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Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops

Read at the Closing Services Held in Calvary Church, New York City, Nov. 3d, 1874

By the Rt. Rev. Henry Champlin Lay, D. D., LL. D., Bishop of Easton

As reprinted in The Church Journal, New-York, Nov. 19, 1874

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008


Within the three years which have elapsed since the Bishops of the Church have addressed you by Pastoral Letter, not a few of our number have been released from their earthly ministries. The late Bishops of Ohio, of Massachusetts, and of Illinois, no longer assist in our counsels, which they were wont largely to influence. The late Bishop of Indiana, after years of suffering and weary sickness, has found rest; while his brother of Iowa was taken suddenly away by casualty in the midst of labors. The blind Bishop of South Carolina has passed, we humbly trust from darkness into light; and Armitage, almost the Benjamin of our House, fell sweetly on sleep while it was yet day. Our Missionary Episcopate has lost in Bishop Randall one whose career was marked by energy and self-devotion. Africa has laid beneath the sod her Missionary Bishop Auer, just as he sought to set the battle in array; while we hear in the midst of our deliberations that the veteran Payne, who preceded him, has found his grave in Virginia, beside the tomb of his fathers.

Most suggestive is this roll-call of departed brethren, so various in gifts and age, in the work given them while they lived, and the manner of the death appointed them to die. Very fragrant is the memory of their Christian virtues, and well assured our hope that in the day which shall try every man's work of what sort it is, they shall find mercy and the reward of grace.

The reports which have come before us afford gratifying evidence of even and steady progress throughout the whole Church. Besides the mere increase of numbers, there is expansion and growth in the agencies designed to seek Christ's sheep, and to keep them from harm. Now dioceses have been erected, additional Missionary Bishops have been appointed, Christian schools are established. To-day, more than ever in this Church, men and women are rendering to God their personal service--not merely sending others, but going themselves to seek the lost, to instruct the young, and to nurse the sick.

We desire in this place to express our sense of the exceeding value of the "woman's work" that has been done in the Church, and to encourage its more extended efforts. Whether in the way of organized charitable associations, or of Deaconesses, or of Sisterhoods, it is now proven by actual results that women can do much in relieving the sorrowful, in reclaiming the vicious, and in upholding the hands of the heralds of the Cross. We cheerfully recognize as helpers in the Lord the faithful women of our communion, who show themselves succorers of many.

We have, with the concurrence of the Clerical and Lay Deputies, restricted the jurisdiction of our Foreign Missionary Bishop at Yedo to the Empire of Japan; and we propose, if God will, to consecrate another Bishop for the work in China, and yet another to preside over our missions in Africa. Measures have been devised to place the infant Church in Haiti on an assured basis. At home, four new Missionary Episcopates have been created for Northern Texas, for Western Texas, for Northern California, and for New Mexico and Arizona. All those deserve vigorous support, and will require enlarged contributions. It is ours to send the officers to the front. It is yours to supply them helpers, and to lade them with such things as are necessary to prosecute their work. And let us seek to realize that it is God the Holy Ghost alone who enlightens, guides, sustains, and sanctifies the Church, and let us pray that our Churches at home and abroad walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of that Holy One, may be edified and multiplied.

Besides this external growth of the Church, we have reason to believe that there is a higher sense among many of our people of the saintliness of their Christian calling, and a yearning after a more complete conformity to the likeness of the Pure and Holy One. We note with much satisfaction the wide circulation of books by living writers, which treat of the life of God in the soul of man, and the large demand for the well-worn manuals of devotion which have come down to us from our Anglican doctors. We may not forget that there is danger in the very restlessness of our religious activities, without these correctives of quiet meditation and personal communion with the Father of all spirits.

In contrast with these encouragements, stands out the fact that the supply of candidates for Holy Orders is now inadequate to meet the demand created by the organization of new congregations. And more than this, but a small proportion of those who are admitted candidates are self-supporting. We entreat you to ponder well these pregnant statements. The priest's office is not coveted by the many; nay, it is avoided by too many of the ingenuous and favored youth of the country, whose parents are able to give them an unrestricted choice of profession.

If this indisposition to consecrate one's self or his children to the work of the ministry be due to the greed of wealth, to the delusion that the accumulation of an estate is, of right, the controlling influence in the selection of our work on earth, then we declare to you, in the name of the living God, that this is covetousness, which is idolatry; this is to pervert the great design of life, and to revolt against the very first condition of Christian service, "Make ready wherewith I may sup; and gird thyself and serve Me, till I have eaten and drunken, and afterward thou shalt eat and drink." Woe to the Christian youth who, as he stands where the paths of life diverge, inquires only which of these will lead most assuredly to gain and to promotion, instead of asking meekly, and first of all, "Show me the way that I should walk in"; and woe to the father who, when his son's eyes are moistened with compassion for the multitude, seeks to distract his attention and disturb his judgment by obtruding on his sight a vision of earthly greatness. We believe that many a young life has been clouded by this irreparable error in its beginning, either of not asking for a word from the Lord, or else of grieving the Spirit of God whispering in his heart the admonition, "Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the Kingdom of God." Pray ye, the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest. Look ye out, men and brethren, look ye out among you men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. Lend unto the Lord, father or mother, the goodliest of your young men, "even thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest." We set this our earnest exhortation in the first place. With unanimous consent, and with all the urgency we can bring to this our official counsel, we entreat clergy and people to take away the reproach which must be ours while the children ask the Bread of Life, and there is no man that breaketh it unto them.

Too often the Confirmation of our youth is deferred until it is too late, so much as to consider the claims of the sacred ministry at all. We do not advise that any be hastily brought to this holy ordinance, without careful instruction and self-scrutiny and earnest prayer to God. But we urge that in the just discharge of parental responsibility, you should encourage your sons as well as your daughters early to renew their covenant with God, and to make it a part of their self-consecration to choose their vocation in life according to His will, and not their own mere natural predilection.

The passion of the age in which we live is Freedom. Its favorite watchword is Liberty. Noble words are these if we use them in their true significance. We purpose in this Pastoral to admonish you of the glorious liberty which ye have as covenanted children of God, and to exhort you that ye hold it fast. If the Son hath made you free, then are ye free indeed; free to believe all that is true, and nothing that is false; free to love all that is lovely, and nothing that is evil; free to do all that is right, and nothing that is wrong; free to covet all that is noble, and naught that is vile. Such is Christian liberty--a freedom with limitations indeed, but limited in those respects only wherein the absence of restraint would be but another name for vassalage and cruel bondage. We desire to illustrate the true meaning of the Christian liberty whereof we speak in three several instances:

1. The Faith you profess.
2. The Obedience you render. And
3. The Love which should animate your service.

a. The Liberty of Christian Faith.

Have faith in God, is the first precept of our holy religion. Confide in Him personally, the wise and gracious One, as implicitly as a child believes in his father. Believe His every spoken word, His instruction, His warning, and His promise; for without such faith it is impossible to please Him. But belief is neither blind credulity nor enforced assent. God has His witnesses in nature and in providence, and by the mouth of these many witnesses it is proven that the Lord is loving unto every man, and His mercy is over all His works. In a higher sense, faith comes by hearing, and relies upon that manifestation of the truth which commends itself to reason and to conscience. The sanctified intellect delights to explore every department of knowledge, to decipher the strange legend impressed upon the once fluid rock, to unroll the papyrus, to analyze the mysterious processes of human thought and consciousness. But none the less are we free to recognize eternal truths, and, unappalled by mysteries or seeming contradictions, to affirm the verity of the Christian story, which it is unreasonable to deny.

But who knows not the presence of an arrogant skepticism which, in view of our glorious liberty of believing that God is love, and that His Son hath died, points at us the finger of derision as submitting to an intellectual bondage which dares not turn toward the light?

The Church seeks not to put out the eyes of scholars and investigators. She gladly welcomes all their contributions to human knowledge, and to the wealth of human thought. But she warns her children in the presence of these "little systems" which "have their day and cease to be," that they must not enslave themselves to the tyranny of transient theories, and forego their right to hold fast that which is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.

Remember, brethren, that the religion which we profess is a religion of fact. The Creed you recite is a rehearsal of events that have happened in the olden days, and of hopes surely founded thereon.

Our religion rests upon a historical basis as impregnable as when St. Paul at Thessalonica, for three Sabbath days, reasoned out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging that this Jesus whom I preach unto you is Christ.

The mere history of the successive philosophers which have held sway in the intellectual world, is of itself a laborious study, and the discovery of revolutionary facts is constantly demanding the readjustment of hypothesis and theory. It is because the faith is sure and certain that its utterances cannot be always made to harmonize with the half-known and the variable.

It is freedom, not servitude, to hold fast the faith once delivered to the saints.

The Church has no quarrel with science. Far from it. She ever welcomes science as her ally and her friend. Her quarrel is not with science, but with science falsely so called.

We warn you against the pretentious dogmatism, and especially against the atheistic materialism, which under the name of science presents, not its discoveries and its facts, but crude theories and tentative speculations. The long-exploded errors of the past are thus, like ghosts, rising from their graves, and seeking to resume their empire over human thought and human conduct, tempting man to revive a species of Paganism, and miscall it "the Advance of Science."

b. The Liberty of Christian Discipline.

Almighty God has been pleased to give us not only faith, but a discipline as well. Ye are free, and yet the Lord's freemen. Admitted to the General Assembly and Church of the first born, ye are set in authority and under authority, set to rule over those whom God has confided to you, and admonished in turn to obey them that are over you in the Lord, and to submit yourselves to their just authority.

And this appointed discipline is liberty, not bondage. It is liberty to be the members of a great army, instead of lonely adventurers--soldiers with a claim for guidance, protection, and sympathy, with a right to demand your place beneath the shade and beside the wells of every Elim where the army finds its camp; it is liberty to have over you in the Lord men who have not dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy, who preach Christ Jesus the Lord and themselves your servants for Jesus' sake, joying and rejoicing if they be offered up upon the sacrifice and service of your faith.

The Divine Master is considerate of our self-respect. He calls us, not servants, but friends. He, and His Church following His directions, have no secrete to hide from obedient and humble minds; no arbitrary rules, no minute prescriptions, to bind upon the faithful.

What shall we say to these things? Shall we, because we are friends, cease to be dutiful? Shall we because we are under grace rather than law, scant our obedience, and betray the Master's honor that is confided to us? As the very boldness with which we may come to the throne of grace obliges us to profounder reverence, so the large freedom we enjoy in all the details of life and duty, furnishes the highest argument for circumspection and self-control.

Our clergy have large liberty. Shall they abuse the gentleness of Christ and the patience of their mother, by pressing their own fancies and self-conceits to the utmost verge of canonical endurance? Shall they usurp the functions of the body that commissions them and seek to make that Church more Evangelical or more Catholic than her own formularies and Ritual affect to be? When men asked John Baptist, Who art thou? He answered, in effect, that he was nobody--a voice in the wilderness, the mere breath of a Divine utterance. How glorious is the liberty, how high the privilege, of the clergy to refrain from all self-assertion, to utter that only which God and His Church put into their mouths, and to afford the most signal example of that obedience of faith which obeys law because it is the law!

It is a part of the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free to lift up all our domestic life into the pure atmosphere of spiritual thought and feeling. Marriage is no longer a union of convenience, or a matter of civil contract. It is the one blessed heirloom transmitted from the days of innocence; it is the type and emblem of that union which is betwixt Christ and the Church. The freedom of the chaste, pure, Christian home, stands preeminent among the earthly blessings bestowed on us in Christ.

How is it, then, that some among you have presumed to put away a wife except for the cause of fornication? We are distressed to know that some, under pretext of a civil divorce, have without adequate cause dismissed an uncongenial wife or husband, and after marrying another have profaned the Holy Sacrament by coming to it with a body thus defiled.

Be ye well assured, brethren beloved, that whatever license may be tolerated by society and by civil courts if any persons be joined together otherwise than as God's Word doth allow, their marriage is not lawful. Be admonished that if any cleave not to his wife, but unlawfully marries another, and then comes to the Table of the Lord, although he doth carnally and visibly press with his teeth (as St. Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise is he partaker of Christ, but rather to his own condemnation, doth eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

In your freedom yet again, you are not under minute direction or prohibition concerning the manner of employing the Lord's Day, the observances of domestic piety, the participation in amusements, or the accumulation of gain. Much trusted in all these particulars, how studious should you be to make the day of rest and praise honorable and holy, to maintain all the sanctities of the Christian home, to avoid frivolity and riot, and to take care that charity as well as justice restrain you in asking all your dues, or in seeking your lawful profit.

We tell you plainly that in these particulars some among you are greatly to be blamed. Whether it be due to the influence of a laxity of opinion imported among us from abroad, or to the demoralization of Continental travel, or to the want of lively interest in holy things, so it is that the Lord's Day is perverted from its sacred uses of rest and worship, while in many homes, throughout the week, no voice of prayer is heard at morning and at evening, and even the daily bread is eaten without mention of God, the giver. Sadly do we need in all the land a revival of domestic piety, so that by family devotions, and the right use of the first day of the week, our homes may be kept clean and pure.

Especially do we admonish you against that laxity of morals which tolerates the participation by Christian men and women in amusements which outrage decency and inevitably soil the purity of those who share in them.

We specify plainly the numerous indecencies which are enacted on the stage, and the improper familiarity which characterizes some, not all, of the amusements of the social circle. Let our men value their own purity of thought, and our maidens believe that modesty is now, as of old, an ornament, not a disgrace. And think not because you avoid the profanation of the Lord's Day and licentious shows and immodest dances, that all is well with you. There is a temptation, and a fearful one, to license of another sort: that unrestraint of the lust of gain which leads to usury and extortion--to gambling speculation, instead of honest toil. For such things just as certainly as for folly and dissipation, God will surely call us into judgment.

Before passing to other considerations we can but pause and revert again to the importance, if we would rear up a generation of saintly men and women, of teaching children to show piety at home. Catechizing by the clergy is a most valuable function of their holy office, and Sunday-schools and Bible classes, under their supervision and direction, are useful agencies in training the young. But neither pastor nor teacher, however skilful, may exonerate the parent from his own responsibility. Christian fathers and mothers may not withdraw from a duty which they are so specially fitted to discharge. They must be at pains themselves to instruct their children in the truths of religion, and to assist them by their counsels and encouragements in the trials of their young Christian life. In the department of experimental and personal religion, the parent who is loved and trusted by the child, and who in turn is well acquainted with the temper and disposition of the child, has it in his power to impart, howbeit in artless and untheological phrase, the most valuable lessons of holy wisdom and of practical godliness.

Nor should religious education be arrested here. A long-established canon reminds the clergy, and the same duty is after their manner binding on the laity in their more limited spiritual cures, "that they shall not only be diligent in instructing the children in the Catechism, but shall also, by stated catechetical lectures and instruction, be diligent in informing the youth and others in the Doctrines, Constitution, and Liturgy of the Church." For the Church maintains the Faith in its purity and integrity as taught in the Holy Scriptures held by the primitive Church, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the undisputed General Councils; her Constitution, attested by Holy Scripture and ancient authors, she has not invented, but inherited from the days of old; her Liturgy was moulded by the breath of many saintly men. Your children should know the value of these precious gifts, and the grounds on which we receive and love them. In an age of indifferentism, when so many seek to reduce all religion to a sentiment, it is cruel to expose a child to the solicitations of variant systems of belief and practice without a knowledge of the origin and history of the Church of Christ, and an intelligent understanding of the authority on which she relies for her doctrine and order.

c. And lastly, we would admonish you of the precious Liberty of Love. We are not under the rule, This do, or thou shalt die; but Love is the fulfilling of the law. We are free to love God with all our hearts, and the more we love Him the more glorious is our Liberty.

It becomes us not to ask whether He will be content with less or more. He has given us blessing without stint, and we should render Him back love without measure. "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me." We love Him who first loved us. With such thoughts in our hearts, obedience is liberty, and trials become sweet, and the humblest offering finds its rich reward. The thought of God's love for sinners is the healing leaf which can sweeten the bitterest fountain at which we are called to drink.

The Christian soul is sensitive to the love of God, and loves all things in Him and for His sake. It loves even the dumb creatures He has made, because He condescends to be the God of the sparrow, and considered the very cattle that were in Nineveh. Gentleness to the animals which serve us, protection to the dependent flock which typifies the chosen people of the Lord, pity for the callow brood in the fragile nest, are lessons which men of love are not ashamed to impress upon themselves and upon their children. Let us love the Church and lavish on it the very best we have. Men may ask in scorn, What is thy beloved more than another beloved? but we know Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, and that she is His Bride and the mother of His children.

Let us love the stranger and the fatherless, the poor, and him that hath no helper; let us love the vicious and the unlovely for the sake of that Love in whose image they were created; nor let us be unmindful of the new commandment, that we Christians love one another; with pity, with courtesy, with patience, in honor preferring one another, forbearing one another in love.

"Christ has founded His Church upon love." Thus wrote one of our Bishops in a day of strife and discord. "It is the highest of Christian graces." Now abideth Faith, Hope, and Charity--these three, but the greatest of these is Charity. Charity! not mere almsgiving, which is only one of its manifestations, but Love--Christian Love... A new commandment give I unto you that ye love one another."

And this is truly not only the new commandment, but the summary of all the commandments.

"The whole Gospel is redolent with it, with a broad, comprehensive, all-embracing love, appointed, like Aaron's rod, to swallow up all the other Christian graces, and to manifest the spiritual glory of God in Christ. A Church without love! What could you augur of a Church without Faith, or a Church of Christ without Hope? But Love is a higher grace than either Faith or Hope, and its absence from the Church is just the absence of the very life-blood from the body."

As these paternal counsels come to an end, we remember that ours is a ministry of consolation, and that the Priests of the Lord are set to bless the people in the name of the Lord. Our hearts reach out after all the children of the Church throughout this wide land, and scattered in all the countries of the world, and we invoke upon you the benediction of peace.

May the blessing of God rest upon your homes, so that they shall be pure and happy, the very nurseries of a long line of kings and priests unto God; and upon your farms and your merchandise, your labors and your business, so that your cup may run over, abounding chiefly in that godliness with contentment which is great gain. May it rest upon your churches, so that they shall be to the sin-sick houses of healing, and to the great company of believers the very gate of heaven. May it abide upon the patient missionary, so that when most alone he shall not be alone; upon the bereaved, the sick, the dying, the tempted, and the friendless. May that blessing so abound that not one of you shall fall in the wilderness through unbelief, but that all may receive at last that sentence of which all earthly benediction is but the anticipation, the "Come, ye blessed children of my Father," which shall put away forever all sorrow and all fear.

We have it not in our hearts to restrain this our blessing to those only who are ready to accept it from us as from their fathers in the Lord. We remember the many with whom, alas, we are not in visible communion; the many whom we have reason to fear, misunderstand us, and count us not as partners; the many who, for lack of right guidance, have discarded most necessary articles of Christian belief, but who, even in their error, long for truth and light. On all such we invoke the grace that guides and the mercy that saves. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.

While thus we reach out towards our children and our brethren the hand of benediction, we may not neglect to lift our eyes heavenward, and to ascribe all the glory and all the praise of our poor endeavors to Him who alone teacheth man wisdom and strengtheneth his hands for good.


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