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New England. It varies but little from the Unitarianism of John Milton, Samuel Clarke, and Henry Taylor. But Hengstenberg's occasional remarks are not always consistent with the general statement above quoted. He uses the language, which we have employed in stating his opinions, in regard to the angel's identifying himself with God, and being identical with the Messiah.
At any rate, whatever may be his language or his opinions, he has failed altogether to establish on any good or sufficient grounds the first of the two propositions, which, as we have seen, are involved in his argument. In our next Number we shall show that he has been equally unsuccessful in regard to the second.
G. R. N.
ART. VI. - A Sermon delivered in Worcester, January 31,
1836, by AARON BANCROFT, D. D., at the Termination of Fifty Years of his Ministry. Published by Vote of the Society. Worcester: Clarendon Harris, 1836. 8vo.
DR. BANCROFT is one of the last survivors of a class of men, whom the friends of Liberal Christianity will hold in grateful remembrance. He has uniformly, during the lapse of fifty years, maintained a high raok among those, by whose efforts and sacrifices the public mind, to a certain extent, has been delivered from the thrall of creeds and other ecclesiastical impositions, and brought into the “ glorious liberty of the sons of God.” This change, indeed, in religious opinion and feeling must sooner or later have taken place in this country, and particularly in this part of it. It was, in the nature of things, impossible, that thinking men, after the subsidence of those high-wrought emotions which were caused by the Revolutionary struggle, and when they found leisure to read and reason, and were called to free and generous speculation on all other subjects pertaining to the great interests of life, should remain satisfied with the “beggarly elements" of the popular religion of the day. Still this change, like all other
moral changes, required the agency of clear heads and stout hearts, and of a martyr spirit, that was willing to dare and do all things for conscience sake. Such men, through the good providence of God, there were; and of their number was the author of the Sermon before us. When we look back through the dim vista of somewhat more than half a century, we see him, together with Mayhew, Chauncy, Howard, Freeman, and some others like them, emerging from the surrounding darkness, illumined by the light of Christian truth above the measure of their age, -as the higher hill-tops catch and diffuse the earliest beams of the rising dawn, - carrying forward and reforming that Reformation, in this part of the world, which Luther, Melancthon, Zuinglius, with their coadjutors, achieved on the broader theatre of Europe. And it becomes us, who have entered into their labors, and are reaping continually the fruits of their firmness, discretion, and freedom of mind, to hold them in cherished respect and in honored remembrance. We should recollect, also, that they lived at a period, when denunciation was less harmless than it is now; when the cry of proscription was something more than an angry or empty noise ; when the strong-holds of exclusive religionists, with their “captains of thousands, and captains of fifties," had not, as yet, been weakened by desertion, or betrayed by the unhappy attempts of friends in their defence. Dr. Bancroft says,
“ Calvinism was the predominant faith through this section of the Commonwealth when my residence in Worcester commenced. Individual Jaymen and clergymen were known to dissent from the popular creed; and the clergy as a body at that period, I believe, were more liberal than the people to whom they ministered. Several ministers in this vicinity then thought favorably of liberal doctrines, but they expressed their opinions in qualified language, and, with a single exception, the system of Calvin was not openly attacked from the pulpit. Disputes and controversies were then frequent, but an exclusive spirit did not prevail.” — p. 5.
The exception here referred to was that of the Rev. John Rogers, “a name," as Dr. Bancroft observes, “fitted to make a man independent in his opinions, and prepared to encounter every difficulty in defence of religious truth.” He was the minister at Leominster, Worcester County, in this State. Being possessed of “intellectual power and an inquisitive spirit," and studying the New Testament more than the
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confession and covenant of his church, he was betrayed, in the year 1757, into the startling heresy of publicly preaching against the doctrine of “ Irrespective Élection.” He was not burnt, however, as his ancestor, the protomartyr, was. He was only cut off from all the sympathy and companionship of his church ; — called to encounter, at every turn, the averted looks and pious horror of former friends ; – avoided, as a sort of felon, by the great majority of those who had been his brethren in the ministry for fourteen years ; - made to suffer a thousand petty persecutions in all the walks of domestic and social life; - arraigned before a formidable council composed of fifteen churches ; - dismissed by this body from his parochial charge; -and then finally left, with this weight of ecclesiastical ignominy on bis devoted head, to find a precarious subsistence, in such a world as this, where and as he might. Whether this slow torture of moral and social martyrdom was to be preferred, in point of suffering, to the fires of Smithfield, we do not take upon ourselves to decide. But of one thing we feel quite assured, - that he should henceforth be placed by the side of that great ancestor, whose spirit as well as name he bore, and like him be ever honored for his faithful and single-minded avowal of what he believed to be the truth.
But though the Exclusive spirit, in consequence of the better light that is now diffused among the people, is deprived of much of its power to harm, it has, in the opinion of our author, greatly increased among Congregational Christians during the last fifty years. He cites as a memorable proof of this, the doings of the Convention of Congregational Ministers, who hold their annual meetings in Boston. For many years, it is well known, while liberal clergymen constituted the majority of this body, the preacher of the Annual Lecture, which was established mainly for charitable purposes, was chosen alternately from the Liberal and Orthodox class. But when the latter gained a numerical ascendency, this common courtesy, this common decency, was so far from being reciprocated, that, for several years past, no Unitarian minister has been permited to preach on an occasion, the great object of which is to raise a fund for the support of widows and minor children of deceased members of the Convention, without respect to doctrinal differences. This has been long regarded with the disgust it deserves, both as grossly discourteous and absolutely unjust, in the minds of unprejudiced men. We doubt
not that many, who continue to participate annually in this wrong-doing, and follow submissively in the leash of their leaders, are ashamed of it in their secret hearts. What account the public has taken of it is evident enough from continual decrease of the annual contribution, at the lecture, since the change was made. The average amount of this for four years
subsequent to 1816, before the system of Exclusion was carried into effect, was more than five hundred dollars. During four successive years commencing with 1832, in which this system was understood to be in force, the average of this annual contribution has sunk down to the almost nominal: sum of less than ninety dollars. It were to be wished that these Exclusive Religionists could find some way of showing their own opinion of their own infallibility and self-righteousness, which would not defeat one of the leading objects of the Convention ; and that, if they will turn a deaf ear to all the appeals of Christian Catholicism and Christian Equity, they would at least listen to the cry for the accustomed, and it may be greatly needed aid, which goes up to them from the Widows and Orphans of their deceased brethren.
The plan of Dr. Bancroft's Discourse is, first, to take a cursory review of the Ecclesiastical Transactions of the County (of Worcester,) and then to give a succinct History of the Society to which he has so long ministered.
Under the first head, he speaks of three distinct kinds of controversies which have prevailed, and which related to important principles. 1st. The prerogative of the pastor. 2d. The introduction of creeds compiled by human authority as terms of occasional communion, or of church membership. 3d. The power and right of congregational societies to dismiss a minister by their own act.
Disputes arose, as early as 1766, and were afterwards pertinaciously and angrily prosecuted, concerning the degree of power attached to the clerical office. Pastors, who had been regularly ordained, claimed not only the right of acting as moderators in all church meetings, and to be the executive officers in all the decisions of these bodies, which was conceded; but also to be a party, separate from the church, whose concurrence was necessary to the validity of its acts, and whose veto nullified all its proceedings. These prerogatives of the pastoral office were generally asserted by the clergy, as absolutely necessary to the due exercise of their
function, and were as generally resisted by the laity. It would have required no deep spirit of prophecy, to foresee the result of this contest. Men, who freely put their lives into their hands, and were always ready to go out and do battle with every body, and every thing, that infringed their civil rights, were not likely to go home and crouch down quietly under such an ecclesiastical yoke as this. Of course they prevailed. Attempted usurpation in this respect resulted, as it always will and always must ultimately result, in the successful assertion of inherent and indefeasible rights. Indeed at this day, when clergymen ask and receive scarcely any immunities of office, and when even their claims to personal influence are watched with sufficient jealousy, and are accurately enough scanned, this assertion of prerogative, on the part of our older clergy, strikes us as one of the marvels of their day.
An account of creeds as connected with occasional communion or church membership, in Worcester county, is next briefly given. But the history of these is the same all the world over. Arising in a vital mistake respecting the nature of human assent or belief, they can only be enforced by a series of inroads upon the inalienable rights of conscience. These produce a reaction, and thence ensue alienation, discord, batred, and war, with all its associated and continually increasing train of dreadful evils and horrid sins. There are some home-put remarks, and rather searching queries of Dr. Bancroft on this part of his Discourse, — particularly those respecting the identity of the Calvinism of the Pilgrim fathers, and the Calvinism of those, who at the present day claim to be their exclusively legitimate sons, whether Professors of Colleges or not. These we recommend to the docile attention of all creed-makers, creed-imposers, and creed-receivers, here and elsewhere. The following dilemma, too, seems to admit of no resting-place between its sharp and wide-spreading horns :-“Articles of faith established by human authority cannot on any ground be defended. If these be discordant with revealed truth, they clearly ought to be rejected; if perfectly agreeable to Scripture, they are useless.
True or false, the attempt authoritatively to support them is usurpation."
The last class of controversies adverted to in the Discourse before us, were those occasioned by questions concerning the power of a church or parish to dismiss their minister. We