Page images

such an event, should govern us in ascertaining our mission, or working out the problem of our destiny. “We can do nothing against the truth" of manifest Providence, but “for the truth," by falling in with its obvious teachings and leadings. The growing feeling in our body, deepening from year to year, and assuming more definiteness and sense of obligation, is, that the purposes of God, in our distinctive existence, can be accomplished best, if not only, by an independent and perpetuated position and influence, by a distinctive church-life, organs and instrumentalities.

Our Mission may be summed up in the defence and maintenance of the following principles :

I. Religious Liberty, in contrast with ecclesiastical power, by the antagonisms of which, American Presbyterianism was severed into two bodies.

II. A living Calvinism, in contrast with a rigid dogmatic system, enforced in the ipsissima verba of the formularies.

III. A co-operative Christianity, in contrast with an exclusive ecclesiasticism.

IV. The aggressive, in contrast with the exclusively conservative type, of Christianity.

In making this statement we do not arrogate to ourselves the honour of being the sole representatives of these principles, or deny that individuals in other sections of the church homologate with us in some or all of them, or that among ourselves there are individual affinities, and lawful tendencies in other directions. Particularly, we would by no means dogmatically affirm, that what we shall advance in regard to co-operative Christianity, though we hold it to be the true ideal, and shall ever continue to do so, may not be found impracticable, and at present, inexpedient, till larger effusions of Grace are poured upon the Church Universal, and loftier principles prevail. We are prepared, gracefully as possible, to succumb to the necessities of the case, if the will of God and the choice of our brethren be so, and do what good we can with our brethren, under protest to posterity.

What we mean to say is, that these four principles constitute our characteristic peculiarities, the life and genius of our body, and their defence and maintenance, our special mission.

I. The life of Presbyterianism from its origin, and through all its subsequent vicissitudes, has been one with religious liberty, and as inseparably therewith connected, civil liberty also. Religious liberty embosoms the blessing of civil freedom. A fatal stroke at one, sooner or later, reaches and destroys the other. No philosopher can deny this, who understands the reason of things, and no historian, without falsifying the facts of history. If this were the time to enter on it, the philosophy. of the case could easily be shown, but we are satisfied now to state the fact. The British Constitution owes all its great elements of freedom to the Puritans, according to the testimony of Hume, Brougham, and Macaulay. On this point, too, the fact is pertinent as it is undeniable, that in the Revolution Presbyterians as a body, were Whigs and not Tories, while other excellent bodies and their ministry either left the country, or sided with the royal party. Possibly, facts in the early history, and antecedent struggles, of these different bodies, without imputing bad motives to others, or arrogating exclusive excellence to ourselves, would explain the different convictions and courses of duty, at that crisis, in the different branches of the Protestant family. Religious liberty, and all its legitimate corollaries, finds somehow its last lodgement and best defence in Presbyterianism, or its equivalent, Puritanism. If it perish there, it perishes like Spartan patriotism on the field of Thermopylæ, and the shriek of Freedom over such an overthrow, would be far more terrible than that which burst from her heart, “when Koskiusco fell.” But Presbyterianism, or rather its usurped name, has in one signal instance not been true to its principles. The salient point of our particular body involves a question of religious liberty. We mean the right of the peaceable possession of our religious heritage, name, reputation and connected privileges, till disfranchised by due course of law, and the application of constitutional discipline, whatever disorder or heresy may be imputed, or rumors of common fame generated by honest or malicious accusers—a right (the precious boon of previous conflicts) inherent, unalienable in all bodies, living under a Constitution, and usually entering into the substance of every bill of rights guarrantied to freemen—à right which Englishmen will revere, so long as the loathsome memory of the Star Chamber, and Oates and Bedlow exists. Here indeed is the Magna Charta of religious liberty. Grant that disorder and heresy exist, if rumor and allegations unsustained and unexamined be made to bear in an exigency on the actually guilty, what defence or refuge have the innocent when accused or suspected ? The right of Secession, when the consciences of minorities are oppressed, is inalienable and incorporated into Presbyterianism, and bodies now exist as its living representa

in our das fumptionislative act ion the Churstants against und by their helt såpplication we

tives; so is also the right of Revolution, when lawful and constitutional provisions fail to achieve unquestionable prerogatives, or redress insufferable wrongs. Our Country stands before the world as the embodied representative, and great exemplification of that right. Had the proceeding which resulted in rupturing the Presbyterian body, been put on either of these grounds, religious honesty and freedom would have remained intact; but Secession or Revolution, with the prestige and advantages of a constitutional proceeding, is a misnomer and absurdity; yea worse, a great outrage. No bill of Spiritual Attainder, no ex post facto law, with retroactive force can be enacted; no legislative power, transcending or violating express constitutional provisions can be assumed or defended, without striking at the foundations of religious liberty, and implicating in proportion to its extent and magnitude, the principles of civil freedom also. There can be no acquiescence in such a proceeding, except by necessity and with distinct protest, without abandoning the attainments to which long ages of conflict with spiritual despotism and unhallowed ecclesiastical power, have brought the Church of God in our days. We exist as a separate body, as protestants against an assumption of power on the part of an accidental majority, and by a legislative act, to dispossess ministers, churches and Christians, of their religious heritage and sacred rights in a common body, without application of law or discipline, and in violation of a written Constitution. We do not array numbers, the principle being the same, if one or ten thousand suffered. Hampden did not regard the shillings he was asked to pay unrighteously, or the men of Massachusetts, the tax on tea; but the principle involved. Religious liberty can no more be preserved thân civil, when the legislative and judicial functions are not kept distinct. In the case before us, legislative authority was exercised where judicial proceedings alone were applicable; an assumption of power endorsed by the courts of the country, so far as to put one party in possession of all the joint property of the common body, though now, in many places, the act itself is justified, excused, acquiesced in, and defended, as revolutionary and necessary; a plea, we need hardly remark, which would have been utterly fatal in a suit for exclusive ownership in joint funds.

When this great Act was perpetrated, (about which we refrain from uttering reproachful epithets of abhorrence and indignation,) and the subsequent pacificatory processes were completed, honest Presbyterians could adopt but one of three courses :

VOL. 1.-2

First, actively to sanction, as well as acquiesce in it; to defend it, out and out, as right and constitutional. Or, secondly, to acquiesce passively, with a protest against its unrighteousness to save a good conscience, and stand acquitted by posterity. Among this class are many whom we know and honour, and for whom charity finds abundant justification in their age, timidity or circumstances. Or thirdly, to repudiate and contend against the whole proceeding, by continuing the Church on its original Basis, or identifying themselves with the body thus constituted. Our body is composed of this third class. On this Basis our Church has stood till now, and by God's help, and with better auspices and more cheering omens than ever, we purpose to continue, protesting calmly and firmly against spiritual wickednesses in high places, making our appeal in this issue joined, to Posterity and the Judgment Day! We are not contending for ourselves, or our age, or generation only, but for the whole family of Presbyterians, and the friends of religious liberty and civil rights, in the race, and the world. We feel sure that the sympathies of many, in all branches of the great Protestant and Presbyterian family are with us, not excluding those who from stress of circumstances, are in the body from which we are ecclesiastically separated, but which is “beloved for the fathers' sake.” In the old country, and in all countries when the facts become fully known, many will rise and call us blessed, for maintaining true Presbyterianism, which in all ages and countries is identical with religious Liberty.

The principle involved, is worth all it has cost or may cost hereafter, though to some it may now appear unimportant, and a recurrence to it, unkind. We have no disposition to stir up the smouldering fires, or touch needlessly on facts which we are sorry that history has recorded in lines ineffaceable. To some, charity would seem to consist in the utter oblivion of all that constituted the vitals of this controversy; and if charity could blot out the facts, or alter their character, she would gladly cover the whole multitude of sins connected with the past. But what is written is written, what is done is done, and cannot be undone. The maintenance of such principles, and the honour and conscience that binds a man to identification with such a cause, amidst present difficulties and sensible disadvantages, may seem over nice and chivalrous. For the great mass in church and state, while an administration is well conducted, and especially when peace and prosperity is enjoyed, see no great danger in organic departures from the common bond of union, or Palladium of rights. It has been the fortune of the forlorn hope in the battle of principle,” to be unappreciated by contemporaries; even the Puritans failed to make good their cause, when success crowned the dominant principles, and royalty and nobility, wit and wealth, graced the re-inauguration of unhallowed power. But now, whose eulogies are pronounced, and whose memories are sweet with the good and great ? When present clouds are past, and present passions are cooled, Christians every where will pertinently and peremptorily inquire, who in the Presbyterian church have maintained, and who attempted to destroy religious Liberty; who are the representatives and martyrs, and who the enemies of inalienable rights, accessories before or after the fact? Young Presbytery in America, will be studying the facts of history, when the fathers and the actors have fallen asleep. Other crises may arrive, when the precedents of the past, and the principles they involve, will be examined anew.

II. There is a living Calvinism in contrast with a rigid dogmatic system, enforced in the ipsissima verba of the formularies. This we are called to defend and maintain. Presbyterianism, in the way of doctrine, assumes the form of Calvinism—a system, which in opposition to Arminianism, Pelagianism, and all other forms of doctrine, history has thus baptized, and which for want of a better and less obnoxious title, we are willing to assume. Whatever difficulties there may be in the philosophy of the fact, it is certain that the idea of Presbyterianism actualizes itself theologically in Calvinism. These are its “moral vertebræ," repulsive enough as a skeleton constructed with ever so much ingenuity and diligence of moral anatomy, but still indispensable as the underlying foundation of every Theology, either of “the intellect” or “feeling,” which has the true elements of power, permanency, and ultimate success in our world. There are elements in Calvinism, with which true Christianity in every age has consciously or unconsciously assimilated, and which in the form of dogma or life, it must appropriate, to be perfect. Our physical frame could about as well be erect and adapted for its purposes, without a back-bone, as piety be complete without Calvinism.

There is an everlasting Purpose or Plan, according to which all things come to pass, existing archetypally in the infinite Mind, before its actualization in time by creation, providence and redemption. There is a supreme Will with infinite laws, to which all creatures are subject, and by which they are influen

to Arminia form of Calvinbyterianism,

« PreviousContinue »