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tendency, is to be deeply deplored by its friends. Its meinbers, in some instances, are looking to other communions as a refuge from that injustice, which they attribute to the operation of the Presbyterian system, but which in truth could not exist, except in the widest departure from the plain principles of that system, and in open violations of the constitution of that church, as organized in this country. Independency and Congregationalism are beginning to be regarded by some, as promising, at least for a time, in their feebler power to oppress, that security which the more cautiously devised and stronger built safeguards of the Presbyterian system have failed to afford. Thus a controversy, professedly kept up to save Presbyterianism from the iproads of Congregationalism, bas probably done more to bring the former into disrepute and to extend the latter, within the usual bounds of the Presbyterian church, than all the arguments of all the writers on the subject could ever have done, if the judicatories of the church had been true to the principles of their American constitution. The controversy has apparently passed its crisis and, although many readers are but too painfully familiar with its details, still it cannot be amiss to devote a few pages to a sketch of both the ostensible and the concealed causes of the difficulty, the strange history of their action, and the present position of the parties. In thus taking a view, bowever brief, of the whole subject, it will be necessary to go back to the first organization of the church in this country, and glance at its elementary principles, at the hazard of being trite and uninteresting. The necessity will be a sufficient apology.
As in politics, so in ecclesiastical matters, our character was forming from the time of the first settlements. All along,
tory of the controversy, which, as to facts and their relations, may be relied on, and will be of permanent value to such as may wish to trace to their consequences the principles which have been urged on either side. It is, at the same time, an able defence of the constitutional principles and privileges of the Presbyterian church, as they are understood by the writer, and by those, generally, who have opposed the late divisive acts of a party claiming to be the General Assembly of that church. However much, therefore, some may dissent from these principles, we trust that all will regard it, in spirit, and in general interest and importance, as altogether worthy of the space which it here occupies, in a work wbose pages are pledged to be open, on all suitable occasions, “ to the free discussion of questions of morals ;" it being understood that these discussions shall be conducted with courtesy and candor.- ED.)
through one hundred and fifty years, the seeds were sown, which shot up into strength and beauty sixty years ago, when was adopted the now obvious principle of universal toleration -equal rights and equal protection to all,—which laid the foundation of a system of institutions, unlike anything which had before existed. The great experiment, then entered upon, of separating entirely the church from the state, and, with a noble confidence, trusting religion to those proper supports which her Almighty Protector will never fail to provide, has well justified the prophetic hopes of the men of those days.
To the prevalence of popular and republican systems of church government is to be attributed much of the success of that experiment, in the church and in the state. The Congreyational and the Presbyterian forms had included, from the beginning, almost all the sects that existed in this country, and they have always been the fast friends and steady supporters of religious and civil liberty. Indeed the principles of liberty and equality are the very principles of these organizations. Both are alike opposed to the despotism of popery and the aristocracy of prelacy. It was this, their republican nature, that led king James to say that “a Scottish presbytery as well agrees with monarchy as God and the devil ;'** and that, in the freest monarchy the world has ever seen, condemns them to a sickly and constrained existence. Congregationalism is, in its nature, democratic, trying, judging, governing, by actual assemblies of the people. In the modified form, however, in which it is generally administered in this country, it acknowledges the right of appeal to counsels mutually chosen, and, in some cases, ex-parte-counsels are allowed. Presbyterianism is a republican system, a representative government, relying upon the wisdom and goodness of men chosen by ihe people for judges and councillors, and, by its carefully provided checks, and its liberal right of appeals, acknowledges, while it guards against, the passions, the prejudices—the imperfections—of the best men. These two systems of government, alike purely ecclesiastical and not sacerdotal, and alike founded upon the principle of perfect equality of right in the members of the church, were widely in
* “The lords and the rest stood amazed at his majesty's wise discourse ; archbishop Whitgift said, undoubtedly his majesty spake by the special assistance of God's spirit. Dr. Bancroft, bishop of London, upon his knee, protested his heart melted with joy." — Barlow.
operation in this country. The Congregationalists of various sects occupied almost the whole of New England, and were sparsely scattered through the other States, at the time of the revolution. The Presbyterians - English, Scotch, French, Swiss, Dutch and German, abounded more in the Southern and Middle States. The Presbyterian church proper consisted of
. four hundred and nineteen churches, scattered through the land. It is worthy of remark that so little did the difference between the Presbyterian and Congregational forms show itself, and so free was the fellowship between the two sects, that, in common parlance, both were called Presbyterians, and they are still called so to a great extent.
From the peace to 1789 the universal mind, in this country, was busy with modelling and organizing our various governments, to adapt them to the new state of things, and it was to be expected that the same spirit would reach the churches. Accordingly the government of the Presbyterian church was reconstructed, and a system of polity adopted better fitted to the change in the institutions of the country. In 1784—5 the subject was agitated. In 1786, the larger presbyteries were divided, and in 1788 the only synod was divided into four.
In that age of written constitutions—the practical application of the idea of a social compact—that church first digested, arranged and codified the rights of its people, the principles of its government, and the forms of its ministrations. Its constitution was formed with a solemnity, and clothed with an authority, superior to the fluctuating changes of opinion, giving to all, in an acceptable form, the creative patent of “ the powers that be.” It may be observed, that in a new country, of mixed population, without precedents,-looking to no common source of opinion, a written constitution would present advantages not attainable in any other mode. And it is not the least striking evidence of the wisdom of those days, that there was not adopted any old system of government on any known form of social compact, in church or state. A mixed population might be strongly united in favor of a new system of their own making, while any old one would not fail to arouse old prejudices and kindle anew heart-burnings and strifes. Therefore, as in the state, they examined all forms of free government and compiled a system all their own; so in the Presbyterian church, they examined all protestant forms of polity, and compiled a system, presbyterian in its principles, but unlike the constitution of any other church. It bore the striking family likeness, so obvious in all the American constitutions, in their leading features, while, in detail, no two can be said to be alike. It was but an individual of another variety having the same general characteristics. It could not be otherwise, for, like them, it was the work of the chosen representatives of men whose hearts had never fainted, and whose hands had never been weary, in the discouragements and toils of the struggle for independence.
Thus a wisely constituted system of church polity should always partake of the general nature and form of the political institutions under which it is to operate, especially in popular governments, lest one of antagonizing principles, in times of exaltation, should triumph over the other. “Thus it was, that, under the eye, and with the approbation or permission of the apostles, different modes of church government prevailed in different countries. The ecclesiastical constitution which might well accord with the national sentiments and civil usages of the Christians of Syria or Persia, or the provinces of Hellenic Asia, might be altogether repugnant to the feelings of the churches of Greece proper, of Italy, Gaul, or northern Africa. That sort of superstitious, servile and despotic inflexibility, which is characteristic of the arrogant churchman of later ages, assuredly was not the temper of the first promulgators of the gospel. St. Paul, especially, had learned that high wisdom which is at once immovable in principle and compliant in circumstantials. He carried about no iron model of ecclesiastical government, from country to country.' “The liquid and convertible terms" in which the polity of the first churches is dimly and uncertainly shadowed forth in the New Testament, not by inculcation but by diversified example, only authorizes the belief that, by the agency of bishops, elders, and deacons, the churches are to be taught and governed by that system of combinations and rules which is best fitted to existing circumstances ;-bishops, ordained by the laying on of the hands of the presbyters, equal in power and rights, administering the sacraments and instructing the people, in a particular church ;-elders, chosen by the people, the equal coadjutors of the bishops in government and discipline ;-deacons, chosen by the people, to receive and distribute the alms and take care of the poor of a particular church. These are regarded by Presbyterians, as the scriptural elements of ecclesiastical organization, and their combination into various
• Spiritual Despotism.
ly constituted judicial and supervisory bodies with prescribed rights and duties, in the constitution of the presbyterian church, deserves a moment's attention in connection with this subject.
The bishop and elders of a particular church, chosen by that church, constitute the first judicatory, called the church session, which is clothed with the right of admitting new members and is charged with the duty of maintaining the spiritual government of that particular church, subject to an appeal to the presbytery.
The Presbytery is a judicatory formed of all the bishops, and one elder from each church, (chosen by the session,) in a distriet embracing several churches. This judicatory bas the original jurisdiction of licensing, ordaining and judging ministers, and of receiving new churches, and is charged with the duty of visiting the churches, deciding appeals from the sessions and reviewing their proceedings, subject, however, to appeals to the synod. All proceedings effecting the rights or standing of church members must originate in the session, and those affecting clergymen must originate in the presbytery.
The Synod is the next superior judicatory and consists of all the bishops, and an elder froin each church, in a district embracing at least three presbyteries. It is charged with the duty of erecting, uniting and dividing presbyteries, and of reviewing their decisions and proceedings, subject to an appeal to the General Assembly, which is the ultimate judicatory of the church. It is made up of bishops and elders in equal numbers, delegated by the presbyteries in their corporate capacity. To this body belongs the power of erecting synods, reviewing their decisions and proceedings, deciding controversies of doctrine and discipline, and of reproving, warning and bearing testimony against error in doctrine or immorality in practice, in any church, presbytery or synod. No one can read the constitution without seeing that its framers were well aware of the truth-so firmnly settled by the history of the past—that the tendency of power, in church as well as in state, is to abuse. “It grows by what it feeds on," and nothing can secure right and justice but established, known and wise rules of proceeding and the right of appeal. Thus the principles of discipline and the rules of proceeding, devised with singular wisdom, are carefully incorporated into the constitution, protecting the accused against the spirit of party, the blindness of prejudice and the madness of fanaticism. He is first to be heard before his neighbors, if a SECOND SERIES, VOL. I. NO. II.