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to build houses for the worship of God, but must she do this ecclesiastically, by her Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods, or General Assembly? And if she does it by the discreet influence of her members, availing themselves, by association, of the contributions of others, does she not fulfil her obligation? So she must build schoolhouses and colleges, and become the light of the world and the salt of the earth; and if, in any lawful way, she secures these results, will not God approve of her action, as a fulfilment of the obligation of the church, as such? Why, then, may she not, in the same free and voluntary manner, collect and disburse money for the support of duly authorized ministers, both at home and abroad? In what other manner did the primitive church propagate the gospel ? Did she do it by her judicatories? Where did her General Assembly meet, and where were her boards of trust, to act in the name of this body? She had funds, it is true, for the relief of the poor, but even these were too secular for her ministers to be concerned with, and an order of men was appointed to superintend the administration of this charity. There was no board of missions for the heathen, appointed by the judicatories of the church ;- no central treasury for the funds of the church. Yet the Acts of the Apostles exhibit the missionary enterprise prosecuted by individual effort and voluntary association with more vigor and success than has marked its progress at any subsequent period.
The church, then, may prosecute the work of missions, as a church, though she do it wholly by voluntary associations, without the aid or intervention of any ecclesiastical body. All which Heaven has required of her is to see that the work is done. The means, the mode are left to the varying circumstances and exigencies of the church and of the world. And this is the responsibility of her individual members. They are bound to do it in the best way they can.
In considering the question of expediency, the author urges, in the first place the following consideration :
The Presbyterian church, as such, in her highest court, is not well adapted, by the mode of her organization, to superintend and direct the work of missions, either faithfully or efficiently. The members of the General Assembly come from great distances -- are changed, for the most part, every year are not familiar with the history and policy of the work; and they sit so short a time, and are encumbered with so much other business, that they can only hear reports and adopt them on the ground of their general confidence in their boards of trust, without any possible opportunity for a careful and thorough examination of their proceedings. Yet the authority and
sanction of the Assembly stands between these boards and the public, to shield them from the watchful scrutiny of others.
We have only to look at the facts in the case to be convinced of the truth of the author's allegations. Cases of heresy or discipline, in a church of such vast extent, are amply sufficient to occupy the whole of the two or three weeks in which the Assembly are in session. Last year, a case of appeal from a lower court was postponed to the Assembly of 1837; in respect to which it was stated, that the bare reading of the papers would occupy several days. Is it said that the Assembly would delegate the business of missions to a board or boards, retaining only a general supervisory power? In what important respects, then, would those boards differ from voluntary associations? Besides, in order to carry out the views of the friends of ecclesiastical organizations, the Assembly must retain something more than a supervisory power, the right of annually electing the board, or any mere general superintendence. Details must be gone into; accurate investigation must be had, not by committees merely, but by the whole Assembly; otherwise the boards might gradually become independent of the power that appointed them. It is now pertinent to inquire, whether there would be time for all these minute inquiries, while the Assembly are expected to “receive and issue all appeals and references, which may be regularly brought before them from the inferior judicatories; to review the records of every synod, and approve or censure them;" to be the final arbiter in relation to “all controversies respecting doctrine and discipline,” etc.?
The writer, in the second place, maintains that boards, thus constituted, are not well qualified to discharge their highly responsible trusts :
That boards, thus constituted, and acting under so powerful a sanction of what is so little understood, are the most irresponsible
ies that could well be devised. They are responsible to the public at large only through the General Assembly, and that body gathered from all parts of the land — changing every year - remaining in session only a few days - pressed, and vexed, and agitated, by a great variety of other business — would, it is presumed, never have been selected by sagacious business men, as the best constituted body for the safe-keeping and appropriation of large amounts of money, or for the management of great, distant, and complicated financial concerns. And its supervision of such concerns must necessarily be not only imperfect, but, by the sanction which it affords,
it must be a hindrance to the quick and healthful action of the public mind in the detection of abuses. How much more perfect and secure, therefore, is the responsibility of boards appointed by voluntary societies, which stand solely upon their good behavior, and the well-earned confidence of the community, sustained by the published reports of their doings ! These bodies have no intermediate sanction to shield them from the scrutiny of the public, and protect them in the practice of abuses which might otherwise be discovered and exposed.
It is sometimes asserted, that the committees of voluntary societies are responsible to the community only through an unwieldy, and promiscuous body of patrons or subscribers. But this is not so.
Let us look, for instance, at the organization of the American Home Missionary Society. The annual meeting of subscribers do not appoint the Executive Committee, but only the Board of Directors, and the Directors appoint the Committee. The members of this body are composed of the president and twenty-seven vice presidents of the society and fifty other gentlemen, all of whom are among the most distinguished clergymen and laymen in the whole church. They are not, it is true, the representatives of the churches, for any other purpose than this one, the promotion of missions; and for this reason we claim for them a decided advantage over the members of the Assembly, who represent all parties in the church. But we ask, is it wise, is it likely to promote the cause of missions, to associate with all its movements the alienating discussions which grow out of the numerous local and other party objects which are perhaps inseparable from the Presbyterian ecclesiastical bodies constituted as they now are? And may not the very men, who in their ecclesiastical opinions and preferences, on other points, are at variance, when, associated independently of their ecclesiastical relations, be perfectly united and harmonious in the simple, and single work of missions ? The experience of the Home Missionary Society shows this to be possible. Its governing board, of perhaps a hundred distinguished men, from all parts of the country, and from all parties, come together here as the respresentatives of no party. The very object of their association, in this manner, is to separate themselves from the alienations which accompany party relations and discussions, and unite in an object equally dear to all parties. This is the grand advantage of voluntary societies, and their experience in this respect, has hitherto been delightful, while many of the
same men, who have acted in perfect harmony here, have been brought into unhappy collision, by every attempt which has been made to unite them in the performance of the same work in the name and by the authority of a church court.
Our author remarks in the third place as follows:
By conducting all her concerns ecclesiastically, the judicatories of the church would be loaded with an amount of property and of sec. ular business, which would much endanger her spirituality. The funds of all her seminaries - her Education Societies -- her Home and Foreign Missionary Societies, etc., with all the augmentation of their amount, which the exigencies of this country and the world de. mand, must be very great, and their management a great concern, which ought not to be, and cannot be, safely, commingled with the spiritual business of the church. The ministration of so much property introduces into church courts the occasions of competition, and the action of a powerful ecclesiastical patronage, which, if it may be wielded for good, may also be perverted to evil. The concentra. tion, therefore, in these courts, of so much ecclesiastical and pecuniary power, is both inexpedient and perilous. It would present an amount of aliment to ambition, too great to consist with the single eye which should pervade the church of Christ. It was such secular influences, beginning with her union with the State, which once completed the corruption and downfall of the church ; and the same causes, though less powerful now, have lost none of their relative potency on our fallen nature.
Those who deny that there is danger from such an accumulation of funds, are but little conversant with church history, or they must have an inordinate faith in the virtue of human nature.
The fourth objection to ecclesiastical organizations is stated in the following words:
If we consider also the best means for promoting the unembarrassed and alert action of the church, in the work of missions, we may find occasion to distrust the relative efficiency of formal ecclesiasti. cal organizations for this purpose. In the beginning of these enterprises, it is always difficult to secure a sufficient amount of zeal and unanimity in the church to commence an auspicious effort. Objections and balanced action are incident to extended ecclesiastical bod. ies, and especially to the representative judicatory of so many bodies as constitute the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church. This is admitted. And do not facts speak on this subject? How long were the voluntary associations of our own and other churches, united, pioneering their way into heathen lands, undermining Satan's kingdom and casting down imaginations, before our own church, as
such, in her judicatories, had zeal enough either to imitate or to oppose? And is not the light which she now enjoys, as a church, a borrowed light, from orbs rolling around and athwart her path, which possibly had left her rayless and cold to the present hour, had not the zeal of voluntary societies provoked her to love and good works? If there be, therefore, in church organizations, such incidental disqualifications to commence the work of missions, can it well be believed that this is Heaven's plan, or the best plan, for the prosecution of the work? May not and will not the difficulties which hinder a beginning, hang on the wheels, and clog habitually the celerity and power
of their movement ? Look at the condition of our own church at the present time. Is it her duty, in the name and by the authority of her highest judicatory, to enter on the work of missions ? But, behold the paralyzing influence of that very diversity of conscientious opinions, which renders her united action, in this way, impossible ; one year a majority for it, the next, a majority against it, and alienation and strife occasioned by these discrepant views! And what is the cogent argument, used by our opponents even now, for this mode of operation, but that many churches have, as yet, done little, and will do nothing, unless it be done in this way? And how much will churches, so languid, and thus easily hindered, be likely to do even in this way?
Is it probable that this diversity of conscientious opinions will not continue to exist? If the Presbyterian church should be divided, according to the wishes of some of her members, is it likely that either of the separate portions would long remain united ? Are there not elements of strife in the civil condition of our country, which would be the fruitful cause of further dissension and alienation ? And is a body liable to the fluctuations incident to the Assembly, to be regarded as the best organization for missionary purposes ?
After an exhibition of the general principles in relation to voluntary associations and church organizations, the author proceeds to a defence of the decision of the Assembly of 1836 in respect to the organization of a board of foreign missions. Our limits will not allow us to go into much detail either on this or the remaining topics. It seems to us that the refusal to organize such a board was entirely justifiable, and is not to be put down as a factious opposition to the wishes of the minority. If the majority were conscientiously opposed to the measure, as one calculated to be detrimental to the general cause of missions, (and who has any right to say that they were not thus conscientiously opposed), then they had bụt one step to take — to reVol. IX. No. 26.