STACY & JAMESON, PRINTERS.
MY BELOVED BRETHREN IN CHRIST:
In my office as your Bishop, elected more than twenty-one years ago, to watch over the interests of the diocese, it is my duty to address such counsels to both clergy and laity as the circumstances of the Church may seem to require, with frankness and fidelity; in the hope that they will be received in the same spirit with which they are put forth, and prospered with the divine blessing. I have rarely, however, discharged this duty in the form of a direct appeal by a Pastoral letter, because I conceived it sufficient to place my views before our Annual Convention. Nor should I now deviate from my usual course, if I were not painfully convinced that we have reached a crisis, in which I am solemnly bound to warn you of approaching danger. The time has certainly come when the supply of the ministry and the very existence of the Church call upon you for a strong and united effort, if you would secure the privileges of the gospel yourselves, and transmit them to your children.
You must have heard and read, during the past year, many strong and alarming statements of the decrease in the numbers of the candidates for the ministry, and of the insufficiency of the salaries of the clergy. Of this last evil, which, doubtless, is one great cause of the other, every person who reflects at all about it must be fully aware. I have conversed with many intelligent men upon the subject, and have not yet found one who was not perfectly convinced that their pastor was poorly supported. And truly this is so manifest that it is as impossible to deny the fact, as to evade the consequences.
And therefore, my beloved brethren of the laity, I address myself to you, because it is on you that the responsibility must rest. The power to remedy the evil, and thus avert the sad results, is in your hands alone. And having full confidence in your will to do what is right, and believing that you are ready to act on the principle of Christian and manly duty, I pray you to give me your serious attention, while I endeavor, briefly but candidly, to place the matter in its true light before you.
You know that the salary of your pastor was fixed at a very moderate sum many years ago, when all the necessaries of life might be [3/4] procured for two-thirds or even one-half of the present prices. When grain, meat, butter, cheese, fire-wood, wages, and mechanics' work of all sorts were so far below their value at the present day, that $300 would then procure as much of the comforts of a family as $500 would command now. And yet, your minister then had no superfluity. At no time was his salary such, that the utmost economy and the closest management were not required in his domestic system, to avoid running into debt. How do you expect him to live when the price of subsistence has become so raised above the old standard, while his salary remains the same?
You know, likewise, that our people are not impoverished by the change, though the clergy are. The facilities introduced by our railroads have largely increased the profits of our farmers. Our wool, our marble, our iron, our lumber, our horses, our cattle, are all worth more to the producers, and business in all these departments was never so prosperous in Vermont before, so that you are better able to afford the expense required for your pastor's comfort than at any former period. Is it right that he should actually be made to suffer through the very change which increases your wealth? Is it fair or just that the high prices which promote your advantage, should work his loss? Is it reasonable that the man who toils for the greatest welfare of yourselves and families without any hope of earthly gain, and merely asks enough to live with ordinary comfort, should be the only one who is depressed and cast down by the improvement which raises every other?
You know, moreover, how this change has operated on all the other classes of our community;--that the dwellings and furniture of our agriculturists are constantly advancing, in taste and ornament;--that our villages are adorned with stores and buildings which emulate the display of cities;--that hotels and boarding houses are raised in style and expense;--that physicians and lawyers have been obliged to enhance their fees;--that every branch of personal refinement and luxury has kept pace with the onward impulse;--that our very operatives display gold and jewels on their attire; and that the steady march of luxury may be seen through all our borders. I do not complain of this. On the contrary, I rejoice to behold the spread of every social privilege which can elevate our people, so long as the paramount interests of religion and morality are secure. But what has your pastor done that he should not share in [4/5] the general improvement? Must he be tempted to repine while all others are rejoicing? Can you take pleasure in the multiplying of superfluities, while your clergyman can hardly provide for the essential wants of his family?
I am well persuaded, my beloved brethren, that you do not differ with me on these questions. I am perfectly sure that your answer and mine would be precisely the same. Neither do I mean to charge you with any peculiar deficiency on this part of your duty. The difficulty exists, even to a greater extent, in many parts of other dioceses. The cry of complaint has gone up from every quarter of our land and from all denominations. But I would have you among the first to remedy the evil. I would entreat you to rise up to the effort demanded, and set a noble example to the laity elsewhere, worthy of Christians and of men; and therefore I pray you to confer together, and resolve, and act with your characteristic energy and promptness in all other things; and thus do your share toward the needed reformation. For otherwise, the consequences must be fearful. How can your pastor be expected to remain, unless you provide for his reasonable maintenance? Even if he should remain, under the constant pressure of pecuniary struggle, how can you expect that he will labor with zeal and success in his ministry, when he is compelled to wear out his strength in teaching, or to spend his time in other work, in order to make up, in some way, for the deficiency of his income? And if he be compelled, by hard necessity, to abandon you, in the hope of improving his circumstances, how improbable it is that you will be able to fill his place, when the same fate awaits his successor! I have known many cases of our clergy leaving the diocese, though with strong reluctance, from this cause alone. I have known many cases of our churches standing closed for years, because it was impossible to insure an adequate salary to a minister; while the people, during the vacancy, were scattered abroad, their children untrained, their habits unsanctified, and the parish grew less and less from death or emigration. And these mournful examples must increase, as the expense of living increases, unless there be an effectual amendment adopted in our present system.
But this is not all. The evil operates already in the most disastrous manner upon the candidates for the ministry, and cannot do otherwise. For how can you expect that the sons of the clergy will ever adopt their fathers' vocation, when they know and feel so keenly, that [5/6] they must renounce marriage altogether, or look forward to the same poverty and suffering in their families which they experienced in the paternal home? And how shall the young men of the rising generation be expected to think of a profession which demands learning, labor and zeal, in almost certain union with the disheartening lot of thankless penury and privation? What, therefore, is before us, if this system continues, but a general failure of supply in the ranks of the ministry--a perfect famine, by and by, of the Word and the Sacraments; and, as the necessary result, the awful prevalence of infidelity, licentiousness and profanation, until the wrath of God descends upon the land, and delivers it up to the demons of anarchy and ruin!
For such is the connexion, my beloved brethren, established by the law of the Almighty, between the honest maintenance of the clergy, and the blessing of heaven. Thus you have it plainly laid down in the 3d chapter of the prophet Malachi, to the chosen people of Israel:
"WILL A MAN ROB GOD? YET YE HAVE ROBBED ME. BUT YE SAY, WHEREIN HAVE WE ROBBED THEE? IN TITHES AND OFFERINGS. YE ARE CURSED WITH A CURSE: FOR YE HAVE ROBBED ME, EVEN THIS WHOLE NATION. BRING YE ALL THE TITHES INTO THE STOREHOUSE, THAT THERE MAY BE MEAT IN MY HOUSE, AND PROVE ME NOW HEREWITH, SAITH THE LORD OF HOSTS, IF I WILL NOT OPEN THE WINDOWS OF HEAVEN, AND POUR YOU OUT A BLESSING, THAT THERE SHALL NOT BE ROOM ENOUGH TO RECEIVE IT."
In this solemn and strong rebuke, you recognize, of course, the system of tithes which the divine law established for the maintenance of the priesthood in ancient Israel. According to that system, the tenth of the yearly income of every owner of the soil was appropriated to the ministers of religion. But the payment was not to be enforced by any of the temporal magistrates, and was therefore voluntary, resting entirely on the sense of duty in the individual, and given as a willing offering to God. The neglect to pay it was a sin which the Almighty visited upon the transgressor, and which, when it involved the great majority of the people, brought down, as we see in the passage which I have quoted, a curse upon the whole nation.
When the glorious Redeemer had rendered His great sacrifice upon the cross for the sins of the world, and, after His resurrection from the dead, commissioned His Apostles to establish His Church amongst all nations, and endowed them with spiritual knowledge and powers for the purpose, we do not find that there was any express enactment of [6/7] the system of tithes; but we know that the ministry were supported with cordiality and zeal, by the voluntary contributions of the faithful. The early Christian writers do not mention the tithe until the fourth century; and it was not made compulsory for many centuries after. This last measure, however, was certainly a grievous error, entirely unauthorized by the Word of God; and the oppressive severity with which the payment was too frequently enforced, naturally produced a strong odium against the principle which converted a religious gift into a tax of legal necessity. If, instead of this unhappy mistake, the church had been content with adopting the scriptural rule, while the compliance with it by the people was left as a matter of conscience between themselves and God, there would have been no danger of the existing prejudice against the system, nor would Christian men be so often at a loss to know how much of their income they ought to consecrate to the maintenance of the gospel.
I contend, therefore, in this important matter, for the voluntary principle, and do not admit that the Bible sanctions any other. I believe that the best and safest rule of proportion for every Christian would be found in the tenth of the yearly income, because it is the only proportion which has ever been set forth under the express sanction of the Almighty. I believe that this must be a free gift on the part of each individual, and not a tax, levied by the government, and paid by compulsion. And I believe that the blessing of the Most High would follow the offering of this gift, and repay it a hundred fold even in the prosperity of the present life, when it was rendered with the proper motive. For Christ Himself has said that every sacrifice made in His service, shall have its reward. And the Apostle assures us that "God loveth a cheerful giver."
With these views, my beloved brethren of the laity, I earnestly beseech you to take into the most serious consideration the condition of your own pastor, the increased expenses of subsistence, the alarming diminution in our candidates for the ministry, and the solemn duty of providing that, so far as you are concerned, the danger to the church and to the gospel, arising from the general deficiency of a liberal support for the clergy, shall be removed forever. To this end, let me pray you to have my present communication distributed extensively amongst your parishioners, and request them, by public notice on Easter Sunday, to attend the meeting on the following day, and discuss the propriety and necessity of immediate action, before they give their [7/8] votes. Those who are present might then proceed at once to the subscriptions, and the absent could easily be called upon, by the members of the vestry, to complete the whole; so that all may have a full opportunity according to their means, of doing their share in the work, and of performing this very serious part of their duty to themselves, to the community, and to the church of God. Thus you will set a good example of promptness and energy to your brethren; you will strengthen the hands and cheer the heart of your pastor; you will infuse new interest and a better spirit into your whole congregation; you will reap a rich reward in the satisfaction of your own consciences; and the favor of the Almighty will do for you what He pledged Himself to do for His chosen people, by "pouring out a blessing" upon you and yours.
I beg you to remember, in conclusion, that I am not pleading for myself, but for my brethren of the clergy, for the prosperity of the church, and for your own temporal and eternal welfare, over which, as your Bishop, I am solemnly bound to watch, to the utmost of my feeble powers. True, indeed, it is, that I have had my share of pecuniary loss and difficulty, and that at no period of a ministry of more than thirty years, have I been able to live without extraneous assistance, beyond my official income. But I have never complained of this, and I do not complain now. With me, the worst is over; and I ask for no change during the few remaining years of my stewardship. Your pastors are differently circumstanced. They are all younger, and I doubt not that many of them will be more useful than myself. Take care of them, my beloved brethren, as you would wish to be taken care of, if you were in their place. Esteem it, as it truly is, a precious privilege, as well as a sacred duty, to provide that they want for nothing which it is in your power to supply. And let the records of our next Convention be a monument of praise to the laymen of Vermont, to the encouragement of the church at large, and the strengthening of the cause of pure and undefiled religion.
With my fervent prayers that the blessing of the Almighty may abundantly prosper you in this and every other labor of faith and love, I remain,
Your affectionate Bishop and servant in Christ,
JOHN H. HOPKINS.
Burlington, March 20, 1854.