Project Canterbury





The House of Bishops











Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010



IN compliance with one of our canons, the Bishops beg leave, at the close of the Triennial Convention of 1847, to address themselves in a Pastoral Letter to the members of our Church in these United States. Although subjects of great importance and painful interest have been under consideration, and the same been earnestly discussed, it is most gratifying to reflect that, through the restraining influences of the Holy Spirit, our public discussions have been conducted with great moderation and propriety, and that, under the superintending providence of God, our deliberations have terminated in the adoption of measures which we may be permitted to hope will result in the best interests of the Church. Let it be the resolve of each of us that we will use our best endeavors to promote this happy result, and let our prayers be offered up to Heaven for that blessing without which all the efforts and counsels of man will be unavailing.

[4] The Bishops, as directed by the 8th canon of 1844, have had before them, from all parts of our wide-spreading communion, reports of the progress and condition of the same during the last triennial period, and are happy to be able to state that God still vouchsafes to grant unmerited blessings to our Church. Her cords are still lengthening and stretching into new portions of the land, and her stakes strengthening where she was already established. In the number of new churches built and congregations formed in some of the Dioceses, in the additions to the communion in others, and in the encouraging manner in which most of the reports speak of the general condition of their Dioceses, we cherish the hope that there may be seen the signs of something far more important than any outward prosperity; for it would yield us no consolation to hear of numbers being added to the Church, unless it was accompanied with the good hope that they were of such "as shall be saved." While, however, we should thank God for the past, and take courage, hoping for more of the divine blessing in the future, it becomes us in deep humility before God to inquire how faithfully we have used the many talents committed to our trust; and whether, if we had been more diligent in the performance of all our duties, we might not have received a much larger effusion of the Spirit for the conversion of sinners, for the perfecting of saints, and the effectual operation of all the institutions of the Church. When we consider the many advantages with which we are favored for the promotion of pure and undefiled religion, and think upon the wealth, intelligence and influence belonging to our communion; when we remember the freeness and fulness of God's grace to his people who pray unto him through his Son Jesus Christ; when we read the sure promises of his word to those who preach it faithfully, and make full proof of their Ministry, must we not believe that, if [4/5] all these had been more diligently used in a spirit of faith and prayer, God's blessing would have much more abounded. Had more faithful and importunate prayer been offered up to the great Lord of the harvest, what an increased number of faithful laborers might have been sent into the great field of the world! If a deeper feeling for souls perishing through lack of knowledge had animated our bosoms, would our missionary societies have so much cause to complain that the means of doing their great work in the most effectual manner are so scantily afforded? While rejoicing, therefore, at what has been done, and in the blessings granted, it becomes all to mourn that so much has been left undone, and so many blessings thereby forfeited. God's true children, and especially his faithful ministers, have always been disposed thus to humble themselves at the thought even of their best works, and wonder that they should still be permitted to serve such a master, and labor in such a cause, unprofitable and unworthy as they feel themselves to be.

To these few remarks on the general condition of the Church we have only to add, that one new Diocese has been admitted to our Union, the Diocese of Wisconsin, one beloved brother welcomed into our house, the Bishop of Pennsylvania; and that immediately after our separation another, most worthy of our confidence, will, by divine permission, be consecrated for the Diocese of Maine.

Having thus, in compliance with past usage and the expressed wish of our brethren, the Clerical and Lay Delegates of the Convention, noticed such facts as seemed to require our special attention, we proceed as heretofore to address a few words of counsel to the ministers and members of our communion scattered abroad through this widely extended and highly favored land. [5/6] In recurring to the Pastoral Letters which have been addressed to the Episcopal Church of America from its first establishment to the present time, we perceive that great care has been taken to present, with due prominence, and in just proportion, not only the great doctrinal features of our holy religion, but those peculiarities of our external organization, which, as we believe, have come down to us with a divine sanction from the times of the Apostles. Nor has it been omitted from time to time to warn against any movements which seemed to threaten either the soundness of the "faith once delivered to the Saints," or the integrity of the Church in its external arrangements as received from our fathers. Trusting that these admonitions have not been without some salutary influence in times past, and hoping that they will not be forgotten in time to come, we shall on the present occasion forbear their repetition, and invite the serious attention of the Church at large to a few topics of a more practical nature, whose importance all must feel, and about which, surely, there can be no diversity of sentiment whatever.

We have already said how much it becomes us to be thankful that notwithstanding our unworthiness, and that we have come so short of our duty in all things, God has still vouchsafed to bless the feeble efforts which have been made for the extension of his kingdom upon earth; and that our endeavor should be, by increased fidelity and zeal, to obtain, through the intercession of our blessed Redeemer, much larger measures of grace in time to come.

We would endeavor to impress this great duty upon your minds by a few words of affectionate counsel, addressed to the ministers and members of our communion.

[7] And first, we speak to our dear brethren in the Ministry. How deeply affecting to us is the consideration that, from the established relation between us and those committed to our charge, it must ever be as a general truth, that what the clergy are in point of doctrine and personal holiness, such will be for the most part the character of the people. While a greater blessing cannot be granted to a people, than pastors after God's own heart, the heaviest of all calamities which can befall them, are pastors who cause them to err. What responsibilities then are laid upon us to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God. We are and must be, to those who hear us, "a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death;" and therefore may we well exclaim, "Who is sufficient for these things?" It is, however, blessed be God, most encouraging to us in view of our great work, and the account to be rendered, to reflect that there is no duty committed to man in which he has such an assurance of the divine blessing, as the work of the Ministry. If, according to our ordination vows, we labor "as much as lieth in us," "drawing all our cares and studies that way," or according to God's commands, "give ourselves wholly to the work," "taking heed to ourselves and the doctrine and continuing in them," we shall not fail to be saved ourselves, and to be the instrument of salvation to many who hear us. Let us then, dear brethren, as we wish to have an Apostolic Church, not only in outward order but in inward life and holiness, labor as ministers of God to fulfill our work in the spirit of the holy Apostles. They never ceased to realize what they were, what they had to do, and what infinite interests depended on their faithfulness as "Ambassadors for Christ." They gave themselves entirely as living sacrifices, consecrated in every affection and faculty to the work. Their constant theme, publicly and from house to house, was "Jesus Christ, and him [7/8] crucified." To set him forth in his glorious person and in his gracious offices, as the Saviour of sinners; to convince men of their need of his justifying righteousness, and to lead them by a true repentance and a living faith to embrace it, and then to walk in holiness and righteousness as becometh saints, was their all-absorbing desire and constant labor. Thus engaged, little did they care for this world's goods and honors; and, dear brethren, let us all walk by the same rule, and mind the same things, and so will the work of the Lord prosper in our hands.

While we thus exhort our brethren of the Ministry to the most entire devotedness of themselves to their whole work, and to a personal holiness which shall serve as a bright example to their flocks, and while we urge them to the faithful use of the word as the mighty instrument for the conversion of souls, we would not be unmindful of that part of their ministry which consists in the due and solemn administration of the Holy Sacraments, ordained by Christ himself. In order that these heavenly ordinances may be what God designed them to be, and as our article happily expresses it, "sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us," let us be careful to see that those who come to them "do rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same,"--that it may not be to their condemnation, and to the lessening of these holy ordinances in the esteem of others. To this end let those who in riper years are admitted to Baptism, as well as those who for the first time come to the Lord's Supper, be faithfully instructed in the nature of that living faith and heartfelt penitence, without which, according to God's word and our own articles and offices, they cannot worthily partake of either. As we would also do our part towards commending and making most [8/9] effectual the interesting ordinance of Infant Baptism which our Church rightly retains "as most agreeable to the institution of Christ," let us see that it be not done in a corner, as though we were ashamed of it, or doubted of its acceptableness to God, but publicly, before the congregation, having the prayers of God's people, and with "the answer of a good conscience" on the part of those presenting them. Nor can we be too earnest in exhorting our dear brethren to regard these little ones as lambs of Christ's flock, whom they are bound most carefully to watch over and provide for. This is a duty which they cannot without great guilt devolve on others, however lawful it may be to avail themselves of the aid of others in order to perform it more effectually. We highly esteem, and commend, as auxiliaries to the Ministry, where they are conducted by pious and intelligent teachers, the Sunday-schools of the Church, but hope they will never supersede the duty enjoined upon all pastors, by the Canons of our own and mother Church, openly, before the congregation, to instruct the children in the truths of our holy religion, as a guide using the catechism provided by the Church. By the right use of such provision of the Church, our ministers will be enabled to fulfil a most important part of their duty--the right preparation of the young for the renewal of their baptismal vows in the solemn rite of Confirmation. Let this be faithfully performed, and the qualifications for a public confession of Christ with a view to the participation of the Lord's Supper, be set forth according to the plain design of our standards, and we cannot conceive how a more effectual barrier can be raised against the introduction of the unworthy into full communion with the Church, so far as that communion consists in the participation of its ordinances. By a steady, persevering, and hearty devotion to these and other duties which we have not time even to enumerate, the Bishops [9/10] are well persuaded that should we be permitted again to meet in General Convention, the representatives of the different Dioceses will be able to furnish a far more encouraging account of the spiritual prosperity of our Zion.

With these few words to our beloved brethren of the Clergy, we turn for a moment to the not less beloved of the Laity, addressing ourselves to them with paternal confidence and affectionate solicitude.

We are well aware that, as Ministers of Christ, our comfort and usefulness, and the prosperity of our communion, do, under God, depend largely on the people who constitute our charge. Such was the mind of St. Paul in regard to this important relation. Hence, in his second Epistle to the Corinthians, he thus expresses himself: "Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men." The conduct of those who profess the Gospel is regarded as the legible manifestation of the spirit and instructions of their religious teachers and guides. Men do and will judge of the nature of our religion, and form their estimate of it, from the general temper and deportment of those who call themselves Christians. Hence the deep concern of the Apostles, expressed in various ways, that the walk of Christians should be worthy of their holy vocation, that "their conversation should be as becometh the Gospel." Where this consistency is found, and in proportion to its prevalence, the beauty and excellence of our blessed religion will be understood by minds of every capacity, and felt by persons of every grade of moral character. This most happy practical influence we earnestly covet for your own advancement and comfort in the Divine life, and on account of its salutary influence in commending our common faith to those who are yet strangers to its power. When those who [10/11] have named the name of Christ are careful to depart from all iniquity, studious to avoid all sinful conformity to the world, diligent in cultivating the graces of the Spirit--when they bring forth plenteously the fruits of righteousness, and live in unity and godly love, they thus furnish a clear and excellent commentary on the Christian ministry--a commentary "known and read of all men." Suffer, then, one word of exhortation, while we affectionately beseech you that "as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more." To you, as to the first disciples, it may be said: "All things are yours." Yours are the oracles of God, which are able to make you wise unto salvation. Yours are the exceeding great and precious promises, by which we become partakers of the Divine nature. Yours are the ministers of the everlasting Gospel, to whom, in the faithful discharge of their duty, the presence and blessing of Christ is pledged. Yours are the Holy Sacraments and other means of grace, which, rightly used, insure the spiritual benefits for which they were instituted. Having such advantages, how much may be expected of you! How should you be continually growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, walking in the truth yourselves, and causing your light to shine all around you for the benefit of others! While this is the privilege and duty of all Christians, at all times, in all places, we feel bound to say, that at this time, and in this land, the lay-members of our communion, by reason of their position in society--high and commanding as they must feel it to be, by reason of the past history and present circumstances of our Church--are brought under the most solemn obligations to aim at the highest eminence in all spiritual attainments, and to come behind none in every good work. We wish them to be enlightened Christians; and, in [11/12] order to this, we do not discountenance, but most earnestly urge them to, the searching of the Scriptures daily, that they may see whether the things we speak be so, and thus to prove all things, holding fast only to that which is good.

Instead of thinking that ours is the exclusive privilege of intercession, we wish them to pray for us continually and most earnestly, that we may open our mouths boldly and speak as we ought to speak. We call on them to be co-workers together with us, as we with Christ, for the extension of his kingdom in all the ways appointed for them of Heaven. There are those who seem to think, that when they have contributed their proportion to the temporal comfort of God's ministers, the duty of co-operation is over. Far be it from us to encourage such an unworthy thought. And yet the Bishops feel that they may be permitted, on this occasion, to speak one word in behalf of their brethren, many of whom are very poor in this world's goods. We would say to the Laity, that the duty of providing for them, though not their only duty, is yet a very necessary part thereof, and that the inspired Apostle, while asking nothing for himself, yet earnestly pleaded for his associates. If your ministers are devoted to the promotion of your spiritual benefit, it is but right that you should pay a due regard to their temporal wants. We would not have them to be burthensome to you by unreasonable demands, nor should you consent to see them bowed down under a weight of care, lest their very necessities, and the necessities of their families, be unsupplied. The ministers of God are yours, not to serve you for nought, or for a most insufficient support, but to minister to you faithfully in spiritual things, and to be ministered unto kindly by you in temporal things. Therefore, by a due attention to their temporal necessities, encourage them, we beseech you, to give themselves wholly to the work of the Ministry, [12/13] that they may thus make full proof thereof. But think not that in doing this you have discharged all which God requires of you. Each one of you in his vocation, according to age and other circumstances, must, by word and deed, be auxiliary to the Ministry in your several parishes. Parents must aid them by bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The heads of families must aid them by the instruction given to their domestics, and by the pious regulation of their households. Each one should be a priest in his own house, and so avert that fury which is threatened against all those families which call not on the name of the Lord. Of all Christians it is written, that they are not only a peculiar people, but a "royal priesthood," to show forth the praises of the Lord; and never, through any false modesty, must they shrink from this high responsibility. Not Christian Ministers only, but Christian people, are appointed to be as salt to the earth and light to the world. With the Apostle, therefore, we would constantly affirm, that they which have believed be careful to maintain good works, for they are acceptable to God, and profitable to us and our fellow-men. While we are saved by grace through faith, and not of works; while there is, and can be, no merit in man, all merit being in our Blessed Redeemer--yet it is the bounden duty of all the redeemed so to live that Christ may be glorified in his Saints, and admired in all those who believe; and if this be not their earnest desire and honest endeavor, it is thereby shown that they are none of His. And now, brethren beloved, permit us to sum up all our exhortations on this head, in the beautiful and comprehensive words of an Apostle: "Finally, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good [13/14] report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Few and plain have been our words, dear brethren; yet, if even these be humbly received and faithfully observed, it will not be in vain that your Bishops have been permitted to address you once more; and yet, before we take a last farewell, we must speak one word to you, not merely as Ministers and Members of our beloved Church, planted by God's right hand in this western world, but as individuals of this great nation, as citizens of this highly favored land. Destined to be a mighty instrument in God's hand for great purposes towards his Church and the whole human race, our country is an object of the deepest interest to the philanthropist and the Christian. Great has been the favor of Heaven towards it for a long series of years. The blessings of civil and religious liberty are enjoyed by us in an unexampled degree. Our fertile soil yields more than is needed for our own use, although the population of the land increases with a most fearful rapidity. The poor and suffering of the old world are annually pouring themselves by thousands and hundreds of thousands into this land of abundance, but still it overflows. During the past year, when, in the Providence of God, famine with all its attendant horrors was permitted to visit one portion of the land of our forefathers, and when desolation seemed about to reign therein, that God who first gave the means, put it into the hearts of our fellow-citizens to bring forth of their abundance, and bid the winds and waves waft their stores to the rescue of thousands from the most horrid form of a slow, consuming death. The prayers of perishing millions and the gratitude of a nation have been ours, while the thus mitigated calamity, by the overruling providence of God, will help to cement a blessed union [14/15] between two of the greatest nations in Christendom. May that union never be broken, but continue to strengthen more and more! and may England and America be ever found not only ready to pour forth their treasures each on the other whenever the time of need shall come, but to unite in every Christian effort for the conversion of the world! May they be generous rivals only in what is great and good, and for the benefit of a fallen race!

Gladly would we now conclude, and contemplate nothing but love and peace throughout the world; but that happiness is forbidden us. Our country is once more involved in the horrors of war, the end whereof can only be seen by the Omniscient One. Friends, neighbors, children, husbands, have been called to battle in a distant land. Many who have already fallen lie buried far from their homes. Others are covered with wounds, and no kind relative is there to bind them up; while disease has swept away its thousands. How many more may bleed and die, and what other calamities may ensue, is all unknown to us. But without in the least interfering with questions which divide and agitate the minds of our fellow-citizens, and from which your Bishops have always abstained in their Pastoral Addresses, we feel solemnly bound to follow the example of the inspired Apostle, and in his words exhort, that "supplications and prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men;" especially for those "that are in authority, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty." We doubt not but that thousands of hearts have already been thus lifted up in fervent prayer; but it would be a great neglect on our part to permit such an occasion as this to pass, without a special call upon those whom we address to perform their duty faithfully, by continued and earnest [15/16] entreaties to the God of Peace to bring to a speedy termination the warfare which now afflicts this continent, as well as to make wars to cease ever to the ends of the earth. But should God for our sins refuse to grant our petition--should war still continue to rage abroad and strife to prevail at home, then let us still pray that all may be overruled for good--that the kingdom of Christ may be advanced thereby, and the happy period soon arrive when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of Christ, and the whole earth be covered with the knowledge of the Lord. And now, commending you all to the grace of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, we bid you an affectionate farewell.

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