A Pastoral Letter of Bishop Chase


Chase, Philander, 1775-1852 Chase, Philander, 1775-1852

❮ Community

Chase, Philander. A Pastoral Letter of Bishop Chase, to the Clergy of His Diocese of Illinois, 1–8. 1843.





The following correspondence was at first regarded as of a private character; but reflection has inclined me to a different opinion. The case of one may soon be that of all of you; and I should be sorry if through my neglect your treatment of it should be erroneous. That it should be met fairly, and considered in relation to the orthodox Christian denominations among whom we live, is obvious. That the view I have taken of it may be approved of God, and the councils of his Apostolic Church here on earth, is the prayer of your faithful and affectionate pastor and humble servant in the Lord.



——, Ills., December 24, 1842.

RT. REV. SIR: A lady of this town, who has been an attendant of our Church for a considerable time, wishes to become a communicant. I hope she is pious. Before her residence here she was connected with the Mormons, but never looked upon Joe Smith as a true prophet. She says she was baptized by a Mormon preacher in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. She had never any other baptism. My object in addressing you is this: Ought I to baptize her? Or in case I am satisfied that the Mormon who baptized her believed in the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as herself, must I let that baptism suffice, just as if it were Congregational, Presbyterian, Methodist, or any other non-episcopal [1] denomination? Will you oblige me by informing me at your earliest convenience, as she wishes to become a communicant as soon as possible? Her husband will also unite with us at the same time. He was never connected with the Mormons; and with respect to her having been among them, I have spoken to her plainly on the subject, and told her that if she chooses the Episcopal Church, she must do so for life, and never have any farther connection with the Mormons.

I remain, yours respectfully, &c.

Rt. Rev. P. Chase, D. D.



Jubilee, Jan. 3, 1843

REV. MR.——: Your favor of December 24th came by last mail. But before I answer it I cannot refrain from putting on paper an exclamation or two made when I had ceased its perusal. Has it indeed come to this! Alas! have I lived to see the day when Joseph Smith and his Mormon baptisms are put on a par with all other Dissenters—all other “non-episcopalians”—and the ordinances which they administer! Are Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, gravely placed side by side with Joseph Smith and his followers! It seems so by the tenor of your letter. Yet surely there is a difference, and the same by God’s grace I intend to show in the letter I am now writing.

But before I do so I have a few words to say touching the request of the lady whom you mention, and whom you seem inclined to admit to the holy communion of the Church on the strength, that is, on the supposed validity, of her baptism by the Mormon preachers. (You say nothing of her being confirmed, which circumstance I sincerely regret.)

This is a singular case in many respects, and it appears to me that the request of the lady for immediate admission to communion ought to be well considered on the ground of her own inconsistency. She [2] never looked on Joseph Smith as a true prophet; and pray what is this but to own that she was convinced of his false pretensions, and always regarded him as a deceiver? And yet, strange to tell, she submitted to be baptized by one of his preachers, who had no other authority to baptize but such as he derived from this false prophet, this deceiver!

If the lady did this thing understandingly, and with her eyes open to the guilt of taking God’s name in vain, the fact is sufficient to incline you to postpone her request till the Church shall have been assured of her deep and sincere repentance. If she did it through ignorance of the solemnity of baptism, and of the authority by which it should be administered, though the crime is not lessened, yet the punishment may, through the merits of Christ, be mitigated.

But setting inconsistency aside in this transaction, we will consider, the bare FACT of the woman’s having been a Mormon. Now what is it to be a Mormon, and what is there sinful in being one? To be a Mormon is to believe in Joseph Smith’s Mormon Bible, and other things that he hath set forth as a new revelation from heaven, without any of those evidences of its truth which God hath always vouchsafed to give to man, in proof that God was speaking to him. To receive a false translation, is to receive a lie as from the mouth of God. This, in scripture language, is to make God a liar, which is the greatest of all sins. It is exemplified in the heathen ordeals, (see Romans i. 25, et seq.) and in the Koran of Mahomet. It is heresy, brought to its natural conclusion and necessary result. Now of this dreadful sin I trust the sects which you mention have not yet been guilty. They are, as you say, non-episcopalians. They have schismatically cut off episcopacy, such as Christ ordained in his Church, and with which he promised to be to the end of the world: but I trust they have never yet cast off the true faith in Christ, by substituting or by adding to it a new revelation from God. They have committed the sin of schism, [3] but not of heresy in the sense we have stated. Between these two stages in the down-hill course of sin there appears to me to be a great distance; and this has ever been the opinion of the Church of England. In her judgment, the simple sin of schism, if it be joined with ignorance, sincerity, and belief in the essential articles of the Christian faith, doth not destroy the baptismal seal of God’s covenant with his people. The excellent Hooker is of this opinion, and according to it the Church received as valid (though she was far from pronouncing legal) the baptism of the Independence and other denominations in the time of Oliver Cromwell.

None of those who had been baptized by Dissenting ministers were at the Restoration required to be re-baptized. They were pitied more than blamed, being received into communion by confirmation, which (to compare spiritual with temporal military terms) the Church regarded as taking the oath of allegiance to their Heavenly Sovereign, and receiving the bounty of his Holy Spirit;—the fault of their irregular enlistment, by the hands of unauthorized officers in the spiritual army, being, in her judgment, overlooked in the act of duly receiving the apostolic rite of confirmation.

But this in no case was ever allowed to those who had added heresy to schism.

Baptism by a heretic, who had set up a new revelation, was never allowed by any part of the universal Church of Christ. To make a rent in the seamless garment of the Christian Church, was one thing, and bad enough too; but it was different from making a new one of human invention. Or to change the figure,—to leave the ship, the apostolic Church, for the raft of human invention, even though the unhappy persons carry the compass (the word of God) with them, is indeed a sin, followed by many evils, but somewhat different from that of those who not only leave the ship but throw the compass away or make a new one of their own. In the one case they have the true word of God, the compass [4] touched with magnetic power of divine inspiration, pointing to the polar star Jesus Christ; in the other they have the dark oracles of neology, the inventions of unenlightened minds, affording the soul no certain guide, but fancies of imaginary safety.

How clearly do these figures represent the case of Joseph Smith and his unhappy followers! To my mind there is something dreadful in the imposture of this person. The declaring himself the prophet of the Most High God, without a particle of evidence that he is truly such—in that character setting forth a new Bible, and collecting a body of deluded people around him, and bidding them walk by the light which he and his preachers hold out to them—is painful in the extreme.

Without going at length into the consideration of the moral character of Joseph Smith, which those who have traced his history, from Vermont through Ohio and Missouri up to his settlement in Illinois, say is very bad, I shudder when I read in Holy Scripture the divine denunciations against all those who pretend to new revelations, by adding to or diminishing the word of God, received by his holy Church in all ages, recorded in St. John’s Revelations, (chap. xxii. 18, 19,) “If any man shall add to these things, God shall add unto him all the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life.”

It is a dreadful thing to be the ruin of immortal souls, not only those of ourselves, but those of others whom we have enticed to join with us in our evil ways. Joseph Smith may laugh at this; so doubtless did the proud Korah, who boasted his right to the priesthood, and of his commission to minister in things sacred as well as Aaron. The doom of this miserable man, as recorded in the 16th chapter of the book of Numbers, is sad enough: but to connect in his destruction the lives of so many men, women and children, who had adhered to his sin, and to see them [5] all swallowed up in the earth together, is heartrending to every feeling bosom.

And how sad is it to contemplate the fate of so many whom Joseph Smith, by his emissaries in England, hath enticed to join him in his sin! What agony is in the thought that these deluded persons, if they repent not and come out from among them, must share in his punishment! What adds poignancy to my grief is the fact, that many of those who have been enticed to come from England and join Joseph Smith, were in their own country members of the Church, and baptized by the lawful ministers of Christ.

As a pastor of that primitive fold, the bishop of Illinois, into whose diocese they have come, cannot but feel peculiar solicitude for their welfare. And it is this fact that has prompted him to make public this letter, in hopes that it may find its way,—if not among the unhappy persons already entrapped by the alluring bait of Joseph Smith and his establishment at Nauvoo,—yet may be read by others who are coming, or may be enticed to commence their journey, innocently ignorant of the machinations of the deceiver. But to proceed.

The distinction between the sin of schism, singly considered, and the same when joined with those of heresy and apostacy, is plainly to be seen in the history of Israel of old.

In the reign of Rehoboam, ten of the twelve tribes of Israel revolted, and thereby made a schism in God’s Church, by setting up two places of worship and sacrifice other than that appointed by divine command at Jerusalem. One of these was fixed at Dan and the other at Bethel. 1 Kings, xii.

This was schism, strictly speaking. But when Jereboam their leader commanded to make calves and to worship them instead of the true God, and when he proceeded to make priests of the lowest of the people which were not of the sons of Levi, then this thing became sin, with the additional guilt of heresy [6] and apostacy—a sin always referred to in the annals of that unhappy people as the chief parent sin of all others. It is called over and over again in the history as the sin of Jereboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin.

Let it here be noted that this great sin was the sin of heresy and schism united; and if these do not meet in the character and conduct of Joseph Smith in setting up Mormonism, it is difficult to say they can meet any where. A schismatic from his mother’s womb, he had the audacity to make a Bible,—a new revelation from heaven,— as palpably in violation of the word of God and all right reason, as the making of the calves for gods in Bethel and Dan. And such is the weakness and gullibility of human nature, that many,—as of old, so now,—are persuaded to believe what is thus boldly asserted, though their souls, if they repent not, are the forfeiture.

But you say the lady has left the Mormons, and, disbelieving Joseph Smith to be a true prophet, wishes now to become a communicant in our primitive Church as soon as possible.

To this I would respectfully reply that the matter needs serious consideration—on her part deep repentance, and on your godly caution.

You are certainly justified in your kind and zealous wish to see a woman, who gives hopes of piety, brought to the communion of God’s Church; but considering her sin in having submitted to Mormon baptism, and the necessity of time truly to repent, a little delay cannot be out of place. God seems to have recommended it in the case of Miriam, who for her rebellion against Moses her brother, was afflicted with the loathsome disease of leprosy. To see her thus the heart of her compassionate brother was deeply affected, and he entreated the Lord, saying, “Heal her now, O Lord, I beseech thee!” But instead of granting her request, the Lord answered Moses, saying, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days?” Num. xii. 14. [7]

Again: there is mention made in your letter of the form of the baptism among the Mormons; and because it is the same as that instituted by Christ, I am expected to assign the reasons why on that account it may not be considered valid.

In discharging this duty I would refer to what has already been advanced of the heresy and apostacy of Joseph Smith. If he be a heretic and apostate, the baptisms performed by him and his followers are null and void, although the words used were ever so correct. The example in proof of this may be found in the Acts of the Apostles, (xix. 13–17.) There we read that the sons of Sceva made use of the name of Jesus in casting out devils, as was common in the apostolic days. Yet this name, all-powerful as it was when used in faith by the true disciples, availed nothing from the mouths of the unbelieving sons of Sceva the Jew.—“We adjure you by Jesus, whom Paul preacheth;” and the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?”

And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped upon them and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Thus the Mormon preachers, with Joseph Smith, the inventor of a new Bible, and the usurper of the office of prophet and priest, may make use of good words, even the name of the sacred Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and yet be in no wise blessed.

On the contrary, we are bound to believe it a sin, and the taking of God’s name in vain; and it behooveth those who have submitted to such baptism sincerely to repent thereof, and seek forgiveness of Him whose awful name they have profaned, and whose sacrament they have abused.

Your affectionate friend and faithful servant in Christ, PHILANDER CHASE, Bishop of Illinois.

❮ Back