The Pastoral Letter





The General Association of Congregational ministers in Massachusetts met

at Brookfield, June 27, 1837, and issued a Pastoral Letter to the

churches under its care. The immediate occasion of it was the profound

sensation produced by the recent public lecture in Massachusetts by

Angelina and Sarah Grimke, two noble women from South Carolina, who bore

their testimony against slavery. The Letter demanded that "the perplexed

and agitating subjects which are now common amongst us... should not be

forced upon any church as matters for debate, at the hazard of

alienation and division," and called attention to the dangers now

seeming "to threaten the female character with widespread and permanent

injury."



So, this is all,--the utmost reach

Of priestly power the mind to fetter!

When laymen think, when women preach,

A war of words, a "Pastoral Letter!"

Now, shame upon ye, parish Popes!

Was it thus with those, your predecessors,

Who sealed with racks, and fire, and ropes

Their loving-kindness to transgressors?



A "Pastoral Letter," grave and dull;

Alas! in hoof and horns and features,

How different is your Brookfield bull

From him who bellows from St. Peter's

Your pastoral rights and powers from harm,

Think ye, can words alone preserve them?

Your wiser fathers taught the arm

And sword of temporal power to serve them.



Oh, glorious days, when Church and State

Were wedded by your spiritual fathers!

And on submissive shoulders sat

Your Wilsons and your Cotton Mathers.

No vile "itinerant" then could mar

The beauty of your tranquil Zion,

But at his peril of the scar

Of hangman's whip and branding-iron.



Then, wholesome laws relieved the Church

Of heretic and mischief-maker,

And priest and bailiff joined in search,

By turns, of Papist, witch, and Quaker

The stocks were at each church's door,

The gallows stood on Boston Common,

A Papist's ears the pillory bore,--

The gallows-rope, a Quaker woman!



Your fathers dealt not as ye deal

With "non-professing" frantic teachers;

They bored the tongue with red-hot steel,

And flayed the backs of "female preachers."

Old Hampton, had her fields a tongue,

And Salem's streets could tell their story,

Of fainting woman dragged along,

Gashed by the whip accursed and gory!



And will ye ask me, why this taunt

Of memories sacred from the scorner?

And why with reckless hand I plant

A nettle on the graves ye honor?

Not to reproach New England's dead

This record from the past I summon,

Of manhood to the scaffold led,

And suffering and heroic woman.



No, for yourselves alone, I turn

The pages of intolerance over,

That, in their spirit, dark and stern,

Ye haply may your own discover!

For, if ye claim the "pastoral right"

To silence Freedom's voice of warning,

And from your precincts shut the light

Of Freedom's day around ye dawning;



If when an earthquake voice of power

And signs in earth and heaven are showing

That forth, in its appointed hour,

The Spirit of the Lord is going

And, with that Spirit, Freedom's light

On kindred, tongue, and people breaking,

Whose slumbering millions, at the sight,

In glory and in strength are waking!



When for the sighing of the poor,

And for the needy, God hath risen,

And chains are breaking, and a door

Is opening for the souls in prison!

If then ye would, with puny hands,

Arrest the very work of Heaven,

And bind anew the evil bands

Which God's right arm of power hath riven;



What marvel that, in many a mind,

Those darker deeds of bigot madness

Are closely with your own combined,

Yet "less in anger than in sadness"?

What marvel, if the people learn

To claim the right of free opinion?

What marvel, if at times they spurn

The ancient yoke of your dominion?



A glorious remnant linger yet,

Whose lips are wet at Freedom's fountains,

The coming of whose welcome feet

Is beautiful upon our mountains!

Men, who the gospel tidings bring

Of Liberty and Love forever,

Whose joy is an abiding spring,

Whose peace is as a gentle river!



But ye, who scorn the thrilling tale

Of Carolina's high-souled daughters,

Which echoes here the mournful wail

Of sorrow from Edisto's waters,

Close while ye may the public ear,

With malice vex, with slander wound them,

The pure and good shall throng to hear,

And tried and manly hearts surround them.



Oh, ever may the power which led

Their way to such a fiery trial,

And strengthened womanhood to tread

The wine-press of such self-denial,

Be round them in an evil land,

With wisdom and with strength from Heaven,

With Miriam's voice, and Judith's hand,

And Deborah's song, for triumph given!



And what are ye who strive with God

Against the ark of His salvation,

Moved by the breath of prayer abroad,

With blessings for a dying nation?

What, but the stubble and the hay

To perish, even as flax consuming,

With all that bars His glorious way,

Before the brightness of His coming?



And thou, sad Angel, who so long

Hast waited for the glorious token,

That Earth from all her bonds of wrong

To liberty and light has broken,--



Angel of Freedom! soon to thee

The sounding trumpet shall be given,

And over Earth's full jubilee

Shall deeper joy be felt in Heaven!

1837.









HYMN

As children of Thy gracious care,

We veil the eye, we bend the knee,

With broken words of praise and prayer,

Father and God, we come to Thee.



For Thou hast heard, O God of Right,

The sighing of the island slave;

And stretched for him the arm of might,

Not shortened that it could not save.

The laborer sits beneath his vine,

The shackled soul and hand are free;

Thanksgiving! for the work is Thine!

Praise! for the blessing is of Thee!



And oh, we feel Thy presence here,

Thy awful arm in judgment bare!

Thine eye hath seen the bondman's tear;

Thine ear hath heard the bondman's prayer.

Praise! for the pride of man is low,

The counsels of the wise are naught,

The fountains of repentance flow;

What hath our God in mercy wrought?





HYMN



Written for the celebration of the third anniversary of British

emancipation at the Broadway Tabernacle, New York, first of August,

1837.



O HOLY FATHER! just and true

Are all Thy works and words and ways,

And unto Thee alone are due

Thanksgiving and eternal praise!



As children of Thy gracious care,

We veil the eye, we bend the knee,

With broken words of praise and prayer,

Father and God, we come to Thee.



For Thou hast heard, O God of Right,

The sighing of the island slave;

And stretched for him the arm of might,

Not shortened that it could not save.

The laborer sits beneath his vine,

The shackled soul and hand are free;

Thanksgiving! for the work is Thine!

Praise! for the blessing is of Thee!



And oh, we feel Thy presence here,

Thy awful arm in judgment bare!

Thine eye hath seen the bondman's tear;

Thine ear hath heard the bondman's prayer.

Praise! for the pride of man is low,

The counsels of the wise are naught,

The fountains of repentance flow;

What hath our God in mercy wrought?



Speed on Thy work, Lord God of Hosts

And when the bondman's chain is riven,

And swells from all our guilty coasts

The anthem of the free to Heaven,

Oh, not to those whom Thou hast led,

As with Thy cloud and fire before,

But unto Thee, in fear and dread,

Be praise and glory evermore.





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