Project Canterbury

A Letter to His Parishioners.

By William Butler.

Oxford: Baxter, 1849.


My dear Friends and Brethren in the Lord,

FOR some time past I have determined to supply you each year with certain statistics connected with the Church in this Parish, in order, first, that you may draw encouragement from whatever betokens the blessing of God on our imperfect endeavours to serve Him; and secondly, that I may engage your prayers, and more hearty exertions in whatever seems deficient.

[4] I purpose then to lay before you the following:

I. The number of those whom it has pleased God during the last year to remove by death from His visible Church in this parish.

II. The number of those who in the last year have been added through Baptism.

III. The average number of Communicants weekly and monthly.

IV. The amount and distribution of alms, offered in whatever form by members of the Church for pious and charitable uses.

[5] I. The chief objects of our alms are, I believe, (1.) the present relief of the necessities, both spiritual and bodily, of the Poor; (2.) the propagation of God’s Word in this and other countries; and (3.) to make a provision for the service of the Sanctuary, and adornment of God’s House among ourselves.

Of the need of our alms, and our bounden duty to supply the temporal wants of the Poor, I feel it unnecessary to speak. But we should remember, that while they have bodies to keep alive for seventy years, they have souls to prepare for eternity; and that the only time for fixing good thoughts, accurate doctrines, holy ways, upon them, is in youth, in the quickly passing days of infancy and childhood. For this, Schools are needed, and, as you are aware, at present most inadequately supplied. I have done what I could. Such accommodation as I could obtain, I have thankfully availed myself o; able [5/6] Masters and Mistresses have been provided, the best books, and materials for schoolwork of all kinds, have been obtained, of course at a considerable cost. And we have had the satisfaction of gathering round us 250 children in Day Schools, and upwards of 400 in Sunday Schools, of whom the greatest part must otherwise have grown up in ignorance, and, I fear, sin. For this I must earnestly solicit your alms next Sunday, were it only that I may have the comfortable feeling, that the hearts of my Parishioners are with me in the great work; that they who have but little time to spare from their worldly avocations to teach or superintend, are at least anxious to contribute of that substance which their attention to these avocations enables them to command.

And now let me answer some objections which may be made to the offering of contributions to the services of the Sanctuary and the decoration of God’s House.

[7] If any thing it needless to adorn God’s House, and that money spent on such purposes is wasted, I would ask them carefully to study the 132d Psalm, and the account of the building of the Temple in 1 Kings vi. vii. viii. And 2 Chronicles i. ii. iii. iv. v. vi. vii.; or our Blessed Lord’s reproof, when some blamed that act of love in her who “poured ointment of spikenard, very precious, on the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.” St. John xii. and St. Matt xxvi. The truth is, that a loving heart is not for ever calculating by worldly considerations the meaning and use of its acts. Does the parent derive any direct advantage from the fondling and loving ways of a child, more than that delight and gratification which follow from feeling himself loved? So is it with “Our Father which is in heaven.” “The wild beasts of the forest are His, and so are the cattle upon a thousand hills.” In one sense He needs [7/8] nothing; and yet the smallest act of love is acceptable in His sight. The poor widow’s two mites, offered, be it remembered, especially for the service of the Sanctuary, the cup of cold water, the penitent’s tears, the box of ointment of spikenard, very precious, all have a blessing from Him.

In this spirit of love, our forefathers built these noble Churches in which we worship. And it is a remarkable fact, that the restoration and adornment of Churches has ever accomplished restoration and revival of religion, whether now, when God’s Word seems more felt and honoured among us; or two hundred years ago, when a like movement occurred; or in the Jewish Church in the days of Solomon, and after the return from the Captivity; or in the Christian Church, when the Roman Emperor Constantine first embraced the faith, and gave the Churches strength and peace.

For such works then as this I would [8/9] also solicit your alms; for the restoration so much needed of various parts of your Church; for its fitting adornment; for the lighting of the Church during the Evening Service; for the improvement and attendance requisite in the Churchyard.

I need not at present consider the duty of assisting in the great work of spreading the Gospel, so incumbent on us all.

II. I wish to pass on to the second part of the subject; the best mode of providing a supply of money for these three purposes. Some may answer, that at least two of them are cared for in the Poor Rate and Church rate; that the Poor Rate will provide for the Poor, the Church Rate for the Church. To this I reply, that the word “provision” has at least a double meaning.

A work may be done scantily or thoroughly, and yet it is said to be “done.” And so when we say that the Rate makes provision for the Poor, or for the Church, we mean [9/10] that this provision is not full, ample, loving, but the smallest possible. Rates and taxes are of necessity reduced to the lowest. They are the very reverse of acts of love; “good measure, pressed down, and running over.” They are essentially works of the Law, of the letter and not of the spirit, done for the most part “grudgingly and of necessity.” No one pays who can help paying, nor one farthing more than the Law compels. But the support of the Poor, the support of God’s Church, viewed religiously, are acts of love. They are to be taken in hand, heartily and cheerfully, as deeds done to Christ. The Law can compel us to preserve the Poor from perishing in hunger and cold, and to keep our Churches from falling down. But the Law cannot and ought not to compel more than this, or to meddle with acts of love. It cannot compel Tabitha to make “coats and garments” for the widows; nor the Centurion to build the Synagogue; nor [10/11] the Apostles to forsake all; neither is it of the Law that the Blessed Lord Himself washes His disciples’ feet. And when the Law ceases, the Church succeeds. She finds a way for acts of love, the willing offerings of the faithful. Her method is the simplest, easiest, most profitable. She takes the Apostle’s words for her guide. “Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.” She carries this out by bidding a collection be made each Sunday during the Communion Service, to be “disposed of,” as the Rubric at the end of that Service states, “to such pious and charitable uses, as the Minister and Churchwardens shall think fit.”

“Pious and charitable uses” obviously include not merely one pious and charitable use, such as feeding and clothing the Poor, but all or any, whether the pious use of beautifying the Church of God, or [11/12] of providing religious books for the ignorant, or of educating children, or of propagating the Gospel in foreign parts, or any other which may seem fitting.

These then, the weekly offertory, and the poor-box, both unostentatious, easy of access, and secure in result, are the methods by which the Church chiefly proposes to receive the alms of the faithful. Not that she would exclude other methods. Private acts of charity, collections from house to house, or at the Church doors, doubtless have their own advantages. While some have peculiar calls on their charity, others require especial rousing. What we can do at any time, we are apt to do at no time. It is hard to persevere in any good work, such as, weekly contributions, the result of daily self-denial.

Yet of this I feel certain, that in the long run such weekly offerings, however small, do the most real work, confer the greatest [12/13] blessing on the givers, as well as on those who their bounty relieves. Surely a habit of love, a habit of watchfulness, a habit of self-denial, is that which we most need, as a heavenly temper is that which most marks the converted man. We may make one or two great sacrifices, as we think them, in the course of our lives; but this may be, and often is, merely he work of some sudden impulse, which passes as rapidly as it came upon us.

But small weekly offerings, gleaned by self-denial and frugality from our usual expenditure, teach us constantly to feel the yoke of Christ.

In conclusion, I must take this opportunity of expressing my deep thankfulness, that it has pleased God to raise up the spirit of almsgiving among us; and my earnest prayer, that He may continue that work which He alone has begun.

[14] Praying also, dear Friends and Brethren, that He may daily increase in you His manifold gifts of grace,

I am,

Your affectionate and faithful servant in Christ Jesus,


March 1, 1849.

Project Canterbury