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OBSERVATIONS ON THE GENERAL AS
perverted, by any causes compati Whoever is acquainted with the ble with the existence of the human proceedings of publick assemblies, family: A total perversion of all will need no argument to convince 'the rules of morality, in any com- him that seventy or eighty memmunity of men, must speedily ef- bers are as many as can convenientfect its own cure; the innumera- ly and profitably engage in the derable disorders and iniseries which liberations. This is true of parliamust flow from such a state of ments, congress, and legislaturesthings, could not fail to bring them more especially is it manifest in ecback to some sense of reason and clesiastical assemblies. A body of justice; otherwise their entire de- men, unwieldy from its very numstruction would be the consequence. bers, will always be found doubly
So, when composed principally, of those in habits of publick speaking, and accustomed to exert an influ
ence almost without contradiction. THE PRESBYTERIAN It is to be expected that such men
will not only deliberate and vote, Letter II.
but speak their sentiments on all
important subjects before them, Existing Evils.
and on many occasions give utterDear Sir,-According to my pro. ance to their impatience of opposimise, I proceed to notice some of tion. The inevitable consequences the evils connected with the pre- of such a state of things will be, sent organization of the General much useless debate, confusion, Assembly.
and delay, in the transaction of The body itself is too large. This business. is the principal evil, and perhaps An appeal to the recollection of the origin of all which I mean to those who have attended all, or any name. No complaints of this evil one of the last seven assemblies, were heard until the spring of 1818, would furnish proof that the evil when there were one hundred and exists, and calls for some immediate thirty-five members present in the remedy. It has been a common reAssembly. Previously there had mark, widely circulated, that our been no cause of such complaints; delegation is too numerous. the number had never much ex When this subject shall be well ceeded one hundred, and there had considered, it will be found that seldom been more than from se many evils grow out of the large venty to ninety. But when the representation of which I complain. Assembly found an increase of Waste of time in the mere politithirty members at once, and a pros- cal concerns of the meeting, is not pect of rapid augmentation, they too trifling to be noticed. The ortook the alarm, and passed a reso- ganization of so large a body must lution, requesting the Presbyteries necessarily occupy much time—the to alter the ratio of representation, examination of one hundred and from six to nine ministers for every fifty, or two hundred commissions two commissioners. In the pream- and choice of the officers, are teble to the resolution, the Assembly dious. Calling the roll at every recognise the "great number of opening-taking the question on delegates” composing their body every division of the house-selecas the primary evil to be remedied tion of committees--and many -and an important object to be questions of order, arising from the gained by the resolution was, “to number and confusion of members, facilitate the despatch of business.” occupy no small part of each day.
Such loss of time must be consi- to support a pastor, on the plan dered an evil, when the sittings of pursued by the Home Missionary the body are protracted to three Society. But I need not calculate weeks.
the value of such a sum, expended To all this, add the waste of time in missionary operations-in eduin useless debate; and no inconsi- cating young men for the ministry derable proportion of the hours ap- - in the endowinents of literary or pointed for business, from the open- theological institutions, to prove it ing to the rising of the assembly, too much for needless expense. may be reckoned as lost. It will Only let it be shown that one balf probably be said, there may be use- the number would answer all the less debate in small as well as in purposes, and accomplish all the large bodies; but experience proves business of the Assembly, as well that the same men are more in- and more expeditiously than the clined to protract debate in a large, whole-it is then proved, that one than in a small assembly. The fact half the expense is needlessly inaccords with the principles of human curred. This I do not despair of pature, verified in all deliberative doing. Indeed I should be surbodies, civil or ecclesiastical. prised to find one thinking, candid
I ought here, in justice, to add man, unwilling to concede, that the whole time of nearly one half 85 of the hundred and seventy, the members attending, as lost to composing the last Assembly, would the church. Some of them, it is have been as competent to transact true, may gain advantage to them- all the business which came before selves, in health and mental cul- them, as the whole number--and I ture, which they would not have am very sure they would have done gained at home, employed directly it with more despatch. for the good of others. But it is There is another evil of no small extremely doubtful whether the magnitude, rather delicate in its loss is at all counterbalanced by character, but which ought to be any such gain.
noticed. It is really an imposition Unnecessary expense is another upon the hospitality of the good eril, not to be forgotten in the pre- Philadelphians. It is certainly sent state of things. This was re- very creditable to the Presbyteferred to by the Assembly of 1818, rians of that city, to make the in the document already noticed, whole Assembly welcome to all the as one of the reasons for lessening comforts of attention, kindness and the representation. The same con- home, for many successive years. sideration had its influence in the Doubtless many of those kind people alteration of 1825. The majority will continue to entertain numbers of presbyteries considered this an of the Assembly with great pleaevil, and sanctioned what was con sure, but it ought not to be expectsidered a remedy. Those who have ed of thein for three successive access to the treasurer's account weeks, year after year, unless the of the monics received for the com number be diminished. In fact, it missioners' fund, will perceive that is an abuse of kindness, to quarter about two thousand dollars are an two hundred men upon the citizens nually paid to that fund, which so long, without remuneration; and probably defrays about one half the the thought that this is to be perexpenses of members. The whole petual-a legacy to future generaexpense is therefore more than four tions-is intolerable. thousand dollars-one half of which It has often been remarked, that is unnecessary. Here are two the hospitable disposition, which thousand dollars lost, which would has been so conspicuous throughout ebable twenty feeble congregations our republick, is diminishing. I Vol. V, -Ch. Adu.
am inclined to believe the remark a good principle. There can be no is founded in fact; but the Phila- invasion of this vital principle, in delphians have hitherto sustained acknowledging that one minister is their primitive reputation in this older, or more learned and discreet case. But under the present regi- than another. men, I doubt not the disposition From this custom it often hapmust lessen, until it will be diffi- pens that more than half the miniscult, if not impracticable, to obtain ters in the Assembly are young gratuitous accommodations for so men, or unacquainted with the large an assembly.
course of business; and what is Inequality of representation is worse, unacquainted with the conoften mentioned as an evil of the stitutional principles of judicial present system. Although the con- proceedings. stitution prescribes an equitable To me it seems entirely wrong ratio, it must be remembered there to send men to that body, for their is, and there will be, inequality in own gratification, or instruction. the fractions represented—and the Presbyteries and synods should more we lessen the delegation on furnish these, until the men are the present system, the greater will qualified by study and experience be the fractional disparity. But to deliberate and decide on the the principal inequality is between most important concerns of the the near and distant presbyteries church. "It every year occurs, that -occasioned by the difliculties and some most difficult as well as im. expense of travelling a great dis- portant questions are discussed tance. The extracts and journals and decided in the Assembly; and of the Assembly, published for the it is often the fact, that a synod is last ten years, will show this dis- more competent to decide them parity. Complaints of this evil than the highest court; because have been made on the floor of the there is more wisdom and experihouse. It was noticed in the pre- ence in a large synod than in the amble of a resolution to alter the General Assembly, thus organized. ratio of representation, passed in The highest judicatory ought to 1818. It must be admitted that consist of men well versed in ecclethis is an evil, but not of the larger siastical law, in judicial proceedmagnitude; because no part of the ings, and in scriptural truth; they church has yet suffered in any im- should be intelligent, candid, judiportant interest from the disparity. cious, business men. The court Union, fellowship, supervision, and will then be competent to superall other purposes of the body are vise the interests of the church preserved. Yet it is desirable to and the proceedings of lower judiremove the evil, and I fatter my- catories; its dignity, as a court of self it may be done.
Jesus Christ, will be preserved, and There is an evil far more inju- its adjudications respected. rious to the reputation and intiu But in pursuance of the rotation ence of the Assembly-far more system, the most important cases adverse to the interests of the may be decided by men incompechurch; in the custom of choosing tent to investigate them, or to make commissioners, in the different pres- an enlightened and judicious deci. byteries, by rotation.
sion. Rotation in sending mem. The object of this custom is to bers to the Assembly, is about as give every minister the privilege wise as it would be in the highest of attending that important judica- civil court to supply the bench with tory. It is undoubtedly important judges, by annual rotation from to preserve ministerial parity, but members of the bar. The case is this I think is a misapplication of not perfectly analogous, but the ab
surdity of such a custom in civil as evils, before I proceed to exacourts, would not be more mani- mine the remedies proposed. fest, than in the prevalent custom
Yours, &c. of rotation in the highest ecclesi- Jan. 1827. astical court. It may be said that there are al
Letter III. ways some of the fathers in the
Existing Evils. church present—and that it is not possible to have one assembly, not Dear Sir,-Bear with me until I containing much wisdom and talent. mention two or three more of the This may be true; but I have a right evils connected with the present to make a strong case to illustrate organization of the General Asthe absurdity of a system: and be- sembly, which call for a speedy side, all the wisdom and talent of change in the system. those fathers may be overruled by Connected with the last menan inexperienced majority. If such tioned evil, you will recognise the be not the case, still men of wisdom complaints of decisions made by and experience are greatly impeded the Assembly. Perhaps it is to be in their deliberations, and often expected, that litigious men, interneedlessly perplexed, by those who ested in decisions inade against are ignorant and inexperienced— their wishes, will be dissatisfied. The latter are fully as apt to be con- Occasionally a lower judicatory fident and pertinacious as the for- may be unduly influenced, and mer.
wrongfully complain of the AssemMy intention is not, however, to bly's decision. But that judicious advocate a standing representa- men and whole synods should be tion of all the same members, but a dissatisfied, is not to be expected. selection from the most judicious It ought also to be granted, that the and experienced men. Some of the Assembly may err, and give occasame men should undoubtedly be sion for complaints; but that such sent to several successive assem cases should frequently occur, blies, but not perpetually. The de- ought not to be expected. tails and despatch of business re I am persuaded such cases have quire, not only men acquainted occurred more frequently of late with ecclesiastical concerns, but years, than was formerly known. some men who have more than Such complaints are certainly once or twice attended that body. made, studiously propagated, and Then would the Assembly answer widely disseminated. I will not all the purposes for which it was undertake to say they are all, or designed, and command the affec- a majority of them, well founded tionate respect of all the judicato- but the fact shows a want of confiries below. But, if I mistake not, dence in the Assembly among those the evil now considered, is becom- who encourage the complaints. To ing more conspicuous as the church me it seems most probable, under increases, and the business of the present regulations, such comAssembly becomes more complex plaints will increase, and produce and important. For several years an unpleasant state of feeling tothe proportion of young men in the ward the Assembly, in many parts Assembly has increased, wbile the of the church. business has become more difficult, In the report of a committee on as well as more interesting and im- amendments to the constitution of portant to the church.
church government, published with I intend, my dear sir, to no- several resolutions sent down to tice only two or three things more the presbyteries for concurrence,
the last Assembly have sanctioned But it is manifestly wrong to rean intimation of this fact. Thatject, or reverse a case, on which a document warrants the conclusion, righteous decision has been made that there is an increasing dissatis. by a lower court, only because, faction with the investigations and through ignorance, or mistake, some decisions of appeals and references technical informality has occurred in that body. So far as this repre- in the proceedings. sentation is true, it discloses an In all cases, tried and carried up evil to be deprecated—for which by appeal, reference, or complaint, a remedy should be sought. Its which have no informality on the tendency is to weaken the bond face, manifestly to prevent a full which connects the Presbyterian and fair investigation, I would have church. It cannot exist beyond a the Assembly act. I would have certain extent, without dissolving the merits of such cases examined the bond. My hope is, that no such substantial justice affirmed—un. disastrous event may take place in just decisions reversed—and such the Presbyterian church.
instruction, or censure, measured The secular character of the pro- to the lower court, as the character ceedings in the Assembly has been of the informality might require. observed by some, as not corres I am aware this evil is necessaponding with the high and sacred rily connected with several others responsibility, under which a court before named. In so large a body, of Jesus Christ should act. I al- with so many inexperienced minda, lude not so much to the order of pro- such diversity of views, and such ceeding, as to the spirit of debate, multiplicity of business, it often and manner of deciding questions. becomes necessary to resort strict
I am not disposed to say much ly to technical rule, as the only on this subject, only to add, there point of agreement. I have sapis sometimes great want of gravity, posed this evil furnished the go. much confusion, a contest for vic- verning inducement for the last tory, and party interests, not allied Assembly's recommendation, to to the church's good or obligation to alter the form of government so as Christ. The evil is, perhaps, inse- to stop all appeals from coming up parable from so large a body, con to that court. If this be the fact, stituted as is the General Assem- it proves the evil is seriously felt. bly. But it is of no small magni Thus I have enumerated the tude, and calculated to produce evils which appear to me the most disastrous results in the church. prominent, and which seem likely
The growing influence of techni- to increase, as long as the present calities over decisions in the As-' system of organizing the Assembly sembly, is the last evil which I shall continue. I have stated them shall mention at present. I now plainly, because they are obviously refer to the management and dis- such as ought to be removed, and position of appeals and references. such as I think can be removed. I Not a few cases of appeal, faith- state them not to injure the influfully and ably investigated in a ence or reputation of that judicalower court, have been reversed, or tory, which I love, notwithstanding rejected, on the ground of some its imperfections—but as an intechnical informality, which did ducement to examine more carenot militate at all against the fair- fully, the means of rendering that ness or justice of the decision. I body more permanently and exdo not plead for irregularity in ec- tensively useful. clesiastical judicatories, nor for the It will be my next object to exaAssembly to sanction informality. mine the remedies which have been