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excommunicated some of the most perfect Christians of this period. Is this making the creed, or the Bible, the standard of religious truth? The human creed, surely. For the member is excommunicated for his departure from the articles of the creed; whilst his accusers must admit that he still makes the Bible his only standard of faith and practice, and exhibits as much evidence as before of real virtue and piety.
And is not this use of the human creed subversive of religious liberty, free inquiry, and the principles of congregationalism? Just notice a very common circumstance in the case. In the season of a religious excitement, persons of very little religious knowledge are induced to join your orthodox churches. They surely cannot acquire a very accurate understanding of the Scriptures, during the short period that intervenes between their supposed conversion and their admission to the ordinances. On their entrance to the church, they are obliged to profess their hearty belief in all the articles of a human creed, some of which they do not pretend to understand, and none of which, perhaps, they have ever examined. After their admission, they are sometimes, not always, exhorted to study the Bible, and make that the standard of their faith and practice. They perform this duty conscientiously; and some of them are unable to find any authority for a belief in the human articles to which they have assented. The more they examine, the stronger their convictions become, that the leading doctrines of orthodoxy cannot be found in the Scriptures. In this predicament, what must they do? One of three things. They must either acknowledge their dissent from the orthodox standard of truth, and thus subject themselves to severe reproach and persecution, and even open excommunication; or they may confess, as two zealous promoters of orthodoxy have lately confessed, that the plain language of Scripture was unitarian, but their feelings inclined them to favor orthodox preaching, and thus make their feelings a standard of inspired truth; or they may do as many members of orthodox churches now feel compelled to do, -conceal their real sentiments in their own bosoms, dread the inquiries of their neighbours, bend under their heavy burden of spiritual servitude, and pray for the approach of that day, when all true disciples shall enjoy the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free. Is this granting your church members the enjoyment of religious liberty, free inquiry, and the rights of congregationalism?
4. Dividing Churches. Look at the use made of a human creed by the orthodox in dividing congregational churches. As a fair illustration of this measure, take the case which lately occurred at Wilton, New Hampshire. In the year 1778, the first church in Wilton adopted a creed somewhat orthodox in sentiment. In the course of the next year, the communicants, probably seeing the evils of a human standard, passed the following liberal vote : “That every candidate, previous to his admission, give his consent to a confession of faith, or exhibit one of his own, or a relation satisfactory to the church.” Under this catholic regulation, members were occasionally admitted. But in 1803, a creed, not materially differing from the former, was again adopted; the former vote, however, was not rescinded, so that ihe same terms of admission were still enjoyed. In 1823, a minority of this church felt aggrieved, because new members were admitted without being compelled to subscribe the human creed. This is the sum and substance of their complaint, as must be evident to all who will read their documents. They requested the majority to unite with them in calling a mutual council to settle their difficulties. The majority considered their complaints unreasonable, and accordingly refused to comply with their request. The minority proceeded to call an ex parte council of orthodox divines, among whom were your friends, Drs. Church and Edwards. After long deliberation, they crime to the conclusion, that the minority had sufficient cause of grievance, and would be justified in forming themselves into a new church, unless they could bring the majority to a compliance with their demands.
But let us have the very words of this council of congregational ministers. “How can they (the minority) see the introduction of a creed, and the way laid open for the introduction of an indefinite variety of creeds, subversive of the gospel of Christ, and not be aggrieved ? — The council are therefore led to say, First, That it is their unanimous opinion, that all the members who hold to the confession of 1803, and feel aggrieved with essential deviations from it, not only have a right, but are under solemn obligations, to obtain for themselves and for their families the enjoyment of the preaching and the ordinances of the gospel, in accordance with that confession. But if they cannot obtain those privileges while they remain connected with those who have occasioned their present difficulties; then, Secondly, It is the opinion of the council that they are bound to seek the enjoyment of these privileges in some other way. But if it be needful for the aggrieved to be disconnected from them, then it is the opinion of the council, Thirdly, That it is more expedient for the aggrieved to remain in a body, with such others as may join them, and enjoy among themselves, as they may be able, the preaching and ordinances of the gospel, than to seek admission to sister churches."
Now this strikes me as one of the most remarkable cases ever recorded in the annals of congregationalism. Just look at a plain statement of the leading facts. Here is a minority of a congregational church; they are aggrieved because the majority will not restore a human creed, which they have outgrown and cannot believe, to be the standard of truth for the admission of future members ; aggrieved because they cannot shut the doors of the church against all who will not adopt their interpretations of Scripture. They accordingly assemble a council of congregational divines to give advice under this difficulty ; and this learned body consider their grievance so serious and weighty, as to advise them to secede and form a new church, unless they can compel the majority to surrender their most sacred rights and privileges. How perfectly uncongregational! Is this making the creed, or the Bible, the standard of religious truth? The human creed, surely. For the minority are advised to separate, unless the majority will adopt a human creed, which they cannot believe, as their standard of Christian truth; although they still adhere to the Bible, and give all persons an equal right to interpret the Scriptures for themselves. And surely I need not ask the question, if such a measure be subversive of religious liberty, free inquiry, and the principles of congregationalism.
5. Exclusion of Ministers. Look at the use made of human creeds by the orthodox in excluding from their fellowship ministers of their own sentiments. As a fair illustration of this measure, take the proceedings of the orthodox synod at Baltimore. The circumstances are briefly these. The Rev. Mr. Duncan of Baltimore, a distinguished orthodox divine, was invited to preach the annual discourse before the students in the Theological Seminary at Princeton. In his sermon he spoke slightingly of human creeds, and urged the young men to make the Bible alone their standard of faith and practice. These remarks were not relished by the Rev. Dr. Miller, the Principal of the institution; and at the opening of the next term, he took occasion to deliver an introductory lecture on the utility and importance of human creeds. Mr. Duncan soon published a work on the subject of creeds, setting forth their origin and pernicious tendency. For this offence he was summoned before the delegates of the synod. His trial lasted several days. Being unable to make him renounce his error, or, in reality, place the human creed before the Bible, they excommunicated him from their body, and declared his pulpit vacated. But his own church, to whom alone he was amenable, disregarded this act of clerical usurpation and dictation.
Now if this transaction had not taken place within the last ten years, and if the documents were not before the community, more than one half of the people would disbelieve so remarkable a statement. They would aver, that such a measure was too great an outrage upon common sense, to say nothing of religion, to have been perpetrated in this enlightened age, and in this land of boasted freedom. And is this making the Bible, or a human creed, the standard of religious truth? The creed, surely. For this able and eloquent divine was publicly excommunicated from the Presbyterian denomination, because he would not acknowledge the utility and supreme importance of human creeds; although he still adhered firmly to the divine standard, and retained his Christian character, and even his orthodox sentiments. It would be an insult to ask any man if such a proceeding was consistent with religious liberty and free inquiry.
6. Voting for Ministers. Look at the use made of human creeds in depriving the proprietors in orthodox churches of the right of choosing their own ministers. A few words of explanation are necessary to make this most daring act of orthodox usurpation fully intelligible to the community. Some few years since, the leaders of the orthodox party became alarmed at the rapid progress of unitarianism. They saw the majority of one congregation after another electing unitarian preachers. They wished to raise some barrier to the spread of liberal views, and also to devise some measure to prevent all the meeting-houses from falling into unitarian hands. They adopted the plan of trust deeds, as a happy expedient for effecting both objects. Their operation is in this manner. A church is erected with orthodox funds. The pews are offered for sale as usual. But the purchaser is informed, that no proprietor will be allowed to vote for the minister until he has professed his hearty belief in the articles of a human creed; but that every pewholder must be taxed for the support of the ministry. He is further informed, that the control of the building is vested in the hands of certain orthodox trustees, who belong in part to other societies, and who will furnish the minister, whenever the proprietors refuse to subscribe the human creed. The trustees are to have full power to fill all vacancies in their numbers, so that the church may remain in orthodox hands to all eternity, if orthodoxy should live so long.
Here then is a notorious fact. The leaders of the orthodox party have lately bound down several churches in Boston and other parts of this Commonwealth by trust deeds, so that the pew-owners are obliged to support the preacher, but are denied the right of voting for the man who is to instruct them and their children in religion, unless they will first assent to the articles of a human creed. Is this making the Bible, or a human creed, the standard of religious truth? The creed, surely. For let a man purchase a pew in a trust-deed church, and come under obligations to aid in the support of the ministry; let him adhere firmly to the Bible, and exhibit a Christian character; still he cannot be allowed to vote for the minister he must maintain, unless he will first profess his hearty belief in all the articles of a long human creed.
And is this use of human creeds consistent with free inquiry, religious liberty, and the principles of congregationalism ? Would a similar measure, in relation to our political rights, be called consistent with civil liberty? Just suppose a parallel case. Suppose that a majority of our Representatives, at the next session of the General Court, should be Federalists. Suppose they should frame a political creed, in which should be embodied the peculiar opinions of the Federal denomination. Suppose they should enact a law, that, hereafter, no man should be allowed to vote for the Governor of the state, until he had professed his hearty belief in all the articles of this human creed. And, in order to keep the office in Federal hands for ever, suppose they should convey the political rights of all, who will not comply with this condition, into the hands of twenty Federal trustees in neighbouring states, giving them power to fill all vacancies in their numbers, and to elect the Governor of this Commonwealth, whenever her citizens shall refuse to subscribe the Federal creed. Suppose the time should soon arrive, when no Federal individual could be found among our voters.
Then all, who contributed to the support of our public officers, would be obliged to look to the trustees in neighbouring states for a Federal Governor. Would the people have any civil liberty remaining ? Would not the man be pronounced insane, who should propose such a wicked system?
But have not the leaders of the orthodox party done precisely the same thing in relation to the religious rights of the people? At this very time, scarcely one in ten of those, who occupy your trust-deed churches, can be allowed to vote for the minister he is obliged to maintain. And when the children of those who can now conscientiously subscribe the human creed, shall come upon the stage, is there any probability that they will embrace precisely the same opinions as their fathers? Is there no progress to be made in religious knowledge? Is the orthodox world now to become stationary for the first time? If not, if the children, with their improved advantages, should become wiser than their fathers, they could not honestly assent to all the articles of their fathers' human formulary. And, unless they do thus assent, they must either look to orthodox trustees, in other societies, to furnish them with a preacher they dislike, or dispose of their property in the house at a dead loss. Is it not truly wonderful, that people are so ready to discover any infringement of their civil rights, while their religious rights may be wrested from thein almost without exciting a murmur or complaint ? I am happy, however, to learn, that very few individuals have been found, so lost to all sense of self-respect; so recreant to the spirit of republican institutions ; so ready to confess their incapacity to select their own religious teachers; so subservient to their creed-signing neighbours; and so regardless of that liberty wherewith Christ has made his disciples free, as to purchase pews which are fettered by the unhallowed restrictions of trust-deeds. And I firmly believe, that even these few, after the present period of high partyexcitement shall have passed, will assert their rights, burn their creeds and trust-deeds, vote for their own ministers, and no longer sacrifice to the ambition of a few leaders the principles of free inquiry, religious liberty, and congregationalism.
I have room for no more facts under this head. What, then, must be our conclusion? In the first place, do not the facts, which I have stated, fully prove, that the orthodox denomination make a human creed, and not the Bible, their standard of religious truth? If not, take