To the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese of New-York.
SUCH is the present alarming deficiency in the treasury of the Education and Missionary Society of our Diocese, that there is a loud call for immediate aid, in order to prevent a failure in meeting existing obligations to our missionaries and beneficiaries. The little stipend allowed to each of the former, is a most important portion of his living; and it is essential to his comfort that it be paid with uniform promptness and punctuality. In the case of our beneficiaries generally, or young men who are receiving aid to enable them to prosecute their studies in preparation for the ministry; if their stipends are withholden, their studies must either be abandoned, or prosecuted under the great disadvantage of being connected with daily labour for their subsistence.
Deeply impressed with the very serious character and bearings of this state of things, I avail myself of it for calling your attention to the important subjects concerned—Education for the Ministry, and Missionary operations within our Diocese.
Of the importance of a thorough education for the ministry, it would seem, in the present day, hardly necessary to say a word. The first, and infinitely the most important qualification for the sacred office, undoubtedly, is true piety, founded on the [1/2] principles of the Gospel, deeply rooted in the affections of the heart, regulated by a spiritually enlightened understanding, and thoroughly controlling the life and character.
In addition to this great and indispensable qualification, wrought in them by the power of the Holy Ghost, the first preachers of the Gospel had, also, from the same Divine source, divers extraordinary gifts, supplying those qualifications which ordinarily come of profound study and close mental application. Those extraordinary endowments were, however, soon withdrawn, and the salutary necessity laid upon those who would be able ministers of the New Testament, of devoting themselves to the ordinarily appointed means of attaining to a knowledge of Divine things, and to the intellectual cultivation so intimately connected with meetness for becoming the instructors of the people, the defenders of Christian verity, and the guardians and supporters of that social and civil welfare which comes of the influences of true piety and virtue.
Hence the solicitous attention paid by Christian nations generally to the education of the clergy. And if any where there is a special need of the benign influences on the community of pure religion and sound morality, it is in our own construction of society, where public principle and public sentiment must ultimately control every thing, and fix our national destiny.
That pure religion and sound morality are to be found only in the Gospel, I have no hesitation in assuming as a proposition which need not be proved. Their influence, then, depends upon the Gospel's being well understood, and favourably commended to the notice, regard, and adoption of the community. Of course, it is only by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Gospel can be rendered efficacious upon the human heart and character. But it is a clearly revealed part of the dispensation of God's grace, that the influences of the Holy Ghost are regulated by a regard for man's moral agency, and his due improvement of that moral agency in its bearings and results on the cultivation and direction of his understanding. Therefore, a vitally important means of drawing down upon a community those blessings of the Gospel, which come of the practical influences [2/3] of the Holy Spirit, is directing men's understandings to the purity, excellence, and fulness of the Gospel, and its adaptation to the securing of the greatest happiness of individuals and communities. And for this purpose, nothing is more important than having throughout the community a devout, learned, and faithful clergy; for which end, ample provision must be made for clerical education.
This education is necessary, first, on account of the large store of knowledge which the clergy should have, to fit them for being the religious teachers and guides of the community. The Bible being the source of all religious knowledge, must obviously be well understood by the ministry, before they can make it so by the people; and especially before there can be sufficient security against the malign influences of the blundering notions of the ignorant, the bold innovations of the conceited, and the wily arts of the designing. And this well understanding of the Bible, if to be thoroughly efficient, must include an accurate knowledge of it, in the form, that is, in the original languages, in which it was indited, and of all those departments of philology, of natural, intellectual, and moral science, of history, and of ancient geography, which throw perpetually increasing light on its truth, its genuine meaning, and its surpassing excellence, and furnish ample materials for refuting gainsayers, however bold in their intellectual pretensions.
But the knowledge gained is far from being the whole of the advantage flowing from a thorough education for the ministry.
The discipline of mind, attained by a long and laborious course of intellectual preparation, is of immense value. The active duties of the pastoral office, draw perpetually upon the clergyman for investigation of nice and delicate cases, for decision in important points, for resolution of difficulties, for healing of misunderstandings, for deliberations, counsels, and judgments, requiring a mind well matured by study, and by deep and serious reflection. This is to be obtained by a long course of laborious and severe preparation.
Such a course of preparation, also, furnishes a valuable test of the sincerity of a young man's affection for the work of the [3/4] ministry, and desire to devote himself to it. It may be safely assumed, that if one's heart is not in the work before him, he will not submit to much exertion, pain, or sacrifice, in its behalf. Let young men, then, see and feel that it is no easy matter for them to get into the ministry, but that they must labour for it hard and long; and if their spiritual views of duty with regard to it are not of the strongest, most genuine, and most durable character, they must give way, and others more truly accordant with their real inclinations be substituted.
This consideration is especially valuable, in reference to those whose religious feelings and spiritual anxieties are of recent date. Let them by no means be hurried into the ministry, lest they find too late, and the Church finds too late, by bitter experience, that their entrance into it has indeed been hurried. Let their religious feelings and spiritual anxieties be tested by long time, and long and laborious preparation for the ministry, ere they are trusted as meet qualifications for that holy calling.
To these general arguments, my brethren, in favour of a thorough course of education for the ministry, others might be added, drawn from the particular character of our age and nation. Ignorant enthusiasts and fanatics are taking no small hold on a portion of the public mind. Popish and Protestant errors and heresies have enlisted in their behalf a large share of intellectual effort, and of claim to learning. Misnamed liberality, affecting superiority to sectarian feeling, is plying every art to beguile the multitude of unstable souls who are calling for the largest freedom from the pure faith, good order, and wholesome restraints of the Gospel. Infidelity, rank, daring infidelity, with its blighting influences on individual, social, and civil happiness and welfare, is pushing into every corner of the land its bold but groundless pretensions to the credit of learning, philosophy, and philanthropy. These enemies to true religion, to sound morality, and to human welfare, must be met. And that they may be effectually met, the Church must have its enlightened, well-trained, faithful, and devoted ministers throughout the whole length and breadth of our land.
To aid her in this, she must be supplied with all needed facilities [4/5] in training her ministers for their momentous work. The particular department which the present occasion suggests for aiding her, is bringing suitable persons within her influence for such training.
It is a fact, for which it is not necessary here to account, that a very large proportion of those who have a desire for the ministry, are destitute of sufficient means for prosecuting the needed literary and theological preparation. What then shall be done? The Church must have ministers from among them, or have, indeed, a mournful and disastrous fewness of labourers. Shall they be brought into the ministry without literary and theological preparation? Every interest dear to the enlightened Christian's heart, emphatically says No. How then shall they attain to that preparation? Must they be left to toil for many hours in each day for their daily subsistence, and have but the small remainder of their time, with wearied bodies, and exhausted or dissipated minds, to give to study? To give it, too, to study, in situations and under circumstances unavoidable for their business, but every thing but favourable for mental labour? Years may be spent in this way, as is obvious on the least common sense reflection, and little, little indeed, be done towards due preparation for the ministry. And must the Church be satisfied with what can thus be effected? Brethren, our Diocese has said No. Sympathising with the spirit on this subject which is abroad in the Christian world, it has long been engaged in the good work of aiding young men with means to enable them to study. There has been, however, an imperfection in the system. The aid has been too scantily rendered. The result has been, that those aided have been obliged still to alienate a portion of their time and care for the securing of the balance of their needed support, or to cut short their course of preparation, and enter prematurely into the ministry, because they can afford to study no longer.
The Education Board of our Education and Missionary Society, has now adopted a new principle. Its outlines are, that young men of suitable age, of approved piety, of good intellectual parts, and of tested industry and success in study, who have not [5/6] the means of providing for their education, are adopted as beneficiaries of the Society, and have such pecuniary aid extended to them, as will secure to them, with strict economy, a comfortable support. They are then put under an obligation to pursue their literary studies under approved auspices, and their theological, in our General Seminary. They are kept under a constant, wholesome supervision, and are bound to give themselves wholly to study, and to pursue a thorough course.
This is the system, brethren, which you are called on to aid. I surely need not tell you that its ample support, and efficient operation, have connected with them, as necessary results from causes, the most essential interests of religion and the Church, and therefore of human welfare in every individual and social department. And the aid, to be truly efficient, must be liberal and perpetual. There must be a constant flow of patronage into the treasury of an institution which, year by year, has constant accessions of subjects for its care and nurturing, and year by year, is constantly sending forth, to bless the world and the Church, those who have partaken of its benefits. Daily, brethren, let your prayers ascend for God's blessing on this work; and with unwearied perseverance, and a liberal and cheerful heart, let every one of you—he that hath much, plenteously—he that hath little, gladly of that little—contribute to its successful prosecution, and its blessed issue.
If the preceding portion of this letter, beloved brethren, has met in your hearts the sympathetic response, which I pray God it may in the hearts of you all, but little need be added in favour of the claims of missions in our Diocese.
It is now more than forty-three years since the commencement of our diocesan missions, a department of ministerial labour from which, by God's blessing, the most extensive benefit has flowed; and the objects to be accomplished by which, render it one of the most proper and genuine evidences of that missionary spirit, which is the glory of the Church, and an essential ingredient in a true Christian character. There are sections of our own Diocese miserably destitute of the means of moral and spiritual culture, where infidelity is strengthening its [6/7] debasing and destructive influences. The most flagrant corruption of Gospel truth, and violations of Gospel order, are in many places spreading far and wide, to the bitter grief of the friends of that truth, to the sore detriment of sound and well ordered piety, to the serious injury of social welfare, and to the alarming increase, by the disgust which it produces, of secret or open infidelity. And throughout all these regions there are devout, and excellent members of the Church, once elsewhere and in happier circumstances, enjoying her sweet communion, now unable, without aid, to sustain the ministrations of the sanctuary, suffering acutely under their bereavements, and calling upon their more favoured brethren, for the love they bear to their common Saviour, to pity and relieve them. A spirit of inquiry is abroad among sensible and intelligent men on religious subjects, connected with deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the various dissenting forms and operations of professed Christianity, which wants but to be met by an opportunity of acquaintance with the services, institutions, principles, and instructions of the Church, to make it conducive, by God's blessing, to rich accessions of sound, faithful, and efficient members.
These and kindred circumstances combine to call loudly for a large increase of our diocesan missionary operations; while they hold out the sure prospect, as the result of that increase, of great good to the cause of God and His Church, and thus of glory to His holy name, and spiritual and eternal benefit to our fellow men.
And now, brethren, I commend the great objects, of our Education and Missionary Society to your increased, your constant, your liberal, your cheerful patronage. I am aware that the present are times much less favourable than times have been, to the gathering of pecuniary means for any object. But let it be considered that the only way effectually and permanently to better the times, is to diffuse more generally the influences of sound religious and moral principle. It has been well observed, that the characteristic difficulty and hardness of the times, is of man's producing, notwithstanding—may I not say, in spite of?—God's blessings all around us. Peace, health, and plenteous [7/8] products of the earth are ours. Why, then, is worldly prosperity so straitened in our borders? It is not of God. His blessings encompass us on every side. No, brethren, it is our want, as a community, of having the true fear of God before our eyes. If the pure moral influence of the sanctifying principles, and the practical holiness and virtue of the Gospel, were allowed duly to move, to guide, and to restrain us in our characters and our employments, and thus to take away barriers raised by ourselves to the happy tendency of the mercy and goodness of God, a very different scene would be presented. Instead, then, of curtailing, we ought to increase our efforts for the diffusion of pure and undefiled religion; for this is the only true remedy for the ills we are suffering. Let luxuries, and pleasures, and superfluities of all kinds, be sacrificed, rather than take ought from—nay, rather than not add to—all proper means for drawing down upon our country, upon our social relations, and upon ourselves, individually, the relief, the comfort, the welfare, which come only of the holiness and virtue of the Gospel.
Consider, brethren, what has been said; and may God give you a rightly understanding heart, and duly interested sensibilities, in the sphere of Christian operation now commended to your prayers and your furtherance, by
Your faithful friend and affectionate Diocesan,
BENJ. T. ONDERDONK,
Bishop of the Diocese of New-York.
New-York, Nov. 29, 1839.