Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

slavery. One or two extracts from this “judicious, faithful, and most commendable testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus," will make you acquainted with the proposed plan of consociation. “ At the first dash, it is proposed in effect, or what may be effect, that the churches should expunge from the bill of their religious rights the precious privilege of choosing their own ministers, and of course cease to be congregational. The consociation may always prevent their settling the man of their choice; and, when they already have such a one settled, he will be liable at any time to be torn from them, though it should be like plucking out their eyes; and further, if they should have a man settled, who turns out to be ever so unworthy and disagreeable, it will be in the power of the consociation to prevent dismission, and impose him on the people to the day of his death. To demonstrate all this and something more, it will be sufficient to recite the sixth and seventh articles." Then come the articles, an extract from which I will now give. “ Art. VI. In all cases of ecclesiastical order and discipline, arising within the limits of the consociated churches, it shall be the duty and business of the council to afford their aid, particularly in ordaining pastors over the churches, in hearing and acting upon charges against a pastor or a church, or a minister of the gospel, in deciding questions relating to the dismission of a pastor from his charge !” - “ It is however understood, that any associated church may, if they please, upon nomination of the pastor elect, choose two or three pastors, who, with delegates of their churches, may sit and act in the council at the settlement of a minister!" "Art. VII. To save trouble and expense, a church may call in to their assistance in settling a pastor, and also in cases of controversy and discipline, a council of the consociated churches of any number, not less than six churches, nor more than half the whole number consociated!” On these articles, the Doctor thus remarks. “Comparing these two articles, we see that in respect to all ordinations, the consociation is to have at least sir votes where the church concerned has but three, which, if they should ever be disposed to use it will give them an absolute control over the church ! " I trust this is sufficient to convince you, that the leaders of the orthodox in the western part of this Commonwealth have attempted several times to introduce the Connecticut system of consociations into our congregational churches. In both instances, their plan of usurpation and tyranny was rejected by the churches. But this does not relieve the clergy from the charge of having attempted to establish ecclesiastical courts, so that the supposed mistakes and errors of ministers and private Christians might be tried and punished as heresies, that is, as crimes.

As a third attempt of a similar character, I refer you to the famous undertaking of the leaders of the orthodox party in 1815. They then made a desperate effort to establish consociations throughout this

Commonwealth. This was so bold and daring, that I must give it a full consideration. And as you have deliberately denied the existence of any such attempt, I shall feel obliged to relate most of the particulars of the case. In 1814, a body of orthodox ministers assembled in Dorchester. There were twenty-four belonging to this Commonwealth, as delegates from twelve ministerial associations. They called themselves the general association of Massachusetts; by what right or authority I am unable to determine. There were also present two delegates from the Presbyterian church; and two from each of the orthodox conventions of Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Some of the leaders of the Massachusetts delegation wished to introduce the Connecticut system of consociations ; but they well knew that an open avowal of their design would be rejected by many of their own denomination. They accordingly commenced their undertaking by passing the following votes. “Voted, to hear and take order upon the measures proposed in an ancient document, prepared to serve the great intentions of religion, which is lamentably decaying in the country,' by the ministers of Massachusetts, convened in Boston in the year 1754, 5, and 6." The following vote was then passed unanimously. “ Whereas an ancient document has been presented to this association, containing an answer to the question, "What further steps are to be taken, that councils may have their due constitution and efficacy, in supporting, preserving, and well ordering the interests of the churches in this country?' and assented to by the delegates of the associations met according to former agreement at Boston, September 13th, 1705, and · further approved and confirmed by a general convention of ministers at Boston 30th 3d month, 1706 : '-Voted, that a committee of seven be chosen by ballot, to inquire into the history of the abovementioned document; and particularly to ascertain, whether the resolves it contains were carried into execution at the time, and to what extent; and to report at the next annual meeting of this association, on the expediency of a recommendation by this body of the plan of discipline therein proposed, either entire, or with alterations and amendments, to the consideration of the associations and churches in our connexion. Rev. Jedidiah Morse, D. D., Rev. Samuel Austin, D. D., Rev. Leonard Woods, D. D., Rev. Samuel Worcester, D. D., Rev. Enoch Hale, Rev. Joseph Lyman, D. D., and the Rev. Timothy M. Cooley, were chosen a committee for the purpose above specified.” Such was the display, and caution, and management necessary to bring forward the proposed change in the government of our congregational churches.

After the passing of these votes, the publishing committee were directed to print and distribute a hundred and fifty copies of the minutes of the association. . They performed the specified duty, and appended to the minutes a copy of the famous document. They assure us that it has never before been published to their knowledge, and

that it is “an INVALUABLE RELIC of our pious forefathers.” Now the history of this invaluable relic is soon related. It was a plan for the destruction of our congregational form of church government, drawn up by Cotton Mather, and raked out of his musty papers. It was printed soon after it was written, by the Rev. John Wise, of Ipswich. It was recommended to the adoption of the churches in that early period, and by them quickly rejected. And why? Let Cotton Mather answer for himself. “There were some very considerable persons among the ministers, as well as of the brethren, who thought the liberties of particular churches to be in danger of being limited and infringed by its adoption. In deference to these, the proposals were never prosecuted beyond the bounds of mere proposals." All this should have been known to some one or more of the general association, who make such pretences to an acquaintance with the proceedings of our Pilgrim fathers. Still all this parade and artifice were necessary to keep the suspicions of the free people of this State in profound quiet, and receive the attention and co-operation of the more liberal of the orthodox denomination. .

This said general association met at Royalston on the 27th of June, 1815. The chairman of the great and learned committee for inquiring into the history of the invaluable document, informs the body, “ that they have attended deliberutely and prayerfully to the weighty and very important business committed to them, and respectfully submit the following report." As it regards the use to be made or this document, they declare that its proposals are such as congregational ministers cannot consistently recommend or approve. They proceed to offer seyeral reasons, why a reform was greatly needed in the congregational churches in Massachusetts. I must give a passing notice to these very powerful reasons. Speaking of the old system of clerical discipline, they beg leave to call the attention of the general association to those evils in our ecclesiastical state, which affect churches and ministers in their public character, and in their relation to each other. After stating that churches have a relation to each other, and ought to have ministerial and church fellowship with each other, they assert that this principle is practically disregarded. They then specify sundry other existing evils. And First, a neglect of discipline towards offending menbers of churches, and the difficulty of going through a regular course of discipline when attempted. They assert, that the principal thing which has a tendency to increase and perpetuate this evil, is the abandonment of the sacred principle of fellowship among the churches. In maintaining this discipline over its members, every church needs the support of every other church. They dwell inuch and long on this great evil. But the amount of all their remarks seems to me to be nothing more nor less than this ;- There should be such a union of the

churches as that their power should be felt through the whole country; and not the power of persuasion, but the power of coercion.

Secondly, the committee complain, that there is no regular and acknowledged method in which congregational churches can exercise a Christian watch and care over each other. This is indeed a most singular objection. A committee of congregational ministers loudly complain, that there is no regular method by which authority may be exercised over sister churches !! Why, the very essence of congregationalism, the single and peculiar characteristic which distinguished the Independents from the Presbyterians, was their utter and entire rejection of all authority or jurisdiction of one church over another! But, say this learned committee, “A church as well as an individual may apostatize from the common faith, and fall into disorders incompatible with the Christian character. If such be the fact with any church, can other churches in fellowship be indifferent? It is the duty of a church in every case to submit to an investigation, and be ready to give every reasonable satisfaction. But so distracted is the state of our ecclesiastical affairs, and so vague, and loose, and weak the principle of union, that churches in our fellowship may go to the greatest lengths of apostasy without any inspection, and without losing that indefinite fel. lowship with us which they before enjoyed !” O dreadful! Why not use plain language? What was the real cause of all this whining ? Why, some sixty or seventy churches in the congregational connexion had gradually adopted new, and as they sincerely believed, better views of Christian truth. There was not in Massachusetts, there never had been, a power to call a whole church to account for its opinions, its heresies, its DAMNABLE HERESIES, if you so please to call them. Our ancestors thought that every church had a right to examine and judge for itself concerning religious opinions. They did not admit that other churches could call any particular church to account for its sentiments. Hence, when this new, and better, and more Scriptural doctrine began to prevail, the intolerant majority of the congregational clergy looked into the usages of our ancestors, and found to their dismay no power on the part of the majority to deal with the offenders after the manner of Rome, or the general assembly of Scotland, or even the consociated churches of Connecticut. And hence the appointment of this commitmittee, with its bitter lamentations, and its truly papal recommendations.

The third objection, which this committee make to the old system of church discipline, is “the want of a settled and effectual method of calling ministers to account for immorality and ERROR, and of protecting them against calumny and injustice.Now what is the real meaning of all this? There was never any defect in the means of calling a minister to account by his own people or his own church, to whom alone he is amenable. But there was no provision by which the Old South church

could bring Dr. Channing to trial before a tribunal, selected at Andover or New Haven, for erroneous opinions, by him advanced in a published or unpublished discourse, with which his own church and people were delighted. I must believe that this was the true foundation of the complaint. For the committee well knew, that each church and society had always enjoyed a sufficient and perfect remedy as to its own pastor, under our ecclesiastical constitution ; a remedy which our courts of law would enforce. They also well knew, that the old system of mutual councils would be urged as a sufficient remedy; and accordingly they proceed to abuse this mode of trial, in such a manner and with such a spirit, as shows their utter hostility to the congrega. tional form of government. “It is not to mutual councils we object," say this very learned committee, “but to the mode of constituting them.” And yet the mode of constituting is precisely that which renders them mutual, and contains their only merit. I hope the reader will not laugh indiscreetly, when I state the mode in which mutual councils are proposed to be improved. It is this. The consociation is, by a standing covenant, which may endure for centuries, to be constituted the council, and for that reason to be called MUTUAL. What a mockery! With equal reason you may affirm, that, our ancestors having provided for a Supreme Court, that Court is to be considered a board of referees, to which all future parties, to the end of time, are to be presumed to have agreed mutually to submit their controversies. Such are the subtilties of orthodox divines, by which they first impose on themselves and then on others. The committee conclude their report with proposing “ A PLAN OF ECCLESIASTICAL ORDER.”

Well, Sir, after this elaborate report had been read, the Association chose the Rev. Drs. Morse, Codman, and Woods, a committee to have it printed and circulated in the several associations in their connexion, " for the purpose of ascertaining the PUBLIC sentiment respecting the plan of ecclesiastical order therein presented.” And what is the character of this new plan ? The committee recommend, that the churches shall explicitly adopt and put in practice the following articles of agreement. First, the propositions of the synod of 1662 are acknowledged as the basis of consociations. Secondly, particular consociations shall be formed within certain limits. In this article there is a wonderfully generous provision, that churches not joining the consociation shall not be treated as parties. Thirdly, provision is made for the regular meetings of the new ecclesiastical tribunal. Fourthly, each consociation is indulged with the privilege of choosing its own moderator and scribe. Fifthly, this constitution is declared to be the constitution of all consociations in the general body; yet each separate consociation has the privilege of adopting such regulations as are not repugnant to this constitution ; that is, saying in all cases the papal power and supremacy. Sixthly, by this extraordinary article, the consociation is substituted for mutual

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »