Primary tabs

Pastoral Letter from the Synod of New-York and Philadelphia


Pastoral Letter from the Synod of NEW-YORK and PHILADELPHIA, to the Congregations under their care; delivered from the Pulpit on the 20th of JULY, 1775, being the day appointed by the Honourable Congress for a General Fast.

VERY DEAR BRETHREN: The Synod of New-York and Philadelphia being met, at a time when publick affairs wear so threatening an aspect, and when (unless God in his sovereign providence speedily prevent it) all the horrours of a civil war throughout this great Continent are to be apprehended, were of opinion, that they could not discharge their duty to the numerous Congregations under their care, without addressing them at this important crisis. As the firm belief, and habitual recollection of the power and presence of the living God ought at all times to possess the minds of real Christians; so in seasons of publick calamity, when the Lord is known by the judgments which he executeth, it would be an ignorance or indifference highly criminal, not to look up to him: with reverence, to implore his mercy by humble and fervent prayer, and, if possible, to prevent his vengeance by unfeigned repentance.

We do, therefore, brethren, beseech you, in the most earnest manner, to look beyond the immediate authors


either of your sufferings or fears, and to acknowledge the holiness and justice of the Almighty in the present visitation. He is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. Affliction springeth not out of the duSt˙ He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men; and, therefore, it becometh every person, family, City, and Province, to humble themselves before his throne, to confess their sins, by which they have provoked his indignation, and entreat him to pour out upon all ranks a spirit of repentance and of prayer. Fly, also, for forgiveness, to the atoning blood of the Great Redeemer — the blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than that of Abel. Remember and confess, not only your sins in general, but those prevalent national offences which may justly be considered as the procuring causes of publick judgments — particularly profaneness and contempt of God, his name, Sabbath, and sanctuary; pride, luxury, uncleanness, and neglect of family religion and government, with the deplorable ignorance and security which certainly ought to be imputed to this as their principal cause. All these are among us, highly aggravated by the inestimable privileges which we have hitherto enjoyed without interruption, since the first settlement of this Country. If in the present day of distress we expect that God will hear our supplications, and interpose for our protection or deliverance, let us remember what he himself requires of us is that our prayers should be attended with a sincere purpose and thorough endeavour after personal and family reformation. "If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hand towards him: if iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away; and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles." Job xi, 13 and 14.

The Synod cannot help thinking, that this is a proper time for oppressing all of every rank seriously to consider the things that belong to their eternal peace. Hostilities, long feared, have now taken place; the sword has been drawn, in one Province, and the whole Continent, with hardly any exception, seem determined to defend their rights by force of arms. If, at the same time, the British Ministry shall continue to enforce their claims by violence, a lasting and bloody contest must be expected. Surely, then, it becomes those who have taken up arms, and profess a willingness to hazard their lives in the cause of liberty, to be prepared for death, which to many must be the certain, and to every one is a possible or probable event.

We have long seen, with concern, the circumstances which occasioned, and the gradual increase of this unhappy difference. As Ministers of the Gospel of peace, we have ardently wished that it could, and often hoped that it would, have been more early accommodated. It is well known to you, (otherwise it would be imprudent, indeed, thus publickly to profess,) that we have not been instrumental in inflaming the minds of the people, or urging them to acts of violence and disorder. Perhaps no instance can be given on so interesting a subject, in which political sentiments have been so long and so fully kept from the pulpit; and even malice itself has not charged us with labouring from the press. But things are now come to such a state, that we do not wish to conceal our opinions as men and citizens; so the relation we stand in to you seemed to make the present improvement of it to your spiritual benefit our indispensable duty. Suffer us, then, to lay hold of your present temper of mind, and to exhort, especially the young and vigorous, by assuring them, that there is no Soldier so undaunted as the pious man; no army so formidable as those who are superiour to the fear of death. There is nothing more awful to think of, than that those whose trade is war should be despisers of the name of the Lord of Hosts, and that they should expose themselves to the imminent danger of being immediately sent from cursing and cruelty on earth, to the blaspheming rage and despairing horrour of the infernal pit. Let, therefore, every one who, from generosity of spirit or benevolence of heart, offers himself as a champion in, his Country' s cause, be persuaded to reverence the name, and walk in the fear of the Prince of the Kings of the earth; and then he may, with the most unshaken firmness, expect the issue either in victory of death.

Let it not be forgotten, that though, for the wise ends of his providence, it may please God, for a season to suffer his people to lie under unmerited oppression; yet, in


general, we may expect, that those who fear and serve him in sincerity and truth will be favoured with his countenance and strength. It is both the character and the privilege of the children of God, that they call upon him in the day of trouble, and he, who keepeth covenant and truth forever, has said, that his ears are always open to their cry. We need not mention to you in how many instances the event in battles, and success in war, have turned upon circumstances which were inconsiderable in themselves, as well as out of the power of human prudence to foresee or direct; because we suppose you firmly believe, that after all the counsels of men, and the most probable and promising means, the Lord will do that which seemeth him good. Nor hath his promise ever failed of its full accomplishment. "The Lord is with you while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you," 2 Chron˙ xv˙ 2.

After this exhortation, which we thought ourselves called upon to give you at this time on your great interest — the one thing needful — we shall take the liberty to offer a few advices to the Societies under our charge, as to their publick and general conduct. And first, in carrying on this important struggle, let every opportunity be taken to express your attachment and respect to our Sovereign King George, and to the Revolution principles by which his august family was seated on the British throne. We recommend, indeed, not only allegiance to him from duty and principle, as the first magistrate of the empire, but esteem and reverence for the person of the Prince, who has merited well of his subjects on many accounts; and who has probably been misled into the late and present measures by those about him. Neither have we any doubt that they themselves have been, in a great degree, deceived by false information from interested persons residing in America. It gives us the greatest pleasure to say, from our own certain knowledge of all belonging to our communion, and from the best means of information of the far greatest part of all denominations in this Country, that the present opposition to the measures of Administration does not in the least arise from disaffection to the King, or a desire of separation from the Parent State. We are happy in being able with truth to affirm, that no part of America would either have approved or permitted such insults as have been offered to the Sovereign in Great Britain. We exhort you, therefore, to continue in the same disposition, and not to suffer oppression or injury itself easily to provoke you to any thing which may seem to betray contrary sentiments. Let it ever appear, that you only desire the preservation and security of those rights which belong to you as freemen and Britons, and that reconciliation upon these terms is your most ardent desire.

Secondly: Be careful to maintain the union which at present subsists through all the Colonies. Nothing can be more manifest, than that the success of every measure depends on its being inviolably preserved; and therefore, we hope that you will leave nothing undone which can promote that end. In particular, as the Continental Congress, now sitting at Philadelphia, consists of Delegates chosen in the most free and unbiased manner by the body of the people, let them not only be treated with respect, but encouraged in their difficult service; not only let your prayers be offered up to God for his direction in their proceedings, but adhere firmly to their resolutions; and let it be seen that they are able to bring out the whole strength of this vast Country to carry them into execution. We would also advise, for the same purpose, that a spirit of candour, charity, and mutual esteem be preserved and promoted towards those of different religious denominations. Persons of probity and principle, of every profession, should be united together as servants of the same Master; and the experience of our happy concord hitherto in a state of liberty, should engage all to unite together in support of the common interest; for there is no example in history in which civil liberty was destroyed, and the rights of conscience preserved entire.

Thirdly: We do earnestly exhort and beseech the Societies under our care, to be strict and vigilant in their private government, and to watch over the morals of their several members. It is with the utmost pleasure we remind you, that the last Continental Congress determined to discourage luxury in living, publick diversions, and gaining of all kinds, which have so fatal an influence on the


morals of the people. If it is undeniable that universal profligacy makes a nation ripe for divine judgments, and is the natural mean of bringing them to ruin, reformation of manners is of the utmost necessity in our present distress. At the same time, as it has been observed by many eminent writers, that the censorial power, which had for its object the manners of the publick in the ancient free States, was absolutely necessary to their continuance, we cannot help being of opinion, that the only thing which we have now to supply the place of this, is the religious discipline of the several sects with respect to their own members; so that the denomination or profession which shall take the most effectual care of the instruction of its members, and maintain its discipline in the fullest vigour, will do the most essential service to the whole body. For the very same reason, the greatest service which magistrates or persons in authority can do with respect to the religion or morals of the people, is to defend and secure the rights of conscience in the most equal and impartial manner.

Fourthly: We cannot but recommend, and urge in the warmest manner, a regard to order and publick peace; and as in many places, during the confusions that prevail, legal proceedings have become difficult, it is hoped that all persons will conscientiously pay their just debts, and to the utmost of their power serve one another, so that the evils inseparable from a civil war, may not be augmented by wantonness and irregularity.

Fifthly: We think it of importance at this time, to recommend to all of every rank, but especially to those who may be called to action, a spirit of humanity and mercy. "Every battle of the warriour is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood." It is impossible to appeal to the sword without being exposed to many scenes of cruelty and slaughter; but it is often observed, that civil wars are carried on with a rancour and spirit of revenge, much greater than those between independent states. The injuries received or supposed in civil wars, wound more deeply than those of foreign enemies; it is, therefore, the more necessary to guard against this abuse, and recommend that meekness and gentleness of spirit, which is the noblest attendant on true valour. That man will fight most bravely who never fights until it is necessary, and who ceases to fight as soon as the necessity is over.

Lastly: We would recommend to all the Societies under our care, not to content themselves with attending devoutly on general fasts, but to continue habitually in the exercise of prayer, and to have frequent occasional voluntary meetings for solemn intercession with God on the important trial. Those who are immediately exposed to danger, need your sympathy; and we learn from the Scriptures, that fervency and importunity are the very characters of that prayer of the righteous man which availeth much.

We conclude with our most earnest prayer, that the God of Heaven may bless you in your temporal and spiritual concerns, and that the present unnatural dispute may be speedily terminated by an equitable and lasting settlement on constitutional principles.

Signed in the name, presence, and by appointment of the Synod:


New-York, May 12, 1775.