Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts

Pastoral Letter of the General Association of Massachusetts (Congregationalists), 28th June 1837

Brethren and Friends,
[1] Having assembled to consult upon the interests of religion within this commonwealth, we would now, as Pastors and Teachers, in accordance with the custom of this Association, address you on some of the subjects which at the present time appear to us to have an important bearing upon the cause of Christ.

[2] The first topic upon which we would speak, has respect to the perplexed and agitating subjects which are now common amongst us.

[3] All that we would say at present with regard to these subjects, is this: They should not be forced on any church as matters for debate, at the hazard of alienation and division.

[4] Once it would have seemed strange even to hint that members of churches could wish to force a subject for debate upon their Pastor and their brethren of the same church. But we are compelled to mourn over the loss, in a degree, of that deference to the pastoral office, which no minister would arrogate, but which is at once a mark of christian urbanity, and a uniform attendant of the full influence of religion upon individual character. If there be a tendency in zeal upon these subjects to violate the principles and rules of christian intercourse, to interfere with the proper pastoral influence, and to make the church into which we flee from a troubled world for peace, a scene of "doubtful disputations," there must be something wrong in that zeal or in the principles which excite it. If any are constrained to adopt those principles, and to use that zeal, we would affectionately and solemnly caution them not to disturb the influence of those ministers who think that the promotion of personal religion among their people, and the establishment of Christians in the faith and comfort of the Gospel, is the proper object of their ministry.

[5] II. We would call your attention to the importance of maintaining that respect and deference to the Pastoral office which is enjoined in Scripture, and which is essential to the best influence of the ministry on you and your children.

[6] One way in which this respect has been in some cases violated, is in encouraging lecturers or preachers on certain topics of reform to present their subjects within the parochial limits of settled pastors without their consent.

[7] Your minister is ordained of God to be your teacher, and is commanded to feed that flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made him overseer. If there are certain topics upon which he does not preach with the frequency, or in the manner that would please you, it is a violation of sacred and important rights to encourage a stranger to present them. Deference and subordination are essential to the happiness of society, and peculiarly so in the relation of a people to their pastor. Let them despise or slight him, and he ceases to do them good, and they cease to respect those things of which he is at once the minister and the symbol. There is great solemnity in those words: "Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls as they that must give account." It is because we desire the highest influence of the ministry upon you and your children, that we now exhort you to reverence that office which the ascending Redeemer selected from all his gifts as the highest token of his love and care for his people.

[8] III. We invite your attention to the dangers which at present seem to threaten the female character with wide spread and permanent injury.

[9] The appropriate duties and influence of women, are clearly stated in the New Testament. Those duties and that influence are unobtrusive and private, but the sources of mighty power. When the mild, dependent, softening influence of woman upon the sternness of man's opinions is fully exercised, society feels the effects of it in a thousand forms. The power of woman is in her dependence, flowing from the consciousness of that weakness which God has given her for her protection and which keeps her in those departments of life that form the character of individuals and of the nation. There are social influences which females use in promoting piety and the great objects of christian benevolence, which we cannot too highly commend. We appreciate the unostentatious prayers and efforts of woman, in advancing the cause of religion at home and abroad: — in Sabbath schools, in leading religious inquirers to their pastor for instruction, and in all such associated effort as becomes the modesty of her sex; and earnestly hope that she may abound more and more in these labours of piety and love. But when she assumes the place and tone of a man as a public reformer, our care and protection of her seem unnecessary, we put ourselves in self defence against her, she yields the power which God has given her for protection, and her character becomes unnatural. If the vine, whose strength and beauty is to lean upon the trellis work and half conceal its clusters, thinks to assume the independence and the overshadowing nature of the elm, it will not only cease to bear fruit, but fall in shame and dishonour into the dust.

[10] We cannot, therefore, but regret the mistaken conduct of those who encourage females to bear an obtrusive and ostentatious part in measures of reform, and countenance any of that sex who so far forget themselves as to itinerate in the character of public lecturers and teachers.

[11] We especially deplore the intimate acquaintance and promiscuous conversation of females with regard to things "which ought not to be named;" by which that modesty and delicacy which is the charm of domestic life, and which constitute the true influence of women in society are consumed, and the way opened, as we apprehend, for degeneracy and ruin. We say these things, not to discourage proper influences against sin, but to secure such reformation as we believe is scriptural and will be permanent.

[12] IV. We would set before you, as specially important in the present times, the cultivation of private christian character, and private efforts for the spiritual good of individuals.

[13] If every Christian will faithfully endeavor so to live and act, so to discipline his natural disposition, and to make such attainments in goodness as to receive a testimony like that which Enoch had before his translation, that he pleases God, true piety will be universal, and pure religion will prevent the incursions of doctrinal and practical errors. We should remember that while we strive to do good, it is of the first importance that we be good. The improvement of his individual christian character, should be the first and great object with every one. To exercise the feelings of which the Savior has set us an example, to be like Him in the spirit and temper of our minds, is the surest way to secure the approbation and love of God. Without this, our public efforts in the cause of God and man, however extensive and successful, will profit us nothing.

[14] If Christians will labor privately to form individual minds, especially those of the young, to virtue and religion, they will hasten the universal prevalence of religion by the most effectual means. We commend the Sabbath School, and the Bible Class to the members of our churches as opportunities of extensive and enduring influence.

[15] The regular, uniform discharge of the duties of our stations in the fear of God, the influence of faith, hope, and charity, upon the heart and conduct, a growing acquaintance with the Bible as a means of true and safe zeal, an increasing knowledge of the way of salvation by Christ, as a matter of personal experience and hope, should be the aim and end of every member of our churches. That we may be examples to you in these things, pray for us continually. And may grace, mercy, and peace be upon you and yours, and upon the whole Israel of God, Amen.

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