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Art. I.-OUR CHURCH AND OUR REVIEW. It is said that a western preacher, from the text, “Adam, where art thou ?” inferred first, “ that every man is somewhere." The establishment of a new periodical with responsibilities like ours, creates a relationship between us and our readers, and invests with interest the inquiry, What may we assume to be the present position of our branch of the Presbyterian church?
In defining our own position, it is necessary first to give our impressions as to the position and prospects of our denomination.
It may be regarded as a “fixed fact,” that our church is to be and remain a distinct, independent, and permanent ecclesiastical denomination. With whatever reluctance our brethren found the ties which bound them to the other branch of the church severed—whatever violence may have been done to their fraternal sympathies, as well as to their sense of justice, in their separation from institutions which they had aided to build, and brethren with whom they had taken sweet counsel, and gone to the house of God in company, yet, as the separation has been made by no suffrage of ours, and widened by the resolute refusal, in many cases, of our brethren even to hold Christian communion with us at the Lord's table, or to exchange pulpits with us; the question is to be regarded as settled, that we are
to continue a distinct body. We know of no one in our communion so void of self-respect as to advocate a renewal of overtures of union, which have been coldly repulsed. And we are constrained to add, that while there are among our separated brethren, delightful specimens of individual courtesy and fraternal bearing, we yet recognize in their general temper, in their religious periodicals, and in their ecclesiastical acts, not the slightest evidence that they have receded a hair's-breadth from their original position. We meet every where among them, a disposition to re-endorse their acts of disruption, and a tendency to justify those acts by, perpetuating suspicion, as to the orthodoxy of our denomination.
We say this, not to blame our separated brethren. Having revolutionized a church under the forms of ecclesiastical law, from a plea of necessity, then seized its charter and its funds, by the force of a mere majority, they cannot satisfy their own consciences, or the sense of justice in the world at large, but by striving to believe, and constantly repeating the charges in which their acts of violence first found apology. The old maxim, somewhat softened we hope by piety, has its application here: “those whom men have deeply injured they will hate.” Who believes that they will alter ?
The causes still exist which occasioned the separation. On the part of our separated brethren, there is no abatement of their claims; and on our part certainly, there is no disposition to surrender our honest interpretation of the Bible, and the standards of our church. We are as unwilling as ever, to have excavated for us by ecclesiastical authority, the precise and only channel by which the charities of our churches are to be permitted to find their way to the prairies of the West, or the banks of the Ganges. We have tasted the sweets of theological freedom and ecclesiastical liberality. We are satisfied with our ecclesiastical relations and prospects. We ask no change, and least of all, such change as would strangle free investigation, and dam up the streams of Christian charity.
In this connection, it may be proper to congratulate each other on the fact, that like our brethren in the free church of Scotland, we have met, and safely passed a most fearful and trying crisis in our church. Like that noble body of men, we were forced by principle to give up rights in the church which we loved. Like them, we relinquished to other hands, the Seminaries we had aided to endow. Not alone our Presbyterian fidelity, but our honesty as men, our soundness as theolo
d to fin which the chastical authority, is ever, to
gians was denounced by church authority, echoed by the approbation of church institutions fed by our charity, and periodicals conducted by professors, elevated by our votes.
The famous Assembly of 1837, like the civil courts of Scotland, counted on the vis inertiæ of human nature. They hoped not in vain, that venerable professors, who had always protested against the necessity of division, would acquiesce and apologize for it when the deed was done; and that timid, time-serving, moderate men, who had always professed to stand neutral, would remain with the majority. The result, to some extent, justified their expectations. Many, who abhorred their injustice, were overawed when the new basis of 1838 was presented, and many more contented themselves with a newspaper protest, and finding it easier to acquiesce than strive and suffer for principle, hushed down their conscientious misgivings, and sunk their responsibility in quiet apathy. Those who have studied man, will understand how it is that he who will not act up to his moral judgment, learns to coax his moral judgment into acquiescence with his conduct.
But it is with us a proud consideration, that almost a moiety of the Presbyterian ministry—some thirteen or fourteen hundreds—in that storm of obloquy, and summary and wholesale excisions, stood firm by their principles. Among these men living and dead, we delight to record such names as those of Richards, Hillyer, Fisher, Beecher, Mason, Cleland, Blackburn, Cathcart, Nelson, Hill and Anderson. Some of these are historic names, and they are all worthy to be placed by the side of the Chalmerses, the Cunninghams, the Welshes, and the Candlishes, of the exiled Church of Scotland.
It was asserted by those who rent the Presbyterian church, that the exscinded portion was radically unsound in theology, and without any fixed attachment to church order. It was predicted, that without the cohesive attraction of their more orthodox brethren, their union would be a rope of sand; that while they came in “one way, they would go out seven ways." Each successive General Assembly was pronounced the last that could be held. But these modern prophets, consulted their hopes rather than the signs of the times. It was not likely that men who had suffered so much for principle, would hold lightly by either truth or the order of the church; and hence after fifteen years, in the body with which we are connected, no man has moved to alter a tittle of the Confession of Faith, or an essential principle of Presbyterian church government.
sposed to resbyterianocracy, defec
divino prescross-fires, Droselyting inquination Tabid religious terianism, nose it would neither
It is true, that bleeding under wounds inflicted by an accidental majority in the General Assembly of 1837, the church limited appeals to Synods, and made less frequent the meetings of its General Assembly; but subsequent reflection led to the belief, that the evil was not in the old system, but in its maladministration; and hence, a return was had to the old Book ; so that it is now true, that our church not only represents, but is the only body that does in all respects represent the real form and spirit of old fashioned American Presbyterianism.
Our organization has had its perils. Deprived of the possession of its chartered rights, left to the responsibility of perpetuating pure American Presbyterianism, which the exscinding body had striven to annihilate, it certainly had difficulties to overcome. Pledged to respect liberty of conscience on all subjects, determined to employ no gags to check free discussion, with the bigotry of ecclesiastical domination on one side, and the radicalism of a proselyting independence on the other; exposed to cross-fires, because it would neither advocate a jure divino Presbyterianism, nor submit to the aggressions of a rabid religious democracy, our church has stood inflexibly firm. True, we have had some defections. Ultra conservatives, for whom we moved too fast; and impatient radicals, for whom our march was too slow; have left us. Now and then also a solitary church, under an outside party influence, has left our communion. At periods “few and far between,” among better men, some Diotrephes perhaps, whom we could not conscientiously make great, or some young theologian, who thought erroneously that he was not “ appreciated among us," has been suddenly seized with spasms of “orthodoxy and order," and fled our ranks. But the great mass of both ministers and members have felt, and developed an unyielding attachment to our communion; an attachment which obloquy without, and treason within, have only made more sensitive and cohering. Never since our separation have our ecclesiastical prospects been more cheering.
Uneasy, discontented and aspiring spirits have withdrawn from us. Agitating questions have been nearly put to rest. Our ministers and members have learned to confide in each other, and to be satisfied with their position. In opinion, Pres. byterian, and Calvinistic, after the general type of Edwards, Dwight and Richards, there is a delightful homogeneousness among us, north, south, east and west. We have no crude