A PASTORAL LETTER.
THE Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church, at the last annual meeting, 'recommended it to the Bishops to address a Pastoral Letter to the people of the Diocess, exhorting them to attend regularly and punctually on divine worship; to join with heart and voice in the public service; to adopt and maintain the constant practice of family prayer, and to take heed that all things in the house of God, be done decently and in order.' In compliance with this recommendation, we now address you on these important subjects.
I. To attend regularly and punctually on divine service.
Whenever it is clearly ascertained, that any ordinance or institution was appointed by God, all reasoning with regard to its propriety or its efficacy seems to be unnecessary, if not improper. The institution of the Sabbath, standing on the ground of divine appointment, claims our observance in the manner pointed out in the word of God, where we find the account of its original institution, and in this no [3/4] variation is to be admitted, unless sanctioned by other regulations of equal authority. The change of the time from the seventh to the first day of the week, stands upon apostolic practice. But here no variation was made as to the space of time allotted, as to the period of its returning, or as to the general nature of the duties to which it was to be devoted.
That the publick worship of God, is one of the most prominent duties of the Sabbath, appears from the practice of the Jews, from the example of our Saviour and of his immediate inspired followers.--Altho' it seemed to be originally set apart for rest, yet this must have implied not only rest from bodily labor, but rest from all cares, anxieties and vexations of mind about worldly matters. And not only so, but its being sanctified by God must have implied, that it was to be devoted to the purposes of religion. If on the Sabbath there were merely an interruption of the usual labors and engagements of other days--if it were devoted to visiting, feasting or amusements,--or for devising plans for worldly business, it would soon come to be applied to purposes worse by far than bodily labor. Whereas, when the Sabbath is strictly kept holy, it is devoted to the exalted exercises of private and public devotion--of learning the religion of Christ--of meditating upon the works of creation, the arrangements of providence and the wonders of grace. And thus it yields a retreat from the world and a relief from its cares; it stores the mind with the most valuable knowledge, it fills it with the most pure and elevated sentiments, and fortifies the [4/5] heart against the attacks of sin and the encroachments of the world.
We must therefore insist, that our members suffer no consideration whatever, to interfere with their attendance on publick worship on the Lord's Day. For it will never fail to be the case that when divine service is neglected, the Sabbath will be spent in a very improper manner nay, opportunities of religious improvement will not only be lost, but sin will gain ground and corruption strengthen. And how will it be possible, for those who neglect the worship of God, disregard the institutions and sacraments of the Church of Christ, and reject the most distinguished means of grace, to answer for their conduct, at the great day of the Lord! Besides, how is the sinner to be pardoned, who never appropriates the atonement of Christ! How can they hope to be admitted to the Church of the first born in heaven, who never join in with their christian brethren, in the worship of God in his holy temples here on earth!
Those practices that most commonly prevent people from appearing in the house of God on the Lord's Day, are visiting, and feasting. These are altogether at variance with the holy nature of the duties of this day. And we consider ourselves perfectly with-in the limits of our duty and regulations of christianity, when we enjoin on our members, the following plan of conduct for the Lord's day. Let the morning begin with family prayers. Let the public worship of God be duly attended, let the intervals [5/6] be employed in reading the Scriptures and religious books, in instructing the young in the principles and duties of religion, which are well explained in our excellent Church Catechism, and in meditating upon the works of God, especially the plan of redemption. Let the evening then close, as the morning began, with family prayer. In this way would the exercises and the enjoyments of a Sabbath yield a foretaste of the happiness of heaven.
II. The next thing that we are required to address our members upon, is to join with heart and voice in the public service.
Our's is an associated worship: there cannot therefore, be a more erroneous opinion, than that upon which the practice of some seems to be founded, that the people are to be only hearers or spectators during the service of the Church. Our excellent Liturgy is so constructed, that it can neither have meaning nor effect in some of its parts, unless the people join in it with interest and devotion.
The Address is intended to call the attention to the great objects of publick service--And the congregation are solicited to accompany their minister, 'with a pure heart and an humble voice, to the throne of the heavenly grace.' Then, all kneeling, they follow their minister in an humble and devout confession of sin: and intercession for mercy. In this part of the service, every individual must necessarily make his own confession, for it is impossible for any other [6/7] person either to feel the weight of his guilt or to express his contrition of heart. This part being performed, it is highly proper, that the minister should declare to these humble penitents, the terms of pardon, in order to relieve their minds from any fear and doubts on so interesting a point. Then comes the Lord's Prayer, in which, as it was prescribed by our blessed Redeemer, all are required to join, with sincere and devout hearts. The Psalms and Hymns constitute that sublime and elevated part of our service, which consists of praise. And in this every tongue and every heart are required to join with ardor and elevation. And nothing can exceed the Venite, and Te Deum, and the Jubilate Deo, when well chanted or said, in a slow and solemn manner by the minister and people.
To the portions of Scripture, with which our service is finely interspersed, the people are only to listen with interest and attention, in order to treasure up such lessons of divine wisdom as they contain. In the Creed all must join, otherwise it would not be, what it is certainly intended to be, a declaration of the faith of every individual solemnly made in the presence of God. The Prayers require so devout and feeling attention as to enable every individual to say, Amen which implies a wish that every thing asked may be granted--that every pious aspiration may reach the throne of grace.
The Litany, which is an admirable collection of invocations, and petitions, is so constructed as to render [7/8] it absolutely necessary for the people to take part in it. And surely, they who come to the publick worship of God, with sentiments and feelings of heart suited to such an occasion, will have great delight as well as reap great benefit by joining in the devotions. We would hardly hesitate to affirm, that to join in our service, would beget devout feelings in the coldest hearts.
We entreat therefore, with the greatest earnestness and affection, that the members of our Church would join with their hearts and voices in the publick service.
III. We are also requested to exhort our people 'to adopt and maintain the constant practice of family prayer.'
We rejoice to find, that this pious practice has, within a few years back, been daily gaining ground. And even among those who have not adopted it, it seems to be generally expected, and as far as we can judge, always agreeable, that when ministers visit the families of their congregations, they should perform family prayer. This is a favorable symptom, and opens the way for clergymen to avail themselves of such occasions to mingle religious instructions with prayers. The propriety, the good effects and the consolations arising from such a practice, we may hope, with a divine blessing, will more and more strengthen the conviction that it is one of the most important family duties.
 The head of a family is certainly a station of great responsibility; it belongs to him to watch over the spiritual concerns of his little community, and to instruct them in their religious duties--to store their minds with devout feelings and to preserve their hearts free from corruption. And all this cannot be accomplished without a regular attention to religious duties. The world would gain too strong a hold of their minds; their tempers would be apt to become ungovernable--their passions boisterous and their habits loose and incorrect, were they not at short intervals called to join in devotional exercises; and to secure the aid and influence of divine grace. To mingle religious duties then, with their temporal employments--to begin and to end the day in prayer to God, would preserve their minds in a state of purity--keep their principles correct and fortify them against sin. And surely no head of a family--no parent can imagine that he discharges all the duties of his station, by providing for the temporal comfort alone of his family. As spiritual acquirements are more valuable than temporal--as the riches of grace are more desirable than the riches of this world--as the enjoyments of heaven are to be acquired as the highest consummation of man's happiness, and the torments of hell to be avoided as the severest degree of his misery--the parent whose instructions and whose example embrace only temporal things, must be exceedingly deficient in duty and blameable.
 Our Church therefore has provided a Form of Family Prayers for her members, and these Prayers she expects will be regularly and devoutly used.
IV. And, moreover, we must enjoin you 'to take heed that all things, in the house of God be done decently and in order.' When it is observed,, that our Churches are consecrated to the worship of God; that in them his more immediate presence is promised; and that in his presence, the most awful and devout feelings ought to fill our minds, surely it will be unnecessary to enlarge on this subject.
Let it never be forgotten, beloved brethren, that all the means and institutions of religion, are calculated and intended to improve your hearts--to purify your affections and to place them on heavenly things--to enable you to maintain your integrity against all the temptations of a corrupted world, and to subdue all the evil propensities of a depraved nature--to secure the aid of God's holy spirit, and to appropriate to you the atonement of Christ for the pardon of your sins. And we are authorized to assure you, that the use of all the means now enjoined and pressed upon you, will obtain a blessing from God and promote the eternal welfare of your immortal souls.--And not only so, but a regular and devout attention to all these religious services, will preserve your minds from the dreadful influence of overbearing passions--from the misery of perverse and irritable passions--from the horrible contagion of a sinful world, and from the pungent remorse of a guilty conscience. [10/11] It will propitiate the favor of God, which will yield you a source of comfort in all the vicissitudes of life; will give to prosperity its highest relish--to adversity its only consolation--to youth its most valuable accomplishments, and to old age a crown of glory--it will convert the afflictions of this world into blessings--it will render pleasure sweet, because it will be pure and innocent--it will make enjoyment permanent, because it will depend only on that being, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
Such a devout participation in her excellent services, too, will redeem the character of the Church, and restore her to her merited station in the Christian world--As a repository of pure religion--as an asylum from the horrors of superstition and the dreams of enthusiasm--as an ark in which are deposited and preserved all the characteristics of a truly Gospel Church. And when means and institutions shall have accomplished their great end, you will be admitted to share in the enjoyments of heaven.