PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH
H. K. ELLYSON, 176, MAIN STREET.
DEAR BRETHREN AND FRIENDS:
It is directed in one of our canons, that each Bishop "shall from time to time address to the people of his Diocese pastoral letters, on some points of christian doctrine, worship, or manners." The propriety and importance of this, I presume none will question. It has been now nearly five years since I endeavored to discharge this duty, in a letter of some length, wherein some things belonging to the two first subjects were considered, viz: doctrine and worship. It was then inquired, how the points considered should be estimated according to the law of proportion--that is, their relative importance in the light of God's word. I now propose, by God's assistance, to address you on the third topic, and under the head of manners, to speak concerning the conversation of christians in this world, shewing how they ought to live, so that "Christ may be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe." But so identified are the ministers and people of God in all their dearest interests, that it is almost impossible for a Bishop to write or speak to the one, without in some measure embracing the other also. Therefore, though by the law of God and of his church, a great debtor to the people, and now seeking to discharge a part of the debt, I shall not be unmindful of what I owe to my brethren in the ministry, in the way of encouragement and help. Placing myself in their very midst, deeply sympathising with them, and feeling myself as one of them and with them, I would endeavor to strengthen those [3/4] hands which I know are often very weak, and those hearts which are often very faint, by writing something, which, if they shall deem it worthy to be so used, may be read by them to their people as our joint counsel.
The ministers of God, my dear friends, are but few in number, by comparison with the great body of Christ's people, and without their active co-operation can do but little. In one way or other the people have always taken part in the promotion of Christ's kingdom. The inspired apostles refused not to take counsel with them, and ask help from them. Kings and queens, and other rulers of this world, have sometimes been kind nursing fathers and mothers to the church. Sometimes, indeed, they have interfered too much in its concerns. In some branches of the christian church, complaints have also been made of a disposition on the part of lay members to assume too much authority. None such has hitherto been heard in our own, where equal powers in legislation are held by both orders. Injurious must they be, who would sow dissension by seeking to rob either order of their proper authority and influence. God would have every member do its duty well in the position which it holds in the body of the church. There is, in some things, we think, rather a reluctance on the part of our people to assume their proper responsibility, and a disposition to cast an undue share on the clergy, not remembering that the people must be co-workers with them, as they with God. In one sense, we would say with Moses, "would that all the Lord's people were prophets." They are all ordained to chew forth the praises of the Lord, and to promote his kingdom. If the ministers, by their sermons, are to instruct the people--to contend for the faith--to silence gainsayers, and to turn sinners to righteousness; so it is the will of God that all, by "their well doing, may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men;" and "by their good works glorify him." Husbands and wives are appointed to be the instruments of [4/5] salvation to each other; and by the good conversation of the one, how often has the soul of the other been won over to. the Lord. It is for the promotion of other's welfare, as well as each one's particular salvation, that christians are made "a peculiar people, zealous of good works." No man is allowed to live to himself--no man to attend to his own things only, but every man also to the things of others. How great is the influence of one faithful, zealous, and true-hearted layman? It is often so great, that when such an one feels as if necessity were laid upon him to assume the pastoral office, and preach the gospel, and consults the Bishop and other ministers as to the path of duty, they have been at a loss what counsel to give, doubting whether he could be more useful in the sanctuary itself. And Oh! what a comfort and help is such an one to God's poor ministers! Under God, he is as a right arm to them. When in doubt and trouble--when cast down and ready to despair, how good to have such an one to go to for counsel and help! How it consoles him to be able with confidence to point to such an one in answer to the oft-repeated question, "Is the righteous more excellent than his neighbor?" and to feel that his life is one continual sermon, enforcing what is delivered from the pulpit. And if only one such be a great blessing, what would be the effect of a goodly number, who by their lives were ever illustrating and supporting the doctrine of God's ministers. One of the early fathers says of himself, that he was once a follower of Plato, but when he saw the christians, he found that there were none so holy--so temperate --so given to divine things; and this first made him think of being a christian. How should this make all christians ask themselves the question, whether any of the unhappy children of sin around them, have ever been induced by witnessing their holy and consistent lives, to think of becoming christians; or whether it may not be the case, that some of those who have known them best, and witnessed the inconsistency [5/6] and worldliness of their lives, have not been the more hardened in sin and confirmed in their irreligion. Such is the constitution of our nature, that we cannot but be influenced in our estimate of religion by what we observe in its professors. Hence the numerous and most emphatic injunctions to holiness in God's word, with reference to others as well as ourselves. "Whatsoever things are pure, lovely and of good report, if there be any virtue, or any praise," must he thought of by us as to their influence on others. For the same reason we must "avoid even the appearance of evil"--"refrain our feet from every evil way" and "see that we hate the thing that is evil." Therefore, we are exhorted to "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing"--to be "perfect and complete in all the will of God"--yea, even "to be holy as he is holy, and perfect as he is perfect." To some, these words seem to contain severe exactions, to be hard sayings, because proposing a moral standard which men can never react). We ought indeed, my brethren, to shrink from them, not however with a feeling of complaint, but rather as from an honor far too great for us. We should regard it as an unspeakable privilege, to be allowed to aim at the perfection of God--proposing it as our pattern, and though we shall never equal the pattern, yet should we rejoice to know that "God is able and willing to make all grace abound towards us, that we may abound to every good work."
Such zeal and holiness are required of all christians, and at all times, that they may fulfil their appointed office, and be as salt to the earth and light to the world. But there are seasons when it is especially demanded of the faithful to make the fullest trial of their religious influence, in order to counteract peculiar temptations, besetting sins, and prevailing lukewarmness. Scarce were the primitive churches well established, when the last of the apostles was moved by the Holy Ghost to address most solemn warnings against great evils, and earnest entreaties to return to their first love. [6/7] Dark seasons there have been in every age of the church of God, calling for renewed zeal and fidelity on the part of God's ministers and people. The present, by general consent of all the christians in our land, is one of langor and deadness, of worldliness, and especially of great lightness among some of the professors of religion. The ministers of God take up the old lament with too much truth, “who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" for over how few can they rejoice, as those whom they have been the happy instruments of corning to righteousness, and whom they hope one day to present to the Lord as "their joy and crown of rejoicing?" Would that I could render my brethren any help. I know not how to endeavor so to do, with such likelihood of success, as by addressing their people. If I could only succeed in some small degree in bringing them to a right sense of their high duty as christians, I should have done something towards the conversion of sinners. It was the saying of the ancient Jews, that if the neighbor of a godly man sinned), the godly man himself bath also sinned,-thus emphatically declaring the immense power of one man's holy life,-that it can almost prevent sin in others.
Believing in the great power, under God, which private christians have to aid the ministry of reconciliation, I proceed, therefore, to speak to the members of our church in this Diocese, on the subject of their "manners" as christian professors.
But it may be asked, how can you properly bring what has already been said, and all that ought to be said, to effect the end in view, under the head of "manners," (a comparatively light term,) which must relate chiefly to the outward deportment and appearance, in contradistinction to worship and doctrine, which latter make up the religion of the heart? We answer, that though the word manners does relate chiefly to external things, and though our address will refer to such [7/8] chiefly, yet it is by no means restricted to outward deportment, but goes down to the source whence that proceeds. The term, as used in scripture, is very comprehensive. "Behold," says the apostle, "what manner of persons ye ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness." The church has taken the word from scripture, not from the world. Indeed, the world itself has borrowed it from scripture and the church,--though in its use greatly modifying, contracting, and sometimes perverting, its meaning. We would not, however, exclude from it any thing that is really good and lovely, as used even by the world. "Be ye courteous," says the apostle, thereby enjoining all that is gentle, kind and pleasing in our deportment, provided it be without dissimulation. As hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to the virtue which it feigns; so the very courtesy of the world is the imitation of that law of kindness, which should be on the tongue, and from the heart of every Christian. None, however, should despise good manners, even as practiced by the world, and where, we fear, the grace of God does not prompt them. Great is their charm in society, when not evidently artificial, overstrained and insincere, and much do they contribute to the happiness of our intercourse; much more, when the mouth utters good words out of a heart abounding with holy love. Truth spoken in such love, will not only do great good, but generally please more, than the flattering words of dissimulation. One man will refuse a request, by the use of a friendly answer with meekness, so as to give less pain to the petitioner and secure more favor to himself, than another will do by granting the request, because doing it grudgingly and with grievous words. There be some persons--even sincere Christians--who greatly mistake here, not knowing how christian courtesy and candor may co-exist. Declaring their abhorrence of all dissimulation, and wishing to appear very open, frank, and sincere,--valuing themselves indeed on this,--they speak out [8/9] all their mind,--to use a common phrase,--though sometimes to the injury of themselves and the feelings of others. So far from this being required by real candor, it is a violation of the law of kindness, and deserves no better name than rudeness from the lips of folly. Many other things there are, established by the usages of society in its different grades, which go to make up good manners, and the violation or contempt of which, when they are not wrong in themselves, is an offence against good taste and good breeding, subjecting the transgressor to more or less of censure; sometimes to utter exclusion from refined society. As there is a code of morals and manners peculiar to the world, though sometimes coinciding with those of christians, a violation of which is soon perceived, felt and censured, so are there manners belonging to christians as "a peculiar people," required by their religious principles, and the world itself is quick to perceive any violation of the same; and to censure it as a departure from propriety and consistency. That there is a marked difference established, sure none can deny, who read or hear those varied expressions of holy writ warning us "not to be conformed to this world," and requiring us to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds." But the sacred writers, though sometimes dealing in general terms comprehending more particulars than could be specified, and susceptible of application to all the various improprieties which might arise, do sometimes specify certain things, and make the application themselves, lest any should mistake their meaning. Let us honestly inquire if they do not establish a distinction between the manners of christians and those of the world in certain things, wherein there appears to be but little difference in the practice of some professors of religion.
First. I begin with the article of dress. Is this a matter beneath our notice, and of which religion should take no account, because it reaches not the heart, where true piety is [9/10] enshrined? Should we not beware of all singularity in this respect, and with perfect indifference follow wherever the world may choose to lead? Thus do some speak, and many act. In all ages and countries, however, both christian and pagan, there have been some good people who have thought they did right in regulating it by other principles. Civil and ecclesiastical laws have sometimes been passed, forbidding excessive and immodest apparel. Societies of christians have adopted some plain costume, in the hope of preventing the evil. Pious individuals have, by their example and exhortation, sought to induce others to forbear excess; and more or less of good has been the result of all such efforts, though they have proved but too ineffectual to the end in view, and have sometimes been injudiciously conducted. In one of the homilies written by our reforming fathers, this subject is very impressively set forth, and the evil of excess in apparel faithfully exposed. But what does God's word speak to us? for we are bound to listen to none, except they speak according to it. Does not our Lord himself establish a distinction between the manner of christians and all others in this respect, when he warns his disciples not to be careful as to their raiment, it being one of those things after which the gentiles seek? Does not St. Peter establish the distinction, when he warns wives against improper outward adorning, and enjoins the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, as the effective mode of winning over their husbands to the Lord,--saying, that thus did the holy women in old times? Did not St. Paul second and support him, when he exhorted "that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array, but which becometh women professing godliness, with good works?" I know that no particular costume is here enjoined,--no amount of money specified which may innocently be expended on dress; but still there is a principle laid down, there is a difference required [10/11] between the manners of christians and others as to the article of dress. Unless all the cautions and reproaches which are to be found in God's word on this subject have no application to us in these days, there being now no excess, we ought carefully to examine ourselves, and if we find that in costliness, and show, and fashion, our raiment differs but little, if at all, from that of the ungodly world around, should we not conclude that we are not following in the steps of those holy women commended by the apostle, or of those who took heed to the apostle's injunction? If we find that our dress is rather that of the gay, the frivolous, the vain, should we not conclude that we have departed from christian "manners," in the article of dress?
Second. I apply the same question to the article of food. Because it is said that "every creature of God is good if received with thanksgiving," and that "God has given us all things richly to enjoy," is there no occasion for self-denial and the exercise of an holy discipline over our appetites; but may we with the man of the world "eat and drink since to-morrow we die," saying, "that there is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor?" Are not christians required to live by another rule? In all ages the pious have remembered how by the indulgence of appetite sin entered into the world--how those on whom the deluge came "sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play,"--"how fullness of bread and abundance of idleness," were the sins which brought destruction on the cities of the plain; how the Old Testament is filled with warnings against this sin; how our Lord himself spoke of it as the sin of the gentiles to be anxious about what we are to eat; how he warned us against daily indulgence by the wretched condition of Dives, whose besetting sin, so far as we are informed, was, that feasting sumptuously every day, being clad in purple and fine linen, he thus was led to forget his God. Especially [11/12] are we not warned by St. Paul, who said I must keep under my body lest when I have preached to others myself be cast away? Thus admonished, the faithful besides giving themselves to occasional fastings, have endeavored to be always temperate, lest their very hearts be overcharged with surfeiting. Knowing that "wine and drunkenness take away the heart," they have feared for themselves, when they looked upon the wine in the cup and have avoided the companionship of those who "tarry at the wine." Surely those who are devoted to the pleasures of the table, whether of eating or drinking, are not the persons who are living after the spirit--mortifying their members--crucifying their lusts, but rather those who are living after the flesh, and to say no more, are "earthly and sensual," and thus depart from the manners of Christ's followers. And here let me say, that if personal abstemiousness and economy, from principle, be proper to each disciple of Christ, surely none should tempt and encourage others to undue indulgence, by spreading before them sumptuous and expensive entertainments. I know that St. Paul did say to the first christians, that if any man bid you to a feast and ye be disposed to go, eat what is set before you asking no question for conscience' sake; and I grant that this does allow the pious to partake of a neighbor's hospitality. But it does not specify the character and sumptuousness of that feast, or the number of invited guests. It was a sacrificial feast and few may have been the invited guests; for a feast is only another word for a repast, and not descriptive of a crowd of revellers and banqueters. The allowance here granted must therefore be used under the restriction elsewhere imposed, to avoid all excess, all revelings and banquetings, since "they who do such things shall never enter into the kingdom of heaven." Although there is and can be no exact rule prescribing the number and character of persons whom we may entertain, or the expense we may incur, or the sumptuousness of the feast; yet still if in these [12/13] things we follow the example of the rich, the extravagant, and the ungodly of this world, are we not departing from the spirit of a rule laid down by our Lord for his disciples, when he directed that in making a feast they should not call in their friends and kinsmen and rich neighbors, who would do the same in return, but rather the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the halt, and thus be blessed. Now we do not for a moment suppose that this was designed to forbid the occasional and proper entertainment of friends and kinsmen, whether rich or poor, and yet we have a most important principle established for the regulation of out expenditures, namely: a due regard to the wants of the poor. In some places the rich have been and are so situated as to their poor neighbors and dependents as to be able more literally to fulfil the injunction of our Lord, and have delighted so to do. But in all times and places rich christians are bound to comply with its spirit--that is, to be kind to the poor in distributing a full measure of their goods to them, knowing that according to God's word the poor shall never fail out of the land, and that Christ is represented as dwelling especially in his poor members, to exercise the charity of the rich. Surely it is a great violation of christian manners when we take what God designed for the poor, and lavish it on the rich and gay and fashionable, in expensive, cloying and sickening entertainments. What a store of food and raiment and other comforts might christians lay up for the poor and afflicted, by a conscientious simplicity and economy in dress, equipage, furniture and entertainments? But alas, of how many might it be said as to all these things, "what do ye more than others?"
Third. I would in the third place apply the duty of observing the manners which become christians, to those places and amusements which in all ages of the world have been the delight of the sons and daughters of pleasure--being just suited to the carnal or natural man--having every thing [13/14] to gratify the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Crowds have ever flocked to them, not to redeem, but to kill time--not to improve the mind, but to banish serious thought--not to enjoy the pleasures of sobriety, but of intoxication. Even some of the more sober minded among the heathen condemned and carefully avoided, the theatres, the dancings, the games of chance, the races, the revellings of the pleasure loving--but when christianity came, all these were among those pomps and vanities which every candidate was required to renounce at his baptism, either with his own mouth and consent, or by the voice of a sponsor. An uninterrupted stream of testimony has come clown from the purest ages, protesting against all such things as inconsistent with the character and manners of christians. The presence of christians at such scenes, has ever awakened the question in the mind, and often has utterance been given to it--"what doest thou here?" The world claims such as its own, because found in the very midst of its own dominions. That there have always been some places thronged by the votaries of pleasure, some amusements most delightful to the unrenewed heart, which the faithful among christians have shunned as improper for them, and for which their new born souls had no sympathy, none can deny; and in this fact, taken in connection with the many warning words of God, we have a rule by which to judge ourselves. If any find that they do scarcely in their hearts disapprove, or strongly condemn any of them--if in relation to some of them they could take a delight in the same, and if permitted or tempted would indulge in them, and more especially, if there be any who do delight thus to mingle in unhallowed scenes, should they not fear, nay should they not thereby certainly know, that they and the world have never parted--that in their hearts has never been realized the experience of the apostle, “the world is crucified to me and I to the world." How should such judge themselves before hand, lest they be judged--that is condemned of the Lord.
 Fourth. In the fourth place, let me apply the rule to one of the most pleasing exercises of the human voice, and exquisite enjoyments of the human mind. I mean the use of sweet sounds, in connection with well chosen words and noble sentiments. It is the exercise of a principle implanted in our nature by him who made us, which will doubtless have high employment in heaven, for which its earthly use and culture should be preparatory. Have we any directions in God's word on this subject, which may serve as a guide? An apostle tells us that we should "sing together in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs--singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord;" that if there be "any merry, let him sing psalms," as a right expression of his joy. David and others inspired of the Lord, have prepared many such for the use of those who wish thus to rejoice before the Lord. Others have been written in great numbers, since the full revelation of Christ, which have been used both in public and private, either by the voice alone, or in combination with instruments of music, like David's. The heathen also have always had their songs in which they praised their gods, and those heroes who were thus elevated into gods. Sometimes also, in high strains, they set forth and sang the beauties of nature and art. Now, although there is nothing to forbid worthy deeds, noble sentiments, and the beauties and glories of creation, from being praised in song, and set to music, yet all must be in perfect accordance with God's truth--with the spirit of our holy religion, or God must be displeased, and ourselves led astray, by the fascination of a Syren song. If any, therefore, indifferent to that music by which the heart makes melody to the Lord, carefully cultivate, and delight to practice and exhibit that which sets forth false sentiments, eulogizes unworthy characters, and excites feelings contrary to those which God's word and Spirit awakens in the soul, who does not see, that in this respect they have departed from the manner of the pious, who have [15/16] ever delighted in the songs of Zion. How deeply is it to be lamented, that so little attention is paid to the culture of sacred music in the education of our daughters, and such almost exclusive devotion to all the varieties of the unsanctified music of earth?
Fifth. Let me mention one more instance in which the law of christian manners may be and is violated, to the great injury of religion. I allude to the character of our reading, the books in which we delight, and to which we devote much of our time. If a man may be known by his companions, so also by the books which he most loves to read, for those are his most intimate bosom friends, with whom he communes in his chamber and on his bed, by day and by night. The pious Jew delighted in the sacred word, more than in silver and gold. The statutes of the Lord were his song of rejoicing. Pious christians have ever delighted in the scriptures, now complete, more than in any and all other books. Thousands have neither had, nor cared to have any other. That no other book but the Bible should be read, we are far from affirming. History, science, poetry, are worthy to be cultivated, and may be enjoyed in due proportion to their importance and our opportunities. Even fiction, under due restraint, and for the purpose of promoting piety and virtue, has its sanction in the parables of the Bible. But there ever have been evil books in the world, whose spirit and tendency is contrary to the word of God, and which deserve to be dealt with as the first christians dealt with certain books in their day. I ask not for the church, in any of its branches, the authority to condemn and burn whatsoever it may choose. That power has been too sadly abused for us to covet its restoration. But I may be permitted to lay down a rule by which the members of the church may determine whether, in their choice and use of books, they are acting after the manner of God's people, or after the manner of the world. If any of them are conscious that their taste and [16/17] feelings delight in those works of genius which have not the spirit of Christ, but of the world in them. If they read without scruple, or notwithstanding the compunctions of their conscience, all that their time and opportunities will allow, of what the prolific press pours forth, without regard to its character, even to the great neglect of God's word and other pious writings, who can doubt but they have widely departed in that respect, from the manner of God's faithful people. Let these specifications suffice. I leave the application to your own consciences.
And now, need I say to the members of the Episcopal church of Virginia, that there is great cause why one holding so responsible a station as I do, should thus address them. In the providence of God, they occupy an important and interesting place in society. Nurtured for the most part in the bosom of refinement--enjoying the benefits of education--many of them moving in the highest circles--having a considerable share of this world's goods--they are, on all these accounts, peculiarly exposed to the temptations I have mentioned. Occupying the position which they do, I know how sensitive they would be to the charge of violating any of those rules of good breeding which are established in society by the polite and honorable of this world. How much more should they dread the charge of violating the laws of christian propriety, and thus bringing dishonor on themselves and on religion, causing them to be considered as unworthy to be admitted to the fellowship of Christ's people. Let me guard you against a mistake on this subject, which I fear has led many into great error of sentiment and practice. There are those who seem to suppose that there is sufficient reason and justification to be found for certain violations of christian propriety,--especially in relation to worldly customs and amusements,--in the fact that those who transgress are peculiarly beset by temptation. How contrary this to the teaching of God's word! There we are taught to be especially [17/18] on our guard against besetting sins and prevailing temptation; to watch and pray, lest we fall into temptation. All persons, and classes, and ages, having their peculiar temptations, are warned against them, and directed to ask the grace which is needed to enable them to escape. Thus God does not warn the poor against the love of dress, of fame, of sumptuous living, the dangers of wealth; but the poor man is to pray and strive against such poverty as may tempt him to steal, and “he that stole" is directed to "steal no more." The rich, on the contrary, instead of being warned against theft, must not pray for riches, lest he be full and deny God; and he is solemnly warned against the snares of wealth, against gluttony, and excess, and pleasure, and wantonness. If, indeed, all persons and classes, according to their ages, dispositions and circumstances, are to be justified or excused for doing those things to which they are peculiarly tempted, then will nothing be forbidden; the young may be giddy, the old be covetous, the poor may steal, and the rich may be full and deny God, and thus the prince of this world will have all to worship him in the way most pleasing to themselves, and equally acceptable to him.
Let me, therefore, dear brethren and sisters in the church of Christ, beseech you, as you love your own souls, and desire to promote, by your lives, the welfare of Christ's kingdom, especially that part of it with which we are connected, that you be on your guard against even the approach to those things unto which you are peculiarly tempted. Think what reproach, and well merited reproach, has in times past rested upon us on account of these things, and what prejudices are yet to be removed. The Bishops in their visitations are sometimes saddened by the sorrowful complaint of the brethren, whose own hearts are bowed down while making them, that some, of whom they had hoped better things, evince a disposition not only to go to the very verge of permitted indulgences, but even to plunge into forbidden ones. [18/19] To such it ought to be sufficient to say, if there be any religious principle within, that whenever tempted to indulge in any thing that is even regarded as doubtful, only ask yourselves this question; would I take the responsibility upon myself of leading all the members of the church with me into the same? would I have them go where I wish to go, do as I wish to do, dress, and dance, and sing, and be merry, as my heart desires to do? Which, even of the most lukewarm and worldly-minded professors of religion, would take this weight of responsibility on their souls? Let me also here give the advice which I have given for thirty years, nor ever seen cause to doubt its correctness; that if there be any one who, however sincere he may have been at first, or however he may have been ill advised, or over persuaded to make an open profession of religion, now find that he has no real heart-felt pleasure in it, that his heart is with the world, that its books are the books in which he delights, its votaries his bosom friends, its pleasures his highest joys, that he longs to visit the scenes of earthly pleasure, and dunk of the cup of earthly delight; then let such be faithful to himself, and withdraw from the table of the Lord, when the minister warns hint against partaking unworthily, and eating and drinking his own damnation. By such an honest course, connected with prayer for a renewed heart, he will be far more likely to come to a right state of mind, than by the vain attempt to serve God and mammon, to be a lover of pleasure and yet a lover of God also, thereby setting an ill example in the church, and leading others also into sin.
And now let none suppose that we are about to commit the error into which some have fallen, who, in their zeal against unchristian manners and forbidden amusements, seem to forget that the avoidance of such things is only a part--though an important part of true religion. I am well aware, that we may not merely shun all places and things, even of a doubtful character, but severely censure the contrary in others, while yet very defective in our own characters, because while avoiding things forbidden, we also neglect things commanded. "To cease to do evil" is the first part of religion, to "learn to do well," the next, and an equally necessary part. In the order of scripture, repentance leads through faith to holy obedience. Such also is the order set forth by the church.
In accordance with this, at our baptism, we first renounce the devil and all his works,--the world and all its vanities,--the flesh with all its sinful lusts; then pass on through a confession of faith to the promise of unqualified obedience.
This is the very order experienced by christians in the progress of their religious life. They do not obtain God's grace and favor by some previous acts of goodness, but convinced of sin by the word and Spirit of God, they repent and be lieve, and love and serve him who first loved them and gave his Son to die for them. In conformity with this, there is a marked difference in the address of inspired preachers to the impenitent sinner and to the child of God by faith in Christ. The former is exhorted to repentance and faith; the latter to good works growing out of these, as means of more grace and of preserving from sin. This a feature in the economy of grace which ought to be most carefully noticed by God's ministers, as well as people. One apostle, after exhorting the faithful to the diligent exercise of various graces, adds: "if ye do these things ye shall never fall." Another tells us that "pure religion, and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." Here we perceive that active piety, such as kindness to the widow and orphan, is put before the keeping ourselves pure from the pollution of the world, and for a very obvious reason, because the former is a most effectual means of enabling us to do the latter. It is not only better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, [20/21] because of its effect on the heart, but the visit to the one indisposes to the other, and furnishes useful employment for time and means which might otherwise be wasted, if not expended on injurious things. To spend leisure time innocently has ever been found amongst the most difficult of things to be done,
"For Satan finds some mischief still,
For idle hands to do."
It was while men slept, that an enemy sowed tares in the field. Wherefore a holy Father, in writing to a noble virgin, exhorts her to be ever doing some work with her own hands, "that the devil when he came to tempt might find her busy." The principle of preventing evil deeds by the performance of good ones, of the exclusion of evil affections from the heart, by the cherishing of holy ones, is most important. To cultivate love in the heart is the most effectual way of banishing hate. "Love, “says the apostle," worketh no ill to our neighbor, wherefore love is the fulfilling of the law." All the commandments forbidding ill will to our neighbor are fulfilled already in the one act of loving our neighbor. Let this principle be applied to those things of which we have spoken. All ye who are tempted to unbecoming ornaments and costly array, go and visit the abodes of want, where are those whose raiment is insufficient to shelter them from the cold; look on the poor half naked children, who suffer by day and by night for needful covering; bid them be clothed and warmed with that which you are about to expend on worse than superfluities; and thus remove the temptation to that which does not become christians; thus be "clothed with good works." Ye who would feast sumptuously every day, or spend hundreds on an entertainment given to the rich and fashionable, go visit the hovels of the poor, who have scarcely a morsel for themselves or famishing children, and then decide whether it be the [21/22] greater pleasure and higher duty to relieve their suffering, or to pamper your own appetite, or gratify the rich lovers of pleasure with the sumptuous feast and varied entertainment of the evening. Ye, who would rejoice in the crowded party and in unhallowed mirth, go to the house of mourning and of death, where the heart is made better; minister comfort to the afflicted; enter with an holy sympathy into all their griefs; and then see if your hearts will long for the sound of the viol and the dance and the joy of revelling. Ye who are tempted to delight in the false and soul-destroying sentiments of too many of the poems and novels and songs of earth, go and search deeply into the book of God,--enter into all its holy meaning, drink largely of its blessed spirit,sing its heavenly songs and make melody in your hearts to the Lord; and then see how different are the feelings awakened, and how incompatible with those which arise at the call of man's unsanctified genius. Except indeed ye be thus continually exercising yourselves, your first love may be lost, and worse than this,--ye may draw back to the perdition of your souls. God's soul may have no pleasure in you. And then what will, what must result from your example? As you would not do evil, then, be ever seeking to do good. If you would not be hinderers of God's word, you must be helpers of it. It is almost impossible for one not to be positively and from principle, aiding the minister, and not in some degree hindering his work. What may not be done by each one in the way of a holy conversation, a consistent life,--by instructing the young and the ignorant, promoting the charitable institutions of the church, and especially attending to every thing which ministers to the welfare of the congregation. If there be only a ready mind, the way will be opened, and the means found, for doing much good. Good will be done and evil prevented at the same time and by the same actions.
It is thus also that we shall illustrate the doctrines of a [22/23] future judgment according to our works here, and of degrees of glory in heaven according to the improvement of our opportunities on earth. Though we cannot in any sense whatever, or in the least conceivable degree, be saved by, or on account of our works,--salvation being altogether of grace,--the free gift of God through Christ; yet will the judgment be according to out works, and the degree of happiness in some measure promoted by works of faith and labors of love. The sentence passed, and the disposition of us will be according to our works, as well as according to our faith, because our works will be as the faith from which they proceed, and of which they are the true representatives. That our happiness in heaven will be promoted by our pious works, we may conclude from the fact, that our happiness in the church on earth is in proportion to our works of faith and labors of love,--for what is the church above but the continuation of that on earth? Who questions but that the faithful, true hearted,--self-denying, prayerful,--those who are separate from the world,--zealous of good works, full of love,--are the happiest here, and happy in proportion as they excel in these graces? Great peace have they that love God's law. The work of righteousness is peace, and the effect of righteousness is quietness and assurance forever. In heaven all the graces of earth will only expand and our joys be increased. They who have exercised themselves most diligently here in praise, will praise more joyfully in heaven. Those who delighted most in the songs of Zion here, making melody in their hearts, will sing the song of praise for redeeming love with more ravished hearts in heaven. They who from a pure principle of love to God, and benevolence to man, have been most abundant in acts of kindness to their fellow beings, and in all good works, will find that "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord," for although "they rest from their labors, their works do follow them,"--follow, to minister something [23/24] to their felicity, without detracting from the Saviour's work of redemption. The Saviour himself will be there to bestow the reward of grace on those who gave only a cup of cold water to a disciple in his name; he will be there to bless those who for his sake fed the hungry, clothed the naked, nursed the sick, visited the prisoner; and to their joyful surprise will tell them, that he regarded it all as if done to himself; as though he had been hungry and naked, and sick and imprisoned, and they had relieved him. Thus, dear friends, the best and happiest life on earth, is the sure preparation for, and foretaste of the glory of heaven,--"heaven, our reward for heaven enjoyed below." The apostle says, “our conversation is in heaven,"--that is, our citizenship is in heaven,--we belong already to that city our names are enrolled there. What manner of persons then ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness, remembering that the more heavenly-minded we are now, the happier we are in this life, and the higher will be our glory in heaven, unmerited as it will be.
And now, since example is ever better than precept, allow me to enforce what I have said as to the manner of persons christians should be, by presenting to you a brief sketch of a few who in their different vocations adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour. I would first describe that man who having in his heart the precious faith of Christ, and having confessed the same before men in all the ways of God's appointment, is striving to walk worthy of his high vocation. He remembers that he is not to live to himself only, that others must and will be influenced by him,--that he is a member of a glorious body of which Christ is head, and that he must do his part of the great work which is to be done. As a member of the church he is the faithful minister's friend, a co-worker together with him, as he with God. He stands by him as the supporter of God's truth, and the promoter of [24/25] every good work. By word and deed he frowns on every thing that is evil, seconding the voice from the pulpit, and being jealous with a godly jealousy over all things in which the honor of Christ and the welfare of souls are concerned. He feels that the desire of his soul, and that of the faithful minister, are one. He prays earnestly for a blessing on his labors. He is ready to take as active a part in all plans for the promotion of the spiritual and temporal welfare of the congregation, as his situation will allow. If an officer in the church, he feels especially bound, to attend to the minister's comfort by a full contribution of his own goods, and by seeing to the punctual payment of the promised support. If he is a husband, father, master, in all these relations he fulfils his duty, regulating his household by the word of God; being to his family, what the minister is to the whole congregation; resolving, that whatever others may do, he and his house will serve the Lord. He permits nothing therein which would grieve the pious, or offend God. He lives by rule; uses economy from principle, that he may do his full part in furthering every good work. He is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but defends and recommends the same by word and deed. His serious deportment shows that he is deeply impressed with the supreme importance of religion. His punctual attendance at God's house proves that his delight is in its services. He has the confidence of all men. All see and feel that such an one is "more excellent than his neighbor." Happy the minister who has such an helper--happy the people who have such an example ever before their eyes.
Let me next describe a christian woman whose heart is the abode of God's blessed Spirit. Once, perhaps, she lived in pleasure, but now feels that she was then dead. Once, perhaps, her delight was in the outward adorning of her person, now in the beauty of holiness, and the clothing of good works. Let us suppose her to be not merely a member of [25/26] the blessed company of Christ's people, but a wife, mother, mistress. How interesting all these relations, and how deeply affected is she at thought of them? Is her husband a christian? How thankful she is. Is it otherwise? Then she remembers those comforting words, "how knowest thou, Oh woman, but thou mayest save thy husband?" To effect this she clothes herself, not with gold and pearls and costly array, but with good works, and the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. "Her chaste conversation coupled with fear," possesses such a winning influence over his soul, that if he does not yield to its power and be led at once to the Lord, he yet loves her far more for it. In the midst of her household, and in the performance of its various duties, her light shines most brightly, and there is she most to be admired and loved. Home is her happy place. She needs not to wander in search of pleasure. Her children are her jewels, which she loves to cherish. In the instruction of her children and servants she finds her duty and delight. The blessed Bible is the book of books to her. From thence she draws her principles and manners. If she cannot aid her minister in all his plans of benevolence, by the use of more active means, she is always enforcing his sermons by her own holy conversation and consistent life. He has her prayers and her sympathy, and her constant presence in the house of God, in the midst of her little ones. He never thinks of her but with comfort, as a friend and helper with the young. With a firm and steady hand she holds the reins of government over her children. She remembers the vows made at their baptism, and endeavors to train them according to the same. Her house is the house of prayer,--the nursery of souls for heaven,--a place where the faithful man of God, and the pious people of God, delight to be; not the popular resort of the light and frivolous. Oh! the power of such a woman in the circle around. None doubt her piety, as they do the piety of too many women [26/27] professing godliness. Those who are the nearest eye-witnesses are most deeply impressed with the sincerity and strength of her religious principle. How many unbelieving husbands have been thus won over to the Lord? Truly, "a silent and loving woman is a gift from the Lord," and "if there be kindness, meekness and comfort on her tongue, then is not her husband like other men." She is that virtuous woman, whose "children will rise up and call her blessed, whose husband also praiseth her," and of whom all will say, "favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman that feareth the Lord she shall be praised."
Let us now turn to a scene scarcely less affecting. Behold that young man, the child perhaps of many prayers, who at an early period has sought and found his God and Saviour. Instead of walking in the ways of his own heart, and in the sight of his own eyes, and delighting in the companionship of the thoughtless and the evil, he resolutely comes out from amongst them, and joins himself to the people of the Lord. Religious books are his chosen companions. He finds that it is good to draw near to God in prayer, whether in the closet or the temple. He rejoices, but with trembling, lest he be drawn aside from the path of duty. He is afraid of himself. His walk is therefore close with God. He fears to approach the boundaries of forbidden indulgence. Instead of asking how near he may venture, how much of the world he may enjoy without losing heaven, he rather seeks how far he may retire from it, without going out of the world and neglecting duty. He pleads not youth as an excuse for more liberty and indulgence, but rather regards it as a season for higher religious enjoyment, because all the affections of the heat are more vigorous and active. The theatre and the ball-room are places too unlike the courts of the Lord's house, in which he delights, to be frequented by him. The card table, too different from the table of the Lord, for him to be seated at. The light dance, too contrary to the [27/28] seriousness of his mind, and the deep penitence of his soul, to have charms for him. The wine party and bachanalian song are too unlike the songs of Zion, and the feasts of the Lord, to be frequented and delighted in by him. All these things he abandons from principle and choice, for he knows they are "miserable comforters." Instead of being found in these, he humbly offers his services to the minister in any way in which they can be employed for the promotion of the cause which is the dearest of all causes to his soul. He is ready for the Sunday school, the Bible class, or any thing else by which his own soul or the souls of others may be blessed. O what is such a young man, in the hands of a zealous minister, for the conversion of sinners, and for an example to other professors; and sometimes what a rebuke to the older, but more lukewarm and inconsistent? What, indeed, would God's ministers do without some such to comfort them, in the midst of much they oft have to cast them down and make them sorrowful? Some such, thank heaven, there are, and even the ungodly world cannot withhold its tribute of esteem from them, while it utterly despises those who, by their unworthy conduct, bring reproach on their profession.
One more picture would I draw, not from fancy, but blessed be God, from a reality which may often be seen. I would direct your eye to that young woman who has given herself soul and body to the Lord. Piety ever lovely, is here most lovely. Piety ever pure, is here purest, and least liable to be corrupted and obscured by the busy cares and occupations of the world. We sometimes see interesting cases, where from sweetness of temper, vivacity of spirit, loveliness of form, and sprightliness of wit, the temptation is great to seek only or chiefly the favor of man, and when friends and even parents desire and labor hard to consecrate them all to the world; but grace enters and works a moral miracle, leads the willing captive to the altar of heaven, and [28/29] in the daughter of fifteen or twenty, raises perhaps a silent, but impressive rebuke to the mother of forty or fifty. Blessed is the change. Happiness she knew not before, though sorrow was unknown to her. Her joy is now the joy unspeakable and full of glory. Her peace is the peace which passeth all understanding, and which the world can neither give nor take away. And must such youth, such charms be lost to society, withdrawn from admiration, forbidden to shine in the world's most brilliant scenes, to the delight of all hearts and eyes? No. They shall not be lost. They shall shine, not however as meteor lights to sink into darkness,--not as tapers at the midnight revel, to end in sickly fumes; but as bright lights in the house of God, sanctified, consecrated, perpetuated, to shine more and more in the temple above, through everlasting ages. But what can such an one do in the church of God, without violating the modesty of her sex, and the humility proper to her age? Must she, in search of the perfection of piety, bid adieu to all,--bury herself in a convent,--spend her days and nights in solitude and prayer, and thus escape the pollution of the world? God forbid. Much may she do. Much have some done. Are there no younger brothers and sisters, whom she may instruct and help to train for heaven? Are there none of the household train, or the poor around, whom she may adopt as the objects of her religious care? Are there no household duties which she may share with her mother? Is there no work to be done with her own hands for the household or the poor of Christ's flock? Can the minister of God find her no employ in the Sunday school and the benevolent societies under his care? Is the world so small, and Christ's kingdom so fully possessed of it, that there is no work for her heart or hands? is there nothing she may do without subjecting herself to the charge of ostentation, and where she may be useful without half the notoriety to which she would be exposed in the service of the gay world? Yes, here [29/30] are many such things, and there have been those young women, who, enamoured of religion, have turned away from all the vain scenes of earth, and found their true happiness in doing good, as well as in all those devout exercises of soul which God has provided for his saints on earth, as foretastes of the bliss of heaven. And such happy ones, whether in the providence of God they shall become wives, and mothers, and mistresses, or continue as they are, will be happy still, having a never failing source of increasing joy in their own hearts. They have chosen that good and wise part which shall never be taken away from them. And may God, by his almighty grace, raise up more and more of such holy daughters and sons, and fathers and mothers, to aid his faithful ministers in the work committed to their hands.
Commending you all to the care of heaven, I remain
Your friend and servant in the gospel of Christ,