The Christian Knowledge Society
THE DIOCESE OF CONNECTICUT,
IN TRINITY CHURCH, NEW HAVEN,
RT. REV. JOHN WILLIAMS, D.D.
ASSISTANT BISHOP OF THE DIOCESE, AND PRESIDENT OF TRINITY COLLEGE.
THE Convention of the Diocese of Connecticut is the Christian Knowledge Society of the Diocese, and always during its meetings sits for a part of the time as that Society. In this capacity it takes recognizance of the work of Church extension in the diocese. During the intervals between its sessions the affairs of the Society are managed by a Board of Directors, consisting at this time of the Bishop, the Assistant Bishop, four clergymen and four laymen.
At the late session of the Convention of the Diocese, the following resolutions were passed, which explain the publication of the Sermon.
"Resolved, That the Sermon of the Rt. Rev. Bishop Williams, delivered last evening before the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, be requested for publication, and that, if granted, one thousand copies be published and distributed under the direction of the Secretary of the Convention.
"Resolved, That it be recommended to the Clergy of the Diocese, to read said Sermon before their respective congregations, at the earliest day practicable, and that a special collection be made for the Christian Knowledge Society."
ISAIAH LXII. X GO THROUGH, GO THROUGH THE GATES, PREPARE YE THE WAY OF THE PEOPLE, CAST UP, CAST UP THE HIGHWAY, GATHER OUT THE STONES, LIFT UP A STANDARD TO THE PEOPLE.
IT is a common figure of Prophecy, to represent the Church of God as a City: and though with an abrupt transition from his previous words, it 'is this figure, which the Evangelical Prophet employs in the text. In it, he implies, that the Church of God occupies a certain position toward the world of men, and that this position entails upon her a certain duty.
The picture which he presents to the mind of the reader, is indeed a striking one. Some circumstance of more than usual interest, appears to have attracted to this city, the attention of surrounding regions; and their inhabitants are preparing to enter within its walls in unusual numbers, and with unwonted eagerness. In this emergency the zeal of the dwellers in this favored city is awakened; and they apply themselves with diligence and earnest labor, to prepare for the issues which are so rapidly approaching. Nor do they content themselves with laboring within the city's walls: they pass outside, and make ready the roads which lead to it; they go through the gates; they level broad and commodious avenues through which it may be approached; they gather out and remove obstructions; they lift up standards and ensigns, [3/4] which may direct the comers from afar, and guide them to the wished for resting-place. Everywhere then, among the dwellers in this city, there is, my brethren, zeal, action, care, and kindness. They do not sit still at home in a frigid indifference, which they mistake for dignity, and say, Let people find their way to us or not as they choose and are able, it matters not to us. No, nor do they even say, that they are welcome if they come; but none can be expected to leave their quiet, cheerful houses, and go out to labor, to enable them to come. Far from it. There is not only welcome in every heart; there are not merely words of kindly greeting trembling on every lip; but every thought is given, every hand employed, every energy devoted, in opening all the avenues of access, and making every one of them, a highway for the purposes of God.
And now, taking the meaning of the prophet, out of the figure, is it not plain, that the duty of the Church whether as a whole, or in its branches, is here set forth to us? Is it not clear, that at all times, and at some more especially than others, it is expected of all portions of the Church, by its great Head, that they will go through the gates, and prepare the way of the people, and cast up the highway, and gather out the stones, and lift up a standard for the people? If there is any force in language, any meaning in imagery, or any reality in Scripture, the words of the text do certainly imply thus much.
My brethren, I believe that they suggest to us, the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Connecticut, the duty which God has at this period in our Church's history, evidently laid upon us, and to the discharge of which we are bound to address ourselves, with all [4/5] care and diligence. And it will be my endeavor this evening, to present to you the work which God has apparently given us to do, and to suggest some modes by the use of which we may hope successfully to accomplish it. The chief logic which I propose to employ, is the logic of statistics, and the only rhetoric, the rhetoric of facts.
Thirty years ago, when our venerated Diocesan came into this Diocese, there were at the largest calculation, not more than seven parishes which enjoyed the entire services of a clergyman. The others were united in cures composed of two or three parishes, and sometimes of even more than that number. The present number of parishes in the Diocese, which receive full clerical services, is in the neighborhood of ninety, and there are but comparatively few which are obliged to unite to form a cure, or which enjoy only partial services. Now this is certainly a great advance, and on first looking at it, we might be disposed to say that but little could remain to be done; or at least, that unless we designed to set on foot an extensive system of mere proselytism, from which I trust we should all turn away in disgust, things might be left to their natural progress, or as the phrase goes, "to take care of themselves." It is always safe, however, in religious matters, to conclude, that any view which supposes that exertion may be relaxed, and effort suspended, is an erroneous view. While in the present case, I fully believe, facts warrant the conclusion, that renewed effort is requisite, in order to secure permanently and efficiently the ground that has already been gained, and what is of much more consequence, requisite to discharge the obligation which the arrangements of God's Providence seem [5/6] so manifestly to have imposed upon us, of going through the gates, and casting up a highway; of preparing a way for the people, and lifting up a standard for their rallying point.
Let us then, gratefully recognizing the immense amount that has been accomplished in the Diocese within the last thirty years, in the way of Church extension, consider what condition of things has been developed by the progress of events during that same period, and precisely what kind and what amount of work, it presents to our attention. We shall, I believe, plainly perceive, not only that we are to labor on in that great work, but also that we ought to labor on a more extended scale, and with the use of further and in some aspects different appliances and means.
In consequence of the movements of population, which are continually occurring in a country situated as ours is, it has come to pass, that many families of our communion have become separated from our parishes, and of course are scattered about without being annexed to any cure. I suppose that this is especially the case in many districts lying east of the Connecticut River, and in others in the north-western section of the State. Many families, too, from the mother country, born and baptized, and more or less trained in the Church of England, are in the same position. And there are still others, whose convictions have led them to our fold, and who have sought. and gained admission to it, while still their local situation renders it utterly impossible for them to receive parochial care, or to enjoy regular religious services. I have indeed no means, as yet, of even approaching an estimate of their numbers, but I am convinced that they are large, far larger indeed, than most of us imagine.
 Now to these brethren of the "household of faith," according to the apostolic rule, our good "offices" are especially due. They have, for themselves and for their children, claims upon us which our consciences must recognize, and to which I trust our hearts will earnestly respond. They may not be left to wander from the fold, or to languish for the things which their souls love; their children may not be left to grow up, ignorant of the Church beyond what their parents may teach them about something which they never see, and to which they are bound by no living or real ties; without a negligence on our part, so criminal, that we well may shudder in remembering to what judgments it will inevitably expose us. Here then is one large class, who by all the ties of a common faith and a holy brotherhood, claim our fraternal offices and fostering care.
A second and a still larger class, a class whose demands upon us are if possible even more imperative, may be found in those who within the limits of this Diocese, are destitute of all religious instruction and means of public worship. It is a startling fact, and one which may well cause us to look with anxious forebodings to the future, that the means of religious instruction and public, worship of any kind, have not even in this State kept pace with the increase of population. A careful estimate which has been made for one of the counties in the State, shows, that granting every place of public worship, of every kind, within its limits, to be filled on Sunday to its utmost capacity, there still must be somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty thousand souls, who can never attend on any public worship at all, simply because there is no room for them. And we must remember that this is [7/8] putting the matter in a light far more favorable than its real one, for not one place of public worship in either that county or any other, is ever, except on some rare occasion, filled to its utmost capacity. The county for which this estimate has been made, is neither one of those best furnished with places of public worship, nor is it one of the most destitute. Its statistics probably present a sufficiently fair basis of calculation for the other counties in the State. And my brethren, what a condition of things is thus revealed to us! How many thousands and tens of thousands must there be, even in the favored region in which our lot is cast, who are growing up amongst us, in a state of actual heathenism! What a mass of evil is rolling up beside us, the issues of which, whether for time or for eternity well may make us tremble.
I know that it is an unpleasant thing to feel that this is so. I know it is vastly more agreeable to our self-complacency, to contrast our condition in this respect with other regions of our extended country, and to say that after all we are not so badly off. I know that it is a difficult thing to realize even, the condition in which we are. As one looks over the smiling valleys, the peaceful villages, and the prosperous towns of the State, it is difficult to feel that there are mighty elements at work, which have already darkened with the shade of deepest moral evil, so much of the fair scene; and that the shade is yearly spreading wider, while meantime uncounted souls are going to their last account in sin as deep, and ignorance as hopeless, and as utterly aliens from the Christian covenant, as if they had been born in the most savage deserts, or the most solitary islands of the sea. And what is to be the result of all this, if it [8/9] goes on unchecked? You have had a foretaste of it, in that assemblage in a neighboring city, which has so lately disgraced the State, and shocked every feeling, I will not say of religion, but of decency. Principles, if principles they can be called, like those which were there avowed, will have spread into every nook and corner of the land. The work has been silent up to this point, like the first inaudible and almost imperceptible swellings of a flood. We just begin to feel the movement, and to hear the murmurings. But it will not be long before the movement shall become a tossing chaos, and the murmur shall burst upon us in a deafening roar.
And now, for all these present evils, and for their prospective issues, some one or another, my brethren, of those communions which wear the Christian name, will be held responsible. And if it be true, as it doubtless is, that the greatest responsibility rests, where there are the greatest gifts, then we, who claim to be an Apostolic church, and who are therefore put in charge not only with the Lord's gifts, but also with his work, may well consider how far our labors for these lost children of our Master, entitle us to say that our responsibility in this matter has been fully met, and that our duty has been done.
But there are still others, who claim our care and labors; those namely, who worn out with the confusions and denials, the doubts and difficulties, the uncertainties and meagreness, of systems which have no settled ministry, no established creeds, no regulated worship—systems where the absence of universally applying law, subjects men to that worst of all tyranny, the tyranny of individual wills—are looking toward our Church as a resting-place for their troubled [9/10] souls. It is true indeed, that the miserable dissensions, and above all the traitorous apostasies which have been our shame for the last few years, have materially lessened the numbers of those whose eyes were turned to us. And yet the very fact that in spite of these dissensions substantial unity is maintained, and that these apostates, having tried every crafty and dishonest shift and shuffling with conscience, are still compelled to go out from among us, has demonstrated in a way that speaks to thinking minds, that we have elements of stability and endurance which others lack. So that the diminution has neither been as great, nor is it likely to be as long continued, as we might reasonably anticipate. I say not this, my brethren, in any boasting spirit. God knows that for the last ten years we have had little to boast of, if indeed we ever could have anything. But still the fact remains, that there are many around us, who not merely on the ground of Apostolical descent, but also because they will not have the atonement of our Lord, and the original guilt as well as the actual transgression which rendered that atonement needful, explained away into nothing; because they will not exchange the adorable Trinity for the God of Natural Religion; because they will not have the presence of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, turned into an influence which may be anything, or nothing; because they will not suffer a puerile and infidel criticism to settle for them the canon of the Inspired Word of God; because they see that in spite of all our difficulties and divisions., we still rally on these fundamental matters, with an undivided front; there are I say, many, who for all these reasons, are looking to us with earnest desire and longing.
 And it is in no spirit of a narrow, vulgar proselytism, which from my soul I utterly despise, that I would urge upon you, my brethren, the consideration of the claims which all such persons have upon our prayers, our sympathies, our aid; that I would exhort you in the prophet's glowing words: "Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up a highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard."
These then, are the classes of persons, who within the geographical limits of this Diocese, are calling out to us for aid. And I now proceed to offer a few suggestions as to the working methods by which these calls must be met, and answered.
There are two positions which the Church or any branch of it, sustains toward men. The first may be termed (using the word in a good sense) aggressive, and the other conservative. The Church must meet the demands of those outside her pale, and she must also provide for the training and conversion of those within. Both these duties are plainly pressing upon us at this moment. The latter we can discharge only by parochial organizations, for these are the modes in which, and the working forces by which the work of training and consolidating is to be accomplished. But for the former, the aggressive portion namely of our work, we clearly need some other agencies. For we cannot expect to gather in, in the same way in which we keep and train up. Common sense would teach us this, and the experience of all time verifies its conclusions. What then do we need for this? We need, my brethren, just that which the primitive Church employed; just that, for the want of which our mother Church has so grievously [11/12] suffered, and is suffering still; just that, which more than any other thing gave vitality to the Methodist separation from the Church, and the abandonment of which by that separation, will work its final overthrow: I mean an itinerating ministry. I hope we shall not be startled at a word. It is a sign of weakness and conscious insecurity to be afraid of names. A starched propriety is not real strength. And I do but speak convictions which have long been gaining strength, not only in my mind, but in the minds of many of us, when I say that an itinerating ministry is the only method by which these scattered brethren of whose claims I have been speaking, can ever be reached and saved. Parochial organizations do not touch them: they are outside of everything of the kind, and cannot even reach their garment's hem. To such an itinerancy, seeking for the members of our communion, scattered abroad and perishing for lack of care; bearing Christ's Gospel to those who are sitting in the very shadow of death, a shadow the darker from its contrast with surrounding light; and meeting those who are with eager step advancing toward us, I propose, by God's blessing, to devote such time as other duties will permit me to. But I beseech you, brethren of the clergy and laity, to give me the means to employ still others with me in the work: a work which if we faithfully discharge it, shall make generations that are yet unborn, rise up and bless us.
To aid these feeble struggling parishes, not by doled out dribblets, just keeping things alive, and leaving them half dead, but effectually and generously, by a policy which though it may involve large expenditure in the beginning, will yet prove the truest economy [12/13] in the end; and to send out men to seek and gather in, to go from town to town, in some regular and established order, everywhere ministering God's Word and Sacraments; to make our Parishes strong, and to establish a well regulated and efficient Itinerancy—if any one takes umbrage at the name, let him call it what he pleases, for I care little about names, so long as we have the things—these are the two things that we must do, if we intend to keep the ground that we have gained, and to make proportionate advances for the future; if we intend to do our duty, and to go to our graves, when God shall call us, feeling that we have done it.
And now to accomplish this we want two things more. We want men and we want means. As to the former, notwithstanding the present decrease in the Church at large, (not I am happy to say in this Diocese,) in the numbers of candidates for Holy Orders, I believe that God will raise up the men to meet the exigency, provided we do all that in us lies to provide for such men, their daily bread. Exigencies always make men. History is but the record of such continual creations. And I cannot think that political, or social, or commercial demands for men will always be met, and that the needs of God's Church will. not. It never has been so in the ages that are past, and I can see no reason why it should be so in ours. It will not be so, depend upon it, brethren, it will not, if we are faithful in prayer, and liberal in alms, and will use each of us what influence we have, in directing the minds of the young to the labors and the rewards of the Christian Ministry.
At all events, let us do our part in providing means for carrying on this work, and then if no men can be [13/14] found, it will be time enough to conclude that God does not intend that we shall do it. And now how shall this be accomplished? My brethren, I must ask the privilege here, of speaking to you in very homely English. I do not propose to talk of pecuniary assistance, but simply of dollars and cents. In the neighboring Diocese of Vermont, a Diocese which reckons on its roll of clergy, not one-fourth our numbers, and whose parishes hardly reach to that proportion, a sum for missionaries within the Diocese is now raised somewhat greater, I am told, than our yearly contributions to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. And it is done in this way. Each Rector undertakes to secure in his parish, a sum which shall average one-half dollar per annum from each communicant. I do not suppose that every parish in the Diocese, could do even this, but still, my brethren, taking the Diocese together, cannot we with all our means, with all the prosperity with which God has blessed the Churchmen of Connecticut, cannot we undertake for as much as this? And if we should undertake it, and accomplish it, it would give us all we need; it would make places that now lie waste rejoice; it would gladden hearts that now are desolate; it would wipe scalding tears from many an eye; it could cause many a lip to utter praise and prayer, that now is opened only to blaspheme; it would help to save the State from anarchy, and uncounted souls, perhaps our own among them, from condemnation.
Let the mode, however, which shall be adopted, be what it may, I beseech you, my beloved brethren, let some mode be adopted by which these pressing wants may be met. Let us not separate from this Convention without doing something effectual, [14/15] something on a large and generous scale, something worthy of the Diocese, worthy of the Church, worthy of the gifts and privileges which the Great Head of the Church has bestowed upon us. Let us not make the peace and unity which we possess, something merely to rest in and to enjoy. Let them be to us the ground of some efficient action. If we falter now we lose the vantage ground of half a century of prayers and labors. But why should we falter? Our duty is plain before us, and we have means, abundant means to do it. Know ye not that from those to whom much is given, much will be required? Know ye not that the best of all proofs of an Apostolic Church, are Apostolic labors in the cause of Christ? Know ye not that men will rate us by our fruits, and that God will judge us by our works?