A little society

Daily Reading for February 15 • Thomas Bray, Priest and Missionary, 1730

On the eighth day of March 1699, Dr. Thomas Bray, and four other excellent men, met at London, under the sanction of Bishop Compton, to consult upon the best method of promoting Christian knowledge; and formed a little society for that purpose. In a few years, their numbers increased so greatly, and the sphere of their operations became so widely extended, that it was found necessary to separate the institution into two distinct branches. One of these was incorporated by a Charter from King William the Third, under the name of the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and directed its exertions to the establishment of Christian ministers in the Colonies of North America and the other Foreign dependencies of the British Empire. These exertions were blessed with so much success, that the Episcopal Church of the United States may be truly said to have derived its existence, and the Clergy of the Dioceses of Canada and Nova Scotia to have drawn their support, mainly from the zeal and liberality of that society.

The other branch of the original Institution retained the name of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and continued to prosecute its first design by the foundation and encouragement of public Charity Schools, and by the distribution of the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Common Prayer, the Homilies and other religious books and tracts, in accordance with the principles of the Church of England. In these departments of benevolent Christian effort, it is impossible to survey without astonishment the vast amount of good they have effected.

Within the first half century they had established two thousand catechetical schools throughout the Kingdom, of which the schools of London alone reckoned 5000 children. This branch of their labours resulted in the formation of the great National Society for the Education of the Poor upon the principles of the Church of England, in the year 1811: and the number of children now receiving education in the schools of that society is computed at almost one million.

The other branch of its operations, in the distribution of the Scriptures, the Book of Common Prayer, and religious tracts, has not only kept pace with the demand created by these schools, but has extended its blessings to the hospitals, the army, the navy, the prisons, the workhouses, and even to the Colonies of Great Britain, in every part of the globe. In the prosecution of their admirable designs, the Scriptures and the devotional forms of the Church have been scattered far and wide, not only in the English tongue, but in Danish, in Welsh, in Irish, in the Manx language, in Gaelic, in Arabic, and in several dialects of the Indian empire.

From Discourse 1 in The Importance of Providing Religious Education for the Poor: Connected with the True Principle of All Christian Charity, two discourses, preached by request, in the Cathedral Church of Quebec, before the Quebec Diocesan Committee of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, on Sunday, October 25, 1835, by the Rt. Rev. John H. Hopkins, Bishop of Vermont; found at http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/jhhopkins/quebec1835.html

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