the support of this general society, professing, as it did, to design no interference with the old schools, but only to come in, to use their own language, as gleaners in the wide field of benevolence, to take those, and those only,
who did not belong to, or were not provided for by, the religious societies with which those schools were respectively connected.
Three years after, in 1808, it appearing that from the vast increase of the city, some at least of the religious denominations had such numbers of poor children as not to be able to provide for the education of all, the society above mentioned very properly applied for [10/11] permission to take charge of such children as were thus unprovided for, although belonging to particular religious societies. The permission was granted, and the name of the society altered to that which it now bears, The New-York Free School Society. Any interference, however, with provision for gratuitous education by the other charity schools, was, of course, not thought of in any quarter. The religious schools, and those connected with this new establishment, proceeded, with perfect harmony, in their respective labours of love.
In 1813, the law above mentioned, apportioning the common school fund, passed the Legislature. It recognized all the institutions which it found engaged in the great and good work of gratuitous instruction, and with regard to the schools of the different religious denominations, all similar ones which might thereafter be established, and placed them all upon a footing of equality; each to draw according to its number of scholars.
In this way have we gone on, receiving from the common school fund several hundred dollars each year. But even this, added to the proceeds of our fund, and the annual collections, has not enabled us to extend the benefits of the school to all the poor children of our own church.
The State patronage which we have received, we think, has been properly appropriated and faithfully applied, because we have given to the poor gratuitous instruction in the ordinary branches of education.,
This is the object to which the common school fund in this city is designed to be applied; and there would appear to be sound policy in the measure of so applying it as to encourage voluntary associations in their efforts in this good work. No provision for gratuitous instruction is made in this city by public authority. The Legislature, in its wisdom, has rather seen fit to encourage [11/12] the exertions of private institutions in this behalf. Of these institutions, some, as the New-York Free School Society, are composed of such persons only as pay a certain amount, and are approved by the Trustees; and others are composed of members of particular religious denominations, and are mainly supported by those denominations respectively. They all, however; and it is believed with little or no difference as to efficiency, instruct in the ordinary branches of a plain education. They have, therefore, all been deemed worthy of public encouragement and patronage. And it would seem that there could be no sufficient reason for withdrawing these, except abuses could be proved against the schools. If this be done, every honest man, and every good citizen, will at once say, Cut them off from public patronage. And as a security against abuse, it would unquestionably be right for the public authorities to institute such an inquiry into the conduct of all the schools receiving public patronage, as will insure a faithful return by them for the bounty of which they are the subjects; that is, the faithful imparting of what is designed by extending public patronage, on ordinary plain education.
To this inquiry the several schools that may be admitted to a participation in the common school fund, are, by the law recently enacted, to be subjected. And I am happy to say--and happy, too, to believe that the same may be said of the schools generally which are attached to the different religious denominations--that, our school is prepared to stand such examination, in the confidence that an ordinary plain education will be found to be as faithfully imparted in it as in any school, and consequently that it makes as just a return as any for the share of public patronage with which it is favoured, and is, therefore, as well entitled as any to a continuance of that patronage,
 But the idea has been industriously circulated, that it is contrary to the genius of our government to extend any degree of public support to religious institutions.
Were we pleading for any peculiar privileges, which would give to our Church, or to any other, the aspect of an establishment, the objection would hold in full force; and we ought to be ashamed of an effort, or a sentiment, so much at variance with one of the wisest features of our political organization. But we plead only for equal encouragement to all. We ask only that the wise policy of enlisting all religious societies, without distinction of creed or form, in the benevolent emulation of giving a common education to the poor, be still retained, with any checks and guards which may be deemed expedient for securing that one object. We ask for aid, not to religious societies as such, but to voluntary associations imparting gratuitous instruction. We think that the terms of admission into such associations, whether they are a pecuniary payment, the will and pleasure of a board of Trustees, or the profession of particular religious principles, is not a matter of concern to the public, provided no partiality is exercised in the distribution among them of public bounty, and a fair return is made for that bounty, in the due imparting of an ordinary education. All these institutions are under the care of bodies of citizens equally respectable, and equally entitled to confidence.
But it is said that the schools attached to religious denominations, are made channels for imparting the peculiar views of those denominations respectively; and that the public money ought not to be appropriated to this purpose.
The fact is, the public money does not go to this purpose. Those schools are all supported principally by the denominations respectively to which they are attached. They do not ask support, but only assistance, [13/14] from the common school fund; and they make an ample return for that assistance in the common education which they afford. The religious instruction they impart is an extra concern. They are willing to submit to any examination in proof that they teach the common branches as faithfully as any school. They make, therefore, to the public as faithful a return as any school. What they would then ask, is the public injured, and wherein is their claim to its patronage diminished, because they superadd religious instruction?
From the Christian citizen, it would seem difficult to imagine any other reply to this interrogatory, than that so far from injuring the public, they hereby more effectually serve it; and so far from diminishing, they increase their claim to public encouragement and patronage.
In elucidation of this remark, I appeal to the truth, which surely none will question, that religion is the commonwealth's best friend; and that it, therefore, ought ever to be an essential part of education. I ask, then, if religion can be efficiently taught, where it is not held according to some specific form and system? But in a promiscuous institution, scarcely any thing but mere moral lessons can be given. The instant you touch any religious sentiment, except it be so general that even Deists cannot question it, you introduce a point on which professing Christians differ, and which, therefore, cannot be consistently taught. The fact, consequently, is, that in such institutions, no devotional exercises find a place, and few or no principles peculiar to the Gospel are taught.
I ask you then, brethren, not merely as Churchmen, but as Christians, who believe the Gospel to be the best mean of making good citizens, Is such a mode of education for the poor deserving of exclusive public patronage?
I say I address you, not merely as Churchmen, but as [14/15] Christians. God forbid that I should be insensible of the peculiar claims of our Church to the merit of exhibiting the Gospel in its purest form, and therefore of being the best medium for conveying all the blessings of the Gospel. But I am far from cherishing the absurdly erroneous idea, that it should, therefore, have extended to its institutions any peculiar favour of the public authorities. I take the broad ground, because I believe it founded in reason and truth, that whatever peculiar advantages our Church may possess, all religious societies are, for the interests of the state, good and useful; and that he is much more likely to be an honest man, and a good citizen, who is an accredited member of some particular religious denomination, than he who is indifferent to all. The reason is, that religion must be presented in some definite shape, or it can hardly find access to the heart, and become influential over the conduct. Every man's experience teaches him that he is not indebted for the religious sentiments with which his mind was early imbued, to the bare perusal, or committing to memory, of scripture passages, but to the urging upon him of what were deemed scripture principles and precepts, in a style adapted to the youthful comprehension. The prayers, the catechisms, the psalms, and hymns, and sacred songs, and the simple stories, which, with pious care and assiduity, were instilled into his mind, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, were the means of interesting him in religious truth and duty.
But it is said that this great attention to religious instruction is not paid in ordinary schools, and why, then, should it be in charity schools?
The usual objects of instruction in ordinary schools are such as have more or less religious advantages at home. Still it must be confessed, that it would be much better for society if something of former care in religious instruction was restored to our seminaries of learning. [15/16] With the pleasing knowledge, however, that the too prevalent deficiency, in this respect, is not without exception in this city, I proceed to the remark, that the objects of charity school instruction are generally from a portion of the community where, even where there may be a disposition to extend religious advantages, incessant application to labour and domestic cares precludes them. Unless the young of that class find these advantages at school, the probability is fearfully in favour of their growing up entirely without them.
The several religious denominations, deploring the lamentable spiritual state of these children of poverty and misfortune, adopt, respectively, measures for extending to them the religious advantages of which they must otherwise be deprived. In the exercise of this pious benevolence, they avail themselves of the opportunity it presents, of imparting to them also ordinary instruction. In this they have been assisted from the public funds. They ask that the assistance may not be withholden, and are willing to submit to any test in proof of their fidelity in this particular.
Another great advantage of the religious schools now offers itself for consideration. If there is a day in the week on which it is of more importance than on any other day, that the children of the poor be kept out of the streets, and thus out of the bad company and dangerous temptations which they present, it is Sunday; for then the increased number of idlers largely increases the danger. But on this day, the ordinary school exercises are, of course, suspended. Advice may be given to go to church; but he must know little of human nature who supposes it will have much effect. The pretence of going may be assumed, merely for the purpose of leaving home. Or if, perchance, the church is entered, the want of proper oversight and discipline precludes the individual from much profit by his attendance [16/17] and not unfrequently hinders the profiting of others. But the scholars of our charity schools have their attendance exacted on Sundays as regularly and punctually as other days. They engage in public worship, and have their conduct therein properly regulated.
Surely there can be no question that such schools must, on this account also, be the most favourable to public order and welfare.
Its opposition, however, to all that can be said of the superior excellence of free schools in which religious instruction has its due share of attention, no small effort has been made to expose them to odium and suspicion, on the score of their endangering the public peace, by fomenting sectarian prejudices and hostilities. Great evil is dreaded from the circumstance of the poor being brought up in attachment to particular religious denominations, instead of that boasted catholicism which encourages indifference to all.
Surely the fear is totally without foundation. Is not almost every respectable member of society enlisted, at least by profession, in the cause of some special system of religious doctrine and order? And does this produce the least interference with social order, civil fidelity, and the courtesies and charities of life? The fact is too notoriously otherwise to be for a moment questioned. And why should these dreaded evils flow from the same circumstance in the humbler and less influential classes? A poor child is taken soon after the age of infancy, and dismissed for some humble occupation, while yet a youth. Meanwhile; indeed, care is bestowed upon his religious instruction, and consequently, his instruction in some specific form of religion. But he, surely, must be strangely prejudiced, who can here see the least danger of fostering a spirit of sect, which is ultimately to bring in all the magnified horrors of religious feuds. The truly reasonable man [17/18] sees in this mode of education no other probable consequence, than securing to society and the commonwealth the advantage of having these humble poor connected with some religious communion, well instructed in a sense of religious obligation, and adorning their profession by lives of piety and virtue.
Another of the dreaded consequences of religious charity schools, is the temptation they afford to the communions with which they are respectively connected, to enter into an unholy strife with each other for predominance in the application of these engines of proselytism, and thus to sacrifice the great object of a common education to disingenuous methods for spreading their distinctive religious views.
It might be demanded, that in the experience of an hundred years, some evidence should be brought of this consequence of what has, until lately, been the only system of gratuitous instruction. If, however, the impossibility of doing this is no difficulty in the way of the bold advancement of the argument; and if the characters of those who have the care of the schools thus impeached are deemed no security; all apprehension may be put to rest by the fact, that all schools, of whatever description, which derive assistance from the public funds, are hereafter to be subjected to a constant and close inspection by an impartial board of visitors, chosen by the high civil authorities who have the sole right of designating the schools which shall be aided.
I have now, my brethren, laid before you some of the reasons why we think the objections to our school's retaining its wonted share of public patronage altogether unfounded; and why, therefore, we anticipate, with respectful confidence, its continuance.
But it would be ungrateful and unreasonable to let that interfere with our own exertions in behalf of the school. All the arguments which should recommend it [18/19] to a continuance of public patronage, should urge its claims upon us with much greater force. We should show ourselves deserving of public encouragement by our own liberal contributions to this great public good. The funds of the school are now particularly in need. But the appeal in its behalf is made to philanthropists, who desire the welfare and happiness of their fellow-men; to good members of society, who appreciate the beneficial effects on it of sound morality and true religion; to friends of their country, who would open to every individual the means of becoming an honest, industrious, respectable, and useful citizen; to Christians, who are warmed with a holy solicitude for bringing honour to God, promoting the great interests of the Gospel, and advancing the spiritual and eternal welfare of their fellow-men; and to Churchmen, who know that in the order, worship, doctrines, and instructions of their Church, are furnished the best means of securing the blessings of the Gospel
Can we be disappointed in the hope, that in such hands our school must flourish, and increase, and continue to do good? There is yet much room for that good to be enlarged. Multitudes of our own poor are still uninstructed. But with nothing more than its present means, there is too much reason to fear that the operations of our school must be curtailed. Shall this be suffered? Shall the wealthiest denomination in the city see such an institution languish on their hands? Every consideration forbids it.--Say now my brethren, whether you will allow it.