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tion, and would be fruitful of inconvenience to it, and of evil to the church at large, the application was laid over to be acted on the next year. The next year (1822) it was not made, but the North Worcester Association proposed the question ; . What is a Christian church, with which we ought to hold communion as such ? Similar arguments to those which had been used the preceding year, were urged against sustaining this application. It was sustained, however, by a vote, taken by yeas and nays, of 87 against 68. A committee of thirteen was then chosen to consider the question, and report a reply to the next convention. in the choice of this committee, about 70 members took no part, either retiring from the room, or forbearing to vote. It was composed of twelve gentlemen reputed orthodox, with Dr. Bancroft, of Worcester, who bad not attended the meeting. An ineffectual attempt was then made to procure an order of the convention, that the committee, having prepared its report, should either publish it by printing, or should transmit copies to the several associations of the commonwealth, previously to the next meeting of the convention. To the reason given for this, that the few hours which the meeting was expected to occupy, did not afford sufficient opportunity to prepare for the discussion of topics so important as were likely to be presented, Dr. Stuart, of Andover, replied, that the ultimate decision would not be hastened, but that after being presented, the report would be permitted to lie over to another year.
The report was accordingly presented at the late meeting. It proposed, as was expected by many, a doctrinal test. The committee take for their basis, that we ought to have fellowship with eve. ry true christian church, and that a christian church is a society constituted of christians. Christians they declare to be those who embrace the cbristian religion. A just statement of the great principles of christianity, therefore, they conceive to be the proper standard for determining the application of the christian name. Such a statement, according to their views of our religion, they proceed to make; and conclude with disclaiming any pretension'to authority in matters of religious belief, and asserting the right of the ministers in convention to announce their own opinions.
The report being read, Dr. Stuart, in allusion to the motion which he had opposed the preceding year, said he was now willing that the report should be printed, and made a motion to that effect. This motion was superseded by another; ' That the convention will take no further order on the subject;' which after two or three ineffectual attempts to adjourn to the next day, prevailed.
Our readers must not expect us to represent this as a triumph of our distinguishing opinions. We are far more happy to represent it as a triumph of those venerable protestant principles, which we cherish no more fondly than they are cherished in many a clear and honest mind, which will not speculate with ours; principles which we trust in God be will never leave us to betray, and whicb,
if need be, we 'now'expect to defend by the side of men, with whom, however often we may differ, we are always proud and pleased to sympathize and co-operate. There is a no inconsiderable number of men and ministers among us, who have been too much left out of the account in these bustling times; who can be content to maintain their opinions without being greedy to impose them; who can enjoy the fragrance of their orthodoxy without making others feel its thorns; for whom independence is enough without power, and who have as jealous a fear of any encroachment upon conscience, as if they were in danger of being the first sufferers from the usurpation. Such men have never had any thing to complain of at our hands; and if we ever had wronged them by a prejudice or a jealousy, it would have been with no common feelings of compunction that we should have deplored and ahjured the injustice, wben we came to stand by them in defence of those good old Congregational principles, to which it is far less honourable in us than in them, with their orthodox predilections, to adhere. We may live a long time without experiencing again a sensation so grateful as when we found ourselves standing with them on the substantial common ground of attachment to that christian liberty, which, from the date of her earliest religious institutions, has made the glory of NewEngland. We would cheerfully encounter much more anxiety than the subject has ever given us, for the sake of the happiness of such a relief.
The anxiety which we have telt was in no degree of a personal nature Except as, from our situation, our exertions were pledged to avert the evil, we are not conscious of feeling any other solicitude than ought to have been felt by every religious or publicspirited man. We did feel concern in the prospect of that vast amount of evil speaking which seemed to threaten the community, We did feel concern when we saw a blow aimed at the spirit of Congregationalism in its very citadel. To some who would deprecate the mischief as much as ourselves, it may now seem that the attempt scarcely justified such anxiety. But we do not forget that danger is not a little increased by the fact that it is apt to be called, first, too trilling to be regarded, and, next, too formidable to be op posed. It is not many years since a tolerably promising project to erect a tribunal over the churches was defeated by an eminent in dividual's able and well-timed labours in exposing its real character. The General Association of Massachusetts was the feeble offspring of that ambitious enterprize. While this mimic of a Presbyterian synod bolds its meetings, and receives delegates from the Presbyteries of the south, young men who possibly may not have laid down at the threshold of New England the biasses of their Presby. terian education, or of their intimate Presbyterian connexions, are coming from time to time to preach and be settled in our churches. In what character do these gentlemen come among us ? for they would charge us with disrespect for their understandings if we
should imply that they think the difference between the Congregational and the Presbyterian systems immaterial. They doubtless believe it to be either a great advantage or a great evil, to be connected with a General Assembly having authority in controversies of faith and proceedings of discipline. Have they then renounced their Presbyterian partialities, and do they come among us prepared for the cordial support of our institutions? If so, we welcome them heartily to share in the enjoyment and defence of that religious liberty, the once dearly bought patrimony of our churches. But if not, let them not touch our ark. They ought not to be willing to be its guardians, and they must not hope to make it their spoil.
If there must be any body possessed of a power which may be abused to make us act against our sense of duty, profess against our sense of truth, and believe against scripture and our common sense, we think we would soonest of all have a bishop. He is a man, and may be melted; a conspicuous man, and may be alarmed. Next 10 this, the least intolerable tyranny known to Christian sects is that of a Presbytery; for though this is a body, each member of which may well have some interest, theory or wbim to stimulate, and can scarcely have any strong sense of personal responsibleness to check him, there is still some security in the possible opposition of clerical and lay opinions. The last authorily of all to which' we should be willing to submit in any degree our freedom of conscience, would be a body composed of ecclesiastics merely; men of theory, from their retired and speculative habits; likely to love power, from the consciousness of intellectual advantages, and yet forbidden by the decorum of their profession from engaging in the contest for it on the same arena with other men; confident and determined, from the deference they are in the habit of receiving; and able with better success than others, to defend any thing they may do, by that plea of a sense of duty, which always commands respect, and is difficult to confute. So far is Congregationalism from countedancing any such authority, that in an ecclesiastical council,—which is the only tribunal it recognizes,—the advisory power,--which is all that. a, council : possesses,- is trusted to ministers and laymen together; and even these are expressly delegated by the brethren in church meeting with some special commission, the terms of which, prescribing and limiting their duty, are first named by the party or parties which ask their intervention. So opposed to the order, usages and principles of the Congregational church, was the attempt to induce the ministers to establish a doctriz :
We have never been alarmists, for we have always had great confidence in the salutary power of public opinion. If it had been otherwise, we should find our minds at ease after our late experi
In the collection of the Massachusetts clergy, which this occasion brought together, we saw mild and venerable men, not following with us, who had never been wanting in vigilance and never been deceived; who came to frown on this rash attempt,
and who, before it had succeeded, would have let it be plainly seen that the spirit of 1630 is not quite extinct. There were other well-intentioned, but less wary men, who,-inconsiderately submitting themselves to the guidance of more impetuous spirits, in whom they placed confidence.-were imperceptibly led on to a point, where they found an alternative presented to them which a more timely circumspection would have led them to avoid. Their eyes being opened on the critical situation into which they had been led, they took the course which in the emergency was most honourable to them, and would advance no further. There were others per haps, who would themselves bave been well enough pleased to persevere, but who were awed by the decided expression of the pablic sentiment, which it was impossible the lapse of a year should not have given them opportunity to collect. And there were others, less observant of the signs of the times,' or less apprehensive of witnessing their fulfilment, who were faithful to the project to the last. But they found themselves the smaller number; and, upless we are deceived, their imprudence in this case bas so shaken the confidence that bad been reposed in them, that they will find it harder in future to engage, in any such attempt, numbers enough to make it formidable. The more ardent of a party are naturally its leaders, till some check occasioned by their temerity exposes their incompetence, and then their ascendancy is not easily regained.
As consistent Protestants,--as fast friends to those two great doctrines of the reformers, the sufficiency of the scriptures and the right of private judgment, we congratulate the churches and the public on this result. It is chiefly to the assertion of those principles, when they could only be asserted at great sacrifices and hazard, that we owe our political liberties ; and it is wholly to them that we are indebted for our religious light. We are under too great obligations to them to see without distress any attempt to impair their authority. We are principled Congregationalists, because that system is consistent Protestantism. Doubtless we value the views of religion which distinguish us from many of our Congregational brethren, because in our minds they are identified with sacred truth. But the spirit, which we consider them eminently calculated to produce, we cheerfully acknowledge that we witness in many, who do not regard them in the same light with ourselves ; and therefore, though we deplore the prevalence of a sentiment opposed to religious truth, we bave less apprehensions from it, than from any restraint on those private rights of conscience, which seem to us indispensable to the prevalence at once of religious truth and of the religious spirit. To impose a human standard on the conscience, is to destroy the sense of obligation, so far as it is religious, in withholding it from God, and directing it to men; and such an attempt, come from what quarter or in what shape it may, is a specimen of what we have learned most to dread in popery.