Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Maryland,
Clergy and Congregations of said Church.
This Pastoral Letter, though particularly addressed to the Diocese of Maryland, contains sentiments well worthy of the serious attention of the Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church in general. And its Apostolic simplicity and fervour cannot fail to render it interesting to every lover of evangelical truth.
To the Ministers, Vestries, and Congregations
of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Maryland.
THE Convention of this year having requested me to address to you a pastoral letter, I should have endeavoured to comply with their request without delay, had the state of my health permitted. But since the last Convention, Providence has thought fit to render my returns of sickness more frequent and severe than usual. Yet while the Almighty is pleased to continue to me the enjoyment of reason, I would employ it, as far as I can, in the service of our common Lord; and the nearer I approach the completion of the hopes which Christianity gives, the more ardent ought to be my desire of promoting the temporal and eternal welfare of those whom I leave behind.
To you then, my Brethren of the Clergy, I must first express the earnest wish of my heart, that, as I have been instrumental in clothing many of you with the sacred character of Labourers in the vineyard of Christ, I may, while I live, have the unspeakable joy of witnessing the fruit of the united labours of us all, in the increase of rational and vital religion; and that in that kingdom where all painful obedience shall be at an end, we may be able to join our mutual congratulations and praises, to the Giver of all good, with those souls whom the Redeemer shall have snatched from the evils of the world, and whom we shall have had the happiness to lead, through dangers and temptations, to the possession of the promised reward.
First of all then, my dear Brethren, let me remind you of the solemn vows which you made at your ordination, in the presence of God, of Angels, and of men, to preach the Gospel of Jesus. If your fervent desire is to increase the kingdom of righteousness, of peace and joy; to win souls to Christ; thereby diminishing the evils of our fallen state, and multiplying its joys,--if, with the eye of faith fixed on him who trod the same path before you, whose gracious Spirit is with you, whose heavenly words have been left on record for your instruction and comfort, you long to receive that best and most significant of all applauses, "Well done, good and faithful servants,"--if, like the Apostles, and many of your fellow-labourers in every age of the Church, your full determination is to testify the Gospel of the grace of God; to finish your course with joy; having many seals of your ministry in the day of the Lord; the difficulties and discouragements which occur in your Christian vocation; the reproach which, by the thoughtless and profane, is sometimes cast upon the Ministers [3/4] of religion; the privation of many pleasures, as they are unwisely called, which, to the votaries of the world, seem the only desirable blessings--all these will be accounted by you as nothing, while you eagerly press onward, for the prize of inestimable value. I cannot, therefore, too earnestly beseech you to lay the foundation deep and strong in your own hearts. But I will suppose this foundation already laid; that your hearts, renewed by divine grace, glow with love to God and charity to man; that you are rooted and grounded in a lively faith; and that your whole souls and hearts are given to your profession. Then your labours in the service of Christ are, and will be, blessed. Easily will you obtain the victory over a world lying in wickedness; and nothing can deprive you of the present rewards of piety and virtue,--peace of mind; the joy of doing, and being, good; the strong persuasion that you are working together with God; that you are protected by an omnipotent arm; assisted and directed by unerring wisdom; and that the fidelity of God is pledged to make all things work for your present and everlasting good. The fate of the unfaithful and insincere in the work of the ministry, it is necessary frequently to recall to your thoughts; that, by the terrors, as well as the goodness of the all-seeing Judge, you may persuade yourselves and others to strive against languor and remissness, and to be in all respects worthy of your exalted privileges and hopes.
Trusting, therefore, that what I now say meets a zealous advocate in your own breasts, let me farther exhort you closely to adhere to the Articles of our Church, lately ratified by the highest Ecclesiastical authority. They are no new articles. They are the same (with the exception of a few omissions, which our situation made expedient, or which the most careful and deliberate investigation suggested) with the Articles of the Church of England; of that Church, which is and has been, for almost three hundred years, the glory of the Reformation; which has been a wall of fire to repel and destroy the assaults of enthusiasm and infidelity; which has been to the Protestant churches throughout the world, struggling against anti-Christian delusions, an illustrious standard, around which they eagerly rallied and found safety and peace. In the good old paths, in which the first reformers walked; in which your forefathers found peace; in which I am fully convinced the blessed Apostles themselves and their successors walked, until a great corruption overspread the Christian world, and its rulers were inflamed by love of riches, and the ambitious projects of domination even in temporal concern---in this good way, continue yourselves, and exhort others to continue.
We cannot too often recur to first principles, if we would preserve purity in faith and practice. In this age, especially, [4/5] when many, alas! even of professing Christians, have erred from the faith; when many books are thrown upon the world, and eagerly read by the thoughtless, in which the original depravity of man is carefully concealed, and an apology made for the greatest crimes, under the names of sensibility and refinement,--when, in the form of novels, of natural philosophy, or travels, many attempts are made to lead the incautious into the snares of vice and irreligion, it becomes you, my reverend Brethren, to warn the rising generation especially, of these insidious foes. To your office, a high responsibility is annexed. That you may counteract the devices of the evil one, be firm, be intrepid, put on the whole armour of God. Often place before your hearers the leading truths of Christianity, the corruption of our nature by our fall from innocence, the necessity and influence of the mediation of Jesus Christ, of preventing and assisting grace, of man's free will in rejecting or in complying with the gracious covenant, into which we were admitted by baptism: In short, the essential truths of the everlasting Gospel, which, as they are necessary to all, may by all be understood, so far as to become the articles of their faith. The union of morality and devotion, of faith and good works, is an object so momentous, and so evident, that it needs only be mentioned; indeed, as the oracles of truth are, in this age of free inquiry, open to all, sincerity and warmth in recommending practical truths are rather required in teachers of Christianity, than abstruse and elaborate disquisitions.
While, therefore, I exhort you to remain faithful to your ordination vows, and not only to cultivate a regard to the Articles of our Church, but in your sermons to recommend a diligent perusal and acceptance of them, by the people committed to your charge, let it be your main concern to nourish them with the bread of life, to make them wise unto salvation. Remembering that you speak, and they hear, for eternity, you will endeavour to suit your discourses to particular ages and conditions, without giving offence, by any marked designation of individuals. You will see the propriety, while you labour to awaken to a sense of duty the careless and profane, while you confirm and build up, in sacred knowledge and Christian practice, those who seriously incline to work out their salvation, of taking especial care, that your congregations may be prepared for the apostolic rite of Confirmation. This rite rests upon the highest authority; and if it was a necessary appendage of baptism, even when persons of mature age were baptised (which was generally the case in the conversion of the heathen world), much more necessary is it now, when infants are baptised. Ratifying in their own names, when arrived at years of discretion, the solemn [5/6] engagements made for them in baptism, they prepare themselves for the highest and most authentic act of communion with the Church, the participation of the Lord's Supper, which, in the primitive times, followed soon after Confirmation. This rite also removes, if rightly understood, the objection against the baptizing of infants; and justifies the piety of parents, who, remembering the instability of life, and that a great part of the human species are snatched away before they reach mature age, bring their children to Christ, as he commanded that being taken into the covenant of grace, the stain of their nature may be washed away, and by an early instruction in Christian principles, they may be prepared either for life or death, as Providence may direct.
Ignorance of the Canons may often be pleaded, for want of conformity among the members of our Church. Be careful, as you will answer to your own consciences, and the searcher of hearts, that, the fault may not lie at your door. In occasional addresses, inform your congregations of such as are most important. Endeavour to bring them to the custom of having prayer-books, that, in the worship of our assembled Brethren, they may go along with the Minister, in devoutly making the responses. Explain the different parts of our Liturgy, as required by the Canons and set a good example of a strict adherence to those venerable forms of prayer, which are well known by our congregations, and which have been sanctioned by the wisdom of ages. It is a just maxim, that if the words of our prayers in public are left to discretion they are left to indiscretion also. If Ministers, forgetting their promise of conforming to our Liturgy, shall afterwards deviate from it, the order and peace of the Church will be much injured, and many well-disposed persons either misled, or driven from our communion. In order to preserve this peace, to avoid those divisions, the beginners of which can rarely escape the charge of guilt, let me beseech you, my dear Brethren, to think whether a little temporary applause from man can weigh against the reproofs of your own hearts; above all, whether, upon slight grounds, you can think yourselves absolved from obedience to the law of Christ, who hath told us, "by this shall all men know, that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another."
Gentlemen of the Vestries; in order to give due effect to the labours of Clergymen, and in a great measure to make the person who is your Rector a respectable character, very much depends upon your exertions. Your aid is necessary in many respects. You are more in the world than your Minister is or ought to be. When persons notoriously immoral are found among our members, you will see, by our Canons, that it is your duty to inform the incumbent; that such persons [6/7] may be warned of their sinful, destructive courses, and that, if possible, they may be brought to such a serious way of thinking, as may be attended with lasting good; or that, if incorrigibly wicked, they may be excluded from communion with the Church. And while you consider yourselves as guardians of the Church, watching over its temporal concerns, and the regularity of its lay members, allow me to call your attention to those Canons which respect the conduct of your Ministers. It has often happened, either through ignorance of the mode of trying Clergymen who are guilty of any immorality, or breach of our rules, or from delicacy and compassion for one justly liable to censure, or through a wilful and perverse contempt of ecclesiastical government, that offending Clergymen have been retained in their parishes by their Vestries. The hurtful effects of this ill-judged conduct are evident. It affords to men careless of religious duty, a just cause of withholding pecuniary aid from Clergymen thus situated. It brings our discipline into disrepute, and may drive some from a church, in which such irregularities seem to be countenanced. In order to preserve a knowledge of our Canons, and as a mean of preventing any important business from being done through surprise or mismanaged by the small number of Lay-delegates, I think it my duty to exhort you to be careful in sending your respective delegates to every annual Convention. It must occur to you, that in an age when innovations are so common, there is danger lest a daring and restless spirit, impatient of control, may seek to break through the decent forms appointed for the orderly and devout celebration of public worship; and schisms be introduced by which the unity and peace of the Church may be violated, and the consciences of the honest and sincere be ensnared.
The present occasion has afforded me a mixture both of pleasure and of pain. With pleasure I have seen several new churches planted among us. Many candidates have been admitted into the ministry. They are prepared, and I hope, determined, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, to devote their lives to the service of the Redeemer, and the good of souls. But our divine Master hath told us, that offences must come. Some offences there have been with us; some unstable minds have been unhinged; many heart-burnings and mutual reproaches have arisen; and, as it appears to me, chiefly from a careless neglect or wilful disdain of the Canons, both with regard to Ministers and their brethren of the laity. Would to God I could heal every unquiet mind, and unite all in brotherly love, in the bond of peace, and righteousness of life! That in many parts of my diocess a great revival of serious and devout impressions has taken place, is to me cause of joy and thankfulness to him who holds in his power the hearts of [7/8] all men, and who has promised to be with his Church to the end of the world. May he enable and direct us to have a zeal, tempered with prudence and knowledge, and conducted by his love and fear!
One thing I had almost forgotten to mention, though, when it is mentioned, I flatter myself that no arguments will be necessary to produce your hearty concurrence; and that is, that in order to maintain a conformity to the Canons of the General Convention, relating to the induction of Ministers, the Vestry of every parish should make an arrangement, as soon as convenient, to have their incumbent settled among them, according to the office prescribed by the Convention. Ministers and people should be mutually helpful in labours of love. The relation which subsists between them is a very sacred one. It only begins now; it is indissoluble, and forms a link in that chain which binds the Church on earth to the Church in heaven; which shall be gloriously unfolded at last, when the faithful servant of Christ shall present that portion of his fellow travellers, now entrusted to his care, to the great Bishop and Shepherd of souls. Every consideration, natural, moral, and religious, suggests the duty of decently supporting those who labour among you in holy things, that they may give themselves to this work. As they cannot now, without good reasons, such as the Convention may approve, leave their flocks, so, if you give them a competent support, during good behaviour, it is firmly believed that you will experience the happiest result.
Lastly; let all of us, whether of the Clergy, Vestry, or of the people at large, remember that we form a part of that great family of which Jesus Christ is the head; that we have been admitted into this family by baptism and that the vows of God are upon all of us. Be persuaded, my dear friends of the Laity, to do all in your power to aid the endeavours of your Ministers and Vestries in this good work; adhere to your Church, built upon the foundations of the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone. Bless God that the light of the Gospel yet shines among us. Prize it as the greatest mercy; dread its removal as the worst of evils; and think, if we all improve our talents as Christians should do, how joyful and happy our meeting will be, when the Lord of heaven and earth shall have gathered, from this world's pollutions, all the souls found worthy of eternal life! Amen.
Your affectionate Diocesan,
THOS. J. CLAGGETT,
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Maryland.
Croom, 29th July, 1805.