FIRST ADDRESS OF THE BIBLE AND COMMON PRAYER BOOK SOCIETY,
As Reprinted in the First Annual Report
To prove the utility of a society for distributing the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, it can only be necessary to suggest the importance of these volumes, and to state the fact, that many from poverty, or other causes, are destitute of them. The duty of establishing means for their distribution will be an obvious consequence.
The Bible claims veneration as the oldest HISTORY extant; containing an account of the origin and destination of man, and of many other interesting facts, for which we search in vain among uninspired records. Tracing the events of the early ages of the world, it unfolds to us the laws, policy, and history of a people who were established by the miraculous agency of the Most High; and who still remain amidst the ruins of contemporary empires, a monument of his power, and a striking evidence of the divine character of that volume which predicted their varying fortunes, and their present unparalleled condition.
The series of PROPHECY laid open to us in the Bible renders it still further an object of the highest veneration. The character and fate of individuals, the rise and fall of nations, were clearly delineated in the sacred volume, long before they appeared on the stage of the world. And one most interesting personage, predicted in the beginning, as the Saviour of fallen man, occupied the strains of prophecy until his glorious manifestation in the flesh. Then the Church which he established became the theme of prophetic inspiration, displaying its history, and the important changes of the world, subservient to it, until the final period when its militant state shall be exchanged for its triumphant state in heaven.
In all the events and characters recorded or predicted in the sacred volume, man is intimately concerned. For its distinguishing excellence and authority consist in its being the REVELATION OF THE WILL OF GOD. From it is derived whatever portion of religious truth adorns the pages of that philosophy which is sometimes set up in opposition to it. In the Bible alone we find revealed the consoling truth, that "God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself;" in it alone are "life and immortality brought to light." Whatever view, therefore, we take of the Bible, it commands our highest reverence, and our implicit faith. For "there is depth enough therein to exercise the wise, and plainness enough to instruct the weak." And still more justly to characterize it, in the words of an eminent scholar, [* Locke] who devoted to it his most serious attention--"It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter."
These are excellencies of the sacred volume familiar to Christians, and which, to be duly appreciated, require only to be mentioned. But are those Christians who revere their Bible as bearing the stamp of divine authority, and cherish it as the only basis of their immortal hopes, aware that there are numbers wholly ignorant of its truths? Such is the lamentable fact. Many are the abodes of wretchedness which no light of consolation from this divine volume cheers. Many are the receptacles of vice, which neither the judgments of God revealed in the Bible alarm, nor his blessed promises of mercy to repenting sinners console. Not a few of those who disturb by their passions or their crimes the peace of society, have ever learnt from their Bible to obey every lawful "ordinance of man for the Lord's sake;" and to practise those virtues of sobriety, contentment, and humility, which are essential to the preservation of civil order. Friends of your country! Christians! the temporal interests of your fellow men, their immortal welfare demand that you exert your efforts to disseminate among them the knowledge of God's revealed will.
And next to the BIBLE which contains this revealed will, those who have established this society have been accustomed to revere the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. This book, containing much of the pious sentiment and language which animated primitive martyrs, and in which they poured forth to their God and Saviour, their prayers and praises, was compiled by the care and labour of the fathers of the Reformation in the Church of England. Universally admired for its simplicity and its pathos, it is acknowledged even by many who reject it, to be an affecting and correct display of evangelical doctrine, and to breathe the pure emotions of the devout soul. What better method then can be adopted to disseminate the truths of the Bible, than by dispersing a book which, exhibiting these truths in the affecting language of devotion, impresses them on the heart as well as on the understanding?
Is this book in the hands of all who value it? The contrary is the fact. The clergy in the city are often applied to by their poor parishioners, for a Book of Common Prayer. Many also would prize it, and would improve it as a gift, who will not go to the expense of purchasing it. These remarks are obviously more applicable to parishes in the country, particularly to those which are forming in new settlements. From these quarters, the calls are frequent for this admirable summary of evangelical truth.
The importance and duty of advancing Christian knowledge by the dissemination of Bibles, Common Prayer Books, and religious tracts, have been long confessed among Christians generally, and particularly in Great Britain. There large sums of money are annually expended in promoting these objects. In a new country, it is of immense consequence, even in a civil point of view, that religious and moral principle should keep pace with the increase of population and wealth. In regard to the eternal interests of man, the importance of this truth rises above all calculation.
Christians! your sympathy is often awakened for the bodies of men. Have compassion on their souls. Minister to their spiritual health. Provide for their eternal welfare. At the last day an inquiry will be instituted,--Have ye fed the hungry? Have ye clothed the naked? Remember! a more important inquiry will be,--Have ye fed the hungry with the bread of life? Have ye clothed the naked with the garments of salvation?
The earnest prayer is offered to him who holds in his hand the hearts of all men, that he would dispose Christians to aid an institution, humbly devoted to his glory, with the means of permanently and extensively diffusing the knowledge of his holy word.