PRINTED BY THOMAS AND SAMUEL GREEN.
IT having pleased Almighty GOD, our heavenly Father, that we should again come together, to compare the progress each of us made in the great work committed to his charge--the preaching the Gosp0el of Christ, and reclaiming sinners from the errors of their ways;--to deliberate on the most prudent and effectual means of building up the Church, and enlarging the kingdom of our Redeemer; and to encourage each other to proceed with steadiness and zeal in the arduous undertaking--most sincerely do I bless GOD for the happy meeting, earnestly beseeching him to enable us by his grace, to prosecute our business with prudence, and meekness, and a sincere love for the souls of them that are under our care; and that he would bless and prosper our endeavours, and render them effectual to the purpose for which they are intended.
In the Charge delivered the last year at Middletown, particular mention was made of the necessity of Confirmation, and of the propriety of your explaining to your people the nature of the holy Rite, and the authority on which it stands, that so they might come to it with due preparation, and a mind convinced of its reasonableness and usefulness. I have every reason to suppose that this has been done with the greatest care and fidelity. The numbers of serious [3/4] and well-informed persons who have presented themselves for Confirmation in the various Churches where it has been ministred, are a sufficient and pleasing proof that the subject has not been neglected. This is a matter of sincere joy to me; and must be so to you, and to all good men; and opens a fair prospect of my finding all those Congregations ready for the Holy Solemnity, which I shall at this time be able to visit.
The general state of the Church, however, is such as must fill every serious mind with anxious concern for its prosperity. Its old patrons, who, under GOD, were its great support, have withdrawn their countenance, and left it to stand by its own strength. The time, and sudden manner of doing this, are attended with such circumstances as really double the inconveniences. The members of the Church had in no degree recovered from the loss and damage sustained in the late commotions. Nor had time enough elapsed, to give them an opportunity of arranging any matters, or establishing any funds, for the supplying of that deficiency, which the withdrawing of the salaries from England would necessarily make in the support of their ministers. One years notification previous to the withdrawing of the salaries, would in a great measure have prevented the inconveniences which we now feel: and it is hard to conceive that this would materially have injured the Societys funds, or have disobliged those benevolent persons who so generously contribute to that excellent institution.
But duty requires that every thing relating to that venerable body, in whose service many of us were lately employed, should be considered in the most favorable light. And, in justice to them, it ought to be noted, That their Charter enables them to send Missionaries only into the British Colonies, Plantations, and Factories, beyond sea. When therefore the American [4/5] States ceased to belong to the British empire, they ceased, in a legal sense, to be the objects of their Charter. Thus candor obliges us to think and say. But gratitude has further obligations on us. We ought to bless GOD for his mercy in raising up that Society for our assistance. We have been benefited by it: And we ought to be grateful to him, and to those worthy characters who composed and supported it. The memory of those that are dead, ought to be revered by us: Nor should the present apparent unkindness obliterate the sense of the former benefits we have received from the present members. May GOD reward them! And as they are now exerting their benevolence in other countries--may HE bless and prosper their endeavours to establish true religion, piety, and virtue in them.
On our part, this, as well as every other misfortune, is to be received as the dispensation of GOD--as the chastisement of our heavenly Father: Whether intended to correct something amiss in us and the congregations to which we minister; or to exercise and prove our faith and patience, must be left to every persons judgment and conscience to determine for himself. Probably something of both may be in the case. Our duty therefore requires, that we call ourselves to account, and see wherein we have offended; that we humble ourselves before GOD for our negligences and omissions--for our want of diligence and zeal in our Masters service; that we beg of him his merciful forgiveness of all that is past, and the grace of his Holy Spirit, to amend our lives, and make us more careful and exact in our duty for the time to come. And let us inculcate the same sentiments and conduct on the people of our several cures.
Let this dispensation also teach us patience, and humility, and resignation, and faith; and excite us to obtain that poverty of spirit to which the heavenly [5/6] kingdom is promised. We shall thereby resemble him the more, who humbled himself, that he might exalt us; who became poor, that he might make us rich; who patiently resigned himself to the will of his Father, that he might pay the ransom of our souls, and redeem us from destruction: Setting us an example that we might follow his steps.
Our dependence must now be on our own efforts, the benevolence of our Congregations, and the merciful providence of him who "openeth his hand and filleth all things living with plentiousness." He has cut off one resource, and he can open others: and he will open others, should he see it best for us. To him let us commit ourselves and our Church, in humble confidence, that he who feeds the ravens, who clothes the grass, who protects the sparrow, who numbers the hairs of our heads, who knoweth whereof we have need, who hath promised all necessary things to them who seek his kingdom and the righteousness thereof, will extend his providential care to us also. And while we thus put our trust in GOD, let us not be negligent in using all honest and decent means for our own support, that shall be in our power. Little indeed can a Clergyman do, out of the line of his profession, to increase his income; and out of the line of his profession, it is not always right and proper that he should step. His principal efforts then must be in the way of economy and frugality: By moderation in his enjoyments and expences, to make his income go as far as possible in the support of himself and family, and so that something also may be left to answer the necessary demands of benevolence and charity. If these efforts fail us, and our present income be really too little to support us as becomes the Ministers of GOD, we must, with all meekness and patience, explain our circumstances and situations to our Congregations where we officiate; and endeavour to convince them of their duty to exert their abilities I making some [6/7] further provision for our support; that so we may attend on our duty without anxious solicitude for the comforts of life, and they may enjoy the public worship of GOD, and the sacred offices and ordinances of Religion, which he has appointed in his Church, for their growth in grace and christian knowledge. It is to be hoped and presumed, that these representations will have their influence. Should they not, I know of no human remedy, but a removal to some place where there is a chance of doing better. But be the issue whatever it may, let us remember that it is the dispensation of our heavenly Father, who knows, and who will do, what is best for us. And,
That we may with the more confidence look to him for his gracious protection, we must take especial care faithfully to do our duty to him, as good stewards of those heavenly mysteries with which he has entrusted us. Now,
One great instance of fidelity in our duty, and which we have all solemnly engaged at our ordinations, attentively to regard, is to drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines, by which the truth of the Gospel may be obscured, or corrupted, and the salvation of the people endangered. And certainly there never was greater need of the discharge of this duty, or of contending earnestly for the faith, as it was once delivered to the saints, than at this time.
Deism, with its necessary consequence--no religion at all, or rather adverseness to all religion, if I am rightly informed, has within a few years, made great advances in the United States. Other causes may have concurred; but I cannot help thinking, that the wild, ill-founded and inconsistent schemes of religion, and systems of divinity, which have obtained in the world--I fear I may say, particularly in this country--have opened the way for the progress of infidelity. People of sober reason and common sense may hence [7/8] be tempted to think, that Reason and Religion can never be reconciled. They too who have been beguiled into a belief of such ill-founded systems, or enthusiastic opinions, finding that they cannot be supported, when properly attacked, may be led to suppose that all religious principles are equally unfounded with their own. The next step is to become proselytes to the opinion that all religions are equal, and no religion as good as any.
Our only weapons, are sober reason and fair argument--drawn from the nature of GOD and of man--from the relation we stand in to GOD--from our real state and condition in this world--and from that immortal state which awaits us in the next. That our reasons and arguments may have effect, they should be proposed with perspicuity, and urged with meekness and good temper. All ostentation, and vanity, and every appearance of superiority, should be carefully avoided. We must therefore understand our religion, and be able to give a good account o fit, or we shall not be able to defend it, or to convince gainsayers. And we must understand ourselves too--be acquainted with our own tempers, and able to command our passions, or we shall probably be foiled, through want of knowledge, or through the impetuosity of passion. Religious disputes, no doubt, ought commonly to be avoided: But sometimes duty requires us to enter into them: And that we may do so with advantage, we ought to be acquainted with the principles and doctrines of our religion, the ground on which they stand, and the topics from which reasons and arguments may be drawn, to illustrate and defend them.
Duty obliges me to take notice of other circumstances that will call for our attention.--the prevalence of Arianism and Socinianism. The former of these heresies early infested the Church, and nearly destroyed [8/9] the true faith. The latter sprung from the former, and is the produce of more modern times: And their advocates seem now to be incorporating their systems, and joining their efforts, to discard the divinity of Christ from the Christian system.
It is something extraordinary, that men who profess to believe the Holy Scriptures, should discard a doctrine so plainly and strongly asserted in them, and on which the whole structure of our religion is apparently built. To get rid of the positive declarations of Holy Scripture in favour of Christs divinity, the patrons of these heresies are obliged to recur to forced and unnatural constructions of particular passages, and to affix new meanings to words and phrases, of which the early Christians had no knowledge., attachment to philosophical systems, first adopted, and then made the standard of truth, seems to be the source of these, as it is of many other evils to Christianity. Objections have been made to the Mosaic account of the creation, because it was thought not to comport perfectly with the system of Copernicus. And, if I rightly remember, Dr. Priestly in his letters to the Archdeacon of St. Albans, attempts to overthrow the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, because he supposes it inconsistent with mathematical principles--1+1+1=3--therefore there cannot be THREE persons, and ONE GOD.
It would be well if men would reserve positive assertions, and dogmatical positions, for those subjects they do understand; and would learn to speak with more modesty and diffidence of matters which it is impossible they should full comprehend. We know nothing of GOD but what he has been pleased to reveal to us. And though there must of necessity be many things mysterious in his nature, and works, and revelations, when contemplated by such limited understandings as we possess; yet as his revelations [9/10] are intended for our information, we must suppose the terms in which they are conveyed are, as much as possible accommodated to our capacities, and to be understood according to the analogy they have to our own mode of expression, and not in a sense totally different from, and utterly incongruous with that in which we are accustomed to use them. When Christ says, "I and my Father are one"--are we to suppose that he intended to convey an idea that He and his Father were as absolutely distinct in essence as are two mathematical unities? When St. John says, "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: And these three are one"--EN EISI--one thing--one substance--one essence--are we to suppose them to be totally distinct, so that if the Father be God, and the Word be God, and the Holy Ghost be God, there shall be three Gods? Three distinct witnesses they are, and therefore they must be three distinct personalities: But they are one essence, and therefore one GOD. [I am not ignorant that the authenticity of I John 5.7, is disputed: Nor am I ignorant that it has been incontestably established by the Rev. Mr. Travis, in his letters to Mr. Gibbon] We cannot comprehend this mystery--must we then refuse to believe it? Let us also refuse to believe our eyes, for we can as little comprehend how they perceive objects at ten or twenty miles distance.
When Dr. Priestly can by searching find out GOD; when he can comprehend the Almighty to perfection,--then let him pronounce positively on the nature of GOD, and adjust it as school-boys adjust their sums in addition. He may then too be qualified to correct the errors of expression in divine revelation, and teach the Almighty to express himself better. But let us bow in humble reverence before the majesty of heaven [10/11] and earth: And as we know nothing of his nature, or of his will, but by revelation, let us attend to that--be content to submit our ignorance to his knowledge, and to think of him, and believe in him, as he has represented himself to us.
It is always a disagreeable task to be obliged to mention any matter with censure, or even disapprobation; and I am very happy that the measure of which I am now to take notice, can call for animadversion, only by way of caution. A number of the Clergy and Laity in the southern States, have undertaken to revise and alter the Liturgy, and Offices, and Government of the Church; and have exhibited a Prayer-book to the public. The time will not permit me to say any thing of the merit of the alterations in the Liturgy: But, I am persuaded, by an unprejudiced mind, some of them will be thought for the worse, most of them not for the better. But the authority on which they have acted, is unknown in the Episcopal Church. The government of the Church by Bishops, we hold to have been established by the Apostles, acting under the commission of Christ, and the direction of the Holy Ghost; and therefore is not to be altered by any power on earth, nor indeed by an angel from heaven. This government they have degraded, by lodging the chief authority in a Convention of clerical and lay Delegates--making their Church Episcopal in its orders, but Presbyterians in its government.
Liturgies are left more to the prudence and judgment of the governors of the Church: And the primitive practice seems to have been, that the Bishop did, with the advice, no doubt of his Presbyters, provide a Liturgy for the use of his diocess. This ought to have been the case here. Bishops should first have been obtained to preside over those Churches. And to those Bishops with the Proctors of the Clergy, [11/12] should have been committed the business of compiling a Liturgy for the use of the Church, through the States. This would have ensured unity in doctrine, worship and discipline through the whole, which upon the present plan will either not be obtained, or, if obtained, will not be durable.
And should we ever be so happy, through the merciful providence of GOD, as to obtain such a meeting, great regard ought to be had to the primitive Liturgies and Forms, in compiling a book of Common-Prayer. The Christians who lived in the next age after the apostles, must have conversed with apostolic men, i.e. with those who had conversed with the Apostles, and were acquainted with their opinions and practice, in the conduct of the public worship, and administration of the sacraments, and discipline of the Church. Nor is it likely they would easily, or quickly depart from that mode which they knew had been approved by them; especially at a time, when perpetual persecution and distress kept men close to GOD and their duty: And the world and its concerns could have but little power over those, who daily expected to yield up that life in martyrdom, which they passed in continual devotion to GOD, and in the service and edification of his Church. It would therefore be a good rule, in altering any thing in our stated Liturgy that might be thought to need it, to go back to early Christianity, before it was corrupted by Popery, and see what was then the practice of the Church--what its rites and ceremonies--and to conform our own as nearly to it as the state of the Church will permit; always remembering that the government, and doctrines, and sacraments of the Church, are settled by divine authority, and are not subjected to our amendment, or alteration.
And the best way to ascertain the Government, doctrines, Liturgies or forms of public service of the [12/13] primitive Church, is to consult and attend to the early christian writers. They were the best judges of apostolic practice, because they lived nearest to the apostolic times; at least, they could not be mistaken with regard to the practice of their own times and churches. And whenever we find by these writers, that the Churches of Asia, Africa, and Europe agreed in any particular relating to government, doctrine, discipline, or public worship, we may conclude it to have been according to apostolic usage and judgment. For these Churches were settled by different Apostles and Evangelists; and consequently, what they did, and held, and taught, in common with each other, must have been from the general doctrine, practice, judgment, and authority of the Apostles. We ought therefore to be very careful not to weaken that government, or warp those doctrines, or contravene the principles of the public liturgies of the early period of the Christian Church: For the probable chance is, if we do, we shall run counter to apostolic doctrine and practice.
You see, that it is not my aim to set up the judgment or opinions of particular men--of Origin, Chrysostom, or Jerom, for instance--as the foundation of our religious principles, but the general judgment and practice of the primitive Church, as the best standard of apostolical practice.
It is upon the authority and testimony of the primitive Church that we settle the canon of the new-testament. Give up this authority and testimony, and there will be no good proof left, that the several books of the new-testament were written by the persons whose names they bear. But when it is known from the primitive writers, that these books were universally received by, and redde in, all the Churches, as the writings of those persons to whom they are ascribed, [13/14] their authenticity, and divine authority will be established beyond all reasonable dispute.
The same mode of reasoning will apply to the interpretation of scripture. The present, seems to be the age of refinement, and of what is called reformation, but which does not always prove to be for the better. Every thing human and divine seems to be in the way of being new modelled. Religion in particular, is turned, and twisted, into a variety of appearances; some of then aukward enough; and some tending to very mischievous consequences--the destruction of true religion and virtue, by confounding truth with error, right with wrong, good with evil. Yet all appeal to the Bible, and from it pretend to derive proof to their system. None that I know of, have professedly set about making a new Bible, i.e. writing a new book, with that title: But if they alter the old one, in its sense and meaning, they, in truth, make a new one. And what better do they do, who put new and strange meanings on old words and phrases--who alter the translation, or force the sense, till it bows and bends into a compliance with a favourite system; and where this fails, boldly charge the original with error and interpolation. The surest way to guard against this mischief, is to attend to the interpretations of the oldest Christians, and of the universal Church. Having conversed with the Apostles, or with apostolic men, they were best acquainted with the mind and intention of the writers. They knew the force, and idiom of the language in which those books were written. The manners and customs to which many passages allude, were familiar to them: For they were the language, and manners, and customs of their own country, and nearly of their own age. A prudential regard to our own characters, justice to the sacred books, and to the people of our charge, will therefore require, that we pay a due regard to the more early [14/15] interpretations of the Holy Scriptures in the primitive Church: For we may rest assured, that those doctrines, and that interpretation of scripture, which was common to all Churches in their early period, was from the Apostles, and therefore may be depended on by us. By this conduct we shall secure ourselves against new-fangled notions in religion; against its corruption, by vain philosophy, metaphysical reasonings, and the perplexities of school divinity, which have, one or other of them, been the perpetual corrupters of the true religion: And let us remember, that in religion, novelty and truth can scarcely come together: For nothing in religion is now true, that was not true seventeen hundred years ago. Philosophy may shift its fashion, metaphysics may be in or out of vogue, or may change its principles, or its appearance, school divinity may be nice in its definitions, exact in its methods, and positive in its decisions, but none of them alter the nature of the Christian Religion; that remains the same, and its true principles, doctrines, and practice continue the same now that they were in its early period. It teaches the means of reconciliation with GOD, through Christ: And it teaches the same things now which it ever did, and none other. It is therefore our business to hold the same faith, teach the same doctrines, inculcate the same principles, submit to the same government, recommend the same practice, enforce the same obedience, holiness, and purity, and to administer the same sacraments, that the Apostles, and primitive Christians did. And we ought to do all this, plainly and fully, leaving ourselves, our own interests, and honor, and aggrandizement, out of the case. If men will receive our testimony, we must bless GOD, and be encouraged in our duty: If they reject it, we must pray more earnestly to GOD for them. But let us never think of accommodating our systems, or our sermons to popular humor or fancy; [15/16] nor to the flattering of the pride and vanity of the human heart; nor to the bolstering of men up, in an opinion of their own worthiness, ability or sufficiency; nor to the lessening of the obligation to holiness and purity; nor to the weakening of the influence of the government and discipline of the Church, or of the necessity and efficacy of the holy sacraments. If we do, we shall be false to GOD and our Saviour, to the people under our care, and to our own most solemn vows and promises; and we must expect to receive the recompence of traitors--the condemnation of unfaithful stewards.
Having mentioned the sacraments of our holy religion, forgive me, if I trespass a few minutes longer on your patience, in speaking more particularly on that subject. The inattention of many to these holy institutions, must be a matter of grief to all good Clergymen.
I hope that the members of our own Church are not generally reprehensible with regard to the presenting of their Children to holy Baptism. But the instances of adult Baptisms that do occur, shew that there is somewhere a blameable remissness. If children are suffered to grow up to maturity without being initiated into the christian Church, the want of due consideration, too often keeps them away from the solemn Rite, or bashfulness induces them to insist on its private administration. And should they while unbaptised, become masters or mistresses of families, their children will probably grow up in the same unregenerate state. We ought therefore to be constant, and earnest, in explaining the nature of Baptism to our people; pointing out its benefits, and, in all meekness and love, urging them to a conscientious compliance with their duty: That being regenerate, and made members of Christs mystical body, by baptism, they may be sealed with the seal of the Holy Spirit, in Confirmation, advanced to the rank of adult Christians, [16/17] and entitled to the privilege of celebrating the Holy Eucharist with their brethren,--commemorating the death and sacrifice of their dear Redeemer, and participating in all the blessings of his atonement. And,
Was the nature of this last mentioned institution better understood, I must suppose people would more generally comply with it. In some congregations the number of Communicants is indeed respectable; in others but small. [It must be acknowledged in honor to the female sex, that they are much more numerous in their attendance at the holy Communion, than the men. It may be said, that the softness and tenderness of heart which they possess, the nature of their education, and their mode of life, render them more susceptible of religious impressions, and dispose them better to the exercise of gratitude and devotion. Should it be so, the fact remains the same. They were the first believers, witnesses, and preachers, of our Saviour's resurrection, and seem always to have been the chosen instruments of GOD, to keep up a sense of religion, piety, and devotion in the world. May GOD bless and reward them, and grant that their example may have a proper influence on the other sex! It is certain the same truths do not make the same impression on them. And yet they have the same need of redemption and salvation--The same sinful nature, from which to be delivered--Are under the same curse and condemnation for sin,--and must be saved by the same means, and the same Saviour.] Be it our care then, to set this matter in its true light, by explaining the nature and design of the Holy Communion to our several Congregations, making them sensible of the inestimable blessings to be thereby obtained.
Some writers on this subject, under the idea of making it plain to ordinary capacities, have, I fear, banished all spiritual meaning, by discarding all mystery, from it--making it a mere empty remembrance of Christs death. Others have considered it as an arbitrary command, and an instance of GODS sovereignty over us--requiring our obedience for wraths sake. Others represent it simply as the renewal of our Christian Covenant, and expecting no particular benefits [17/18] from it. The primitive Christians had very different sentiments from these, concerning the Holy Communion, and so I suppose our Church has also. They considered it not as the renewal of the Christian Covenant, into which we had been admitted by Baptism, and which had been ratified in Confirmation, entitled us. Nor as an arbitrary command of GOD, to shew his sovereign authority over us. Nor as a bare remembrance of Christs death. But as the appointed means of keeping up that spiritual life which we received in our New-birth; and of continuing that interest in the benefits and blessings of Christs passion and death, which was made over to us, when we became members of his mystical body. They called and esteemed it to be the Christians Sacrifice, commemorative of the great sacrifice of atonement which Christ had made for the sins of the whole world; wherein, under the symbols of bread and the cup, the body and blood of Christ which he offered up, and which were broken and shed upon the cross, are figured forth; and being presented to GOD our heavenly Father, by his Priest here on earth, the merits of Christ for the remission of sins, are pleaded by him, and we trust, by our great High Priest himself in heaven: And being sanctified by prayer, thanksgiving, the words of institution, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, are divided among the Communicants as a Feast upon the Sacrifice. And they did believe, that all who worthily partook of the consecrated Elements, did really and truly, though mystically and spiritually, partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. Our Church evidently teaches the same thing in her Catechism, defining "the inward part, or thing signified," by the bread and wine in the Holy Communion, to be "the body and blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed, taken and receiving by the faithful in the Lords-supper." [18/19] This doctrine seems to be founded on what our Saviour said in the sixth chapter of St. Johns Gospel, concerning eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which when compared with the institution of the blessed Eucharist, as recorded by the Evangelists, will sufficiently justify the Church in her opinion and judgment. We have therefore a right to believe and say, That in the Holy Communion, the faithful receiver does, in a mystical and spiritual manner, eat and drink the Body and blood of Christ represented by the consecrated bread and wine; and does thereby partake in the atonement made by the passion and death of Christ, having remission through him, of all past sins, and eternal life assured in him.
And now, Reverend Brethren, that you may see how necessary it is for you to exert yourselves in support of the Holy Catholic Faith, let me request you to direct your attention particularly to this country; and when you observe how low some have set the doctrines and principles of religion--How others are depressing the Offices, corrupting the Government, and degrading the Priesthood of Christs Chruch--on the one side,--his divinity denied on the other,--Two of the old Creeds, the guards of the true faith against Arianism and Socinianism, thrown out--The descent of Christ into Hell, the invisible place of departed souls, by which his perfect humanity, and our perfect redemption, of soul, as well as of body, are ascertained, rejected from the Apostles Creed--Baptism reduced to a mere ceremony, by excluding from it the idea of regeneration--And you will own with me, that the strongest obligations lie upon us, to hold fast, and contend earnestly for, the faith as it was once delivered to the Saints--To abide by the government, support the doctrines, retain the principles, explain the true nature and meaning of the sacraments and offices of the Church, and endeavour to restore them to that [19/20] station and estimation, in which the primitive Christians placed and held them. Error often becomes popular and contagious, and then no one can tell how far it will spread, nor where it ends. We must in such cases, recur to first principles, and there take our stand. The Bible must be the ground of our faith. And the doctrines, practices and old Liturgies of the primitive Church will be of great use to lead us to the true meaning of the Holy Books. Judgment and prudence, must no doubt be exercised: But truth must not be sacrificed to prudence, nor must judgment be warped by attachment to system, or compliance with popular error and prejudice.