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these are new combinations, I will give some account of their formation, proceedings, and tendency. A number of orthodox ministers induce their several churches to unite in a conference; and subject themselves to certain definite regulations. They hold quarterly meetings in their respective places of residence, which are fully attended from all the branches of the connexion. They have preaching, praying, exhortation, reports of the state of religion, communion, and contributions for feeble churches. Their transactions are published in some religious newspaper, so far as it can be effected without exposing some of their worst features. Now four circumstances strike me as peculiarly unchristian and injurious in these conferences of churches. One is this. The progress of religion is measured by an unchristian standard. You hear nothing said of the increase of peace, love, joy, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, patience, forbearance, family concord and harmony. But I will forbear. I have before me the opinion of the Rev. Mr. Hildreth on this subject. As he is not a party man, as he is not classed with unitarians, as he expresses the convictions of several orthodox ministers, I shall use his words as expressing my own sentiments.
“In the first place, I object to conferences of churches, because I consider them unfavorable to congregational order — to the liberty, or independence of individual churches.
“ A conference of churches consists of a number of churches associated together for certain purposes by a written compact — by articles adopted by each church. Delegates are chosen by the churches respectively, and sent with their pastors to the conference; and delegates from other conferences are also admitted. So far as I know, the articles of conference do not expressly delegate any ecclesiastical authority ; but every body can see, that ecclesiastical authority and influence necessarily result from the organization. If no such authority or influence whatever had been intended by the projectors, I very much doubt, if the organization would ever have been made. * * * * * * * *
“In the second place church conferences are a novelty — an experiment. They are a human contrivance, and they set up a new standard of ministerial and Christian character, which the Head of the Church, in my view, has not authorized. It will be safe to remain out of them.
“ In the third place, there is a display in these conferences, which I greatly dislike, and which is adapted to foster the erroneous impression, that religion is very low and languid, unless it makes a great deal of show and sound. In this land of Bibles, of Sabbaths, of public worship and instruction, I see no call for the whole, or the half of a county's coming together from time to time, to discuss the state of religion, to hear some great preacher from abroad, and to be excited by a great occasion. If we cannot learn the way of salvation within our own houses, and under Christian ministrations within our own parishes, I am
persuaded, we shall never learn it at all. And I consider the occasions in question as highly unfavorable to the usefulness of parish ministers
unfavorable to the steady, gentle, and therefore the most salutary influence of the ordinary services of the Sabbath day. I believe, that experience will show, and has already shown, that no conference of churches is broken up without numbers going away less fitted to receive and relish the plain and wholesome instruction of their ministers at home.
“In the fourth place, conferences of churches are calculated, as I believe, to diminish the dignity, as well as the salutary influence of the Christian ministry, by bringing forward, more than is for their own spiritual good, a class of lay brethren, who have great need of learning meekness and modesty at home, instead of coming before the public, to make speeches about the state of religion."
I will add but one further observation on this topic. The liberty of individual churches is destroyed by these conferences. Yes; I regard the orthodox conferences of churches as but another name for consociations. They bring ministers and churches into utter servitude. This is acknowledged by some of the worthy orthodox divines of this state; and on this account they will have no part nor lot in such measures. Their tyrannical power has not yet been exercised to any very great extent; but let one minister of their body become unitarian, and he would be tried and punished for his honest opinions. Let a church attempt to hear a unitarian candidate, and they would soon learn that their liberty was sacrificed. I hope the public will awake to this most alarming encroachment on congregational rights, equality, and independency. I hope parishes will no longer suffer themselves to be slandered by their ministers and neighbours, simply because they have not assented to the articles of a human creed. I hope churches will discover the snare set for the destruction of their rights of free inquiry, religious liberty, and congregationalism.
I have room for no more facts under this head. What then must be our conclusion? Do not the facts I have stated fully prove, that the leaders of the orthodox party have attempted to establish, and in several instances have actually established, ecclesiastical tribunals, so that the supposed mistakes and errors of ministers and private Christians have been tried and punished as heresies, that is, as crimes ? And do not the same facts fully prove, that such tribunals are subversive of free inquiry, religious liberty, and the principles of congregationalism? I must conclude that both propositions are perfectly demonstrated. IV. MEASURES FOR ORGANIZING AND ESTABLISHING FEEBLE CHURCHES.
In the fourth place, I invite your attention to the measures adopted by the leaders of the orthodox for organizing and establishing feeble churches in unitarian parishes. I think the facts, which I shall adduce under this head, will prove the two following propositions. First, that the measures recently adopted for increasing the number of orthodox churches are unchristian. And, secondly, that such measures are subversive of free inquiry, religious liberty, and the principles of congregationalism. My limits will permit me to notice but five different classes of facts under this general division.
1. Measures for organizing a feeble Church. Look at the measures adopted by orthodox leaders to organize a feeble church in a unitarian parish. The circumstances are generally these. There are a few orthodox individuals, principally females, in unitarian societies. These are visited by orthodox ministers, and urged to secede and form themselves into an evangelical church. Others are pointed out who are supposed to be wavering, and these are also treated in the same manner. They are assured that their present pastor does not preach the truth, but is leading his people to destruction. They are cautioned to conceal from their husbands the contemplated separation, and told that opposition must be expected in the cause of God. A small party having been enlisted, a day is appointed for the organization of the feeble church. Orthodox ministers are present; some of them bring their own church members, to help make up a decent number for the new body. In this way the evangelical church is organized, consisting of some four or more females, and perhaps one or more males, residents in the place; and several males and females from neighbouring and distant towns. And it is a well known fact, that in most instances, the seceders from unitarian churches have been urged to this measure by the conversation, preaching, and writings of orthodox ministers. Such are some of the measures adopted for organizing feeble churches in this Commonwealth.
Now is this conduct of the orthodox leaders truly Christian ? Is this doing, as you would wish unitarian ministers to do unto you? Were you ordained over a united parish, would you wish unitarian preachers to come into your society, visit among your people, assure your hearers that you were leading them to hell blindfold, nnd urge them to separate from your communion, and form themselves into a liberal church? This question was put to one of your leaders while engaged in this work of division. And what answer do you suppose he returned to the unitarian minister? These are the words. “O you cannot do this, for it is contrary to your principles.” Is this a sufficient excuse ? Suppose my neighbour should come to my barn, and take away my cow. Suppose I should discover him while engaged in the business, and ask him, if he was doing towards me as he would wish me to do unto him ? Suppose he should answer, “O you cannot do this, for it is contrary to your principles.” Because my principles would not permit me to steal, does this excuse my neighbour's theft? Are not such measures truly subversive of free inquiry, religious liberty, and the principles of congregationalism?
2. Measures for erecting a Meetinghouse for a feeble Church. Look at some of the orthodox measures for erecting a place of worship for a feeble church. Take the proceedings in relation to the one in Billerica, since you sanctioned them by preaching the sermon at the dedication. The circumstances are briefly these. A few years since, the leaders of your party, and the members of the Andover Association generally, determined that an orthodox church must be established in this peculiarly united and peaceable town. The last year, the Rev. Drs. Beecher and Fay, and Mr. Bennett, proceeded to organize a feeble body, collected mostly from neighbouring communions. A house of worship is then needed. And how can it be obtained? The members of the society by great pinching raise something like two hundred dollars; and one hundred more is literally extorted from a single lady by over-persuasion. The Rev. Mr. Bennett is employed to raise the remainder by hard begging. He accordingly rides most of the summer, and visits many of the towns in this Commonwealth. He had prepared a very peculiar discourse, of which I have received several abstracts. I will therefore give you some of his remarks in his own words. "I stand before you as a beggar for Billerica. I have vowed to the Lord, that I will obtain sufficient funds to build a meetinghouse in that, place. There is great need of one. The gospel has not been preached there for fifty years. Religion and morals are at a very low ebb.
They have no sabbath. The town is a moral waste. It is a proper missionary station. The people are in a heathenish condition. No longer ago than three years, there was but one Christian in the place, and she was a female. But the neighbouring ministers have taken pity on their deplorable condition. Several converts have been made by my instrumentality. I call them my children. And they want a meetinghouse. It is your duty to give to this object. It is your duty to send the gospel to the heathen at home as well as to the heathen abroad. Give. If you have no money, give something else. Give your watches, your necklaces, your finger-rings. If you cannot give a spike, give a nail ; if you cannot give a nail, give a brad.” Perhaps you will think I have exaggerated his statements. But I have put down the very words and phrases that proceeded from his mouth; and respectable men in all parts of the Commonwealth stand ready to testify to the truth and accuracy of my record.
Now, in view of all these measures, you came and dedicated the house. And after a suitable man was selected for this missionary station, some thirty ministers of your party aided in his ordination, and then bound themselves to contribute about two thirds of his salary for a limited time. And all this mountain labor for what purpose? The number of hearers ranges from five to fifty, taking men, women, and children; and the fair average in good weather is from thirty to forty. The larger part of them could be accommodated with orthodox preach
ing much nearer in neighbouring towns. And because the heathen people in Billerica will not permit your missionary to insult them in their own houses, the cry of persecution is raised. Will the public sanction these orthodox measures ? Can you expect the blessing of God upon a church erected by such means? Is this the way that Christ propagated his religion ? I wish all concerned would read the history of his life, with a particular reference to his measures for spreading the true faith.
Now, Sir, what do you think of such proceedings? I say you ; for I have no disposition to cast the blame of this affair on Mr. Bennett. What I should consider heinous crime in another, I regard as lamentable misfortune in him. I have no hesitation in attributing his ludicrous movements, bis ridiculous statements, his base misrepresentations, his aggravated offences against all decency, to some mental disorder. Neither would I be so unjust as to blame the orthodox generally for this outrage upon the peace and reputation of a highly distinguished country village. For I know full well that very many of the more sober members of your denomination have taken no purt nor lot in this matter; but have spoken of the course pursued with marked disapprobation. I also know that some clergymen have been unwilling to let him preach his begging discourse in their pulpits. I likewise know, that one orthodox association requested Dr. Church to write to some individual in this vicinity, and persuade bim to regulate Mr. Bennett's moveinents; and that Dr. Codman was mentioned as a suitable person for such business. But I wish the public censure to rest on those individuals who cinploy this man to say and do things which they dare not utter and transact themselves. And who are they? Why, the leaders of the orthodox denomination. For when this man arose on one occasion to deliver his slanders on Harvard College, he read a commission from the committee of the Pastoral Association. This association is composed of most of the orthodox ministers in the Commonwealth. Their Committee consists of such men as Drs. Codman, Beecher, and Fay. Let it then be known, that a few Doctors in Divinity have employed this man to raise funds for the erection of new churches for fecble orthodox societies; and that he acts under your commission.
If the community will countenance such proceedings, we have no safety for our reputation as individuals or towns. First Billerica is slandered most grossly ; for it is well known that it stands far above most of the orthodox towns in the county for mental, moral, and religious improvement. And had the same remarks been made concerning an individual, the Reverend gentleman would have been prosecuted for defamation of character. Next comes Cambridge, and the venom of the orthodox party against the ancient University in that place is poured out over the whole Commonwealth. Legal gentlemen have pronounced