Page images

Controversies arising from ambition and envy are always pernicious. They betray themselves in this way; they are not the discussion of great principle, but personal attacks on individuals; they are carried on, not by dignified and well sustained argument, but by hard names, recriminations, appeals to prejudice, and the telling of all manner of invidious stories, whether true or false. So far is this spirit of story-telling carried, that even christian people, instead of acting on the only safe and right principle of saying nothing against a man which they do not know to be true, nor even then unless called upon by evident necessity, think themselves justified in giving currency to every slanderous report against an opponent which they do not positively know to be false. What kind of Christianity is this? (To be continued. )

For the Peace Maker.

[ocr errors]


C. E. S.


To the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, to meet in the Seventh Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, the THIRD THURSDAY IN MAY, 183, the memorial and petition of the Presbytery of respectfully represents :

That the present circumstances and state of the Presbyterian church in these United States, lead us seriously to consider, and to propose to your serious consideration, the propriety of such a change in our mode of organization and form of Church Government, as to dissolve the General Assembly, at least in its present form of a representation from Presbyteries, and of an appellate and decretory court, and to resolve the church into General Synods in which all judicial cases shall finally terminate. The following are among the reasons which seem to suggest the propriety of such modification, viz :

1. The loss of ministerial labor to the church, especially in the more distant Presbyteries, in sending commissioners to the Assembly;— amounting to the pastoral services of one, two, or more ministers from each Presbytery for weeks, and in some cases for months, every year.

2. The amount of the funds of the church expended yearly for the travelling expenses of these commissioners, which might be applied

to better advantage in the cause of Christ;-amounting in the case of many Presbyteries to what would be almost, if not altogether, suffi cient to sustain a pastor or a missionary, the whole of his time, in some places within their bounds.

3. The inequality of representation which does, and in the very nature of the case must, exist; by which the more distant and weak Presbyteries have not their due voice and weight, in comparison with those that are stronger, and nearer to the seat of the Assembly.

4. The unwieldiness of the body, with all the increase of the ratio of representation which has been, or can be, made, and yet each Presbytery be allowed a representation; by which it has not only become a burden to itself, and business is thereby clogged and retarded, but also it has become an unnecessary tax upon the hospitality of friends where it holds its sessions.

5. The vast and increasing accumulation of business from our widely extended and rapidly extending church; by which there is, and necessarily will be, an increased and increasing loss of the time of its members.

6. That a General Assembly is not an essential part of Presbyterianism, nor of divine ordination; but merely an institution of human wisdom, altogether accordant, it is true, with the principles and spirit of the word of God, and of our excellent form of Church Government, and useful in its place, and under particular circumstances:-but which ought to cease when the circumstances change, and it ceases to subserve the end for which it was designed.

7. That such a court is not necessary as a high court of errors and appeals; inasmuch as, owing to the number of our inferior courts, rising in regular gradation, any case originating in any of these lower judicatories, it is to be presumed, has been sufficiently canvassed and weighed before it comes up to the Assembly, and is as likely to be justly and impartially decided, as if it were carried up by farther appeal.

8. That the Assembly has for years past ceased to subserve, and to all appearance, does not seem likely in years to come, to subserve the great end for which it was designed, viz :-to be a means of preserving "the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace."

9. That in our widely extended, and rapidly extending country, and church,- spreading over such a vast field of territory, embracing such a diversity of minor interests, local feelings and views, early attachments and prejudices of habit and education, domestic and civil institutions, &c. &c.-none of which, however, are incompatible with general church unity, and agreement in regard to all the essentials of christian doctrine and practice, it is wise, and would be for the

[ocr errors]

edification and peace of our Zion, to limit ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and judicial appeal to narrower bounds, in sections which can more fully sympathise with each other in these several minor points.

We therefore respectfully pray your venerable body to take the subject under serious consideration, and should it meet your approbation, to refer down to the Presbyteries for their opinion, such a plan of reorganization as shall dissolve the Assembly, or at least so modify its present form, as to divest it of all judicial and appellate power; and resolve the church into General Synods in convenient and nearly related districts, to be constituted by a representation from Presbyteries, in which all judicial cases shall terminate and should it be thought desirable, in lieu of an Assembly in its present form, to have a biennial or triennial Assembly, constituted by a representation from the General Synods, without any judicial powers, for mere conference and as a recognition of the bond of union, and as a means of keeping up the official intercourse and correspondence between all those Synods which may be constituted on the same basis, and may adopt the same standards.


The foregoing is the draft of a memorial to the General Assembly for the reorganization of the Presbyterian Church in these United States, which was presented to the Presbytery of Oxford at its last stated meeting, but was indefinitely postponed by a majority of about two thirds. It is now presented through this medium to the consideration of the church at large, or at least as many as may have the opportunity of seeing, and may give their attention to this article ; with the hope that after due deliberation it may meet with more favor from other quarters. At least, discussion on the subject is invited. It is believed that such a modification of our Church Government would be wise, and is especially called for at the present crisis. Indeed we firmly believe that some such plan is absolutely necessary, and is the only means by which our wide spread and growing church can be preserved in the unity of the Spirit and the bonds of peace. And such a unity we believe is all that is essential.

It is not our design to enter at present into extended detail, farther than is contained in the memorial itself, respecting the reasons for such a reorganization. They cannot but address themselves at first thought to all that are familiar with the present circumstances of our church, our country, and the world. Suffice it to say, that the proposition has high authority. A plan of the same general kind was proposed some six or seven years since in an article in the Biblical Repertory, which was generally attributed, without contradiction, to the pen of the venerable Dr. Alexander, Senior Professor in the Princeton Theologi

[ocr errors]

cal Seminary; in which not only the general plan, but if memory serves right, something like the geographical bounds of the proposed General Synods, were attempted to be sketched out. Whatever may have been thought of the particular territorial divisions proposed in that article, it is presumed that there were few who read it, and gave it their candid attention, who were not impressed with the force of the reasoning which it contained in favor of the general plan. The propriety, and indeed the absolute necessity to their own safety, of such a plan, has been more recently suggested in Southern prints. And the allabsorbing and agitating subject of slavery is argued as a prominent reason for a separate Southern organization. We have before us an abstract of some remarks addressed to the churches in connection with the Hopewell Presbytery by Rev. C. W. Howard, their representative to the Assembly of 1837, (the action of the Presbytery itself on the subject, the same year, is no doubt fresh in the recollection of all,) in which he states distinctly as a prominent reason for the adoption of measures introductory of such a plan, "the firm conviction that the great mass of the brethren at the North, both old and new school, believe that we sin against God, and oppress our fellow creatures by holding negro property. There is scarcely," continues he, "any diversity of sentiment at the North upon the subject. The great mass of the people believing slavery to be sinful, are clearly of the opinion, that as a system, it should be abolished throughout this land, and throughout the world. They differ as to the time and mode of its abolition. The Abolitionists consistently argue, that whatever is sinful should be instantly abandoned. The others, by a strange sort of reasoning for christian men, contend that though slavery is sinful, yet it may be allowed to exist until it shall be expedient to abolish it; or if, in many cases, this reasoning might be translated into plain English, the sense would be, both in church and state, slavery, though sinful, may be allowed to exist, until our interest will suffer us to say that it may be abolished. This is not slander; it is simply a plain way of stating a plain truth. It does seem the evident duty of every man to become an Abolitionist, who believes slavery to be sinful, for the Bible allows no tampering with sin." After thus reducing all the Northern brethren, whether old or new school, to the same category of anti-slavery men, more or less consistent according to his views, and after quoting with marked disapprobation the Assembly's act of 1818 on the subject of slavery, he argues thence the necessity of a separate Southern organization, from the insecurity to the South of remaining any longer, in a close church connection, having common judicial jurisdiction, with a body where they will be continually liable to have this unpleasant and delicate subject agitated.

These then are the language and feelings of a Southern man, an open, undisguised, and jure divino defender of slavery in the abstract, as well as the concrete; and although it may be thought that such are not the views of Southern christians generally on these subjects; yet it is but too evident that a large number in the Southern church fully sympathize with the writer in them. And even were the question of slavery put to rest, or the Southern church separated from the North, there are other points relating to church order, &c. of a mere minor character, and not at all affecting the great essentials of doctrine or discipline, in which different sections of the North cannot exactly sympathize with each other, which are ready, if greater matters were out of the way, to start up as sources of misunderstanding, jealousies, and discord in the present imperfect and fallible state of human nature, even in good men; by which, as long as there is any common court into which these causes of difficulty can be thrown for adjudication, the church will be perpetually liable to be agitated and rocked from centre to circumference. Whereas on the plan proposed, men might differ in sentiment on these points without collision or agitation of the church general. They might differ without that asperity, and improper and angry feeling which is so liable to be excited and quickened up, even in the best of men, in the heat and chafing of ecclesiastical controversy and debate. They might differ, and at the same time recognise each other as brethren, so far as general church unity and catholicity is concerned,-erring brethren,-erring in principle or practice; while at the same time, having no common court this side of the court of Heaven to which their difficulties could be appealed, they might feel relieved from any immediate responsibility for each other's real or supposed errors, any farther than mere moral influence is concerned, which could in that case be exerted at least as favorably as under present circumstances.

It is scarcely necessary to add that a General Assembly of the whole church is not essential to the existence or well-being of the Presbyterian body, or to virtual church unity, as is sufficiently demonstrated by the example of other branches of the Presbyterian church. Take, for instance, the case of our brethren of the Associate Reformed church, who have three, and may perhaps ere long have at least four Independent Synods in these United States, without any General Assembly as a formal bond of union between them. It would be hard to show that this sister branch of the church has not prospered as much, and that her members have not as good an understanding and agreement among each other, as if they had remained, as they once were, bound together in close connection under one ecclesiastical ju-' risdiction.

« PreviousContinue »