« AnteriorContinuar »
We will now briefly advert to some of the causes of these melancholy contentions and divisions.
The first cause which we shall name is national antipathy. The presbyterian Church first consisted of a synod formed by the presbyteries of Philadelphia, New Castle, Snow Hill and Long Island. It was composed of presbyterians from Scotland and from the north of Ireland on the one hand, and of individuals from England and New England on the other. A difference existed in their views on various subjects which produced perpetual discord. At length in 1741, the synod of Philadelphia, after an ardent controversy among its members, was rent in sunder, and the rival synods of New York and Philadelphia were formed. The pervading influence in the synod of Philadelphia was Scotch, Irish and Dutch ; the dominant inAuence in the synod of New York was in the hands of men who were of English origin, and many of whom came from New England.* The clergy of the synod of New York were, to a man, the warm friends and coadjutors of Mr. Whitefield; while those of the synod of Philadelphia were generally, if not unanimously, his decided opposers. Those who were most zealous for the strictest orthodoxy, and for adherence to the forms of church government, were called the “old side ;" while those who laid a greater stress on vital piety than on any other
act whatever to which the general assembly is constitutionally com
* The most influential man in the synod of New York was the Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, the first president of the college of New Jersey. He was a native of Hatfield, Ms. Other prominent men were Rev. Aaron Burr, the second president of the college of New Jersey, and a native of Fairfield, Ct., Rev. Jacob Green, father of Dr. Ashbel Green, a native of Massachu and who came with Mr. Whitefield, in 1745, from Massachusetts to New Jersey, Rev. John Pierson, son of the first president of Yale College, and Rev. Jedidiah Andrews, a graduate of Harvard, and a native of New England. See the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green's Hist. of the Coll. of New Jersey, p. 298. The ministers of whom we first hear as founding churches in the Philadelphia synod were Rev. Francis M'Kemie and the Rev. John Hampton, the former from the north of Ireland, the latter from Scotland. There were also John Wilson, Nathaniel Taylor, George M'Nish, and Samuel Davis, all from Scotland or Ireland. See Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller's Sketch of the Hist, of the Presbyterian church in the Encyclopædia of Religious Knowledge, p. 966.
ministerial qualification, and who set a lighter estimate by ecclesiastical order, were called the “new side,” or “ new lights." Though both synods adopted the Westminster confession of faith and catechisms, still it was found then, as it has been ever since, that a uniform and literal adherence to these standards could not be secured. In that period, however, and in every year subsequently, something deeper existed than ecclesiastical or theological differences, hostility or friendship to Mr. Whitefield, regard or indifference to vital piety, attachment or nonattachment to a learned ministry. Many of the emigrants from Scotland, Ireland and Holland entertained prejudices against New England. Many of the descendants of these emigrants, possibly (it may be thought by some) through the fault of the people of New England, still retain these prejudices. In some cases, it amounts to a positive hatred of New England and of all her institutions. It has its ground in ignorance of those institutions,* in political causes, in misapprehension of the designs of the people of New England, in misjudgments regarding congregationalism, etc. “ It has become so common,” says the honorable Peleg Sprague,” “ with our brethren of other States, to talk of New England cupidity and fraud, that it is taken by the ignorant abroad to be characteristic of our community.” Scarcely less common is it for the Christians of the South and West not of New England descent, to regale themselves with stories of the heterodoxy and ecclesiastical bankruptcy of all the professed disciples of Jesus whose lot is cast east of the Hudson. One has but to attend the sittings, or peruse the debates of a presbyterian convention or assembly, to become convinced that New England is regarded as an infected district, and that every one who migrates thence, ought to submit to a long quarantine.
Another cause of these unhappy collisions is the extent of territory which is embraced in the Presbyterian church. She has a presbytery on the Merrimack and another on the Arkansas. Her delegates come from Detroit and from Sullivan's island. As an inevitable consequence, there will be a difference of opinion. Where climate, early association, and education, are so diverse, entire harmony of counsel or identity of belief cannot be expected. It calls for conciliation, kindness, mutual for
* See two adınirable articles on this subject in the North American Review, for January and April, 1837.
bearance, a conscientious abstinence from irritating comparisons, and that charitable judgment alike required by the rules of civilized society and by the gospel of Jesus Christ. All our expectations of the continued union of these States are the merest dreams, if professed theologians and Christians cannot exercise that common candor which many politicians exhibit.
It is undeniable that one cause of the collisions in question is a difference in doctrinal views. There never has been an entire harmony among presbyterians since the first church was founded in 1703. Previously to 1716, when the first synod was formed, a number of churches in East and West Jersey and on Long Island, previously congregationalists, had become presbyterian. Of course, their ministers had been educated with predilections in favor of the Cambridge and Saybrook platforms, which do not agree on every point with the Westminster Confession which was adopted in 1729. Natives or their descendants of France, Holland and Switzerland became connected with the presbyterian church. Men from so many different countries could not of course agree on all the minutiæ of doctrinal belief. Among the elements of discord which resulted in the division of the Presbyterian church in 1741 was the question of a strict or a liberal construction of the standards. There is no fact in the ecclesiastical history of the country more notorious than that the theology of New England as explained by Edwards, Bellamy, Hopkins, Dwight and others, has been within the present century, opposed on some important points by multitudes in the presbyterian church. Even those who together vigorously withstood the New England theology were not, and are not to this day, entirely agreed among themselves. Yet we think that no candid judge will affirm that any of these differences are fundamental. Some of them may be important as affecting clearness of mental conceptions, and consequently the usefulness of the ministry, but they do not trench on the ground of the soul's salvation. The presbyterian convention which lately met in Philadelphia, after a week's labor, collected something like a dozen doctrinal errors, most of which never had existence in the United States, or at least, in the presbyterian church. It is possible that some ill-taught and isolated enthusiast may have broached some of them. This fact is conclusive proof ihat there is a substantial agreement in respect to doctrine throughout the presbyterian church. Alleged and apprehended differences are much greater than actual facts will show the re
al differences to be. But words are things. Invidious terms will affix a scandal which truth cannot, for a long time, efface,
Another most potent cause of these melancholy contentions is slavery. Nearly every member of the minority of the last assembly, and all the four synods which were cut off from the church belong to the free States. A large proportion of the members of the convention, as well as of the majority in the assenibly, were from the slave States. How far these things had influence in the measures of the assembly we know not. Many intelligent observers believed that they had great influence. Slavery has a thousand ramifications. It affects all our national interests. Exclude it from discussion we cannot.
A compromise to leave it untouched can only be a temporary expedient. The institution is such as to obtrude itself every where. It is in vain to contend that it is simply a civil relation. Has it not religious bearings and connections ? Are not cases of church discipline constantly occurring under this system? And can these cases be prevented from coming constitutionally before the highest judicatory of the presbyterian church? Will any compact which is formed between the ministers and elders of the churches of the free and those of the slave States, involving the obligation of total silence in the premises, be likely to continue unbroken?
From the preceding statements respecting the present condition of the christian world, we may derive some instructive lessons.
The Saviour, in his most affecting and sublime valedictory counsels to his disciples, and in his address to the eternal Father, dwells with the intensest emotion on the unity of his disciples, and upon the benign effects fowing from it. Yet scarcely had the cloud received him from their sight, before there were “murmurings” of one portion of his disciples against another. Again we hear that there was po small dissension and disputation” on some ritual questions. In the same chapter, we learn that a “contention so sharp” arose between two inspired and eminently pious missionaries, that they took their departure to different fields of labor. The church at Corinth was soon split into rival factions, and contended with an acrimony in an inverse proportion to the importance of the topics in dispute.
John had scarcely cast his crown before his Saviour's feet, when heresies and schisms spread like the plague from one end of the VOL. X. No. 27.
christian world to the other,—often by means of the heated partizanship of those who esteemed themselves the most orthodox. At length, an impostor drew off a third part of the stars of heaven, while the other parts sunk into the undistinguishing unity of the beast. Behold the mystery! Be astonished at the forbearance of the Saviour! Why does he not arm his red right hand against his distracted church, and quench her glimmering light in eternal darkness?
We are taught most impressively to trust in God alone. “Great men are not always wise, neither do the aged understand judgment.” The fathers in the ministry, the angels of the churches – how often does their strength go from them, and they become weak, and like any other men. There is no source of confidence short of the Everlasting Hills, no ground of dependence except in the Rock of Ages. Christians, whom at a distance we have almost revered as paragons of piety and wisdom, are found, on a nearer view, to be made of clay like others.
At the same time we are taught a lesson of charity. Men are better as individuals, than they are as masses. They will do that in a public body which as friends and neighbors they would abhor. The conscience which is "quick and sharper than a two-edged sword” in private life, becomes in a public assembly exceedingly pliable and accommodating. In the doings of the general assembly of the established church of Scotland, in 1836, we find a noble marquis saying: “If such observations were indulged in that house, he, for one, should not again allow himself to be named as an elder in that house, because he could not come in contact with persons using such lan
The significant words: “great confusion, cries of order, ”? “ renewed uproar and confusion which lasted for some time," are plentifully interpolated into the minutes. A keen discussion occurred on the question whether the assembly should “enjoin” or “recommend” to the presbyteries to take up some contributions. One of the interlocutors was addressed by the moderator in the emphatic terms: “I at least enjoin that you sit down." Thus we see that our own conventions and assemblies have foreign precedents for some of their proceedings and for parts of their vocabulary. Most of those acrimonious debaters are, however, at home, doubtless, Christians and gentlemen. Conscience and courtesy resume their offices. It is, therefore, the dictate of christian charity not to condemn too harshly the members of a public body. All due allowance must be made