Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New-York, and exercising
Episcopal Offices, according to the Canons, in the State of Connecticut.
No. 160 Pearl-street.
The following Charge was dictated by a strong sense of the obligation assumed by every Bishop at his consecration, "with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's word, and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to do the same." But the author would, most solicitously, disclaim all feelings incompatible with sincere esteem and respect for the characters of many, against whose errors he conceived that his official station, and the circumstances of the times, rendered it his duty to endeavour to guard his brethren of the ministry, and, through them, those whose spiritual interests, in the providence of God, are, in some measure, confided to him.
AN inattention to the character of prevalent opinions or measures, and a reception of them merely from the circumstance of their being sanctioned by the popular spirit of the day, in the investigation of truth, would be unwise; in the concerns of civil life, dangerous; and in matters of religion, not only dangerous and unwise, but criminal. Those inspired Apostles, who knew how many assaults, from prejudice and from passion, that pure system of divine truth which they promulgated, would have to sustain in its progress through an imperfect and corrupt world; how often errors the most gross, and measures the most pernicious, would be so disguised, and so recommended, as to obtain that popularity which generally vanquishes opposition, by rendering it odious; were not regardless of the duty of warning Christians against an implicit acquiescence in opinions and measures, however prevalent and popular. "Believe not every spirit," was their language of caution, but "try the spirits, whether they be of God"—"Prove all things: hold fast that which is good."
If this vigilant and zealous examination of popular opinions in religion be the duty of Christians, much more is it incumbent on those who are set over the flock of Christ, for the purpose of guarding them from error and seduction; and to whom the treasure of divine truth is committed, that it may be preserved from tarnish and alloy. But the duty in question is very far from being inviting. Much more pleasant is it to swim with, than to stem, the current; to be carried along by the popular gale, than with incessant and wearying exertion to struggle against it; to be hailed by the applauses of the hosts, in whose ranks, or as whose leaders, men bear to a triumph the opinions or the measures of the day, than to meet their odium by refusing to enlist with them, or by opposition, somewhat to perplex their progress, if not to diminish their success. And, therefore, in general, the method of insuring a prosperous issue to any plans, and an universal reception to any opinions, is to make them popular; for, thus are enlisted in their cause all that is weak, and all that is selfish in our nature.
But I forget that I am addressing those who, when at the altar of their Lord and Master, they were invested with the office of ministering in sacred things, pledged themselves, over the symbols of his body and blood, to make the unity, and the purity of his Church, established for the salvation of men, the object of their supreme and constant exertions; and on that altar, and over those symbols, sacrificed all those human regards which would seduce or deter them from the faithful discharge of their duty—those who can never cease to forget "that it is a small matter to be judged of man's judgment, for there is one that judgeth them, the Lord"—those who, under the odium of popular misconception or calumny, under sufferings of whatever kind, in reputation, in influence, in person, or in property, are supported by the confidence that the Master whose truth and whose Church they are defending, will never forsake them; now, comforting them with those hopes which the world can neither give nor take away, and hereafter, swallowing up the remembrance of past afflictions in the rewards of immortality. These, my Clerical Brethren, are consolations that fortify, with more than human strength, the spirit of the Christian Minister, against severer trials than any, to which, in the present day, he is called. Under their influence the rack lost its terrors, and the stake the torture of its flames.
In the conviction, then, that you are prepared to do your duty, let me call your attention to some of those opinions which affect the purity of Christian truth, and the unity and the prosperity of the Redeemer's kingdom; the error and the danger of which, however, are in some measure concealed by the sanction of general reception and favour.
The errors which I shall enumerate are the result of that tendency of our nature, the philosophy of which it would be foreign to the occasion to point out, by which, on all subjects, and particularly on those of religion, men are carried into extremes. The history of religion proves, that, frequently from a lukewarmness which chilled every devout feeling, have been kindled those fires of enthusiasm which consumed almost all that was reasonable and valuable in religion; and from the almost innumerable extremes in which the various shapes of religious error are to be found, men suddenly and rapidly rushed to their opposite?
The period was when the decrees of ecclesiastical councils were received as the infallible decisions of Christian verity; when it was supposed that the spirit which presided in the assembly of the inspired Apostles, and led them into all truth, exercised the same divine agency in the subsequent councils of fallible men; and thus the dogmas of the Church of Rome, set forth by her councils, and authoritatively ratified by her supreme head, demanded and received the Same implicit reverence and submission as the decisions of the oracles of the living God. The pretensions, which thus claimed the unerring certainty of inspiration, for the decisions of men, who gave no evidence of their supernatural power, were stamped with too much absurdity and impiety to receive general credit, except in an age when the human mind, sunk in ignorance, was bound by the shackles of superstition. When enlightened by science, she shook off her degrading bondage, and carried the torch of inquiry into the recesses of the conclave, whence, it was said, issued the unerring decrees of the Divine Spirit; so many tenets, shocking to reason, both for their folly and their blasphemy; so much intrigue and corruption, disgusting to the honourable and upright mind, disgraced the counsels and the conduct of those who, wearing the Apostles' commission, claimed also the guidance of apostolic inspiration, that their decrees were rejected equally with their claims to infallibility, as repugnant both to the dictates of common sense and the decisions of the word of God.
But, mark the imperfection of the human mind. The throne of infallibility, from which one oracle was displaced, was usurped by another; and private judgment, renouncing all that the wisdom of ages had sanctioned, all regard to the voice of the Church catholic, not in the restricted sense in which the Church of Rome claims that title, but in its extension, semper, ubique, apud omnes, always, every where, among all, claimed for itself almost all the prerogatives of papal infallibility. [The rule of receiving what has been believed in the Church—Semper, ubique, ab omnibus—is ably illustrated by Vincent of Lerins, in a treatise, translated by Reeves, and published with the apology of Justin, and other works of the Fathers. These treatises, with the valuable notes of Reeves, and his admirable "Preface on the right Use of the Fathers," should be read by every Clergyman.] Hence we have seen, and continue to see, any number of Christians who choose to associate together, and even any individual Christian, claiming the right to interpret the word of God, and to deduce from it the unerring articles of doctrine, without any regard to the faith of the universal Church, which constitutes the best exposition of the sacred volume.
God forbid, my Brethren, that I should say aught against the right of private judgment in matters of religion, when properly exercised. The doctrine that every man being individually responsible to his Maker and Judge, must, in all those concerns that affect his spiritual and eternal welfare, act according to the dictates of his conscience, is that cardinal principle of the Protestant faith which should be most strenuously guarded. But there is a wide difference between the unlimited and the restricted right of private judgment; between each individual forming his code of religious doctrine, without employing as lights amidst the innumerable and jarring opinions that perplex his researches, the faith of the universal Church, as far as he can ascertain it; and the same individual, while he claims the right, which no intelligent creature can surrender, of judging for himself, seeking with humility and with deference, that guidance which is to be found in the faith of the Church universal. He may, indeed, fail in his efforts; he must depend frequently on the learning and the information of others; and liability to error is inseparable from our present fallen state. But there is much less danger of error, when he follows the light, as far as it is disclosed to him, which has shone on the Church universal, than when he proudly violates that order of Providence by which, in the present world, the less informed must, in some measure, depend on those more enlightened; and takes for his guide, in matters of religion, his own judgment, taste, and fancy; disregarding entirely the faith of the great body of Christians in all places and at all times.
It is on this sound principle of human nature, as well as on those declarations of Scripture, which pronounce the Church to be "the pillar and ground of the truth," and which commands us to "hear the Church," that our Church declares in her articles, that "the Church is a witness and keeper of holy writ," and has "authority in controversies of faith." [Art xx.] And by the Church she means, "a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance." [Art. xix.] Those are authorised, as she declares, to minister the sacraments, "who are chosen and sent by men who have public authority given to them for this purpose." [Art. xxiii.] And we can be in no doubt whom she considers as having this public authority to call and send to the ministry, when we hear her declaring that Bishops, to whom she assigns this power as distinct from Presbyters and Deacons, "have been from the Apostles' times," and "instituted by God's Providence, and by his Holy Spirit." [Preface to offices of ordination, and prayers in those offices.]
Great, then, my Brethren of the Clergy, is the responsibility which rests upon us. According to the wise organization of our ecclesiastical government, the authority which the Church possesses in matters of faith, is exercised by all orders of men constituting her communion, her Bishops, Clergy, and Laity. But those who are especially commissioned to minister in sacred things, and to whom, as the stewards of the mysteries of God, it peculiarly appertains to dispense his sacred word, are particularly intrusted with the office of preserving Christian verity, and of guarding the fold of their Master from the assaults of heresy and schism. If we, then, of the Clergy, fail diligently to search for the old paths, and to continue therein, through that indolence which declines research; that timidity which withholds truth, because it may be odious; or that love of popularity which would rather bow to some modern idol which the multitude hath set up, than worship the God of our fathers in the faith and unity which distinguished the primitive ages of Christianity, but an attachment to which modern liberality may style bigotry and uncharitableness; we shall be answerable for the heresies and schisms which deform and distract the fold of the Redeemer, and for the guilt of those who, misled by us, err from the faith, and depart from the unity of Christ's body.
Connected with this extreme, to which the exercise of private judgment is carried in matters of religion, and arising indeed from it, is, the little regard which is paid to the Church as a divinely constituted society.
There was a period, when the authority of the Church was carried to an extreme, incompatible with the rights of conscience, and even with personal safety—when her Clergy, lording it over God's heritage, demanded implicit obedience to all their impositions; and forgetting that the kingdom of their Master was not of this world, employed to enforce their decrees the sanguinary weapons of secular power; thus deforming, by this unhallowed junction of the world and the Church, the spirituality of that holy society which its divine Head armed with no prerogatives but such as appeal to the understanding, the conscience, and the heart.
But in renouncing these despotic claims, is there not a contrary extreme, which appears in no small degree to characterize the mass of Protestant Christians? They seldom bring into view the divine institution of the Christian Church, and the divine origin of its powers. In their language, and in their practice, they reduce this sacred institution, which, founded by a divine hand, is animated and governed by him, to whom "all power is given in heaven and on earth," to a level with those associations which have no higher origin than human power, and no other object but human policy. Hence the duty of submission to its authoritative acts is made to rest not on its claims to a divine origin, but on the motives of mere expediency; and hence, the exercise of its. discipline is not regarded as a duty demanded by the authority of its divine Head, and the purity of its sacred character, but as dictated merely by those considerations of policy which influence secular associations, and as left entirely to human discretion. Its discipline is thus relaxed; or, when exercised agreeably to established provisions, is secretly assailed, or openly opposed and disregarded. And the divine declaration, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven;" which certainly, in the exercise of all the discipline necessary to her order, purity, and peace, assures to the Church the protection and support of the Most High; is no more regarded than if it had proceeded from a frail mortal, and not from the lips of him who is Ruler of the inhabitants of the earth, and Lord of the armies of heaven.
There are also erroneous opinions prevalent with respect to the constitution of the Christian ministry, arising from the tendency to extremes which we are illustrating.
The Church from which Protestants separated claims, for its visible Head, prerogatives as unfounded in Scripture as they are dangerous in the exercise. Our Lord rewarded the noble confession of St. Peter—"Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God"—by the distinguishing declaration to him—"On this rock I will build my Church —and unto thee will I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." But without entering into the discussion, whether the rock meant was the confession or the personal authority of St. Peter—what evidence is there that the Church was not established on the other Apostles, and that the power of the keys, or of remission of sins in the administration of the sacraments and ordinances, and of discipline, was not conferred on them? Are we not told that the Church is founded on all the Apostles? Were not all the Apostles equally with St. Peter, and with no marks of distinction, commissioned to establish the Church, constituted its governors, vested with all its spiritual powers, and commanded to provide for the continued exercise of those powers in the persons of their successors "alway, even unto the end of the world?" And are we not struck with the remarkable fact so subversive of the alleged supremacy of St. Peter, that in the first council that settled the disputes of the infant church, St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, even in the presence of St. Peter, enjoyed that precedence, and exercised that power, which are claimed as of divine origin for him.
But admitting that St. Peter, as the reward of his zealous confession, was distinguished by his Master with some marks of superiority over the rest of the Apostles; where is the evidence that this superiority did not cease with his person? Where is the proof that it descended to the Bishop of Rome? Where the warrant for the lofty titles, involving equally lofty prerogatives, assumed by the papal pontiff, of "vicar of Jesus Christ, and universal Bishop?" Of these lofty titles and these lofty prerogatives, we have no record set forth in the apostolic history recorded in the Acts. Clement, Bishop of Rome, next but one in succession to that see from the Apostles, in his celebrated epistle, advances no such claims. The venerable martyr Ignatius, the disciple of St. John, delineating with the greatest minuteness the Christian hierarchy, and enforcing the duty of submission to it, utters not a word of this supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. And before that deference which, in all ecclesiastical concerns, was naturally paid to the Bishop of the imperial city, emboldened him to receive from the corrupt hand of secular power, the title and the prerogatives of universal Bishop, the spiritual head of a rival city received a rebuke for the assumption of this title, from a predecessor of those who make this title, and the powers involved in it, a divine warrant for supreme dominion over the Christian world.
Happy would it be, if in opposing the usurped prerogatives of the Bishop of Rome, and in renouncing the corruptions of the papal hierarchy, there was no evidence of the tendency of human nature to go into extremes. The odium that justly marks the various usurpations of the Roman Church, seems transferred even to those institutions which it possesses in common with the primitive Church, and which are warranted by Scripture, or to which no objection can be found in the dictates of reason. Hence, Episcopal power, equally with Papal, is considered as an anti-Christian usurpation.
But, if in all points truth be found in the opposite extreme to the Papacy, and if every doctrine and institution hath received an indelible stain in passing through a Papal channel, how does it happen that those who appear to act upon this principle retain any doctrine or institution which is taught or practised by this anti-Christian Church? Is the divinity of the Saviour to be rejected, because, in the midst of her darkest corruptions, this truth shone conspicuously as an article of the faith of the Church of Rome? Is his atonement diminished in its redeeming efficacy, because Papal superstition connects with it the intercession and merits of created beings? Does the institution of public worship lose its obligation, because in the Church of Rome its spirituality is obscured by the pageantry of superstitious ceremonies? Do the elements of the Holy Eucharist, consecrated as the symbols of the sacrifice of Christ, cease to convey spiritual health and nourishment to the souls of the faithful, because the Church of Rome impiously claims for her priesthood the power of entirely changing the substance and qualities of these elements, while the outward appearances remain the same; and of offering in the sacrifice of the mass, the same adorable personage, body, soul, and divinity, who suffered on the cross? Is preaching to be renounced as a scriptural ordinance, because, in the ages of Papal darkness, it was degraded to the office of celebrating the imaginary virtues of the saints whom superstition had canonized, and the efficacy of relics which received unlimited reverence from the ignorance of the multitude? Does the Bible cease to be the charter of salvation, because its sacred books must be traced through the Roman Church to the age of inspiration? And does Episcopacy lose its claims to a divine origin, because on its simple and apostolic foundation has been reared the gorgeous and unhallowed structure of the Papal hierarchy? If one extreme approves its opposite, if the abuse of an institution renders necessary the rejection of it, if usurped prerogative justifies resistance to legitimate power—what is there in religion—what is there in civil polity—what is there in the departments of science—what is there in social life, that would remain sacred?
Let not, then, Brethren, your attachment to the primitive institutions of your Church be in any degree shaken by the aspersion, that they symbolize with Papal superstitions. Be not intimidated from avowing and defending the scriptural and primitive claims of Episcopacy, by the reproach, that you are verging to the Church of Rome. The reproach discovers little acquaintance with genuine Episcopacy, and little knowledge of Papal claims. The Episcopacy which it is the privilege of our Church to enjoy, was the glory of martyrs and confessors, centuries before Papal domination established itself on the depression of Episcopal prerogatives. When you appeal to the Epistles of Timothy and Titus, in proof of the succession of an order of men to the Apostles, in their powers of ordination and supremacy in government, can you be supposed friendly to the supremacy of the supposed successor of St. Peter, in regard to which these Epistles are totally silent? When you quote the command of the martyr Ignatius, the disciple of an Apostle, "Let no man do any thing of what belongs to the Church without the Bishop," [Ignatius to the Smyrnians] can you be accused of vindicating a language with which this holy martyr was unacquainted, "Let nothing be done but in subjection to the Pope of Rome?" When you appeal to a succession of Fathers, in proof of a fact which appears prominent in every Ecclesiastical record, that, as is expressed by the judicious Hooker, the "outward being of a Church consisted in the having of a Bishop;" must you not necessarily oppose a very different dogma, of which the ancient Fathers knew nothing, that the Pope is the visible head of the Church on earth, and that subjection to his supremacy is a necessary evidence of membership in the Catholic or Universal Church? They who suppose that a primitive Episcopacy, such as our Church enjoys, symbolizes with the Roman hierarchy, do not know, or do not consider the facts, that Papal and Episcopal prerogative are at variance; that the Episcopal tenet of the succession of Episcopal power from the Apostles, and through them from the divine Head of the Church, is incompatible with the Papal claim, that the Episcopal power, as well as jurisdiction, is derived immediately and solely from the Roman Pontiff; and hence, that the history of the Church affords instances of the attempts of the Pope to depress the order of Bishops, and of their resistance to his inordinate claims.
My Brethren, our Church holds a most important station in the Christian world; and we, its ministers, in faithfully supporting her in this station, have most important duties to discharge. Amidst the various forms which modern innovators have given to the Christian ministry; some relinquishing entirely its divine origin; others confounding its distinct orders, and altering their original powers; some denying the transmission of its commission from the Head of the Church; others changing the channel of conveyance; and all seeming to think it an honour to retreat as far as possible from the unhallowed precincts of the Papacy: our Church, temperate, judicious, firm, unawed by Papal threats, unmoved by what she considers the unjust reproaches of some of her Protestant kindred, takes her stand where Apostles and Martyrs stood; and in her Apostolic Episcopacy, cleared of Papal usurpations, shines forth to the wandering members of the Christian family, as that city "set on an hill," where they may find repose from the tumults of schism, and communion with their Redeemer, in those ministrations and ordinances which he has established as the channels of his grace, and the pledges of his love. What if her claims, avowed in the spirit of unfeigned charity, and supported by temperate argument, be frowned on by that liberal spirit, the characteristic of the present ago, which, illustrating the tendency of human nature to go into extremes, seems to think it impossible to recede too far from that intolerant and persecuting bigotry, the disgrace of the ages that are past; and which, if unchecked, would soon become, in its turn, intolerant, and denounce and persecute those who presume to think that all doctrines in religion, and all institutions, are not equally sound and good, and equally acceptable to God? Weak, indeed, my Brethren, must be our attachment to our Church, and our sense of obligation to her-indifferent must we be to the vows which we made when we received her ministry, and insensible to the promises of succour and support from that Master whose commission we sustain, and whose cause we advocate-and little must we have of that undaunted spirit, which, in the first professors of the faith, excites our homage, if, awed by popular reproaches, or seduced by popular applause, we should fail in the high and honourable duty of tearing the Christian ark which we have received from an illustrious line of Apostles, Martyrs, and Saints, through difficulties and trials, far inferior to those which they encountered in transmitting it, in its original purity and beauty, an invaluable legacy to us.
In connexion with this prevalent disregard to the divinely constituted ministry of Christ's Church, which arises from a disposition to recede as far as possible from the Church of Rome, appears another error, which has its origin in the same cause, an indifference to the external unity of Christ's mystical body.
The Papal opinion of Church unity, that it consists in communion with the Bishop of Rome, as the visible head of the Catholic Church, has so little foundation in Scripture and in primitive practice, that it could not stand the test of that spirit of free inquiry which the Reformation excited. But many bodies of reformed Christians, who renounced the corruptions and usurpations of the Church of Rome, were not so happy as to carry with them that primitive Episcopacy which subsisted in the Church from which they separated, and which others of their brethren laid at the foundation of the external order of their churches. Such is the natural course of the human mind, through the gradations of error, that a departure from Episcopacy, the scriptural and primitive principle of Church unity, at first exercised on the plea of necessity, became afterwards wholly justified on the ground of right The assumption, of the Episcopal powers of ordination by Presbyters led to the usurpation of the powers both of Bishops and Presbyters by laymen. The separation of Episcopal Protestants fro ma Church which imposed sinful terms of communion, has been unwarrantably pleaded in evidence of the right of individual ministers and individual Christians, to establish communions as their judgment may dictate, wholly regardless of that primitive bond of Church unity, the ministry of Bishops. Thus we see the Protestant world divided into sects, the numbers or the tenets of which it is almost impossible to enumerate. And as the climax of this scale of error, we now hear the sentiments advanced and defended, on almost all occasions, in the writings of able divines, and in the language of Christian associations, which bid fair to obtain an unprecedented popularity, that all differences among Christians, except as to fundamental points of doctrine, are non-essential; and that separate communions without number, unless there is unsoundness in the faith, do not violate Church unity. But the unity of the Church is an obvious and fundamental doctrine of Scripture; and visible unity is entirely incompatible with distinct communions. Hence, the tenet of an invisible Church, of which all are covenanted members who exercise faith, threatens to subvert the doctrine, professed in the ancient creeds, of a visible Church, "one, Catholic, and Apostolic."
But, was it an invisible Church which our Saviour designates as "a city," "a kingdom," "a body?" Was it an invisible society, over which he set his Apostles as the instructors, the priests, and rulers, and of which they were to constitute officers, with similar powers, to the end of the world? Was it an invisible society, of which the Apostle declares, "Ye were all baptised by one spirit into one body?" Was it to an invisible Church that they were united, of whom it is said in the Acts of the Apostles, "the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved?" Was it an union only of faith and charity which distinguished those of whom, in the same inspired book, it is said, "they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers?" Was it an internal and invisible unity which the Apostle enjoined, when he said, " there should be no schism in the body?" Was it to the officers of an invisible Church that he commanded obedience—"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account?" Was it an infraction only of an invisible unity which he reproved, when he said, "mark them which cause divisions"—"because there are divisions among you, ye are carnal—one saying, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos?" Was it for a violation only of charity and internal unity, and not for a resistance to the priesthood in the Jewish Church, that Korah and his associates were punished, and that it is said of Christians, there are some who "perish in the gainsaying of Korah?" Were mutual love and soundness in the faith the only bond of unity in those ages, when the Church universal was indeed one fold, under the government of Bishops? Was this the unity of Ignatius, of Cyprian, of a host of Fathers, who, in almost every page of their writings, enforce a visible unity, maintained by the communion of Christians with the authorized orders of the ministry, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons? Was it for an invisible unity, that Jerome, the reputed champion of this modern error, contended, when, in the celebrated passage which is adduced in proof of it, he asserts, that at the very time when it was said, I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, which was, undoubtedly, in the time of the Apostles, Bishops were constituted as superior to Presbyters, in order to be the bond of the visible order and unity of Christ's Church? When, indeed, was there any other bond, until, centuries after the first age of Christianity, the usurped precedence of the Bishop of Rome was constituted the principle of Church unity; and until the divisions of Protestants made this unity to consist solely in mutual affection and soundness in the faith, and, of course, compatible with any, and, indeed, with no form of the Christian ministry?
My Brethren, in opposing, under great, and, perhaps, if we may judge from the spirit of the age, increasing odium, those prevalent errors, which, if I know my own heart, a profound sense of duty alone has induced me to endeavour to expose and refute; and in maintaining and enforcing correct views of the constitution of the Christian Church, and of the principles of Church unity, we must be consoled and supported by the consideration that we are maintaining the principles of the saints of the primitive ages, and for which, sooner than relinquish them, they would have shed their blood. What though it may be said, that these principles would limit the communion of the Church to a small portion of professing Christians, and place in a state of schism a large number of the Christian family? If these principles be true, their obligation cannot be weakened, nor their importance diminished by the number, the piety, or the zeal of their opponents. The general prevalence of error hitherto permitted by the counsels of an inscrutable Providence, is a trial of our faith, but ought not to weaken or subvert it. Was not the revelation of God's will confined from the beginning to a small number of the human race, in the plains of Shinar, and in the fields of Jordan? Are not large portions of the globe still under the dominion of the prince and powers of darkness? It is not for man to arraign the dominion of the Most High. For purposes wise and good, but inscrutable by us, did he not permit heresies early to stain the purity of the faith? Was there not a period when the divinity of his blessed Son was doubted and denied by a large portion of the Christian world; and when a venerable defender of this fundamental truth was hunted by his persecutors throughout the earth? Did not the dark cloud of Papal superstition for ages disfigure and conceal the primitive splendour of the Christian Zion? And need we wonder then, that for purposes equally wise and good, but equally inscrutable, the Sovereign of the universe still permits heresies to corrupt, and schisms to distract the Christian family? He will finally do right. He searches and mercifully judges the purposes of the heart; and, assuredly, honest purity of intention, and zealous endeavour to know and to do his will, will not fail of a reward from him, who is no respecter of persons, but is the equal and kind Parent of all the human race. Still charity, though it should always soften the rigid features of truth, cannot change her divine character, nor dispense with her sacred obligations.
Never, indeed, let us be guilty of worse than folly in separating the means from the end—in placing the Church, which is to preserve and to spread the truth, superior to the truth itself—in advocating the ministry, which was constituted for the salvation of the sheep of Christ, whom he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood, solely for the sake of the powers with which it vests us, and not for the infinitely important objects which are the end of all its functions and its duties. Let us then, while we avoid those party names by which the enemy, disguised in sheep's clothing, indulges his malicious purpose of sowing division in the fold of Christ, provoke one another, by kind counsel, to greater fidelity in proclaiming to corrupt and sinful men, salvation through the merits, and sanctification through the grace of a Divine Redeemer. But they are Christ's "sheep." In order then that they may hear the voice of their heavenly Shepherd, and be led by his grace in the pastures of life, and beside the waters of salvation, let us gather them, as he has commanded us, into his fold. They are his "family"—let us, as good stewards, bring them to the table of the Great Householder, that they may receive the heavenly meat in due season. They are "the congregation of Christ"—let us unite them in his body to him their Divine Head.
In maintaining the outward defences of the fold, the good order of the house, the apostolic constitution of Christ's mystical body, we must be animated by the consideration, not only that we are discharging a duty which Apostles and Martyrs have performed before us, but that we are guarding the fold, the household, the body of Christ, in the purity in which he hath graciously vouchsafed to transmit it to us, and in which he will require it at our hands. The day of account must come. We are, indeed, admonished how near the close of his stewardship may be to each one of us, in the recent removal from our ranks of a venerable Father, (The Rev. John Bowden, D.D.) whose Christian temper and guileless example secured our affection; and to whose lessons, as a Master in Israel, explaining, enforcing, and vindicating the apostolic principles of our Church, we are all greatly indebted for the confirmation of our attachment to them, and for the increase of our zeal in their support. And how forcibly, my Brethren, is he who addresses you, reminded of the uncertainty of the event that may close his stewardship, when this day's solemnity brings to his recollection one, of the same age with himself, and of the same grade of the ministry, with whom, harmonizing in principle as in affection, but as yesterday, in this place, he "took counsel" as to the affairs of our Zion; but whom, from a course of distinguished usefulness, it hath pleased the Lord of the vineyard to call to his rest. [The Right Rev. THEODORE DEHON, D.D. Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South-Carolina, attended the General Convention held in Trinity Church, New-York, but a few months before the delivery of this Charge, and soon after his return to his diocess departed this life, in the 42d year of his age.]