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The Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church,








Tuesday Evening, October 21st, 1856.








THE favoring Providence of Almighty God, beloved brethren, has brought to a happy close the labors of another General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in these United States; and it devolves on your Bishops to conclude the Session by reading to you our Pastoral Letter. In this it becomes our duty, as chief Pastors over the flock of Christ, to remind you of the high relations sustained by the Church, which is the visible kingdom of the glorious Redeemer; to state the obligations of its officers, and specify the defects which we are bound to remedy, in the various points of its practical administration; and to mark the peculiar encouragements afforded by our position amidst the difficulties and dissensions of the age, to carry forward our sacred work in the spirit of humble gratitude for the past, and of hopeful anticipation for the future. On each of these topics we propose to make some brief remarks, to which we ask your special attention. For you stand before us as the chosen Delegates of the various Dioceses and Territories, appointed to be the worthy representatives of our whole body. And the influence with which this honorable distinction has invested you, carries along with it a proportionate increase of responsibility.

[4] I. First, then, we would direct your thoughts to the high relations sustained by the Church, as the visible kingdom of our adorable Redeemer, established in our fallen world, to be the open manifestation of the mercy of the Most High, and to make known, to all our race, the blessed Gospel of Salvation. It is a kingdom, because it is organized in subjection to Christ, who is the "King of kings, and Lord of lords." It is a spiritual kingdom, because the Church is united to God, who is a Spirit,--by the power of faith in Christ, which is a spiritual life,--working by love, which is a spiritual principle,--governed by spiritual laws, and bound to labor for spiritual immortality. It is a divine kingdom, because it has the infallible constitution of the Word of God, recorded in the sacred Scriptures; the officers appointed by His celestial authority, with their several powers and duties; and the unerring rules of truth and sanctity laid down by the Supreme Law-giver for all its citizens, in every relation which concerns the body or the soul. It is a holy kingdom, because it derives its energies from the Holy Spirit, and attains its object by the holy covenant of grace, sealed and strengthened in holy Sacraments; and it renders to God continually the holy worship of praise and prayer. It is a peaceful kingdom, because its heavenly King is the Prince of peace, and His gift to His faithful people is peace, and they are commanded "to follow peace with all men." And yet, in its present condition, it is the Church Militant, because it is established in the midst of opposition, and is solemnly bound to contend against the kingdom of Satan, and to go on, conquering and to conquer, until all "the kingdoms of our world shall [4/5] become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ." And hence, none can be admitted as a member of this Church until he is enlisted in his Baptism as a good soldier of Christ, "to fight manfully under His banner, against sin, the world, and the devil."

But, although we are appointed to this constant warfare, we do not lose our privilege of peace, because our weapons are not carnal but spiritual, and the war is carried on in tenderness and charity towards our enemies, and our only design in conquering them is to make them "conquerors--yea, more than conquerors, through Him that loved them, and gave Himself for them, and washed them from their sins in His own blood." - The soldiers of the Church are bound to use none but heavenly armor. Their sword is the sword of the spirit. Their helmet is the hope of salvation. Their shield is the shield of faith. Their defence is the breast-plate of righteousness. Their feet are shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. Their power is only of the Lord, whose strength is made perfect in their weakness. And therefore, in all their victories, they are obliged to give the honor to Him who has girded them for the battle, saying, in the language of the Psalmist, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name be the glory and the praise, for Thy mercy and truth's sake!"--and in the blessed words of Christ, "Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever."

II. Such then, beloved brethren, being the relations of the Church, in its high and holy character as the visible kingdom of the glorious Redeemer, established by His grace and goodness in our fallen world, we [5/6] might naturally expect that its success would be fully equal to the sublime ends of its institution. But alas! it is not so. The treasure is committed to earthen vessels. The officers and citizens of this heavenly kingdom are poor, frail men. Too often we have reason to say, with the Apostle, that when we would do good, evil is present with us. Too often we are forced to lament the sins even of our most holy services. And thus it is that when we meet together in the Lord's sanctuary, and on the solemn feast day, we are compelled to begin by an acknowledgment of our transgressions. Thus it is that we are bound to confess that "we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us." Thus it is that even when we approach the Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, we are obliged to admit "that we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under His table." And were it not that His property is always to have mercy, the best and holiest amongst us might well exclaim, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"

This sad condition of our infirmity leads us to the second topic which we offer to your consideration, namely,--the obligations of the various officers, and the defects which we are called on to acknowledge, and as far as practicable to amend, in the administration of the Church, in order that we may make it in all respects conformable to its glorious claims, as the kingdom of the blessed Redeemer. Let us commence then with ourselves, and thus proceed, setting forth [6/7] what we know to be required, with all frankness and honesty, in the words of truth and soberness.

We, that are Bishops, have need, more and more, of that holy self-denial and devotion which become the successors of the Apostles. Seated, by our office, in the high places of the Church, we are, of necessity, known and read of all men. May we at any time forget our deep and solemn responsibility? May we trifle with it by unseemly levity, by any intemperance of appetite, by the ostentation of worldly luxury, by the love of worldly pleasure, by acting so that our very good is evil spoken of, by making ourselves a cause of reproach and scandal to the Church of God? Should we not, on the contrary, look constantly to Him who was "holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners," and to those whom He appointed as His chosen messengers, and from whom we derive our descent? Should we not aim to be pre-eminently examples to the flock of Christ, mild, gentle, affectionate, unambitious, ruling by the sacred influence of truth and love, and only willing to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, for the glory of our divine, Master, and for the progress of the Church, which He purchased with His precious blood? As rulers,--must we not govern with firmness, indeed, but yet with strict impartiality? As preachers,--must we not be instant in season and out of season, boldly rebuking the sins of the wealthy and the proud, and maintaining the privileges of the poor and the humble? As heads of families,--must we not command our children and our households, that they keep the ways of the Lord? As citizens,--must we not be the promoters of good will, and the advocates [7/8] of peace and order? As the chief pastors of the flock of Christ,--must we not avoid being lords over God's heritage, seeking not our own, but always ready to spend and be spent in that service, which is the only perfect freedom? For, just in proportion as we, who are Bishops, succeed in the consistent discharge of our sacred duties, in the same proportion may we hope to see the Church advance in the reverence and love of our people. Not that we can expect to escape the tongue of censure. There is even a woe denounced by Christ Himself, when all men speak well of us. But there is also a woe declared on those "who are at ease in Zion." And surely we can conceive of no malediction more severe than that which must await us, if we are found to "turn the grace of God into lasciviousness," and, while we preach the Gospel with our lips, show ourselves to be the worst enemies of the Gospel, in our life and conversation.

But,--now that we have spoken thus plainly of our own office,--let us look next to our brethren of the Clergy, on whom, as Rectors and Missionaries, the practical work of converting the souls of men must mainly, under God, depend. And here it is manifest that the kingdom of Christ, or the Church, demands the same characteristics of holiness, zeal and constant devotion to duty in the Priests and Deacons, as in the Bishops; because the sphere of operation, though inferior in dignity, is essentially the same. Their personal deportment, therefore, should always be consistent with their sacred calling. We are no advocates, indeed, for the display of artificial sanctimoniousness or austerity. All affectation is disgusting in the minister of Christ, and the affectation of hypocrisy [8/9] or pharisaical pretence is the most repulsive of all, to true religious feeling. But yet, it is certain that if the heart be earnestly devoted to the work of the preacher, it will bring his whole conduct into harmony with spiritual principle. And if it be otherwise, no gift of public eloquence,--no power of private social entertainment will ever avail, to make him a successful instrument for the sacred objects of the Gospel.

The first requisite, therefore, in all the work of the ministry, is--the heart of true devotion. The service of our admirable and affecting Liturgy must be performed with genuine feeling by the Priest and Deacon, if it is to engage the feelings of the Flock. The Praises of God must be uttered with the glow of gratitude. The Prayers must be pronounced with the true sense of humble supplication. The holy Scriptures must be read under the sincere consciousness that they are indeed the oracles of divine wisdom. There must be the expression of reality throughout the whole, for nothing short of this will prevent the deadening effect of cold and torpid formalism. The Sermon must be the work of the heart as much as the work of the intellect. The subject should be chosen with prayer. The composition should be prepared with prayer. Its delivery should be under the influence of prayer, if the Preacher would hope that the Spirit of God will apply it to the souls of the congregation. And, out of the pulpit, the Minister of Christ must take good heed that his life be a commentary on his preaching, since otherwise it is impossible for him to escape the reproach of the infidel, that he is only acting a part, for the sake of an easy and respectable profession. And much more may he expect the [9/10] reproach of his divine Master at the tribunal of that day, when he shall be called to give an account of his stewardship, and to answer for the ruin of the flock committed to his care.

From the work of the Ministry, beloved brethren, we would next ask your serious attention to the share which the Organist and the Choir are called upon to take in the public duty of devotion. In the ancient Church, there was a far higher solemnity attached to the office of Chorister than we behold in our day. He was consecrated to his task by a kind of inferior ordination, and if he was found to act unworthily, he was openly degraded in a certain form of words, because "what he sung with his lips, he did not believe in his heart." [Quia quod ore cantavisti, corde non credidisti.] Assuredly there was good reason in the principle of this, although the form has long ceased to be found in any Church of Europe. For, the singers in the public congregation should praise God in their hearts, or they cannot escape the sin of taking His name in vain. Their work is professedly a part of the worship prescribed, and it must needs be a mockery, if it be not an act of religion. We cannot, therefore, regard it as anything short of a most grievous and dangerous inconsistency, when the house of prayer is desecrated by a choice of music and a style of performance which are rather suited to the Opera than to the Church--when the organist and the choir seem to be intent only on exciting the admiration of the audience by the display of their artistic skill; and the entertainment of the concert-room is taken as a substitute for the solemn praises of that [10/11] Almighty Being "who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men."

Yet this very serious and prevalent abuse was designed to be prevented by the positive rule laid down in the Prayer Book, immediately before, the authorized collection of the Psalms and Hymns. For there, it is expressly made the duty of the minister to forbid all unseemly music, and to give order for such as he may approve in the worship of the Sanctuary. This salutary rule, however, is too apt to be forgotten. Our organists and choirs are generally allowed to suppose themselves the only proper judges of the subject, because the Rector is usually no musician. But although he may be no musician, yet he is the ordained guardian of the propriety and consistency of all that belongs to the public worship of the Almighty, and is better qualified than musicians themselves can be, to decide upon what is suitable to the devotional feelings of the congregation. This is the true standard to be adopted in the music of the Church. For it is the right and the duty of the people to join in the praise of God. "Young men and maidens, old men and children," are commanded to lift up the united voice of thanksgiving. The strains selected should, therefore, be simple, solemn and familiar; and the practice which keeps hundreds standing to listen to the choir, performing a kind of music in which the people can neither unite nor feel any real interest, should be banished from the Church, as totally inconsistent with the object for which Christian worshippers are assembled together.

To our brethren of the Laity we would last address ourselves, although they are first in [11/12] contemplation, throughout the whole range of these remarks. For what is the Church without the people? What is a kingdom without citizens? It was not merely for Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Organists and Choristers, that Christ shed His precious blood, but for the salvation of the world. The Laity, therefore, are the main objects of the Gospel system. For their sakes the Church was established, with all its array of Officers, its Sacraments, its Worship, its ceaseless round of Fast and Festival, of Prayer and Praise. It results, of necessity, that the duties of the Laity are of the highest importance, in the full survey of our subject. An intelligent understanding of those duties is essential to the character of every consistent and thoughtful Christian. And if our people fail in this, the whole divine plan of mercy, with all its sacred appendages, can avail nothing in the end but to increase their condemnation.

But it is only a few of those duties which we intend to consider on the present occasion. We shall not dwell upon the personal conditions of repentance, and faith, and holiness of life, without which no man can be entitled to the privileges of a citizen in the kingdom of the glorious Redeemer, because these are standing topics in the ordinary course of the preacher, and our design is to speak of the system rather with regard to its outward development, for the regulation of which the General Convention is brought triennially together.

The first duty of the Laity, therefore, which we shall notice is, that they "esteem" their Pastors and Bishops "highly in love, for their work's sake," according to the injunction of the Apostle. For what can the [12/13] ministry do for a disobedient and gainsaying people? In all the multifarious business of the world, in its government, its legislation and its honors, we acknowledge the Laity to be the leaders, and we claim no part in their authority. But in the spiritual kingdom of Christ, which is not of the world though it be in the world, His officers are entitled to rule, and the people ought cheerfully to submit themselves according to the express precepts of Scripture. For "we," as saith St. Paul, "are ambassadors for Christ." And our Lord, Himself, addressing the apostles, saith, "He that receiveth you, receiveth me, and he that receiveth Me, receiveth Him that sent Me." The constituted Rulers of the Church, therefore, are the Ministry. With party politics, with sectional disputes, with earthly distinctions, with the wealth, the splendor and the ambition of the world, they have nothing to do. But they are bound to watch over the souls of the people, "as they that must give account." And it is the sacred duty, as well as the high privilege of the Laity, to give them all the aid and sympathy which they need, for the just fulfilment of this most imperative obligation.

The next duty which we shall present to your attention concerns, the maintenance of the Clergy. The ministry who serve the altar have a right to live by the altar. The laborer is worthy of his hire. It is a grievous charge to bring against the Laity that they often suffer their Pastors and their Missionaries to wear out their very life, in a constant struggle with poverty, while those for whom they labor are wasting, in vain superfluity, ten-fold more than would be required for the reasonable support of the Gospel. This [13/14] evil is already producing its sad results, in driving many of the Clergy into other pursuits, and in discouraging our youth from undertaking the work of the ministry. At this moment there are several hundred vacant Parishes in the United States, which have little prospect of being soon supplied. And if the people will not learn to understand the obligation which rests upon them, in sustaining the Pastors of the Church, the consequences must ultimately be such as we should tremble to contemplate.

The book of the prophet Malachi gives us a solemn warning on this subject, delivered to the chosen Israel. Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me, saith the Lord. But ye say, wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the store house, that there may be meat in my house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it:" [Mal. iii. 8.]

Here we learn, by the word of God, the necessity which rests upon the people to set apart a just proportion of their property, for the support of public worship, if they would avoid, on the one hand, a national curse, and secure, on the other, a national blessing. The Israelites were bound to give the tithe or tenth part of their yearly income, besides other offerings, for the maintenance of the priesthood. The people of Christ are free from this precise standard of requirement in the ceremonial law; but they are not free from the principle nor from the duty of [14/15] contributing, according to every man's ability. For this support is equally indispensable now, and always will be, to the end of the world. The Clergy must be enabled to live with reasonable comfort, or they cannot labor. Should it prove, therefore, to be our unhappy lot that the Laity neglect or refuse to fulfil, with care and conscientiousness, this essential part of their obligations to the Redeemer, the result must become gradually worse and worse, until there is a total famine of the word of God, and along with it, the curse of the Almighty. Our Churches will then fall into ruin. Our Sabbaths will be desecrated. There will be no tongue to utter the tidings of salvation. There will he no hand to break the bread of life. There will be no religion left to guard the oath of office, and the administration of the law. There will be no morality to govern the conscience. Atheism, infidelity, and licentiousness will stalk in triumph throughout the land. Our national glory will go down in violence, in anarchy and blood. And our favoured country, in following the sin, will likewise experience the awful fate of ancient Israel.

Your Bishops, beloved brethren, could not discharge their duty on the present occasion, without solemnly admonishing you that we are approaching this very point of danger. The inadequate amount of increase in the number of Candidates for the Ministry, and the long list of our vacant Churches and Missionary Stations, should warn us of our peril in time to avoid it. A most vigorous effort of our thoughtful Laity is greatly needed, under a just estimate of their responsibility in this very serious matter. A powerful stimulus must be given, by conscientious and [15/16] enlightened minds in every quarter, to the maintenance of the Clergy, to the support of our existing Theological Seminaries, Church Schools and Colleges, to the establishment of others, and to the encouragement of pious and qualified young men to undertake the ministerial work. And prayers should be offered with daily fervency to the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth laborers into His harvest, and inspire the hearts of His people with resolution to sustain them. For the Ministry is an essential instrument of the whole divine system. How shall men believe unless they hear? How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent? These questions are put by the inspired Apostle as if they admitted of but one reply. And that reply it is incumbent on our Laity to give by their liberality and zeal, under the full conviction that in no other way can the Church make any effectual progress in the conversion of mankind. Nay more; in no other way can we avoid a gradual decline, through the baleful but increasing influence of worldliness and apathy.

We proceed to notice a third defect, which it rests upon the Laity to rectify, and this lies in the all-important work of male education. It is a mournful and alarming fact, that, as a general rule, boys are found so much fewer in number than girls, in all our Sunday schools; and that, for the most part, females exceed the males at the sacred rite of Confirmation, in the proportion of three to one. There can be no other reason for this, than the want of due attention to their training. If the fathers of our families were careful to set their sons a religious example, and if [16/17] our schools for boys were conducted, as they ought to be, on true Christian principles, it would be impossible that such a reproachful disinclination to the plain duties of youth could exist in the Church of God. The limits of this address do not allow us to discuss the subject as it deserves; but we could not pass it by without recommending it to your most earnest and prayerful reflection, in the full belief that the lack of religious reverence, amongst the males of the rising generation, is the most dangerous, increasing, and prolific evil of our day. Indeed, we do not hesitate to say, that if it be not effectually checked by the adoption of a higher rule of duty in families and schools, it is enough, of itself, to insure the final decay of the Church, and the certain ruin of the Nation.

III. But we shall add no more, beloved brethren, on the difficulties and deficiencies which duty compels us to enumerate, and therefore we proceed to our concluding topic, namely,--the encouragements afforded by our position amidst the strifes and dissensions which surround us, to carry forward our sacred work, notwithstanding our dangers and defects, in the spirit of humble gratitude for the past, and of hopeful anticipation for the future.

We have reason to render our devout thanks to the divine Head and Sovereign of the Church, that our branch of His spiritual kingdom has been enabled to advance, with steady progress, during the three years which have elapsed since our last General Convention. We need not enter into the details, with which the report of your Committee on the State of the Church has already made you acquainted. Suffice it to say [17/18] that our Domestic Missions have increased in their efficiency. Our Foreign Missions have been prospered by the divine blessing, especially in Africa; and the condition of the Dioceses throughout the United States is generally hopeful and prosperous. Our statistics prove conclusively, therefore, that the Church is growing in effective energy, not by any means, indeed, so rapidly as it might and ought to do, but yet to an extent which demands our humble praises and acknowledgments for the continued manifestations of His favor, without whom even Paul might plant and Apollos water in vain.

We would next observe, with gratitude, that the General Convention which is now closing its session has been the largest yet held, and has been marked throughout with an admirable degree of fraternal kindliness, unity of feeling and Christian courtesy. We have rejoiced to see its perfect freedom from the plague of party spirit, and we could not fail to apply to it the beautiful language of the Psalmist, "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity It is like the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." [Ps. cxxxiii.]

And lastly, we would render our fervent praise to God for the large and increasing favor entertained towards the character of our Church throughout the United States. Standing firm and undivided, in the strength of loving unity,--wisely confining ourselves to our proper work, in preaching the unsearchable riches of the Gospel of Christ--untroubled with [18/19] sectional disputes,--unmoved by political strifes and agitations, we have been enabled to maintain a high, unworldly and consistent course, which has attracted, and is more and more attracting, the general confidence and esteem of all those thoughtful and intelligent men, who are sick of religious war, and weary of religious denunciation. Our Bishops and our Clergy, scattered abroad from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean, are felt to be the fast friends of union, of order and of law. Their counsels are in harmony with the precept of their divine Master, "Render unto Caesar the things that be Caesar's, and unto God the things that be God's." And their influence is acknowledged to be, in spirit if not in power, like His who rebuked the raging of the elements, saying to the furious and destructive tempest, "Peace, be still."

Here, then, beloved brethren, the unmerited goodness of our heavenly King has assuredly granted to us an occasion for lively gratitude, and a strong ground for cheering hope, that the blessings of the future will be like those of the past, only more abundant. Offences, indeed will come. They are the unavoidable fruits of human infirmity. We can only say of them, in the language of Christ, "Woe to him by whom the offence cometh." But, on the whole, we have cause for rejoicing. Let us go on in the same steadfast career, as the officers and citizens of His spiritual kingdom, faithful to our celestial trust, looking to the guidance of His unerring Word, depending in humble confidence upon His Holy Spirit, and strong in His constant truth and power. So shall the pleasure of the Lord prosper in our hands. Our wants will be supplied. Our defects will be [19/20] gradually remedied. And "God, even our own God, will give us His blessing."

And now--it only remains for us to bid you, one and all, an affectionate farewell. May the Divine favor rest upon your labors for the kingdom of Christ. May His gracious providence conduct you in safety to your families and homes. And should it be His will that we do not all meet together again in the Convention of the Church militant on earth, may we meet in an eternal union at His right hand, in the Church triumphant, where, with prophets, apostles, martyrs, saints and angels, we may ascribe honor and glory, dominion and praise to Him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb, forever!

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