Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

Bishop Secker. 1740.

The SPG had been founded in 1698. In this sermon, Bishop Secker (Lord Bishop of Oxford) recalls the needs which had led to the formation of the Society. He describes the religious condition of three groups of concern to the SPG: Europeans, particularly those in the English colonies, Negroes, and Indians. He noted that until the formation of the SPG and the beginning of its work some places had not had baptism or communion celebrated for decades. Although the SPG's work would improve the condition of the Anglican churches, years of neglect had resulted in a large unchurched population throughout America. In 1740, particularly in the back-country areas of the Southern colonies, this population was emotionally ready for an awakening of religious sentiment. Despite a later period of growth after the Revolution, Episcopal churches never recovered from the initial neglect of the early colonial period, nor from the great advances made by Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists which occurred in the two decades just after 1740.

Mark VI. 34.

And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people; and was moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.

This Passage of the Evangelist expresses in so strong and engaging a manner, the benevolent Temper of our blessed Lord, and his tender Regard to the spiritual Wants of Men, that it cannot fail of exciting the same Disposition in Us: especially if we consider, that the View, which he is here described to have had, of their destitute Condition, not only induced him to teach them Himself many things concerning the Kingdom of God, but caused that most serious Reflexion, and Exhortation, The Harvest truly is plenteous, but the Labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the Harvest, that he will send forth Labourers into his Harvest: immediately after which He sent forth his twelve Disciples to preach the Gospel; as he did the Seventy at another time, on the very same Motive, mentioned by another Evangelist in the very same words: thus opening theWay, by his previous Care of the lost Sheep of the House of Israel, for uniting us all into one fold under one Shepherd.

To carry on the great Work which he began, of directing Mankind to present and future Happiness, is the End of this Society: incorporated by a Prince, to whom Religion and Liberty will have eternal Obligations; and established, first for the Support of Christianity in our Colonies and Factories abroad, then for the Propagation of it amongst the Heathens intermixed with them, and bordering upon them; but taking its Name from the remoter and more extensive Part of the Design.

Every possible Reason required our Predecessors in ths excellent Undertaking to begin with inspecting the State of the English Plantations in America. And nothing could be more applicable to them on that Occasion, than the Words of the Text: They saw much People, and were moved with compassion towards them; because they were as Sheep not having a Shepherd. The first European Inhabitants there, being private Adventurers, neither numerous, nor rich, nor certain of Success, nor unanimous in Belief, established in several Provinces no Form whatever of publick Worship and Instruction. Too many of them carried but little Sense of Christianity abroad with them: A great Part of the rest suffer'd it to wear out gradually: and their Children grew of course to have yet less than they: till in some Countries there were scarce any Footsteps of it left, beyond the mere Name. No Teacher was known, no Religious Assembly held; the Lord's Day distinguished only by more general Dissoluteness; the Sacrament of Baptism not administered for near twenty Years together, nor that of the Lords' Supper for near sixty, amongst many thousands of People, who did not deny the Obligation of these Duties, but lived notwithstanding in a stupid Neglect of them. Such was the State of things in more of our Colonies than one: and where it was a little better, it was however lamentably bad. Some Persons appear very desirous of seeing, what sort of Creatures Men would be, without the Knowledge of God. Here a sufficient Trail was made of this: and it shewed to an unhappy Degree of Certainty, that they would be wicked, and dissolute, and brutal in every Respect, and return in a few Generations to entire Barbarism. Possibly, indeed, they might have been delivered from this Evil, by that of Popery; which always taking Advantage of Ignorance and profaneness, had already begun to spread: and dreadful was the Alternative of one or the other. In these Circumstances the poor Inhabitants made, from all Parts, the most affecting Representations of their deplorable Condition: the Truth of which was but too fully confirmed by their respective Governors, and the Persons of principal Note in each Province. There could not be worthier Objects of Regard, than such complainants. And if they who remained insensible did not deserve pity so much, they wanted it still more. The Society therefore, in Proportion to their own Ability, and the Need of each Place, first sent over Missionaries, to perform the Offices of Religion amongst them; then Schoolmasters, to instruct their Children in the Principles of it: who, after enduring much Contradiction of Sinners, and going through a great Variety of Labours and Difficulties; have, through the Blessing of God, made a remarkable Change in the Face of Things, and laid a noble Groundwork, of what, we hope, will every Day be carrying on towards Perfection. But at present much remains to be done. Multitudes continue, as before, in a thoughtless Disregard to almost every Part of Christianity: and Multitudes also are daily petitioning for Help: which to some we cannot give at all; and to others so little, that they have Divine Service only once in many Weeks; and several Districts of sixty, seventy and eighty Miles long, have but one Minister to officiate in each of them.

The next Object of the Society's Concern, were the poor Negroes. These unhappy Wretches learn, in their Native Country, the grossest Idolatry, and the most savage Dispositions: and then are sold to the best Purchaser: sometimes by their Enemies, who would else put them to Death; sometimes by their nearest Friends, who are either unable or unwilling to maintain them. Their Condition in our colonies, though it cannot well be worse than it would have been at home, is yet nearly as hard as possible: their Servitude most laborious, their Punishments most severe. And thus many thousands of them spend their whole Days, one Generation after another, undergoing with reluctant Minds continual Toil in this World, and comforted with no Hopes of Reward in a better. For it is not to be expected, that Masters, too commonly neglignt of Christianity themselves, will take much Pains to teach it their Slaves: whom even the better Part of them are in a great measure habituated to consider, as they do their Cattle, merely with a View to the Profit arising from them. Not a few therefore have openly opposed their Instruction, from an Imagination, now indeed proved and acknowledged to be groundless, that Baptism would entitle them to Freedom. Others, by obliging them to work on Sundays to provide themselves Necessaries, leave them neither Time to learn Religion in it, nor any Prospect of being able to subsist, if once the Duty of resting on that Day become Part of their Belief. And some, it may be feared, have been averse to their becoming Christians, because, after that, no Pretence will remain for not treating them like Men. When these Obstacles are added to the Fondness they have for their old Heathernish Rites, and the strong Prejudices they must have against Teachers from among those, whom they serve so unwillingly; it cannot be wondered, if the Progress made in their Conversion prove but slow. After some Experience of this, Catechists were appointed in two Places, by way of Trial, for Their Instructin alone: whose Success, where it was least, hath not been inconsiderable; and so great in the Plantation belonging to the Society, that out of two hundred and thirty, at least seventy are now Believers in Christ. And there is lately an Improvement to this Scheme begun to be executed, by qualifying and employing young Negroes, prudently chosen, to teach their Countrymen: from which, in the Opinion of the best Judges, we may reasonably promise ourselves, that this miserable People, the Generality of whom have hitherto sat in Darkness, will see great Light.

There still remains another Branch of the Society's Care, the Indians bordering on our Settlements. These consist of various Nations, valuable for some of their Qualities, but immersed in the vilest Superstitions, and engaged in almost perpetual Wars against each other, which they prosecute with Barbarities unheard of amongst the rest of Mankind: implacable in their Resentments, when once provoked; boundless in their Intemperance, when they have Opportunities for it, and at such Times mischievous in the highest Degree: impatient of Labour, to procure themselves the common Conveniencies of Life; inhumanely negligent of Persons in Years; and, if Accounts of such Things may be credited, not scrupling to kill and eat their nearest Relations, when the long Expeditions they make, for hunting or against Enemies, have reduced them to Straits. Now these poor Creatures also, diligent Endeavours have been used to enlighten and reclaim, on such Occasions, and by such Methods, as were least suspicious. For without due Precautions, Harm would be done, instead of Good, where natural Jealousy is so industriously formented by an artful Neighbour. And after all Precautions, it cannot be an easy Work, to convert Nations, whose Manners are so uncultivated; whose Languages are so different, so hard to learn, and so little adapted to the Doctrines of Religion; with whom we scarce ever contract Affinities; and who seldom continue long enough in the same Place, to let any good Impressions fix into Habits. Yet notwithstanding these Difficulties, which frustrated formerly a very expensive Attempt, another hath been made of late; and, through the Blessing of God, hath so reformed and improved the Morals together with the Notions of one Indian Tribe, that we cannot but hope the rest will be induced, by seeing their Happiness, to follow their Example.

You have now heard in brief the State of our Colonies, with respect to our Religion. And were the Prospect of farther success much smaller than it is; yet our Rule would be, to do our Duty, and leave the Event to Heaven. Persons of unwilling or desponding Minds may easily find Arguments to prove every good Design unpromising, or even impracticable. But the natural Dictate of Piety and Virtue is, to try. And the express Command of our blessed Lord is, that the Gospel be preached to every Creature. Nor is only the Offer of Instruction to Heathens, but the Continuance of it for ever amongst Christians, the Will of Him, who, as he gave some, Apostles and Evangelists; gave some also, Pastors and Teachers, for the perfecting of theSaints, and the edifying of his Body. By endeavouring to our Power that these things be done; we shall pay Obedience to his Authority, and imitate his Example: we shall give a Proof to our own Hearts, that we are indeed his Disciples; and convince the World, that Zeal for Religion is not yet extinguished: we shall habituate ourselves to the most amiable of Virtues, Goodwill to Mankind in the most important of their Interests: we shall serve the Purposes of Providence; which have their Accomplishment, whether Men will hear, or whether they will forbear: and how much soever we may labour in vain with respect to others; yet our Judgment will be with the Lord, and our Work with our God.

But let us now think, what Good must follow from extending this Instruction to the poor Negroes also. The Servitude and hard Labour they undergo, be it as justifiable as it can, surely requires, that we should make them all the Amends in our Power: and the Danger, into which they have brought our Colonies more than once, demands the greatest Care to compose and soften their vindictive and sullen Spirits. Now there can be nothing contrived on Purpose, more likely to effect this, than Belief of the Gospel: which not only forbids in general, both doing and recompensing Evil; but commands in particular as many as are Servants under the Yoke, to count their Masters worthy of all Honour, and be subject to them with all Fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward; for this is thank-worthy, if a Man for Conscience towards God endure Grief, suffering wrongfully: to do Service with good Will, as to the Lord, and not to Men; knowing that whatever good any Man doth, the same he shall receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. The Tendency of such Doctrine must be, to make their Tempers milder, and their Lives happier. And no Imagination can be suggested to them, of any worldy Exemptions or Privileges arising from their Profession of it. For as human Authority hath granted them none, so the Scripture, far from making any Alteration in Civil Rights, expresly directs that every Man abide in the Condition wherein he is called, with great Indifference of Mind concerning outward Circumstances: and the only Rule it prescribes for Servants of the same Religion with their Masters, is, not to despise them because they are Brethren; but do them Service the rather. Nor hath Experience at all shewn the Behaviour of such, in the present Case, to be different from what Reason would lead us to expect. On the contrary, in a great Rebellion of the Negroes at New York only two of those who had received any Instruction, and only one who had been baptized, was so much as suspected of being guilty; and he was afterwards acknowledged to be innocent: but the deepest in the Conspiracy were the Slaves of those Persons, who had opposed the most warmly all Endeavours for their Conversion. It may therefore be depended on, that Success in these Endeavours will both be a Security, and every Way an Advantage, to their Propietors. And if it doth procure the poor Wretches themselves a little more kind Usage, they will then be fitter to receive it: and at present, as much as can be safely allowed them, is but their due. The Apostle's Injunction was made not only for Slaves, but for Heathen Slaves: Masters, give to your Servants that which is just and equal: knowing that ye also have a Master in Heaven: neither is there respect of Persons with him. And if their becoming Christians will help, as it certainly will, to obtain them such Treatment; putting together their Condition and their Numbers, there are but few Things, which, even, on that Account, common Humanity more obliges us to attempt.

Then as to the Influence of Christianity on the Indians: it must undoubtedly restrain their mutual Barbarities, which it doth not appear what else will, and dispose them to a settled and orderly Life. By means of this, they will come to enjoy the Benefit of Agriculture, and of all the Arts that are useful in Society: they will of consequence grow happier and more numerous: and as they will become at the same time more harmless too; it would be both an immoral and a false Policy, to envy them these Advantages. They have yielded up to us a considerable Part of their Country: and it is but common Gratitude, to shew them the Way of living comfortably in the rest. We have introduced amongst them both Diseases and Vices, which have destroyed great Numbers of them: Surely it is fit we should communicate something good to them. It may be feared they are hitherto the worse for their Knowledge of Us: but they will certainly be the better for the Knowledge of our Religion. And the more they are prejudiced against it by the Wickedness of its Professors, the more need there is to lay before them in a full Light the Excellency of its Precepts: and to convince them that there are Persons, who not only believe, but practise them. Nor should it be forgotten, that every single Indian, whom we make a Christian, we make a Friend and Ally at the same time; both against the remaining Heathen, and much more dangerous Neighbour, from whose Instigations almost all that we have suffered by them is allowed to have come.

But the temporal Advantages of propagating Christianity are infinitely the least. If we allow but the Trugh of natural Religion, we must admit the future, as well as present, Happiness of Mankind to depend on preserving and diffusing the Knowledge of that Religion. And there is neither Instance nor Prospect of either of these Things being attempted by any other Method, than that of preaching the Gospel: of which the Doctrines and Duties of Nature make so large a Part. If therefore it be of Importance, that the People in our Colonies should worship the Maker of Heaven and Earht, and believe Virture to be his Law; that the Negroes and Indians should be turned from Idols, to serve the living and true God; and that all should know, there will be a Recompence hereafter to the Just and to the Unjust: whoever deserves the Name of Deist in a good Sense, whoever is indeed an Enemy to Superstition, and a Friend to Mankind, will rejoice to have that Faith carefully taught amongst them, by which alone they will learn these momentous Truths; to have it told among the Heathen, that the Lord is King, and that he shall judge the People righteously.

But if the Gospel of Christ, besides comprehending the System of Natural Religion, be, by virtue of its own peculiar Doctrines, the Power of God unto Salvation: then every possible Motive concurs, for being zealous in spreading it throughout the Earth. Revelation indeed neither obliges nor permits us to pass a hard Sentence on those, who have never had it proposed with sufficient Evidence. To their own Master they stand or fall: and of them only, to whom much is given, shall much be required. For if there be first a willing Mind, it is accepted according to that a Man hath, and not according to that he hath not. But still, as all Men have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God, and there is but one Name under Heaven whereby they can be saved; as Christianity is inexpressibly more efficacious for the Restoration of Manking, than unassisted Reason; as our only Assurance, either of receiving a future Reward or escaping future Punishment, must arise from Scripture; and we have no Intimation in it, of any Person's enjoying that Life and Immortality, which Jesus Christ hath brought to Light, but such as believe in him: these Considerations, wtihout limiting at all the free Mercies of God, cannot but shew us the great Superiority of our own Condition, and make us ask, with great Sollicitude concerning others: How then shall they believe in Him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a Preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? Our blessed Lord hath instructed his Followers, to preserve his Gospel in Purity, where it is; and communicate it, where it is not. By their faithful Discharge of these Duties formerly, we ourselves were deliver'd from the Bondage of Heathenism into the glorious Liberty of the Children of God. It now belongs to Us, in our Turn, to strengthen our Brethren, and call them that are afar off: and where shall we find proper Objects of our Care and Zeal?