« ElőzőTovább »
a lady, belonging to this latter family, had before been received by letter to the communion of the church. At last, however, it appeared that both she and her husband had departed from the faith in which she had been educated, and were seeking to promote an interest hostile to the general creed of the Protestant Church. It was a lamentable case, as the lady was justly held in high estimation for her apparent fidelity in the various social relations, her general example, and the mild and commanding dignity of her manner. She had, moreover, been supposed to give the most decided evidence of piety and attachment to the truth as it is in Jesus. Beloved and honored as she was, no one suspected her of immorality, no one thought of fixing a stain on her unsullied reputation. She was evidently not a theologian; but she had followed in the wake of esteemed kindred, and had, to the deep regret of many of her former friends, made shipwreck of the faith. That essential ity of belief in reference to God, Christ, and the way of salvation, is necessary to fellowship in Christian ordinances, is evident from the nature of the case, and from the explicit and often repeated language of the Scriptures, (Gal. i. 8; Tit. iii. 10; 2 John 10,11; Rom. xvi. 17; 2 Pet. ii. 1; 2 Cor. vi. 14-18.) It was because this lady and her friends had openly repudiated and opposed the Creed of the church on points of congruous and vital importance, that a course was taken which subjected the church to much obloguy, and is still, in some circles, proclaimed as one of the most ferocious specimens of bigotry and persecution in odern times. I will give a history of utairs (omitting names, as immaterial to the principle developed), by extracts from the ancient records of the church, which are now before
1822, January 1. — The following letter was laid before the church.
6. HADLEY, December 27, 1821. “Rev. John Woodbridge. Sir: It must occur to you that our situation, deprived as we are of Gospel ordinances in the place of our residence, must be very painful. It is known that we are Unitarians, and that we entertain the general views of that denomination of Christians, respecting the doctrines of the Gospel. As members of the Church of Christ in regular standing, and feeling ourselves entitled to the privileges of professors, wherever our lot is cast, this is to request you, sir, as Moderator of the church in this place, and as their proper organ, to inform us from them, whether we may, in future, expect the quiet enjoyment of Gospel ordinances, as they are here administered, and whether we may expect them for our children, applying for them with the same views of Gospel truth which we ourselves entertain.
By giving us an answer to these inquiries with as little delay as will comport with a thorough investigation of the subject, you will greatly oblige, sir,
“ Yours with respect.” [Signed by the petitioners.]
Having heard this communication, the church
“ Voted, To refer the subject of the above letter to a committee of three, consisting of
to report thereon at the next adjourned meeting.
“ Voted, To adjourn the meeting to Tuesday, the 8th inst., at 2 o'clock, P. M."
Tuesday. January 8. - The church met according to adjournment. After the meeting had been opened with prayer by the Moderator, the report of the committee appointed at the last meeting was read as follows:
“ The committee, to whom was referred the letter, December 27, 1821. from —, in which they request, as Unitarians, communion with this church, and ask the same privilege for their children who may desire it, with the same views of Gospel truth which they themselves entertain, submit to the church the following
REPORT. “It must be obvious to all, the Committee think, that the suliject of request from involves principles and consequences of no ordinary interest to the order of this church, and the general cause of religion. A decision, therefore, of the question, which by their letter is brought before the church, ought not to be rashly or hastily adopted. The case before us cannot be fairly made an exception to a general rule; nor is it so understood by the petitioners themselves. By asking the enjoyment of special ordinances with us, as arowed Unitarians, they plainly wish us to decide that the difference of doctrinal views between them and this church presents no barrier to the reciprocal confidence and charities of Christian communion. These sentiments, which offer no impediment to the full exercise of Christian fellowship in one instance, cannot, with the least propriety, be alleged as an objection, in any; and to impose, by a confession of faith, or other means, restrictions upon some, which are not binding on others, is an exertion of arbitrary power at variance alike with the laws of the Gospel and with the common principles of justice. Were any further exposition necessary, of the views of the petitioners, we have it in their application in behalf of their children, for the same favor they ask themselves. Extending their request thus far, they doubtless expected that the church, by a compliance with their wishes, would open the arms of its fellowship to all Unitarians of a fair moral character, who should apply for the privilege. Such is the true state of the question upon which the church are now called to decide. The Committee believe, that, after an impartial investigation, there can be but one opinion in the church respecting their duty in the case before them. The Committee are fully persuaded that the request of the petitioners ought not to be granted; and the principal reasons on which this opinion is founded are the following:
"1. It is, so far as the Committee know, a novel and unprecedented thing for persons, having no communion with a church, to solicit a participation in its privileges on conditions subversive of the rules by which it has always governed itself, in the admission and discipline of its members. It has been supposed that the duty of individuals, living
in the neighborhood of a church to whose terms of communion they could not conscientiously accede, was plainly to submit to the inconveniences of their situation, until such time as their scruples might be removed, or until the church itself, without any interference on their part, should see cause to alter its regulations. A deviation from this [apparent] maxim of prudence and meekness can, in no instance, be justifiable, except where the principles and rules of a church are believed to need a fundamental reform, and where, of course, a Christian could receive little or no edification from the administration of sacred ordi
The proposal of an essential alteration in the platform of a church is, in general, an experiment too hazardous to its peace to be made without weighty reasons, especially by those who have no other concern in its measures than what is common to all serious spectators. The request of Mr. and of the others who have joined with him, as it virtually proposes new conditions of communion in this church, is liable to the objections above stated. We have a confession of faith; and it does not appear that it is unworthy of our confidence. We cannot see how a Unitarian, not of our number, can, with any reason, request us to declare it unscriptural, or useless. Would it be deemed right in a Calvinist to ask of a Unitarian church, with which he was not connected, the adoption of such rules as might be agreeable to his feelings, and enable him, with a good conscience, to share in its privileges? How would such a petition be received? The right of private judgment, in matters of religion, belongs to men, as acting in the associated capacity of a church, as well as individuals; and in this particular, neither Calvinists nor Unitarians can claim any superiority. If the Unitarians may reject creeds, the Calvinist is not therefore bound to reject them. Each for himself must judge of his duty in this respect, remembering that to his own Master he stands or fulls.
6. 2. The difference in sentiment between us and the Unitarians is very great. The Committee, indeed, are unable to see with what consistency a Unitarian can desire communion with a church professing Calvinism; since, in his account, it is a system peculiarly dishonorable to the character and government of the Deity. Every one who is in the least conversant with the writings of Unitarians, must have observed that it is one of their most favorite objections against the system, that it strips the Most High of everything amiable, and clothes him with all the odious attributes of a tyrant. They all, moreover, suppose that the Redeemer, whom we honor as divine, is mere creature, and wholly unworthy of that supreme adoration to which we think him entitled. In their estimation, then, the religious worship we pay is offered to a being of the most malignant character, and to one who is dependent as we are for his existence and all his attributes. How, if this imputation be just, we can deserve to be called Christians, it is difficult to imagine. Much more difficult is it to perceive what inducement they can have, who maintain opinions entirely contrary to ours, to seek communion with us at the table of the Lord. Should it be intimated that such essential errors of faith are compatible with a spirit of charity, we would say in reply, that, as we understand the Scriptures, believers are to have no fellowship with idolaters. Some of the most learned Unitarians, particularly Dr. Priestly and Mr. Belsham, have expressed similar views. The latter, speaking of the difference between Unitarians and the Orthodox, is pleased to say: 'Opinions such as these can no more harmonize with each other than light and darkness, than Christ
and Belial. They who hold doctrines so diametrically opposite, cannot be fellow-worshippers in the same temple.'
" 3. Should the church comply with the request of —, they would declare an assent to their confession of faith not essential to a participation of the privileges of membership. If such an assent, either explicit or understood, is not required in one instance, it can never be demanded; and our confession of faith is virtually destroyed. But the Committee think that the church cannot consent to part with these articles of belief to which they have voluntarily subscribed, and which they have cherished and defended as the Gospel of God. This is not all. Could we grant the prayer of the petitioners without an abrogation of our creed, the precedent would, to say the least, be extremely hazardous.
“4. The views of Unitarians and Calvinists differ so widely on a vast variety of subjects, that it cannot be supposed they would generally act in concert, in measures designed to promote the cause of religion.
A church composed of such discordant materials could have little • reasonable prospect of union and appiness. It is to be feared that it
would be the seat of contention, or at least of mutual jealousies, until one party or the other had lost its power, or yielded its principles. But if harmony should exist anywhere, it ought surely to be found in the bosom of the Church.
" 5. The introduction of Unitarians into the church would afford them an advantage for multiplying proselytes to their system, which the Committee verily believe is a different gospel from the one taught in the Scriptures.
“6. Communion with avowed Unitarians would imply a less decided disapprobation of their sentiments than ought to be felt by men who believe that the doctrine of our Lord's supreme divinity, and other truths connected with it, are essential to the scheme of salvation displayed in the Gospel.
*57. If Unitarians may be received to communion, then, for the same reason, none ought to be refused on account of their doctrinal
** For these reasons, the Committee think that the request of ought not to be granted. Perhaps they desire the privilege of occasional communion. But the Committee believe, that, as they have long been resident in the town, it would be suitable, in order to their enjoying our fellowship, that they should (were there no objections to their sentiments) place themselves under our watch, by a transfer to us of their special relation to the churches of which they are respectively members.
“In the name of the Committee, “ HADLEY, January 8, 1822.
At the same meeting, the church
“ Voted, That the above report be accepted, and that (naming the petitioners] be furnished with a copy of the same as the answer of the church to their letter of the 27th of December last."
In this manner the church disposed of the petition of those who, as Unitarians, sought admission to the church, with the privileges of membership.
As for the lady already noticed, no decisive act was taken in her case till some years afterwards. She, however, soon withdrew from the communion of the church. In a communication written by herself,
Finding that they," that is, the church, “ would not extend their fellowship to Unitarians, it was very natural for Mrs. to believe that her presence at the Lord's Table was not desired; and she, on her part, was exposed on communion seasons to observations which were extremely trying to her feelings ;” referring, I suppose, to the addresses on such occasions, made to communicants. In the same communication she
says : “ With regard to Mrs. -'s belief of Unitarian doctrines, she does not hesitate to say, that, after long and prayerful examination of the Scriptures and other writings, she has become convinced that the doctrine of the Trinity, as commonly received, is not a doctrine of the Bible, and freely confesses that after the way which some call heresy, so does she worship the God of her. fathers.” Though she wishes to hold her mind open to a conviction of the truth, and hopes for an interest in the prayers of Christian friends, yet, as she has endeavored to follow the dictates of her own conscience, and of the Word of God, they will hardly expect her to acknowledge herself guilty with respect to the charge brought against her, without more powerful arguments than have hitherto been presented."
Thus it appears that this lady, according to her own statement, had been a confirmed Unitarian for more than six years; had practically resisted all means employed to correct hier errors, and that she had long withdrawn herself from the communion of an Orthodox church, into which she had originally been received as holding the same faith with those whose faith she now denied. The cliurch bad waited long for her return, unwilling to inflict upon one so highly esteemed any public censure. She had indeed asked for a dismission, but with her known deviation from the truth, it was not in the power of the church to recommend her as in standing; for such a recommendation would have been a virtual abandonment of that creed which was the basis of their organization.
The following complaint against her was at length presented : " To the Rer. J. W., D. D., pastor of the Church of Christ in Hadley.
" Whereas, Mrs. member of said church, has for a long season withdrawn herself from the communion of said church, and has expressed her belief in Unitarian doctrines for which she has been labored witli, first by one alone, and then by two of the brethren, we therefore request that her case may be laid before the church, that they may act upon it as duty may require.
(Signed,) 'HADLEY, August 9, 1828.”