UNITY OF THE CHURCH,
IN CONTRARIETY TO
DISORDER, DISUNION, AND DIVISION.
Delivered before the forty-seventh Convention of
BY THE RT. REV. WILLIAM WHITE, D. D.
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The Clerical and Lay Members of this Convention,
AGREEABLY to a regulation of this diocese, leaving to the choice of its Bishop, whether to deliver a charge or else a sermon at the opening of each convention, or to appoint a presbyter for the delivery of a sermon, he has chosen the alternative of a charge at this time, for a reason, which, he thinks, will not be without its intended weight. He has reached a period of life, which ought to admonish him, that it cannot be long, when his agency will be felt in the counsels of the church. He has not been overtaken by the infirmity, which has sometimes marked men of higher grades of station than his, after their having been efficient in public concerns—the endeavouring to enforce the weights of their characters, and the influence of their opinions, for the governing of the transactions of succeeding times. But having acted, during so many years, on the principles to be now detailed, he trusts that it is not presumptuous, to transmit them in a shape to which there will be a reference on the permanent records of our journal; there to have such weight as may appear to be their due, independently on any authority, or on any desire of the proposer of them. In what is to be said, there will be some matters, which will be merely opinions; to which it is not wished to attach more importance, than may be agreeable to the judgments of those for whom they are intended: while there will be so much bottomed on the provisions of the church, as to entitle this exercise to the name of an Episcopal charge.
The contemplated subject is the importance of the sustaining of the unity of the church, in contrariety to disorder, disunion, and division. That she is substantially sound, in the principles pervading her doctrine, her discipline and her worship, will be presumed to be acknowledged by the representatives of the diocese now addressed: and on this account the sentiments to be presented will have a bearing only on the point which has been declared—the continuance of the same principles, with submission to the constituted authorities and [3/4] to their determinations; on the single condition, that they be not contrary to the word of God.
Perhaps it may seem, that at present there is no call for a discourse of this sort; there not being any appearance of existing danger. In answer, let it be noticed, that the seeds of the evil are in human nature; and that they are always liable to be called into action, by the collision of sentiment, which may be expected from the imperfection of the human character. The excitement of passion is what has happened so often, that we cannot be too much on our guard against the insidious workings of so dangerous a state of mind. That it should generate an unreasonable degree of tenaciousness—of resentment, and of reluctance to yield to the general sense of a social body; and that there should thus be caused secessions, not warranted by any injury inflicted on the essential interests of religion, has so often taken place in the Christian church, that she will always be in danger of the same, so long as the sinfulness of human nature, and the dominion which it usurps over, the understandings of men, shall remain.
The particulars intended, are the proposed subject, as it respects, 1st. the discipline; 2ndly. the Episcopacy; and 3dly. the legislation of the church.
1st. Of the discipline. On the one hand, it is called for, to sustain the orthodoxy of the faith, and the sanctity of the morals of the church; and on the other hand, may degenerate to tyranny by a wanton exercise of power. There will always be seduction to this, not only in the corruption, but in the infirmities of human nature; inclining to the pursuit of what may seem righteous ends, by rash and even by unrighteous means; which, if, on some occasions, they should clear the church of scandal, may, at a future time, be applied to the gratifying of private malice. For this exigency, our Bishops, it is trusted, are sufficiently prepared by the canons which have been provided for them. If any thing be still wanting, for the satisfying of the ends of justice, there is competent authority for the supplying of the deficiency. In the meantime, it is better that unexpected guilt should be without its due punishment, than that it should be punished by a process which may hereafter be abused to the oppression of the innocent.
Under all the precautions against the evil which can be devised, such is the imperfection of human concerns, that there will still be danger of the interference, if not of malice, yet of error; from the overlooking of the maxims which should govern, [4/5] on all occasions involving questions concerning the rights or the characters of our fellow men.
To secure a desirable result, it is necessary that there should be deference to methods of proceeding, which, on long experience, have been found to tend to impartial adjudication: and in aiming at this object, whatever aid is to be gathered from the rules which govern in the civil administration of justice, ought not to be overlooked in that which is ecclesiastical. It is true, that we are not bound by an authority extraneous to ourselves. But if it should appear, in so serious a matter as a clergyman's standing in the ministry, or as a layman's right to the ordinances of the church, that there is less security for a just decision, than what would exist in a temporal court, in a cause affecting the person or the property of the meanest member of the community, it will not only be a reasonable cause of censure, but may produce an excitement, of which disunion will be the result. What renders caution of the more importance, in the case of a clergyman who may conceive himself injured by an ecclesiastical sentence, and seeking redress from a civil court, although the court would doubtless respect our canons; yet, if it should give a construction to them, more reasonable in itself, and more consistent with the eternal maxims of justice, it would avail to the maintaining of the complainant in the possession of any property of the church held by him; not excepting the building in which he would be accustomed to officiate, and which cannot be taken from him, otherwise than is provided for by the laws of the land.
The subject of ecclesiastical discipline is of great importance. That it is essential to our continuance as a social body, must be confessed by all; while there will be a variety of opinion, in regard to the rules by which it should be conducted, and to the cases which should come under its cognizance.
In regard to the ministry, it is trusted, that in every grade of it, there is security against any notice of accusation, brought forward otherwise than on apparent ground of judicial process; and still more, against whatever may prevent its issuing in a decision, warranted by ecclesiastical law and by equity: while yet, the existing tribunals have a sufficiency of this armour to enable them, in the case of a clergyman bringing dishonour on his calling, to sever him from the ministry.
There is another department of discipline, especially interesting to the lay members of the church,—that of admission to the holy Communion, or of rejection from it. For this, there is full provision made by our rubrics and our canons. They [5/6] are points which cannot but press with great weight, on every conscientious minister of the gospel. There are so many inducements to be rather remiss than severe in the exercise of his rubrical power, that probably the abuse of it will not happen often. It is, however, possible, that private regards, or that some prejudices or some passion, may influence to unjustifiable censure. On the question of admission to the holy supper, the minister must necessarily exercise a considerable degree of discretion, bounded by the rubrics and by the canons; since, besides the requisite of a good life, there is that of knowledge of the nature of the transaction, and of the scheme of salvation generally. Beyond this, there is no authority to inquire; since the party, being put into a state of salvation by baptism, has a consequent right to every other privilege; there being no deficiency or irregularity, inconsistent with it. On the question of rejection from the communion, there is a less field for the exercise of discretion. In this case, nothing but some essential error, or some immoral act, can justify exclusion. If it should take place on any other ground, the rubrics and the canons seem to have provided for the aggrieved party as sure a mean of redress, as human wisdom can devise.
There remains a question of far more delicacy and difficulty—that of entire severance from the church. On the one hand, it cannot be denied, that in common with every other social body, she possesses the power of excluding from her pale. On the other hand, the power has been so much abused, sometimes to the gratification of private malice, and very extensively to the subserving of the views of public policy, that to act in it even for the clearing of the church of scandal, and with the observance of law and equity, would encounter a host of prejudice; and if done arbitrarily or unjustly, of which there must always be danger, would shake the church to its centre.
There is no hesitation of your Bishop, in expressing the wish, that every person, living in notorious sin, causing great scandal, were declared to be no longer a member of the church; while yet, if the church see cause to stop short of such a stretch of discipline, it is a matter which falls within the province of sound discretion. For such a measure of discipline, there is not the same necessity now, as when the gospel was at first promulgated; its moral tendency being not then established in the public opinion; whereas, at present, it is understood to comprehend the soundest morality, whatever contrariety to it there may be in any of its professors. [6/7] Still there remains the right to the exercise of the power in its extent.
In Scripture, there are but few instances, of the carrying of discipline so far as that in question. It took place, in the sentence passed by St. Paul on an incestuous person, as we read in the beginning of the fifth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians: and towards the end of the same chapter, without referring to any individual, the apostle enjoins a severance from the church of several classes of sinners of very extreme grades, should such be found under the cloak of the profession. There were persons chargeable with faults of not so deep a dye; but inconsistent with a well-founded claim to the promises of the gospel, who were endured within the pale. Such were they, whom the apostle, in his second Epistle to the Thessalonians, glances at as "disorderly, not working at all, but busy bodies:" and the like must have been they, in his eye, in his second Epistle to Timothy, described as "idle, wandering from house to house, tattlers also, and busy bodies, speaking things which they ought not;" yet any person so described, was to be "admonished as a brother."
These casts of character are sufficient causes of excision, if it should be deemed a wise course, by those in whose province it would lie, to institute and to carry on proceedings to the effect. The wisdom of the measure would depend on circumstances; and it is brought within the present argument, in order to show, that, independently on the question of guilt, there is scope for discrimination, governed by regard to different times and circumstances of the church.
Under the heads delineated, it may be perceived, that there are calls for wise management; as on other accounts, so especially for the guarding against just complaint, generating disturbance. If, hereafter, for the increase of respectability, there should be instituted a greater reach of discipline, it is to be hoped, that our councils will still know nothing of that species of it, which extends its rod beyond the conduct, to the movements of the mind; and which clothes ecclesiastical tribunals, with inquisitorial power to that effect. There can hardly be named a misapplication of religious jurisprudence, against which divine wisdom has so carefully guarded. Witness the parable of the wheat and the tares, applied to professors of opposite characters in the church. Indiscreet zeal would have torn from the soil the tares, to the great danger of the wheat; for the sake of which there was given the command, "Let, both grow together until the harvest." Witness also that other parable of the fishes, good and bad in the same [7/8] net, in which they were to remain, until the drawing of the net to the shore; figurative of the ending of all human concerns. There is also that of the wise and the foolish virgins, equally possessed of the lamp of the profession, although differing in regard to the light of it, and the being furnished with the supply of oil. There is no provision of the gospel, more in harmony with human nature, in its present state of imperfection and of frailty, because of the impossibility of looking beyond the conduct, to the movements of the mind.
Notwithstanding the difficulties occurring on the subject, there is a safe guide of proceedings under it, in a single sentence of the affecting address made to a newly consecrated Bishop, on the delivery of the Bible to him. It is, "Be so gentle that you be not too remiss; so minister discipline, that you neglect not mercy."
2nd. From the subject of discipline, we may pass, by a natural transition, to its correlative point—that of the Episcopacy.
It is a department, in which, to say nothing of the heavy responsibility attached to it, there is, in this country, no pecuniary profit, likely to allure; while it opens an extensive field of care and of labour; in which there are to be consulted the wants, and encountered the prejudices, of a variety of persons, spread over a vast range of country; rendering it difficult to acquire a knowledge of the characters and of the views of any considerable proportion of them. On these accounts, it may seem, that there is not a call to be vigilant against an entrance into the church, of a breach of union through the door of the Episcopacy. But where is the sphere, within which the aspiring passions of the human frame will not endeavour to overleap the barriers, erected by human prudence for the excluding of them?
There is a passage in a work of St. Jerome, in which he says, "It was for a remedy of schism, that one chosen out of the presbyters should be placed above the rest." Without going into a refutation of the mistaken use which has been made of the passage, as if it were intended of a late origin of the order, it will be allowable to presume on the correctness of the construction given to it by us—that the evil calling for the remedy is recognised in the 1st Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, complaining of the schisms prevalent among them; which, during the lives of the apostles, were controlled by their authority, and were intended to be guarded against in future, by a succession from them, introduced in their own age, and for the end specified by Jerome. It might be shown, that the object has been accomplished to a considerable extent. [8/9] But as even a Divine institution, to be acted under by human agency, must be expected, in some instances, to fall short of its uses, the same has happened in the Episcopacy. Its tendency has been to union. But as the contrary has sometimes vitiated it, there is, in this circumstance, a motive to caution, in an advancement to that higher grade of the ministry.
St. Paul, in his 1st Epistle to Timothy, has said—"If any man desire the office of a Bishop, he desireth a good work." The apostle confines his remark to the excellency of the work, not commending a desire for the undertaking of it: and perhaps, the prominency given to the work, is an indirect censure on the unsuitable seeking of it. Let it be conceded, however, that an effort may be justifiable and even laudable, when not generated by a conceit of personal merit, and when, with a view to some good not otherwise to be obtained, or to some evil not otherwise to be avoided. Under either of these circumstances, in a refusal to take a stand in the gap, there may be a blameable modesty, perhaps amounting to a desertion of duty. It is certain, that in weighing these considerations, there is the danger of misconstruing human passion, into a supposed zeal for the interests of religion. Of this, every man should judge for himself, under the recollection that he is to give an account to God. But we cannot be mistaken in pronouncing, that his seeking of the Episcopacy with intemperate ardour, and especially if it be by any act opposed to the holy morality of the gospel, there is unequivocal proof of his unfitness for it.
It may seem, that this is a proper occasion of enlarging on the qualifications for the Episcopal office. If the subject were to be now carried to this extent, the prominent place would be given to piety, so far as can be ascertained from profession, accompanied by an irreproachable life and conversation; and with this, a ground for the expectation of there being exhibited correct views of the dispensation of grace. Stress would also be laid on a sufficiency of natural talent, and of learning, especially theological; and with it, in different degrees, and in proportion as they bring aid to it, on various branches of human literature; there being scarcely any of them, which may not lend their help, alike to the defence of the Christian fortress against infidelity, and to correct the wayward fancies of those, who mix with truths of Scripture the inventions of men in a great variety of ways. But these are points, so often dwelt on as they concern the clergy generally, and sometimes those of the Episcopal order in particular, [9/10] that they might be passed over in silence, were it not pertinent to notice, that defect in the Episcopacy of the qualifications referred to, cannot but contribute to the evil here intended to be guarded against: it being likely, that dissention and disunion will break in like a flood, to the overwhelming of the venerable institutions of the church, in proportion as she shall sink in public estimation, in consequence of the unfitness of her clergy generally, and that of her bishops especially.
There are sundry points, on which, abstractedly considered, there may be differences of opinion; and in regard to which, before cases involving them shall occur, it is desirable that principles should be maturely established; in order to be prepared for occasions, when they may come up in such shapes, as to be connected with personal and sectional interests, unfriendly to impartial determination.
One of these points, is the resignation of the duties of the Episcopal office. The question of the admissibility of this, has already occurred in our councils, and was acted on by the Bishops in the General Convention of 1801. Only three Bishops were present; and they had assembled without any expectation that the subject would be brought before them, or knowledge of the incidents leading to it. They were unanimous in denying the lawfulness of such a measure. The determination has never been revised by any conventional procedure; and yet, the correctness of it has been doubted of, by many intelligent and respectable ministers, and other members of our church. No wish is here entertained to forestall the conventional judgment on any case which may occur hereafter. But it will not be assuming to express the hope, that before a contrary decision to that already acted on, the subject may be considered in all its bearings; and especially in that point of view, on account of which it has been introduced into this address—its tendency to prevent factions incited by ecclesiastical ambition, and likely to eventuate in disunion.
It was a providential circumstance in the counsels of the last General Convention, that they were called on to determine, and that they determined wisely, on the subject of an Assistant Episcopacy. A contrary decision would have rendered that department fruitful of intrigue, and consequently dangerous to the peace and the unity of the church.
It has been made a question, whether preference is to be given to an assistant or to a suffragan Episcopacy. The latter designation is of ancient use in the Christian church, [10/11] and was formerly known in the Church of England. But owing to a difference of circumstances, expediency seems to require, that it should not be introduced among us. A suffragan had under his charge a portion of a diocese. In the event of the decease of the diocesan, the surviver did not succeed; but retained his station, while another was appointed to the principal place. In this country, the humiliation of a senior, would seem a reasonable cause not only of personal, but of sectional complaint: especially, when it would be the result of local preference, not congenial with the general sense of the community, manifested in established policy of every description.
The question of the division of dioceses, will increase in importance, and it would be wise in our General Convention to adopt rules, which should govern on the subject, before it shall become mixed with personal interests, in cases which will probably arise. There is no hesitation to express the opinion that such an arrangement will be called for in some of the States, in order that each bishop may be better informed of the circumstances of every portion of his diocese. But, it is a matter which should not be too much hastened; and especially, there should be tolerable security for the permanent residence of a bishop, either by provision made for him, or by an adequate parochial connexion. It would be an untenable abjection to the division of a diocese, that the measure would acquire for a state additional weight in the House of Bishops. The larger States are they, which would be in this predicament; and it would be but a small counterbalance to the representation so disproportionate to the population, distinguishing the organization of the house of clerical and lay deputies.
In the beginning of our Episcopacy, there was the necessity everywhere, and it is still so generally, of connecting its duties with those of a parish minister, on whom there seems to lie the duty of constant residence. This has been lamented by all of us. On the other hand, where provision is made for a separation of the two departments, there becomes too generally entertained the sentiment, that the distinguishing occupation of each of our bishops, is his itinerancy, and that he should always be found on some journey of visitation. That there may profitably, at present, be an approach to this, because of the scattered condition of Episcopalians over large tracts, and the importance of gathering them into social assemblies, shall not be here denied. But it is denied to be for the good of the church, as an established system: being unfavourable to the [11/12] future literary eminence of our bishops; and besides, causing it to be necessary, in the choice of a bishop, to have more regard to his physical powers, than would sometimes be found expedient, or than would be called for, not by dispensing with itinerancy, but by its being on a more moderate scale. Certainly, the course objected to, will not pretend to have the countenance of the Christian church in general.
For the guarding against the extremes, different expedients may be devised. What to your bishop seems the most plausible, is, that in a city or town of a diocese, as central as may be, there be a church, so far differing from churches generally, as that the bishop shall be its more immediate pastor; and that to enable him to visit his diocese, a third part of it in every year, there should be an assistant presbyter or deacon. The delivery of these suggestions may have the appearance of looking farther into futurity than is meet. But, when there are taken into the account our rapidly increasing population, with which we may hope for a proportionate increase of our church, it cannot be useless to keep in view a matured system, of a higher grade than our present provisions, and to be accomplished by degrees, although the full accomplishment should be so distant, as that the youngest among us may not be expected to witness it, while they may subserve it by incipient measures.
It may be thought, that contested election, foreseen, as a field of collision of parties, and threatening disunion, is a suitable ground for the proposing of some expedient, in order to guard against the evil. But it is thought unnecessary, and that the checks which our canons have provided against unfair proceedings in any particular diocese, will be found sufficient to oppose to a rash or an unfair choice; especially when made under the excitement of a factious spirit. It would seem, that there is as much security as the nature of the case permits; and what cannot be evaded, unless there should be such radical corruption, pervading the whole body of the church, and involving in guilt the mass of its members, clerical and lay, as can be cured no otherwise than by a reformation, not of the disorder spoken of only, but that shall be entire.
In connexion with a determination to sustain the Episcopacy, it is not impossible, that in the different grounds on which it may be rested by different advocates of it, there may ensue a cause of disunion. We shall be safe in this matter, in proportion as we continue on the ground taken for us, by the reformers of the Church of England. [12/13] They unequivocally affirmed the apostolic origin of the Episcopacy, as a fact: and then, as a suitable consequence, they ordained, that there should be no other ministry within their bounds. The same is the limit within our church. If any should carry the subject beyond this, it is private opinion; and cannot be acted on, in proceedings regulated by the rubrics and the canons, without hazarding the issue intimated: and the same might be the effect of the extending of these provisions, with the view of accomplishing such a project.
There is sometimes, in conversation, proposed the question, whether, in the event of a consecration performed by one bishop only, the act would be valid? That with us, such a bishop would do what is contrary to the obligations under which he has placed himself, in a solemn appeal to God for his sincerity, and in a pledge given for the same publicly to the church, and that the recipient of what is supposed to be the character conveyed, is a partaker of the crime, must be obvious. Still, there may be thought to remain the question of validity; and may be anticipated, with apprehension, as what, at some future time, may be found an easy expedient for the introducing of division into the church.
Although the enormity has not been practised by any bishop of this church; yet, there cannot be denied the possibility that it may occur hereafter, either with the avowed abandonment of religious and moral principle, or by the operation of that sort of professed piety, which, in pursuance of what is supposed to be a righteous end, considers it as superseding the claims of integrity and of truth. What would be the effect, then, of the form of consecration? In answer, the opinion is confidently expressed, that it would be a nullity.
In every department of human agency, whatever may be the right of the agent, if not controlled by any law to which he is subject, yet, when there is a law, ordained for the giving of certainty to an act in question, the act is invalid, when done without regard to such a provision. Let there be taken the case of a sovereign, or other first magistrate of a state, having the right of appointment to a certain office, or that of a private citizen, having a house or a farm with a power to alienate; or that of a man and woman disposed to unite in marriage. In each of the cases, however absolute the power, when there is no law to govern in the exercise of it; yet, when there exists such a law, designed to test the certainty of the transaction, disregard of an enactment so wise in itself, and issuing from competent authority, vitiates a procedure otherwise valid.
 The transmitting of the succession, cannot but be within the sphere of the same dictate of reason and common sense. In certain supposable circumstances, the act of consecration by a single bishop, disengaged from provisions not in themselves essential, is valid. But if a bishop of our church, which requires the concurrence of two of his brethren, should set the requisition at defiance, in violation of his promise pledged, with the invocation of the notice of the all-seeing eye of God; there is no hesitation in expressing the opinion, that the only effect would be the guilt attached to it. When, for the laudable end of certainty, there are further required the presence of a congregation, the exhibiting before them of the evidence of a canonical election, and other circumstances contrived for publicity; the idea, that the dispensing with all this is consistent with efficiency, is the making of the church liable to be prostrated, by any unprincipled man who may hereafter be a bishop.
In regard to the whole subject of the Episcopacy, it ought to be perceived, how careful we should be, on the one hand, to sustain the respectability and the rights of the grade, and on the other hand, not to extend them beyond their proper bounds. The latter extreme will be sure to lead to its opposite, and will even give its sanction to the hydra shape, in which the subject, within the memory of some yet living, was commonly pictured to the eye of the American public. As to the other part of the alternative, a departure from it has never appeared in any shape, which did not betray the ambition of possessing a parochial popedom.
Under several of the premises it may be seen, that there will be called for the exercise of the legislative authority of the church; and this leads to the third particular of the charge.
3d. There is a well known fact concerning St. Gregory of Nazianzum, a wise and pious father of the fourth century, that, having been present and for some time presided in the General Council of Ephesus, and being disgusted at the animosities prevailing, and at the artifices practised in it, he declared his dislike of all such assemblies, as tending to the injury of piety and of the church. That this eminent man had reason for his censure of the councils of the age in which he lived, shall not be denied. But it does not follow, that the same is true of the councils and the synods held during the earlier centuries, with a view to the putting forth of joint decisions for the sustaining of Christian doctrine; and it would be an improper use of his authority, to consider it as requiring, that legislative order [14/15] should be left, in every vicinity, to its internal resources. The doctrines in which all Christians should be agreed, and the good feelings which they should manifest to one another, may be aided by such common advisement, as conducted wisely, if it should not entirely suppress a contentious spirit, will cause its influence to be less felt, than when it operates insensibly within the bounds of the territory invaded by it. The poison is easier susceptible of expulsion, when concentrated in a particular spot, than when it has insinuated it into the several limbs, and is floating over the whole system.
Accordingly, it is proposed to submit a few general maxims, which seem to claim regard, for the perpetuating of ecclesiastical unity. That the paramount obligation on our assemblies, is the taking of the Holy Scriptures for their guide, is so evident in itself, and so unequivocally required by the institutions of our church, as not to need proof, or to be made an article of enumeration. But it will be to the purpose, to occupy a ground of unity, between the pretended liberality which would level all distinctions of doctrine, and the excess of legislation, which, not regarding the variety of views, taken by different minds equally tenacious of Christian verity, goes beyond that limit, by exacting uniformity further than what is so required.
The first maxim to be laid down, although not to recommend the enaction of the essential doctrines of the Christian creed, for this is effectually provided for by an inheritance from our mother church of England, is the having of an eye to them in all inferior enactments, designed either for discipline, or for the ordering of the public offices. All the points of necessary doctrine are clearly declared in our Articles; and are so interwoven with our prescribed devotions, that the duty of legislating in this department may be considered as dispensed with. It is not dispensed with, in accommodation to the theory of those, who condemn all legislative provision in the premises, submitting the subject to individual discretion. This, instead of binding believers together in a sacred union, would eventuate in opposing theories, sustained by the zeal of contending parties, with all its attendant animosities and uncharitableness; not only in the general councils of the church, but to the distraction of the component branches of it, in every district and in every congregation.
There may be the inquiry, whether the discretion of the church be so bound to the present standards, as that she ought not to omit what she may consider as not necessarily belonging to them, or ever to improve the antiquated phraseology, [15/16] in which the truths of the gospel are clothed? Neither of these privileges is here denied. But it is contended, that every attempt of the sort, whether it respect the Articles or the Liturgy, should be with caution, with vigilance against needless innovation, and with the being aware, that the integrity of doctrine will never be impaired, without its being followed by division.
To guard against a misapplication of the preceding maxim, there shall be mentioned as the second, the moderation which should govern in ecclesiastical legislation. The carrying of it to an extreme, is an effect of the love of power, natural to the human heart. In some persons it is so intolerant, as to be impatient under any provision, not framed in every the most minute particular, to a standard suggested by self-will and an undue estimation of self. It is known, what immense mischief, so early as towards the end of the second century, was occasioned by an intolerant bishop of Rome, in his excommunicating of all the churches of Asia, for differing from him on the single point of the day for the celebration of Easter. It must have been remarked by many, who have attended to the proceedings of deliberative bodies, whether civil or ecclesiastical, and whether in the high concerns of the church, or of the state, or in the management of voluntary associations for useful purposes, that the spirit of the Roman Victor did not die with him; but that it displays itself, wherever there are required common councils, and the expression of the opinions of the individuals concerned. Hence it has happened, that on the occurrence of a schism, not believed to be justified by the cause of it, there may be difficulty in estimating the weight of the plea of conscientious scruples, when they resist the exercise of a power, evidently disproportioned to the object to be accomplished by it.
The maxim proposed is countenanced by Scripture. St. Paul, affirming "the foundation, other than which no man can lay," and doing justice to "the gold, the silver, and the precious stones," which may be fitly raised on it, is tolerant of "the wood, the hay, and the stubble," which will be consumed by the fire of divine discrimination, while it will spare the mistaken, but well intentioned builder. In another place, he brands an essential error, with the name of "another gospel;" while yet, he decides elsewhere, "we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves."
In extending the utility of moderation, beyond the sphere of opinion into that of discretion, there occurs a seeming difficulty, [16/17] which may be cleared up, by a right understanding of the circumstances under which it is presented. The conducting of divine worship, is the matter referred to. That the time and the place of it, with other necessary arrangements, are to be dictated by human discretion, is not denied by any. Therefore, when it is denied, that the devotions to be offered up should be prescribed by the collective body, the question is, not whether they shall be acted on by human discretion, but to whom such a trust shall be committed. Our church holds, that it will be the most safely lodged with the collective wisdom of the body, and not left to the diversified judgments of individuals. Accordingly, the question with us, is wide of the subject of moderation; although this principle may reasonably be expected to govern, in the carrying of authority into effect, so as to guard against every objection, not only of unsoundness of sentiment, but of impropriety of expression. If, after all, there should be some so fastidious, as to be discontented, because every provision is not adjusted to their fancies, we know not any way in which a greater extent of evil can be prevented, while we do know that it would be increased, by subjecting public discretion to the private.
Another maxim, conducive to the perpetuating of our union, is the observing of a medium, even in matters not touching the truth of doctrine, between inflexible adherence to existing enactments, and the countenancing of needless innovations. In the condition of our church, and particularly in its scattered population, there are circumstances which may render unsuitable here, what is wisely ordained and easily practised in England, owing to the small spaces of territory within her several parochial limits. When we applied to that country for the succession, its venerable bishops were aware of our independent rights, and possessed a knowledge of the exercise of them to a considerable extent. To this they made no objection; when, in reference to some points of doctrine, they entertained a jealousy which became removed.
If it should be asked, in what way the error guarded against has a threatening aspect on ecclesiastical union, it is, that individual clergymen, pressed by considerations referred to, may make such deviations from the rubrics, as their respective judgments or fancies may direct. The number of offenders, will cause the requirements to be considered as obsolete, perhaps even by those who would otherwise have thought themselves bound to a faithful adherence, so that at last we shall have no uniformity; and the Book of Common Prayer, will [17/18] be considered as a body of devotions, from which every minister will take as much or as little as may suit his discretion.
It is also probable, that extreme tenaciousness and reluctance to moderate alteration, will give vigour to the opposite extreme of ill digested projects for reform, without measure and without end. We may foresee, that if such a spirit should be dominant within our church, it will be promotive of confusion and of every evil work. It should, therefore, be guarded against, not only by the vigilance and the discountenance, but by the moderation of all who take pleasure in the peace and the prosperity of our Zion; within whose pale we may hope and pray, that alike among the clergy and among our lay population, there will always be found men of rational piety and of weight of character, to keep under restraint, what will occasionally show its head, as the effect, sometimes of indiscreet zeal, sometimes of vanity, and not seldom of some visionary theory, threatening to deprive us of whatever contributes to the "worshipping of God in the beauty of holiness."
There shall be mentioned but one maxim more. To him by whom it is to be proposed, it seems a dictate of prudence, pressed by the peculiar organization of our church. The intended caution is against the carrying of any very important act of legislation by a small majority; especially, if the act should be thought by a considerable minority, to infringe materially on the faith or on the worship of the church. The peculiarity alluded to, is the inequality of representation in our principal legislative assembly. This arrangement was essential to our being one body, when our associations were formed. It shall not be here determined, whether it would be wise to remodel our representative constitution, and thus to shut the door against a danger that may ensue, and that in present circumstances, can be guarded against no otherwise, than by acting on the maxim now proposed. The apprehended danger, is, that on the success of a proposed measure, carried constitutionally, but in opposition to the sense of the mass of our people, so far as can be gathered from the votes of their representatives, there will be a temptation to disunion, and a specious plea for it.
Brethren, there are finished the intended remarks on the points suggested, with a brevity disproportioned to their importance; but at an expense of time, which may have been a trespass on your patience. In conclusion, there shall be taken occasion to remark, that if, in what has been said, there be any promise of profit, no further security for its efficiency is desired, than that there should rest, on the mind of every individual of you, [18/19] the recollection, concerning the deliverer of this address, of his having pledged himself to put forth his best cares and endeavours for the integrity of the church, by the circumstance of his occupying of the principal seat, in a body acting as her representative. What adds immensely to the obligation, is the heavenly institutions of the Christian church; differing in this respect from the various forms of civil society, which originate in human will and compact. In many places of Scripture, the church is designated by her adorable Founder, as, "the kingdom of God" begun on earth. By St. Peter, she is described to be "purchased with the blood of Christ, as of a lamb, without blemish and without spot." And by the same apostle, the assemblage of believers are named a "spiritual house, a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Christ." St. Paul calls the professors of Christianity "a household, built on the foundation of the holy apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone:" and the same apostle calls the same divine person, "the head of the body, [the church,] from which by joints and bands having nourishment ministered and knit together, it increaseth with the increase of God." With the impression of the character of this body on the minds of the members of the Convention, there will be a pledge for the faithful performance of the service undertaken by them. What lies on them as a social body, should be realized by every individual of them in his personal capacity; so as to possess the evidence of preparation for the church triumphant in heaven, by a life and conversation, that now "adorns the doctrine of God his Saviour in all things."
Our reverend brethren will bear with their Bishop, while he reminds them of the especial application of these truths, to their and to his own official character. With an allusion to the heavenly origin of the church, we are called by one apostle, "stewards of the manifold grace of God;" and by another, "stewards of the mysteries of God:" not without admonition by each of these apostles; of the former, that we should be "good stewards;" and of the latter, that "it is expected in stewards to be found faithful." Besides being often designated by the figure of "labourers in a vineyard," we are in one place honoured by the title of "labourers together with God." To omit many similar suggestions, we are said "to watch for men's souls, as those who are to give account." If, with the worldly-minded ecclesiastic, there are founded on such passages claims, which indicate either vanity, or the love of the wanton exercise of power, they will be, with the conscientious [19/20] pastor; rather fruitful of humiliation, under a sense of any deficiencies, of which he may be sensible. He will also perceive a powerful call on him, not merely to the leading of a blameless life, but to be zealous and active in the discharge of his duties, and not to be "weary in well doing," but to "work while it is day;" knowing, agreeably to an intimation, which should speak to the conscience of every one of us, but especially to his who is the deliverer of this address, that "the night cometh, in which no man can work."