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CHRISTIAN BRETHREN, It is more than two years since I addressed you in a series of " Letters on the Constitution and Or. der of the Christian Ministry, as deduced from Scripture and Primitive Usage." The resolution to call your attention to that subject was reluctantly formed, after much deliberation, and in compliance with what appeared to me an evident and imperious demand of duty. A love of controversy makes no part of my character. Neither
my taste nor my
talents are by any means suited to the field of contention. But when a minister of the gospel perceives any thing which is likely to have an unfriendly influ. ence on the church of Christ, to which he has solemnly devoted himself, every consideration of
faithfulness forbids him to be idle. Such influence I saw, or thought I
was likely to result from certain publications, and other efforts, which had been made by some respectable individuals among our Episcopal brethren, in this city, and in different parts of the state, for several years preceding. The nature and tendency of these efforts are well under. stood by many of you, but they ought to be understood by all.
For more than twenty years after the establishment of American independence, the Presbyterians of New-York dwelt in peace and harmony with their Episcopal neighbours. They well recollected, indeed, the long course of oppressions and provocations which they had suffered, by means of Episcopal influence, prior to the Revolution. They recollected that, for more than half a century, besides supporting their own churches, they had been forced to contribute to the support of the Episcopal church, already enriched and strengthened by governmental aid. They recollected in how many instances the fairest and most laudable exertions to promote the interest of their denomination, were opposed, thwarted, and frustrated, by the direct interference of the same favoured sect. But when our national independence and equal rights became established; when all denominations of Christians were placed on the same footing, with respect to the state, and left to enjoy their privileges together, the Presbyterians were disposed to forget every injury; to cover every former subject
of uneasiness with the mantle of charity ; to dwell in equal concord and love with their brethren of every name. It was not supposed, indeed, during this period of tranquillit, that Presbyterians and Episcopalians were agreed in their views either of evangelical truth, or of ecclesiastical order; or that they considered all the points in which they differed as of small importance. But while both thought for themselves, and pursued their own views of doctrine and worship, they avoided an unnecessary, and especially, an irritating and offensive obtrusion of their points of difference; and, above all, never seem to have thought, on either side, of that system of proscription and attack, which our Episcopal brethren have since chosen to commence.
The formal and open commencement of this system may be dated in the
1804. Previous to that period, indeed, several sermons, and other fugitive pamphlets, had evinced a disposition on the part of some individuals, to revive and urge certain claims, as unfounded in scripture as they are offensive to liberal minds. But in that year
appeared, in the city of New York, the first of a series of larger publications, which evidently had for their object a system of more bold and decisive proscription than had been ventured upon for a considerable time before. These publications, among other doctrines, were professedly intended to maintain and disseminate the following, viz. “ That the power of ordination to the Christian
ministry is, by divine appointment, vested ex
s clusively in Diocesan Bishops; that where these “ Bishops are wanting, there is no authorized mi
nistry, no true church, no valid ordinances ; that, " of course, the Presbyterian, and all other non* Episcopal churches, and ministers, are not only “ unauthorized, and perfectly destitute of validity, “ but are to be viewed as institutions founded in re“ bellion and schism; and that all who are in com“ munion with such non-Episcopal churches, are “ aliens from Christ," " out of the appointed road “ to heaven," have no interest in the promises of " God, and no hope but in his “ uncovenanted
mercy,” which may be extended to thein, in
common with the serious and conscientious hea. “then.” Books containing doctrines of this kind, had been published and sent abroad with much assiduity, for more than a year, before any Presbyte. rian came forward to refute them, or to vindicate. primitive simplicity and order; and since that time, similar books have been printed, re-printed, new modelled, and circulated, especially in thecity and state of New York, with a degree of zeal and perseverance altogether new and extraordinary.
Nor is this all. These books have been put into the hands of non-Episcopalians. Presbyterians have been personally addressed on the subject, and -attempts made to seduce them from their church, on the express allegation that they were totally destitute of an authorized ministry, and of valid ordinances. And, that nothing might be wanting to fix the character and purpose of these measures, they were accompanied with declarations, that a state of warfare with the Presbyterian church, on the subject of Episcopacy, was earnestly wished for, and considered as one of the most probable means of promoting the Episcopal cause.
It was not possible for one denomination of Christians to act in a more inoffensive manner towards another, than we had uniformly done towards our Episcopal brethren. We had never attempted to unchurch them. We had never, directly or indirectly, called in question the validity of their ministrations or ordinances. We had never, on any occasion, obtruded our particular views of church order, as essential either to the being or prosperity of the body of Christ. On the contrary, whenever we had occasion, from the pulpit or the press, to instruct our people on those points in which we differ from Episcopalians, it was always done in a manner respectful and conciliatory, and perfectly consistent with acknowledging them as a sister church; a sister, by no means indeed, in our estimation, free from error; but yet sufficiently near the primitive model to be regarded as a church of Christ. All this, however, did not secure us from the treatment of which you have heard.
Under these circumstances, when we were virtually. denounced and excommunicated ; when the name of a Christian church was denied us; when our people were warned to abandon the ministry of their pastors, under the penalty of being regarded as rebels