Project Canterbury

Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops to the Clergy and Laity
of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, A.D. 1868.

Hartford: The Church Press Company, 1868.



THE Incarnate God hath committed to fallible men that great commission wherewith He came into the world, from the Father who sent Him. But, to His ministers, thus weak and subject to error, He hath given His holy and infallible Word, that, without peril of misleading His flock we may instruct them, with all authority, by speaking always according to the Scriptures. It is therefore our duty, and with gladness we perform it, to address the Churches committed to our care, in the Pastoral Letter which our brethren, the clergy and laity, assembled in this Convention, have asked from their chief Pastors.

First, we give praise to Almighty God for the good examples of our brethren who have rested from their labours. It is now nine years since we met with full representation of all our Dioceses. In this period sixteen of our venerable brethren in the Episcopate, of whom two were presiding Bishops, have departed this life. A mortality so unusual impresses your Bishops with a deep sense of the shortness and uncertainty of their own future upon earth, and leads them to address you with the greater solemnity.

It is our duty to make grateful mention of that measure of spiritual increase and of growth in numbers and resources, of which there is abundant evidence in the official returns of our several Dioceses and Missionary jurisdictions. To God's holy Name be all the glory, but to us confusion of face in view of the unprofitable services which have so much limited the operations of the Divine mercy amongst us.

Great has been our consolation amid many trials of our faith and patience, in the entire restoration of our unity as a National Church. Amid the unusual excitements of the day, let us bless Almighty God that our great Council has met, with a full representation of our churches in all parts of the land; and with a wonderful harmony of purpose and of action, is about to close a long session, from which many who understand us not, had augured confusion, and every evil work. We lament that while the labours of our Missionaries, at home and abroad, have been so noble and so fruitful, the offerings of the churches by which they should have been bountifully sustained, have not been commensurately abundant. Yet we must not forget that much has been done for the support of Missions and of Missionary institutions, which does not appear in official reports. The zeal and co-operative labours of our people are steadily increasing, and we pray that they may be more and more enlarged and rewarded.

The work of organized benevolence, in manifold forms, has been considerably developed, and we rejoice that among such efforts, praiseworthy and successful exertions have not been wanting in behalf of the most wretched and abandoned of sinners and sufferers.

Christian education is receiving an enlarged measure of practical attention, and schools of the parish and the diocese have been, to a cheering extent, multiplied and effectively worked.

The Christian family is more and more regarded among us as the Divine Institution on which the Church itself mainly relies for its prosperity, and to which nothing less than the succors and heavenly consolations of the Church of Christ can impart the means of perpetuity and perfection. It is believed that the legislation of this Convention will be found to have contributed, not a little, to the purity and sanctification of the households of our Communion.

The work of the Church, as now set before us by Divine Providence, demands a word of exhortation. We confide in our reverend brethren the Clergy, to continue their labours for the salvation of souls with more self-devotion, and greater prayerfulness and dependence on the power of God the Holy Ghost.

But corresponding efforts to sustain them in such labours are required of the Laity; and we rejoice that they have specially moved us to urge upon them, in this Pastoral address, the duty of ministering to those who are set over them in the Lord, "in all good things." Not only the future happiness of immortal souls, but even the temporal well-being of the Nation, is absolutely dependent upon the perpetuation among us of the offices of our Holy Religion. These can be afforded only by a due supply of well-trained men, ministering the Word and Sacraments, and it is the Law of Christ, that "they who preach the Gospel shall live of the Gospel." We press these principles, earnestly, upon the consciences of all those who expect to give an account unto Him who said unto His servants, "whosoever receiveth you receiveth Me, and whosoever despiseth you despiseth Me."

Much thought has been given by your Bishops, as well as by members of the other House in this Convention, to the necessity of enlarged associated effort in works of Mercy and Education. Much that needs to be done can be accomplished in no other way; and we are sure that men and women can be found, "the love of Christ constraining them," who will not withhold themselves from lives of labour and self-denial, in ministering to the sick and needy, in caring for the aged, and in training the young. Though nothing more than a decent maintenance can be expected by such devoted servants of Christ, it must be remembered that nothing more than this is realized by thousands who sacrifice not only their bodies but their souls, in hope of this world's gain. Let it be understood that the sort of associations we thus commend must be wholly free from ensnaring vows, or enforced confession, and in all things subject to Canonical and Diocesan authority.

The social habits of our country afford to women, even in the humbler walks of life, a degree of exemption from toil and industrial activity, unknown in other countries, except among the opulent. Hence thousands of "women professing godliness," dwell among us, like those rebuked, in Holy Scriptures, as "women who live at ease, and as careless daughters." It is not our desire merely to suggest the need of a reform of idleness and self-indulgence, but rather to awaken convictions that are dormant, and to enlist affections and energies that are undeveloped. It is the peculiar work of woman, in Christian society, to furnish, in manifold domestic and social offices, and in works of mercy, spiritual as well as physical, a pattern "of whatsoever things are pure and lovely and of good report."

It is a matter of painful observation to your Bishops, that, more especially in larger towns and great cities, where the need and the opportunities for continual public worship are greatest, the churches are too little used, at all seasons, and often in the summer months are closed, even upon the day of the Lord. It is not unusual in England for four or five services to be celebrated, in a parish-church, on Sundays, for successive congregations, to say nothing of week-day prayers, with homilies and exhortations. In consecrated houses there can be no private ownership that is not entirely subordinate to the ownership of God Himself, and the uses of all His children; and, while we rejoice in the multiplication of churches, professedly free, provided they are properly maintained, we suggest that hundreds of our churches, apart from the ordinary services of the Lord's Day, might be freely opened to all comers, for the ministrations of the blessed Gospel. City missions might thus be carried on, in many places, without the expense of erecting superfluous and inferior churches, and the means thus saved might be used for the support of the requisite Missionary Clergy.

But everything must languish in the Church until all our families are made truly Christian, and until there is, as of old, a church in every house. We fear that the old duties of family prayer, of the daily reading of God's Holy Word, and of parental catechising, are too much neglected. Examples of manly piety are not abundant, and fathers too often forget that they are priests in their own houses. It is not too much to say, that the secret of many an unhappy household is thus pointed out, and that no house stands firm that does not rest on the sure foundation and the blessed Corner-Stone.

While, however, we thus speak to you of the manifold trusts which the adorable Head of the Church has committed to our hands, we cannot forget that the Church has a warfare to accomplish as well as a work to do. Varying in its forms as the ages pass along, this warfare is notwithstanding always the same, because it is always incited by the same enemies of our salvation, and always directed against the Faith and the Life of the Church. We should be faithless to our trust, did we not say something of the dangers and devices which beset the Redeemer's fold and peril the life of the souls which He hath purchased with His precious blood.

A covert infidelity which borrows the language of God's lively oracles, even while it seeks to destroy them; which, under the guise of a candid and searching criticism, brings to nought the Holy Scriptures; which uses sounding words about our Blessed Lord while it denies to Him every attribute of Divinity, and takes away from His offices and His work every characteristic on which our fallen humanity can rest for its salvation; which puts a self-perfected human nature in place of the new man in Christ Jesus, stands foremost among these dangers. Presented in unnumbered forms, widely infecting the popular literature, insinuated by methods as unsuspected as they are prevalent, the utmost watchfulness is needed to guard against this evil. Most earnestly and solemnly do we warn and exhort the pastors of Christ's flock so to indoctrinate the people of their charge as to protect them against the threatening peril, and so to feed His sheep and His lambs that they be not enticed into poisonous pastures to the destruction of their souls.

That extreme individualism which, in matters pertaining to salvation, shuts up each man to himself, presents another danger. It is, indeed, an error to merge the proper individuality of every soul in its corporate relations to the Body of Christ. But the necessity of membership in that body is, notwithstanding, a truth of such vital importance, and the institutions of Christ which involve it are so positively enforced in Scripture that their general neglect, and the indifference which despises them are errors more general and alarming. Let it be constantly impressed on the consciences of our people that though each soul is individually responsible to God for grace and spiritual help, Heavenly grace and help are, nevertheless, to be sought by Divine commandment, in that communion of which the Head is Christ.

The unscriptural and uncatholic pretensions of the Bishop of Rome, as in times past so now, are a fruitful source of error and of evil. They constitute to-day as they have done for many centuries, the great bar to the restoration of the unity of Christendom. We, therefore, urge upon our brethren of the Clergy the duty of teaching their people the true law of a scriptural and catholic unity; the adorable and living centre of which is none other than Jesus Christ, our Lord; the inspiring source of which is His true Vicar, the Holy Ghost; and the visible expression of which is the "Apostles' doctrine, and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers."

In this connexion we are constrained to warn you against the attempts now made, to disparage our Anglican Reformation. These attempts challenge and would warrant severer terms than we choose, in this Letter, to employ. It is always easy to point out imperfections in the characters of those whom God has placed in eminent positions of duty and responsibility. Infidelity has chosen this form of attack on some of the most illustrious names recorded for our example in Holy Scripture. Such attacks, we believe, will only add fresh lustre to the names of our martyred bishops and doctors, and give fresh prominence and power to that great result of our Reformation, the maintenance of "the Father in its purity and integrity, as taught in the Holy Scripture, held by the Primitive Church, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the undisputed General Councils."

Before we leave this topic, we must also warn you against confounding mediƦval beliefs or usages with those of earlier and purer ages, and against their practical substitution for the beliefs and usages of our own Reformed Church. Especially do we condemn any doctrine of the Holy Eucharist which implies that, after consecration, the proper nature of the elements of bread and wine does not remain; which localizes in them the bodily presence of our Lord; &c., &c.

With thus much concerning dangers which beset the Faith, we turn to say a few words concerning those which bear upon the life of Christ's disciples. We cannot, indeed, even touch upon all such dangers, but of some we cannot forbear to speak in tones of admonition and alarm.

Ours are times of increasing worldliness, luxury and sensuality. The flesh triumphs over the spirit, in the modes of life and in the recognized aims of thousands who call themselves Christians. Your Bishops cannot with too much of plainness and solemnity urge the Reverend Clergy to be faithful in rebuke and warning in these respects; nor can they too seriously entreat the people to lay such exhortations to heart. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings and such like." The blessed Apostle adds: "of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

In former Pastoral Letters, your Bishops have warned you concerning worldly amusements, and of the tendency of many forms of them to create a distaste for pure, simple and domestic pleasures, innocent enjoyments, and especially for the stern duties and elevated sympathies of a holy life. But, in our day, there is a licentiousness and grossness in theatrical and like entertainments which would have been shocking to even the least refined, in the days of our fathers. We exhort you to flee these things, and above all to separate from all contact with their pollution, the young and precious souls for whom you have answered in holy baptism.

Nor can it be superfluous to say that moderation in all things pertaining to personal expense, to dress, and to manners, is required of all Christians, as examples to a world lying in the wicked One. On these things the Apostles have spoken, and the old fathers who struggled with the remains of heathenism in their converts, and it is humiliating to note that what they rebuked as indecent and shameful in newly baptized Pagans, is hardly less the scandal of Christian lands in our own day and generation. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil." It is in vain that we profess a pure and primitive Faith and multiply our sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, in the Liturgic forms of apostles and martyrs, unless with clean hearts and hands, and with bodies unpolluted, we are enabled to worship God in spirit and in truth.

Suffer therefore, brethren, these words of exhortation to practical godliness. "The end of all things is at hand: be sober and watch unto prayer." Pray and strive for the "peace of Jerusalem." "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from among you, with all malice," that as there is "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may henceforth be of one heart and one soul, united in one holy bond of Truth and Peace, of Faith and Charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."

It remains for us to add our paternal benediction: The God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever.--AMEN.

Project Canterbury