A Pastoral Letter to the Clergy and Members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
By the mercy of God, your bishops are again assembled in general convention; and as on former triennial occasions, they conclude their counsels with a pastoral letter to the fellow-members of their communion.
Since the admission to our ecclesiastical union, of certain dioceses by the last general convention, there has been organized that of Alabama, by accession to the constitution of the church.
We have to lament the decease, since the last convention, of our Rt. Rev. brother, Bishop Ravenscroft, of North Carolina. His episcopacy had not been of long continuance, but had been distinguished by labours which have raised the church in that state from the prostrate condition in which it had lain since the days of the Revolution; and have left effects which give the promise of permanency and increase. Under the loss of so efficient a fellow-labourer, it is a source of consolation, that there has been consecrated as his successor the Rev. Levi Silliman Ives, formerly of the Diocese of New York. This Rt. Rev. brother has entered on his field of duty, with a degree of zeal and industry which promise to sustain the interests of our communion, revived by his predecessor.
Since the last triennial session of our body, the church has also felt the heavy calamity of the decease of our Rt. Rev, brother, Bishop Hobart, of New York. He had been efficient in our counsels, which were much benefited by his sound and discriminating mind. In his proper diocese, the great increase of the number of churches, and of the members of those which existed previously to his episcopacy, remain the monuments of his unwearied zeal, and of the wisdom of his measures. His place has been supplied by the election and consecration of the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk; of whose future usefulness we have the more sanguine expectations, from the circumstance that his succession was in agreement with the wishes often expressed, of his lamented predecessor.
We have experienced a more recent loss, in the death of our brother, the Rt. Rev. Bishop Gross, of New Jersey. During his episcopacy, the church in that state had recovered from the devastations sustained by it during the Revolutionary war. In the late years of his life, his labours were much hindered by disease, which did not cause an abatement of his endeavours, until a short period before his death. The place of this our lamented brother has been supplied by the election of the Rev. George W. Doane, whose consecration is intended to take place, God willing, before the end of the present session.
At the time of our last general convention, the Diocese of Maryland had been, for some time, without episcopal superintendence. But, owing to a spirit of conciliation, there took place a unanimity of choice in favour of the Rev. William Murray Stone, who has been consecrated to the episcopacy, and whose conduct in the station of presbyter, gives the promise of an efficiency as considerable as Divine Providence may permit to his imperfect state of health.
In our review of the concerns of the missionary society of our church, we find them to have been zealously and usefully conducted by the executive committee. They have not been without considerable effect, and if it has not been to the extent which our wishes may have anticipated, the deficiency has been owing to the inadequacy of the means to the contemplated object. In this, however, there has been an enlargement of our prospects, by the increasing interest which we perceive to have been taken in the success of an institution imperiously called for, by the duty of putting forth our endeavours for the extension of the kingdom of the Redeemer.
Our Theological Seminary is conducted with an ability and an efficiency answerable to our most sanguine expectations. In regard to it, the only circumstance which we have to regret, is, that its annual receipts fall considerably short of its annual expenditures. Perhaps this is in a great measure owing to an erroneous consequence drawn from the knowledge of the very, munificent legacy bequeathed to the institution by Frederick Kohne, Esq., as if the benefit ought to begin to operate. That bequest, when received; may be expected to add materially to the stability and the success of this important nursery of our ministry. But the result will be diminished in proportion as, in the meantime, the defalcation in the annual revenue may lessen what ought to be the amount of capital when the future benefit shall accrue. With pleasure we record that the defalcation from the revenue will be lessened, although not entirely met, by a later generous bequest; there having been devised, by George Lorillard, Esq., $20,000, to be paid within five years.
During the sitting of the convention, there has been brought before them the subject of consecration to the episcopacy in the dioceses of three states, in consequence of the election of Rev. John H. Hopkins, D. D., to the Diocese of Vermont; of the Rev. Benjamin B. Smith, D. D., to that of Kentucky; and of the Rev. Charles P. McIlvaine, D. D., to that of Ohio. They have been canonically recommended by the house of clerical and lay deputies, and it is intended, God willing, that they shall be consecrated during the present session.
In regard to the last-mentioned reverend brother, there took place the important question, independently on any personal considerations, whether there existed a vacancy in the diocese for which he has been chosen. That matter occupied the most solicitous attention of both houses, during several days: the result was the conviction, that episcopal superintendence, with the duties attached to it, had been entirely withdrawn from the diocese; and that the cause of religion required the restoring of it, by the measure which has been communicated.
There was passed a canon, connected with the business the last mentioned, intended to prevent hasty and frequent resignations, not called for by the essential interests of the church.
The house of bishops; in concurring with the house of clerical and lay deputies in reference to the consecration of the reverend the bishop elect of the Diocese of Ohio, desire it to be understood, that they do not give their sanction to any provision of the College at Gambier, which can be construed as making a necessary connection between the presidency of the said institution and the episcopacy of the diocese, it seeming to the house of bishops an incongruity that the occupant of the latter should be dependent for his continuance in his station on any authority not recognized in the canons.
The convention appointed a committee to consummate the work of a committee of the last general convention, in the selection of Psalms and portions of Psalms, which may be used instead of the whole Book of Psalms in Metre; the latter being no part of the Book of Common Prayer, although included in our ecclesiastical services, and intended so to remain.
There were measures expected to eventuate in the organizing of a South-western diocese" consisting of this congregations of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi; with the probable expectation that it will be the mean of the introduction of the episcopal superintendence in that quarter.
The same will perhaps be the result of measures now in progress among the Episcopalians in the Territory of Michigan; accordingly there has been acknowledged the existence of a diocese therein.
In a former convention, there was given their sanction for the use of a French translation of the Book of Common Prayer. Bishop Hobart was authorized to have the existing translation revised and corrected, and then to set it forth as authorized by this church. Agreeably to arrangements made by that Rt. Rev. brother, a revised translation has since his decease, been published under the direction of his successor; and set forth by this convention, as authorized to be used in congregations of our communion.
Where being in many congregations, much unseemly diversity of posture, during the administration of the communion, from the want of information of the meaning of the rubrics; the house of bishops have recorded on their journal their sense of the same, with the hope of remedying the evil.
During the convention there was a review of the canons of this church, and an improved code was adopted; of which the expected benefit, will be improvements which have been called for by experience.
The two houses received reports from the several dioceses, of the state of the church. To what extent the piety and the morals of the members of our communion are agreeable to our holy profession, it is not for us to estimate. But when we contemplate the measure in which there ire countenanced the expedients put in operation for the extending of the kingdom of the Redeemer; we cannot but hope, that there is a correspondent increase of genuine devotion in a considerable proportion of our population; however many the instances to the contrary; by some from indifference to their eternal interests, and by others in unholy lives. In this there is an incentive to zeal and to every grace, on the part of our reverend brethren of the clergy; and it gives to us occasion, in our attention to the documents now noticed, to lament the continuance, of the complaint of our Saviour, "The harvest is plenteous but the labourers are few," and to invite both the clergy and the laity to put up their prayer to "the Lord of the harvest," that he would "send forth labourers into his harvest."
In each of our former Pastoral letters we called the attention to some subjects; contemplated by us as important to the spiritual interests of the members of the church. We shall pursue this plan on the present occasion; and the subjects which we select, are the relations in which we stand to the civil government of our country, to professing Christians of other denominations, and to the world at large.
In regard to the government of our country, while we are thankful to the Bestower of all good for our popular privileges, we ought to be careful not to misuse them, by permitting them to detract from the obligation of those injunctions of Holy Writ, which sustain the civil authority in its constitutional rights, and which subject citizens or subjects of all descriptions to the control of the laws. We consider this counsel as independent on any question concerning existing limitations of power, or what ought to exist in a well regulated commonwealth, being desirous of committing every such question, so far as the morality of action is concerned, to a rule which we cannot express better than in the words of an eminent bishop of the church of England, where he says, "The Scriptures stand clear of all disputes about the rights of princes and subjects"--of course, of those of republican rulers and their fellow-citizens so that such disputes must be left to be decided by the principles of natural equity, and the constitution of the country." [Bishop Sherlock, Discourse 13th.]
Whatever difficulties may arise from interfering claims, and it is evident that there may occasionally be cases of this description, they have no bearing on that of quiet possession, as under the present circumstances of the United States; which renders every endeavor for the disturbance of the present order an offence against the precepts of our holy religion, given for its preservation.
It is not intended to deny the right of every individual of our combined commonwealth, guarantied to him by its constitution, of expressing his opinions concerning public measures and public men, provided it be done under the control of justice and of charity. But these are violated, when civil freedom is so prostituted, as to be a pretence for what is or may be ungrounded censure, and for proceedings tending to violence and to confusion. It is a remark of one of the wisest men who have ever written in our mother Church of England, that "he who goeth about to persuade a multitude that they are not so well governed as they ought to be, shall never want attentive and favourable hearers." The same sagacious author has accounted for the fact, partly from ignorance, and partly by an appeal to certain frailties of human nature, operative in all countries, and at all times. This is a consideration which should make us cautious of admitting the charge of an abuse of power; and where it can be proved, should induce the seeking of redress by constitutional and peaceable proceedings; and in the meantime, to abstain from whatever may loosen the bonds of society; bringing the agents under the censure of the precepts--"Not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as servants of God." [Richard Hooker, Book i.]
It is an error extensively propagated, that religion and civil policy have no necessary connection; which is in contrariety to the declarations of Scripture referred to.--The connection is liable to abuses;--that of making religion the engine of oppression in various way's; and especially in directing the civil authority to the purpose of ecclesiastical intolerance. One of the greatest achievements of political wisdom, is the guarding against these results.--Still, there is the connection affirmed; and the necessity of it is generated by the evil passions of our nature, seeking private interest, to the injury of that of the public. There cannot be any counterbalance; except in the supply of restraints, looking beyond the boundaries of time. Of the said connection it is a proof, found in all the various states of society, that they require an appeal to the Rewarder of the good, and the Punisher of the wicked, in the administration of justice between man and man, and in securing the obedience of all orders of men to the laws which the public authority has ordained. It is on the same principle that our courts repel from the character of a witness, and from that of a juror, the man who denies the existence of a future state of rewards and punishments. These are expedients, which must be perceived to be useless and arbitrary, except on the ground of looking beyond human law to, the decision of the monitor in the hearts of men, resting on sanctions connected with the belief of an eternal state of being.
It would be a misapprehension of these sentiments, if it should be imagined, that they are a restraint on the religious freedom which is so happily possessed by the citizens of the United states, and ought to be the possession of citizens and subjects throughout the world. So far as men are concerned individually, it is a blessing which no violence can withhold from them; and for the use of it, every map is accountable to God only. His public profession of his faith, and his public exercise of devotions suited to it, are a resulting privilege, in which he cannot be interfered with, unless it should be abused to the injury of society, and in opposition to laws ordained for the security of public peace, and of the rights of individuals. But these are considerations which do not abrogate the right, or dispense with the duty, attached to civil rule, of sustaining those fundamental truths of religion, independently on which there cannot be any social tie, or any obligation of law extending to the conscience.
On various occasions, and in various ways, our national legislature has manifested its sense of the obligation of those provisions contained in the several constitutions of the individual states, which presume the Christian religion to be a part of the law of the land. But this establishment is of such a liberal cast, as secures freedom of profession and of worship to every denomination of Christians, living in obedience to the laws. It is the duty of every member of this church, to sustain by the weight of his character, whatever it may be, this spirit of our institutions, and to transmit it to posterity. But it is a duty not interfering with the right of those who govern, to acknowledge God in his providential dealings to our nation, and this on the terms of a code, which, from the time of the settlement of the colonies, and to this day, in their later character of states, has been sanctioned by public law, and by the public voice. As government thus holds out its support to the profession of religion, and to the performance of its devotional exercises, there is the greater reason for submission to what public authority may ordain; and for requiring of the clergy in particular, that in their ministrations, they apply the sanctions of religion to the sustaining of peace and order in the community, conformably to the injunction of the apostle, to be "subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake."
It is often a misconstruction of the sentiments expressed, that the maintainers of them act on the impulse of their views of political expediency, and from their being aware of the need of the arm of government to the support of the Gospel, in return for its being the support of power. Far from this, we consider our faith as begun and carried on by a heavenly interposition, and the church as founded on a rock, where it will be perpetuated, through whatever changes may ensue in the constitutions of commonwealths and kingdoms. But whether these can endure the discontinuance of the acknowledgment of religion, as the spring of the conduct conducive to the safety of the state, is a problem, the affirmative of which the experience of the world will not warrant us to assume. On the contrary, there never has existed any political establishment, in which the magistracy has not found that acknowledgment necessary for purposes which cannot be reached by any human authority or by the operation of any human law. This end can be obtained no otherwise than by legislative countenance of what is so essential to the safety and to the interests of persons of all orders in the commonwealth.
In thus affirming the connection between these two subjects, on the ground of their nature and their end, it is reasonable to expect that it would be recognized by those holy Scriptures, which are not only the law for individuals in their several capacities, but enter into the relation which they bear to the governments under which they live. In the Old Testament, and under the theocracy established by it, while God himself is announced as the immediate governor and king, they who ruled by a delegated authority under him are required to be such men as "fear God;" and they are admonished,--"Ye judge not for man, but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment;" and, "Thus shall ye do in the fear of the Loan, faithfully, and with a perfect heart;" and "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." Also, the great Sovereign of heaven is introduced saying, "By me kings reign, and princes decree justice;" responsive to such claims from the seat of authority, are such passages as where those subject to it are enjoined,--"Fear thou the Lord and the king, and meddle not with them that are given to change;" and, "Thou shalt not revile the gods"--men who govern sometimes so called--"nor curse the ruler of thy people." In these, and in very many passages applicable to civil rulers, by whatever names they may be called, the contents are built on the foundation, that there is a bond of religion on, governors, and on, those subject to them, to their superiors, and to one another--a bond which applies to their consciences, and which is necessary to the supplying of the defects of whatever can be set forth in human, and even in divine law, for the governing of the conduct.
When we pass, to the New Testament, although its blessed author distinctly announced, "My kingdom is not of this, world," yet we find him providing for the peace and the order of all kingdoms and states, in the memorable injunction,--"Render unto Caesar the things, that are Caesar's,"--of course unto rulers under whatever name. His apostles sustain the same high duty, as in the instance of St. Peter, who, addressing a people among whom kingly government was established, admonishes them, "to honour and submit to the king;" and as in the instance of St. Paul, who, writing to another people, among whom the authority was partly in an individual with the name of emperor, and partly in a senate with their respective rights not exactly defined, uses the more cautious language--"Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for the powers that be," under whatever name they may be known, "are ordained of God." And in another place he enjoins,--"Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work."
If we have been diffuse on the present point, it has been owing to what we think a duty lying on us, of contradicting a theory hostile, to social order; and rested on the plea, that government being founded on compact, and having for its object the security of person and property, the contracting parties, if so inclined, may discard all reference to a state to come. That every particular form of government is founded on compact either express or implied, may be acknowledged consistently with the prevent argument. But government itself is so imperiously called for by the necessities of the human condition, and by the sinfulness of human nature, that there is no degree of arbitrary rule to which men will not be subject, rather than be exposed to injuries from one another, uncontrolled by in authority to which they mast all submit. Accordingly, the subject must be resolved into the will of God.
Whatever may be thought of the origin of government, there can be no doubt in the mind of any Christian, of the obedience due from him to that under which he lives, and the protection of which he enjoys. The position is especially true, in reference to the constituted authorities of the United States of America which were established by the public voice; and in which there is security to the citizens against oppression and wrong of every sort, so far as human wisdom can provide. It is highly sinful to disturb such an organization, by a rage for innovation. And although this does not forbid any improvements which may be proposed, in virtue of a privilege secured to every individual, yet it should be exercised with moderation, and conducted consistently with the maintaining of the public peace, and by means permitted in the provisions of the constitution. Whatever is diverse from these restraints, brings the author and the abettors of it ender the denunciation of St. Paul--"They that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation."'
If these are obvious dictates of Christian duty, they extend to the showing of respect to the persons of civil rulers and to the giving of the most charitable construction to their acts. So powerful is the law of association, in the imperfect condition of humanity, that there cannot be contempt poured on those who frame or on those who execute the laws, without its extending to the law itself, endangering the sense of the obligation of it, and causing that power instead of common right, shall be the only security for peace.
Owing to the imperfection of human affairs, there is no blessing without its peculiar dangers. This is especially true in reference to the right possessed by the American citizen, of giving his voice in the choice of the persons by whom the government of the country is to be administered. Far be the thought of denying, or of prescribing limits to the exercise of this right; but while, as a Christian man, he should conduct himself in it under the sense of his responsibility to God; this is a principle, which will keep him at a distance from all the unworthy arts, from all the angry contention, and from all the slander sometimes practiced, and from all those acts of violence which too often characterize popular elections, arming hostile parties with enmities, which go along with them into all the relations of life, and may, ultimately, render insecure the privileges which they abuse. For the exercise of them to the prosperity and the honour of our common country, and consistently with the precepts of our holy religion, they should never be in contrariety to the end of it, announced by its adorable author, that of "peace and good will to men."
Whatever is contrary to the recommendations here offered would tend to the overthrow of any species of government. As to that of the United States in particular, how deplorable will be the issue, if when, after the experience of nearly the half of a century, we have had cause to hope for its perpetuity, and when there is a growing conviction of its advantages throughout the world, there should be a confirmation of the theories which pour contempt on popular privileges, and look for legitimate government; only to the strong arm of power!
It falls in with the design of this letter, to caution alike the clergy and the laity, to avoid the giving of countenance to any associations of men, who, in that of their combined character, and under the profession of advancing the cause of religion, may arrogate an influence in elevating to seats of civil distinction and of power. We do not deny the right of every man, in his individual character, and we even maintain that it is his duty, in giving his voice for public trusts, to prefer their being bestowed on men, who, so far as can be judged from their conduct, are under the influence of those religious considerations, independently on which, there can be no security in any department, for the integrity of those who fill it. But when this object is attempted by organized combinations unknown to the laws, and subjecting the sense of the individual to that of the body of which he is a part, there intrudes into them the same diversity of views as in associations constituted by the laws, with that difference, that in addition to the usual arts of a crooked policy, they have on them the stamp of ecclesiastical ambition, not without the mixture of hypocrisy.
The next point on which we proposed to offer our counsels, is the relation in which we stand to the other denominations of professing Christians. We are necessarily brought into contact with them, by the intercommunity of civil privileges, by concurrent exertions for the advancement of the interests of our common religion, by the various occupations of secular life, and by family connections and friendships, sometimes hereditary, and sometimes the result of choice. This is a subject which should be entered on with caution; lest, on the one hand, there should be a departure from the law of charity; and even manifested a spirit, which, if circumstances permitted, would proceed to persecution; and lest, on the other hand, there should be a sacrifice to a species of intolerance assuming the name of liberality, and made a cover of insidious designs.
The positions in which our different denominations stand to one another, is peculiar in respect to their common level. This is unlike to what prevails generally over the Christian world, of a dominant form of profession, from which every other form is dissent, perhaps tolerated, yet considered as inimical to the public good, and more or less under the pressure of penal law; while, on the other hand, every suffering and every privation, is either resisted or indignantly endured.
We do not enter on the question, how far rulers are permitted in reason, or are under religious obligation, to call in the church as their ally, for the giving of stability to civil government. Sufficient for the present purpose, is the circumstance demonstrated by experience, that the supporters of an establishment will, whether with, or without cause, accuse the seceders of ungrounded scruples, perhaps tending to sedition; while these will complain of oppression, in their being excluded, on account of their religious theories, from the honours and the emoluments of their country. Whatever weight there may be, or whether there be any, in the arguments used by either of these classes of persons; with us, there is not any ground for such mutual jealousy and hostility as have been alluded to: there being no dominant profession; and all being equally allowed to worship God, in such public exercises as they the most approve of.
This is a motive to mutual forbearance; although not at the cost of preventing decided testimony, given, as an apostle has required, "with meekness and fear," against whatever we hold to be contrary to the faith or to the morals of the Gospel; whether its holy declarations be directed to the defence of "the foundation, other than which no man can lay;" or against those who build on it, not "the gold, the silver, and the precious stones" of evangelical truth, but "the wood, the hay, and the stubble" of human weakness.
It ought to be a sufficient motive of a tolerating and conciliatory policy, of religious denominations to one another, that they may see before them an enemy in that spirit of infidelity which levels its arts at the root of their common faith, and without denying the existence of human duty, would do away the sanction of it in the revealed will of God.
It is a sufficient discouragement to the minds of all pious parsons, that the favourers of sentiments so much fraught with mischief, should have cause of triumph in the diversity of denominations; all claiming to be built on the true foundation. But when they are seen assailing one another with an acrimony forbidden by their common faith, which enjoins its professors to be "gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing them that oppose themselves, if peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, it is a stumbling block, which affords a more specious plea to infidelity, than any that can be drawn from the weight either of their own characters, or of their arguments.
Against the operations of that irreligious portion of the community, it ought to be a cause of jealousy, with all who have either religion or the public good at heart, that concerning these two objects, there is unequivocally avowed the opinion, that they have no natural alliance, and that the one may be provided for independently on the other. The error of this opinion has been already treated of; and it will be pertinent to add, that it strikes at the use of oaths; at the abstaining from judicial proceedings on the Lord's day; and at the legislative accommodations for the worship of God on that day, and at other times. Why should there be granted to us charters and laws, protecting us in the enjoyment of those privileges, add in the possession of property in a reasonable extent, if there be no good to be derived from such provisions to the state? The time is not come for the urging of a pretended reform on these points; but the tendency of the opinion that ought to be borne in mind. In consideration of this common danger, there le the more reason to be gratified by whatever good may be achieved by our brethren of other denominations; in which we shall be warranted by that saying of St. Paul, Notwithstanding, every way, Christ is preached, and herein I do rejoice, yea and will rejoice." Let the honour of the success be what it may, it should be a ground, not of hatred and of jealousy, but of excitement, to the clergy, of zeal in their labours; and to both clergy and laity, of circumspection in their conduct; and of carefully avoiding every thing, by which "the word of God and of his doctrine may be blasphemed."
Although these are considerations, bringing additional weight to those involved in the subject itself; they are not intended to discourage the clergy from instructing their congregations in those institutions of our church, which we believe to be scriptural, and although disallowed by many of our fellow Christians, to have been handed down to us from the earliest ages of the church. Such instruction is a duty, and may be without any of the severity in language and in manner, which give occasion for the charge of a sectarian spirit. Perhaps the object may be the best accomplished, by lectures detached from the ordinary course of sermons, and coincident with preparing for the ordinance of confirmation. It is not, that the same subjects should be interdicted from the ordinary exercises of the pulpit, especially when they present themselves incidentally. But it is a department, in which the matter is overdone, should a proportion of a congregation have cause to complain, that the bread of life is withholden from them, to give place to discussions, which rather concern the outward discipline of the church, than the truths to be protected by it; and especially, when there is no appearance of a call for the other, in the threatening of resistance against the ecclesiastical authority, or against the reasonableness of our services. It has pleased God in his providence, to permit the variety of profession abounding in the Christian world. With us it rests, while we adhere to the principles transmitted to us from the purest ages--for a long time blended with dogmas and with practices not warranted by an early origin, but at last disencumbered of such extraneous matter, and coming to us through the channel of the Church of England--to perpetuate the same, without accommodating to other, communions in any important points, not excepting such as are left to human discretion, when no good is to be thereby answered.
There are often persons of other denominations, who, with the concurrence of some, perhaps well-meaning, but, as we think, mistaken members of our church, are forward in projecting, and in carrying into operation expedients of combination for the inculcating of what they think the only essential truths of the Gospel, detached from the diversities which characterize the discordant theories; and as they suppose, may be lost sight of, in the common object of evangelical instruction. Against such amalgamation, we hold ourselves bound in conscience, to declare our decided disapprobation. 1st. We do not perceive, that a minister of the Gospel can lawfully bind himself under the tie of a voluntary association, intended to cover with the mantle of silence, any matter resting on Gospel verity, and contributing to the sustaining of it; especially when he is bound to inculcate the same, by an obligation laid on him in the promises made at his ordination on every occasion, opening a prospect of doing so with success. 2dly. So far as the experience and observation of the most of us have extended, in relation to the associations now contemplated, the assurances pledged by theta are not generally fulfilled. A sectarian spirit has sometimes showed its head. Individuals of them, and sometimes the associated bodies, perhaps unconsciously, have introduced into their acts some matters in contrariety to the known tenets of the Episcopal Church; the members of which are thus insensibly drawn to set light by the doctrines of her communion. 3dly. It has the effect of bringing into view such litigated points in unorganized Christian intercourse, and in the courteous interchange of the civilities of social life, as tend to the generating of angry feelings. It is a much better expedient for the maintaining of peace and of friendly offices among different denominations, that each of thorn should sustain the cause of God and of godliness, by such Mail as are presented by then peculiar organizations; exercising toward every other all the forbearance rend all the charity, which may reasonably be exacted by a regard to the fallibility bf the human understanding, and by the workings of unperceived prejudice, in ourselves, and in others with whom we have to do; and all the esteem which may be thought due to any virtues which they may possess, or to any good deeds which they may perform. This is a species of charity which may be maintained without the abandonment of principle.
The third particular which we are to present, is the relation in which out church stands to the world at large; meaning in the duty of extending over it the knowledge of salvation.
It is a remarkable fact in the life of emit blessed Saviour, that although his personal ministry was to be limited to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," yet his Gospel was to be "preached to all nations," before "the end should come." The same issue was intimated by him its those very strong terms--"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth," explained by the subsequent event of the crucifixion, "will draw all men unto me." It is an annunciation, which distinctly describes what happened soon after, of the influx of Gentile nations into the Church of Christ, and finally, the extension of his kingdom over the whole world; verifying the prediction delivered many hundred years before concerning it,--"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 to my name, and a pure offering."
It is a remarkable circumstance, and what ought to be felt in all the concerns: of the Christian church, that the last act of the ministry of our Saviour on earth, was the commission given by him to his disciples,--"Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." In those disciples, we may contemplate the whole community of Christians, as it will exist to the end of time; which renal be under the weight of the injunction, given at that interesting crisis; and resting an obligation, on them, not only in their collective capacities but individually, according as. God may have furnished tam with ability, in their respective spheres.
Of the actings of the apostles and of the early Christians under the commission, we have evidence in the records of that period. Although, agreeably to the instruction given by the Saviour, there was a "beginning at Jerusalem" of the preaching of, "repentance and remission of sins;" yet the glad tidings of the Gospel were soon extended "to those who were near, and to those who were afar off," embracing in one catholic communion, "the Jew, and the Greek, the Barbarian, the Scythian, the bond, and the free." So great was the spread of the glad tidings of salvation, that the preaching of them became compared to the language of the luminaries of heaven, "whose sound went out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world."
As to the call of the world in general, it may be considered as bearing toward Christian people two different aspects. The first is, as pleading, for the supply of whole states, within the bounds of our federal commonwealth, slenderly visited with preaching and the administration of the ordinances, by energies hitherto put forth within our communion; although, in those realms, there are many professors of our church, who have migrated to them from the elder states. It is deeply painful to add, that even in the latter, there are districts in which the like privation is to be found; while there is grown up in them a generation, as destitute of a knowledge of the primary truths of the Gospel, as are the savages of the wilderness, with a corresponding state of morals.
Secondly, on the subject of extending the knowledge of the Gospel beyond the bounds of our federal Union, it may seem, that we are released from all obligation to it by the wants and by the pressing calls from quarters nearer to our homes. We do not deny the more prominent claims of the latter description; and if, in the minds of some, the energies of our communion would be the most advantageously limited to them; the opinion is the result, not of indifference to the other object, but of the yet existing circumstances of this church, and to cease with them. Still there ought not, perhaps, to be put out of view the need of a reasonable share of attention to more distant exigencies; which has been seen to have been bound on us by the express command of the adorable Author of our religion; and when there is contemplated the end of all exertions in the holy cause--the hastening of the time which will assuredly be brought about by the providence of God, although not without the instrumentality of human means, when "the earth shall be covered with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." It is even probable, that the putting forth of our endeavours to the extent which the wisdom of God has directed, will be the mean of securing his blessing within the more limited sphere, to which we may be tempted to confine them. We shall hereby sustain the character of a Christian church; any defalcation from which, in a single point, may have the, effect of lowering our whole system in that public opinion, which is necessary to an extensive usefulness.
Some other denominations have been in advance of us in this labour of love, and their exertions have not been without effect. If there should be charged on us as a fault, that we have been too long inoperative, it ought to be remembered in extenuation, if not in excuse, that our church, after the wreck of the Revolution, required much correspondence, and much of common counsels, for the bringing together and for the consolidating of its several branches kept separate under the old regime, from the times of the settlement of the former colonies; and, at the date of the establishment of independence, having no other tie than that of a common origin, and that of consent in whatever related to doctrine, to worship, and to ecclesiastical government. We congratulate our fellow-worshippers, on account of the blessing which has crowned our endeavours, for the carrying of the glad tidings of salvation to distant lands; and we solicit their prayers, as well for the exciting of a greater degree of zeal, as for the success of whatever labours may be undergone in this cause of Christian charity. Fur our part, we are encouraged in our feeble efforts, by the voice of the angel, who was seen "flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people;" an annunciation, which occupies such a place in the prophecies of St. John, as to encourage the expectation of the fulfilment of it, by a comparing of it with the present civil and religious condition of the world, and by events which have been occurring for some years past, and continue to occur. Without envying the reputation of other societies, in their doings under the sanction of this high behest, it cannot come under the charge of a sectarian spirit, when we consider it as due, alike to the integrity, and to the reputation of our church, that in the progress and in the consummation of so great a work, there ought not to be unseen and unfelt those of our institutions, which we boast to have inherited from the purest ages; and a departure from which, we lament in many societies of our fellow Christians; whatever merits they may otherwise possess, commanding our esteem and our affection.
In doing justice to the means which have been set at work, for the spreading of a knowledge of the glad tidings of salvation, we cannot but especially honour the various ways which have been brought into operation, for the circulating of the Scriptures of truth, as well in our land, by putting them into the hands of those who might otherwise be ignorant or imperfectly informed of their restraints and their consolations, as for sending them to countries the population of which, although nominally Christian, are entirely ignorant of their contents, or only partially permitted to peruse them. We are aware of the fact, that the original publishing of the Scriptures, was with the accompaniment of the ministry, for the unfolding of its sense, for the impressing of it on the consciences, and for the rendering of it persuasive to the hearts of men. But there may be and there are co-ordinate measures, for the furnishing of missionary labours, and of explanatory notes and comments; not forgetting the edifying illustrations of Scripture, in our Book of Common Prayer. But if the Bible should be sometimes sent beyond the bounds, within which the receivers can be addressed by a ministerial agency; either verbally, or through the medium of the press; they will find so much of salutary instruction addressed to their understandings, and enforced by their natural sense of propriety and of good morals, as will of itself render them the better members of society, and perhaps prepare them for that oral instruction, which may ultimately be brought to them by the good providence of God. It is also no small advantage, derived from the putting of the Bible into the hands of a population discouraged from the perusal of the whole of its contents, that on their discovery of its contrariety to the many opinions and practices, which either deny or obscure its truths, it will disencumber many of them of the inventions with which those truths have been blended, extending the knowledge of the faith, in the purity in which it was "once delivered to the saints."
Under the weight of this last department of our letter, we feel ourselves called on to admonish our brethren of the clergy; and it is our prayer that the admonition may be brought home to our own bosoms; to remark the excitement presented to us by the circumstances of the present times, to zeal and to industry in the several duties of our vocation; and to be aware, that the approbation of our heavenly [195/196] master will be forfeited, not only by "the wasting of our talents," but by "the hiding of them in a napkin." However censurable any immorality, or even levity; the being free from these, will be far short of what is bound on us by the word of God, and of what we pledged ourselves to, at our entrance on the ministry.
To the laity of our church we say, that although not under the apostolic injunction "to give themselves wholly" to the work of extending the glad tidings of salvation, it is their duty to aid it by their prayers, by their influence, by their contributions, and by their "adorning of the doctrine of their God and Saviour in all things." Both clergy and laity may be told, that we shall in vain claim the character of a church distinguished by the soundness of its institutions, and to be so acknowledged by the world, if they are seen to be inoperative in practice.
Signed by order of the House of Bishops,
WILLIAM WHITE, Presiding Bishop.
New York, October 30, 1832.