Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

much of his influence, and when he asked for a dismission, a majority heard of it with pleasure, and willingly voted for his dismission in the belief that a successor might be ordained who would be more useful, because his opinions would be more compatible with their own.

Under these circumstances, the Rev. Alvan Lamson became a candidate for the ministry. After the usual delay he was on the thirty-first day of August 1818, elected by the parish a successor to Dr. Bates, by a majority of eightty-one to forty-four. The church refused to concur in this election by a majority of seventeen to fifteen.* The parish having received Mr. Lamson's acceptance without the concurrence of the church, caused a council to be convened on the twenty-eighth day of October following, for the purpose of ordaining him.

of ordaining him. A council composed of the pastors and delegates of thirteen churches, met on that day at Dedham. At that time judge Haven appeared before the council and read a protest against any further proceeding. The protest was a lengthy document explaining the usage of the churches, and showing wherein the proposed ordination would be a departure from it. The council on the first day examined evidences in relation to the charges in the protest. The second day it published its result, which was a determination to proceed in the ordination. The result in explanation of the views of the council, asserts that it considered the ancient usage as wise and beneficial, but a different state of society, and different laws may be a sufficient reason for departing from it in some cases, particularly when it is believed that a strict adherence to it will tend to create or increase divisions. The spirit and end of the usage, rather than the letter of it, is to be consulted. The constitution secures to every religious society, the right of choosing its own religious teacher, and the laws enjoin the duty of doing so. The council believe that each body, the parish and the

Although the vote of the church on the question of choosing Mr. Lamson is correctly stated above, yet it should be further stated that the church connected with the parish, have always maintained that they had a majority of all the church members including those who voted, and those who did noi vote on account of their relation with other churches not having been regularly transferred; this fact was not and could not be a point in the lawsuit. It should be further stated that although the first parish church is in a legal sense the first church, and may be so called in this account, yet that portion which constituted the majority on the thirty-first day of August 1818, and which afterwards left the first parish have ever claimed to be the first church in all ecclesiastical proceedings, and is so styled by its friends.

church have a right to choose a religious teacher. This right is secured to the parish by the principles of congregational polity, and the state constitution, and when it decides for itself that it is expedient to proceed, without the concurrence of the church, the council ought not to deny their request. On the twenty-ninth day of October, Mr. Lamson was ordained over the first parish.

The majority of the church, including the two deacons, and a minority of the parish, who were dissatisfied with these proceedings, caused another council to be convened at Dedham on the 18th day of November succeeding, composed of the pastors and delegates of sixteen neighbouring churches, for the purpose of advising the persons who requested it. This council sat two days, reviewed all the proceedings in Mr. Lamson's ordination, and communicated the result of their deliberation, a part of which is in these words. “In the settlement of a minister in the first church and parish, the council discover in the measures pursued, the want of such a spirit of condescension, as seems best adapted to produce and preserve unity and peace. It appears that the parish in opposition to the wishes of the church, have proceeded to settle a public teacher of religion and morality, not in accordance with the accustomed and pacific proceedings of congregational churches in New-England, nor in the judgment of this council, was this one of those cases of necessity, which in the opinion of some would justify such a procedure.” The council gave no definite advice to those who requested it.

The church united to the parish on the 15th day of November 1913, elected Mr. Lamson their pastor. Deacon Fales did not attend Mr. Lamson's meeting after his ordination. November 13, 1813, deacon Swan died. March 15, 1819, deacon Jonathan Richards resigned his office, and on the same day the vacant offices were filled by the election of deacon Eliphalet Baker and deacon Luther Richards. That portion of the church which seceded, claimed to be the first church, and in that capacity claimed the ample funds which had been long accumulating; In consequence of this claim a law suit of great interest and importance arose, in which the first Parish, and the church connected with it, were one party, and the seceding members the other, although the nominal parties in court were the deacons of the two churches after their division. The principal questions involved in this suit were argued at Dedham, October, 1820, by eminent council, and the opinion of the court delivered in March following, at Boston, by the Chief Justice.*

The opinion of the court is fortified by a long and full argument, and decides the principal question agitated in the case, that where the majority of a congregational church, separate from the majority of the parish, the membesr who remain, although a minority,constitute the church in such parish, and retain the rights and property belonging thereto. The court in one word supported the council which ordained Mr. Lamson, on the ground it assumed, and stated at much length the usage of congregational churches, its variations from time to time, by alterations of the laws, and finally by the constitution of the State, and the principles of religious liberty. The deacons of the first church (for that was the title which the Supreme Court gave to that portion which united with the parish,) assumed the same controul over the funds that was exercised by former deacons. Both parties in the suit agreed that the funds belonged to the first church, and the principal question was, which party constituted the first church ? Considerable asperity of feeling was excited by these proceedings, but we live so near the time in which they happened, that it is improper to inquire who contributed most to such an effect, and it is not consistent with my design, which is to give a simple narration of facts, without any comment thereon. Justice, however, requires the statement of this fact, that before Mr. Lamson had been invited into the parish, it was really divided by religious opinion and strong aversions, arising from numerous other causes, and that after he became a candidate for the ministry, his opposers did not urge any objections against his moral or professional qualifications. The opposition to him therefore arose from diversity of sentiments.

I have collected this concise account from the pamphlet containing a statement of the proceedings of the first council : judge Haven's pamphlet giving a minute detail of some events, in connection with the ordination ; particularly of the doings of the second council ; and from the report of the lawsuit to which the reader may be

* 16 Mass. Reports, 488.

referred to, if he desires a more full statement. It has generally been supposed that the real and principal cause of this controversy, was a difference of opinion on some points of theology, much disputed at the present day; particularly the doctrine of the trinity. In this view of it, the christian community at large has taken no ordinary interest in its origin and progress. The circumstance that each party here was supposed to be connected with a greater party, extending throughout the country, had a strong tendency to strengthen the spirit of religious faction. But it is my pleasing task to record a quite different result. They who a few years ago strenuously opposed each other, are now good and kind neighbours, and think not of any other triumph, excepting that which flows from proving the soundness of their faith by the innocence of their lives. By what cause it may be inquired, has an effect so unusual in religious controversy been produced ? It is the influence of American principles respecting the rights of conscience, which are embodied in the constitution and approved by society, which has prevented the evils, which otherwise may have arisen. There are many powerful propensities in the human heart to intolerance, but the reasons, on which religious liberty is founded, are constantly supplying society with an antidote for that evil, still more powerful and steady in its operation.

If in an evil hour, the two parties, which now contend with commendable moderation for their doctrines, should in their zeal forget the spirit they are of, let them hear a christian father and philosopher, who described the effects of the Arian and Trinitarian controversy in the fourth century. It is a thing, says Hilary, equally deplorable and dangerous, that there are as many creeds as opinions among men, as many doctrines as inclinations, and as many sources of blasphemy, as there are faults among us, because we make creeds arbitrarily, and explain them as arbitrarily. The Homoousion is rejected and received and explained away by successive synods. The partial or total resemblance of the Father and of the Son is a subject of dispute for these unhappy times. Every year, nay every moon, we make new creeds to describe invisible mysteries. We repent of what we have done, we defend those who repent. We anathematize those whom we defended. We condemn either the doctrine of others in ourselves, or our own in that of others, and reciprocally tearing one another to pieces. We have been the cause of each others ruin."*

The second parish was incorporated in November, 1730, including at that time, the inhabitants in the west part of the town, who were in January, 1736, incorporated into another society, called the third parish. The land in these parishes is certainly as good as that in the first parish, and some of it much better. Why, it may be inquired, was a hundred years suffered to elapse, before this part of the town was fully settled? Why did those who removed from the village prefer to go to a greater distance, even to Deerfield, rather than settle on good land nearer home? The cause of this is discovered in the policy of the inhabitants, which compelled them at that time, to live in a compact village, and in the spirit of the times, which led the most enterprising to seek large quantities of land in the wilderness, which trait of character, Roger Williams called a depraved appetite, and the gud of New England. The inhabitants of these two parishes, intending to form one religious society, erected a house for public worship, in a place best calculated to accommodate them. But after meeting in it for sometime, it was abandoned, for the local situation of the two parishes did not conveniently admit of their union. In June, 1736, the reverend Thomas Balch was ordained in the second parish. He died in the thirtyeighth year of his ministry. His successor in office was the reverend Jabez Chickering, who was ordained July, 1776, and continued therein until his death, in March, 1812. The successful labours of these two ministers, in a period of seventy-five years, were productive of peace. No quarrel or discord is known to have existed, worthy of notice. A more unequivocal evidence of their merit, and of the religious and good moral habits of their people cannot be given. Both of these gentlemen were respected by their people and professional brethren. The present minister of that parish, the reverend William Cogswell, was ordained April 26, 1815. In June, 1816, he published a sermon in which he stated minutely the history of his church, which renders it superfluous and improper for me

* Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 3 vol. 4.

« AnteriorContinua »