Project Canterbury

Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops, A.D. 1892.

Baltimore: Deutsch Lithographing and Printing, 1892.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

To our well-beloved, the Presbyters and Deacons, our fellow-laborers in the Apostolic Ministry, and to the Faithful in Christ Jesus, the Bishops send greeting in the name of the Lord:

First.--We ask you to join us in thanksgiving to our gracious God that a great and serious work which has engaged the Church for many years has been completed and closed in the Convention of 1892, and that the Book of Common Prayer, revised, amended and enriched by the labors of learned and godly men, has now, after careful consideration by both Houses of this Convention, been constitutionally set forth for the use of the Church.

It would be idle to claim perfection for the Revised Book. No human work is perfect.

We address to you the well-known words of the old Preface:

"And now, this important work being brought to a conclusion, it is hoped the whole will be received and examined by every true member of our Church and every sincere Christian, with a meek, candid and charitable frame of mind, without prejudice or prepossessions, sincerely considering what Christianity is, and what the truths of the Gospel are, and earnestly beseeching Almighty God to accompany with His blessing every endeavor for promulgating them to mankind, in the clearest, plainest, most affecting and majestic manner, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour."

During the years in which this important work has been in progress, it was, perhaps, to be expected that somewhat of irregularity should occur in the ordering of the Divine Services. The clergy were not always informed of the successive changes as they were adopted; but now that the revision has been completed, and a Standard Book of Common Prayer has been canonically established to remain, we trust, unchanged for many years to come, we feel assured that the clergy and their congregations will gladly order the details of Public Worship and of the Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites of the Church strictly according to its Rubrics. The Church is wiser than her wisest member, holier than her holiest member. An obedient and godly acceptance of her decisions, when they are canonically pronounced and clearly expressed, is the plain duty of all her children.

Second.--For many years the thoughts and prayers of your Bishops have been greatly occupied with the unhappy divisions among Christian people. The evils of these divisions are becoming daily more apparent. Faith grows cold, doubts increase, attacks on the very citadel of Religion are more defiant, because the Lord's own chosen evidence of His Divine Mission is cast contemptuously aside by those who profess to honor Him.

"That they all may be one," He prayed, "that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me." They are not "all one," and the world does not believe. We may say we are at heart or in spirit "all one"; but alas, if it be so, the world does not see it. A divided Christendom makes an impossible appeal to human credulity when, notwithstanding all that men's eyes see and their ears hear, it declares that it is still ''all one" in the profound sense of our Lord's last prayer.

In our Pastoral Letter and in our Declaration of 1886 we set forth the grounds upon which the Church stands for unity. They were substantially adopted and proclaimed in the Lambeth Declaration of 1888 by the assembled Episcopate of the whole Anglican Communion. In that Declaration we set aside all mere matters of preference, and many things which are very precious to our hearts and yours. We came down to the bare foundations, without which no organized Christianity can long continue to exist. We said in effect that, for the sake of the oneness our dear Lord prayed for on the-night in which he was betrayed, we would yield, if need were, all but these "first principles."

We expected no wonderful result. We were casting seed into the ground which was to grow in God's time. By some our words were misunderstood; by others they were carelessly dismissed; but there were not a few who saw their meaning, who considered them seriously, who have endeavored to weigh them justly, and who have consequently been drawn very near to us in sympathy. The result has been no disappointment. In any case we have borne our testimony. We have delivered our own souls. We have made our protest against an ancient wrong. We took the Apostolic position.

The Church stands for unity. That was clearly announced once more. Thereafter there could be no mistake. She stands for the one Catholic brotherhood of Christian men, for the ancient freedom of Christian thinking and Christian action, for deliverance from the tyranny of man-made creeds and confessions. She is "the pillar and ground" of the unchangeable "Truth", the "witness and keeper" through the ages of "the Faith once for all delivered to the saints." She stands for the liberty wherewith the Truth has made her free. Let her children "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Let them banish all narrowness and prejudice, all pride and conceit. Let them gladly acknowledge all that is good and gracious in our separated brethren. Let them say "Grace be unto all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity." Unity will come as a crown of victory, not to theological strife, but to Christian love. From the long story of the Church's warfare let us learn that the conquests of love are the only conquests which abide. Be steadfast. Be patient of men's prejudices and weakness. Pray on and hope on. Hold out loving hands to men, and so shall the Lord's last prayer find, in His own time, its answer.

Third.--We have very gravely considered the Canons concerning ordination and the due preparation of candidates for the sacred ministry. High character and sound learning in the clergy are essential to the worthy work of the Church, in this time and land especially. We have reason to be thankful that the Church has always demanded, and has so constantly found these in her ministry. But the door to the Priesthood should be even more carefully guarded in the time to come. Devotion, self-consecration, clear intelligence, a learning abreast of the times, secular knowledge as well as thorough training in Theology, that queen of all the sciences, are imperatively required in those who are set to teach the people of this age.

More than ever must the priest's lips keep knowledge--definite, clear, theological knowledge--and more than ever must the prudence, the meekness, the patience and the tact of a trained intellect and a devout soul be exhibited in gentle manners by the pastors of the flock.

Fourth.--And here we earnestly charge our brethren of the clergy to remember that the foremost and most abiding of all their duties is to "preach the Gospel." This, dear Brethren, is the first command in our commission: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature."

It has seemed to us that this primal duty has been somewhat obscured. We have nothing to say here of the relative importance of preaching and administration. Each has its place; but, whatever else it may do or be, a living Church must be a preaching and a teaching Church. It would be something to alarm if our preaching were such that our people should become clamorous for less and less of it. In that case, we are convinced that the clamor would not be against preaching, but against the kind of preaching; not against the length of the sermon, but against the kind of sermon. Still, as of old, men are touched and held by the strong, wise, tender words of other men. If the power of the pulpit is less in our time as some, not we, assert, it is from no change in the nature or circumstances of man. The evidence is all about us. The printed column or the printed page can never reach the inmost heart of men like the living voice--the pleading and persuading voice of a living person. He who knew what is in man committed his Gospel to the voices of men. It was to be written also; but still the voice was to utter it--the voice of a man to other men, as it was first uttered on the hillsides of Palestine and the shores of the Galilean lake. We solemnly charge our brethren in the ministry to cultivate and exercise this their great office. In the words of the mighty Apostle to the son of his heart, we say to you, "Preach the Gospel." Make the pulpit a throne of light. Let it teach. It is sent to teach, not alone to move or to excite emotion, least of all to win men's admiration of eloquent periods, beautiful diction and graceful delivery. Its one great purpose is to instruct and enlighten in the things belonging to God. Definite, positive doctrine about the deepest things, is ours to teach. If we have it not, but only guesses of our own and speculations which are the froth of common, surface, thoughtless thinking, then our place of utterance may be anywhere in all the world save in the pulpits of the Church. But having a sure doctrine, having a positive and determinate trust of fact and truth committed to us, we need not fear that the old teaching will not have the old power; that earnest practical sermons for the men and the hour will fail to enlighten, guide and strengthen the souls entrusted to our charge, until they grow to ripeness and strength of wisdom in things pertaining to godliness.

Fifth.--And here let us remind our brethren, and ourselves, also, that we are sent and commanded to care for the lambs as well as for the sheep. "Feed my lambs " remains forever a solemn burden on the souls of Bishops and other clergy. Are we obeying the command? We recognize the differences of times and the difficulties of present circumstances. But does the Sunday School in its best estate quite fulfil the meaning of this marching order? Is the "Leaflet" quite a substitute for that little Catechism which wisest men have declared to be "the best treatise on dogmatic Theology, in the smallest compass ever penned by man," and which is still level to the capacities of a child? Does the Sunday School teacher, at his best, or the Sunday School superintendent, at his best, quite fulfil the office of the pastor, standing with the Lord's precious "little ones" around him, patiently, lovingly, and with authority instructing and leading them as the beloved of the Lord, whom no man may dare "offend" at his soul's peril? It is wise to use all helps and all helpers, but we charge the clergy to resign into no other hands whatever the care and trust of the Lord's little ones. We charge you to regard this, most precious of all the offices of your ministry, as your own special responsibility; and while you may use all aids of easier learning or larger illustration, we expect you to teach the old Church Catechism as the central norm and expression of faith and duty and the Bible as the Word of God, which makes men "wise unto salvation."

Sixth.--An evil we have seen and much bemoan is a growing tendency toward a short and uncertain tenure of the pastoral office.

The Church's law contemplates long pastorates, long growths of affection, the weaving of many knots of love in life, the holy memories of many services, the intimate tenderness of sorrows and anxieties borne together, and the happy remembrance of joys and thanksgivings together shared. She looks for her best strength, where memories of the marriage vow, the font, the altar, the sickbed, the grave-side, are the common possession of pastor and flock. Human as she is, she knows the blessedness of our homely human affections, and that by them, sanctified, we are sanctified and lifted to affections divine and eternal. Our earthly loves and friendships, our every day joys and sorrows, have divine meanings and leadings in the tender thought of the dear Mother who is so human, while she leads us gently up to the love that is divine. So her plan is that the shepherd shall abide with the flock. She asks the pastor to stay long with his own, to patiently wait while the shuttle flies back and forth across the web of his days, and weaves for him, in mingled threads of gloom and brightness, a band of love, binding him ever closer to the souls he serves here, and, by Christ's great grace, to become a gleaming band of glory, binding him and them in everlasting fellowship hereafter.

Brethren of the laity, it is not, we are convinced, the fault of your clergy alone that pastorates are so short, and that the tenderness and sweetness of the pastoral relation are well-nigh lost from among us. It is for you to make the relation permanent by all patience, gentle consideration, kindly judgment, gracious helpfulness, loyalty and love. Stand by your pastor in frank, manly and honorable fashion. Give him what he must have to do effectual work--your utmost trust. Hold up his hands and cheer his heart. He is only human--a poor, weak sinner, after all, like the rest of us. He will make mistakes. He will not be always wise. But while you know him to be true and loyal, be you true and loyal also, and then all will be well.

You want the man who knelt by your child's sick-bed to kneel by your own. You want him who said the holy words at your father's grave to say the same strong words at your own. You want the man who blessed your vow to the sole woman of your heart to pour the consecrated stream on the brow of her child and yours. All your life long you want the faithful, the tried, the selectest man to be the friend of your inmost hours, and he ought to be your pastor.

This is what the Church intends in the pastoral relation. This is what has been made a reality again and again, and such pastorates have left high and holy memories, all along her story, to brighten and sweeten the lives of her children. Let it be the noble ambition of every pastor and every congregation to begin, continue, and bring to a holy and blessed end such pastorates as these, where all that is best on earth and all that is best in Paradise meet and clasp hands together over a relation so humbly human, yet so divinely sweet, that, at its consummation, a man may say, in trembling trust, "Here am I and the children which Thou hast given me."

Seventh.--Our thoughts, Brethren, have been dwelling much upon the Christian family. The family is the root germ of the Church and the root germ of the State. Both are safe while the family is safe. When the family is wrecked, neither Church nor State is worth preserving. The hearth of the home is the sacred altar, at last, of all religion, all law, all loyalty, and all order. The ancient religions of our forefathers taught us that, at least. Our Lord revealed the reason, lifted it up, stamped His divine mark upon it. From our Lord Jesus Christ we have received it with new sanctions and girdled with divine defenses: The awful sacredness of home, the one man and the one woman, who are not two but one, whose union is a great mystery, like the union of Christ and His Church.

It is with sad foreboding that all Christian people must see how the sanctity and permanency of the marriage bond has been outraged and broken by the lawless legislation of so many of our States. The Church of God can have no regard for such legislation; it has no more respect or validity in her consciousness than the legislation on the same subject of Turkey or the "customs of Dahomey." Indeed, she must consider it not only an outrage upon the Christian consciousness, but upon the inherited race-consciousness of our people. Therefore she has set herself in her own legislation to record her solemn protest against a tendency which, in our judgment, enlightened by the Word of God and the guidance of His Holy Spirit, can lead only to the ruin of the civil state and the destruction of all religion and purity of living among men. We are convinced that much, if not all, of the looseness with which the marriage bond is treated in legislation and practice is due to the first falsehood which considers the individual as the unit of human society, and demands, therefore, that the motive of all civil arrangements shall be the pleasure and contentment of the individual. As a matter of historical fact as well as of scientific determination, the family is the unit, and the well-being of the individual can be rightly sought only in and through the well-being of the family.

The Holy Scriptures are full of the doctrine of the family and its relations. It is a thing so divine that Almighty God reveals Himself under a family name. He is a Father; in the Godhead Itself there is Father and Son; He has a household in heaven and earth, a great family and many children. He consecrates, in His holy word, every homely human name that is named about the fireside and under the roofs of men, by using those names to reveal His own relations and affections towards men.

To guard the sanctities of home is the highest duty of the State. To re-consecrate those natural sanctities by the blessing of holy prayer and solemn rite, and throw over the home the shield of God's Law in its power, is the plain duty of the Church. But the home so shielded must be a Christian home. It must hold living communion with the high-walled Home of our Father's House above. We solemnly charge our Brethren to look well to this. We fear, above all, the decay of family piety. The hurry of our modern life, the eager demands of an increasing business and the lust of an increasing gain, the competition and the struggle, the thousand distractions, as they are made excuses for neglect of public worship in the Church, so they have been held to justify the overthrow of the family altar, the abandonment of Household Prayer, even the graceful as well as gracious, blessing of the family bread--"the heritage of old and fair religion."

Dear Brethren, it is idle to look for a living Church where families enter on the day without a prayer, sit down to meat unblessed by any lifted thought of thanks, and retire to a rest which has no remembrance of God, and asks no care from the sleepless eye and the Overshadowing Hand. It is homes of another sort which, in the long story of our people's life, have trained and sent forth the men who have helped and saved their brethren in their need.

Eighth.--The Church prays for men at her altars, in her pulpits, in her house-to-house and man-to-man mission, searching for souls. She prays for laborers in the white harvest. She has societies and institutions to help young men to prepare for this ministry. While these societies and institutions are necessary and are doing good service, we do not lose sight of the central fact that for a supply of ministers of the highest attainment and most consecrated character, the Church must look to the firesides of her own families. She must ask fathers and mothers to consecrate their sons with the first consecration of a father's prayers and the chrism of a Mother's tears and blessing. She must ask for the best. Not the maimed, the halt, the blind, the refuse. God, long ago, warned her against that fraud. She asks the sons who are the choicest, the boy who is the apple of the eye. From Christian homes of wealth and abundance, as well as from the lowlier Christian homes of honorable toil and frugal care, she asks your own, and she asks your best. She asks urgently but not hopelessly. The Church has had a gracious answer to her petition in the Litany, "That it may please the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest." Never before have we had so large a number of candidates for orders. But the measure of the past and of the present must not be the measure of the future. The harvest is still plenteous and the laborers are still few. We lovingly, but most earnestly, charge the Clergy to look to this, and to make it a most serious part of their ministry to seek for Timothys among their flocks. In the same spirit we charge the fathers and mothers among you to seek for and set apart your most gracious and most lofty-minded sons for the highest service to God and their brethren, which is the service of the pulpit and of the altar.

And here we may also appeal to them to look if there be not among their daughters some who are called of God to consecrate their lives to the service of Christ in ministering to the helpless and the ignorant. The work which women may do in the service of our dear Lord has been already shown in the work which the women of our Church have done, and are now doing, in many ways for the furtherance of the Gospel. For all of these, and most especially for the great work done by the Woman's Auxiliary Society to the Board of Missions, we devoutly thank God; but our thanks are only the more hearty and full of hope when we reflect that out of such works, and by means of them and because of them, God is raising up among us an order of holy women, deaconesses of the primitive and apostolic pattern, whose whole lives are devoted to our Master's works of mercy and instruction. We devoutly trust that that order may increase, and that the number of our deaconesses, trained and consecrated for their sacred ministry, may be greatly enlarged.

But for all this, and more which is blessed and blessing, we must look to the increase of homes of prayer, households with family altars, where the flame burns steadily and the incense ascends at eve and morn continually; where the child learns to say "Our Father" at the mother's knee, and the growing boy stands by his father's side and declares, in the household devotion, his own and his father's faith--"I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, very God of very God, and in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Life-giver."

Ninth.--The Convention of 1892 has stamped its abiding mark in many forms upon the future history of the Church; and not least, in that it has been lifted by God's grace, in the holy audacity of its faith, to send forth seven new Missionary Bishops--five of them to newly created Missionary Jurisdictions. We call upon you to give humble and hearty thanks to God for this increasing faith of His people. Let your prayers go with these men. Let your consecrated offerings be abundant for the new work. The field is everywhere white to the harvest. Send the reapers forth with your love, your prayers and your help, and they will--it is God's faithful promise--"they will return with joy, bringing their sheaves with them."

Brethren, we are heirs of a great inheritance. It is not for ourselves. We hold it in trust for other men. Far be it from us in an imperious arrogance, challenging God's condemnation, to say "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these." Our responsibilities are awful before men and before God. We are set to save the souls of men. We are set to save the bodies of men. Often the soul cannot be saved unless we first save the body, even the earthly body. Our Lord sent us to save both. It was and is His own business among men until the consummation, and we are his fellow-workers, by His high grace, in the vast undertaking of His mercy. We are not here merely to save our own souls, merely to deliver them from final condemnation. We cannot do that without saving the souls of other men. That was the proclamation of Calvary; and our work here is among men incarnate, with bodies and bodily needs, and pains and homely temptations, and moaning cries to the great Father of us all, out of the pitiful weakness and burdens of the body. The Church of God must be a name for all that is helpful, gracious, merciful and loving toward men. She has the world to redeem. She must redeem it as the Lord Jesus set her the example. She must redeem it by love. She must redeem it by sacrifice. She must redeem it by an infinite mercy. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!" Let her faith be mighty; let her hope be clear and strong; but "greater than these" must be her love, her Agape!

Love for those fallen by the way in the cruel strife of "competition" and the hard "struggle for existence"! Love for the lowly, and help and a strong shield over them against the pitiless working of an iron "economic law"! Love for what men have dared to call the "submerged" masses in our triumphant civilization! Love for the little children whose cry goes up to God from the very centers of our enormous wealth--Christ's lambs drowning in the gutters of our rich cities! Love and help for all who have no helper but the good Father of us all above and His Church and kingdom here below!

It has been long in coming, the clearness of the vision; but, thank God, it has come at last; and we wonder that men saw it not before clearer in the dawning, that the world is to be saved by love, that Christ's Church stands for love, that Christian men are to draw men by "the cords of a man"--love. Even the poor beasts, the birds of the air, the fishes of the river and the sea, we must learn, are under our Lord's hand. He careth for all His holy hands have made. Even a sparrow falleth not without our Father; and the helpless dumb things we make our own for our profit, our pleasure, or our companionship, are under the high law which appeals to us because they, too, are creatures of our Lord, and shielded by His infinite love.

So, Brethren, we are set in our high estate and called to our high and holy calling, to prepare the world which He has redeemed for the coming of its Lord and ours; to watch, and wait, and toil; to do our day's work faithfully, looking in unfaltering hope for the hour when the awakening cry shall ring across all earthly nights and days--"Behold, the King cometh!"--and His knock shall shake the gates of mortal life!

And now, Brethren, we commit you to His eternal love! "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen."

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