So much has been written and spoken about the consecration of Bishop Seabury, that it must be well understood by all intelligent Connecticut churchmen, if not by all American churchmen. It is quite unnecessary to take you over the familiar ground; but I have been sometimes asked; "What was the Scottish Episcopal Church, that her bishops a century ago should venture an act which the bishops of the Church of England declined to undertake?" The question involves an answer which goes back a century farther, even to the time when Episcopacy was established in Scotland as a state religion under the reign of the Stuart kings. The revolution of 1688 caused the fall of James II., king of Great Britain and second son of Charles I., and with him fell the Episcopal Church in Scotland, as an establishment William, the Prince of Orange, had married his daughter Mary, and fitting out an expedition when the people were ripe for a change, he invaded England, and seizing the throne, was crowned with his wife to the sovereignty of the realm. The Church of England took a prominent part in forwarding this revolution, which was a religious one in its origin, and in transferring the crown, on the abdication of James II., to the heads of William and Mary. The Anglo-Saxon mind combines with love of liberty a veneration for national institutions and traditions. It resisted in this instance the determination of the king to render himself absolute and restore the Roman Catholic religion in England. Hence the English Church as a whole felt herself bound to cast off allegiance to him, for, in addition to the various oppressions which he had heaped upon her, he had sought in the character of supreme governor to force upon her the adoption of doctrines and ceremonies contrary to those which she was under the most sacred obligations to hold and defend.
But it was not so with the Scottish Church. James had never tyrannized over her or harassed her with oppressions, and therefore she continued to assert her allegiance to him, and, of course, to recognize the claims of his descendants. The Scottish bishops were in the English line of succession from leel-with orders as valid as those of the Archbishop of Canterbury -- but, because they cast in their lot with the house of Stuart and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the new sovereign or to pray for him in their liturgy, they and their flocks were put under disabilities and subjected to the severest penalties, without producing the effect, however, of changing in the slightest degree their religious or political sentiments. Three times within the next half century a part of the Scottish people rose in arms against the king of England in favor of the exiled Stuart family, the last formidable rising being in 1745, under Charles Edward, the Pretender, who was disastrously defeated at the battle of Culloden; and then the worst horrors of civil war followed; parsonages and places of worship were destroyed, more stringent laws were enacted against the sympathizers with the Stuart dynasty, and the Episcopal clergy were forbidden to officiate except in private houses, and then only for four persons besides those of the household, or if in an uninhabited building for a number not exceeding four. For a first offense they were subject to imprisonment for six months, and for a second to transportation for life to the American plantations. Laymen attending a prohibited meeting were liable to a fine of five pounds for the first offense and an imprisonment of two years for the second.
This was the state of things when Seabury (afterwards bishop) embarked in mid-summer, 1752, for Scotland to attend a course of medical lectures at the University of Edinburgh, and upon its completion to proceed to London and receive Holy Orders in the Church of England. On the morning of the Sunday after his arrival in Edinburgh, he inquired of his host where he might find an Episcopal service, and was answered: "I will show you; take your hat and follow me; but keep barely in my sight, for we are closely watched and with jealousy by the Presbyterians." He followed him through narrow, dirty lanes and unfrequented streets, and finally disappeared in an old building several stories high, and ascended to an upper room where a little band of faithful churchmen had gathered to worship God in the forms of the liturgy and according to the dictates of their conscience. That building stood until a few years ago. A friend in Edinburgh gave me a photograph of it, which is valuable as showing the uninviting quarters to which the poor Episcopalians were driven in those days to find freedom in their religious services. The upper room where they met was acquired by purchase in 1741, and the tradition is that the person who sold it, being an invalid churchman, reserved to himself the right to occupy an apartment on the same floor with a window opening into it that he might hear and share in the service. A new church, retaining the old name, St. Paul's, Carubber's Close, has been built on the ancient site with space for future enlargement, and it was my privilege to preach in this church last September, and a very attentive congregation helped to brighten for both myself and Professor Hart, who accompanied me, the interesting historic associations.
Well, two and thirty years pass away and the same Seabury who joined in the worship offered there under such discouraging circumstances has crossed the Tweed and appears in an upper-room in Long-Acre, Aberdeen, to receive a spiritual gift which for reasons of state had been refused him by the bishops of the Church of England.
The old Scottish Church, sometimes called the catholic remainder of the ancient Church of Scotland, differed in no essential particular from the Church of England except that she did not lean upon apolitical Episcopacy -- an Episcopacy directed and controlled by parliamentary legislation. She was now in the lowest depths of depression and adversity. Her bishops had become reduced to four and her clergy to forty, and these ministered, it is true without molestation for the most part, to the little remnants of faithful churchmen scattered through the cities and villages of the land. Probably the feeling among outsiders was that the Scottish Episcopal Church would never again have much influence or attract many adherents. Three of the four bishops, however, when duly applied to, took the matter of raising Dr. Seabury to the apostolic office into immediate and solemn consideration and consecrated him without delay. One of them said: "I do not see how we can account to our great Lord and Master, if we neglect such an opportunity of promoting His truth and enlarging the borders of His Church."
And for whom did they consecrate this bishop, but for Connecticut, whose clergy with far-seeing wisdom had taken the earliest steps after the independence of the colonies to secure the Episcopacy -- a boon which, though greatly desired and needed in this country, had long been sought for to no purpose? The Church in Connecticut, and indeed in all the American colonies, was at this time in a critical, headless condition -- living, yet on the verge of death, and something must be done to save and restore what was so broken and disordered. I suppose there could not have been more than two hundred Episcopal clergymen, if there were as many, in all the colonies at that date, and fourteen of them were in Connecticut ministering to weak and diminished flocks that had more to hope and pray for than in human probability they were likely to realize.
How much did that simple consecration service in the upper-room in Long-Acre, Aberdeen, open up for Churches of the one faith! If the act was not sublime in itself, it was the beginning of a sublime history, and the English Church thereupon awoke to a sense of her duty to the child she had long nursed in the colonies and now left friendless and forlorn, as well as to a more decent recognition of the poor, down-trodden Scottish communion. The offensive laws which had been for some time comparatively inoperative were soon repealed or modified by act of Parliament; and the laity, more than the clergy, felt the advantage of the relief gained, which was fully secured to them by legislative enactments half a century later. The House of Hanover was entirely accepted and prayed for in the Scottish as in the English liturgy. Then the Episcopal Church in Scotland began to rise from the dust, and to-day she has seven bishops and two hundred and seventy clergymen, with a zealous and hearty laity who are not content to possess spiritual privileges without making them practically useful. We were all struck with the reverence among the Scottish people for the fourth commandment, and with the spectacle of goodly numbers of every religious denomination going to the house of God in company. I am sure they quite surpass the Americans in the regularity of their attendance upon public worship, and a Scotch mist, which oftentimes is about equal to a New England rain, seems not to be considered a sufficient excuse for staying at home when the Lord invites us into His sanctuaries. The external improvement, or rather advancement, of the Scottish Church is seen in various things. Her decayed and barn-like churches have been succeeded by substantial and appropriate, and in many cases beautiful edifices, and altogether she is now in a better condition, with brighter prospects, than at any period in her previous history.
But leaving Scotland, how does the contrast stand with the American Church as placed along with her condition one hundred years ago? Connecticut has her one bishop, but her fourteen clergy have increased to nearly two hundred, and her parishes have fourfolded in numbers, and more than fourfolded in strength, activity, and generosity. When Leaming preached the sermon before the convention of the clergy in Middletown at the welcome given to Seabury on his return from Scotland, the Church was so insignificant in the State that no notice was taken of the occasion in the contemporary prints, and she was so poor that it was a problem how the parishes could decently support their rectors, now that the stipends of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had been withdrawn. Seabury himself, writing to a Scottish bishop three years later, said: "We have now sixteen presbyters in this diocese and four deacons who will soon be in priests' orders. Four more -- i. e., twenty-four in the whole -- will be as many as the present ability of the Church can support. It does, however, grow, and converts from Presbyterianism are not unfrequent." The growth has been so great that at our last annual convention in this diocese the reported contributions, including parochial expenses and salaries, amounted to upwards of [USD]620,000, and if there had been no omissions to make returns the aggregate would have -- been considerably larger. If we give a moment's attention to the whole Church in the country, we find that we have sixty-six living bishops, the list from Seabury down numbering one hundred and thirty-four; and the clergy in all the dioceses and missionary jurisdictions must be well nigh on to four thousand.
It is in no spirit of boasting that we make this comparison. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the praise, for Thy loving mercy and for Thy truth's sake." Yet it is becoming on this one-hundredth anniversary of the consecration of the first bishop of Connecticut to remember that results under God have flowed from it so vast in extent that no human eye could have forseen them at the time; no human heart could have believed that the Episcopal Church in America, cemented in one body and carrying with united zeal her doctrines and ritual into every part of our great republic, would so soon verify in a broader sense than he used them the words of the ancient seer: "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign-aloes which the Lord hath planted." It is becoming also on this anniversary to remember with profound gratitude that we live in an age when happily persecution for the sake of religion has passed away, and when the ever old but ever new commandment of peace and love rises above sectarian strife and projects its influence into whole communities of earnest and believing souls. The responsibilities entailed upon us by our position and our prosperity are to be read in the light of history, and fulfilled in the fear of God and in the faith of "the Church which is the pillar and ground of the truth."