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state. An elective government in which there is no direct responsibility to the electors, however it may be organized, must in its nature be not a republic, but a despotism or oligarchy; —a principle admitted ever since the days of Aristotle—at all events it is not Congregationalism. It is often said that the Presbyterian government is peculiarly free; and undoubtedly the prevalence of the Congregational spirit in the new school Presbyterian church has very much modified the practical operation of the system, and given it a free air not altogether natural. But Presbyterianism in theory and on paper, is no more free than Episcopacy or Catholicism. It is just as absolute and just as irresistible and irresponsible to the people. In the Catholic and Episcopal churches, a man by the act of entering, in a free country, does in fact voluntarily choose for himself the church rulers that there exist, and to them he submits. By the same act, when a man enters the Presbyterian church, he voluntarily chooses to yield obedience to the several judicatories that overhang him ;-and one thing more, he can choose a new elder if one should chance to die, or he can petition for leave to call a pastor— and then submit. But as he enters the Congregational church, he appears in his own personal dignity— free to use mind, and heart, and voice, and vote, on all questions that do or can affect either the faith or the well being of himself or his fellows.” So much from our correspondent, in whose light we see the points of difference and contrast between the Congregational and Presbyterian systems of church government. Which of the two has the highest claims on our approbation and practical adoption, may engage our attention for another moment. It should here be said, in anticipation of our conclusion, that it can rarely if ever happen, that a Presbyterian
church, or a portion of its members, can be justified in pursuing violent and divisive measures to separate themselves from Presbytery and constitute themselves into a Congregational church. Ecclesiastical rules and arrangements, though important, are of secondary consideration, when compared with brotherly love and harmony, with the maintenance of Christian institutions, and with the most effective action in propagating the faith. Our conclusion, if ever so indisputable, carries with it no obligation, except that of founding churches on the Congregational basis, in preference to any other, when higher considerations do not forbid it. One main ground of preference for Congregationalism, is, the advantage which it affords in controversy with prelacy. Regarding the church, as the seat of all ecclesiastical power, and its officers as the mere executive of its will, not its legislators nor its judges; and the obedience to those that are over us in the Lord, required in the Scriptures, to be such as in a Republic we owe to rulers of our own choice, not such as is exacted by autocrats ; Congregationalism is prepared for a successful encounter with all hierarchical pretensions. Presbyterianism, on the contrary, has, in her constitution, the same principle, which in prelatical churches has so often subjected the laity to a crushing spiritual despotism. So far as power and authority are concerned, the elders, not the brotherhood as a body, are the church. A remarkable advantage was gained, from this source, by Dr. Wainwright, in the late controversy between him and Dr. Potts on the question, Whether there can be a church without a bishop Dr. Potts conceded to his Episcopal opponent, that a church can not exist without officers. In this concession he was consistent with the theory of Presbyterianism, though we doubt whether the body of new school Presbyterians would make it. If the Church-Session, the Presbytery, the Synod, the General Assembly, are the church, and the depositories of all church power, by divine appointment, then there can not be a church without bishops or a bishop— and if not, why may not a diocesan bishop be essential to the being of a church 2 Congregationalism makes no such fatal concession to clerical claims. In her view, a church without officers is not indeed completely organized, but yet is a body possessing full ecclesiastical powers. It is the Congregrational practice, (a practice, too, prevailing contrary to theory among Presbyterians,) for churches, whenever they are left without officers, still to act in a church capacity. Before proceeding to elect a new pastor or new deacons, the brotherhood feel themselves competent to receive and dismiss members, to maintain discipline, to keep the Lord's Supper by the aid of any minister of the Gospel, and to do whatever a completely organized church has a right to do. That such bodies are not churches until officers have been elected and duly ordained, we leave for those to assert, who see the church only in a federal capacity, or in a board of officers; but we assure them, they are utterly disarmed of power to controvert triumphantly the arrogant claims of prelatical hierarchies. Congregationalism has a still stronger ground of preference— we refer to its practical operations. It is often hated and opposed by good men on account of the facility with which error and disorder find a covert under it. Any company of fanatics can organize themselves as an independent church, and refusing to submit to foreign ecclesiastical control, can hold an undisturbed existence, and ply their concentrated power to the propagation of error. But this, if an evil, is incident to civil and religious liberty.
Were all evangelical churches or. ganized on a Presbyterian basis, under the government of ecclesiastical courts, nothing could prevent, in a free country, the organization of errorists on the platform of independence or even of Presbyterianism. Nor (we submit the suggestion) is it desirable, that error should be hampered by church fetters— or denied a free expression,” an open field, a liberty of self-defense and of conquest. When truth is left free to combat error, it may not only be safely tolerated, but will be more exposed to a decisive refutation. Error, moreover, when once nestled in a Congregational church, is far from being formidable; it is weak handed, unlike error entrenched in a consolidated church composed of many congregations, and bound by symbolical books. It will wither for want of sympathy and support; and ordinarily live out only the appointed time of one generation. Creeds, constitutions, and ecclesiastical courts, above the churches, are far less pregnable fortresses of error, whenever ensconced in them,” than single congregations without stereotyped articles of faith—stereotyped falsehoods, it may be. Congregationalism gives free scope to inquiry at the fountain head of truth. It goes with all religious and moral questions—not to creeds of human device, but to the Bible. This seature of the system is a fair ground, not of opposition and hate, but of approval and preference: for it is the basis of progress, the most sure and rapid, in theological science. A church whose appeals, in doctrinal discussions, is to stereotyped creeds, stereotyped errors perhaps, is stationary and fixed; or if she makes an advance in sacred knowledge, it must be at the expense of an ec animo subscription to her articles, and with the understanding, that they are to be subscribed only for substance of doctrine. There is one supposition only, which can invalidate this claim of Congregationalism to the first consideration : it is that all Biblical truth is already discovered, that all such truths are most accurately stated, that all are explained and vindicated in the clearest, most logical and most conclusive manner, and that the stereotyped creeds, are all free from error. Who dare assert this 2 The work
* In our sree country the people are protected, and not merely tolerated, in political and religious opinions and professions of every sort. Ought it not so to be Is it not best for the cause of truth? What can the truth gain by stifling discussion, or by dint of mere aiithority, condemning error to silence Nothing but hatred and contempt. The day has passed when religious dogmas can be imposed on the world by papal bulls. Reason, common sense, sound logic, the Bible the highest style of reason, are the weapons by which error, in future combats, is to be conquer; ed. The democratic or Congregational spirit has entered into the people, and not until they consent to be governed by an irresponsible oligarchy, will they submi; to the authority of uninspired priests and creeds. Nor should they submit. Let them think for themselves.
1 A hierarchy is capable of preventing the prevalence of error among the People, whenever they see it springing up, or threatening to come in ; but suppos" the error takes its rise among clergymen, the governors of the church: How then shall it be dislodged? The minister", who are alone competent, will not condem"
and silence any of their members for holding opinions common to their body. Ecclesiastical history teaches a lesson on this point, which it is surprising we have been slow to learn. The larger part of Christendom, including the Roman and Greek communions, have been unable to exclude the influx of error, by means of creeds and hierarchies; and since the error has been received, who shall exorcise it 2 The popes, the patriarchs, the priests 2 Will IBeelzebub cast out Beelzebub 2 We know he will not destroy his own kingdom. Equally sure is it, that instead of looking to corrupt hierarchies to reform the church, we must encounter their vigorous opposition. Were all the fallen churches of the old world simply Congregational bodies, acknowledging no ecclesiastical authority above the brotherhood, what a door it would open to their evangelization by Protestant Christendoin'
of ejecting error from the church at large is probably an equal labor, to that of preventing its ingress. Congregationalism favors the gradual growth in the churches of a more intelligent, comprehensive, and pure faith. She receives from the treasury of Gospel truth, things new as well as old, and holds them fast. Her only creed is the Bible. That is insallibly free from error. What she there discovers, she feels bound to adopt at once, though it may contradict and cast out her previous opinions. But confessions of faith, taken as tests and standards of orthodoxy in national churches, must be strictly adhered to by individual members and churches, or their departures from it, will be denounced as heresy, even though they may be scriptural, and they themselves be cast out of the visible church, though they may be members of the invisible. This fact serves to stifle inquiry, to suppress discussions, and overwhelm the advocates of truth with obloquy. The practical excellence of Congragationalism will be still more admired for the promptitude and efficacy of her discipline. The watch and care of the church is borne equally by the members. No one is exempt from responsibility—and when a church censure is pronounced, it has weight and effect, because it is inflicted by many; not by a select few, but by popular vote, by public sentiment. And in the most exciting cases of discipline, where councils are called in for advice, the agitation is ordinarily confined to a few neighboring parishes, instead of spreading, as under Presbyterianism, to every church of the order in the nation. Many admit the happy working of this system in New England, and consider it the best system for all highly intelligent, well-governed, and homogeneous communities. Yet they claim for Presbyterianism the preference in less cultivated and orderly parts of the country; and point us to the distracted state of many a feeble Congregational church—to its frequent change of ministers—to its divisions—it may be, to its disorderly proceedings— in proof of their opinion. The argument is complimentary, specious, and wonderfully effective : complimentary, by admitting that Congregationalism is the best system for cultivated society—specious, because the existence of feeble and distracted Congregational churches, surrounded by strong and well-ordered Presbyterian communions, is apparent, and to some persons, inexplicable, except on the supposition of the non-adaptation of the system to such a people. We think we see whence this mistake arises. The stability and good order of a church depends much on the number and pecuniary ability of the members. In this respect the churches referred to are all deficient. Almost any uneasy, jealous, ambitious, factious member, has influence enough to unsettle a pastor, or to embroil his brethren in a dissension. In large and wealthy churches, such disorganizers are not heeded, because not needed. Their malign influence is effectually counteracted by men of better views and purposes. Such is the relative position of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches in those sections of the country to which we refer. The former are older and stronger than the latter. Change the materials of which the churches are composed, from one to the other, and the order and disorder would change places also. You would behold distracted Presbyterian churches, and flourishing Congregational churches. In a word, the evils apparent in the Congregational churches under consideration, spring from their feebleness, not from their ecclesiastical constitution: and we feel constrained, in view of this fact, to decline the compliment, tendered to New England at the expense of our western brethren, in
whose intelligence and competency to maintain the primitive government of the church, we have no lack of confidence. Where all those circumstances which favor good order and stability are equal, we are persuaded the Congregational polity will work out the best good of the people. Yet the evils prevalent in many of the feeble Congregational churches of our new country look like a demonstration of the bad working of of this church polity ; and they are pointed out as such by men of sinister intentions or superficial philosophy with great effect. No other argument against Congregationalism in comparison with the prelatical and Presbyterian systems, is urged with so much constancy, confidence and success. Indeed the advocates of Presbytery, of the lowchurch party, who are not misled by the arrogant assumption, that Presbyterianism is divinely instituted and made the only authorized form of ecclesiastical order, are accustomed to insist on no other argument against Congregationalism, than its non-adaptation to an unsettled, restless, forming state of society, which makes it necessary for the strong and energetic arm of Presbytery to come in and restrain the extravagance of the people. Allowing the evil to exist, to the full extent to which it is imputed, we think it is to be referred to the feebleness of the churches, and not to their Congregational forms. Another ground of preference for Congregationalism lies in the precedent, model and authority which it affords for free and popular governments. It is a standing testimony from the highest authority to the competency of mankind for selfgovernment. A church is a little republic. The people elect their rulers, and hold them amenable to their bar, or to tribunals erected by themselves, for their good conduct in office. They take measures for the due observation of the rules of Christ's house, enact their own byelaws, and see them executed. To do this requires no great learning, no remarkable sagacity, but simply good intentions, and sound common sense. They may err in many things ; may practically deny their own principles; may do injustice; may lack efficiency; may act unwisely. But so may aristocratical and monarchical governors of the church. The wisdom of the great is often a less safe guide, in ecclesiastical affairs, than the good sense of the brotherhood. The same remark holds true in respect to the state. The people are safer depositaries of civil power than monarchs and patricians. Are they ignorant P Are they vicious It may be. Yet they have a quick eye to their own interest, and it is for their interest that government exists. The church under the Congregational form, suggests this great political truth, and sanctions it. It teaches mankind their true dignity, capability, and right of self-government in the state. The notion, now exploded, that a slave must be prepared for liberty by an apprenticeship, before he can enjoy the boon, is as profound as the cognate assumption, that free and popular governments are fit only for enlightened communities. Intelligence follows free government, rather than free government intelligence. Give us freedom if you would have us value the privilege, and know how to maintain it. Men too ignorant and too debased to elect their own rulers and to hold them responsible to their constituents for the faithful discharge of their duties It may be. But where with equal security will you deposit the sovereign power 2 Who shall govern the people better than the people themselves 2 Who shall teach the people selfgovernment, before the government is placed in their hands Go to the church as she was in primitive times. What was the material of Vol. III. 57
which she was composed ? Was
that material every where civilized, enlightened, above the inhabitants
of our new states and territories 2
Yet even those early churches, in a
dark age, many of them gathered
out of heathendom, were invested
by the messengers of the Great
Head of the church, with plenary
powers to govern themselves eccle
siastically They were competent.
Where is the church, on Christian
or on pagan shores, less competent 2
Go to the churches, then, for a mod
el of what civil government should
be—for a test of the question, in
whose hands the power should be
lodged. Mankind have begun to go.
They have learned in the church
their true worth and equality. They
have learned the propriety, the art, the value, the right of popular gov
ernment. They have found a pre
cedent for such government in the
house of God. There they have
learned to depend on themselves;
to bend to authority and to exercise
authority; and it would be sur
prising, if the idea of civil liberty
and of republican government had not taken possession of them, and
found them capable of exercising it.
When would the Catholic states of South America have caught the idea of a government responsible to the people, the creature of the people, if they had not seen the light which shone from the land of the pilgrims ? And what government would the pilgrims have reared over their own heads and the heads of their posterity, if they had not discovered in the Bible, the precedent and the model of an elective government, immediately responsible to the people 2 It was a little Baptist church in the forests of Virginia that first suggested to Jefferson the grand principle of our civil institutions. And it is the testimony of Hume, an adversary of Christianity, that whatever of freedom there is in the British constitution is due to the Puritans.