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His Dismission from Northampton, with the Occa
sion and Circumstances of it.
WHATEVER belongs to man, or more correctly, whatever is properly his own, bears the mark of mutability. Mr. Edwards’s labors at Northampton were crowned, at different periods of his ministry there, with eminent success. Joot of bitterness sprung up, and many were defiled. The transactions contained in this chapter, though unpleasant, may afford, to a serious and reflecting mind, much instruction. If that people were more depraved than Christian churches in common, after enjoying for so long a period the stated instructions and prayers of so eminent a pastor; how great the depravity of human nature, to be capable of such ingratitude and such a reverse ! Thus it was with Ephraim of old; “When I would," saith God, “have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness (or, the evils) of Samaria." But if the people in question were no more depraved than ourselves, let us learn caution, and beware of unreasonable and inordinate attachment to customs....let us contemplate with proper emotions the instability of all human affairs....the folly and danger of trusting in man....and remember that we depend on God for the preservation of the closest friendships....and that the best ministers, without the continued supply of the Holy Spirit on the minds of their people, have no sureinterestin their affections; people, to whom they have been most useful, and who were long most attached to them.... Human nature has occasionally shewn itself in every age to be the same. After the most extraordinary manifestation of divine power and goodness, “ The whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And after the most awful and impressive instructions, the Lord had to say to Moses, “ Go, get thee down ; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.”
For many years, Mr. Edwards was very happy in the love and esteem of his people, and there was during that period the greatest prospect of his living and dying so. Indeed he was almost the last minster in all Newengland that would have been thought likely to be opposed by his people. But the event proved, how incompetent we are to decipher those consequences which depend on human volitions.... In the year 1744, about six years before the final rupture, Mr. Edwards was informed that some young persons in town who were members of the church, had books in their possession which they employed to promote lascivious and obscene discourse among the young people. Upon inquiry, a number of per. sons testified, that they had heard one and another, from time to time, talk obscenely ; as what they were led to by reading a book or books, which they had among them. Mr. Edwards thought the brethren of the church ought to look into the matter; and in order to introduce it, he preached a sermon from Heb. xii. 15, 16. “ Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled: Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person as Esau, &c.” After sermon, he desired the brethren of the church to stay, and told them what information he had got; and proposed, whether they thought proper to take any measures to examine into the matter. They with one consent, and much zeal, manifested it to be their opinion, that it ought to be inquired into ; and proceeded to choose a number of men, to assist their pastor in examining into the affair. Upon which Mr. Edwards appointed the time for their meeting at his house, and then read a catalogue of the names of young persons, whom he desired to come to his house at the same time. Some were the accused, and some witnesses ; but it was not then declared of which number any particular person was.
When the names were published, it appeared that there were but few of the considerable families in the town, to which some of the persons named did not belong, or were nearly related. Whether this was the occasion of the alter: ation or not, before the day appointed came, however, a great number of heads of families altered their minds, and declared, that they did not think proper to proceed as they had done ; that their children should not be called to an account in such a way, &c. The town was suddenly all in a blaze. This strengthened the hands of the accused, some refused to appear, and others who did appear behaved with a great degree of insolence, and contempt of the authority of the church. And little or nothing could be done further in the affair.
This was the occasion of weakening Mr. Edwards's hands in the work of the ministry, especially among the young people, with whom by this means he greatly lost his influence. It doubtless laid a foundation, and will help to account for the surprising events which will be related. He certainly had no great visible success after this ; the influences of God's Holy Spirit were greatly withheld, and security and carnality much increased.*
Mr. Stoddard, Mr. Edwards's grandfather and predecessor, was of the opinion, that unconverted persons, considered as such, had a right in the sight of God, or by his appointment, to the sacrament of the Lord's supper ; that therefore it was their duty to come to that ordinance, though they knew they had no true goodness, or gospel holiness. He maintained, that visible Christianity does not consist in a profession or appearance of that wherein true holiness or real Christianity consists : That therefore, the profession which persons make in order to be received as visible members of Christ's church, ought not to be such as to express or imply a real compliance with, or consent to the terms of the covenant of grace, or a hearty embracing of the gospel. He formed a
* What an awful warning to all professors, and especially to young people! Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! Little do the giddy and the gay think how their levities operate, and what seeds of distress and sorrow they are sowing for themselves and others. Woe unto you that thus laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep! How desirable it should be pene tentially here, and not despairingly hereafter !
Short profession for persons to make, in order to be admitted into the church, answerable to this principle'; and accordingly persons were admitted into the church, and to the sacrament, on those terms. Mr. Stoddard's principle at first made a great noise in the country ; and he was opposed, as introducing something contrary to the principles and practice of almost all the churches in Newengland: And the matter was publicly controverted between him and Dr. Increase Mather of Boston. However, through Mr. Stoddard's great influence over the people at Northampton, it was introduced there, though not without opposition ; by degrees it spread very much among
ministers and people in that county, and in other parts of Newengland. Mr. Edwards had some hesitation about this matter when he first settled at Northampton, but did not receive such a degree of conviction, as to prevent his adopting it with a good conscience, for some years. But at length his doubts increased, which put him upon examining it thoroughly, by searching the scripture, and reading such books as were written on the subject. The result was a full conviction that it was wrong, and that he could not retain the practice with a good conscience. He was fully convinced, that to be a visible Christian was to put on the visibility or ap. pearance of a real Christian ; that the profession of Christianity was a profession of that wherein real Christianity consists; and therefore that no person who rejected Cňrist in his heart, could make such a profession consistent with truth. And as the ordinance of the Lord's supper was instituted for none but visible professing Christians, none but those who are real Christians have a right in the sight of God to come to that ordinance : And consequently that none ought to be admitted thereto, who do not make a profession of real Christianity, and so be received in a judgment of charity as true friends to Jesus Christ.
When Mr. Edwards's sentiments were known, (in the spring of the year 1744) it gave great offence, and the town was put into a great ferment : And before he was heard in his own defence, or it was known by many what his principles were, the general cry was to have him dismissed, as what VOL. I.
alone would satisfy them. This was evident from the whole tenor of their conduct, as they neglected the most proper means of understanding the matter in dispute, and persisted in a refusal to attend to what Mr. Edwards had to say in defence of his principles. From beginning to end, they opposed the measures which had the best tendency to compromise and heal the difficulty; and with much zeal pursued those which were calculated to make a separation certain and speedy. He thought of preaching on the subject, that they might know what were his sentiments, and the grounds of them, (of both which he was sensible that most of them were quite ignorant) before they took any step for a separation..... But that he might do nothing to increase the tumult, he first proposed the thing to the church's standing committee ; supposing that if he entered on the subject publicly with their consent, it would prevent the ill consequences which other. wise he feared would follow. But the most of them "strenyously opposed it. Upon which he gave it over for the present, as what in such circumstances would rather blow up the fire to a greater height, than answer the good ends proposed.
Mr. Edwards was sensible that his principles were not understood, but misrepresented through the country ; and finding that his people were then too warm calmly to attend to the matter in controversy, he proposed to print what he had to say on the point; as this seemed to be the only way teft him to have a fair hearing. Accordingly his people consented to put off calling a council, till what he should write was published. But they manifested great uneasiness in waiting, before it came out of the press; and when it was published, it was read but by very few of them. Mr. Edwards being sensible of this, renewed his proposal to preach upon it, and at a meeting of the brethren of the church asked their consent in the following terms: “I desire that the brethren would manifest their consent, that I should declare the reasons of my opinion relating to full communion in the church, in lectures appointed for that end : Not as an act of authority, or as putting the power of declaring the whole counsel of God