An Address, Delivered before the Elizabethtown Female Bible and Common Prayer Book Society, at the Adoption of Their Constitution, June 20, 1816.
By John Churchill Rudd.
Elizabethtown: J. and E. Sanderson, 1816.
The present is a most interesting period in the history of the church of Christ. He must have been a very inattentive observer, who has not seen that a powerful impulse has been given to the religious world in a few of the last years through which we have passed. A distinguishing feature in the character of the present age, is the zeal which has sprung up for the diffusion of true religion throughout the earth. The great Head of the church, by the influences of his grace, is now animating the hearts of the pious to exertions, before which the grossest darkness of Paganism is flying away, and the stream of Christian knowledge is flowing through and gladdening the most desolate regions. Greenland listens to the voice of the messengers of Jesus, and the islands of the torrid zone learn with joy that the Saviour shed his blood for a fallen and ruined world. China permits the temple of Confucius to be approached by the ministers of Jesus, and the banks of the Ganges are trod by the missionaries of the Gospel. In these days of unparalleled interest, Jewish tabernacles are converted into Christian temples, and Jewish priests become preachers of the righteousness of Christ. In our portion of the [3/4] globe, scenes of no less interest and delight are constantly opening to our view. The inhabitants of Labrador are instructed in the principles of our faith; and the tribes of the Six Nations are furnished, not only with the sacred volume, but with the Liturgy of the Church, in their own language. Under these efforts of Christian munificence and zeal, that prediction is accomplishing, which declares, that the Redeemer shall have the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession.
These labours of Christian zeal are producing the most happy change in the aspect of the world. Infidelity is evidently giving way before them, and the condition of society extensively meliorated and improved. The unity of effort, and the concert of judgment requisite in the prosecution of these sacred objects, have the most salutary influence on the Christian character. The followers of Jesus will feel an increased attachment to each other, and to the Church, from the circumstance of their union in such objects as that which has caused the present meeting. Whatever differences may sometimes exist, will be overlooked and forgotten in the one great object of diffusing Christian knowledge, and saving the souls of men.
There are many considerations which should prompt you, Christian females, to take an active part in these employments of liberality, these labours of faith and love.
The Christian faith has been productive of consequences to your sex, claiming the warmest and highest expressions of gratitude. Before the introduction of the Gospel, female usefulness was very imperfectly understood. Christianity, and that alone, has removed you from that state of injustice in which you were held before its [4/5] publication. By it you are exalted to that importance which you now sustain in the estimation of the world. The religion of Jesus has banished those gross and unworthy sentiments, which before its promulgation held your sex in bondage. Now it is seen with delight by wise and good men, and acknowledged with gratitude by thousands, that females have powers for distinguishing themselves in the walks of literature and science, and that they have dispositions which prompt them to the exertion of those powers for the best possible interests of men.
Such a change in your condition, calls for the most explicit acts of thanksgiving and praise. And there are none more effectual than those which relate to the instruction of your fellow creatures in the concerns of salvation. There is a peculiar fitness in your being employed in such objects as that which has now called you together. From the very nature of your occupations, from the circumstance that the distresses of the poor and afflicted come more fully before you, than the other sex^ your opportunities for knowing their spiritual wants must be much more frequent. And while you are visiting the abodes of poverty, and find among the privations which are enumerated, that the word of God has not a place in the dwelling of wo, how proper, and how gratifying to the best feelings of the heart, to have in your hand a copy of the sacred volume to bestow with the temporal supplies you impart. And though in your vicinity such opportunities may not be very many, you may rest assured that in our land they arc of such frequent occurrence as to exhaust the funds of all those rich and daily multiplying associations, of which we hear in every section of our country. In your visits to the sick and afflicted, what better gift can you impart, to aid their meditations, to [5/6] regulate their affections in devotion, than the Book of Common Prayer? While you feel it your duty, and find your pleasure in its discharge, to administer to the suffering the meat that perisheth, it must be a subject of your frequent desire to contribute something in the way of religious instruction; and in what method can this be so effectually accomplished, as in putting into the hands of the poor and ignorant the word of God, and with it that primitive and admirable Liturgy, in which that word is brought home to the heart and conscience?
There can be no doubt of your qualifications to take an active part in those employments, which are designed to further the great objects of promoting Christian knowledge. The native modesty of your nature, and the simple, though important character of your general occupations, may not have prepared you for the details of business, and all the formalities proper to be observed in such institutions as that you now propose to form; yet you will find no difficulty, which a little practice will not obviate,—no labours, which the kindness of your dispositions will not encounter with cheerfulness, and surmount with a delight which is much easier felt than described.
The next enquiry then, should be, in what particular way you can the most effectually promote your own usefulness in these offices of Christian benevolence.
You will, in the first place, do it best by yourselves. The fact need not be concealed, that you have, generally, more zeal than the other sex. Their minds are necessarily occupied upon objects which tend frequently to divert them from the subject of promoting the interests of religion. The din of political strife does not often distract your thoughts; the perplexity and hurry of those engagements in which men are concerned, do not often overtake [6/7] you, and you therefore have more time to devote to the labours of charity.
Christianity, it has been remarked, has had a most powerful influence in elevating you to that importance in the world which is your due; you therefore should meet her influence in such efforts as may serve not only to promote her extension, but to establish your own useful influence upon society.
While it may be proper for you, in this undertaking, to solicit pecuniary aid from the other sex, it will be a becoming employment to manage your funds independently of them; and they, by consenting that you should, will evince their desire to promote your importance in the estimation of the world. They will find it difficult to resist your applications, when you urge, with your accustomed zeal, the interesting objects for which you solicit their charity; and thus your means of usefulness may be extended more effectually than by a union of the two sexes in the same society.
Your employment in this business will not be subject to the reproach of singularity. Your situation will not be novel. In various parts of our country, the most elevated and deserving of your sex have long since embarked in this enterprise of piety, and your sisters of a neighbouring village have just commenced their course in this race of Christian charity. [The Newark Female Bible and Common Prayer Book Society.] You will not be backward in following the example; and if you have not the honour of being first in the work, you will have the applause of striving to your utmost, to promote it.
In forming this institution, it should be an object of care to proceed upon primitive principles. It is a characteristic of the Protestant Episcopal Church, that she contends [7/8] for an immediate union of the word of God and the church of God. While she maintains that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary to salvation, she holds it as an important truth, that the worship of her great Head is intimately connected with the doctrines which she derives from the oracles of God. She has, therefore, from the beginning, preserved a very close connexion between the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer; and in this she more than intimates to her children, that this connexion should be most carefully cherished. And there is nothing in this principle to mar in the least that Christian good will, which the various denominations of believers ought to cherish for each other. [That those members of the Protestant Episcopal Church who contend for a union of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, really entertain the feelings here expressed, must be obvious from the following facts: The New-York Bible Society, a few years since, proposed printing a French Bible. The Bible and Common Prayer Book Society of that city, with the utmost cordiality, aided in a contribution from her funds to the promotion of the object. The Episcopal Society of New-Jersey for the distribution of Bibles and Prayer Books, as an evidence of their good will and affection to the New-Jersey Bible Society, made a donation to that institution, who reciprocated the expression of kindness in a gift of Bibles. In such ways a good understanding may always be kept up between Bible societies and those who think it their duty to unite with the Scriptures the Liturgy of the Church. This union does not diminish in the least the zeal of Episcopalians for the circulation of the Bible, nor hinder their prayers for the blessing of heaven upon those who distribute the Scriptures alone. "Blessed," in the language of Bishop Hobart in his Address before the Auxiliary Bible and Prayer Book Society of New-York," be the holy men of whatever country or of whatever Christian name, who with an ardour worthy of apostolic times, are engaged in the apostolic work of making known in every language under heaven, the wonderful work of God; of publishing among every people, his holy word. Let it be remembered, we give them our warmest praise."] We can rejoice, and I trust we do with the utmost sincerity and fervour, at the amazing range which Christian liberality has taken in the distribution of the Bible; at the same time, we deem it our duty to connect with it, especially where Episcopalians are concerned, that pure and evangelical Liturgy, for which we are indebted to those fathers and martyrs [8/9] who sealed their professions with their blood. None call love more ardently than we do, that precious volume which contains the charter of our salvation. There we see the features of our faith, our ministry, and worship, fairly delineated, and when we impart a copy of the sacred book, we feel it desirable to accompany it with a formulary of doctrine and devotion which may lead the reader to an easy understanding of its holy contents. And what explanation so safe and effectual can you give, as that contained in the Liturgy of the Church? The recitals of Scripture, the anthems, and prayers, are all adapted to the excitement of the strongest religious feelings. These devotions unite the utmost pathos with the most dignified simplicity. In the articles are preserved all the prominent doctrines of the Gospel. In the baptismal office is the most clear and satisfactory illustration of the Christian covenant, and of the nature of that repentance and newness of life, so essential to the happiness of the soul; while in that for the administration of the holy communion, are the most affecting displays of that sacrifice which was made upon the cross for sin. In the offices for consecrating bishops and ordering priests and deacons, are to be found the happiest and most forcible instructions upon the nature and duties of the ministry. What more suitable companion for the Bible can you possibly select?
Should your exertions be crowned with the success for which we most fervently pray, and should you be able to send the sacred volume into the new settlements in our country, and among the heathen upon our borders, how necessary and how useful will be such a comment as the Prayer Book—a comment which aids in carrying the language of inspiration directly to the heart.
In the exercise of your charity, the Bible should be [9/10] given to every one who needs it, whatever may be the denomination to which he belongs; and the Prayer Book to those who desire it, or who are disposed to receive it kindly. And it will be an easy matter, from time to time, to make your appropriations in such proportions as varying circumstances may require. In the first instance, you will probably find that a greater proportion of Prayer Books than Bibles can be advantageously distributed. One or two copies of the Scriptures, may serve very well, the purpose of a whole family, while every member who can read, should have a Prayer Book, that he may join in the devotions of the sanctuary with interest and profit. As the advantage of the Church is one object of your association, you will naturally perceive the justice of this observation; and there is no way in which you can do her more good. Wherever the Liturgy is in the hands of all, and regularly employed in the temple, congregations will flourish; they will increase in attachment to the Church, and we have every reason to hope, in genuine and fervent piety.
Such is the purity and excellence of this form of worship, that its distribution can be no subject of regret to any of those who serve God in extemporaneous devotions. It has received the highest approbation from distinguished members of dissenting communions. And if you would do good to that household of faith to which you belong, give it a circulation proportioned to your opportunities.
These, Christian females, are the objects before you, and such are the means for their accomplishment. Enter then with resolution and zeal upon the exercise of offices which promise such utility to the cause of evangelical holiness. You will find your duties easy, and their discharge delightful. Every measure you adopt, and every [10/11] act of your bounty and care, will suggest new opportunities for usefulness, and give additional stimulus to your efforts. Your charity here is not of a perishing nature; its prominent feature is immortality; its fruits arc peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,—eternal life.
How animating is the anticipation of that day when there shall not be a clan in the deserts of Africa, nor a valley in our western wilds, which shall not be visited by the oracles of eternal truth; when Christian ministers shall stand upon the banks of the river of the West, as they now do upon those of the Indus and the Kristna, and when the mountains of South America shall be warmed by the beams of revelation; when a knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters do the seas. It is your privilege, and it will surely be your delight, to share in the promotion of objects, so animating, so exalted and holy. The principle which excites to such efforts is imperishable, and its faithful exercise will unquestionably heighten the songs and the triumphs which shall burst from the redeemed when they enter on their state of everlasting blessedness;
“When constant faith and holy hope shall die,
“One lost in certainty, and one in joy;
“Then thou, more happy power, fair charity,
“Triumphant sister, greatest of the three,
“Lasting thy lamp, and unconsumed thy flame,
“Shalt still survive,
“Shall stand before the host of heaven confess’d,
“For ever blessing and for ever bless’d.”
Let us then commend this cause to the protection of Almighty God, and as you enter on the work before you, implore the aid and guidance of his grace.
CONSTITUTION OF THE ELIZABETHTOWN FEMALE BIBLE AND COMMON PRAYER BOOK SOCIETY.
Art. I. This Society shall be distinguished by the name of “The Elizabethtown Female Bible and Common Prayer Book Society;” and it shall be considered as auxiliary to the Episcopal Society of New-Jersey, whose objects are the distribution of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and religious Tracts.
Art. II. This Society shall be composed of females who belong to the Protestant Episcopal Church. Every person on becoming a member shall pay fifty cents, and a further sum of fifty cents annually, so long as she continues a member. The payment of five dollars at any one time, shall constitute the contributor a member for life, without any further payment.
A female who contributes at any one time the sum of ten dollars, shall be styled a Patroness, and shall be entitled to a seat and vote in all meetings of the Board of Managers during life.
Young ladies under the age of sixteen years, shall be considered as members on the payment of twenty-five cents annually; and may be appointed collectors of charities for the Society, but not managers.
Art. III. The business of the Society shall be conducted by a Board of Managers, consisting of a President and Vice-President, a Secretary, a Treasurer, and nine Managers, who shall be chosen annually by a plurality of votes of the members present on the day of the annual meeting, which shall be held on Tuesday in Whitsun-week, at such time and place as the Board of Managers shall appoint. Five Managers shall constitute a quorum to do business.
The Board shall meet within the week on which they are appointed, and at least once in every three months after.
 The Managers shall make such bye-laws from time to time, for the regulation of their own conduct in the discharge of their duties, and for the management of the Society, as they may deem expedient; and they shall have power to fill all vacancies which may occur in their body, and at the annual meeting they shall make report of their receipts, and disbursements, and of all their proceedings; one copy of which report shall be forwarded to the Bishop of the diocess, and another to the Secretary of the Episcopal Society.
Art. IV. All monies paid into the Treasury of this Society, after the incidental expenses are defrayed, shall be transmitted to the Treasurer of the Episcopal Society of New-Jersey, which is to be considered as the parent institution; upon the condition, however, that one half of the amount of all such remittances, shall be returned to the Board of Managers of this Society, in Bibles and Prayer Books, at the prices at which they are purchased by the parent Society.
Art. V. Immediately after the receipt of any Bibles and Prayer Books, the President shall call a meeting of the Board, for the purpose of making such distribution of them as shall be found conducive to the objects of the institution.
The wants of the parish of St. John’s Church, Elizabethtown, shall be first considered and relieved; after which the Board of Managers may order such distribution in the state of New-Jersey, and elsewhere, as shall be thought useful.
Art. VI. All acts of the Society shall be signed by the President, or the Vice-President, and the Secretary.
Art. VII. Gentlemen and others who shall subscribe to the funds of the Society, shall have their names entered on the books of the institution as annual contributors.
Art. VIII. This Constitution shall not be altered, except by a vote of two thirds of the members present at the annual meeting.
Elizabethtown, June 20, 1816.