Project Canterbury


September 28, 1843


(As printed in the Journal of The Proceedings)



Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2011

Third Sunday after Trinity, July 2, (1843) in St. Stephen's Church, New York, admitted to Deacons' Orders the following alumni of the General Theological Seminary:—Arthur Carey, Vandervoort Bruce, Samuel H. Coxe, Jr., Benjamin Daniels, Robert B. Fairbairn, Fletcher J. Hawley, Edwin A. Nichols, Reuben Riley, Edward Selkirk, and Edgar P. Wadhams. My Right Reverend brother the Bishop of North Carolina, was present, and did me the favour of taking part in the ordination services.

It is well known to you, my brethren, that the ordination just mentioned has been made matter of very extraordinary publicity. The course which this has taken has had connections and bearings which have brought to view important principles whereon I deem it, a duty to express to you, and place on record, deliberately formed and conscientious views and convictions.

At the foundation of the whole lies the fact, that when in this ordination, the prescribed call was made on the people for the showing of any impediment or notable crime on account of which either of the persons presented should not be ordained, two presbyters of the diocese, avowedly acting in their capacity as such, read each a written form of objection and protest, charging one of the candidates with unsoundness in the faith. The charge thus preferred had been previously laid before me, fully investigated, and found to be not sustained. This was stated by me to the congregation as the reason why there was no just cause for the delay in ordaining an accused person provided for in the rubric. The solemn service proceeded accordingly, and all the persons presented were ordained. With a strengthened conviction of having acted justly and righteously in this matter, I deem it to be highly proper in itself, and peculiarly demanded by the trying circumstances in which the young brother concerned has been thrown, thus publicly to express my unshaken confidence in him, and to commend him to the confidence and affection of the Church.

As stated above, this case, in the very extraordinary manner in which it has been treated, and from the extensive notoriety which has hence attached to it, has brought to view a variety of important principles which I deem it my duty to notice. In doing this I shall, for obvious reasons, treat them as much as may be in the abstract.

The first point naturally presented to our notice, is the provision of the Ordinal under which this objection was made. What are its true meaning and legitimate operation?

It is confessedly a call upon the people. The clergy, either personally or by those who, in the due order of the Church, are their regularly constituted representatives, are reasonably supposed to have, in their respective dioceses, sufficient opportunities of becoming acquainted with the characters and qualifications of candidates for orders. Their position as watchmen and stewards of the LORD requires of them that they carefully keep themselves informed, as they may, who are candidates for orders, and what grounds of trust there are in their aptness and meetness for the ministry. Certain of them are personally concerned in testing the sufficiency of those grounds by special examinations; and the publicity given to the admission of candidates ought to be considered by every conscientious clergyman as a call upon him to avail himself of all fitting opportunities of becoming acquainted with their characters and qualifications, and to assist the diocesan, in his peculiar weight of responsibility, by such information in the premises as he may be able to impart. The bishop, therefore, may, by the time the day appointed for ordination arrives, be reasonably supposed to be in possession of whatever his clergy may have to impart respecting the fitness of those expected to be ordained.

In a measurable degree, similar remarks may apply to the laity. It is very gratifying and encouraging to see our laity, especially those of influence in the community, take an interest in the affairs of the Church—the interest, I mean, of uniformly devoted heart and affections, and of solicitude, prayers, and labours of love, growing out of their personal experience and manifestation of the sanctifying influences of that heavenly grace, of the divine imparting of which the Church is GOD'S instrument and agent. I would distinguish this most emphatically from the cases often obtruding themselves, of an unchristian fondness for religious disputation, and a concern for the Church hardly distinguishable from mere indulgence, in another line than those which worldly-mindedness usually supplies, of a litigious disposition, a love of opposition, and a desire for distinction in controversy and in troublous agitation. From such concern in religion no good is to be augured, except as it may lead better men to more watchfulness, care, and effort for the Church's well-being. But when our pious and intelligent laity endeavour to keep themselves informed of the Church's concerns, the publicity necessarily given to the admission of candidates for orders, secures in a good degree their watchfulness and care also on this momentous subject, and their opportunity of aiding the proper authorities in attaining to an entirely correct knowledge of those who are in training for the ministry.

It is not to be expected, however, that the laity, or as the Church designates them, "the people," will generally be informed as to the admission, character, and progress of candidates for orders. It therefore seems to have been always a right and prudent custom for the Church to call upon them in some form or other, at the appointed time of ordination, to bear testimony against any one presented for orders before the holy ceremony proceeds. And there is a well-known union of the authority of liturgical commentators in favour of interpreting this call upon the people as intended for them, in contradistinction from the clergy. I can conceive of no case in which a clergyman can properly avail himself of it, except, being present as one of the congregation, not in his clerical capacity, and therefore virtually one of the people, he perceives one presented for orders, in whom he knows of the existence of an impediment or notable crime for which he ought not to be ordered, of which he has not had a previous opportunity of apprising the bishop, and which he has no reason to suppose has been brought to the bishop's knowledge.

All laws are to be construed on the principles of sound common sense, and so as that the good obviously intended to be accomplished by them should neither be defeated nor marred by the understanding of them with which they are executed. The rubric following the call upon the people states the object of the call to be, that the person objected to shall be found clear of the crime charged upon him before he be ordained. If then this has previously been done—if the charge has already been laid before the bishop, and examined by him, and the party found clear of it—it is obviously a case not contemplated by the rubric. The object of the rubric has been gained. The party has been found clear of the charge. There is no law to meet the case, but the holy common law of order, reverence, and silence in public worship. The rising to bring a charge of which the accused has already been found clear, is a violation of this law unsanctioned by any other. Else the solemnities of this peculiarly hallowed portion of our ritual would be in danger of perpetual interruption by the repetition of charges over and over again examined and proved to be unfounded.

My solemn and deliberate consideration of this case calls me to the duty of also viewing this portion of the ordinal in another aspect. The term protest has been much applied to the action contemplated by it. I have not been able to see the propriety of it. In this and the few similar passages in the Liturgy, the Church seems to act upon the principle simply of aiding the constituted judge in arriving at a correct decision in the matter, not of bringing antagonistic influences to bear upon him, of placing him in an attitude of opposition, or of throwing virtual menaces and public accusation in his way. It would provide him with means for deciding aright, and leave the decision with him. Should this be offensive to the Church, her remedy is found, not in so irregular and hurried an arraignment, not in public accusation so obviously subjected to all the malign influences of personal passion and ill-will, but in the regular and orderly subjecting of the offender to the responsibility duly and orderly provided. I object, therefore, to the propriety of action under the provisions now before us being shaped or regarded as a protest.

But it may be asked, Will you take entirely from the clergy and people of the Church the privilege of protest, when their rights are endangered, and iniquity bears sway in the counsels and acts of those in authority There are—the history of man in every department of his social character evinces that there mournfully have been—extreme cases in which all the ordinary provisions of law are wickedly deprived of their influence for good, and individual and social rights demand the interposition of such law as the emergency renders imperative. Then even resistance, and forced changes in social relations, have been found unavoidable, and submitted to as lesser evils. There may be emergencies when people in reference to their pastors, and pastors and people in reference to their bishops, may have no alternative left, consistent with conscientious duty to the cause of GOD, but openly to protest against the measures of those to whose decisions ordinarily they are bound reverently to submit. It is hard, however, to conceive of this as justifiable, save where the process of regular accountability has been found insufficient; and equally hard to view it in any other light than as an extreme measure involving the charge against the party whose acts have elicited the protest, of gross ignorance or palpable unfaithfulness and injustice.

I am also called, in the present connection, to say a word on the subject, much discussed of late, of the responsibility, in their official acts, of the bishops and clergy. It applies also to the laity, in the various departments in which they are invested with prerogative and duty in ecclesiastical concerns. Responsibility is undoubtedly as much the law of GOD'S house as it is of the various social and civil connections which He has established among men. On this, however, as on other deeply interesting points, it is of the greatest importance that we bear in mind an essential and fundamental difference between this house of GOD, His holy Church, and those unions among men which are of a merely secular and civil character. In these, the primary authority rests in a good degree with the individuals composing them, in their primary capacity. They have associated for their common benefit, and to secure that end have each surrendered a portion of original inherent right; and each is, by that right, a judge, with inherent prerogative, as such, to see that his privileges and interests are duly regarded in the operation of the compact, and has his share of the power which is lodged in the body, to dissolve, change, or remodel itself at pleasure.

These principles, with such modifications as are deemed fitting, are incorporated into the civil compact wherever it exists with any recognition of civil freedom. They include the doctrines, that the power of the whole is derived from each, and that each is responsible to the whole—doctrines, however, which every form of that compact, guarded with any security against anarchy, sees and practically admits the necessity of qualifying by sound and wholesome, regulations.

The Church is a department of the social compact differing from those of a secular and civil character. It has not resulted from men's voluntarily seeking the good which it may impart, or yielding to the necessities which may have driven them into it, by the surrendry by each, for the good of the whole, of immunities and prerogatives naturally his.

The foundation of the Church lies not in man's agreement, but in GOD'S requirement. Nor does man's association in the Church relate to him as a being having rights to be secured or prerogatives to surrender, nor as one who has a high, honourable, and pure moral sense to bring to bear upon the happiness and welfare of the community to which he belongs. The Church is appointed for man as a being weighed down with frailty and corruption, and by his sinfulness shut out from the mercy and exposed to the just anger of his GOD. It is not a society formed by him for the purpose of concentrating and calling into exercise his powers of self-government, and of promoting his own and others' welfare and interests. As GOD's instrument and agent of mercy, it takes man as a frail, guilty, and helpless being, that he may be thus put in the divinely appointed way of grace and salvation through JESUS CHRIST. Its powers and prerogatives come directly from heaven. Its human agents, in the accomplishment of the holy and blessed ends of its institution, have their powers and prerogatives from GOD, and not from men. Indeed, as if to illustrate this holy and heavenly character of the Church, the appointment of such agents was not only independent of the Church, but anterior to its full Christian organization. The ministry was appointed to gather, organize, instruct, and guide the Church, not the Church established with power to employ the ministry. The primary powers of the Church, then, are not diffusive, but concentrated. They are not in the members, but the Head. They were committed by the Head to the ministry. In this, however, it is evident to all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient authors, and thence collecting, from its practical development, the great principles designed to be incorporated into the full ecclesiastical organization, divine sanction is given to qualifications in administering the polity of the Church, which clearly recognize therein an efficient interest given to the subordinate pastoral associates of the chief ministers of CHRIST'S flock, and to the members generally of that holy body. Whatever may be the modifications of this, it is of obvious propriety and importance that we bear in mind this evangelical view of the true theory of CHRIST'S Church. A very valuable consequence of this may, by the Divine blessing, be expected to be, my beloved brethren of the clergy and laity, the constant realizing by each of us, in his proper sphere, of the solemn truth, that when we engage in the service of the Church of GOD, we are employed in an agency, not to carry out a human scheme of benevolence or usefulness, not to promote an end deriving value from its popularity or acceptableness with men, not to devise and execute the most ingenious, improved, or ready modes of showing results; but an agency—with reverence and godly fear be it undertaken!—in the accomplishment, by the mighty power of the HOLY GHOST, of the exceeding great and precious object whereby GOD, in the exercise of ineffable mercy, is, in CHRIST JESUS, reconciling the world unto Himself. Press we then ever to our hearts the obvious truth, that then only can we expect to be enlightened and efficient agents in this work, when our hearts are controlled, our characters formed, and our lives governed, by that great principle of evangelical faith which only gives consistency, and in which only we can expect efficiency, in whatever we may do in the cause of the Church.

But my principal object in this course of remark, was to show its bearing on the question of our responsibility as ministers and members of the Church, in what we do simply as such. Is it to the public? I can see no principle on which this can be justly maintained. How is it possible for a body of men held together by no common principles of religion to judge of religious matters? Taking the Gospel for our guide, we must see in the Church and the world essentially antagonistic bodies. The Church was formed, not to co-operate with the world, but to oppose it, to attack the wicked principles and practices to which it is in bondage, and to come to no terms with it on any other principles than its entire surrendry of its opposition to the pure and holy spirit of the Gospel, and its submission to the rule which CHRIST, through His Church, would establish over it for its good. Alas! brethren, I need not ask you whether the world is now such as to afford any confidence of its judging aright in matters pertaining to the kingdom of GOD. No, surely; and let me affectionately say to both the clergy and laity, ever conscientiously acting upon the principle myself, that for what we do in our several departments of service to the Church, we owe no responsibility to the world; in other words, to the public. From the world we have derived no power. We hold no commission from it. Let us ever, by the grace of GOD, be careful that in our intercourse with it, we adorn the doctrine of GOD our Saviour in all things; and then go forward in our Master's work, indifferent, save for its own sake, whether the world is pleased or offended, and indeed looking for the ill-will and opposition from it which that Master and His divine word have prepared us to expect.

In natural connection with this point, a solemn sense of duty bids me to exhort my diocese, through this its representative body, always to frown upon the bringing of controversies or differences on sacred subjects before the world, through mediums and in ways, whose principal operation may be expected to involve their exposure to the scoffs and jests of unrenewed hearts, the insolence of the ignorant, and the blasphemies and impieties of the profane. Good men, as did apostles, may differ, and differ seriously and even warmly; but surely they should be equally jealous of unnecessarily exposing the things of GOD to that carnal mind which is radically incapable of spiritual discernment.

But although no responsibility is due from us to the world, or the public, yet is it not due to the Church as a body? The view above given of the great principles on which it pleased our Divine LORD to organize His Church, seems clearly to indicate that responsibility therein, in its progress to ultimate right of decision, unlike that in human organizations, is towards concentration, and not diffusion. Power and prerogative in the Church, came from CHRIST to the first order in the ministry, and thence to the lower orders, and to the brethren or laity of the Church. As the last gave not power or prerogative, it is difficult to conceive how they can demand responsibility to them as of right. From the earliest times, however, the apostles and elders, and their successors, have very rightly and wisely taken counsel of the brethren in the exercise of their prerogatives; and this principle has equally wisely and rightly, in various parts and periods of the Church, led to national and diocesan organizations, which have given distinctive rights and prerogatives to all orders of men in the Church, bishops, clergy, and laity. And I gladly avail myself of this opportunity of repeating the sentiment often expressed, of my conviction, that the particular organization of our branch of the Church, is in admirable adaptation to its peculiar state and position, and well calculated, if thoroughly understood, and properly carried out, to promote order, harmony, and security, and to answer the great spiritual ends for which the Church was established. But I think a careful study of what may be called the genius of that organization, will perceive that the responsibility which it recognizes or provides for, is eminently of the above-mentioned concentrative, and not of a diffusive character.

There is nothing which runs at all counter to the great Scripture principle, that the ministers of CHRIST are responsible to Him through those whom He has invested with authority over them, and these again to their own order in the Church, and both under such regulations, qualifications, and checks, as in sound Christian judgment may, from time to time, be duly and orderly appointed. A practical illustration of the fitness of this, is afforded by the manifold evils attendant on public appeals, especially in matters in which the mass of the members of the Church themselves can hardly be deemed competent to judge. And it should be remembered that a public appeal to the Church, must almost necessarily involve the evils of one to the world.

I should, however, be much misunderstood, if deemed to deny that there may be circumstances demanding a departure from this principle. I refer only to the soundest and safest general rule, from which a regard for good order would seem to require that there be no departure, save where there is the strongest ground for the conviction, that a great evil had better be encountered than a greater.

I am very certain, my brethren, that I need not remind you of the tenaciousness with which I have uniformly endeavoured to adhere to those great Catholic principles which, revealed in the Gospel, have ever been held valuable and important, as incorporated into the evangelical system, by all pure branches of the Church of CHRIST; nor of the readiness with which I have always thought it incumbent on the Christian minister to defend them; nor of the little regard which I have deemed due to any offence which might thus be given, or loss of popularity that might thus be encountered. Whether these principles have had levelled against them the fulminations of papal tyranny and usurpation, or those of Protestant zeal for erroneous and strange doctrines, contrary to GOD's word, my devotion to them has strengthened with years, reflection, and experience, and with it my determination, GOD being my helper, to continue faithful and consistent in that devotion.

But, as you well know, I have never felt it a duty to require those over whom I may have influence or authority, to view all these points exactly as I do. Unity in necessary things is perfectly consistent with tolerance and liberty in others, and certainly with the fullest influence in all things of that indispensable ingredient in an evangelical character, the charity which hopeth all things, suffereth long, and is kind. Nothing is more evident in the history of the Reformed Catholic Church in England and in this country, than that a wide latitude of opinion among its bishops and clergy on points not involving essentials of the Catholic faith, is entirely consistent with unity in that faith. Its liturgies and articles have ever been viewed in different lights by men equally conscientiously attached to them, and maintaining with each other both personal and official communion characterized by the truest Christian courtesy and harmony. Tendencies towards extremes in what may be denominated the Catholic, the Calvinistic, and the Arminian views of our standards, have always existed without rending our unity or disturbing our harmony. On this principle—strong as are my own preferences in the matter, and fearlessly and honestly as I have endeavoured, on all proper occasions, to advance and defend them—I have ever endeavoured to act. I have not shrunk from laying before the hundreds of young men who, in a greater or less degree, have pursued their theological studies under my direction, fully and fairly what I believed to be not only the essential principles of the Christian faith, but also all their various bearings, connections, and results, in the great Catholic system which I believed to have been handed down from the days of inspiration. Never, however, have I—and GOD forbid that I should ever depart from the principle!—felt myself at liberty, nor ever have I had the inclination, to erect my views on these latter points into stern requisitions without compliance with which I should frustrate the evidently honest, disinterested, and pious desire of well qualified young men to be received into the ministry. Having duly tested their moral, spiritual, and intellectual fitness, and satisfied of their soundness in the essentials of the faith, I have gladly ordained them, most cordially bid them GOD speed, and done what I could to promote their happiness, interests, and usefulness.

All this I have thought, and doubt not that I shall ever think, the necessary result of that latitude of opinions and views which the Catholic Church has ever allowed to individual mind, and the encroachment on which by the despotic bigotry of Papal anathemas, and the intolerant spirit of Protestant sectarianism, has led to some of the sorest evils which have ever befallen the Christian world.

And on the same principle of conservatism, unity, and Christian charity, I have freely and cordially received clergy on the dismission of brethren in the Episcopacy, who I knew differed widely from me on points which I deemed by no means unimportant. This accustomed token of unity of spirit and the bond of peace will never cease to bless our Church as long as the ancient and well-tried principles of Catholic union prevail, the dictates of Christian courtesy are respected, and the pure and holy affections of the Gospel are cherished.

In pursuance of my usual plan of pausing in my details of official acts for the purpose of expressing such views and giving such counsels as seemed to be called for by facts or circumstances related, I have now digressed much more at large than is customary. This has arisen from a solemn conviction of duty to the beloved clergy and people of my charge; and affectionately asking the union of their prayers with mine that a blessing from on high may attend this humble effort to discharge the sacred requirements of office, I proceed in my narrative.

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