A Pastoral Letter to the Members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America from the Bishops of the Same
ANOTHER triennial convention furnishes us with the present opportunity of addressing you, agreeably to the requisition of the 45th canon of 1808.
Under our personal observation, and from the communications presented during the present session from the churches in the several States, we gather abundant proof, that our Zion is "lengthening her cords and strengthening her stakes," in the increase of her ministry, in the number of her congregations, and in that of her professing members. Whether there be a proportionate increase in genuine devotion, and in a walking worthy of the vocation, is a question which exacts a more extensive knowledge of the population of the different districts of our country; and, in some respects, a nearer insight of the hearts of men, than we feel a competency to in ourselves. But here we find sufficient ground on which to build the intimation, that only in proportion to such increase, the prosperity of the church is a fit subject either of desire or of congratulation.
It is with pleasure we contemplate the organizing of our church in two of the Western States, those of Kentucky and of Tennessee, and the consequent admission of their churches within our ecclesiastical union. In the tide of emigration to the west, there is of course a proportion of the settlers who had inherited from their ancestors a predilection for the principles and for the services of the Episcopal church. They are generally so thinly scattered over extensive countries, only of late brought under cultivation, that for the congregating of them under ecclesiastical ties, there are required, in every case, the energies of at least a few men of information and of influence, to take the lead in incipient measures. Such men have been found in each of the States referred to; and we indulge the hope, that their example will be followed, even in the more recently settled States and territories.
This object might be much promoted by due encouragement extended to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, established by our church, and conducted under her auspices. The report of this society has been before the convention, and will be printed on the Journal. We are of opinion, that neither the importance of the institution; nor the difficulties with which it has had to struggle, are generally known. In several of the dioceses there are provisions for missionary purposes within the same. We do not doubt, that in each of them there are calls for ministerial aid to a destitute population within its limits. But there is a far more extensive field within the federal Union, the destitute condition of which makes the most powerful appeal to Christian beneficence. And a disposition is cherished, by many members of our communion, to contribute to the wants of the benighted portions of the world. The constitution of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of our church admits of the appropriation of the contributions and efforts of its members to either of these objects exclusively or to both.
There has been on the society the pressure of the want of missionaries. For a gradual supply of this, we look to the Theological Seminary, existing under the auspices of this convention. Its report has been laid before us, and has exhibited a state of its affairs, which ought to excite an especial interest. In consequence of a most liberal bequest of the late Frederick Kohne, Esq., of Philadelphia, it will be eventually possessed of a very considerable endowment. But, in the mean time, its annual expenditures exceed its annual income, in a sum formidable to the institution, although a light burthen on the church throughout the Union; which it is therefore hoped will respond to the calls lately made on it, for congregational collections in the several churches. From the testimony of those who have attended to the examinations in the seminary, we have no doubt that the education is conducted with ability and with efficiency.
It would contribute materially to the success of the two institutions which have been named, if there should be a general diffusion of measures, lately put in operation in a few of the States, to give gratuitous education for the ministry to pious young men, who may incline to it, but are not furnished with the means of the literary attainments required by the canons. This expedient has pressed on the minds of the clerical and the lay deputies of the convention during the present session; and it is at their desire, that your bishops invite to it the attention of the church at large. Especially they address it to the consciences of pious parents of such youth, exhorting them to avail themselves of the means where they have been provided; not without regard to general fitness of character in their sons, but by fostering the suitable qualifications, where, in the exercise of Christian judgment, they shall be discerned. In our parent church there are bequests handed down from very ancient times, preparing for usefulness a succession of youth, who otherwise never would have reached it; and this provision has not only been, in some measure, a counterbalance to the scantiness of the provision for a great proportion of her clergy, but has elevated to high standing and to great literary celebrity some whose talents would otherwise have been lost in the obscurity of their parentage. If such an expedient for the bringing of humble merit into useful exercise be adapted to the exigences of the country of our forefathers, much more is it called for by the circumstances of our favoured land, in which there are so many pecuniary rewards of industry, as to require extraordinary exertion, in order to qualify for a department which can never be the road to wealth, or even to what, in other professions, would be considered as competency.
It is with pleasure that, in the reports from a great proportion of our church, we find evidence of a cordial reception of the Episcopal Sunday School Union, which will be eventually the recipient of a large bequest from the lame source with that of the Theological Seminary. The institution now noticed, is earnestly recommended by us, as tending to diffuse the knowledge and the practice of the most efficient plans of Sunday School instruction, to moderate the prices of suitable books and tracts, and to protect our Sunday Schools against any endeavours which may hereafter be put forth, to subject them to an influence alien from that of the church.
With grief we notice the vacancy caused in our body, by the decease of the late Rt. Rev. Bishop Kemp. Some of us had, for a long course of years, acted harmoniously with him in the most important concerns of our communion; which will be prevented, by the melancholy event, from still reaping the fruit of his wise and prudent counsels.
In contrast with this privation, this house announces, with satisfaction, that there have been added to their body the Rt. Rev. Henry U. Onderdonk. D.D., Asst. Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and the Rt. Rev. Wm. Meade, D.D., Asst. Bishop of Virginia; the latter having been consecrated during the session of this convention.
On every occasion of the issuing of a pastoral letter to the members of our communion, it has been an object with us to avail ourselves of some subject or subjects suggested by the circumstances of the then present time, with a view to application to duties proper to all times, and under any circumstances which may occur. We now continue in this course; and the subject which we bring before you is the religious excitement on the public mind, which has manifested itself within these few years, and continues to extend itself, promoting inquiry into the ground of the faith and of the hopes of the Christian Revelation, and of zealous endeavours for the extension of the knowledge of it.
That such seasons of grace occasionally occur in the course of Divine Providence, cannot have escaped the notice of any religious observer, who has attentively studied the history of the Christian church; and although we are warranted by Holy Writ, to refer every such event to the agency from which "all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works proceed;" yet, it being the usual course of the moral government of God, that his designs are accomplished through the intervention of what are called secondary causes, it is natural to inquire, how far such a provision is discernible in the matter now brought under review.
We think that we perceive the beginning of the series of causes and their effects, in a reaction of the public mind against those prodigious efforts of infidelity which were put forth within the memory of the most of us, varnished by the most plausible promises of improvement in civil policy, to be built on the ruins of religious profession in all its forms; and even aiming at the impossible achievement of rooting out religious principle, as a delusion operating not to the benefit but to the injury of the human kind. That so corrupt a theory, however contrary to the constitution of our nature, to the history of our race, under all the circumstances in which they have been placed, and to the sentiments of the men who have been held in the highest esteem in different times and places, should be obtruded on the world in the shape of ingenious speculation; and that it should be advocated by splendid talents, and by the misapplication of literary attainments, was not a novelty. But that the phantasm should be a ground of extensive action, that the daring design should be avowed, and committed to the agency of large associations, that it should obtain national adoption any where, that it should be carried into effect by public law, and that a persecuting zeal should be called forth, for the extermination of what had been hitherto considered as the cement of civil society, and as the only security for the rights and for the duties essential to its existence, was a hardihood of iniquity which no experience of former times had given cause to anticipate or to apprehend. It is matter of grief to us, to look back and to recollect, that not only many of the higher grades of life were captivated by the glare of a false philosophy, to their moral loss, but that masses of men in humble life, who had been hitherto out of the reach of the subductive arts of infidelity, together with the shock sustained on their principles, felt the effects of it in their domestic relations, and on the industry which their several vocations called for.
With this dark display before us, we had the consolation to remark, that besides the poignant sorrow which filled the minds of all who cherished the veneration and the love of what was represented by the divine Author of our religion under the figure of "the pearl of great price," and under that of "a treasure hid in a field," deserving and exacting "the selling of all for the purchase of it;" there were not a few who, contemplating the crisis as big with danger to whatever is estimable in the social system, and as threatening the destruction of all law and of all order, drew back from the gulf laid open before them, and contributed their respective energies to the sustaining of Christian truth as their only sure support. We do not doubt, that from this cause much benefit has been derived to civil society, in the strengthening of the obligation of Christian morals. This was important in its consequences to the social system, while, in the cases of no small a proportion of persons operated on to the effect, and in the more beneficial result of the drawing of their attention to the only foundation of public happiness in the influence of the religious principle, they have confessed the aids derived from those sacred Oracles which have "brought life and immortality to light."
That there has been felt, on the public mind, the reaction thus described, we hold to be a fact, to be appealed to with confidence; and further, we think we cannot be mistaken in the persuasion, that as in all times and places there are evidences of what we read in Scripture--"he maketh the wrath of man to praise him," the truth of the saying is verified in what we notice, that there has been diffused, as well in our combined commonwealth as generally in the kingdoms and the states of the old world, an extraordinary degree of attention to the importance of the Christian revelation prompting measures for the impressing of its truths, and for the extending of the knowledge of them over the whole habitable world.
For the truth of the fact we refer for evidence of it, to what continually passes under our observation in the ordinary intercourses of society; and if this should be thought of not sufficient amount for the argument built on it, we refer for further evidence, to the numerous associations instituted, not only for the continuing and for the extending of the knowledge of divine truth, among the proportion of our population with whom it might otherwise be superseded by increasing ignorance and irreligion, but for the sending of the same precious treasure to all the countries in which it has been hitherto unknown, including many which modern discovery has laid open to missionary zeal. In judging from what we have witnessed, there can be no rashness in the anticipation, that an important effect is about to be produced, as well on countries in which the word of God has been hitherto or until lately unpreached, as on other countries in which its truths have been encumbered, through ages, with traditionary superstition, fastened on the minds of the population by the withholding of the Bible from their perusal. It is to the duties which result from this state of the public mind, that we are desirous of leading your attention.
The shape in which it the most immediately addresses its instructions to every individual, is in the reminding of him or of her, of there being, in this circumstance, a call more frequent and more loud than in ordinary times, to every attainment and to every act, entering into the character, and constituting a part of the conduct of a Christian. We are at all times called to this by the events occurring in the ordinary course of Divine Providence. But when the truths, the obligations, and the hopes of religion have become considerably the subjects of social conversation; and when an increasing interest is seen to be taken, by the illustration of them in very many instances of the conversion of sinners, and of conspicuous examples of holy conduct, and in incitements, not only to the open profession of Christian obligation, in opposition to irreligion and immorality of every sort, but to the bestowing of reasonable portions of our worldly substance for the support of the Gospel within our respective spheres of influence, and to carry into effect the charge of its blessed Author,--"Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature;" it is evident, that in each of the circumstances stated, there must be correspondent duty laid on those who are witnesses of it, and an increase of weight to the summons--"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Our Lord has compared his professing followers to "a city set on a hill, where it cannot be hid," and to "a candle put not under a bushel, but on a candlestick, where it may give light to all that are in the house." Doubtless, there is pertinency in these figures to the responsibilities under which professors lie at all times; but the application of them is more than ordinarily conspicuous, when, in consequence of such an increase of attention to the city and to the candle, there is the more readiness of discovery and of remark, in the former case of any dilapidation of the building, and in the latter, of any dusky matter which may communicate its vitiating properties to the blaze. To drop the metaphors: the senses of them apply especially to a point of time, in which, on the one hand, delinquency gives the most occasion of the pouring of contempt on the profession, and on the other hand, the discharge of duties the most illustrative of the precept of our Saviour explanatory of his comparisons--"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
It will be to the purpose, that while we present to the members of our church our views as to what is consistent in their characters as individuals, we exhort them further, that the holy unction of their private devotions may shed its sanctifying influence on the occasions of their assembling for the public worship of the sanctuary. Perhaps there are few more powerful causes of the excitement of religious affections, than the witnessing of their possessing of the minds of a congregation, in connection with all the decorum, and with whatever else should be connected with the purpose of there being assembled. It has sometimes happened, that on being present at such an exhibition, men who came to mock, remained to pray. This was the sentiment in the mind of St. Paul, when he thought it probable of an unbeliever, that with such a company before him, he should "fall down and worship, and report that God is among them of a truth." If with such persons such may be the result, much more powerful must be the operation of the same cause on those who, on the like occasions, bring with them conviction of the obligation of the attendant duties, but associated with sensibility of the infirmities which may intervene between their devout oblations and the adorable object to whom they are to be addressed.
With a view to the duties referred to, let there be a conscientious hallowing of that sacred day, which, although divested of the peculiarities of the Sabbath, now succeeded by the Lord's Day, ascends, for the source of its obligation, to the command given to the first created pair, when on the finishing of the work of creation, "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Let it rest on the minds of all, as a matter not to be dispensed with, except for some work either of necessity or of mercy. Let them assemble habitually, and in a manner remote alike from levity and ostentation; and let them, engage in the prescribed services, with affections suited to the spirit diffused throughout them, in the act of confession, in that of praise and thanksgiving, in that of intercession, and in that of prayer, in all its various breathing of devout desire, with dependence on the Holy Spirit of grace, so as to render them, as nearly as is consistent with human frailty, fit for the replenishing of "the golden vials, full of odours," defined to be "the prayers of the saints," and said to be "offered by four-and-twenty elders, to the Lamb and before the throne."
On these occasions, let there also be a listening, with desire of profit, and with prayer for the same, to the instructions of the Divine word read from the desk, which, according to the language of Scripture, is preaching in the strict sense; although not without regard to further instructions from the pulpit, which, when drawn from the Word of God, or constructed in agreement with it, is a mean of salvation ordained by Divine wisdom, and has, in all ages, been efficacious to the conversion of sinners, to the edification of the godly, and to the advancing of the church to what it ought to be as "built on the foundation of the holy apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone."
Conceiving of ourselves as addressing persons whose minds wear the impress of the truths of God's holy Word we should be wanting to our subject were we to neglect to intimate to them, that besides personal religion, and besides the profession of it in the services of the church, there are due from the professor, his endeavours to recommend the holy cause in the ordinary intercourses of society. Without a Christian's exhibiting of himself in the character of a dictator, or in that of a censor, there will occur occasions of compliance with the apostolic injunction--"be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." Without the obtrusion of sacred lessons on reluctant minds, there may be given such a cast to what is said, as to make it conformable to that other direction of the same apostle--"Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt"--with the salt of religious sentiment, in proportion as there may be an opening for the expressing of it. To this there is a great encouragement in that saying of the Old Testament--"a word spoken in due season, how good is it!"--good in itself, and often a mean, under the agency of the Holy Spirit, of illustrating the saying of St. James He that converteth a sinner from the error of his ways hath saved a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
We would not press the obtrusion of religious opinion, under circumstances not favourable to the object in view, much less, the doing of this with either matter or manner that will be repulsive, and may, perhaps, carry with it the appearance of self-importance. But when infidelity and irreligion are so little under the restraint even of the decorum which should govern in all social intercourse, and so prone to bring forward their deceptive reasonings and their unhallowed wit, whatever offence may be given to those with whom the Christian cause is the dearest object of their affections; it cannot but be covered with dishonour by an indifference on their part, which would wear the appearance of an abandonment of it. We are aware that silence may sometimes be imposed by modesty, under the consciousness of the want of preparation for argument, perhaps exacting the meeting of irreligious men, on the ground of the misapplied stores of literature of various kinds. Even in such a case, if the Gospel have been to the hearer "the power of God unto salvation," there are various ways of manifesting his adherence to the integrity of his profession, as also his sense of the attack made on his morals, and of the endeavours put into operation for the blasting of his most precious hopes.
We ought to be aware, that in promoting the cause of religion we are bound to take an interest in it beyond the spheres in which we move, either as individuals or as associated members of congregations. In our political Union there are very few states, if any, in which there are not districts of so sparse a population, and of such comparative poverty, as admit little probability of their being furnished with the preaching of the word and the administration of the ordinances, unless aided by the co-operation of those who possess the advantages of greater numbers, of more favourable opportunities of counsel, and of sufficiency of means. To no case can there more aptly apply the intimation of St. Paul, that the members of the body should have the same care one for another," and that "if one member suffer all the members should suffer with it." In various vicinities of the character alluded to, there is rising a generation without any visible mean of instruction in the most essential truths of religion, or of the practice of any of its duties, and we are warranted by facts, partly gathered from observation, and partly resting on credible testimony, to affirm, that the result of such a state of things is progressive dissoluteness of manners, and even disregard of the decencies of life. In several of the states there are societies, and we doubt not the number of them will increase, instituted for the purpose of meeting the growing evil, and while we pray for success to their labours, proportioned to the demand for them in the necessities of the church, and in the condition of society at large, we cannot refrain from holding up as what we should press on the consciences of all the members of our communion, the duty of furnishing to such bodies their pecuniary contributions, in measures suited to the means which a gracious Providence has bestowed.
There is a larger field for Christian labour and beneficence within the bounds of the federal Union. To the West are the immense regions on the rivers Mississippi and Missouri, and on their tributary streams, in which, within the memory of man, there has been the beginning and an unexampled increase of population, progressing to a point at which, to present appearances, they will contain a mass of inhabitants equal to that of many combined kingdoms and states of the old world. South of the states recognized in our ecclesiastical constitution, there is an extent of country consisting of recent acquisitions of our federal legislature. And to the north-west, there is another of great extent, inviting our attention, not only by a gradual increase of emigrants from the original members of the Union, but by giving access to what remain of the sons of the forest, the descendants of the original possessors of the North-American soil, and affording the opportunity of making some amends for the feebleness of the efforts hitherto put forth to extend to them the blessings of Christianity and of civilization. When the United States, which now make so considerable a figure in the civil system of the world, were in the infancy of their colonial character, it became no small part of the concern of their parental country that they should not be abandoned to barbarism, and that the emigrants should carry with them, to their new seats of settlement, the faith and the religious practices of their forefathers. This is a consideration which ought to bring on our consciences a debt, no otherwise to be discharged than by affording to the present emigrants from the early settlements the like aid to that which the latter received from the common ancestry of both.
The sphere for religious sensibility to act in, is not yet opened in its extent. We live at a period when there are put forth prodigious efforts for the evangelizing of the world. Without pronouncing our opinion as to the individual merit of each of these enterprises, it would be a great oversight to omit to impress on our members the duty of participating in the great work of spreading the Gospel. It is well known that many are of opinion, that inasmuch as the destitute portions of the earth are the objects of the benevolent exertions of those Christian nations who have not so loud a call for domestic operations, as are presented in the immense districts of our country destitute of spiritual aid, it is not the duty of the American Episcopal Church, under present circumstances, to extend their beneficence beyond our own bounds. There are others who think, that not neglecting the calls to missionary enterprise at home, our seal in the work of propagating Christianity among the Heathen nations abroad should be awakened by the examples of other communities in various kingdoms and states of Christendom, of which no small proportion is from bodies of professing Christians among ourselves. We have already adverted to this fact, as evidence of the excitement of an extraordinary measure of religious sensibility, calling for the directing of it to the purpose, to which it points. The immense and populous realms of India, heretofore known only as a field inviting cupidity of wealth, are now open to the extending of enterprise, for the announcing of the glad tidings of salvation. Degraded Africa, so long visited in no other character than that of a nursery for distant bondage, may now cherish the hope of the redressing of her wrongs, by the imparting to her of civilization and of science, and of the more precious light of a heavenly dispensation; under which, in respect to privilege, there is "neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all." In islands of the Pacific, and in islands of the Southern Ocean, dissevered until lately from the rest of the world, there have been visitations with the Gospel message, and their idols have been seen prostrate before the Cross. In Greece, the seat of some of the earliest successes of apostolic preaching, in later ages, under the yoke of Mohammedan oppression, and enduring, like their sister churches on the opposite countries of Asia, the removal of their candlesticks from their places, there are incipient endeavours for the replacing of them, with such a blaze as was originally kindled by a Paul, a Barnabas, a Timothy and other founders of the Eastern church. In addition to these immense openings for the efforts of missionary zeal, there are, nearer to us, in the newly organized republics of our western hemisphere, opportunities not possessed till lately, of instructing the population in the religion of the Bible, hitherto not published to them, except with the intermixture of opinions and of rites hostile to its general spirit, and the growth of those ages of ignorance which witnessed the first efforts for the colonizing of the newly discovered western world. Other openings might be recited; but it is trusted that those presented will be sufficient to show, that a new era has risen on the world, and that it is a new call on the zeal, on the labours, and for the pecuniary contributions of Christians.
If it should seem to any, that the prospect here portrayed originates in too sanguine a contemplation of the subject, our answer is, that there has been already an impression made on the state of the world, which, according to experience, and to observation of human nature, cannot but progress and enlarge its sphere of influence. It is well known, what zeal has been put forth in the measure of diffusing the knowledge of the Bible: and although we are aware, that as in the beginning, and under divine appointment, there was, with the sacred books, a ministry constituted for the explaining and for the impressing of their contents; yet it will be, or rather it has been, an effect of the possession of the book itself, to season the minds of readers with its truths shining on its pages with such clearness, that "he who runs may read;" thus proving a preparation for the overthrow of idolatry, whether in its avowed character, or under the disguise of the Christian name, and being the herald of measures for the organizing of Christian churches.
It is a sentiment often expressed by men who have considered well the present state of the world, and who delight in the anticipation of events, of which they think they perceive the struggles in the womb of time, that there are indications of the general spread of the Gospel, which we are warranted to expect, previously to the splendid issue, when "all the kingdoms of the world shall have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ."
The sentiment is fruitful of encouragement; although to be cherished with the modesty which forbids the too confident interpretation of prophecies, delivered in language highly figurative, in order that their senses should not be fully known, until the times of their respective accomplishment. We learn from history, that when there drew near the period, designated by Divine Wisdom for the manifestation of the wonderful Person "spoken of by all the holy prophets who had been since the world began;" it was in the course of Providence, that from the councils of those who had the civil government of nations, and from the changes in which widely extended wars eventuated, there should be produced a state of the world peculiarly favourable to the carrying of the tidings of salvation to all nations, conformably to the saying of St. Paul concerning the preaching of the apostles--"'Their sound went unto all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." In the conception of the persons referred to, something similar to this is to be discerned, in the signs of the times at present before our eyes. Independently on the question concerning the anticipated event, as to, its being remote or near, when we consider the vast and continually increasing extension of the chain of commerce, with the intercommunity of nations which it occasions; the ardour for the navigating of unknown seas, and for the discovery of unknown lands on their numerous shores; the similar spirit of hardy enterprize, which, in instances beyond any of former days, carries explorers over sandy deserts and through pathless wildernesses, in search of population concealed from the world in their recesses; the lights drawn by the patient and persevering pursuits of science, from hitherto concealed monuments of former ages, and from a more strict investigation than formerly of animal and of other substances lying deep within the bosom of the earth, and the application of knowledge thus obtained to the defence of the Scriptures against the suggestions of infidelity, founded on imperfect knowledge and insufficient investigation; all these considerations go to prove, that there are causes in operation which cannot but have a powerful effect on the state and condition of the world; that, to appearance, the effect will be favourable to the Christian cause; and that therefore there is a call on every professor of Christianity, to take an interest in and to sustain it, by his personal influence; and as circumstances may permit, by his active endeavours, and by his contributions. In the contemplation of this subject as it respects the apparently approaching influx of Heathen people into the church of Christ, our minds are elevated by the recollection of the exclamation of the prophet Isaiah, when, anticipating the effect of the preaching of the Gospel, he asked--"Who are these, who fly as a cloud, and as doves to their windows?"
In contemplating the salutary influence of the religious excitement which is the subject, and in detailing the duties to which it points, we are not forgetful of the evils to which it may be abused by human frailty; and to guard against these will be pertinent to our present purpose.
One manifest, evil is, that without due caution, it will prove favourable to the spirit of controversy; so as to tempt to engage in this unpleasant work unnecessarily; and when so engaged, to conduct it in such a manner as shall be inconsistent with Christian temper, and even productive of intemperate passion, and of the greatest excesses of censoriousness and of contumely: all of which will be reconciled to the consciences of the contenders, under the specious plea of its contributing to the glory of God. This is one of the shapes in which there is verified the apostolic saying--"Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." When there has been kindled the ardour of inquiry in any concerns deeply interesting; especially in the most interesting of all, those which have a bearing on the happiness of our immortal souls; when different views have been taken of the subjects at issue, and differences of opinion manifest themselves, in frequent conversation concerning what is uppermost in the public mind, there are so many leanings of the litigants to preconceptions, perhaps the effect of ideal associations, perhaps caused by different senses, which the same words convey to the understandings of different persons, and perhaps there intruding, without the consciousness of it, the ambition of excelling in argument, and of enjoying controversial triumph; that it requires no small measure of Christian prudence to distinguish between what calls for a greater and what for a less decree of zeal; and no small command of Christian temper, to keep within the limits of the caution--"in meekness instructing them that oppose themselves, if God, peradventure, will give them repentance, to the acknowledging of the truth."
We wish to be not misunderstood. It is far from our intention to discourage controversy in such a shape as shall, on any occasion, tend to the sacrifice of any truth of our holy religion; for we are aware of that other injunction--"earnestly to contend for the Faith, which was once delivered to the saints." But when we call to mind, that even in such a holy contest, there applies the intimation, "the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," and much more when we reflect, that controversy turns so much on speculations, to which it would be profitable to apply the saying, "Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifyeth," and on practices, similar to those described by our Saviour under the terms of "the mint, the anise, and the cummin" of the Jewish ritual; we can think of no occasion on which God will be honoured by dishonour done to a grace, concerning which it is pronounced, that without it we are as "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal."
Another coincident evil is, that in some minds the state of feeling takes the lead of the judgment; becoming the parent of extravagances and of material error; not seldom the nurse of spiritual pride; and even impelling to actions in contrariety to moral obligation, but concealing their malignity under the, cover of imposing names. Disorder of this sort was conspicuous under the agitation of men's spirits, produced by the powerful preaching of the apostles, continued in the age immediately following them, and even in its mildest forms, venting itself in notions compared by St. Paul to "wood and hay and stubble," and in others designated under worse characters, in various passages of the New Testament, and in the earliest records of ecclesiastical history. These phantasms have disappeared; while the precious instructions remain, to be the spiritual food of the faithful to the end of time.
The same frailty of human nature may be perceived in what took place at the blessed period of the reformation. However deeply laid the foundation of that event in the Scriptures of truth, it gave occasion to extravagances which were a disgrace to it, and which conducted their abettors to many errors and to many crimes. The benefit of the ecclesiastical revolution continues to be felt; when, for the knowledge of the attendant disorders, it is necessary to have recourse to the pages of history, where we may see them fallen under the verifying of the declaration of the Saviour--"Every plant which my heavenly Father had not planted shall be rooted up."
There might be mentioned seasons of sensibility of a more local nature, but, in its accompaniments, manifesting the same infirmity; and reference is made to them to show, that when, in our day, there is a similar movement of the mind of the community, if, in some instances, it should run wild into the region of enthusiasm, or discharge itself into any intricacy of unprofitable speculation, the fact would be analogous to what is incident to every blessing of Heaven, alike in nature and in grace, should be little thought of, in comparison of the good conspicuously wrought; and not disproving the source of it in the agency of the Holy Spirit of God; however erroneous it would be to ascribe to his influence any sensations or any actions which are contrary to truth and soberness.
We will mention a third instance in which, from the nature of the subject, we perceive the possibility of there being advantage taken of the described state of the public mind for the accomplishment of purposes hostile to the general weal; or, if consistent with it, not to be endeavoured by means which may be put in operation. We allude to associations which may be found to have bearings either on the civil counsels of our country, or on those of our religious communion.
Far be it from us to limit the privilege of expressing, under no other limits than those of truth and decency, the sense either of an individual or of a legally constituted society of men; whether it be in reference to political interests or to those of the church. What we allude to is the merging of individual opinion in that of a combination not known in any existing institutions, and affecting its object by an anterior and illegitimate government, impairing, and perhaps at last destroying, that which rests on general consent and constitution. This misdirection of the public mind ought to be the more carefully guarded against, as it often proves a snare to well-meaning persons under the influence of either civil or of religious zeal, who are led, unconsciously; to contribute their aids either to political or to sectarian ambition. Any attempts, therefore, to connect the civil authority with the particular views of religious communities, or to produce that connection between the power of the civil government and that of any particular Christian denomination, from which have resulted consequences injurious to the rights, to the purity, and to the influence of the Christian church, are deprecated by the house of bishops, and as they believe, by the clergy and laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.
It should apply to us individually, that if, in this season of sensibility, there should be a witnessing the salutary operation of it on the minds of others, or an excitement of it in our own minds by the frequent presentation of the truths of religion, from pulpits or in social converse, we should recollect the source of this holy influence, and the responsibility with which it is clothed. There is, in this respect, an analogy in nature, in Providence, and in grace. As in the first of these departments God is present everywhere; so, in the second, every event brings a duty along with it; and in the third, there ought to be cherished the correlative impressions on that part of our nature concerning which it is said, that "out of it are the issues of life."
We shall conclude this address to the members of our church, with intreating them to be often in their supplications to the Throne of Grace for the success of all enterprises judiciously planned on scriptural principles, for hastening that blessed period when "God's way shall be known upon earth, his saving health among all nations." It is one of the petitions in the prayer of our Saviour, prescribed by him for daily use, that "his kingdom may come;" the kingdom described in ancient prophecy, under the image of "a stone cut out of a mountain without hands, and to fill the whole earth;" and more extensively represented in another prophecy, in which we read, "from the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering." These splendid views began to be met in the person of the adorable Redeemer, when there was "given him a name which is above every name;" but will not be fully verified until the fulfilment of the promise, "in the name of Jesus every knee shall bow." In the mean time, let it be the breathing of devout desire from the altars of our hearts--"even so come, Lord Jesus!" Words at the conclusion of the Canon of Scripture, to be taken on the tongues of his faithful followers, as expressive of their looking forward to the time when "the mystery of God shall be finished;" and of their readiness to join in all endeavours which tend to so glorious a consummation.
Signed by order of the House of Bishops,
WILLIAM WHITE, Presiding Bishop.
Philadelphia, Aug. 20, 1829.