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measures for convening the council of the consociated churches in the county of Tolland. To this Mr. Abbot objected. For he knew nothing about any such body as a consociation; and if one existed, he certainly could not feel himself amenable to their usurped authority. He expressed, however, a perfect readiness to submit their difficulties to a mutual council; the congregational mode of adjusting disputes between pastor and people. The church wished to follow the advice of the association ; but the society objected, and wished for a mutual council. The church would not consent to a mutual council, unless the members should be expressly invited, not to hear and give advice respecting their troubles, but to dissolve the pastoral relation. This would be in fact surrendering every ministerial right to the disaffected church. To this, neither Mr. Abbot nor his society could honorably submit. Accordingly, a body of clergy assembled in Coventry on the sixteenth of April, 1811, calling themselves the Consociation of Tolland County; and forthwith summoned Mr. Abbot to answer before them on the charge of heresy.
The Rev. Abiel Abbot appeared before this self-constituted ecclesiastical court, not to acknowledge their right or power to call him to account for his honest religious opinions, but to protest against their usurped authority. He advanced the most convincing and conclusive arguments to prove, that he was not amenable to their tribunal. Still they heeded no remonstrance. They were resolved upon his condemnation. They proceeded with his trial in opposition to his protest. And what were the charges preferred against this religious criminal ? The three following. “ That the Rev. Abiel Abbot does neither preach nor believe the doctrine of the sacred Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in the Godhead. That he does neither preach nor believe the divinity of Jesus Christ; that he is both God and man united in the Person of Mediator. That he does neither preach nor believe the doctrine of the atonement made for sin by the blood of Christ, and of the justification of sinners by the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and received by faith in him.” Such were the weighty accusations. These charges were substantiated by satisfactory evidence. " The general question was then put, Is the Rev. Abiel Abbot guilty of the facts alleged in the complaints of the church against him ? Voted unanimously in the affirmative.” Then comes the dreadful sentence of condemnation. Before I record this expression of orthodox intolerance, which must remain an everlasting disgrace to this self-constituted court, let me observe, that a more peaceable, studious, sincere, humble, righteous, and pious Christian minister was not then to be found within the borders of that state. Now let us have the concentrated wrath of the consociation of Tolland county. “ Voted, that the man who neither believes nor preaches the doctrines specified in the articles of the charge, is DISQUALIFIED FOR THE OFFICE OF THE GOSPEL MINISTRY; FOR HE HAS ESSENTIALLY RENOUNCED THE SCRIPTURES, HAS MADE SHIPWRECK OF THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS, HAS DENIED THE MESSIAH OF THE GOSPEL, WHO IS THE TRUE GOD AND ETERNAL LIFE, AND CANNOT PREACH TO SINNERS, ACCORDING TO THE REAL MEANING OF THE SCRIPTURES, JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED, WHO IS THE ONLY WAY OF SALVATION, NOR FEED THE CHURCH OF GOD WHICH HE HAS PURCHASED WITH HIS OWN BLOOD.”—“ And they hereby declare that the ministerial relation between the Rev. Abiel Abbot and the first church of Christ in Coventry ought to be, and is, dissolved. And they do hereby revoke the commission given to him by his ordination to preach the gospel and administer the ordinances of the same."
Can you believe that such are the proceedings of some twenty distinguished orthodox Christians, in this period of the world and in this enlightened portion of our country? I must confess, the fact would surpass my belief if the evidence was not before my eyes. And is not this calling a worthy minister to account for his honest opinions, and punishing them as heresies, that is, as crimes ? Can a minister of the gospel be guilty of a more heinous offence in the estimation of the Christian public, than renouncing the Scriptures, denying the Mes. siah, making shipwreck of the true faith, and disqualifying himself to preach either to saints or sinners ? Can you inflict a punishment more severe on a conscientious preacher of Jesus Christ, than to make the community believe, that such accusations are really true? But this is not the worst of the case. This outrageous deed was sanctioned, the next year, by the whole body of orthodox clergy in Connecticut. Yes; at a meeting of the General Association of the state, the following resolves were presented by the Rev. Doctors Dwight and Beecher, and unanimously adopted by the body. “Res. 1v. That in the late proceedings at Coventry, the elders and churches in Tolland county have, in the opinion of the General Association, BORNE A JUDICIOUS, FAITHFUL, AND HIGHLY COMMENDABLE TESTIMONY TO THE TRUTH AS IT IS IN JESUS. Res. v. That, according to the firm belief of this General Association, a denial of the DEITY of Christ is heresy. Res. vr. THAT THE EXCLUSION FROM CHRISTIAN COMMUNION, AND FROM THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE, FOR HERESY, IS NEITHER AN ATTEMPT TO BIND THE CONSCIENCE IN MATTERS OF FAITH, NOR A VIOLATION OF CHRISTIAN CHARITY ; but an act which that charity imperiously demands; and an ARTICLE of DISCIPLINE, which the PRINCIPLES of agreement among the consociated churches require them to perform." To me it is truly incredible, that the whole body of orthodox clergy could have passed such resolutions only eighteen years since ; and resolves, too, drawn up by Doctors Beecher and Dwight. We here perceive most sensibly our danger. You pronounce this conduct of the consociation, judicious, faithful, and highly commendable. Had you Connecticut gentlemen the power, there can be no doubt but you would perform deeds of the same judicious, faithful, and highly commendable character in Massachusetts. There can be no doubt, that you would depose all unitarian ministers forthwith, and pronounce upon them the same sentence of condemnation and exclusion, although a majority of their congregations should wish them to remain. But thanks to Almighty God, Connecticut ministers do not rule in Massachusetts; and what demands our gratitude still more, they never will tyrannize over her free and independent citizens.
Now this is but one of the several cases of a similar character which have occurred in Connecticut. I think there have been four or five ministers who renounced orthodoxy, and were excommunicated and punished for their heresy. The circumstances, in relation to the Rev. Luther Wilson, who was driven from Brooklyn by the consociation of that county, were of a much more aggravated character in several particulars. But my limits will not permit me to relate the case as I intended and had written it. Even to read over all these instances of orthodox usurpation and tyranny, is enough to make one's blood run cold; especially if he has been educated in this Commonwealth. I well know, that great allowances should be made for those of you who have been reared in Connecticut. For the very laws, under which you were trained, taught you to regard unitarianism as a heinous crime. To prove the truth of this assertion, I will make one extract from your criminal code.
“ Act for the punishment of divers capital and other felonies. Sec. VIII. And be it further enacted, that if any person within this state, having been educated in, or having made profession of the Christian religion, shall, by writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking, deny the being of a God, or any one of the Persons in the Trinity to be God; or shall assert and maintain that there are more gods than one ; or shall deny the Christian religion to be true; or the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be true; and be thereof lawfully convicted before any of the Superior Courts of this state, he shall, for the first offence, be incapable to have or enjoy any offices or employments, ecclesiastical, civil, or military, or any part in them, or any profit by them. And the offices, places, and employments, enjoyed by such persons at their conviction, shall be void. – Sec. IX. And such person, being a second time convicted of any of the aforesaid crimes, shall be disabled to sue, prosecute, plead, or maintain any action or information in law or equity; or be guardian of any child, or executor of any will, or administrator of any estate.”
This law sounds harsh in my ears. But let us have the comment on this act by the late Judge Swift of your state. His work is entitled a System of Laws of the State of Connecticut. Chapter VII. is on Crimes against Religion. These are seven. “I. Blasphemy. II. Atheism. III. Polytheism. IV. UNITARIANISM. V. Apostacy. VI. Breach of Sabbath. VII. Profane Swearing.” On the fourth crime the learned Judge thus remarks. “IV. Unitarianism, or denial of the Trinity, is, where a Christian, by education or profession, denies, either by writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking, that any of the Persons of the Trinity is God. As a punishment for this crime the statute enacts, that, on conviction for the first offence, the offender shall be incapable to have or enjoy any offices or employments, ecclesiastical, civil, or military, or any part in them, or profit by them; and the offices, places, and employments, enjoyed by such offenders at the time of conviction, shall be void. On a second conviction, such person is disabled to sue, prosecute, plead, or maintain any action in law or equity, or to be guardian, executor, or administrator."
Now we must remember, that it is scarcely more than a quarter of a century since a committee was chosen to revise the laws of the state, and expunge every thing inconsistent with liberty of conscience ; and that this law was left untouched, as containing nothing incompatible with religious freedom. We must also recollect, that it is scarcely a dozen years since the law was repealed. I suppose you, and Dr. Beecher, and the other gentlemen who have been invited from Connecticut to teach theology in this Commonwealth, regard all these enactments, as well as the proceedings of the consociations, judicious, faithful, and highly commendable. But for one, I confess, that I consider them oppressive, tyrannical, and abominably wicked. And I cannot feel sufficiently thankful, that a brighter day is dawning on Connecticut. The spirit of religious liberty is spreading among her inhabitants; and not a few of her most worthy children have embraced liberal views of theology. The blood of the martyrs will there prove the seed of the true church. But this does not weaken my conclusion, that the measures of the consociations are subversive of free inquiry, religious liberty, and the principles of congregationalism.
2. Altempts to establish Consociations. Look at some of the attempts, which have been made by orthodox leaders, to introduce the Connecticut system of consociations into the congregational churches of this Commonwealth. I have room to notice but three cases of this character. And, first, I will mention the attempt of the orthodox clergy in the western part of Massachusetts. As I have a copy of the plan of consociations, submitted to the churches for their adoption, I will give you the introduction and conclusion of the communication. Here is the preamble. “Whereas, in the opinion of a number of ministers and delegates, chosen from the several churches, met in convention in Shelburne, August 10, 1808, the present state of the churches in this quarter calls for such union and coöperation in matters relating to the common interests of religion, as have not hitherto been devised and improved, and that it is desirable to adopt measures to promote Christian knowledge and communion, the convention unanimously agreed to submit the following PLAN OF CONSOCIATION to be inspected by the churches, and adopted by them, provided it meet their approbation. They are the rather encouraged to do this, from an assurance, that similar institutions in divers parts of the country are found to be of real service in the cause of religion.” Yes ; similar institutions then existed in a sister State, and held themselves ready to bear a “judicious, faithful, and most commendable testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus.” And so the true orthodox in this Commonwealth wish to adopt the same measures for suppressing error and punishing heretics. As there are no very peculiar features in the eleven articles of this plan of consociation, and as I shall hereafter have occasion to notice similar proposals, I shall omit all extracts from the proposed rules, and give you merely the conclusion. These are the words. “ Since the business of preparing this communication and forwarding it to the churches has been entrusted with the undersigned, and also to transact other matters relative to the same object, they have to request the several churches to which these leiters shall be sent, that they will use all convenient expedition to make up their minds relative to the matter now laid before them, that if insurmountable obstacles do not lie in the way, their result may be obtained, and a copy of it returned to some one of us, as early as the last of October next.” The churches found no insurmountable obstacle in returning their results in season. Their members had not lived under a law which punished unitarianism as a heinous crime. They had breathed the invigorating atmosphere of Christian liberty; and with one accord, they rejected the proposed plan of consociation with disdain. They saw the design of some of the clergy to bring them into servitude ; and they spurned the yoke of bondage from them with manly fortitude. So that all this labor of the ministers and delegates proved vain, and worse than vain. May the descendants of such churches prove themselves worthy of such fathers.
I will now proceed to a second attempt of a similar character, made by the orthodox Central Association of Hampshire county. This learned body had witnessed the successful measures of the Connecticut consociations in checking the progress of heresy, and in silencing and punishing heretical ministers. They wished to adopt a similar mode of warfare to keep unitarianism from the western part of this Commonwealth. Accordingly a plan for a consociation was drawn up and sent to the churches for their adoption. The Rev. Dr. Willard, then of Deerfield, like a faithful watchman, sounded the alarm, and fully exposed the iniquity of the measure. He published a review of the proposed plan in the form of a handbill, and was thus an instrument in the hands of Providence, of preserving the churches in that county from