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Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops in the City of New-York.

New-York: no publisher, 1880.

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


We deeply feel the magnitude of the duty we are called to discharge by the request of the House of Deputies now assembled for our prayers and counsel. Our Pastoral Letters, issued from time to time, must of necessity have many points of resemblance. The truth as it is in Jesus is unchangeable. The Church as an organic body, and the mutual relation of her component parts, remain the same. Like great duties are always pressing upon us. The warfare goes on unceasingly against the powers of evil. There is a world to be evangelized, sin to be rebuked, sinners to be converted, believers to be built up on their most holy faith. Beloved, we write no new thing unto you.

But while we reiterate those lessons of holy wisdom and practical godliness, which can never lose aught of their importance and indispensableness, and kindle anew our zeal and devotion at the old altar-fires, we remember that every age and region has its peculiar stamp and character. The same great truths must be differently presented to diverse races and classes of men, and at various seasons. We are not to overlook social conditions and prevailing tendencies. St. Paul preached, on Mars Hill to Athenians, in a very different style from that in which he addressed Jews, in the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia. We should endeavour to throw ourselves into the actual breathing world around us, and speak to the living present rather than to the dead past. We should seek to know what are the needs of our country, the tendencies, dangers, exigencies of our times, to what God calls us in His Providence, what traces of His guidance and direction we can discern in our past history, and whither He points us now.

What, then, is our position?

America, when discovered, was called "THE NEW WORLD." The name is appropriate in more senses than one. It is emphatically a new world in which our lot is cast. The seeds of the old faith have been sown in a virgin soil. Many of the old props, upon which Christianity apparently leaned, are knocked away. Time-honoured institutions of other continents are unknown. As individuals here must make their own way, with little aid from rank, ancestry, or patronage, so the Church must make her own way, and evince her power to bless men, without state connection, large endowments, or traditional veneration.

And what is our situation, the predominant characteristics, the prospective destiny, of the country in which our work for Christ is to be done?

Here is a land than which the sun shines upon no fairer, stretching from ocean to ocean, and from the Northern Lakes to the Southern Gulf, unsurpassed for the fertility of its soil, for salubrity of climate, inexhaustible mineral wealth, and advantages of intercommunication, with civil institutions conceding the greatest possible individual liberty compatible with social order, and where conscience and religion are wholly unfettered. Into this land, which is now viewed as a refuge and asylum by those anxious for change in other parts of the world, is pouring an immense tide of immigration. With rapidly augmenting population, and modern improvements in art and husbandry, the growth of the nation in wealth and power is unexampled in history. If it goes on at a rate like the present, its progress will be such as the world has never yet witnessed. But there is reason to believe that the rate of development will increase. What rank will the nation hold a half-century hence?

And this great nation will be an intelligent people. Education is widely diffused, mind stimulated, enterprise hopeful, life intense.

In this soil the tree has been planted. Its growth, at first small, has of late been accelerated. The few Parishes scattered along the Atlantic coast have multiplied and extended until the chants of our solemn service are re-echoed by the surges of the Pacific. The adaptation of our Church has been proved to the various classes of inhabitants wherever she is presented in her simple Scriptural character, and her claims enforced by zealous ministrations and holy living. We believe that she possesses elements and principles of very great importance to the welfare of the nation, and the spread and deep-rooting of the faith of Christ. Amid restlessness and agitation, she possesses stability; amid manifold and increasing divisions, she prizes and prays for unity; amid fluctuating and unsettled opinions, she clings tenaciously to the Word of God and the ancient Creeds. While opinions respecting the origin and constitution of the Church of Christ are to a large extent vague and unsettled, and the distinction between human associations and the Church of the living God is by many unrecognized, she claims for herself a divine commission as built upon the foundation of Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone. Her government is primitive, paternal, efficient, and the share of the people in her polity and legislation is carefully guarded. She has a liturgical service that commends itself to the thoughtful, reverent, and devout. And she affirms her descent through a long line of witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ from the beginning.

Such is the field before us. Such the capacities and endowments wherewith God has enriched us. Shall we enter in, and possess the land?

To obtain acceptance, wide influence, and moral power, our Church must have the confidence of the American people. The Christian body that shall overspread this land and leaven the nation must be trusted. And, to have this confidence, she must prove that she deserves it. Boasts and assumptions will avail little among a people so intelligent, inquiring; and sagacious.

To win this enviable position of esteem and confidence, we believe the following qualifications must be made evident:--

1. Competent knowledge. The standard of scholarship, culture, and attainment must be elevated. Such a Church. must keep pace with intellectual progress; must be able to deal with the great moral and social problems of the day; to grapple with the assaults of infidelity; to meet successfully the sceptic upon his own ground; shed light upon perplexing questions, and direct bewildered minds.

2. Practical charity. Wherever she goes, blessings should follow. Her hand should be outstretched to relieve the suffering, console the wretched, raise up the fallen, guard the young, reclaim the vicious, and minister to human need and misery in their various forms. In a utilitarian age let it be manifest that there are no more effective benevolent and philanthropic agencies than those that flow from love to the Redeemer and the redeemed.

3. Genuine sympathy with her own times and people. She must be, mind and heart, an American Church--not a fossilized relic of medieval ages--large-hearted and alive to the pulsations around her, while firm in faith and immovable from her foundation.

4. Missionary zeal and activity. The influence by which souls are to be won, and minds moulded, is the gospel of our Lord and Saviour. "But how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?" We rejoice to find this duty more and more recognized, and Missionary work a prominent feature of this Convention. The union of the two Houses, as the Board of Missions, to hearken to the recitals that come to us from home and foreign fields, to speak and listen to words of encouragement and exhortation, to devise the most effectual methods of carrying out the great commission to preach the Gospel to every creature, has been a grand and heart-cheering spectacle.

We have begun this work, and the Lord rewards us by opening new doors and presenting larger fields. As the beacon light blazes on one mountain-top, the flame kindles on the next. China and Japan, Africa and Greece, Mexico and Haiti, with our own newly-settled States and spreading Territories, lie before us inviting to holy aggressiveness. We gather already fruit from the great harvest-field, and hope for vastly more. We should attempt great things and expect great things. And energy, zeal, and liberality in this work, so full of promise, are not only indispensable that we may win fresh conquests for Christ, but also to establish our own title to the trust and adhesion of those who confess his holy Name.

5. The Church that is to take strong hold of the nation must show herself faithful; faithful to her divine Lord in holding fast His Truth; faithful to the souls of men, dealing boldly with prevalent snares, dangers, and temptations, rebuking vice wherever it is found, stripping off the disguises of sin, maintaining the cause of the wronged and down-trodden, strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Men may for a time dislike the fearless and faithful reprover, and desire to remain undisturbed in their sins. But conscience awakes at last. There is a witness in the breast for God and righteousness: and the Church that hath sought not to please men, but God that judgeth the heart, will, in the end, secure the verdict even of human approval.

And such a Church must be true to her own principles, and show herself consistent with her profession. A Church, reformed and purified in the fires of martyrdom, that shall be ashamed of her own title, within whose walls shall be introduced, by little and little, practices and rites once discarded, and which, if they teach any thing, teach errors once repudiated, that casts longing eyes back upon the land of former bondage, can take no surer way to forfeit irretrievably the confidence and respect of the American people.

In applying the principles just enumerated, we urge:

1. Upon our brethren of the Clergy to give all diligence to show themselves workmen that need not to be ashamed. Apprehending rightly their high vocation to be labourers in the Lord's harvest-field at a period so critical, with opportunities so grand and responsibilities so solemn, let them make full proof of their ministry, and evidence their apostolic commission. We would have you, dear brethren, richly furnished for your great work. To our young brethren, preparing for the sacred office, we say, Grudge not the time and exertion required for thorough preparation. Aim at clear understanding of the Holy Scriptures in the original tongues. Acquaint yourselves with the results of the ripest criticism. Master not only the elements of theological knowlege, but also connected and subsidiary branches, and this not to parade your attainments or win reputation for scholarship, but that you may be competent to guide the minds of your people, and to handle topics that buttress and elucidate the Scriptures. Qualify yourselves to maintain the inspiration and integrity of the Word of God against gainsayers. Be ready to give an answer to every man that asketh the reason of your hope, with strong assurance, albeit with meekness and fear.

Unbelief has always been one of the formidable enemies of our holy religion, unchanged in spirit, while variable in aspect. The scepticism of the day assumes the form of superior wisdom and profounder acquaintance with the material world, and is at once subtle and bold. It will not do for the Minister of Christ to despise this adversary, or to think that words of authority or denunciation from the pulpit will silence cavillers, or allay the doubts and misgivings of thoughtful hearers. Neither, while he deprecates such doubts, should he impute them as a matter of course to unreasonable prejudice and hatred of truth. Rather let him deal kindly and candidly with the doubter. If he can make it apparent that he is as well or better acquainted with the subject than his unsettled hearer, and can without harshness or reproachful language expose the sophistry and meet the objection, he may, through the blessing of God, deliver those who had become entangled in the snares of popular scepticism.

But while we strongly urge our Clergy and candidates for Orders to fit and qualify themselves to contend with the infidelity of the day, we at the same time express our deep conviction that the vital truths connected with the work of redemption and the salvation of men should be the customary, as they are the noblest themes, of the Ministry. "We preach Christ crucified." We deal with men under varying conditions, but all needing to be brought to repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The heart-plague is universal, and there is but one remedy. To make men Christians, not merely in name but in reality, to enable them to lead holy lives, and to die in peace and hope, nothing will suffice but the old simple, solemn verities of the everlasting Gospel, preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. Let no ambition for display of learning, nor desire to be thought original and large-minded, draw you away from the discharge of your high and glorious errand, as God's ambassadors, sent to beseech men, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God.

2. Our dear brethren of the Laity we exhort fully to co-operate with their pastors in furthering the great interests of the kingdom of Christ. All of us are alike redeemed with the same precious blood, and look forward to the same inheritance. The self-consecration, made by the communicant at the Lord's table, is as full and unreserved as that made by the Minister at his Ordination. And the Christian, who offers and presents himself a living sacrifice to God, will not withhold the time, the toil, the treasure, where-with he can glorify his Saviour. The services of Christian men and women in works of charity, whether for the bodies or souls of men, are becoming more highly appreciated. The Church cannot dispense with such helpers, and desires earnestly that their numbers may increase. There is room and occupation for all who are willing thus to prove the sincerity of their love. The ordained leaders of the Sacramental host cannot fight this great battle single-handed.

The remarkable openings of the Missionary enterprises of our Church, to which we have alluded, demand of necessity increased expenditure. In order adequately to meet present obligations and to take advantage of opportunities which the Providence of God may present, there will be needed the munificent donations of the affluent, and the free-will offerings of the poor, lesser in amount, certainly not of less value in the Master's eye. At the present time, when returning prosperity is gladly welcomed by men of business, when plenteous harvests have rewarded our husbandry, when industry is recompensed and enterprise encouraged, shall the Church ask in vain for the means needed to carry out her grand mission of love, at home and abroad? What can so effectually preserve us from the snares and dangers of increasing wealth as the honouring of the Lord with our substance, and with the first fruits of our increase? The consecration of a liberal share of our means to the Giver of all will prevent our riches from being cankered and corroded, and our blessings from proving a curse.

The manifest prosperity and rapidly-increasing wealth of our country impose upon us the duty not only to remind you of "the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive," but also to warn you against the dangers to Christian sobriety which attend such a condition. The Parable of the Sower is now most applicable. How many hearers of the Word are like the seed sown among the thorns! "They go forth, and are choked with cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection." The whole time and thought of many active and thriving men are given to getting and spending, days devoted to absorbing occupations, and nights to festivity and amusement. What is there left for God and the soul? Growing luxury, extravagance in living, impatience of any restraints upon self-indulgence, passionate fondness for amusements of an exciting and corrupting character, are patent to the observing eye. There is reason to apprehend that these tendencies are increasing among those who name the name of Christ. Entertainments, which a few years ago were deemed unsuitable to those who kneel at the table of the Lord, are now patronized and defended. It seems to be taken for granted that the cautions of Holy Writ against being conformed to this world have been heretofore interpreted in too narrow and scrupulous a spirit, and that a laxer period demands wider range and greater liberty.

Is the Church, then, to take her tone and colour from the world? In a pleasure-loving and frivolous age are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to run to the same excess of riot? Is the baptismal renunciation of the world, no less than of the flesh and the Devil, an unmeaning formula? Is the friendship of the world no longer enmity with God? Such, dear brethren, is not the judgment of your Bishops. Nay: at such a time we are constrained still more earnestly to repeat the counsels and cautions which we have given in our former Pastoral Letters, as well as in other ways. In the Apostle's prediction of "perilous times in the last days," his picture of degeneracy culminates in the declaration, "Men shall be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."

Now more than ever should disciples of Christ determine to lead sober, righteous, and godly lives, and to keep themselves unspotted from the world. The flame of pure devotion and holy love and heavenward aspiration will be inevitably smothered by the deadening atmosphere of places where unhallowed fascinations abound, and gilded vice puts forth her blandishments. "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand."

Among the signs of the times fitted to awaken the anxiety of the patriot and the concern of the Christian is the increasing desecration of the Lord's Day. With the reverent observance of the day, set apart for the worship of Almighty God, is most intimately connected our public welfare, as well as the prosperity of religion. Our blessed Lord has said, "The Sabbath was made for man." It is one of the strong bulwarks of national virtue, order, and stability, a blessed boon to the toil-worn, and the acceptable time for men to learn the will of God and the way of eternal life. We desire to call your attention to our Canon entitled, "Of the Due Celebration of Sundays."

"All persons within this Church shall celebrate and keep the Lord's Day, commonly called Sunday, in hearing the Word of God read and taught, in private and public prayer, in other exercises of devotion, and in acts of charity, using all godly and sober conversation." We affectionately urge our people to do all that in them lies to preserve for themselves and their families the blessings of this hallowed day, and to refrain from countenancing by their example any of the ways of its too common profanation.

In our Pastoral Letters a place has often been given to family religion, but not oftener than its vast importance deserves. Upon the purity and order of the home depends the safety of the State; upon the Christian character of the home, the life and holiness of the Church. Unless our baptized youth are taught the import of their early dedication to God, the Church will not glow with fervent love, and adorn the doctrine of her God and Saviour. Whatever may be her external growth and splendour, her representative type will be Sardis, having a name to live while she is dead. The dangers of which we have spoken should appeal powerfully to parents and sponsors. The seductive aspect of the world, and the throwing down of old defences and barriers, render their care and fidelity now more than ever indispensable to save our children and youth from surrounding temptations, and to prepare them for their duties in the household of faith. Before being thrust into the activities and perils of social life, they should be clad in the whole armor of God. Let not the Good Shepherd be robbed of the lambs of His flock.

Brethren of the Clergy and Laity here assembled, we part from you with emotions of most sincere affection and esteem. None of our General Conventions have evinced more unity of spirit and brotherly kindness. Animated discussions and differences of opinion have never produced any departure from the courteous bearing and mutual respect which become the intercourse of Christian brethren. We carry away with us impressions which we shall delight to cherish. The influence for good of our triennial meetings in drawing together representative men from all parts of our country, and leading us to feel more truly that we are one body in Christ, has never been more highly appreciated; and to your Bishops it has been a great privilege to participate with the House of Deputies in the important and interesting deliberations of the Board of Missions. Let the fruits of our gathering be enhanced diligence in the blessed service of Christ, unfeigned love, and obedient, godly lives, so that those who now separate one from another may all be re-assembled "at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints."

"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

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