THE Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church, assembled in Convention, in compliance with a duty enjoined on them by the 45th Canon, address to you this their Pastoral Letter.
In the review of the documents sent to us by the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, while we rejoiced over the accounts of the prosperity and the increase of our Church in very many parts of the American Union, we could not but mourn over some accounts of an opposite description; attesting the melancholy fact, that from the time of the war of the revolution to the present day, there continues, in many places, a cessation of public worship, and the dereliction of efficient means for the restoring of it. We are aware of many difficulties and discouragements in this business; but we implore those who retain an affection for that Church, within which they were brought to an interest in the covenanted mercies of God in Christ, and who value that form of sound words and of profession, which they have inherited from primitive times, through the channel of the Church of England, to "strengthen the things that remain before" the candlestick be removed out of its place. In making this solemn call, we derive encouragement from an application to the present Convention, from the Church in the respectable State of North-Carolina, to be received as a branch of our Church generally throughout the Union. In that state, from the date of the American Revolution, there had been sometimes not a single Clergyman of our Church within its bounds; and sometimes only one or two of our number, and those not permanently resident. It has been considerably owing to a few Clergymen, who have recently settled there from the, other states, that there has taken place a revived attention to the ordinances of religion, and an organizing of the Communion. We rejoice in the event, and to those Clergymen and others who have been prominent on the occasion, we desire to make our affectionate acknowledgments.
There has opened to our view, during the present session, a more ample field in the states on the western waters of [3/4] this Continent. It has been long a source of grief to us, that while the current of population was setting strongly towards those extensive regions from the Atlantic States, the emigrants of our Communion have been in a state of privation of the ordinances of religion, in the forms in which they had been educated, and of which they most approve. We have been the more concerned in this matter from an apprehension, that there has been an indifference to the spiritual interests of those our distant brethren, in the minds of the Bishops of this Church. For there have not been known our difficulties, from the want of labourers in the harvest, from there being so m-any places in the elder states, in which the members of our Church are also destitute; and from the liberty of choice in every Minister admitted to orders among us, who naturally prefers a settlement within reach of some degree of intercourse with the persons to whose society he has been accustomed, when there is an equal prospect of the usefulness o£ his labours. It gives rise to some of our most agreeable sensibilities, that this source of misunderstanding, and this estrangement from our connexion is likely to be done away.. A few Clergymen, whom we honour for their late labours, have succeeded in collecting sundry congregations, and are likely to organize the Church in sundry states. The affection with which these Clergymen have been received, and the readiness with which their proposals have been complied with, are pledges of the disposition of the inhabitants, to the doing of whatever is requisite for the full introducing among them of the means of grace, agreeably to the principles endeared by ancient recollections to them and to ourselves. What has been done in their favour in the present session, will appear in the printed Journal. We hope that their wishes, as expressed in their applications to us from various congregations and various individuals, have been met. And we look for the issue, under the blessing of God, to their further exertions in the good work which has been begun.
It has been highly gratifying to us, from the opening of this Convention to the present moment, to have before us, not only an increase of the number of our body, giving ground of confidence in the continuance of the succession of the Episcopacy; but a more ample representation of our Church, in the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, than has heretofore been witnessed. We wish for a continuance and an increase of this interest in. the course of Ecclesiastical Councils, in the minds of the Clerical and of the Lay Members of our Communion: for besides that such occasional assemblies as the present, may be instrumental to the building of us up in our [4/5] most holy faith, and in provoking to love and to good works, they are essential to the encouraging and to the continuing of union, in the profession and the practice of what we conceive to be evangelical in doctrine, in worship, and in the institution of the ministry. It is only when such bodies become agitated by the angry passions of the persons who compose them, that they are useless to the Church: and under the weight of that circumstance, they may even counteract all the uses contemplated by Divine Wisdom in her establishment. The consideration of this creates a call on us to lift up our hearts in gratitude to Almighty God, and in an acknowledgment of its being owing to his grace, that during this Convention, now near its close, while, among your Bishops there have been scarcely shades of difference of opinion on the various points which have been before them, they are not informed of any such diversity, as can have an operation on the duty of keeping "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
On the perusal of the documents sent to us by the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, as enjoined by the aforesaid canon, we perceive reason to rejoice on account of the increase of our Church; in the forming of new congregations; in the revival of others, after a long state of inertness, and the discontinuance of the administration of the ordinances among them; in an additional number of able and faithful Ministers, and of hopeful young men in preparation for the ministry; in a better attendance than formerly on public worship, and on the sacraments and other institutions of the Church; and, as we hope on the ground of these promising appearances, in the religious and moral improvement of the various descriptions of professors within our pale. There is an unequivocal fact, which disposes us to take a favourable view of the growing influence of religion on the public mind generally. We allude to the vast increase of editions of Bibles, as well those for sale, as those designed for gratuitous distribution, through the medium of the numerous Societies, who, of late years, have associated for the conveying of that invaluable treasure to the houses and the bosoms of the most destitute of the people. Within the bounds of our Communion, we perceive an additional fact to the point, in an increased call for our Book of Common Prayer, from all descriptions of persons; and in the extended exertions of Societies instituted for the gratuitous distribution of it. This is a help to godliness, in which we should rejoice under any circumstances which might occur: but it is especially so, in the cases of a great proportion of our people: who, on [5/6] account of the smallness of their numbers in their respective vicinities, and the want of an ordained ministry, can enjoy no other worship of Almighty God, than that which is of the closet and of the family. That in each of these, the Prayer Book is instrumental in cultivating a spirit of devotion, we have had so much evidence, as does not suffer us to entertain a doubt.
It may be presumed to be an object of the 45th Canon, that if, in addition to the subjects suggested by the documents presented on the occasion of any General Convention, there should be others contemplated as especially worthy of your attention, preference should be given to such as have relation to the present circumstances of the Church. To them, however, more than to any others, there attaches the danger of our being understood to be unnecessarily obtruding opinions on points not before us in our respective official characters; accordingly--as may be said--not elucidated by argument; and at the risk of committing our personal reputation, and that of the Churches in which we respectively preside. Aware of the delicacy of our situation in this particular, we shall be careful not to affirm any positions, besides such as have undisputed existence in our Ecclesiastical Institutions, or are the obvious dictates of sound discretion.
The subjects to which your attention is now invited, are the relations in which we stand; 1st. To the civil community of our country; and, 2dly. To our Fellow-Christians of other religious denominations. Concerning both of these, some misapprehensions have been entertained: and it will lie on us to recommend the best expedients for the counteracting of them, by prudent provisions and by Christian conduct among ourselves.
Under the first of the points, what we have immediately in view, is a position which has been propagated in some of the states, or in some portions of them, that the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in America are under the control of the Ecclesiastical authority from which her Episcopacy was derived. We do not inquire, whether the suggestion originated in malice, or in the want of information: although we know, that from the latter cause, and from there not being access to a knowledge of the subject, there have resulted prejudices, which, on inquiry, have been abandoned. A communication of the reproach cast on our Church in this matter, was made to the Bishops at the last General Convention. On that occasion, they thought it sufficient to enter on the Journal, and by that instrument to bring before the public, m express contradiction of what had been affirmed. They [6/7] had afterwards the satisfaction of knowing, that the assurance was gratifying to many. But as the reproach referred to has not ceased, and as the circulation of the Journal is not extensive, they think it expedient to renew the assurance, and to appeal to facts in proof of what they say.
We wish it to be understood, that while, agreeably to the known principles as well of the Church of England, as of the Episcopal Church in these States, we deny all subjection of the one to the other; we contemplate a unity of principle, in whatever belongs to doctrine, or to worship, or to the Christian ministry; considered independently on any connexion with the state, or other local circumstance. In all this, we are so far from denying identity of character, that the hope of perpetuating it enters into all our cares and labours.
But that this concern has no connexion with an exterior influence, we refer for evidence to the Journals which came from the press immediately after the transactions recorded in them respectively. When, in the year 1785, a Convention of Clerical and Lay Deputies from seven States, assembled in the city of Philadelphia, addressed the English Bishops for the obtaining of the Episcopacy, there was stated by the former an independency in religious concerns, the result of a civil independency, brought about in the course of Divine Providence. When, subsequently, three Clergymen of this Church crossed the Atlantic for consecration; the executive authorities in the states from which they went did not hesitate to certify, that the object was consistent with the constitutions and the laws of the respective states, and of the Union. Since the accomplishment of the object, the proceedings of the Bishops, under the character with which they have been clothed, have been in public view; and there are no legitimate provisions by which their ministrations can be governed, besides those which are recorded on the printed Journals. Accordingly, there can be no room for the influence in question, unless on the uncharitable suspicion of subjection to private instructions: which can no otherwise be disproved than by an appeal to the notorious fact, that there has been hitherto no evidence of their operation. At the source from which the Episcopacy was derived, all the proceedings implied the independence of the American Church. The venerable Prelates referred to, on the receipt of the application in which the principle was explicitly avowed, were not withheld by it from the giving of a gracious answer to what they were pleased to call "the Christian and brotherly Address" of their transatlantic brethren. The civil disabilities lying on them, in relation to the requested benefit, were removed by their [7/8] application to the proper authorities, without the participation of any citizen of the United States. And when, finally, three Clergymen, sustaining that character, returned from England in the quality of Bishops, they testified, that in their intercourse with those of England, nothing was more remarkable than their scrupulous delicacy to the civil duties of their visitants.
Your Bishops, in stating these transactions, are aware, that the agents in them could not have acted otherwise, consistently with the duties resulting from the circumstances in which they were respectively placed. This itself ought to be a ground of presumption of correct conduct in the premises, until some specific act in contrariety shall be alleged and proved. There has been no attempt to the effect, so far as we are informed. But as there have been suspicions and reports, we rejoice in the circumstance, that all the proceedings of our Church have been open to the eye of the world; and stand to this day on record for the satisfaction of inquirers, from whatever quarter the information may be desired.
While we thus vindicate our Church from aspersion, it cannot escape our notice, and we ought not to be backward to state, that there is thus a ground laid for the asserting of her temporal rights. We conceive of various cases, in which the charge of subjection to foreign jurisdiction might shake the interests of our congregations in their houses of religious worship, and in other property for the maintaining of it. There being no such cause of possible disability, we take on ourselves to say, that when property has been purchased, or bestowed in the forms and within the limits of the laws, for the worship of Almighty God agreeably to the institutions of our Church, if she may be deprived of the same, whether it be by legislative authority, for public uses, or by judicial determinations, vesting it in any number of her seceding members, we have not the full benefit of a toleration. In the delivery of this sentiment, we do not mean to affirm any rights besides such as grow out of the privilege of worshiping God agreeably to the dictates of conscience; and out of contracts, for the carrying of the latter into effect. In an individual capacity, no man can be hindered in the choice of his mode of worship; and he needs no security of law, to fence his privilege in that respect. It is as a member of a social body, united for the purposes of devotion, that he needs the protection of the laws; which is refused to him, if he may be divested of his rights, in either of the ways specified above. In thus affirming rights attaching to a membership of [8/9] our Communion, we claim no more than the being known to be a society of professing Christians: a species of fact, which, as we are advised, has been customarily recognized in judicial proceedings, in reference to various forms of profession in the United States; and in England, in favour of societies dissenting from the Ecclesiastical establishment of that country; to such an extent, as that the individual is held to be bound by the rules of the society to which his voluntary membership has subjected him. If these positions be correct, we conceive it to follow, that when any members of our Church have agreed to hold property for their common benefit, and in subjection to its constitution and its laws; the property attaches to those who may continue in the membership, and not to those who may secede from it. We ground the privation of the one, and the exclusive privilege of the other, on a contract to which both were parties; and not on the legal operation of the decisions of our Ecclesiastical tribunals; which is neither pleaded nor sought for on our part.
We cannot be on this part of the subject, without declaring our sense of the invasion of the temporal rights of our Church, carried into effect in some parts of the Union by legislative seizures and sales of lands, originally acquired, and for a long time held under existing laws. Having been a suffering Church in this particular, we trust there will remain to us the usual privilege of sufferers--that of complaint; especially as there will always be, more or less, the obvious causes of the injury; in some minds, of rooted hostility to religion in every shape; and, in others, of the most virulent prejudices against our Church in particular; the effect, either of the most intolerant bigotry, or of the most nauseous enthusiasm. For that, in some instances, these have combined with infidelity to bring injury on our Church, is a fact too notorious to be denied.
We are not aware of any specious pretence, on which the principles affirmed by us can be contradicted, unless it be that of our being no longer what we were formerly--the Church of England in America. This matter may be stated as follows: The institutions of the said Church, the sphere of which is confined to the countries within the jurisdiction of its civil government, no longer knew us in that character, than during the continuance of our allegiance to her sovereign. On our part, we could no longer consider ourselves as under the same, consistently with the obligations under which we had been brought to the sovereignty of the United States. To suppose, that the identity of a religious [9/10] communion is destroyed by such an event; and that they thereby forfeit the means of the public worship of God, agreeably to the dictates of their consciences, has indeed been alleged; but, we believe, will never be made a ground of determination by any impartial tribunal of law.
We take occasion to suggest such advice and exhortation as appears to us to be the result of the statements made, taken in connexion with the precepts of our holy religion. On this ground, we intreat the members of our Church, both clerical and lay, that while they plead for her temporal rights, as essential to the free exercise of those of a spiritual nature: both of which they hold in common with their fellow Christians of various religious denominations; great care and vigilance be bestowed, for the doing of this in the spirit of meekness; and especially with due respect to the persons of civil rulers; and to constitutional provisions, as well of the respective slates, as of the Union. There is the greater difficulty in maintaining a proper temper on these subjects, in consequence of the share possessed by every member of the community, in elevating men to stations of responsibility and of power: this being the occasion of much collision of opinions and of interests. In us, it would be an abase of Ecclesiastical station, to dissuade any member of our Church from the discretionary exercise of any privilege, with which he is vested by constitution or by law. On the contrary, we are aware, that wherever there are rights of this sort, duties are attached to them. But we do not go beyond the limits of our sphere, when we exhort him to exercise those rights with integrity in regard to their declared objects; and with moderation in pursuing what he believes to be in itself right: this, to the avoiding of whatever comes under the name of faction; and much more of unlawful violence; which are so often attendants on the exercise of popular privilege, and tend eventually to the loss of it. In proportion as the membership of our Church shall be considered in itself presumptive of attachment to the government of law, and to the peace of the commonwealth; it will be understood by good men of every profession, that the institutions of the Church itself are in the same spirit, and tend to the same effect. For, that relation to such a body has an influence on individual character, can hardly be unknown to any who have comprehended human nature and the histories of states, among the subjects of their observation.
While we consider these remarks as applicable to persons of all orders in the Church; and as pointing to duties, in which, as in others, it is incumbent on the Clergy to be [10/11] examples; we would further suggest to them, to avoid the being prominent on either side of any question of civil interest, involving difference of opinion among fellow-citizens: it being notorious of the contrary conduct, that if it have the effect of increasing the civil consequence of the agent, it is more than counterbalanced by a lessening of the weight of his ecclesiastical character. We forbear to enlarge on the discredit accruing to religion, from the unsocial passions and the unworthy arts by which political projects are sometimes accomplished. These, it may be said, are not necessarily the resort of men of any description. But if, from the infirmity of human nature, the field of employment in question is that in which their intrusion may be especially apprehended; it should surely be avoided by those who are in the common danger of being betrayed by it into sin; and in whom it is aggravated by its alliance with a ministry from which it is the most conspicuously alien. If these sentiments are correct, they apply with an increase of force to a Clergyman's seeking of civil stations of responsibility and of profit. We do not concern ourselves with the question, whether the constitution of a country may combine with its civil rule an ecclesiastical sanction for the accomplishing of the righteous ends of both. It is well understood, that no such provision is made by the constitution and the laws to which we are subject. And we do not hesitate to say, that under the existing state of things, when Clergymen of our Church aim at the exchanging of the ecclesiastical capacity for the civil, it is a degradation of the ministry, and especially a violation of the promises made in the services of ordination.
The other topic of this Address, is the relation in which our Church stands to professing Christians of other religious denominations; which has attached to it the peculiarity, that the inhabitants of this land, being emigrants, or their descendants, from different countries of the old world, of separate civil jurisdictions, and partly of different languages, have here met under circumstances which contain less specious ground of mutual hostility, than perhaps can be found in any other portion of the Christian world, under a diversity of profession. Sustaining the same code of revelation, we may reasonably expect of one another, to give a patient ear to the evidences on which we respectively rest our theories. But, as the weight of argument is not to be tested by the confidence of the party applying it, there is less pretence for irritation, than where superiority has been long claimed and exercised by one portion of the community, and indignantly endured by another.
 While we thus perceive a motive to mutual forbearance, and to the avoiding of personal irritation, we ought not to overlook an additional consideration of great weight, in the common cause of Christianity; and in detestation of that monster of infidelity, which, in our days, has reared his horrid crest in the view of the civilized world, and poured his deadly venom on whatever is estimable either in civil or in domestic life. If the atrocities committed have detected the imposition, and exposed the true character of the agent, the recollection of what has happened should still be fresh in the memories of the advocates of Christianity: so that the profession of this, in any form, ought to be preferred to irreligion; which cannot fail to be encouraged by the intemperate passions, and by the mutual revilings, of those who worship one God, through one Mediator, and in one hope of a blessed immortality.
In stating these things as motives to Christian sympathy, we perceive the danger of their being abused, to the encouragement of indifference. The giving of countenance to this, is far from being our design. On the contrary, believing, as we do, that our Church inherits the maxims of the earliest and best ages, prevailing before there arose that cloud of superstition which hung so long over the whole Christian world; and, of course, before the many notions of modern times, the novelty of which we conceive to be sufficient evidence of their unsoundness; we would sustain the apostolic injunction, of "earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints." But, this is not inconsistent with the moderation for which we plead. On the contrary, so far as our observation extends, there appears to us to be less of piety and of charity in those counsels which affect to put all forms of profession on a level, than in a consistent, yet not intolerant adherence, to whatever has even the plausible appearance of a duly constituted Church.
We desire to be considered as speaking of the public offices of the ministry: in regard to which, there are some theories not likely to endanger the occurrence of any difficulty in this particular. Wherever the devotion of the people is directed to what we do not conceive of as the object of worship, the contrariety of character draws a line of distinction too discernable to be overlooked. There is a line equally definite between us and professing bodies who set aside the divine institution of the ministry and the sacraments. Here are two descriptions of persons referred to, not as forfeiting our good will, on account of what we believe to be their errors; but because we are not likely to give offence, either [12/13] to them or to others on their behalf, by a withholding of association as marked in practice as in theory.
But there are religious communions, not bordering on either of these extremes, and, at the same time, consenting with us in so many points, as occasionally to induce the wish of worthy persons among them, as of such persons among ourselves, that there may be an occasional intercommunity of services: it being presumed, that in such an intercourse, the peculiarities of the respective systems are to be lost sight of. On this subject, we owe to the members of our Church an exposition of our sentiments, and of the grounds on which they rest. We shall consider the matter, as it respects the Christian Ministry, Worship, and Doctrine: the arrangement being adjusted to the prominency and the frequency of occurrence of the desire referred to of our losing sight of the properties of the respective systems.
1st. On the point of the Ministry, it is well known, that our Church ascribes great importance to the position, that "from the Apostles' time, there have been in the Church of Christ the three orders, of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons:" And she presumes, that this is "evident from Scripture and from the writings of the early Fathers." We are aware, that this has been denied to have been the opinion of the Church of England, at the period of the Reformation. But it was at this period that the Ordinal, from which the words are quoted, was composed; and the sense of them might be corroborated by citations from the writings of very early Divines. This is not an occasion on which it will be expected of us to go into a proof of the original institution of Episcopacy. It is sufficient for the present purpose, that we believe it to have been coeval with Christianity; and to have continued in the Church universally, for the space of about 1500 years. If this be our belief, how is it possible that we can officially recognize the organizing of non-episcopalian congregations, and the administering of the ordinances by a non-episcopalian ministry? We may esteem the persons, we may respect the talents, and we may rejoice in the usefulness of such a ministry, in proportion as there may be a ground for any or for all of this, in what passes around us in the world. We are free to declare, each of us for himself, that there is a tribute due from us under each of the heads enumerated. But we have a trust committed to us, which cannot be lost in those affections of the mind. We are aware of imperious circumstances in some places, and of prejudices arising out of existing habits in others, which have combined to impair the integrity of Christian discipline in this particular. But while these [13/14] considerations confirm us in the disposition, which we cultivate on other accounts, of avoiding the casting of reproach and censure, they do not extend to the justifying of us, in countenancing such an inroad on the constitution of the Church of Christ. It is on this ground that we keep ourselves at a distance from all efforts for the encouraging of a ministry not Episcopal, and for sanctioning its agency in the sacraments and other ordinances of the Church.
2dly. In respect to Worship: We suppose it to be the most agreeable to Scripture, to reason, and to ancient practice, to conduct this holy exercise under the control of prescribed forms. We know that they prevailed in the services of the Temple, arranged under the influence of inspiration; in those of the Synagogue, which were joined in by our Lord in person; and in the primitive Churches, which had their Common Prayers, as they are expressly called by Eusebius; although, under a diversity of expression, in different places, while on this account, and on other considerations, we prefer precomposed forms of prayer; our meaning would be misinterpreted, if understood to deny that other prayers than ours, and other than are either printed or written, may be, and often are, both rational and evangelical. Our difficulty does not consist in joining in such a prayer; wheresoever, or by whomsoever delivered. But we find a difficulty in this, that in a joint ministry, to which there are attached services altogether dependent on the discretion of the officiating Minister, we may be drawn unintentionally into the sanctioning of error. On some occasions it would be difficult to escape the dishonouring of our churches by such sallies of excessive sensibility, and even of passion, as render Divine Worship an object of scorn. These things being put out of the question, the countenancing of irreverent expressions, or of declamatory enlargements in the act of prayer, which are possible, and will be allowed by all intelligent persons occasionally to happen, is what we would not wish even impliedly to approve of. Any of the enumerated particulars may be justly considered as encouraged by us, when they are attached to transactions, in which we are of the number of the agents.
The last particular is Doctrine. Under this head we have to lament, that while there are numerous professors and preachers of Christianity, with whom we consent in the acknowledgment of all that we esteem the essential truths of Christianity, we are discouraged from uniting with them in Gospel labours, because of their superadding of tenets, for which we find its authority in the Scriptures. If it should [14/15] occur, that there may be inculcated truths held in common, to the neglect of what is likely to offend; there can be no doubt of this in theory: while there can be no security of it in practice; and experience shows, that the contrary is often the result. This department opens too wide a field for the proceeding further on it at present: we shall, therefore, conclude it with the remark, that while we call to mind, with regret, the points on which we differ from persons with whom we hold much salutary truth, we look forward to the time when a greater diffusion of Christian light, and much more, an increased measure of Christian charity, with the help of mutual explanation and concession, shall lead them and us, not only with "one mind," as at present, but "with one mouth, to glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is a consideration which increases our dissatisfaction with such a mistaken union of courses, as produces collision of opinion, and excites the angry passions of our nature; thus causing estrangement of affection, to the aggravation of that which is in profession and outward order.
On the ground of the statements now made, we take occasion to press on the members of our Church generally, adherence to her institutions. It requires but little consideration to foresee, that there is no security for the permanency of any of them, if they are to give way in part, in one congregation and in another within our pale, at the inconsiderate desire of persons, who, under the prospect of melioration, may soon have occasion to lament, that the result of their endeavours has been the opposite to what they had imagined. This is especially likely to happen, and has sometimes happened, in consequence of the very expedient, against which we have been here endeavouring to erect a bar. On the happening of disappointments in this respect, we were not disposed to lament the issue; when we considered, that for the accomplishing of such an amalgamation as is affected by some, it would be necessary for us to sacrifice our views of the Christian Ministry, of the Sacraments, of Christian Worship, of the operations of Divine Grace, and of the extent of the mercies of God to a sinful world.
We are not ignorant, that the not holding and the not preaching of the doctrines of grace, are charges heaped on the Clergy of our Church generally, on account of their rejection of some points of the description here referred to. Let it not be thought, that there is in us a desire of extenuating the guilt of any Clergyman who is indifferent to, or who does not faithfully preach the doctrines of grace, in the proper sense of the expression. Doubtless, they have a heavy [15/16] account to vender of the delinquency: and we charge the conscience of every Clergyman with his responsibility in this respect. But there take shelter, under the cover of that property of Christian preaching, matters which are foreign to the institutions of our Church, and, as we think, to the Scriptures. It would be a desertion of our trust, to endanger the admission of these within our pale.
Even where no scriptural truth is denied, and no unscriptural dogma is obtruded, we foresee, as the consequence of the intermixture of ministry, the introduction of various matters, so unsuitable to the species of devotion of which we have specimens in the Scriptures, to the remains of the piety of primitive antiquity, and to what has been transmitted to us through the channel of the Church of England; that neither of them can be acceptable to the same persons, or long be a property of the same communion.
We should be misunderstood, were we supposed to countenance intolerance against those who do not unite with us in our views of scriptural doctrine and worship. Far from this, we exhort all the members of our Church to that moderation in the manner of sustaining the truth, that forbearance in the manner of opposing error, and that esteem for merit wheresoever found; the contrary to which has been, in so many instances, a reproach to the Christian name. We do not wish to see the institutions of our Church, a cause of that "wrath of man, which worketh not the righteousness of God." Of many opinions conflicting with ours, we believe that the origin of the diversity is in the different senses annexed to the words. In many other cases, we trace it to hereditary prejudice; descending from former times, without the hostility by which it had been generated. Even in regard to dogmas, which strike at any of the vital truths of Christianity, while we pray, that God "may give to the maintainers of them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth," we do not suffer ourselves to determine to what extent it may be the result of involuntary error; much less take on ourselves the work of that day, which will "bring to light the hidden things of darkness."
While we thus caution against increasing and perpetuating the divisions among Christian people, by the intrusion of unholy passion within the enclosure of sacred truth, we perceive a more effectual mean of the same end, in the maintaining of good temper, good manners, and good offices, in the ordinary intercourses of society. It is a feature in the character of the civil constitution of this country, that people of very different descriptions of religious communion are brought together in the management of its civil concerns; [16/17] not only of a high, but of a subordinate grade; of constant occurrence, and having a bearing of every day's enjoyment of peace and safety. In this extensive department, there is a continual call for the exercise of candour, of patience, and of whatever comes under the head of charity, in its various branches. In proportion as our form of profession is conducive to such virtues, it will be seen and confessed, that separation in religious concerns is not from the unsocial temper of the creed professed; but because it dictates the avoiding, at the cost of any sacrifice, except of divine truth, every thing by which the harmony of social life may be impaired.
There will be a tendency to the same object, in whatever comes under the intimation given by St. Paul, "to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." For in proportion as religion manifests its holy influence in the relations of domestic life, and in all our intercourses with one another; producing in all of them a strict regard to integrity and truth, and a faithful discharge of the duties which arise out of them respectively, it is a recommendation presenting itself to the eyes of all men; and giving ground of the presumption, that there must be an inward principle, answerable to such estimable fruits. It is the Christian doctrine alone which can obtain such a testimony: and this should be an inducement to all the members of our Church, to cling close to its precious truths. The Clergy in particular should be aware, that by presenting them continually to the minds of the people, and no otherwise, extensive good is to be accomplished. So long as the Gospel shall stand, "not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God," the latter will be illustrated in its triumphs over "the corruption that is in the world through lust," and in producing illustrious examples of piety and virtue: while there will be little good resulting from the other; and the best effect of it will be the producing of decency in the exterior conduct; the heart being left unrenewed, and falling short of a preparation for the inheritance of the Saints in light."
Both to the Clergy and to the Laity we desire to say, but most pointedly to the former, that the Christian profession exacts a greater abstraction from the world than that which consists in the abstaining from acknowledged sin. There are practices so nearly allied, and so easily abused to it, that we conceive of a professor of religion in duty bound either not to countenance them in the least degree; or, as is allowable in regard to some of the matters contemplated, to avoid the so employing of time, and the so lavishing of affection, as puts into a state pf sin, although not necessarily belonging to the [17/18] subject. We would be far from an endeavour after an abridgment of Christian liberty. But we cannot forget, that in a list of the classes of evil livers, there is introduced the description of persons who are "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God;" nor, in respect to the female professors of religion in particular, the admonition, that "she who liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." We are aware of the difficulty of drawing the line between the use of the world and the abuse of it: that being conceived of by different persons equally pious and virtuous, according to the diversity of natural temperament, and of the states of society in which they have been placed by education or by habit: but we know, that where the conscience can reconcile itself to the drawing as near to the territory of sin, as it can persuade itself to be consistent with the still standing on secure ground, deadness to spiritual good at the best, but more commonly subjection to its opposite is the result.
In speaking of subjects of the above description, we would not be understood to class among them any practice which is either immoral in itself, or so customarily accompanied by immorality, that the one is necessarily countenanced with the other. Of the former description, is gaming in all the variety of its exercise: and the like may be said of whatever involves cruelty to the lower animals of the creation. If the same cannot be affirmed of works of fiction, and of putting speeches into the mouths of feigned characters, for the purpose of instruction or of entertainment; yet as the question is applicable to the exhibitions of the theatre, such as they have been in every age, and are at present; we do not hesitate to declare unanimously our opinion, that it is a foul source of very extensive corruption. We lay little stress on the plea, that it is a matter practicable in social institutions, to purge the subject from the abuses which have been attached to it. When this shall have been accomplished, it will be time to take another ground. But, in truth, we are not persuaded of the possibility of the thing, when we consider that the prominent and most numerous patrons of the stage are always likely to be the least disposed to the seriousness which should enter into whatever is designed to discriminate between innocence and guilt. While the opinions and the passions of such persons shall continue to serve the purpose of a looking-glass, by which the exhibited characters are to be adjusted to the taste of so great a proportion of the public, we despair of seeing the stage rescued from the disgusting effusions of profaneness and obscenity; and much less of that mean of corruption) more insinuating than any other--the exhibiting of [18/19] what is radically base, in alliance with properties captivating to the imagination.
While we address this alike to the Clergy and to the Laity, we consider it as especially hostile to the usefulness of the former. And even in regard to some matters confessed to be innocent in themselves, their innocency may depend much on many circumstances, and of professional character among others. The ear of a Clergyman should always be open to a call to the most serious duties of his station. Whatever may render it difficult to his own mind to recur to those duties with the solemnity which they require, or may induce an opinion in others, that such a recurrence must be unwelcome to him from some enjoyment not congenial with holy exercise, ought to be declined by him. If it be a sacrifice, the making of it is exacted by what ought to be his ruling wish, the serving of God, and the being useful to his fellow-men, in the discharge of the duties of the ministry.
With the assurance of our unceasing prayers for the welfare of our spiritual Zion, we conclude this our fourth Pastoral Letter.
Signed by order of the House of Bishops,
WILLIAM WHITE, D. D.
New-York, May 27, 1817.