Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

church in Brookfield. The creed or covenant was originally so liberal, that Christians of different religious opinions could honestly give their assent to its requisitions. In 1825, the pastor introduced one, more orthodox, which was assented to by a majority of the members. A few years after, the orthodox minister was dismissed, and a unitarian settled in his place. A majority of the male church members seceded, and held separate worship and communion. About three months after the ordination of the unitarian minister, the male members who remained were excommunicated from the second church by the seceders. And of what crimes were they accused ? Among other things, the following were contained in the letter of exclusion; “neglect of duty in not attending public worship and communion seasons ;" — “ pretending to style themselves, we the church, and as such to hold meetings and act independently of the church and pastor ;" — " and whereas in disregard of covenant engagements, they refuse to walk with the church in the observance of Christian ordinances, and disclaim all connexion with the church; therefore voted, that they are gone out from us, and are no longer of us ; that we hold ourselves absolved from covenant engagements to watch over them; and that they are hereby excluded from our fellowship and connexion.” Now just notice this solemn trifling. Individuals are excommunicated for not attending worship and communion, for breaking covenant engagements, and for going out from the church; while it was a literal fact, that these very individuals had not left their usual place of worship, had not omitted the regular seasons of communion, had broken no covenant engagements, as they never signed the new orthodox creed, and had not gone out from any body whatever. On the other hand, those who passed the vote of exclusion had actually forsaken the church, and worship, and ordinances. But this is not the whole of this farcical business; after the vote of excommunication had been sent to the regular church members, a letter of warning and reproof was also forwarded to each of the excluded individuals. I will give a copy of the letter sent by this said body of seceders to ten females at a still later period.

“To Mrs. — “ With unfeigned solicitude for your most precious interests, the church are constrained to request you very seriously to consider the feelings and conduct which have placed you in your present situation. With affectionate concern, we beg you in the calm hour of serious reflection, to ask conscience, whether from regard to the will and command of your Lord, or from other considerations, you have ceased to commune and worship with us in the profession of that faith, which in connecting yourself with this church, you publicly declared to be the ground of your hope in God? Is it a light matter to break from a covenant so solemn in its nature as that into which you entered with the Lord and this church ; the obligations of which you voluntarily assumed, and before God and man you religiously promised to fulfil ? Whatever others may pretend, do you feel, that, with safety, you may release yourself at pleasure from the bonds of such a covenant; and without any formality adopt another essentially differing in articles of faith and rules of practice? Is this, we would ask, walking orderly as a member of Christ's church? And have you no anxiety how such a transaction is regarded by your Lord and Master? Let us not deceive ourselves. The whole of these proceedings will be reviewed in the great day. And in the realizing prospect of that awful scene, can you feel, that with an approving mind you will be able to answer to your Lord and Judge? We pretend not to exercise dominion over your faith ; nor would we retain you in our converion contrary to your own inclinations. If we cannot walk by the same rule, it is best to be separate. Still we cannot but consider it awfully dangerous to trifle with solemn vows. And as one with whom we were associated in endearing bonds; with whom we took delight in going to the house of God, and to the table of our Lord; and whose departure has occasioned deep regret, we cannot but earnestly desire, that if you are in a dangerous error, as we honestly believe you to be, that you may be convinced of it and REPENT ere it be too late. And as the last expression of our faithfulness and regard, we entreat of you seriously to pause and consider.”

Now to say nothing of the canting, whining, coaxing, threatening tenor of this letter, how perfectly farcical and ridiculous is the whole business! Let me suppose a parallel case, in order to bring these proceedings before you in their true complexion. Suppose, then, I should now introduce another covenant into my church, and succeed in obtaining the names of a majority of the members. Suppose my society should see cause to dismiss me next month from their employment. Suppose I should emigrate to Ohio, with the majority of male members who had signed the new creed. Suppose we should then and there call ourselves the second church in Waltham, and the Hollis or Shepard Society; and proceed to excommunicate the remaining minority, because they had not attended our meetings and communion seasons. Suppose we should accompany our vote of exclusion with a letter of warning and reproof and denunciation to every remaining individual, male and female. Now this would be a parallel case ; for whether we remove three miles or three hundred, the principle is precisely the same. And should we adopt such a measure, would you not pronounce us either foolish or fanatical? And does not such a proceeding destroy all religious freedom? I well know, that, in this vicinity, the excommunications and denunciations of the orthodox are little feared or regarded. But such is not the fact in all parts of our country; and where any one is deterred from thinking and acting freely in religious matters by the fear of man, there can be no religious freedom. I must therefore conclude, that the causes of excommunication from orthodox churches are destructive of religious liberty, free inquiry, and the principles of congregationalism.

In the third place, look at the rights claimed and exercised by orthodox churches. Three circumstances strike me as peculiarly unchristian and oppressive. One is this. Orthodox churches claim and exercise the right of determining who is qualified to obey the last injunction of our Saviour. And from whom do you derive this power ? From the Head of the church? No, he has delegated no such authority to any man, or any body of men. But I suppose you will contend that every associated body has a right to decide upon the character of its members. This may be true in most societies; but the Lord's Supper is a very different affair. Jesus is the sole Master of the feast. He has given out his invitations; and every man must determine for himself whether he is qualified to accept. And the idea, so often advanced by the orthodox, that they cannot sit down to the communion with heretics, seems to me to proceed on a very mistaken view of the ordinance. When I approach the Lord's table, I do not look around to ascertain how many of the guests are unworthy to be in my company. I do not say in my thoughts, There is one, who believes a little less than I do, and he ought to be excluded; and there is another, who believes a little more than I do, and he ought also to be excluded ; on my right is one, who takes more ardent spirit than I do, and he should be excluded ; and on my left is another, who prays less in his family than I do in mine, and he should likewise be excluded; in that pew is one, who has not been so thoroughly drenched in the waters of baptism as I have, and he must be excluded ; and on that seat is another, who has not received so much spiritual influence as I have, and he must surely be excluded. No; when I sit down to commemorate the sufferings and death of my Saviour, my business is with his instructions and example, and with my own heart and character. If I am faithful to my own soul, I fear no contamination from my neighbours, and incur no guilt in the sight of God. With the opinions and religious observances of the other guests, I have no concern. They are answerable for themselves. I have no authority to take care of them, nor have they any right to interfere with me. I merely wish to imitate the example of the infallible Teacher. When he instituted this ordinance, he sat down with twelve disciples, whom he knew to be ignorant of the true spiritual nature of his kingdom. He knew that the whole number would soon desert him in the hour of peril. He knew that one would deny him with an oath. He knew that another would betray him to the death. And with this knowledge, he distributed to them the consecrated elements, and even passed the sop to his very betrayer. He has thus left an example of the most unbounded charity for the imitation of all future ages. Whenever a person wishes to comply with the dying request of his Saviour, if he takes the Scriptures for the guide of his faith and practice, and gives evidence of a good moral character, no man, and no body of men, have any right to forbid his attendance at the ordinance. And for my own part, I would rather be in the situation of the most degraded Hottentot at the day of judgment, than in the condition of that Christian, who has excluded a sincere and humble follower of Jesus from the table of his Master. I must consider this measure unchristian and oppressive.

The next circumstance to which I alluded is this. Orthodox churches claim and exercise the right of choosing the minister. This claim has been asserted in some of your late publications. And more than all, you have proceeded to act on this principle. You have erected several new churches in this Commonwealth, and have so bound them down with trust-deeds, that no proprietor is allowed to vote for the minister he must support, unless he has been voted into the number of communicants. How would this rule operate in our old societies ? Take Carlisle for an example. The late minister of that place preached thorough-going orthodoxy, and would not admit unitarians into his pulpit. At his death there were three male members in the church; two of them orthodox, and one liberal. Now according to your plan, these two have the right to elect a new pastor; and if the society are dissatisfied with their choice, they must retire and leave these two in the peaceable possession of the meeting-house and church property. When you can persuade the great mass of our citizens to acknowledge their inability and incapacity to elect their own religious teachers, your law will go into full operation; and not till then. This claim of the orthodox is really too absurd to merit a moment's discussion. I therefore leave it for you to make the public believe that they are to enjoy religious liberty, after they have surrendered the right of choosing the ministers they are obliged to support.

The last circumstance to which I alluded is this. Majorities in orthodox churches claim and exercise the right of holding all church property. This principle niay be illustrated by the actual proceedings of several such majorities. Take the case of the church in this place. An orthodox minister was settled upon the condition that he should leave whenever two thirds of the voters should so decide. After five years' ministrations, the question was taken. But fifteen votes from more than one hundred voters, could be obtained for his continuance. The contract was therefore legally annulled. He left the house with five male members. They took the records; the plate, which had been presented by the agent of the manufacturing company, a man of known unitarian sentiments; and the Bible, which had been purchased by a subscription among the ladies. Loud complaints were published that this church had been driven from their house of worship ; when they owned not a cent of property in the building, and might have remained there in the enjoyment of every Christian right and privilege. They soon published a creed, calling themselves the Trinitarian Congregational Church of Waltham. This same thing has been done in several instances during the past year; although the Supreme Court have repeatedly decided that such seceders have no right to the church property. These decisions were known at the very time by those who openly violated the laws of the Commonwealth. How you can call such conduct consistent with being peaceable and obedient subjects of the government, is more than I can understand. And how you can reconcile the practice of setting up a human creed, so that but few can subscribe it, and then allowing those few to hold the property of the congregation, is also inexplicable to me on any Christian ground.

I well know that the orthodox are aiming to have the laws of the State so altered that a majority of the communicants shall hold all church property. And unless I am greatly mistaken a very deep plot is laid for obtaining possession of our unitarian churches and funds. I have reasons for this surmise in a circumstance which has already occurred. The facts in the case are briefly these. In a unitarian parish, resided several orthodox individuals. All at once they requested admission to the unitarian church. The minister was so surprised, that he asked them if they were in earnest. They affirmed their sincerity, and were accordingly admittted. They then seceded, and called themselves the first church, and claimed the large funds of that body. They even endeavoured to have a council called to dismiss the pastor of the regular church and society. Now this short statement will serve to unfold the whole plot. You are establishing orthodox churches in unitarian parishes. You make them up of individuals from different and even distant places. Of the ten male members who compose the orthodox church in this place, there are individuals residing in four or five different towns. Well, get your law altered so that a majority of male communicants shall hold the meeting-house and funds, and then let all the orthodox members apply for admission into the unitarian church. There would be nothing in the creed or covenant to which they could object; and unitarians could not consistently refuse their request. Then they might vote the minority and the whole society out of house and home, and take possession of all church property. I can only say that I hope this suspicion is altogether groundless ; but I have more evidence, satisfactory to my own mind, than I have here advanced, or than I care to mention. For there is little probability that you will ever succeed in getting the law altered. I think I have adduced sufficient evidence to satisfy any one that orthodox churches have converted themselves into ecclesiastical courts, and adopted measures and claimed rights inconsistent with free inquiry and religious liberty.

In the fourth place, look at the orthodox conferences of churches. As

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »