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acts. Like every other system of church order, it may be connected with any form of doctrine, and any particular mode of worship.” He proceeds, however, almost instantly after to say, that “in the common, though more limited and strictly denominational sense in which it will be used in this article, the word Congregational designates a class of churches which hold in general that system which was maintained by Augustine and Calvin, and which has been explained, advocated, and improved by the theologians of New England in successive generations.” This is quite enough to bear out our indictment. The flippancy with which he gives notice of the audacity of his intent, provokes as much mirth as anger. He has had enough of our space, and we dismiss the Cyclopædia, with simply asking whether we are to have more of the same sort. The series of volumes and march of the alphabet will soon bring us round to the letter P. Will some worthy confederate of his recent contributor be selected to instruct us that Protestantism, in plain honesty, describes those members of the Germanic body who, in 1539, protested against a specific resolve of the Diet at Spire; but that, for his part, he shall proceed immediately to speak of it as the exact counterpart in meaning to justification by faith, — that articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ ?
The real import of Congregationalism is certainly defined by the impartial witness called up in the last paragraph, full strongly for our purpose. How well it would satisfy his brethren in sentiment in New Hampshire, it is for them to say. The documents of the Dublin case show how distressfully earnest the counsel for the plaintiffs were to make out that it was never conceived with us to have the radical meaning of Independent, so wisely preferred in the mother country by those in whose fellowship they gloried. Early authorities to this effect are paraded and lengthened out; and even, one is ashamed to say, some of the present time; for example, Professor Upham of Brunswick. It would be descending, to bandy words in such an argument. All this unwearied painstaking but serves to show how little, with the large body of those who are most intent to usurp control over the appellation which is the nucleus of this debate, the vital essence of the one thing or the other is to their taste or after their heart; as to which, we reserve a further word to be spoken in the sequel. Gordon, in an early chapter of his History, speaking of the religious order in which the Puritans had been reared, and which they planted here, mingles on his page the two ecclesiastical terms now brought into comparison, as if he dreamed not of any process by which nice distinctions could be run between them. “Mr. Robinson, who, by his conversation and writings, proved a principal in ruining Brownism, was, in the opinion of some, the father, of others, . the restorer, of the Independent or Congregational churches." He proceeds to give as the only reason with the emigrants for dropping the first term, its sounding too bold, and having the air “ of too great a separation from sister churches.” A strange conclusion and a feeble reason ! On this side, the “ sister churches” to whom any regard was due, were as yet, and for a long time future, unborn ; as to the other side, which at that moment might claim to be most considered, one would really think that the bond would be all the more endearing, by clinging to a common name. How much better were it, if it exclusively prevailed now! It would give us the advantage, so much wanted, of a word not of stronger, but of much more intelligible import.
The motive for these endeavors, after a monopoly of a denominational name, thus steadily kept in view through long years, and which must be deemed a thing of concert through almost the whole line of a party, is altogether hid from us. Where the dear rights of property are concerned indeed, an explanation is found for almost anything. And yet even in the Dublin question, (coming within that category,) it is a very partial explanation. The plaintiffs had had no funds wrested from them by the strong arm. The case widely differs, as any one must see, from those of a minority in church, being conjoined with a majority of the parish, constituting, in the successive judgments of the courts, that body the first church, and which was the essence of the Dedham, Princeton, and Groton suits in Massachusetts. These last may naturally enough be counted a hard, and, in more than one sense, a trying case. But the claimants in the matter in hand lost nothing which
they did not lose by their own act and consent; and now strive to recover, not only their own share of a common good, but the whole. This only will content them. We repeat, then, one cannot but wonder that the zeal of these voluntary New Hampshire confessors was so impetuous, or their simplicity so extreme, as to allow them to have been committed beyond retreat to a lawsuit. That it was a very small society, would seem less a reason for precipitancy than the contrary. We profess to know nothing; but cannot but suspect that those whose friendly offices were at first astir to make this little flock feel it their solemn duty to secede and build, have added to this obligation by inciting to another step, which has plunged their clients still more deeply in debt. The Orthodoxy more nearly round about us, however actively bent in . the same direction, is more cunning; conscious that the process of " continual dropping” on paper or on the stone is the safest way, though it makes a slow approach enough to its object. This has been probably the first lawsuit to deprive Unitarian believers of the Congregational name; the second will not probably come in our time.
But the cui bono aspect of these systematic efforts to amend the Dictionary - what advantage is to come of it?- is not the only mystery adhering to the subject which it is difficult to see through. How near is the age that will witness any result compassed worth all this machinery ? Congregationalism is found, to be sure, in ways past numbering, in false senses; but it is equally sure, that it is found in the true one in many others that will not die out just yet. We have the Massachusetts Congregational Charitable Society, of ancient date, and which will probably last as many years more in the future, — almost Unitarian to a man. Even the modest compiler of the Boston Directory affixes, year by year, his T. C. and U. C. to his list of Boston ministers; and, while that needful authority is demanded through all time, will not be bribed to swerve from his present fashion. Every year's return of the anniversary week in May brings together the Massachusetts Convention of Congregational Ministers. Its component parts, to be sure, drag rather reluctant steps to that meeting ; and the great body is scantily enough represented. There is
less, doubtless, of fervent embracing at this regathering after a year's absence, than in any other assembly of the week; but nothing would ever persuade its two wings to part company. The attendance is just enough to serve as sentinels for observing that “all 's well,” or to notify the absent, if the rumor should be spread of any intended mine to be sprung from the opposite quarter. Of the two standing officers of this body, the more responsible — he, in a word, who holds the strongbox — seems by prescription to belong to the Unitarians ; with occasional change, however, in the incumbents. Again, from time to time, the admission gracefully comes from the Evangelical ranks itself, that is, from the more liberal-minded, of the title of their opponents to share the denominational name. Dr. Codman, as chairman of an important committee of the Overseers of Harvard at some crisis, a few years ago, in his report uses once and again such phrases as “ whether by Unitarian or Trinitarian Congregationalists,” &c. The “ Annals of the Pulpit,” that work of extended interest through the whole profession, now in course of publication, from the hands of a truly Christian gentleman not less than scholar, has its first two volumes devoted to “ Trinitarian Congregationalists.” It is just as certain as if it had already seen the light, that the volume now forthcoming will, in whole or in part, be occupied with “ Unitarian Congregationalists."
But in fine, this tenacity about a denominational name, why should it be accepted as tantamount to possessing the thing? Comparisons, they say, are odious. It would be an irritating question, — and the endeavor at answering it, more so still, — with whom, as to two antagonistic sects, the power of religion was most apparent, or where the moral elevation of society the highest. But this delicacy is uncalled for in relation to the subject in hand. The Unitarian body, whose general indifferency at the encroachment that has drawn forth this protest, falls not short of supineness, in the exercise of congregational liberty have run riot. The phrase “bond of union,” applied to them, is but a flourish. More than thirteen years ago, one of the guiding minds of that faith, in the exordium of an ordination discourse at the south end of our city, asks, “ Are we a denomination ?” The query made the theme of preaching, and the tone of its asking foreshadowed the answer. From that time, the hint that it threw out has been acted upon more and more with each succeeding year. But what do we see on the other side ? From the date of our national union, in the sister State of Connecticut, a nominal Congregationalism, all of one hue, almost possessed the land, for a full generation ; a few Episcopal societies making the only exception. But it was still in leading-strings; whatever left the fold, and however few the steps, was looked after with a mother's concern for the infant that can just essay to ramble. A presbytery in everything but name lorded it with iron hand; this county and that county had its consociated churches; and the machinery was complete through all their borders.* The majority of the congregations in timidity and terror recognized this unasked jurisdiction over them ; but there was never the least modesty as to assuming it over any who had been careful to retain their freedom, if a complainant could only be found to lay before them a grievance. The increasing tokens of an insurrectionary public sentiment, after a long trial, reduced the power of this body to little more than a dead letter; and almost its last expiring act, as the elder patriarch of the Boston Association, now in retirement, tells us, was the attempt (in 1811) to unseat the excellent and venerated divine of Coventry, who but a half-year ago, in this vicinity, passed to his reward, having reached almost the centenarian's limit.
What has there been to show in the history, through much of the last half-century, of this Commonwealth, that they who have been pillars in the Evangelical Church (so called) are any more cordial to “the order of the churches” (Mather's
* As these thoughts are taking their impress upon paper, the last (New York) Independent comes to hand, with the item of religious intelligence, so apt for our purpose, here subjoined. From the style which that journal uses, it agrees with our conclusion, plainly enough, how abused and unmeaning is the title which the prevailing denomination of Connecticut, for generations past, has not scrupled to assume to itself. “On Monday last, the Congregational Church of Northfield (southeast part of Litchfield township) withdrew their connection from the Litchfield South Consociation. They are now strict Congregationalists by the passage of the following resolutions,” &c. These -- which it is needless formally to quote — announce, that, “from the date of the Resolves, our connection with said Consociation is dissolved."