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A Pastoral Letter to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America,

From the House of Bishops, at at General Convention held in Baltimore, Maryland, October, 1871.

Hartford: The Church Press, M. H. Mallory and Company, 1871.

Brethren, beloved in the Lord:

The amazing love of our Redeemer is to be devoutly recognized in all the temporal blessings of His Covenant, as well as in those which are the more glorious benefits of His Cross and Passion. For three years more, marked by many changes and by many extraordinary providences in the affairs of the world, GOD has continued to bless us with much of earthly happiness, and with abounding mercies in the Communion of His Church. Your Bishops, in addressing you once more in a Pastoral Letter, must begin with these devout acknowledgments, arid with a confession of our great unworthiness of such distinguished favors from the Most High.

In a special manner we are called on to thank our Heavenly Father, for the advancing outward growth, and awakened internal life, which have been vouchsafed to us; for greater measures of Missionary zeal, and earnestness in all those works and services which, as they are the inner glory of the Bride of Christ, so they are also her most precious adorning in the eyes of men. If we do not enter into the manifold details which this whole great subject presents to us, it is because we would not even seem to boast of that for which we are simply to give all glory to Almighty GOD.

Two of those who united with us in our last Pastoral Letter are now with GOD. The venerable Bishops, Kemper, of Wisconsin, and Chase, of New Hampshire, assist in our councils no [3/4] more. It is not our usage, on such occasions, to multiply words, whether of eulogy or regret. It is understood, among your Bishops, that they are not to be subjected to the judgment of their brethren in the House of Bishops, whether for praise or censure. To the bare mention of the fact that they do now "rest from their labors" we add nothing, therefore, but the single truth, that they were eminent for piety and worth, and were greatly beloved in the Church, and among their brethren in the Episcopate. Their sufficient monuments are the dioceses of which, respectively, they were the first Bishops, and the noble works which GOD wrought by them, and which we doubt not will long endure, to the glory and praise of His Holy Name.

The services of the Convention, of which we have reached the closing hour, have been marked, in a very high degree, by manifestations of the Divine favor, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Questions of the greatest moment, and some of absorbing interest, have been before us, yet nothing has disturbed the harmony of our counsels; but, on the contrary, the marked result of our work is a degree of unity and brotherly love, which cannot but inspire us with new zeal and confidence for the future. Among your Bishops, day after day, and in the midst of the most anxious deliberations, we are able to assure you, that there has not been, for a moment, any interruption to that spirit of fraternal concord, on which the LORD has commanded an especial blessing. To His presence and directing grace be all the honor and praise!

The visits to our Church, and to our Councils, of eminent fathers and brethren from the Church of England, and sister Churches of her colonial empire, have not only given a marked and peculiar interest to this Convention, but have been rendered highly conducive to the successful prosecution of its work. This being, also, the year of our Missionary Jubilee, it has been, indeed, a delightful feature of our solemnities, to have among us those who have so entirely sympathized with the spirit of these [4/5] occasions, and who have, in many ways, contributed to their happy results.

A special feature of our practical work, in this Convention, has been the attention given to homes and hospitals, and to the organization of women's work, in schools and institutions of mercy. These great subjects we may, therefore, commend anew to your zeal and wisdom, invoking the liberality and self-sacrifice without which planning and legislation can accomplish little. In the revival of the Scriptural Diaconate of women, we feel an earnest desire that prudence and good sense may so preside over every effort, and in every Church where such efforts may be made, as to secure this blessed enterprise from all untoward circumstances, and from the evil consequences of zeal which is "not according to knowledge."

The Bishops, in council, with an extraordinary unanimity, have, during the present Convention, set forth a declaration touching our Offices for the Baptism of Infants, in the following words:

"We, the subscribers, Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, being asked, in order to the quieting of the consciences of sundry members of the said Church, to declare, our conviction as to the meaning of the word ' regenera'e,' in the Offices for the Ministration of Baptism of Infants, do declare, that, in our opinion, the word ' regenerate is not there so used as to determine that a moral change in the subject of Baptism is wrought in the Sacrament."

This declaration was made, in the loving hope and confidence that many consciences might thus forever be freed from false impressions, which have been prevalent, concerning the teaching of the Church as respects spiritual religion and personal piety. We exhort you, brethren, to be ever mindful of the tender love of our Master, Christ, for the little children, and to think highly of the privileges to which those are admitted, whom, through the agency of His Church, He still takes into His arms and blesses. We entreat you to regard them as His own children by adoption [5/6] and grace--as heirs of GOD--to be, brought up in the nurture and admonition of the LORD. Let them not suppose that the faith, and the prayers, and the obedience, of little children, are lightly regarded by the Father of Mercies. But remember, also, that Baptism does not supersede the necessity of repentance, of justifying faith in Christ, growth in grace, and in that "holiness without which no man shall see the LORD." We exhort all the members of this Church, fully to recognize, and deeply to feel, therefore, the weight of responsibility which the Baptismal Covenant lays upon them and their children. It is still true, that, if the Baptism of Infants be not recognized as requiring such godly training as may secure, by the Divine blessing, the submission of their whole nature, body, soul, and spirit, to the renewing and sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost, then the mind of Christ, and the purpose of the Church, for the child, are not fulfilled. If, refraining henceforth, from discussions of words, in the acceptation of which there seems to be far less of real disagreement than has been imagined, we might, now, give ourselves, with one heart, to the rearing of our children in the fear of GOD, and to securing the great work of their salvation. Then we shall have succeeded in rendering our formularies so practical, and so fruitful in godliness, as to elevate the whole sentiment of the Church to a lofty spirituality, not likely to be disturbed, by agitations, to which, perhaps, we have subjected ourselves by manifold inconsistencies between our professions and our practices, in the relations we bear to GOD in covenant.

As we dwell on these things, dear brethren, our minds recur to others of which we must not fail to speak.

We counsel you to bear in mind, that, while, on the other hand, we must not suffer ourselves to deny any real good, by reason of mere popular outcries against ritual forms, so, on the other hand, we are never to allow professions of self-denying labor and service, to blind us to the actual dangers of any movement in the Church. What is known as "Ritualism" is mainly [6/7] a question of taste, temperament, and constitution, until it becomes the expression of doctrine.

The doctrine which chiefly attempts, as yet, to express itself by ritual, in questionable and dangerous ways, is connected with the Holy Eucharist. That doctrine is, emphatically, a novelty in theology. What is known as "Eucharistical Adoration" is undoubtedly inculcated and encouraged by that ritual of posture, lately introduced among us, which finds no warrant in our "Office for the Administration of the Holy Communion."

Although men may, by unlawful reasoning on Divine mysteries, argue themselves into an acceptance, both of the practice and the doctrine which it implies, these are most certainly unauthorized by Holy Scripture, entirely aside from the purposes for which the Holy Sacrament was instituted, and most dangerous in their tendencies. To argue that the spiritual presence of our dear LORD in the Holy Communion, for the nurture of the faithful, is such a presence as allows worship to Him thus and there present, is, to say the very least, to be wise above that which is written in GOD'S Holy Word. For the objects of this Holy Sacrament, as therein revealed, are, first, the memorial before GOD of the One Sacrifice for sins forever, and secondly, the strengthening and refreshing of the souls of the faithful. Moreover, no one can fail to see, that it is impossible for the common mind to draw the line, between the worship of such ui undefined and mysterious presence, and the awful error of adoring the elements themselves. Wherefore, if a teacher suggests this error, by act or posture, he places himself in antagonism to the doctrine of this Church, and the teaching of GOD'S Word, and puts in peril the souls of men. In the presence therefore, of this danger, we call upon the ministers and members of the Church to bear in mind, that while they should always cherish and exhibit that true and genuine reverence, which devoutly recognizes "the dignity of the Holy Mystery, and the great peril of the unworthy receiving thereof," yet it is the bounden [7/8] duty of each one to deny himself the outward expression of what to him may be only reverence, if that expression even seems to inculcate and encourage superstition and idolatry.

In thus speaking of dangers connected with present movements in the Church, there are other points on which your Bishops must not be silent.

The first relates to private confession. Whenever a human soul is possessed by a searching and sincere repentance, and a longing for a deeper spiritual life, there come, also, with these things, a keener sense of "the exceeding sinfulness of sin," and a desire for an authoritative assurance of forgiveness. And then, on the other hand, frivolous and worldly persons, simply because they desire to rid themselves of any sense of present responsibility or future retribution, seek for the same assurance. Advantage is taken, by some teachers in the Church, of these two entirely different spiritual states, to insist upon private confession to a priest, as either the absolute duty of all Christians, or as essential to any high attainments in the religious life. Meantime, the fact that pardon is granted to any child of GOD, on his repentance, accompanied by prayer and reliance on the promises in Christ, as well as in the use of the means of grace, is utterly passed by. The teaching of the Church in this matter is plain and clear.

She permits, and offers to her children, the opening of their griefs in private, to some minister of GOD'S Word. But she does not make this the first resort; she does not provide for its frequent recurrence or uniform practice; she does not impose it by ecclesiastical ordinance; she does not hold or declare it necessary for the forgiveness of sins, or for the attainment of high degrees of spiritual advancement; nor does she connect with it blessings which can be secured only by its observance. She simply offers and commends this privilege to those of her children who cannot quiet their own consciences, by self-examination, immediate confession to GOD, with faith in Christ, repentance, and restitution. [8/9] Wherefore, to make this seeking of comfort and counsel not exceptional, but customary; not free, but enforced (if not by actual law, at least by moral obligation and spiritual necessities), is to rob Christ's provision of its mercy, and to change it into an engine of oppression and a source of corruption. History demonstrates this. The experience of families, and even of nations, shows that the worst practical evils are inseparable from this great abuse. To pervert the godly counsel and advice which may quiet a disturbed conscience, into the arbitrary direction which supplants the conscience, is to do away with that sense of moral responsibility, under which every man "shall give account of himself to GOD."

Another point of danger is a tendency toward saint-worship, and especially its culmination in the worship of the Blessed Virgin. The annals of our race, under the covenant dispensations as well as beyond their limits, show that there is nothing to which our fallen nature is more fearfully inclined, than the worship of the creature rather than the Creator. And this propensity to evil has always found its most attractive development in a sensuous disposition to deify and adore the tenderness and love of womanhood. The error of which we speak has arisen chiefly from this propensity of our nature, and it has found its apology in a perverted view of the veneration due to her whom "all generations" are to "call blessed."

There is no sin more continuously and decisively marked by the signal displeasure of GOD, than that of idolatry, in its manifold varieties. Hence, although we do not anticipate a general prevalence of tendencies to Mariolatry, which some have done much to encourage, we nevertheless feel that their slightest indication demands our immediate and decided reprobation. The bare suggestion that the intercession of the Virgin Mary, or of any other saint, is in any way to be sought in our approaches to the Throne of Grace, is an indignity to the one only Mediator and Intercessor, which we, His Apostolic witnesses, cannot too [9/10] strongly nor distinctly forbid, in His holy and all-sufficient name.

As fostering tendencies of which we regret to see any tokens among us, we must not fail to point out the dangers arising from devotional and doctrinal books, alien in their character to the whole spirit of our Liturgy, which have, of late years, been insidiously multiplied in England and America, Such works are1 chiefly borrowed from sources confessedly hostile to our communion, and tend only to weaken and undermine the loyalty of our people, and especially of our youth, to the primitive faith and worship of our Church. Moreover, let it be borne in mind, that the rich treasury of our own devotional authors is full of all things that minister to edification; while the inspired Psalter, and other Holy Scriptures, too little studied by most of us in this age of hurry and unrest, leave wholly without excuse this disposition to seek such aids to devotion as we here pointedly condemn. The books just mentioned are not the only ones against which our people must be warned. Publications are scattered through our parishes, the whole aim of which is to undermine the legitimate authority of the chief pastors of the Church, to inculcate irreverence, to stir up strife, to excite suspicion, to advocate "the factious maintenance of groundless opinions," and to lead to division and to schism. It was the solemn counsel of St. Paul "to mark those that cause divisions" in the Church, and to avoid them and their teaching.

Nothing is more unreal than the popular idea that our Church is a middle way, elaborately contrived as a compromise between opposing systems. But, in the nature of things, as a witness to primitive truth, she is always subject, as was the Church in the days of the Apostles, to opposing lines of assault. On the one side is the temper of the Jew, and on the other that of the Greek. Our conflict, on the right hand and on the left, is, and must continue to be, with superstition and lawlessness, irreverence and unbelief.

[11] Now, though little alarm is felt, in view of a disposition, on the part of some, to detract from the testimony which we are ever to bear to the faith once delivered to the saints, and if not to mutilate, yet to fall below the language of our Liturgy, and to undervalue its doctrinal teaching, we must never forget that the peculiar dangers of our age are those of irreverence, lawlessness, and unbelief; and that all such detractions minister directly to the worst influences of the irreligion that cloaks itself in pretences of "science, falsely so called." Their negative character, indeed, accounts for the fact already noted, that errors in this direction excite little anxiety; and the habits of our people, formed necessarily under the imperfect ministrations of our ecclesiastical nonage, are naturally the reverse of sensitive to omissions and neglects in carrying out the system of the Book of Common Prayer. But, with increase of opportunities and of ministers, these things are less excusable. We hold, that, if nothing more than what is clearly indicated by our rubrics is to be permitted in one direction, we are bound in the merest justice to condemn any counterpart disposition to diminish in any manner from their prescriptions as to order and worship.

These crying evils of irreverence and lawlessness are settling in through many currents, and from opposing quarters. They are, in truth, so closely connected, and so invariably go hand in hand, that they may well be spoken of together. The irreverence which lightly esteems holy mysteries, leads directly to lawless violations of the order of their ministration. The irreverence which scorns the due authority of those whom Christ has set for the government of the Church, leads, as directly, to open disobedience and the rejection of solemn vows and binding obligations. "Despising dominion," and "speaking evil of dignities," are counted in Holy Scripture as sins of no ordinary magnitude. And they are not less sins to-day than they were in the Apostolic age.

Cultivate, then, beloved, in the daily walk of your Christian [11/12] life, in your homes, and by your firesides, above all in the Temple of GOD, where His Holy Name is worshipped, such a spirit of reverence as shall manifest itself in word and act, and such a temper of submission and obedience to what is duly ordained and appointed, as may make for the Church's peace and for your own great spiritual good. So shall brethren "dwell together in unity," and you shall see "Jerusalem in prosperity all your life long."

It is a very clear part of our present duty to you, brethren, to utter anew the charge that you be "not conformed to this world." In the world you must have your daily walk and work. Your discipline of grace involves exposure, to the subtle allurements, as well as, in many cases, to the grosser temptations of that world. But you may turn that exposure to your great spiritual gain. You may become the wiser and holier by that very means. The grace of GOD will accomplish in you this glorious result, if you work with His Holy Spirit.

To this end we remind you, that "covetousness is idolatry"; that the growing eagerness to get money, the widely-spread worship of money, and the lavish display of money, in much of our daily life, are manifestations of that idolatry. Christian men and women ought to ponder this, and to carry the resulting views of duty and piety into their business, their social life, their homes and families. We are sure that the need of this warning has, of late, grown largely among us; and that some of those wise scruples and restraints formerly, more, perhaps, than now, influencing good men's consciences in the pursuit and use of riches, and in the habits and amusements of social life, have been far too much relaxed. Hence come the sins of covetousness, of wasteful vanity, and of the robbery of GOD in withholding from His cause His due share of the worldly things intrusted to our control.

Nor may we omit to renew the warnings, more than once before given in the Pastoral Letters of your Bishops, against [12/13] some of those public amusements and exhibitions, from the sight and lessons of which, any true morality, to say nothing of pure religion, ought to make good men and women withdraw themselves, and most scrupulously keep their children.

The great and destructive sin of intemperance claims our anxious notice. That sin is, as all must see and lament, growing in our land. It can be met only by such distinct pastoral warnings and examples, and by such lessons and habits of self-denial in the home, as will train and keep the people of Christ, young and old, faithful to the vows of their high vocation.

Wherefore, Christian fathers, and Christian mothers, ask yourselves, earnestly and honestly, how far the nurture and admonition, which your children are receiving at your hands, in this most worldly age, are "the nurture and admonition of the LORD"; how far the pleasures and associations encouraged and allowed are compatible with the life of GOD in the soul of man; how far the books permitted to be read, and the ideas cherished in the minds of children, are leading them to "Seek first the Kingdom of GOD and His righteousness"; and, therefore, how far you are discharging, toward those whom GOD has given you, that household priesthood which exalts your position as parents, and commensurately increases your responsibility. If you are faithful to this solemn trust, then all the holiest interests of society are sure to feel the benefit of your fidelity. If you are unfaithful, not only will your sin be visited on those who are dearest to you, but worldliness, like a flood, will sweep away all that GOD has made our most precious heritage in His Holy Church. Of the effect of this on our country, it is not necessary that we should speak. Fearful indications of coming judgments are already before us. The history of empires, during the past year, is a warning, which need not be expounded, of that "swift destruction" which nations, as well as individuals, may bring upon their own heads, from a patient but just Creator.

To the Divine Redeemer of our souls, your Bishops fervently [13/14] commend the beloved flock, over which the Chief Shepherd has set them in authority. Love Him with a fervent love, and with an uncalculating devotion. Make proof of your gratitude for the unspeakable riches of His Gospel. "Bring presents, and come into His courts." But remember, also, to worship Him in the beauty of practical holiness. We live in days, which call for no stinted liberality, which demand the sacrifices of genuine love, which indicate that GOD is waiting to be gracious, if only His people will prepare themselves for His visitation.

The whle Church of Christ is giving tokens of His reviving presence. Grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied upon you, and upon all who love the LORD JESUS CHRIST in sincerity. Amen.

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