תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

quoad hoc,” they are not Presbyterians. They have erected a new tribunal, unknown to their standards; and before this voluntary and irresponsible association, they arraign all delinquents, whether the peccant general assembly, or ministers suspected of heresy. And who constitute the new presbyterial court? The answer may be given in their own words,4" The ministers, elders, and private members of the Presbyterian church of the United States." Are not these "jure divinoPresbyterians in some danger of falling into the much-dreaded vortex of Congregationalism ? To this new tribunal they appeal, from “the supreme judicatory” of their church. And yet these brethren love "the good old way,” and dread innovation! And this ground they have assumed, deliberately and systematically, throughout this whole document. In the face of the constitution of their church, they have called a convention to be held at Pittsburgh, on the second Thursday of May, 1835. Here, again, is an alarming stride towards Congregationalism. This is an ex parte council, called in direct contravention of the principles of presbyterial government. This convention is neither church-session, presbytery, synod, nor general assembly; and yet, it is intended to act upon, control, and overrule, the established tribunals of their church, not excepting “the highest judicatory,” the last court of appeal and revision. This is nullification. This, so far as these persons are concerned, is a dissolution of the ecclesiastical compact. And, as if to render this act of dismemberment, in one of the most prosperous and efficient of the Protestant churches, the more prominent and noticeable, the convention is to take place on the very day when our American christendom, (Roman Catholics, and the exclusive orthodox in the Presbyterian church, excepted,) are to convene, in the city of New-York, for the purpose of giving the bible to the world.

But enough has been said, to show the attitude in which these brethren have presented themselves before the public, with the “Act and Testimony” as their substratum. In connection, however, with this work of prostrating their own forms of church government, and of introducing others, alien to the genius of the constitution, they make certain declarations, which I wonder they had not, for consistency's sake, suppressed. I refer to those strong and reiterated professions of attachment to the constitution of the Presbyterian church, with which the “ Act and Testimony" abounds. The subscribers of this document avow their fixed adherence” 10 their standardsof ecclesiastical “ORDER;" while the very document in which they make this profession, is, both in essence and action, at war with the whole system. They acquit themselves of all responsibility, for the subversion of FORMS publicly and repeatedly approved ;" while they are subverting those

very "forms” themselves. They tell us, that they are laboring for the restoration of “scriptural order” to their church; and yet, they attempt that reformation by means which contravene their own notions of ecclesiastical organization. They intend, if possible, to exclude from the church, those who “subvert her established forms ;” and yet, in compassing this end, they themselves perpetrate the act of subversion. If they have no task more herculean to perform, than to exclude subverters of Presbyterian forms of church government, they can accomplish their favorite purpose, by a single volition. They have only to lift the flag of secession, and call the “ Act and Testimony” men around it, and the gigantic work is done, and the mighty agony is over. They believe, that the form of government of the Presbyterian churchaccords with the will of God, and deprecate every thing, that changes its essential character;" while, in their practice, they are fast verging to Congregationalism,-a form of government at which they almost instinctively shudder. « Some of them (the reputed writer is probably not of this number, as he is rather a recent convert to the gospel,) have “ longbeen jealous of the growing " spirit of indifference to the peculiarities” of their “CHURCH ORDER;" and now they have suddenly lost all their jealousy on this point, and have commenced the work of battering down all these peculiarities,” with their own engines. They have deploredthe ingrafting of new principles and practices" upon their " church constitution," when this operation was performed by others; but now, when occasion seems to require the introduction of a scion of foreign growth, they can ingrast among these native presbyterial branches, consisting of church-sessions, presbyteries, synods, and general assemblies, a congregational ex parte council,—to wit, the Pittsburgh convention. They fully believe the orthodoxy of the church can be restored in no other way, than by a “strict and faithful adherence" to their form of government; and yet, more adventurous than the boldest experimenters, they are endeavoring to prove their own theory fallacious, by attempting to accomplish this object by other means. They do love the constitution" of their church,“ in word," if not " in deed;" they “venerate its peculiarities, because they exhibit the rules by which God intends the affairs of his church on earth to be conducted”; but, as the “peculiarities” of this organization, embracing no other tribunals, advisory or compulsive, than churchsessions, presbyteries, synods, and a general assembly, do not quite answer their revolutionary movements, they intend to reguJate the affairs of the church, at least till things assume a better posture, by another system.

But it may be alledged, that these brethren have been compelled, by the pressure of circumstances, to adopt this extraordinary course. On this point, let them speak for themselves.

'From the highest judicatory of our church, we have, for several years in succession, sought the redress of our grievances, and have not only sought in vain, but with an aggravation of the evils of which we have complained. Whither, then, can we look for relief, but, first, to him who is made head over all things, to the church, which is his body, and then to you, as constituting a part of that body, and as instruments in bis hand, to deliver the church from the oppression which she sorely feels ?'

Here the fact, that they do appeal from the general assembly, 10 “the ministers, elders, and private members” of the church, from the majority to the minority, from the whole to "a part,is admitted ; and they attempt to justify this measure.

Their disappointments and oppressions have driven them to it. Two inquiries may here be instituted. The first is, Have these brethren sought redress in a constiutional manner? And if so, and they have failed, are they justified in taking the position assumed in this “ Act and Testimony”? In relation to the first poini, a few remarks may suftice. Their ministers and elders say, that there are many heretics in their church, and the general assembly is disposed to shield them from justice. They have made many efforts to exclude them from the church, but they have not been able. But how have they done this? Have they obeyed the rule prescribed by Jesus Christ, and recorded Mait. xviii. 15–17? Have they adopted the course pointed out in their own book of discipline? Look at the two cases which have called forth from these brethren the most bitter complaints, and see whether their charges can be sustained. The first is the case of the Rev. Mr. Barnes. Was that a simple, straight-forward prosecution for heresy? Far from it. It was an indictment of a book; and before the case reached the assembly, it was incumbered with a multiiude of constitutional questions, which greatly embarrassed a decision. And this was the fault of his opponents, who ought to have had the magnanimity to become, in a direct sense, his prosecutors. These are the persons who introduced the novelty, and, if you please, absurdity, of arraigning and trying a book, when the author was under their jurisdiction, and when they intended the judgment in the case should fall upon the mari, and not upon his work. This procedure cannot claim the merit of consistency, which characterizes the course adopted by the Pope of Rome. He, too, institutes process against heretical books, and if they are found guilty, he burns them. This is as it should be. But to try a book, and punish a man, is an absurdity of which his Holiness bas not been guilty. It may be farther remarked, that the case of Mr. Barnes was fully and fairly acted upon by the assembly. It was submitted, by the consent of both parties, to a committee; and the report of that committee was adopted, with great unanimity, by the assembly. Was there any cause of complaint here? Certainly none. The other case, (if case it may be called,) is the famous Western Memorial. This instrument, which was intended to reach certain persons charged with heresy, is a twin sister, in character, to the prosecution mentioned above, though born somewhat later. Here was another attempt to affect the character and standing of ministers, under their own jurisdiction, indirectly,—to impeach their orthodoxy, in circumstances in which they could have no opportunity to answer for themselves. If Barnes, Beecher, Beman, and Duffield, have published heresies, why not try the men, and make use of their printed works, in order to convict them; and not resort to a mode of attack, in which the accused has no alternative left, but silence and submission ? This is injustice in the extreme. It is downright circumvention. In the Presbyterien church, it is unconstitutional. In any government, it would be oppressive and tyrannical. Till regular process has been instituted, it is with an ill grace, indeed, that ministers and elders in the Presbyterian church complain, that they cannot obtain justice at the bar of the general assembly. Till this is done, they have no moral or legal right, to circulate the names of ministers, in good standing in their presbyteries, in newspapers, and other public journals, in connection with charges, which, if true, would depose them from the ministry. This, in the judgment of both earth and heaven, is slander. The bible, and the common-sense of mankind, long before our day, have settled this question. So much for the allegations of this “ Act and Testimony," against the general assembly.

But, suppose the charge were true, to the full extent in which it is preferred: what then? Would that fact justify the position taken by these brethren, in the document under consideration ? The answer must be —No. These gentlemen cannot denounce the acts of “the hightest judicatory” of the Presbyterian church, and, at the same time, remain members in good and regular standing in that church. This would be the end of all compact, and all law. Have they no remedy then ? Must they acquiesce in decisions which they believe to be unconstitutional ? Must they be governed by heretics ? The answer is easy. They may remain in the church, and labor to effect a reformation, in accordance with their constitutional forms, or they may throw themselves upon the events of a revolution. Selecting the former course, they have no right to do what they have done ; choosing the latter, their first step should be, to secede, and form a church organization for themselves. But, doing neither one nor the other, and, at the same time, a little of both,-lifting the flag of revolution, and planting themselves within the battlements of the church,-has not a parallel since the memory of man. These brethren are certainly reformers of a peculiar stamp. So did not Luther and Calvin, whom they profess to imitate. They denounced the existing authorities and decisions of the church ; but they remained no longer in its bosom. So did not our revolutionary fathers. They resisted the oppressions of the mother government; but they declared themselves independent, and reared a structure of their own. But here is a new thing for the world to look at.

Here are men, who neither submit to their own ecclesiastical government, nor secede from it. But enough, and more than enough, has been said on this point. I will only add, that in reading this document, I cannot resist the conviction, that it was originally intended as a manifesto of revolution and secession ; and that the connection of its subscribers with the Presbyterian church, has been preserved only by means of a few shreds of qualifications, which have been attached by way of amendment.

2. Some of the charges of heresy, embodied in the “ Act and Testimony," relate to sentiments which no one has avowed. This production specifies seven errors in doctrine, which are affirmed to be " held and taught by many persons” in the Presbyterian church. Four of these, it may easily be proved, form no part of the creed of those who are charged with heresy; and the remaining three are mere theological caricatures. Agreeably to this classification, the four points, viz., “our relation to Adam,' regeneration," “divine influence," and " atonement,” belong to the present head of discussion: the other three, to wit, “ native depravity,” “imputation,” and “ ability,” will be considered hereafter. Take one of these specifications.

• ERRORS.' 1. Our relation to Adam. That we have no more to do with the first sin of Adam, than with the sins of

any

other parent.' It would have been a most desirable piece of information, if the gentlemen protesting against this error, had told us where, and when, and by whom, it had been “held and taught.” They certainly ought to know. Have any of those brethren who have been most bitterly accused of heresy, in the Presbyterian church, preached or published this sentiment? Such a charge cannot be supported; and to say, that it is slanderous, is to say somewhat less than it merits. The Rev. Mr. Duffield certainly does not hold and teach the error here recorded. We have his express disclaimer, in the following terms :

Our relation to Adam : That so far from believing, “ that we have no more to do with the first sin of Adam, than with the sins of any other parent,” we believe, that Adam was the representative of our race ; that

« הקודםהמשך »