Page images
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]




Dr. Morse's Report to the General Association of Massachusetts, from the

Panoplist of August, 1815..




[ocr errors][merged small]

From the PANOPLIST, August, 1815. Volume eleventh, p. 357.




The Rev. Joseph Lyman, D.D. was chosen Moderator, and the Rev. James Murdock, and the Rev. Joho Codman, were chosen Seribes.

The members next presented their credentials.

Thursday morning, June 29th, 8 A.M. met according to adjournment. After prayer took up the business assigned to this bour.

Voted, to go into a free discussion of the subject of the following motion : " That the Report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the listory of an original MS. Document, &c. be printed, and copies sent to the several Associations in our connexion, for the purpose of ascertaining the publick sentiments respecting the plan of ec. clesiastical order therein presented, and that the subject be called up at the next meeting of the General Association." After the discussion, the motion was passed into a vote, and Messrs. Morse, Codman and Woods, appointed a Committee for publishing the above mentioned Report, with instructions to print it in connexion with the preceding vote.


The Committee of the General Association of Massachusetts Proper,

appointed at their last annual meeting at Dorchester, "to inquire into the history of an original MS. document,* found among the papers of Rev. Dr. Cotton MATHER, contaip ng an answer to the question, •What further steps are to be taken, that Councils may have their due constitution and efficacy in supporting, preserving, and well ordering, the interest of the Churches in the country ? And particularly to ascertain, whether the resolves it contains were carried into execution at the time, and to what extent ; and to report at the next annual meeting of this Association, on the expediency of a recommendation of this body, of the plan of discipline there proposed, either entire, or with alterations and amendments, to the consideration of the Associations and churches in our connexion,'"-have attended deliberately and prayerfully to the weighty and very important business committed to them, and respectfully submit the following

REPORT. THE history of the Document aboved escribed, other than what is contained in the published minutes of the last mt ating of the General Association,t so far as your Committee have been able to ascertain it, is summarily as follows : Shortly after it had received the sanction of the Convention of Ministers in Massachusetts at their annual meeting in May, 1706, this Document was published by the Rev. JOHN Wise,

* This Document may be found in the Panoplist for July 1814, p. 320. if See Panoplist before quoted..

[ocr errors]

of Ipswich, in a work entitled “ The Churches' Quarrel Espoused."** The signatures, and the fact that the Proposals received the approbation of the Convention of Ministers, were omitted by Mr. Wise, in his publication, and appeared in print for the first time, in the Minutes of this Association.

The Proposals embraced under the first Division, recommending the formation of Associations, and suggesting their appropriate duties, it appears were so far regarded, as that twenty years after; “ the country was full of Assoeiations, formed by the pastors in their several vicinities, for the prosecution of evangelical purposes.'

*** The Proposals under the second Division, recommending the Consociation of the pastors and Churches, and forming them into standing ecclesiastical Coun-cils, for certain purposes therein stated, were (as Dr. C. Mather informs us, in his Ratio Disciplinæ, published in 1726) substantially adopted, at the time, in Connecticut, and have ever siøce formed the basis of their ecclesiastical proceedings. In Massachusetts the same writer states, that "there were some very considerable persons among the ministers, as well as of the brethren, who thought the liberties of particular Churches to be in danger of being limited and infringed in them. In deference to these, (he adds) the proposals were never prosecuted beyond the bounds of mere proposals.”+

Your Committee, in this place, take leave, in fulfilment of a part of the duty assigned them, to state, that the Proposals Jast alluded to are, in various respects such, that in their opinion congregational ministers cannot consistently recommend or approve them.

They forbear to enlarge on this subject, and beg leave to refer to the plan submitted at the close of this report, as containing the deliberate views of the Committee.

Further light, your Committee conceive, may be thrown on the history of the Document in question, by a recurrence to its origin and design, which may be inferred from its introductory sentence--" To serve the great intentions of Religion, which is lamentably decaying in the country.” Viewing, as it appears they did, with deep concern, a visible decline in the order, discipline, purity, and fruitfulness of the Churches, the body of the Clergy of that day, devised the means suggested in the Proposals in question, as the best remedy against existing evils. The principal cause, of this lamentable decay of religion, in the view of the fiainers of these Proposals, may be inferred from the remedies which they propose for their removal; and from a paper annexed to this report, published about the year 1700. Among the most operative of these causes appear to have been laxness in discipline, and a growing defect in the fellowship, union and co-operation among the Churches and their pastors. These radical evils, which generated many others, had been gradually increasing for about half a * Ratio: Disciplinæ, p. 199.

# Ibid. p. 184. See this: Paper entitled, “ More particular prognostications upon the future state of New-Englared," in the Panoplist, for July 1814, p. 324. It is referred to the reader's particular attention.

One of the evils complained of, and which prompted the movers of the measures proposed in the document under consideration, is thus stated : “ When Councils are called by litigant parties in churches, upon emergencies, it had been hitherto in the liberty of each party, to choose and call their own councils, where they pleased ;. which left room for much partiality to operate, and one Council to succeed and ops

[ocr errors]

century after the Platform of the New-England Churches had been adopted at Cambridge. Fifty years experience had taught discerning men, both of the laity and clergy, that some further measures were neeessary to carry into full effect some of the salutary provisions of that Instrument; those particularly which were designed to regulate the fellowship and discipline of the churches. Other provisions relating to the introduction, discipline, and dismission of ministers, were found in expedient in practice, and of course fell into disuse. In managing these important ecclesiastical concerns, so intimately connected with the general welfare of religion, the Churches were left, each to its own discretion, without any generally acknowledged uniform rule to govern them; and the Platform, thus disregarded in some of its essential provisions, gradually ceased to be a guide of discipline, and a bond of union in the ChurchEs That fellowship, mutual affection, and care; that agreement in the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, which, from the first planting of these churches had happily subsisted among thein, cemented their union, and produced the best effects, after the lapse of a half a century, began visibly to decline. The wise and pious among the watchmen, perceiving these things, were justly alarmed at the inevitable consequences, and felt it to be an imperious duty to exert their best efforts to stay these evils, by strengthening the things which remained, and which were ready to die.

It was in this state of the churches, and on a deliberate view of these evils, that the Proposals in question, were devised, and on due consideration, adopted by the Convention of the clergy.

Your Committee have not sufficient facts in their possession determinately to state the various causes which operated to prevent these Proposals from going into effect. Their form was not the most unexceptionable, and hence was afforded advantage to opposers. The Consociation of Churches, though not precisely in the manner delineated in these Proposals, was not new to Christians in New-England. They well knew, that the primitive churches in the three first centuries, were in fact, if not in forin, consociated. The principles of Consociation were recogoised, in the Platform, and in their deliberate judgment were supported by the word of God.

In 1716, Dr. Increase Mather published his “ Disquisition concerning Ecclesiastical Councils.". It does not appear that he approved these proposals. Yet so far was he, from being "disaffected to the Consociation of Churches, in order to the preservation of the faith and order of the gospel” among them, that, he expressly declares, he considers such a measure “not only lawful, but absolutely necessary for the establishment of the churches"—that “ light of natural reason, as well as scripture, teaches churches in common with other societies, to assoeiate and combine for their common safety”-that, “this was practised in the primitive times of Christianity, and by most of the reförmed churches, at that time existing in Europe”-and that “ a due attendance to the communion and consociation of churches, will, by the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ, be a good means to prevent degeneracy and to establish them in that holy faith and order of the gospel which has been professed and practised among them; and by

[ocr errors]

pose another with an endless confusion, more proper for a Babel than a city of God, I was hence " thought that prudence called for a more effectual provision.'**

* Ratio Disciplinae, p. 183.

« PreviousContinue »