THE writer of this Vindication wishes to treat with respect the "Prefatory Remarks" annexed to the "Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Clerical Association of the City of New-York," because, he presumes that though anonymous, they are sanctioned by its members. He knows not indeed whether he is justified in considering these "remarks" as authorized by all the members. One of them, but recently a resident in the city, and who has no parochial charge, promptly declared to the Bishop, in the most honourable manner, that he should withdraw from it. Between the others and the Bishop there has been no communication. No conclusion can be drawn from the "Prefatory Remarks" as to the dissolution of the association. Whether this event will be the result of the "deliberate and conscientious examination which the members are anxious to give it," and an evidence of "the respectful attention which they are disposed to pay to the Pastoral Letter of their Diocesan," remains to be seen.
The "Prefatory Remarks" profess to defend the members of the association from "a kind of arraignment of them before the bar of the religious community," to which they consider the Pastoral Letter as subjecting them. In so doing, they arraign (perhaps unavoidably) Bishop Hobart as having given "a very unexpected notoriety to their little association," which was going on "quietly and unostentatiously." They seem to complain that he has expressed "a strong public disapprobation of it," for which they were "little prepared." Their "organized system, (if, they say, it can in any sense be called one,") on the one hand they characterize as "so very feeble" as only "possibly to afford facilities for the exercise of a refractory spirit," and as little formal, and of as little importance as an instrument of evil, as can well be imagined." On the other hand, they [3/4] regard it as so powerful in its operation, as to be productive of much good to its members and the people of their pastoral charge." They certainly deemed it of so great importance that they constituted it in opposition to the arguments and almost entreaties of their Diocesan. In regard to it, it is still "a matter of consideration with them what ultimate measures," founded on his Pastoral Letter, "they may individually or collectively adopt." They seem to hint that they had been called on for "a relinquishment of their privilege as men, as Christians, and as Presbyters, to think and act for themselves in regard to points left free by the Church to individual judgment." They print, in capitals, something about "enforcing uniformity of opinion." And in conclusion, they allude to the "privation of opportunities to meet together in associations," and to "a system founded on the example of some civil governments, and prohibiting more than three from convening together at the corners of the streets." Charity would hope, that in these hints and allusions there is no intention to stamp with their approbation the story, oft told for near twenty years, of Bishop Hobart's tyranny.
But though the prefatory remarks contain the above, they contain little more. Bishop Hobart's reasons against this association from its tendency, remain unshaken, and almost unassailed.
These reasons are--
That such associations have a strong tendency to become the theatres of spiritual vanity and ostentation; and of that peculiar and artificial language of religion which is significantly denoted by the term cant--
That excitement being their object, enthusiasm and fanaticism would ultimately prevail, and weaken, if not subvert, those barriers which public reason has established against private fancy, and those provisions which the wisdom and piety of the Church have settled for the preservation of Christian unity, and the regulation of the devotion of her members--
That stated meetings for spiritual conversation solely, in which the persons attending must talk spiritually, tend to excite and cherish a formal, stately, artificial, enthusiastic, and affected piety. And as far as discussion is concerned, there is danger of a contest for victory instead of truth; which, whatever be the subjects of discussion, will end in strife--
That bands of Clergy, united by the strong ties of spiritual feeling and religious zeal, may, with great ease, be made [4/5] the powerful instruments of intrigue, and engines of faction--
That holding out the meritorious objects of spiritual edification, and of the elevation of the ministerial character and spirit, those who do not join in them will be considered as deficient in zeal for these objects, and thus these associations will be regarded as the badges of party. And
This last consideration was employed not in the way of command, but of earnest representation and almost entreaty, by Bishop Hobart, with the two leading individuals in the association, as a reason operating upon them as Gentlemen, as Christians, and as Clergymen, not to adopt a measure certainly not essential, and which would introduce new parties in the Church, and which, while it would obtain for them, however undesired or unsought, the denomination of spiritual, would subject their Bishop, and numbers of their brethren, to the odious stigma of being cold, and formal, and secular.
These tendencies of the association are founded on its very nature, as connected with the principles of the human heart, independently of the "dignity of character," of the "Christian love," of the "attachment to the Church," of its present members; from which there is no disposition to detract, except so far as to maintain that even they are liable to error, and to the intrusion and final domination of the passions and views of our fallen nature.
Not one of the above reasons is noticed in the prefatory remarks, except that which respects the tendency of the association to produce party.
This last particular, in connexion with the charges against Bishop Hobart, in reference to the publication of his Pastoral Letter, shall now be briefly noticed.
The members of the Association complain that Bishop Hobart has most "unexpectedly, and without their being in the least prepared," dragged "their little Association," "a small society of Clergymen, ten in number," from the obscure corner, "the privacy of their own houses," in which it was "quietly and unostentatiously" pursuing its edifying work, into the broad day-light of "notoriety." But how is this? A society called "The Protestant Episcopal Clerical Association in the City of New-York," with a Constitution, whether printed or not--a society which "any Clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal Church was permitted to attend"--whose Constitution provides for the admission as a member, of "any Protestant Episcopal Clergyman in the city of New-York or its vicinity," and for the incitation of " a Protestant [5/6] Episcopal Minister not resident in the city of New-York or its vicinity, to its regular meetings, and of which many Clergymen were invited to become members--a society which thus seeks to embrace as regular members, all Protestant Episcopal Clergymen in the city of New-York, and all Protestant Episcopal Clergymen in the vicinity of New-York; [Are there to be special meetings more select and confined to actual members?] and as visiting members all Protestant Episcopal Clergymen throughout the United States--such a society is said to be small in its extent, little in its calculation as to numbers, and to be concealed from public attention in "the privacy of the houses of its members!" One would think it impossible that the expectation of the privacy of the Association could have been seriously entertained. And so mach the more dangerous an association thus carrying on its designs--for nice indeed, scarce a hairs breadth is the distinction between a society so very private, and one marked with total secrecy.
Bishop Hobart, in his previous conversation with two leading members, expressed his perfect conviction that the society would be known, would be the subject, sooner or later, of conversation and inquiry; and that thus those Clergymen not members of it, would be subjected to the necessity of explaining and defending themselves. What he predicted, came to pass. The society was soon known among all the clergy of the city of New-York and its vicinity, and gradually was becoming known among the Laity. The Philadelphia Recorder, the official paper of a powerful party in another Diocese, which some Clergymen in this city and vicinity, of the same party, take unwearied pains to circulate, and which it is said can boast its 12 or 1300 subscribers, held the society up to public commendation, and to the imitation of all the Clergy.
And was the Pastoral Letter "unexpected?" Did it take the members of the Association "little prepared?" But surely they ought not to have concluded that they could act contrary to the arguments, to the solicitations of their Diocesan; triumphantly establish a society, from which he predicted, as a precedent, great evils would ensue to the Church; which he could not conscientiously join; and which would affect his character and influence, by subjecting him to the charge of discountenancing measures for the spiritual improvement of his Clergy--they ought not to have thought that they could carry forward this institution with increasing numbers, with augmenting strength, a proud trophy of their [6/7] victory over the counsels, the wishes, the earnest requests, of their Bishop--they ought not to have believed that all this could be done, and that the would be silent; be treacherous to his vows which bind him to watch over the order, purity, and peace, of Christ's fold, and to defend, if not for his own, for his office sake, his public character. Humbled in his own opinion, lowered in that of every high minded and Christian man, would he have been, if he had not resisted an organized project which would defeat his conscientious purposes and views--purposes and views not of a personal nature alone, but involving the highest interests of the Church.
Is it possible that the members could have reasoned--The society will, must indeed, be more or less known--inquiry will be excited why Bishop Hobart is not a member--odium will arise against him for his discountenancing so pious an institution--be it so--what can he do--he will, he must be silent, and take the consequences. Charity perhaps suggests that it did not occur to those who planned and formed this Association, that any consequences injurious to the character and influence of Bishop Hobart would ensue. But he urged on them these consequences as a motive for relinquishing their project. And if these apprehensions were ideal, how happens it, that the moment his opposition to this society is publicly known, a leading member predicts that it would injure his influence, as affording an evidence of his aversion to the spiritual improvement of his Clergy? And how too can the course pursued by the Philadelphia Recorder be accounted for? As soon as Bishop Hobart's opposition to this society was known, an editorial paragraph denounced hint as opposed to the Clergy's uniting in prayer--and a subsequent paper thinks that the Diocese of New-York would change for the better, by taking, instead of him, a papal Bishop, who would encourage these Associations among his Clergy.
[Massilon, the Bishop of Clermont in France, recommended certain Associations for devotional purposes among the Clergy. But what analogy is there between the condition of a papal or even a Church of England Diocese, where there are no popular elections, no legislative ecclesiastical assemblages, where in the former case the bishop is absolute, and in the latter of immense power and patronage--and the state of a Protestant Episcopal Diocese in this country, constituted throughout on the popular principle, and with a Bishop of powers restrained and regulated by the Constitution and Canons of the Church, enacted in popular legislative Conventions. Admirable and superior as is this latter organization in most respects, what great danger, however, of faction and party? How little in the former?
[The Editor of the Philadelphia Recorder commenced his attack on Bishop Hobart by an article calculated to leave the decided impression that Bishop Hobart was opposed to the Clergy's praying.
[This was followed up by a communication, in which was printed as a quotation from Bishop Hobart's Pastoral Letter, a sentence which does not occur in it. This is done with the view of exciting the belief that he is opposed to the spiritual improvement of the Clergy. And after a quotation from a Charge of the Roman Catholic Bishop Massilon, follows a tirade against Bishop Hobart, as having gone beyond popery, and being worse than the Pope.
In the last number (April 4) appears an editorial article, headed "Too much prayer rather offensive to some persons on both sides of the Atlantic." Reference is made to some alleged authoritative act of discipline on the part of the Bishop of London; as if this bore any analogy to the counsels and admonition of Bishop Hobart's Pastoral Letter. And the words LORD BISHOP are printed in capitals, as if (in connexion with the remarks made) to insinuate that Bishop Hobart meditates some LORDLY act of authority in "extinguishing social prayers in private houses." Such are the arts of an evangelical paper, and an evangelical Editor.
The Editor doubtless expects by these arts, to weaken Bishop Hobart's influence in his Diocese, where, only as far as he is concerned, he need be desirous to possess influence. But does the Editor forget, that unjust assaults, and abusive and calumnious attacks, always rally more closely around him, the friends of the individual who is the subject of them? And does the Editor ever think it worthy of his consideration, whether such assaults and attacks, connected as they are with high evangelical professions, do not tend to bring into disrepute evangelical piety with all honourable, magnanimous, and generous minds, with all who know what are the spirit and precepts of the Gospel, and to make them nauseate the very name. These arts, and the spirit that prompts them, are no part of the "wisdom which is from above."
 Ought Bishop Hobart, instead of publishing his Pastoral Letter, to have commanded the dissolution of the Association? But what right had he to command? Who can doubt that such an act would have been loudly proclaimed tyrannical, even if it had not been resisted?
Ought he to have communicated formally to the Association his wishes for its dissolution? But what reason had he to expect that his wishes would be regarded after an Association had been deliberately and considerately organized, when his arguments, and his wishes, and his solicitations, had not prevented its formation? And had either his command or his wishes been heeded, how busy would rumour have been in misrepresenting or misconceiving the motives of his conduct?
He counselled, he warned, he solicited, in order to prevent the organization of the Association--and thus to render a publication of the matter unnecessary. But all in vain--it was organized--it sought extension--its Constitution provided for its extension--it was known--publicly announced and eulogized--daily becoming more known. Bishop Hobart owed it to himself--to his public character--to his official usefulness--to the order and peace of the Church, which he conceived such associations would endanger--to "address his brethren of the Clergy and Laity frankly and fully on the Subject." And then even if the Association should go on, even if his admonitions as to the injurious effects of such associations, if continued, on the future interests of the Church, should not be heeded--he might at least be able to say to his conscience, and in humble consciousness of integrity to [8/9] that tribunal to which conscience points--I have endeavoured faithfully and fearlessly to do my duty--Liberavi animam meam.
The security against the "facilities for the exercise of a refractory spirit," which it is admitted the Association may afford, and against its being "perverted to the purposes of party by designing persons," is stated to be "the dignity of character and Christian love" which should characterize the Clergy. But conceding the highest grade of these inestimable qualities to the present members, may it not be asked,--Will all who, in the long course of succeeding generations, may have the management of these associations, be equally exalted in these qualities with the members of the present Association?
Even extreme liability to abuse, great and injurious, would be no argument against these associations, if they were essential to the spiritual improvement of the Clergy; if without them, "they must for ever live disconnected, and indulge a constant and heart-chilling distrust of each other; if the use, at a meeting of the dissociation, of the forms of prayer which they may adopt, were the only mode of obtaining "the influence of God's Spirit." But so absurd a pretension will not be advanced. The most godly ministers that ever lived, have owed nought of the "dignity of character, of the Christian love" that adorned them, of the influences of the Divine Spirit that animated them, of the unreserved and heart-cheering confidence which they cherished for each other, to such associations as these. They prayed much, habitually, fervently, in the church--in their families--in their closets--every where. Their prayers were heard--their spirits are now at rest in the Paradise of God; and finally their exalted stations will be in the Church triumphant.
Another security against the perversion of associations like the present one to party, is stated to exist in the "prohibition of all conversation upon disputed points of Church principle and policy, which are left free by the Church to the exercise of individual judgment."
But what are these disputed points which the Church leaves to individual judgment? Must not this be a subject of discussion? Will it not be of excited discussion? May it not he of ultimately angry discussion?
Let us take a question, which, if rumour be correct, was discussed at one of the meetings of the Association--What is the best mode of preparing young persons for Confirmation? Suppose a Clergyman, who, it is said, designs to act upon [9/10] this principle, should have asserted that he will not present any to the Bishop for confirmation, unless they pledge themselves to come to the Lord's Table, and should very naturally and properly ask for the opinion of the other members on this subject. Is this "a point left free by the Church to individual judgment?" Certainly, she desires and expects that all who are confirmed will discharge their duty as Christians, and partake of the Supper of their Lord; and she rewires that the heart should be interested in the holy vows of baptism ratified in the ordinance of confirmation. But the former she does not exact--the latter she leaves to the conscience of the individual. Her Clergy should press earnestly the necessity of both. The Church, however, does not justify them in excluding any from confirmation who are sufficiently instructed, and in the judgment of charity sincerely disposed to assume their baptismal vows. Would this point occasion no difference of opinion that might "gender strife and division?"
But are all these "disputed points of Church principle and policy" unimportant? Such an opinion, even if not entertained, would be excited and cherished by their studied exclusion from the conversations of the meetings of the Association. And this circumstance constitutes a cardinal objection to these associations. Very far are these "disputed points" from being unimportant, or from being "left by the Church to individual judgment." Let us examine them a little in detail.
One disputed point is, the constitution of the Christian ministry, whether it is of Divine appointment. Is this "left free by the Church to the exercise of individual judgment?" On the contrary, she declares, that "God, by his providence, and by his Holy Spirit, appointed divers orders of ministers," those which she has received, "in the Church."
Another point is, the deference due to the Bishop. Some contend, and very faithfully and uniformly practise upon the principle, that even in unessential points no obedience is due to him; and that his "admonitions" and his "judgment" are in no case, when differing from theirs, to be heeded. Is this left free by the Church to individual judgment and discretion? What is the question of her ordination office? "Will you reverently obey your Bishop, and other chief ministers who, according to the canons of the Church, may have the charge and government over you; following with a glad mind and will their godly admonitions, and submitting yourself to their godly judgments?" And what is the answer of the person ordained--"I will do so, the Lord being my helper."
 Another point is, as to the Clergy uniting themselves with those general societies for the religious instruction of the young in Sunday Schools, and for the religious instruction of both young and old by religious tracts, from which all doctrines are excluded not held by all denominations of Christians; so that, for example, in a tract upon the doctrine of redemption, the truth that Christ, as our Church expresses it, made a full, free, and sufficient oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world," would be excluded in accommodation to those who deny this truth. And is the propriety of this accommodation of doctrine "left free by the Church to the exercise of individual judgment?" Surely not. She exacts from her ministers, at ordination, a subscription of conformity to her doctrine, and a solemn promise ALWAYS so to minister the doctrine, &c. of Christ, as the Lord has commanded, and as this Church hath received the same."
Still further--It is disputed whether ministers may not, at their discretion, omit parts of the morning and evening prayer, and introduce extempore prayers. And is this "left free by the Church to the exercise of individual judgment?" What impartial and conscientious person will say so, who is informed that her ministers, at ordination, promise conformity to her worship, and that one of her canons exacts, that before all sermons and lectures, her ministers shall use the Book of Common Prayer as set forth, and that no other prayers shall be used but those contained in that book."
The doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration is a "question of principle agitated among Churchmen." Our Church declares, in various parts of her services, that they who are baptized "are regenerated by God's Holy Spirit," are "made God's children by adoption and grace," are "called into a state of salvation;" distinguishing this regeneration of spiritual condition, from "the renewing of the mind," the "renewing of the Holy Ghost." And is this too a "point left free by the Church to individual judgment?"
The enumeration of "disputed points" might be extended. In regard to human depravity, and justification, those fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, very important "questions are agitated among Churchmen."
Surely it is no recommendation of the New-York Protestant Episcopal Clerical Association, that her members consider these, and other "disputed points of Church principle and policy," which involve essentially the distinguishing character of the Church, "as left free to the exercise of individual judgment." It is easy to talk of "mutual and generous toleration." Take we good heed, that by an abuse of [11/12] toleration we do not sanction error, do not sacrifice the cause of truth, and do not endanger sound Church principle and policy.
But none, it is said, will "band together in an association like the present for the hateful work of faction"--so holy is it in its objects, so guarded in all its provisions. These are the very associations which "designing men" would pervert, to the purposes of unprincipled faction, and which even honest men would sometimes think it right to employ to promote what they considered correct party views. Associations expressly and solely for refractory or factious purposes, would never be formed. Faction, especially religious faction
"-- is a monster of such frightful mien,
"That to be hated needs but to be seen."
Satan, when most bent on evil, assumes the garb of an angel of light.
"------- pleasing was his shape
"So glozed the tempter."
Let not the writer be misunderstood. He does not impute to the present members refractory or factious purposes. He only means to state, that designing persons," with these views, would not find it expedient to avow them, but would choose an association with this fair exterior, which they might make a powerful engine of their party designs, should they obtain influence in it.
Let us carry the plausible theory of these associations into practice. Suppose one formed for the Clergy of our Church in each of the following places, and the adjacent country:--New-York, Poughkeepsie, Albany, Utica, Cooperstown, Auburn, and other places further west. And suppose an event should occur, which may occur at any time, which must occur in the ordinary course of Providence during the life time of many of the present Clergy--a vacancy in the Episcopate of this Diocese. Is it without the range of probability, that an event so important and exciting as the election of a Bishop would not be brought under consideration in one or more of these associations? And then let it be asked, will the agitations which that event, it is to be feared, will stir up, be likely to be allayed by organized bands of Clergy rallying around their favourite candidates?
Apart from this event is it not to expect more than human, that these associations should never, in any way, interfere with the legitimate Episcopal authority, and what is certainly not of less importance, with the powers of the Clergy [12/13] and Laity in Convention. The writer is a strong advocate for that feature of our ecclesiastical system which gives the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity, co-ordinate power. And he would look with extreme jealousy on any organized associations for religious purposes of one of these orders separate from the others. He repeats the language of the Pastoral Letter--"The Laity have cause to fear the power of the Clergy only when that power is exercised in self-created, irresponsible associations."
For what purpose, in the concluding paragraph of the "Remarks," is allusion made to "a system founded on the example of some civil governments prohibiting more than three from conversing together at the corners of the streets?" This allusion is only pertinent on the supposition that Bishop Hobart exercises, as far as he can, or dare, the same system of hateful oppression. Charity would not willingly impute to any of the members of the Association the insinuation of that which the present writer unhesitatingly styles a calumny.
It is, however, to be lamented, that the supplication which, in the form of prayer of the Association, the members offer for their Bishop, has not prevented them from remarks indicative of every thing but respect for himself or his office. In a copy of his Pastoral Letter, circulated in a certain parish, the Clergyman has unceremoniously marked against one sentence, "untrue." The same appellation has been bestowed by other members. More than one of them has styled this Pastoral Letter a hasty act of tyranny, an oppressive interference with the freedom of opinion and conduct in the Clergy. And the unlicensed language has been used, that Bishop Hobart's Pastoral Letter is "the greatest outrage on religious freedom which was ever committed. He has always been in hot water, and he will end in it." [And yet, during Bishop Hobart's eighteen years Episcopal administration, the Diocese has been at peace; and, may it not be added, has prospered. Of more than 120 Clergy in the Diocese, it is believed there are not 10 with whom the Bishop differs as to what the Prefatory Remarks style "the questions of principle and policy usually agitated among Churchmen."]
And what has Bishop Hobart done--only counselled, urged, solicited; and when private counsel, urging, solicitation, failed, publicly explained and defended his opinions and conduct, with regard to this Association, from probable misconception or misrepresentation; threw himself upon what he has never found to fail, the good sense, the candour, the kind feeling, the sound Church principle of his brethren of the Clergy and Laity; and counselled, solicited, urged them to discourage measures and plans fraught, as he is most conscientiously persuaded, with injury to the Church. Some [13/14] Presbyters may advance opinions opposed to those of Bishop Hobart--may pursue a policy diverse from his--with impunity. The same right is denied to him under the penalty of being denominated a tyrant. Others must have their way--he must not advocate and support his. Is not he the oppressed, and not the oppressor? He must cease in his Sermons on public occasions, in his Addresses to the Convention, in his Charges to the Clergy, in his Pastoral Letters, to give such advice as his situation best enables him to give, and as the obligations of his office require him to give, if that advice in any degree impugns the correctness of the principle and policy of certain Presbyters. He must cease to act the part of a faithful shepherd of the flock, though the most solemn vows are upon him; to counsel, and warn, and admonish; and with fidelity, firmness, and decision, to discharge his most responsible duties--and then, and not till then, perhaps the accusation against him of tyranny will cease.
All must lament the circumstances which rendered necessary the Pastoral Letter of Bishop Hobart. The necessity he endeavoured to prevent. The frank and full communication of his objections to the Association, and his wishes, almost solicitations, that it should not be organized, which he expressed to two Clergymen who took the lead in the measure, they promised to make known to the others concerned. One of these latter, from his peculiar situation, Bishop Hobart was particularly desirous should not join the Association. And to him, he also made in frankness and in kindness, a statement nearly similar. But the Association was, notwithstanding all these conciliatory and precautionary measures on Bishop Hobart's part, organized. It was made known. Efforts were made to extend it. Its effects could not be confined to the Clergymen who originated it, or Bishop Hobart perhaps would have submitted in silence. Comparisons would be made between those who would avail themselves of this professed plan of spiritual improvement, and those who would not, most injurious to the latter. In reference to these, explanation was necessary. But especially in regard to the Church, Bishop Hobart would have failed in his duty, if he had not promptly and frankly stated to his brethren of the Clergy and Laity, his views of measures which he was most deeply persuaded would sooner or later have the most injurious influence on her order, peace, and prosperity.
There is the most gratifying evidence that the sentiments which he has expressed, and the course which he has pursued in this matter, meet with general and strong approbation in the Diocese. They little know him, however, who [14/15] suppose that he is fond of being in what some persons choose to style "hot water;" or, that in defending and advocating his own, it gratifies him to impugn the policy or conduct of those whom, as his brethren, he would wish to hold in all possible esteem and honour. A man far greater in every quality of mind and heart than he can claim to be, the venerable Hooker, at the close of his useful, but in some respects agitated life, exclaimed, "I have lived to see this world is made up of perturbations." Who would court them? Bishop Hobart, however, would be unfit for his station, if, when duty is concerned, he feared them. Short-sighted and treacherous is that policy which, through the dread of any slight temporary evil, and least of all, any personal difficulty or odium, would endanger the order and the peace of the Church, and ultimately sacrifice her best and permanent interests.