ページの画像
PDF
ePub

after the example of the apostles. At the same time there was blazoned in their Confession of Faith, the impressive testimony that all men who keep, sell, or buy slaves are stealers of men, sinners of the first rank, and guilty of the highest kind of theft.' During the following twenty years nothing of importance occurred. The Presbyterians were constantly receiving large accessions by migrations from Europe, and from the Congregationalists of New England. Such, indeed, was their anxiety to increase their body, that in 1801, and in 1808, they held out the lure to the Congregationalists, that they should preserve all their forms of church government and discipline, provided they would receive Presbyterian ministers, and become nominally united with their Presbyteries. They all acknowledged the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as their doctrinal creed. For the sake of the communion of saints, the Congregationalists assented; and the Presbyterians rapidly attained a very influential rank among the larger sects; which was greatly increased by the facility with which opulent and distinguished citizens were admitted to official stations in their churches. Their boundaries were thus enlarged with little comparative effort; for the missionary labour at home was then almost a nonentity, and the perishing condition of heathen nations that sit in darkness, was scarcely adverted to, except by a few individuals who were in advance of that cold and formal generation.

The slavery question was agitated among them from 1815 to 1818, and to allay the irritation of the slave-trading ministers and churches, they expunged the previously quoted definition from their Confession of Faith ; and having condemned one of their preachers, Mr. Bourne, for preaching against slavery, to propitiate the professors whom they had denounced as men-stealers, they relapsed into their boasted order.' The missionary spirit, however, had expanded. Information constantly disseminated through the Bible Society awakened attention, and excited a longing for additional novelties; whence many Christians in America put on strength, and shook themselves from the dust.

The Presbyterian churches were governed ostensibly by their General Assembly, but in reality, a small junto of persons in Philadelphia and New York, and their immediate vicinities, controlled all the funds, and every other matter connected with the executive department of the ecclesiastical fraternity; and to them there seemed to be no disposition to object even as recently as the year 1824. But about that period, circumstances transpired which elicited collisions, and produced the existing alienation and severance among the Presbyterians. A prodigious excitement concerning religion diffused itself with almost electric velocity through the north-western part of the state of New York, then settled principally by Presbyterians and Congregationalists.

Amid the impressions wrought by divine grace on the hearts of vast multitudes, a deep solicitude for the conversion of sinners was developed, and it became a general conviction that more energetic measures must be adopted for the redemption of the world that lieth in wickedness.' In the powerful emotions which were thus excited, other denominations participated; but our direct reference now is to the Presbyterians. Zeal for the glory of the Redeemer led to the formation of the American Tract and Home Missionary Societies, with the Society for the education of pious young men for the ministry, and also to incalculably augmented exertions for the dissemination of the gospel among the nations who are in the shadow of death. In these societies, the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Reformed Dutch were the chief parties, with a few Calvinistic Pædo-Baptists. Some Episcopalians, Baptists, and Methodists took part in the Tract Society, otherwise the members of these denominations had no connexion with the institutions in question.

Speedily after these societies had commenced their operations, it was discovered by the rulers of the Presbyterian body, that a system was established which virtually grasped the sceptre they had wielded with so much complacency, and without a murmur from their unconscious and timid vassals. Envy and ambition took the alarm, and resolved, if practicable, to recover the endangered supremacy. A loud outcry was instantly raised from Dan to Beersheba, respecting fanaticism and heresy, two bug-bears invented to frighten the thoughtless and ignorant, and to enlist the formal and bigoted. In consequence, a large and protracted meeting of ministers was held to discuss the questions involved in the generic terms --' new light; new measures ;

and revival efforts, with their collateral topics. A temporary quietus was however given to the clamour; and it became necessary to devise other schemes to excite alarm, and to regain their ascendency.

The subtle notion was then advanced, that the church alone ought to have the control of all institutions and measures which are adapted to extend the gospel of Christ, and to promote the salvation of the world. Men who propagate this truism must well comprehend the marvellous stupidity of mankind, or they would not mystify truth as clear as sunshine, until bigotry, sectarian prejudice, worldly-mindedness, and obstinacy, are substituted for gospel love and Christian fidelity. By an equivocal use of the word church, and the restricted application of it to their own community, they hoped to repossess their plenary sway. Thus began the strife in the Presbyterian household.

li is melancholy to survey the last seven years of American Presbyterianism. The first contrivance was this--to persuade their members to transfer their donations from the Home Mis.

sionary to the domestic society of the Presbyterian church, which was then first excited to active utility ;-their prior missionary enterprise being a mere bagatelle. Then having formed a sufficient party, they let slip the dogs of war.'

Accordingly, two prominent individuals among them, Messrs. Beecher and Barnes, were arraigned as heretics. It is not our purpose to pronounce judgment on the theological publications of these gentlemen. Another and more fitting opportunity may occur for this. But judging impartially between them and their opponents, it is plain that the allegations against them were a pretext only to aid the scheme by which the cravings of ambition and the lust of power might be gratified.

During several years the Presbyterian churches in the United States have been convulsed throughout their whole borders. Each succeeding year witnessed different decisions upon the disputed points; while the leaders of the opposite parties expended their time and energies in mutual crimination. The conclave that formerly swayed the Presbyterian churches having discerned that the protraction of the controversy diminished the number of their adherents, resolved upon a desperate attempt to carry one most iniquitous measure, per fas aut nefas, unmindful of the consequences which might flow from it. Their determination was to decide in opposition to the clear evidence of facts, that the churches and ecclesiastical bodies formed by the compacts of 1801 and 1808, and which had always been a part of their Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assemblies, never were Presbyteries, and never had any right or title to a seat in their representative church-courts.' Thirty-five years those societies had supported Presbyterian ministers; sustained their public institutions, theological seminary, &c., and contributed to their various funds; and had also gradually submitted to their discipline, until in form and in reality they had become Presbyterian Churches to all intents and purposes whatever. But how was that astounding manœuvre accomplished ?

Each of the religious denominations in the United States supports one or more newspapers, which are chiefly devoted to the defence of their distinctive principles. At that period there were seven or eight journals almost exclusively Presbyterian, besides the Baltimore Magazine, a monthly periodical, and the Biblical Repertory, a quarterly miscellany. Under these two weightier publications as leaders, the majority of the papers commenced the cry of alarm. Heresy was resounded. Congregationalism was repeated. The duty of the church to manage missionary operations, with all benevolent labors for the good of souls, was reverberated. Reform was demanded. Persons who knew not the meaning of the words they used, and had never before concerned themselves respecting doctrines, discipline, or the conversion of

ter.

the colored Heathen in their own country, or Pagans in the Pacific Ocean, suddenly became inflamed with zeal against errors which they could not comprehend, and church government with which they were not acquainted, and on behalf of philanthropic efforts in which they had never participated nor felt any interest

. The cabal who invented the uproar, like Demetrius and the workmen of Ephesus, shouted, "The church ! the Presbyterian .church !' and 'the cry was re-echoed by many who understood not what they said, nor when they met, wherefore they were come together. Having filled the whole land with confusion, they endeavoured to procure a majority in the General Assembly of 1837. The parties were very nearly balanced; but by dexterity, the craftsmen elected their Moderator, and consequently the committees which are appointed by him were of their own charac

Conscious that another such an opportunity would never occur, the clerical lawyers resolved to secure the ascendency which they had unexpectedly obtained.

With this view they announced that four Synods, including about 600 ministers and 60,000 members, were not Presbyterians; that the agreement of 1801, between the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians, was null and void from the beginning--and that those ministers and members who in any way were affected by the operation of that procedure never were Presbyterians, and had no part in their church, either de jure or de facto.

By this measure they secured a decisive majority. All the members of the Assembly of 1837 who were included within the four proscribed Synods, were instantly ejected from their seats. After which Mr. Robert Breckinridge, with his fellow crusaders and the slave-drivers, adopted a variety of measures contrary to all equity and Christian love, and subversive of the rights of conscience and of civil and religious liberty. From that period until May, 1838, a flood of calumny, recrimination, and wrath was effused throughout the land, by Messrs. Breckinridge, Plummer, and their associates, for the good of the church !'

The inventors and actors of this tragedy by which it was attempted to destroy the ministerial character of 600 preachers, and to rob several hundred congregations of their houses of prayer, grave-yards, and other property, avowed two motives for their flagitious proceedings. One was, that if the excision was not then done, they should never again have the power to do it

, for in the Assembly of 1838, there would be a majority opposed to their ungodly design. The other was like unto itthat they might silence all the opponents of slavery, so that the 'stealers of

men 'might prosecute their nefarious trade and practices without reproof or molestation. Their motives, by their own public avowals, were as base as their acts were unchristian.

The interval until the meeting of the Assembly of 1838, was

devoted on the one side to futile attempts at peace, and on the other to ceaseless exertions to secure the advantage which the proctors in their church-courts had gained. Three days prior to the opening of that 'ecclesiastical judicature,' both parties met in separate bodies, and efforts were made that the old school and

the new school, as the parties are denominated, might be peacefully severed. Exulting in their triumph, the old school rabbes scornfully rejected every offer, and superadded insult to outrage.

Application was made for the admission of the delegates who had been anathematized by the Assembly of 1837, but their certificates were denounced as of no more value than the clean pa. pers’ of a Mohammedan Mufti, or a Hindu Brahmin. The Moderator refused to accept resolutions, and to put questions to the decision, so that all their proceedings were arrested ; upon which a formal division into two Assemblies ensued. As the old schoolmen' were in possession of all the funds, and the theological seminary, and other institutions belonging to the body, suits were commenced in the civil courts of Pennsylvania, to which the trustees are amenable for the discharge of their

obligations, to ascertain which of the contending parties is the Presbyterian church. That cause is now under adjudication, and will most probably be continued until many of the litigants have been summoned to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, there to give an account of themselves to God.

The situation of the Presbyterian church is appalling. Contemplated as a community, they are like Samson shorn of his strength. Their newspapers and ecclesiastical meetings are become mere vehicles of disputation, and their energies are devoted to strife for the mastery, and the perpetuation of slavery; which is the idol the American churches have set up,—the stumbling-block of iniquity which they have put before their feet. Whatever may be their differences, on that point they all coalesce; and the hopes of philanthropists that one benefit would flow from the collision in the extirpation of slavery from one half of the Presbyterian churches, are now abandoned.

There is considerable variance of theological opinions among the Presbyterians. Much of their polemics seems to be mere logomachy. Other parts of their doubtful disputations,' appear to be the result of those emotions which are combined with abstract theories of moral duty and obligation; and probably the whole are affected by the opinions which they hold concerning the importance of human instrumentality in accomplishing the great purposes of redeeming mercy, and in expediting the glorious things which are spoken of the city of God. Nevertheless, many propositions have been uttered as oracular that are not reconcilable with their Confession of Faith.

About forty years ago there was an extensive religious awaken

« 前へ次へ »