No. 93 Gold-Street.
CALLED upon to address you, my Brethren, on the part of the Society, whose anniversary we this evening commemorate, I should rise with diffidence, were it not a cause that had been advocated by abler hands, and in favour of an Institution which needs no higher encomium than the unvarnished tale of its recent origin and its wide spread labours.
To urge the duty of charity on those whom charity hath assembled, were a needless task: to press the value of Christian truth on Christians assembled in a Christian temple, were an insult on their understanding, or a suspicion of their sincerity. Far be from me the one or the other. I cannot doubt the sincerity of a profession, evidenced as yours is, on the pages of this Society, by the contributions of a liberal zeal: nor do I think there is one who hears me, but knows as well as I can tell him, how essential to his religion is the [3/4] practice of charity--the bond of union--the zeal of sincerity--the Christian badge.--"By this," said our blessed Saviour, shall all men know that ye are my disciples," and by this did they know it.--"Behold,'' said the Heathen Emperor, in an involuntary tribute of praise to the sect he hated, "behold how these Christians love one another."--But charity is something higher yet: amid the ruins of a fallen nature, it is the last remnant of original excellence; it is the spark of divinity not yet extinguished within us; it is the only point of similarity we can attain, the only pattern of imitation we can propose, to that great and merciful God, who openeth his hand, and filleth all things living with plenteousness.--Be ye merciful," saith our Saviour, "even as your Father in heaven is merciful."
And need I tell Christians how much the duty is enhanced where spiritual wants are the objects of relief? Need I tell them that the body is but the outward clothing of an immortal spirit, but a frail tenement of clay, which with all our pains and care must tumble into [4/5] ruin; the wants of which are but for a day the relief of which perishes in the using; but that, the spirit which dwells within it, is the object of a higher and nobler charity. The soul is the man himself; and he who relieves the wants of that, confers a favour, that will be neither forgotten nor unrewarded, where bodily wants are known no more.
These I say are truths too familiar to your minds to need repetition; familiar I trust to your hearts, as well as to your understandings; for there is nothing so lets us in to the real excellence of charity, as the practice of it. He that has never felt the ennobling influence of active benevolence on his own feelings; felt the cheering glow of conscious usefulness, in talents well employed and liberalities rightly exerted, knows not how heavenborn this virtue is; how it can raise its possessor above the sphere of worldly attraction, and give him to breathe a purer air, and enjoy a serener view, than the toil and turmoil of this world affords.
But to the Society itself:--The Auxiliary [5/6] Bible and Common Prayer Book Society arose in the beginning of the year 1816, as an aid to the Society of the same name already established. How well they have redeemed that pledge of aid, I need not say: it would not be going too far to assert, that instead of auxiliary they have become principal; that they have outrun those, whose footsteps they were but to follow: and this I say, not in disparagement of one, but in praise of the other; in praise of an ability and zeal, which, in an age of increasing fervour, has few equals)--I know of none superior.
This Society, although instituted at a period of peculiar distress and commercial pressure, did yet, through the zeal and respectability of those to whom the management of it was intrusted, so win upon the public confidence, that it wanted not for a liberal support. Nor was that confidence misplaced: in their first annual report, they announce the distribution of above 3000 volumes, besides the accomplishment of a plan, from which abler societies had shrunk--a plan long desired, but [6/7] desired in vain; I mean, the securing, by Stereotype Plates, a permanent supply of correct copies of the Book of Common Prayer.
Of the importance of this task, you may form an idea from this simple fact, that it has lowered the price of that book from 75 to 37 12 cents; the effect of which reduction will be to increase the number disposed of, almost in the ratio of the reduction itself: one proof of which assertion exists in the report of the present year laid before me in MSS.; by which it appears that 5239 Books of Common Prayer have been disposed of, or distributed by them through the past year, besides an equally large edition struck off by a Bookseller, who hired their plates for that purpose. I mention this latter fact with a double view; to illustrate the prudence as well as the zeal of the Society. Their plates, which cost them $1221, have thus, by their prudent arrangements, already repaid them near 20 per cent, of their original cost, and will, I doubt not, eventually replace the whole of shat sum.
 In such hands, charity is no wasteful fund, and we may safely make those our almoners, who bring all the economy of private management into their public expenditure. In truth, this is no ostentatious charity; no wanton disbursement of money earned without labour, to catch the public eye: but it bears the marks of the orderly arrangement of well regulated and pious minds; it copies the wise provisions of beneficent nature, which gathers with one hand, while she disperses with the other;--it resembles the great luminary of Heaven, who while he sends down rain on a thirsty land, is ever drawing to himself new stores of vapour, from the bosom of the exhaustless ocean.
The number of Bibles distributed by them through the course of the past year, is 693--making the whole amount for the scant two years of the Society's existence, 1190 Bibles, and 7989 Books of Common Prayer, forming an aggregate total of 9179 volumes.
But I should do injustice to the labours of this Society, were I to stop here: their [8/9] distribution has been as judicious as it has been extensive.
The wants of our own State first demanded, and first met their attention; the adjoining States, in proportion to their needs, came in for a share of their liberality; and finally, the great western States have opened to them a field of usefulness, more adequate to their zeal, than to their pecuniary means to cultivate.
In that boundless territory, where, peradventure, future empires lie in embryo, the labour of Apostles, and the zeal of Martyrs, is yet wanting to build up the Christian Church: the seed has indeed been sown, and the vegetation is rapid; but without some fostering care, it will be choked by the wild weeds of a luxurious soil; and anxiously and proudly does this Society look to have the honour of cultivating it with the hand of zeal, and watering it with the stores of liberality.--But that hope, as well as all its other prospects, rests, under the good Providence of God, on the decision you, my brethren, shall make this night on the merits of their past labours.
 Nor have the destitute at home been forgotten; cooperating in the humble labours of those, whom I am happy to have this opportunity of mentioning with honour, the Teachers of the Sunday Schools, they have furnished to them an adequate supply of the Society's books.
The crews of vessels, a class of men cut off from all ordinary means of religious instruction, have also been liberally supplied; nor has a single charitable Society in this city passed without its share, when its wants have been made known, nor I believe a single opportunity of any kind let slip by the managers, of advancing the great aim of the Society--the increase of sound, rational, vital religion.
That these labours have been devoid of fruit, is not to be credited; my limited acquaintance with them has led me to the knowledge of more than one Congregation built up by their liberality and zeal; and in the past year, of a deserted church, reopening its doors, and reassembling its members, [10/11] on the strength of assistance received from hence.
In the foregoing statement, you may perhaps observe the superior number of Prayer Books distributed. The explanation of that point, given to me on inquiry, was perfectly satisfactory; viz. the concurrent supply of Bibles from other Societies narrowing the demands upon them for that book. In truth, they held them both with an equal hand, giving both or either, according to the needs or desires of the applicant: if he had not a Bible, they gave him one; if he had a Bible, the gift was best doubled by giving that book, which aided him in the practical use of it.
And to show you, my brethren, how freely all Christians of every denomination may join in the diffusion of this Prayer Book. I will in few words explain how well calculated it is to unite the sentiments of all, and to be received as a common manual of Christian devotion. It is a work which exhibits the Christian Church on the high and just ground [11/12] where it should always stand, of universal charity, embracing within its broad and ancient pale, many a jarring and discordant sect.
In practical devotion it breathes a spirit of piety, calm, but fervent; of humility, deep, but unaffected; conveyed in language, simple, but sublime; so clear, that the most ignorant cannot misunderstand it; so pure, that the most refined cannot improve it. Nor think, that I herein speak the language of bigoted attachment, or sectarian zeal: the most learned, and the most eloquent of living Dissenters in England, have expressed the same sentiments in better terms. Adam Clarke calls it "a work almost universally esteemed by the devout and pious of every denomination;" and Robert Hall says, "I believe the evangelical purity of its sentiments, the chastened fervour of its devotion, and the majestic simplicity of its language, have placed the English Liturgy in the very first rank of uninspired compositions."
 And if strangers thus vouch for its theoretical excellence, cannot its friends too vouch for its practical value? Can they not tell, how well fitted it is to calm the soul amid the tumult of worldly cares, to strike in with the unfeigned feelings of a penitent and pious mind?
But that which with me worketh its highest honour, and best fitteth it for the purpose to which it is here applied, that of an universal manual of devotion, is the high, liberal, rational tone in which it speaks in those parts intended for popular use. This is its great and distinguishing excellence--it exalts no dubious questions into matters of faith; trammels the conscience with no philosophic subleties; prays in no narrow system; is express only where Scripture is explicit, and silent where it is obscure; pressing deeply upon the feelings, the fundamental principles of Christianity, while all minor points it leaves to the court of conscience, to the unbiassed exercise of individual judgment.
In this view, the Church from which it emanates hath in it somewhat of a heavenly [13/14] character, and looks down upon the contentions of a thorny and disputatious theology, with sentiments such as we may imagine those to have, who from their blessed mansions mark and deplore the disputes of Christians--who know and feel how few and simple are the rules of our faith; how much of human speculation is mixed up with religious dogmas; how much zeal is wasted in the maintenance of points, either false or unimportant. Aware that Christianity is intended for the faith of all, she will not bewilder the ignorant with doctrines the wisest cannot understand, nor tempt the wise to scepticism by putting on the same foot, with the rational consolatory truths of the Gospel, doctrines, which to say the best are doubtful, and in the view of many, abhorrent to feeling, and repugnant to immutable justice.
But let us farther mark its liberality in the qualification it demands, and the criterion it lays down of Church membership. As to the qualification required, it is wide as Christianity itself, a profession of faith in the [14/15] Apostle's Creed; a symbol, the antiquity of which is lost in the origin of our religion itself, and the Catholicism of which is attested by its universal reception in every age, in every country of Christendom; in every melancholy division of the Christian name. Nor is the criterion of Church membership narrowed by aught but our Saviour's command. "Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Baptism thus administered is the seal of that membership; by an Apostolic ministry, it is so doubtless; by other hands it is still so in the judgment of charity, and thus far in the estimation of our Church, that she admits of lay baptism in cases of necessity, and performed by any hands, repeats it not, esteeming that valid in the sight of God, in which are met a pure heart and sincere intentions.
As to the orders of ministry, to which it refers, we have inherited them from those who derived them from the primitive and Apostolic Church, and as we have received, so we hold them: But whatever they be, we [15/16] acknowledge that they arc but the human administration of our religion. That grace which gives its offices force, that blessing which crowns them with success, is in higher hands than ours; in the hands of one, who is not tied down, as we are, to prescribed administrations; but gives according to his free bounty, to every sincere and penitent spirit. "The grace of the Christian ordinances," saith Hooker, "cometh by donation from God alone," and where he finds the inward preparation, he will, we may trust, in mercy overlook the unintended defect of outward form. Still, however, according to our knowledge and means, hath he tied us to them, and we cannot without danger forsake those early ways, and good old paths, in which our Christian Fathers walked.
Such are the reasons, my Christian brethren, which justify the adoption of this book for universal diffusion; which fit it to become the "Vade mecum" of Christians. Such too is the tone and temper of Christianity it is calculated to maintain; and he who wishes to [16/17] spread abroad a faith, rational but not cold, warm but not enthusiastic, cannot this night refuse his mite of charity.
Such are the works of labour and love in which your past bounty has been expended, except a small balance in the hands of the Treasurer of the Society, which yet is pledged in plans of further usefulness. The only question then is this; are they to continue in that career of virtuous exertion thus honourably begun? or will you now withhold from them that aid, they have proved themselves so well to merit? You gave them your confidence when their characters were their only pledge, and now that they have redeemed that pledge by so fair a display of their title to it; by ten thousand testimonials of their judgment and their zeal--ten thousand volumes of religious instruction by their means in the hands of the ignorant and the destitute; now that their name is known and coupled with honourable appellation to the furthest limit of our federal union; will you now withhold it?
 It is a tree of your own nurturing; you took it up a seedling, scarce seen amid its companions of the forest; you tended it with care; you watered it with liberality; you gave to visit it the warm beams of a cheering sun; and now that it begins to repay your labour with the fruits of increase; now that you find it of the true species, and of the right kind; now that it has spread so far and wide, that, in the language of Scripture, the birds of the air lodge in the branches of it; that is, the ignorant and the wandering find within it a refuge and consolation, will you now abandon it? will you tear up its hedges and remove its enclosures, that it may be trampled under the foot of penury and scorn?
No! my brethren, I trust not,--I appeal to your own hearts, whether you could this night lay your head in satisfaction on your pillow, conscious that you had contributed to such an issue? And would you lie down in your bed in peace, in that heartfelt peace which passeth understanding; use well the ability and the opportunity God hath this night given you, [18/19] to spread abroad the knowledge of his will, to diffuse unto others that religious comfort you yourselves enjoy.--Remember that you are but stewards--remember that of that stewardship you must render an account--what is spent in idle extravagance, is lost--perhaps worse than lost--what is squandered in vicious indulgence, is a canker within your bosoms; but that which flows from an honest zeal to promote the cause of virtue and religion, is secured beyond the dangers of time and chance--it is remitted unto Heaven in the prayers of thankful and penitent spirits--it is recorded in Books, from which it never can be expunged.
With worldly minds, this argument may weigh light; but light as they esteem it, a day is quickly coming, when it will rest heavy enough on their conscience; a day is coming, when the recollection of one good deed performed in the faith and sincerity of a Christian, will outweigh the best of this world's vanities; when even a cup of cold water given in the name of Christ, shall not lose its reward; and [19/20] if the name of Christ thus sanctity the gift of nature's lowest need, what reward shall await those, who give, as you now are called to do, the knowledge of Christ, in the name of Christ? I will tell you in the words of Scripture: "He who converteth a sinner from the error of his ways, shall save a soul alive, and shall cover a multitude of sins."
Wo be to us, if we refuse to become cooperators with a good Providence in advancing (he interests of virtue and religion:--Wo be to us, if we love the world so well, that we cannot part with a little of our treasure to purchase for a fellowcreature a treasure in Heaven; and shame will it be to us, if our benevolence slumber, while that of the whole Christian world is awake and active, holding high the lamp of Christian knowledge to the Heathen world; spreading, far and wide, the glad beams of revealed light; diffusing, through a thousand channels, the blessings of Christ's religion; translating, into every barbarous tongue, the charter of the Christian's hope.
 This indeed is an era of religious zeal and moral improvement.--It is a period in which the overruling power of Providence stands marked and signal, carrying on, with a high though secret hand, its gracious designs; fulfilling the predictions of ancient time--turning visions into realities--prophecy into present story; preparing for that blessed consummation, when " from the rising to the setting of the sun, Christ's name shall be great among the Gentiles."
Christianity is on its march to universal empire; but have we no task to perform in it? Are we idle spectators of a contest in which we should bear our part? God forbid! If we share not the contest, we share not the crown. In our aids to this Society, we pay a portion of our quota--we roll on the mighty scheme--we press forward that great work, that for 1800 years has been advancing--we help to cap that Christian temple, which built up by the lives and labours of Martyrs and Apostles, is soon, we trust, to be prepared for the reception of its Lord.
 Through us, this night, some shall hear of the name of Christ, who never heard it before; some heir of sin shall be rescued from the paths of vice; some child of sorrow shall dry its tears, and look up with comfort to a reconciled God.--Through us, this night, some bed of sickness shall be smoothed of its thorns; Some grave robbed of its terrors; some fellowcreature be better prepared to pass down in pious resignation into the mansions of the dead.
Have you ever witnessed, my brethren, a dying bed? Have you seen the restless workings of an unquiet mind, the rackings of a guilty conscience? If you have, you will agree with me, that no liberality is so well applied, no charity so nobly exerted, as that which prepares comfort and peace for a dying hour.
I need not remind you that that hour awaits us all--that on one bed every head must rest--on one pillow every eye must close--in one dark and narrow chamber we all must rest; but I will remind you, that no better plan hath ever been found to smooth to [22/23] ourselves that fated path, than to smooth it beforehand for others.
Give then to this charity, according to your means, to your feelings, to your convictions. "Cast thy bread upon the waters, and after many days thou shalt find it."--Thou shalt find it this night in the comfort of an approving conscience; thou shalt find it in years to come in the increase of virtue and religion, and all the blessings which follow in their train: and to crown all, that charity thus cast abroad for others, thou shalt find, in thine hour of need, laid up for thyself.