ON WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 18, 1819, AT THE
ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE CHURCH
IN SAID STATE.
Bishop of said Church.
William Myer, Printer, Church-street.
"On motion, resolved that the thanks of the Convention
be given to the Bishop, for his Charge to the Clergy, delivered
this day; and that he be requested to furnish a copy of it, to
Extract from the journal of the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the state of New-Jersey, of Wednesday August 18, 1819.
JOHN CROES, Jun. Secretary;
THE canons of our Church, as well as immemorial usage, impose upon its Bishops the duty of delivering Charges to the Clergy of their respective Diocesses. That this has not been done, in this Diocess, within the precise time, prescribed by the particular canon on the subject, was owing to causes, with which it is not necessary to trouble you. Let it suffice to mention, that, among others, the smallness of your number, and the diligence, the zeal, and the regularity, with which you were known, generally, to perform your duties, seemed to countenance the propriety of deferring it beyond the time required. Even now, indeed, it can hardly be supposed, that any suggestions from me, relative to the performance of your ministerial duties, or to the propriety of the clerical character, are strictly necessary; yet, as a general provision, such Charges may, occasionally, be extremely useful; and as the Church has made the delivery of them obligatory upon all her Bishops, I do not feel myself at liberty longer to delay the performance of the duty.
 In the prosecution of it, and on every other similar occasion, to which I may be called; I sincerely hope, and fervently pray, that I may be enabled to speak to you, in the spirit of meekness, and with affection; always, however, with a due regard to the precepts and authority of our common Lord and Master, and the great interests of his Church.
In addressing you, I shall not confine myself to a single topic; but introduce such various matters, as may seem more especially to require our attention.
As the great Apostle to the Gentiles, in reproving the disorderly conduct of the Corinthian Christians, in their assemblies for public worship, and hearing the word, makes the strong remark, "that GOD is not the Author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints;" [1 Cor. xiv. 33.] as he closes his exhortation with the injunction, "let all things be done decently and in order;" [1 Cor. xiv. 40.] as he expresses, in language of high approbation, the correct behaviour of the Colossian Christians, in this respect, classing it indeed with a distinguished principle of our holy religion; "joying, said he, and beholding your order, and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ;" [Colos. ii. 5.] and, as in the institutions of our venerable Church, grounded on primitive and apostolick usages, whether we regard the orders of her ministry, the construction of her liturgy, or the particularity of her rubricks, a more than ordinary attention has been paid, to the establishment of uniformity, and consequently of order, in every department; it seemed neither improper, nor unseasonable, to invite your attention to the subject; and if, on examination, any practices are found to have been inadvertently [4/5] introduced, which are at variance with long established usages, or differ, in however slight a degree, from the rubricks; to recommend to you, gradually to correct them, and thus return to that uniformity, which is so essential to a perfect union, which will so much tend to "the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." [Ephe. iv. 3.] Trifling deviations, however unimportant in the first instances, by constantly multiplying--and who can set bounds to their progress; for if one clergyman may take the liberty to deviate, every other one may exercise the same privilege--will ultimately produce so much disparity, as to threaten, if not cause, schisms in the Church.
While I am on this subject, I cannot but notice, as a source of much gratification, that the practice, which had been introduced of baptizing persons, not sick, in private houses; and which had so long prevailed, that prudence forbade, in most cases, an immediate departure from it; is, at length, giving way to more correct views, and to a conformity to the rubrick, in that respect. It is to be hoped, that the lay members of our Church--for, in cases of this kind, however desirous the clergyman may be of adhering to the rubrick, a contrary practice often obliges him to give way--will more and more see the propriety, when they dedicate their children to God, of having the solemn office performed in the Temples, which have been consecrated to his service; and in the presence of the Church, of which they are to be made members. These sentiments, my reverend brethren, you will endeavour to promote and inculcate, as your prudence may dictate.
In a Diocess so small as this, more frequent Confirmations, in each Church, than is usual, may take place, without [5/6] subjecting the Bishop to any particular inconvenience. This would obviate the necessity of admitting persons, at times, to the communion, before the first mentioned rite was administered to them. Let me therefore recommend to you, to have the children of suitable age, in your congregations, and other persons, desirous of confirmation, always in such a state of preparation, that whenever, with divine permission, I may visit your churches, such persons, provided it be convenient in other respects, may have the benefit of that sacred rite conferred on them.
As a means of preparation, which the Church has considered especially important, permit me also to remind you, that the XXII. Canon of the General Convention requires of "Ministers, who have the charge of parishes or cures, to be, not only diligent in instructing the children in the catechism; but also, by stated catechetical lectures and instruction, to be diligent in informing the youth and others in the doctrines, constitution, and liturgy of the Church." This duty the House of Bishops, at the last General Convention, considered of such moment, that they thought proper to renew the impression of it upon the minds of the clergy, by the following message to the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies. "The House of Bishops, impressed with the importance of informing the youth and others, in the doctrines, constitution, and liturgy, of the Church, deem it their duty to call the attention of the Clergy to the XXII. Canon, which enjoins on them, diligence in catechetical instruction and lectures. The Bishops consider these as among the most important duties of clergymen, and among the most effectual means of promoting religious knowledge and practical piety."
The utility of the mode of instruction, by a regular [6/7] course of catechetical lectures, and its preference to the mode, by sermons on detached passages of scripture, you certainly need not be told. It must not, however, be understood, that such lectures are to be introduced to the exclusion of sermons. Sermons to those, who have been well instructed in the principles of our holy religion, are doubtless as beneficial as they are agreeable. It is only to young persons and others, who need information, as to the elements of Christianity, that a regular course of instruction, by Lectures, is more advantageous, than such discourses, as treat on detached subjects, to the correct understanding of which, previous knowledge is often indispensable.
In addition to the doctrines, which are the subjects of catechetical lectures, the canon also requires lectures to be delivered, and instruction given, on the constitution and liturgy of the Church. Differing as we do, from other denominations, in several important particulars, it becomes a matter of imperious duty, on the part of ministers, to see that her members be well informed of that difference, and the grounds, on which such distinctive principles rest.
You will not, I am persuaded, consider the intimations here given of the duty of attending to this subject, as unnecessary or unseasonable, when the canon referred to, and the recently published invitation of the House of Bishops to a proper attention to that canon, presuppose, not only the probability, but the fact of its being often neglected. Whether any instance of such neglect, exists in this Diocess; or, if such should be the case, what reasonable causes may have induced the temporary postponement of the lectures alluded to, are circumstances with which I am equally unacquainted.
 It will not be impertinent to the subject, now before us, to remark, that, as the solemn worship of God, in our Church, is a joint act of the minister and people, audible often, on the part of the people, as well as of the minister; nothing contributes so much to exhibit its excellency, propriety and devotional effect, as the regular and distinct performance of the people, in the parts allotted to them. It often, however, happens, in this country especially, that the people are disposed to be remiss, in this respect, and leave to be performed, by the Clerk alone--who should be considered merely their leader--that, which it is indispensable to the propriety and consistency of the service, should also be performed by themselves. Permit me then to recommend to you, the adoption of such measures, whether, by occasional remarks from the pulpit, or in your private intercourse with the members of your congregations, especially in your instruction of the young, as may lead to the correction of such improper habits; and induce the members of our Church, in future, not only, with one heart, but with one voice also, both to supplicate, and glorify God.
The subject, which I shall next present to your consideration, is one, in which I feel the deepest interest; and which cannot but excite similar feelings in all, who have the welfare and prosperity of our Zion at heart. It is the unhappy state of those of our Churches, which, from inability to support them, are still destitute of ministers. Much has been done, it must be confessed, considering the deplorable condition, into which the Church, in this Diocess, was reduced, by the events, connected with the revolution, which severed us from Great Britain, to foster and preserve them. Both the clergy and laity of Churches, more favourably circumstanced, [8/9] manifested early an active interest in their welfare; and provided the best means, in their power, to carry their pious and benevolent designs into effect. Through the blessing of the great Head of the Church upon these means, the congregations, thus left destitute, are, almost without exception, still preserved to our communion; some of them, indeed, reduced in numbers, from the want of a regular administration of the word and ordinances, that life-giving power to Christian Societies. To those, which existed at the close of the revolution, have since been added, several recently constituted congregations, which have not yet acquired vigour and strength sufficient to stand of themselves. The mode, which has been adopted, and the means which have been used, however considerable and proper, and however worthy of commendation, are still insufficient, it is to be feared, to produce the effect intended. For unless the number of such churches can be reduced, by the increased strength and ability of a part, to support ministers; our difficulties will increase, and the burden, ultimately be greater, than we shall be able to sustain. To you, my brethren of the clergy, I look, under the Divine favour, for the means most likely, in connexion with my own feeble endeavours, to supply this deficiency; and thus obtain the object, so much to be desired. I well know, that the labours of your respective charges are sufficiently great, and your means of support but slender; that what I shall suggest to you will increase the former, and operate as a tax upon the latter. Still I have that confidence in your zeal for the promotion of the cause of your great Master, and his Church; in your willingness to do every thing in your power, to repair and build up, those decayed and weak parts, of that Body, which [9/10] are within the precincts of this Diocess; that I cannot doubt your compliance with the proposition, which I shall make to you, so far as age, and other circumstances will permit. It is this; that you will consent to bestow, in addition to the two Sundays, annually reserved by the Convention for that purpose, a few week days, yearly, to the service of the destitute congregations; and endeavour to excite them to such exertions, as may issue in the establishment of ministers among them. This is the only mode, within the scope of our means, in addition to the measures, already in operation, which is likely to produce the desired effect; and when such is the cause, so noble, so beneficial, and so holy the end; when the great interests of the Church of God, are the objects to be promoted by it; we shall not hesitate, I am sure, to bestow even gratuitous labours and expense, if they will conduce to the promotion of these great purposes.
As an encouragement to exertion, in this holy pursuit, and a rational ground of hope for success, let me, among other favourable circumstances, direct your attention to the fact, that, of twenty-five buildings appropriated to the worship of God, in this Diocess,--the congregations of fourteen of which are destitute of ministers--there are not more than two, which are not now, or in a few weeks will not be, in a state of excellent repair; some of which--as well of those vacant, as of those supplied with ministers--having been re-erected, within the last twelve years, on a more extensive scale; and others, almost reduced to ruin, enlarged, repaired and beautified. Nothing, therefore, but the regular, and faithful celebration of Divine service, and the administration of the ordinances, is wanting, under the blessing of God, to raise those of [10/11] the congregations, occupying these buildings, which are now vacant, and, as yet, feeble members of our Communion, into respectable and flourishing Churches.
In addressing you, on a subject so interesting to this Diocess, and the Church at large, I ought not to omit reminding you of the necessity of attention to the collections for the Missionary Fund. It is on the growth of that fund, that we are principally to rely for the means of affording the vacant Churches, such portions of the services of a minister, as will in connexion with what we may be able to do ourselves, ensure the happy effects, contemplated in its institution. Let not slight, or unnecessary causes, therefore, especially, if they concern ourselves, induce us, in a single instance, to omit our bounden duty in this respect.
The institution of Sunday Schools, in many of our Churches, as it cannot but afford gratification to every well ordered and pious mind, ought not to be passed over in silence. It is not however the literary instruction alone, which the pupils receive--though, in every point of view, both civil and religious, the art of reading is of immense importance--that constitutes the prominent advantages of this species of schools. The preservation, or correction of their morals, by withdrawing them, on the Lord's day, from the street, to the Church; and the religious instruction, exhortation, and habits, which they receive and imbibe, are the great objects to be especially aimed at, in the institution. It is not necessary, therefore, to suggest to you, the incongruity of combining teachers and children of different religious denominations, in the same school. Beside the impropriety of mingling together the dissimilar sentiments of these different bodies; it seldom fails, that the teachers, entertaining [11/12] as they do, such contradictory opinions, and feeling different interests; mutually become jealous of the influence of those, who differ from them; imbibe a spirit of discontent; and thus an end is soon put to all unity and harmony of operation. In the institution of Sunday Schools, therefore, in any part of our Church, in which they do not yet exist; and which is strongly recommended, even to vacant churches, not only as eminently useful to the children of the poor, but also as nurseries to such congregations; it will be wise, and certainly not at variance with charity, to confine the doctrines taught, to these, which are held by our own Church; and consequently to accept of those only, as teachers, who consider themselves belonging to the congregation, in which the school is formed, or profess to be Episcopalians; not refusing however the privilege of being taught, to any child, or other person, of whatever religious principles, who may make the application.
It has often occurred to me, my reverend brethren, that a want of due attention to the canons of our Church, is an evil too prevalent among its members, generally; and that even its Ministers are sometimes not exempt from this fault. However excusable the Laity may be, on various accounts, in not making themselves sufficiently acquainted with the laws of the Church; the Clergy, who may be said to be the depositaries of these laws, certainly have nothing that they can justly plead in excuse for ignorance, either of their existence, or tenor. These observations are intended to apply to the Church at large, and not particularly to this Diocess. It will not, however, I hope, be considered as unnecessary, should I call your attention to the subject, and recommend, especially to my younger brethren, a careful and diligent examination [12/13] of them. It can hardly be supposed, that any thing further is necessary to ensure a prompt compliance with the demands of any canon, but the knowledge that it exists. It must be presumed, therefore, that when any act takes place, which is prohibited by a canon, or any omission of an act, which is required by a canon; the person thus acting, or neglecting to act, must be unacquainted, at the time, with the existence of such canon. This is the most favourable construction that can be put on conduct of this kind. How far, in case of a clergyman, however young, such want of knowledge can be offered in justification of acts, contravening the laws of the Church, I shall leave for each individual to determine.
It comes properly within the scope of these remarks to suggest, that the officers of vacant churches, especially the Wardens, are, from the very circumstance of their being destitute of a head, under peculiar obligations to make themselves acquainted with the canons and other laws of the Church. It could only arise from deficiency of knowledge, in these respects, it is to be presumed, that the requisitions of certain canons and resolutions, have, in some instances, not been complied with. Those, to which I at present, particularly allude, are the XXXI and XXXV of the General Convention, and the III permanent resolution of the Convention of this Diocess. The XXXI prohibits a congregation from receiving a clergyman, who comes from another Diocess, as their minister; until he presents to them a certificate from their own Bishop, that he has satisfied him, that he is a clergyman of good reputation, and correct in his religious opinions and conduct. That part of the XXXV to which I allude, is in these words. "No person shall be permitted to officiate in any congregation of this [13/14] Church, without first producing the evidences of his being a minister thereof, to the minister, or, in case of vacancy, or absence, to the Church wardens, vestry-men, or trustees of the congregation." The III permanent resolution of our own Convention, states, "that as the consecration of our churches implies, that they are exclusively set apart for holy purposes, it be recommended to the several congregations, in the Diocess, not to permit their respective houses of worship to be used for any secular object whatever." Other canons, especially of the Convention of this Diocess, might be referred to, with equal propriety.
Although Charges of the kind, which I am now delivering, are intended solely for the clergy; yet as it is customary in this country, to deliver them at the meetings of Conventions, when the lay deputies, as well as the members of the particular churches, in which they are held, are present; the remarks, which I have made on the subject before me, so far as they apply to the laity, will not, I trust, be considered, either as unseasonable, or as stepping beyond the line of my duty; even though I should go farther, and respectfully urge my lay brethren, who represent their respective churches, to give heed to these things. The good order, the dignity, the unity, and peace, of our Church, require a prompt and firm adherence to these, as well as other laws, enacted for her government and welfare.
The observations, which I have thus far made, relate principally to the external government of the Church; the preservation and promotion of uniformity and order, in the administration of her offices; and the means of her extension; but, my reverend brethren, it must not be lost sight of, that these are only valuable, so far as they [14/15] contribute to the production and promotion of that piety and virtue, that "hidden man of the heart," [1 Peter iii. 4.] which is the aim and object of the religion of Christ, and of the institution of his Church. Let us, therefore, while we are careful not to relax our exertions for external order, while we use all the legitimate means, in our power, to promote the prosperity of the Church, and enlarge her borders;--let us, by the purity and consistency of the example, we set; by the spirit and tenour of our public discourses; by the frequency and fervency of our prayers; and by our conscientious diligence in study, and professional duties; endeavour, with Divine aid, to excite, foster, and increase among her members, upon christian principles, unfeigned piety to God, and universal benevolence to man. We cannot but be aware, from the experience which we have had, that the due promotion of these great objects, is a work of no little difficulty;--that it calls for the exertion of all our powers, both intellectual and moral, and even these, in whatever degree exerted, must fail of their end, unless accompanied with that "unction from the Holy One;" [1 John ii. 20.] those Divine influences, which are promised to the prayers of the faithful ministers of Christ. Would we, therefore, see the flocks, committed to our charge, not only well instructed in the great doctrines of the gospel, and the distinctive principles of our Church; but also, by repentance, by the renewing of their minds, and by a lively faith in our common Lord, brought into conformity with his will, "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living soberly, righteously, and godly;" [Titus 11. 12.] how can we expect such effects to be produced, so far as depends [15/16] upon our ministrations, but by faithfully using the powers, which God has bestowed upon us; daily praying for the proper and successful application of these powers, through the influences of his Spirit; and manifesting our own convictions of the truths, which we declare, by living such lives, as we recommend to them, as the obvious result of such convictions, and the evidences of our restoration to the favour of God, and of our title to everlasting life. Let us thus do, and let our fidelity to our Master, our zeal in his service, and our deep concern for the salvation of our fellow men shew themselves, by the fruits, which such affections and efforts, with Divine help, will naturally produce.
To the respectable Lay Deputies from the Churches in the Diocess, who have heard this charge, may I not, now, for a moment, turn; and affectionately express my confidence, in their cordial co-operation, with us, in the goodly work of promoting the great interests of the Christian Church. Can I avoid feeling this confidence, when I see them assembled, in this Temple of God, professedly for the purpose; some of them, far from their homes, their families, their necessary business. Without their countenance, their encouragement, their aid, indeed, arduous would be our labours, discouraging our prospects. With their approbation, their hearty concurrence, we may hope for every thing; much may be effected. May God, in his infinite mercy, give us all grace, thus cordially to co-operate in the good work, for the sake of the merits of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory, honour, and praise, henceforth and forever, amen.