EXTRACT FROM THE
(As printed in the Journal of The Proceedings)
MY BRETHREN OF THE CLERGY AND LAITY:
Wednesday, October 6, preached in St. Paul's Chapel, New York, on occasion of the opening of the Triennial General Convention or our Church. It was the nineteenth assembling of that important and interesting Council, and was attended by all the Bishops, twenty-one in number, and by a large representation, clerical and lay, of the several dioceses.
The prominent sentiment which presses itself upon my mind, and which I would have sacredly cherished by my brethren of the diocese, is that of devout gratitude to GOD for the Christian spirit of harmony and good will with which all its deliberations and acts were characterized—not indeed preventing that ample freedom of discussion which the interests of truth imperiously demand in all deliberative bodies, and that warmth and earnestness of zealous affection which the consciousness of a good cause ought always to inspire; but happily restraining them within those bounds the transcending of which substitutes ungodly views and feelings for the holy and blessed influences of Christian ardour and devotion.
This is the more thankfully to be remembered, because of the well-known apprehensions which were entertained, and predictions which were indulged, in certain quarters, of danger of the Convention being divided and disturbed by discussions connected with differing views, respectively deemed of importance, touching matters of opinion, if not of faith.
Our merciful LORD was graciously pleased to overrule it otherwise—His blessing, we may humbly hope, upon the pure scriptural principles which distinguish our communion, and upon an ecclesiastical organization which he has enabled us so favorably to adapt to the mutual interests of good order, efficient discipline, and peaceful co-operation.
Among the subsidary means tending to the happy result now noticed, ought to be prominently ranked the wholesome reluctance so general among us to the unnecessary introduction into our ecclesiastical bodies of the discussion of doctrinal topics. Except in the shape of grave and constitutional consideration of the Liturgy or Articles, it would seem that the whole spirit of our ecclesiastical institutions is decidedly repugnant to such discussion in our Conventions. For in such consideration only can there be a proper manifesto of the doctrines of our Church as a body; while the guarding of the purity and consistency of the doctrinal teaching of the clergy is left to episcopal counsel, and the interference, when necessary, of the judicial department of our organization.
It will be an evil day for our Church, my brethren—may GOD save us from it!—when either the General or Diocesan Conventions tightly introduce doctrinal discussions into their assemblies for deliberation. The subject brings forcibly to my mind the strong feeling, corresponding with the views here given, often expressed by our great and good Bishop White. So fearful was he of the danger to the interests of the Gospel and the Church of doctrinal discussions in assemblies assuming aught of a popular cast, as to have frequently repeated the sentiment, that if ever it should be thought necessary to subject the liturgy or articles, or any portion of them, to a review, the work should be assigned to commissioners specially appointed for the purpose; the vote of the Convention being taken only on the approval or disapproval of the results of their deliberation as a whole. It were well for us to ponder this opinion as solemn counsel from a quarter worthy of all reverence, confidence, and respect.
One new diocese, that of Missouri, was received into union with the General Convention.
Two alterations were made in the General Constitution, the first providing that the General Convention shall prescribe the process for the trial of a Bishop, which had heretofore been left to the respective dioceses; the second fixing the time for the stated meetings of the General Convention to the first Wednesday in October in every third year.
Agreeably to the first of these alterations, a Canon "On the Trial of Bishops" was enacted. This, of course, supersedes our diocesan Canon on the same subject.
A part of the very important and interesting proceedings of this Convention, was its favorable canonical action on the election which had taken place in the diocese of Delaware; of the Rev. Alfred Lee, D. D., to the episcopate of the diocese. Agreeably to this, the consecration of that Rev. gentleman took place, during the session of the Convention, that is, on the 12th of October last, in St Paul's Chapel in this city. All our Bishops, 20 in number, being present, it was obviously impossible for all to take an active part in the solemn ceremonial. The several proper parts, therefore, in aid of the chief one, which, of course, devolved upon the presiding Bishop, were assigned with reference to seniority. Agreeably to this arrangement, I had the pleasure of uniting with the Assistant Bishop of Virginia, in presenting the Bishop-elect, and the presiding Bishop was accompanied in the imposition of hands by the Bishops of Virginia, Illinois, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.
I united with the majority of the House of Bishops in the resolutions to proceed, under the 2d Canon of 1838, to elect Bishops, as missionary Bishops of this Church to Africa and Texas. The object, it is well known, was defeated by a declining, on the part of the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, to co-operate therein. This was in strict accordance with the laws of our branch of the Catholic Church; and however great the disappointment which it may have occasioned, a cheerful acquiescence in it is a Christian duty, and imperatively demanded by every principle of sound Churchmanship. It is a beautiful part of the orderly and conservative character of our Church, that all degrees of men—Bishops, Clergy, and Laity—having, by mutual compact, their several rights and interests in her legislation so fairly divided, and placed within their own respective guardianship, the mutual cherishing of the Christian principle of extending to others the credit for fidelity and sincerity of purpose which we would wish for ourselves, shuts out all just cause of invidious feelings, and secures due respect for all decisions and actions regularly and orderly had. It was the clear decision of the Church—given as herself has provided that her decisions in such matters shall be given—that action under the resolutions of the Bishops was not then expedient.
The two Houses united in a resolution calling the attention of the Church to the duty of providing more ample free sittings in our churches. This is indeed a most important measure. It is an unhappy fact, that hundreds and thousands of our fellow members of the Church are shut out from its privileges because of inability to procure sittings. Time will not now admit of a full discussion of the principle and practice of selling or letting the privilege of occupying a particular portion of the House of God. The evil felt is too serious and too pressing to allow of the postponement of a remedy until the issue of such discussion could be known. Two or three remarks on the subject, however, press upon my mind, which I would affectionately urge upon the serious consideration of the clerical and lay brethren present.
Churches should always be built with a reference not only to the supposed demand for pews, but also to the imperative christian duty of providing church privileges for those who cannot pay for them, and for travellers and sojourners who tarry in the parish but a while. If the expense attending increase of size of the building, or of its capabilities for accommodation, be an objection, let it be saved by loss of mere ornament and decoration.
Every Christian man should consider himself bound to provide church accommodation for the needy, and for strangers, in proportion to the ability which GOD gives him to secure the comfortable accommodation of himself and family. In other words, the more he can afford to give for a pew, the more should he feel it his duty to do in aid of those who cannot get them, and for the accommodation of travellers and strangers, whose brief need of them hardly allows of any business arrangement for securing them.
But I should not do justice to measures long since adopted in this city for remedying this evil as far as our immense, multifarious, and perpetually increasing population is concerned, were I not to refer to our City Mission Society, to which an event within the past year making glad the hearts of its friends will call me again to advert, and of which I will only now say, that as the Church in this city has the ample means, so is it its bounden duty, very largely to increase the sphere of its operations.
Agreeably to canonical provision for providing with Bishops dioceses without the number of clergy proper to entitle them to elect Bishops, the Right Reverend Leonidas Polk, D. D., one of our missionary Bishops, was, by the General Convention, appointed Bishop of Louisiana. He immediately resigned his missionary episcopate, and arrangements were made for the present discharge of its duties by the Bishop of Tennessee.
It may be remembered by you, brethren, that a few months after the General Convention of 1838, I felt myself compelled to enter a public protest against certain alterations made in the Prayer Book by a Committee of that Convention, appointed to revise, and where needful correct, the stereotype plates whence the standard edition had been published, and set forth a new standard. The late Convention interposed and ordered the restoration of the book to its integrity.
A report was laid before the Convention from a joint committee appointed by the last Convention on the subject of Christian Education, and referred by both Houses to the Managers of our General Sunday School Union for publication. It has been accordingly published as the number for November and December last of that excellent periodical, the Journal of Christian Education. I would commend it, for the soundness of its principles, and the excellence of its suggestions, to all who have at heart the well-training of the young, and the best interests of the Church, the commonwealth, and society in every department. Until education is made, and generally conceded to be, the business of the Church, all attention to it, however plausible and imposing in theory, will fail to turn it to the great and good ends to which it is designed to be contributive.
The mention of this subject brings to mind a record which it is my mournful duty to make. The most active member of the above mentioned committee, and the author of its report, was an eminently excellent and justly beloved Presbyter of this diocese, resident in this city, the Rev. Benjamin O. Peers. It is not long since intelligence was received of his death, from a distant part of the country where he had stopped while on a journey in search of health. Christian Education was the beloved object to which his studies, prayers, and labors, had long been given. He looked into its principles and details as a true Christian philosopher, bringing to them a mind enlightened, a heart warmed, and devout affections engaged, in all the views and operations connected with that momentous subject in its true bearings on the cause of CHRIST and His Church, of human welfare in every civil, social, and domestic relation, and of the advancement of our nature to intellectual and spiritual perfection in a better world. Most happily exemplifying the religion in which he would thus have others trained, he manifested in his death the joy and peace and triumph, in which, through CHRIST'S merits, and by the grace of His Holy Spirit, and in the way which He has appointed in His Church, the prepared soul can pass to the exceeding recompense of reward.
Several Canons of much general interest were passed by the Convention.
It is provided in one, that absence from his diocese for two years without assigning therefor to the Bishop a satisfactory reason, shall subject the absentee to Suspension from the ministry.
A new Canon was passed respecting candidates for Orders, by which the examination, formerly the first for Deacon's Orders, is made necessary, except the applicant has a satisfactory diploma from a college, before one is admitted as a candidate. The designed practical operation off this is, that all preliminary literary and scientific studies being completed before a young man becomes a candidate, he shall spend his three years’ candidateship in peculiarly theological studies. This is an important step gained in the momentous subject of due preparation for the ministry. The most sacred interests of our holy faith require that this subject be most seriously laid to heart. The times require that every minister be a scribe well instructed. Papal and other heretical blasphemies, and the endless hindrances to true piety presented by the multiform aspects of schism, require that we set none as watchmen on the walls of Zion who are not well furnished for the defence of evangelical truth at all points. The late General Convention ordered an insertion in the Appendix to its Journal of a report of a Committee of the General Theological Seminary on the enlargement of the term of candidateship for the ministry. I commend the perusal and serious consideration of that report to all true and enlightened friends of the Gospel and the Church. I have never regretted the resolution announced to a former Convention, not again to admit a candidate or ordain a deacon, under dispensation from literary qualifications. On looking into the degradations from the ministry which have occurred in the Church, I find, in very many of them, the serious admonition that they have occurred in cases of hasty admission to the ministry.
Another Canon of the late General Convention requires, that before a clergyman ordained by a foreign Bishop can settle in any parish of this Church, he must produce to the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese in which he wishes to settle, "a Letter of Dismission from under the hand and seal of the Bishop with whose diocese he has been last connected," in substance the same as we require on removal from one of our dioceses to another. It is of importance that this should be well known and understood, as it presents an effectual, and I am free to say, a most desirable barrier to the facility with which foreign clergy, or those pretending to be such, have too often found settlements among us.
Another Canon makes the very proper provision that no clergyman of this Church can pass from under the jurisdiction of his diocesan until he has been duly transferred therefrom, and received by some other Bishop of this or a foreign Church. This settles the important principle, that let a clergyman be in what part of the world he may, he loses not his canonical connection with his proper Bishop and diocese, nor any of the responsibilities hence arising, until he is regularly transferred, and regularly received, to like allegiance to some other portion of the Catholic Church. It of course follows, that live where he may, a clergyman of this Church, until by regular transfer and reception he is removed to the jurisdiction of another Bishop, whether in this country or a foreign land, retains his obligation to make his annual report to his proper diocesan.
Simultaneously with the meeting of the General Convention was the triennial meeting of the Board of Missions. In the long and animated discussions which occupied it; there was a thorough investigation of the principles on which the Board is organized, and of the operations in which it has engaged, growing out of efforts made from the most respectable quarters, and advocated with great power, to produce changes, some of a very essential and others of a less important character. To these discussions I listened, with deep interest, as, from the location in this city of the Domestic and Foreign Committees of the Board, and my consequent usual presidency at their meetings, I was very anxious to ascertain, as nearly as I could, the real opinions and desires of the Church touching the Board and its operations. As far as these could be gathered from the constitutional representatives of the Church, it certainly appeared that the Church was satisfied with these as they are, and desired no material change. It, therefore, was, to my mind, the dictate both of obvious propriety and sound Churchmanship, to continue to foster, and sustain the Board, and encourage its operations; with a full recognition, however, of the right of every contributor to designate the particular object to which he would wish his bounty to be applied. When this is done, such designation is always scrupulously respected, and no diversion of the money allowed either to other than the selected missions, or to the current expenses of the Board. My impression with regard to the general opinion and feeling of the Church was certainly strengthened by the fact, that since the organization of the Board, two General Conventions, and two triennial and six annual meetings of the Board, have afforded abundant opportunities for change. I do not mean to say that I am not myself favorable to some changes, and some which I deem of great importance, and that I am not prepared to advocate them on all fitting occasions; but it does not yet appear that the Church desires change, and until she does, and regularly adopts it, I feel it a duty to submit to her judgement, and avail myself of her duly constituted agencies for such encouragement in her legitimate peculiar work of spreading the Gospel as it may be in my power to extend, and my conscientious convictions of right and duty may suggest.
At the subsequent meeting of the Board—the annual one of this year—a change was made much for the better. I refer to requiring our domestic missionaries to report to their proper diocesans, not to the Committee. That body looking to those diocesans for information of the state of the missions within their respective jurisdictions.
At this last meeting, also, was introduced the change, resolved on the preceding year, of having the celebration of the LORD'S Supper at each annual meeting. This, and the opening of the business of the third day, which was a festival of the Church, with its proper service as such, I regard as manifestations, in which all should rejoice, of the influence of those true Christian principles and views whose natural effect is to bring Christians constantly nearer and nearer, in their religious affections and duties, to the Church.
I cannot leave this notice of our last General Convention season, without a mournful record of which you are probably in anticipation. The venerable Bishop of Virginia, the late Dr. Richard Channing Moore, was with us during nearly the whole of its interesting duties and exercises, warmed with his wonted zeal in the cause of his Master, and of the souls for whom that Master died. On the first opportunity I had of hearing of him after the cordial and affectionate farewell with which, shortly before their adjournment, he took leave of his Episcopal brethren, the melancholy tidings of his death were brought me. I doubtless speak in the hearing of many in whose memories still linger—and they will love to have it always so—the words and tones of affectionate earnestness with which he pressed the divine message; of many too, who, during his connection of 27 years with this diocese, and of 5 years with this city, as one of their most zealous and faithful pastors, were of his flock. I doubt not that all present have united with me in lively sympathy with his bereaved diocese and his Episcopal colleague; and I would exhort all to pray to GOD that a blessing may rest upon the removal from the Church on earth of this aged, pious, and faithful prelate.
It is an historical fact, not without interest to us, that Bishop Moore was ordained deacon at the first ordination ever held by the first Bishop of this diocese. [* He was ordained in St. George's Chapel, now St. George's Church, New York, in company with the late Rev. Dr. Bend, of Baltimore, by Bishop Provoost, on Sunday, July 15, 1787.]
His late assistant, the Right Rev. William, Meade, D. D., became, by his demise, the Bishop of Virginia. Such, however, is his physical inability for the arduous duties of that large diocese, that he has felt compelled to avail himself of the canonical provision in such cases, and apply for an assistant—a measure probably soon to be consummated by the consecration of the reverend gentleman who has been chosen for the purpose, and received the required approbation of our Church at large.