Imatges de pàgina

enhance the value of the smallest act of kindess; and while we make others happy, to the best of our little ability, find, according to tbe words of the Lord Jesus, how much more blessed it is to give than to receive. Philadelphia.




My purpose in these pages is to present to view the ecclesiastical features of former generations in this Commonwealth, to mark the signs of the present day, and to suggest a remedy for existing evils.

The great object of the original settlers of our Commonwealth was to secure to themselves the blessings of civil and religious liberty. To this end, they erected guards against the encroachment of government on their personal rights, and against a restriction of conscience by an ecclesiastical hierarchy, under which they had suffered in Europe. By their institutions and laws, they aimed to perpetuate freedom and independence in church and state, on republican principles in the civil department, and the congregational form in the ecclesiastical. Though church and state were intimately associated, yet care was taken that they respectively, to whom the management of things belonging to Cæsar and to God was committed, should not fatally interfere. General toleration was then neither understood nor thought of.

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On this general system, churches were gathered and ministers ordained. Parishes very generally were bounded by Geographical lines, and no individual could change his society, or exonerate himself from his parish tax but by a special act of the Legislature. Still Christian disciples walked as men, contentions in Churches were not unfrequent, and ministers were often dismissed.

In the earlier periods of the Colony, all power was vested in the Church. An individual, who was not a communicant, was not acknowledged as a freeman, nor permitted to exercise the right of suffrage. Under the Provincial system, in the settlement of a minister, the Church nominated, but the concurrence of the congregation was necessary to make their act valid ; but this right of the congregation was not perfect; when the Church felt themselves aggrieved by the non-concurrence of the Congregation, they were permitted to call in an Ecclesiastical Council, by whose advice the candidate was ordained, and the Parish was obliged to

support him.

Congregational Churches were not greatly agitated till the time of Whitefield. A warm dispute then arose respecting regeneration, divine influence, and the lawfulness and expediency of holding religious exercises in a parish in opposition to the will of an established minister. The excitements then produced, have not yet subsided.

Seventy years ago, Calvinism was the prevailing system of theology in our Commonwealth. A respectable number indeed of Laymen and of the Clergy were known to dissent from the popular creed, and

against these strong prejudices existed. Questions on points of doctrine were discussed, but an exclusive spirit was not manifested; Congregational ministers freely interchanged pulpits; and churches as freely admitted each other's members to their communion. The majority of ministers denominated Calvinistic, either held the doctrines peculiar to this system in a limited sense, or preached them with reservation. The redeeming spirit of our religion in its genuine influence plainly appeared, and the acknowledged truths and uncontroverted principles of the gospel produced in society effects extensive and salutary. The clergy as a body were then, I believe, more liberal than the congregations to which they ministered.

The publication of Hopkin's system of Divinity from the pulpit and the press produced a marked change in our christian community. Moderate Calvinists, particularly clergymen, with severity condemned it ; they stigmatized it, The New Divinity. In respect to some of their peculiar opinions, Hopkinsians perhaps have done little more than to carry the principles of Calvin into their logical consequences; these consequences many denied; but the dispute occasioned a lasting division among christian professors. Some adopted Hopkinsian views in their full extent ; others, convinced that they could not consistently admit these principles, refused assent to positions relating to the character and government of God from which their minds and hearts recoiled, discarded the Calvinistic system, and classed themselves with christians, who had been denominated Arminians. To this dispute we may look as the origin of the two grand divisions of Christian disciples, the Liberal and the Orthodox; and from this source trace the rise and progress of the exclusive spirit.

While the Colonies were earnestly contending with the parent country for their civil rights, a singular controversy arose between individual ministers and their churches about the prerogative of the clerical office. A small number of ministers claimed the power to negative the vote of the church. Some drew a comparison between the polity of congregational societies, and the civil government of Great Britain. The Congregation represent the House of Commons in Parliament, Communicants hold the place of the House of Lords, and the Pastor fills the office of the King. Men, who stood prepared to hazard property and life in defence of civil freedom, were not disposed to yield to the arbitrary demands of a spiritual guide. The ecclesiastical as well as the civil controversy ended in the establishment of popular rights.

What are the signs ot the present day? It will not be denied that a spirit highly sectarian is prevalent. One class of christians take to themselves the title orthodox ; they possess the truth; they feel authorised to censure all who differ from them; and as though they were divinely empowered to exercise an intolerant spirit, they are indignant when their want of charity is exposed, and their assaults are repelled. They declare that a flame is now smothered in their souls, and a fire is kindling in their breasts. What are these smothered feelings, which their actions are too mild to express ? They have attempted, unsuccessfully indeed, but they have attempted to erect a spiritual jurisdiction over us ; they refuse to hold fellowship with us ; yea, they deny us the Christian name. What effects, then,

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are we to expect, when the fire now kindling in secret shall burn into open flame?

The fruits of contention we know. Our societies are dividing, and our means to support the public institutions of the gospel, must thereby be diminished. It is time that a remedy was applied to existing evils.

In endeavors so important and arduous, we ought seriously to consider what is lawful to attempt, and what means we possess to accomplish a lawful purpose.

Our civil government has placed all denominations of Christians on the floor of equality. Through every department, the test for appointment to office is a qualification in the candidate for the duties to be performed, and not peculiarity of religious opinion. In our judicial administrations, no candid mind will deny, that the beam of justice is holden with an equal hand towards all sects. Thus far our situation is most favorable.

It is unlawful for us to invade the religious liberty of any Christian. The rights of conscience are sacred and unalienable. No man may take them from his brother; no man may himself resign them; for their exercise all men are accountable at the tribunal of God, and only at the tribunal of God. We may try principles, but we may not condemn the persons of those, who hold principles which we deem erro


One lawful and efficient means to correct error and remedy evil, is the diffusion of christian knowledge. Great is the power of truth, and it will prevail; but to this end, it must be presented to the mind in its native beauty, and addressed to the heart in its divine

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