« PreviousContinue »
nation in the United States. Closely allied as this Church has been with ourselves, the meeting, of course, attracted our attention. Its action was found to be of painful interest, and while yet lingering over it, hoping against hope, that we had misunderstood its spirit, although nearly every Congregational newspaper had joined the “Independent” in gratulation over the result, our doubts are unhappily settled by an exposition of its character and designs, from the ecclesiastical Quarterly of New England. The gathering union in sentiment of all the organs, confirmed by evidence from more private sources, and finally this semi-authoritative exposition from so respectable a source as the New Englander of New Haven, all seem to show plainly that the design of the present leaders of Congregationalism is to separate it denominationally from Presbyterianism as fast as may be, and urge its peculiar form of Church government distinctively, and as powerfully as possible, the world over. *
* On the subject of party conventions, there are some stringent remarks emanating from New Haven, which we, being somewhat antiquarian in our tastes, will present to our readers. They will find them in the Quarterly Christian Spectator for December, 1837, pp. 644, sqq.
“A religious party convention is almost necessarily a convention of conscientious backbiters. Its object is, by collecting all the statements and rumors that can be found to the disadvantage of the opposite party, to produce in its own members a more zealous and inflexible determination ; and by deliberate and devout consultation to concert the measures which shall coerce the neutral to a decisive stand, inspire the timid with courage, ** and baffle and disgrace the enemy.” “In the light of this great example, shining afar like the flame of some wide conflagration, who does not see that when conscientious and religious men are brought together in a party convention-when they stir each other up to party zeal and courage with holy words of exhortation * * * when they devotedly pray, and perhaps break the sacramental bread over their vows of party fidelity ; then they are in a dreadful snare; then there is danger that * . their sentiments * • will verge close upon the malignity of a fanaticism.
“ We remember a certain Convention. * * * There were eloquent, spirit-stirring addresses. * * * Men were there, too well skilled in machinery and the management of excitements, not to know how to control any that were flexible enough to come into such a meeting at such a summons.• • * Had the brethren accused been present, to face their accusers, to offer one word of explanation or of denial, the charm had been broken, and all had been baffled. But who, in the absence of contradiction, could refuse to believe such stories, told in the most convincing tones, and with eyes that looked unutterable things? The effect was a matter of course. They who came to hold back remained to go forward; and the decisive
We claim no right to control New Englanders in these matters. What we have a right to do is to examine their action and spirit carefully, that we may intelligently guide our own.
For the sake of distinctness, we shall arrange our matter under certain divisions.
We shall show that
I. The Albany Convention took Oberlinism under its protection.
The official action is as follows:
Whereas, for several years, insinuations and charges of heresy in doctrine, and of disorder in practice, have been made against Congregationalism at the West, frequently too vague in their character, and too general and sweeping in their aim to admit of refutation; and
Whereas, Congregationalism at the West has thereby suffered greatly in the estimation of Congregationalists in New England, and of many other Christians; therefore
Resolved, First, that it is the duty of Congregationalists to frown upon all such accusations, unless their authors or abettors will make specific allegations, and hold themselves responsible for the same.
Resolved, Secondly, that it is very important that the General Associations, Conferences and Conventions at the East, be careful to send delegates to the General Associations at the West, that they may obtain reliable information respecting Western Congregationalism.
Adopted with but one dissenting vote.*
The meaning of these pregnant words we may learn, we presume, from the New Englander. We quote from page 78, February Number, 1853.
And no less, rather much more, should we be thankful that Oberlin has been able to meet in part the exigency of the times, and send forth a class of men able, if not to master all the heights of Calvinism, yet to endure hardness as good soldiers.
It is time this terror of Oberlin were frankly and honestly discarded East and West. ** We wish the churches of both names, East, West, and even South, had very many more of his (Mr. Finney's) pupils, in addition
steps were taken, which * * tended so far as human eye can see, to nothing else than to entail dissension on the churches * * for ages.
“Let every young minister especially beware how he is drawn into connection with party organizations, occasional or permanent. Ecclesiastical parties-party Unions and Conventions, threaten to destroy the communion and efficiency, the purity and piety of the churches, as political parties threaten all the interests of the Commonwealth. () my soul, come not thou into their secret; to their assembly, mine hoonr, be not thou united!'”
• Proceedings, p. 14.
to those they already have and like so well. The more of them the better, when five years old in practical theology &c. &c.
Our readers will not wish any more of this, we are sure.
Interwoven with these statements, from which we involuntarily turn away with pain and something very like shame for our New England brethren, is the statement that Presbyterians shelter or countenance Oberlinism.
They (the Oberlin people) have done much good work at the West, with some abatements-done it in Presbyterian churches and in Congregational, and in proportion to their relative numbers it would be difficnlt to say in which most.*
That the New Englander is utterly mistaken in this charge against the Presbyterian Church we declare, and proceed to prove.
A pamphlet of eighty-one pages lies before us, entitled “A Warning against Error; being the report of a committee adopted by the Presbytery of Detroit at their session at Northville, Michigan, September 29, 1847, approved by the Synod of Michigan at their session at Kalamazoo, October 18, 1847; and ordered to be published for the benefit of the churches under their care.” This may help us to answer the question, What is Oberlinism ?
But before we answer it, we will quote the language of the Presbytery, approved by the Synod, as to the denomination amongst which this heresy prevailed. They say, p. 3:
ville, Michiche Presbyterý feing the re
The danger and evils to which we refer are not from without; they lie within the Church. We allude to the introduction and dissemination of mischievous and fatal errors; not that we have reason to believe they have been embraced by any belonging to the membership of our churches; but that they are propagated by religious teachers and ministers of another denomination, who, through Christian courtesy and fraternal good will have, heretofore, without suspicion, occasionally had access to our pulpits. It is this circumstance, which more especially requires us ** to exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
From the list of errors thus condemned by the Synod, we select as especially characteristic, and worst of all, three : Oberlin teaches
• New Englander, p. 78.
he merits of ^.justification iga of salvatio perfection of
1. Erroneous views of the doctrine of Justification by Faith. This is made to consist as its indispensable condition in “ fully intending the highest well being of God and of the Universe." It teaches that man “ cannot be justified while there is the least particle of sin in him,” “that perfection of intention is an indispensable condition of salvation,” &c. &c.* The great doctrine that justification is at once and forever, and only by the merits of Christ, is thus opposed, and Oberlinism is off the foundation of Calvinism.
2. The doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is perverted, as might be supposed, in accordance with these Arminian views of justification. As justification does not at once and forever free from the condemnatory power of law, leaving it only as a rule of duty to be filially observed, so the “ sinning Christian and the impenitent sinner are upon the same ground.” In other words, there is no distinction between the condemnation of the sinner by the great Lawgiver, and the parental discipline of our heavenly Father. Of course, the Christian is continually under a legal system, and not under grace. The passage from this to the denial of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints is easy.
3. The third error is Perfectionism.
We will quote from the admirable pamphlet of the Synod, both because it shows their clear and noble testimony, and because it holds up the errors kindred with Perfectionism,those concerning justification and the lowering of the requirements of the moral law-in their logical connection.
The system of error against which we warn you, teaches “ that moral obligation respects the ultimate intention only," and " insists that moral law requires nothing more than honesty of intention," that “sincerity or honesty of intention is moral perfection, that it is obedience to the law."! It affirms that “no moral being can possibly blame or charge himself with any default, when he is conscious of honestly intending, willing or choosing and acting according to the best light he has; for in this case he obeys the law as he understands it, and of course cannot conceive himself to be condemned by the law.” “ This is perfect virtue for the time being.” “To talk, therefore, of a virtue, holiness, uprightness, justice, right in kind, but deficient in degree, is to talk sheer nonsense.” “God has no right to call that holy which is defective in degree."
• Warning &c. p. 39.
+ Ibid. pp. 41-2.
So as regards the connection between these notions and justification.
On this ground of present personal obedience, explained to be perfect as just stated, by the metaphysics of this system the justification of man in the sight of God is placed. "God cannot," it affirms, “ in any sense, justify one who does not yield a present and full obedience to the moral law." "Can he (any one) be pardoned and accepted and then justified in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him ? Certainly not." "As the moral law is the law of nature, it is absurd to suppose that entire obedience to it should not be the unalterable condition of salvation.” Accordingly, it boldly proclaims, that justification running parallel with personal perfection or entire sanctification, is not eternal and immutable, but of necessity fluctuates continually as the Christian is, or ceases to be perfect, “ being justified no further than he obeys."
We regard this teaching as radical error, as obliterating the glorious doctrine of JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH THROUGH THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST, as subverting the gospel of the grace of God, as receding from the Protestant faith so clearly set forth by the reformers and affirmed by all the evangelical churches of the Reformation; and as laying the foundation for Unitarian and Popish delusions, sustained by the doctrines of the suffi. ciency of reason on the one hand, and the merit of human works on the other.*
The more recent testimony of Rev. R. W. Patterson of Chicago, whose name is sufficient warrant for any statement, is equally strong. He writes under date October 23, 1852, to the New York Evangelist :
It is not to be disguised that the theology taught at Oberlin is held by more than a few ministers and church members at the West. ** Now wherever the advocates of this theology may be, they are not in the Presbyterian church at all, so far as the ministry is concerned, and they are, to say the least, very few among the membership of our churches. ** With a wide acquaintance in the West, I do not know a single Presbytery that embraces or would embrace a minister holding the doctrine of Perfectionism as it is taught at Oberlin.
We were at Cleveland, the capital of the Western Reserve, just after the report of these charges made in debate at Albany arrived, and the Presbyterian brethren there, including men influential in our Church, utterly denied and repudiated them. We demand either the proof of these charges or their retraction.t
• Warning, pp. 55–6.
† While we thus express our strong opposition to the theology of Oberlin, we do not mean to be understood as denying that God has honored Mr. Finney as His instrument in the conversion of multitudes of souls. Before he began his