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a fair hearing. Accordingly his people consented to put off calling a Council, till what he should write was published.” With this view he began immediately to prepare a statement and defence of his own sentiments, and in the latter part of April, about two months from the time of its commencement, sent it to the press an instance of rapidity of composition almost unexampled in an individual, who was at once occupied by the duties of an extensive parish, and involved in the embarrassments of a most perplexing controversy. Notwithstanding the efforts of Mr. Edwards, the printing of the work was not completed until August. It was entitled, “An Humble Enquiry into the Rules of the word of God, concerning the Qualifications requisite to a complete standing and full communion in the Visible Christian Church ;” and contains a discussion of the question agitated between himself and his people, “Whether any persons ought to be admitted to full communion in the Christian Church, but such as, in the eye of a reasonable judgment, are truly christians ?”—a discussion so thorough and conclu
. sive, that it has been the standard work with evangelical divines from that time to the present.
It was a very painful consideration to Mr. Edwards, that, while the circumstances, in which he was placed, constrained him to declare his sentiments from the press, the “ APPEAL TO THE LEARNED," the production of a man so much loved and venerated at Northampton, and so much respected throughout New-England, his own colleague too, and his own grand-father, was the work, and the only work of any respectability, on the opposite side of the question, which he should be obliged publicly to examine and refute. But his feelings on this subject, he has himself explained. “It is far from a pleasing circumstance of this publication, that it is against what my honoured Grand-father strenuously maintained, both from the pulpit, and the press. I can truly say, on account of this and some other considerations, it is what I engage in with the greatest reluctance, that ever I undertook any public service in my life. But the state of things with me is so ordered, by the sovereign disposal of the great Governor of the world, that my doing this appears to me very necessary, and altogether unavoidable. I am conscious, that not only is the interest of religion concerned in this affair, but my own reputation, future usefulness, and my very subsistence, all seem to depend on my freely opening and defending myself as to my principles, and agreeable conduct in my pastoral charge, and on my doing it from the press : In which way alone, am I able to state and justify my opinion to any purpose, before the country, (which is full of noise, misrepresentations, and many censures concerning this affair,) or even before my own people, as all would be fully sensible, if they knew the exact state of the case.- I have been brought to this necessity in Divine Providence, by such a situation of affairs, and coincidence of circum
stances and events, as I choose at present to be silent about; and which it is not needful, nor perhaps expedient, for me to publish to the world.”
The people of Northampton manifested great uneasiness in waiting for this publication, before it came out of the press; and when it was published, some of the leading men, afraid of its ultimate effect on the minds of the people, did their utmost to prevent its extensive perusal, and it was read by comparatively a small number. Some of those who read it, of a more cool and dispassionate temper, were led to doubt whether they had not been mistaken. To prevent a result so unpropitious, it was regarded as essentially important, that the publication of Mr. Edwards should, if possible, be answered; and a rumour having been circulated, that the Rev. Mr. Williams, of Lebanon, was preparing a Reply, the Town, at their meeting, Nov. 9, 1749, passed the following vote.
“ Voted, That Mr. Ebenezer Hunt be desired to wait on the Rev. Solomon Williams, of Lebanon,* and desire of him a copy of his Notes, that he is preparing for the press, in opposition to the opinion and principles, which Mr. Edwards, in his last book, hath endeavoured to defend and maintain, with respect to the admission of members into complete standing in the Church of Christ; and voted also, that the Precinct will pay Mr. Hunt what is reasonable for his trouble.”
On consulting Mr. Williams, it was found that his Reply would not issue from the press, in sufficient season, to counteract the effect of Mr. Edwards' Treatise; and a rumour having been circulated, that the Rev. Peter Clark, of Salem Village, (Danvers,) was also preparing a Reply, the Town, at their meeting, Jan. 1, 1750, passed the following vote.
“ Voted, That the Committee abovesaid take effectual care to employ some suitable person, that is going to Boston, to make diligent enquiry there, Whether Mr. Peter Clark, of Salem Village, hath undertaken to answer Mr. Edwards late book, respecting the Qualifications of communicants ; and if, upon enquiry, he can't obtain good evidence, that Mr. Clark hath undertaken to answer said
*The half brother of this gentleman, the Rev. Elisha Williams of Wethersfield, (Newington parish,) afterwards (from 1726 to 1739) Rector of Yale College, and afterwards Col. Williams of the Connecticut line, in the attempted expedition against Canada in 1748, began a reply to the Treatise of Mr. Edwards, immediately after it issued from the press; but, on going to England in 1749, he placed his papers in the hands of his brother, the Rev. Solomon Williams of Lebanon. This gentleman published his reply to Mr. Edwards, in 1751.
book, that then the person be desired to go to Mr. Clark, and desire him to write an answer to said book, as speedily as may be, and that the person, improved and employed to wait upon Mr. Clark, be paid and satisfied out of the treasury of the first Precinct.”
The information thus obtained not proving satisfactory, the subject was again agitated, at a subsequent meeting, March 6, 1750, with the following result :-“ After conference, the question was put-Whether the Precinct desired that the Rev. Mr. Clark, of Salem Village, should be applied to, to write an answer to Mr. Edwards' late book, respecting the Qualifications, necessary in order to complete standing in the Christian Church?—and it passed in the Affirmative ; and then Major Ebenezer Pomeroy was chosen to apply to Mr. Clark for the end abovesaid."
Mr. Clark was a man of sound evangelical sentiments; and Mr. Edwards, feeling the utmost confidence, that his opinions on the subject in controversy could not differ materially from his own, addressed to him a frank and friendly letter, in which he pointed out the misrepresentations, which had been made of his own principles, and then stated them in a clear and explicit manner.* The consequence was that Mr. Clark declined complying with the request of the town.
"Mr. Edwards,” continues Dr. Hopkins, “ being sensible that his Treatise had been read but by very few of the people, renewed his proposal to preach upon the subject, and at a meeting of the brethren of the church asked their consent in the following terms: “ I desire that the brethren would manifest their consent, that I should declare the reasons of my opinion, relating to full communion in the Church, in lectures appointed for that end : not as an act of authority, or as putting the power of declaring the whole counsel of God out of my hands ; but for peace's sake, and to prevent occasion for strife.” This was answered in the negative.He then proposed that it should be left to a few of the neig bouring ministers, Whether it was not, all things considered, reasonable, that he should be heard in this matter from the pulpit, before the affair should be brought to an issue. But this also passed in the negative.
“ However, having had the advice of the ministers and messengers of the neighbouring churches, who met at Northampton to advise them under their difficulties, he proceeded to appoint a Lecture, in order to preach on the subject , proposing to do so weekly, till he had finished what he had to say. On Monday there was a society meeting, in which a vote was passed to choose a committee
* A long extract from this letter will be found on a subsequent page, in the preface to Mr. Edwards' Farewell Sermon: it bears date May 7, 1750.
to go to Mr. Edwards, and desire him not to preach lectures on the subject in controversy, according to his declaration and appointment; in consequence of which a committee of three men, chosen for this purpose, waited on him. However, Mr. Edwards thought proper to proceed according to his proposal, and accordingly preached a number of sermons, till he had finished what he had to say on the subject. These lectures were very thinly attended by his own people ; but great numbers of strangers from the neighbouring towns attended them, so many as to make above half the
congregation. This was in February and March, 1750.
“ The calling of a decisive Council, to determine the matter of difference, was now more particularly attended to on both sides. Mr. Edwards had before this insisted, from time to time, that they were by no means ripe for such a procedure : as they had not yet given him a fair hearing, whereby perhaps the need of such a council would be superseded. He observed, “ That it was exceedingly unbecoming to manage religious affairs of the greatest importance in a ferment and tumult, which ought to be managed with great solemnity, deep humiliation, submission to the awful frowns of heaven, humble dependence on God, with fervent prayer and supplication to him: That therefore for them to go about such an affair as they did, would be greatly to the dishonour of God and religion ; a way in which a people cannot expect a blessing.” Thus having used all means to bring them to a calm and charitable temper without effect, he consented that a decisive council should be called without any further delay.
“But a difficulty attended the choice of a council, which was for some time insuperable. It was agreed, that the council should be mutually chosen, one half by the pastor, and the other half by the church: but the people insisted upon it, that he should be confined to the county in his choice. Mr. Edwards thought this an unreasonable restraint on him, as it was known that the ministers and churches in that county were almost universally against him in the controversy. He indeed did not suppose that the business of the proposed council would be to determine whether his opinion was right or not; but whether any possible way could be devised for an accommodation between pastor and people, and to use their wisdom and endeavour in order to effect it. And if they found this impracticable, they must determine, whether what ought in justice to be done had already actually been attempted, so that there was nothing further to be demanded by either of the parties concerned, before a separation should take place. And if he was dismissed by them, it would be their business to set forth to the world in what manner and for what cause he was dismissed: all which were matters of great importance to him, and required upright and impartial judges. Now considering the great influence a difference in religious opinions has to prejudice men one against another, and the close connection of the point, in which most of ministers and churches in the county differed from him, with the matter to be judged of, he did not think they could be reasonably looked upon so impartial judges, as that the matter ought to be wholly left to them. Besides, he thought that the case, being so new and extraordinary, required the ablest judges in the land. For these, and some other reasons, which he offered, he insisted upon liberty to go out of the county, for those members of the proposed council in which he was to have a choice. In this, the people strenuously and obstinately opposed him. At length they agreed to leave the matter to a council consisting of the ministers and messengers of the five neighbouring churches; who, after they had met twice upon it, and had the case largely debated before them, were equally divided, and therefore left the matter undetermined.
“However, they were all agreed, that Mr. Edwards ought to have liberty to go out of the county for some of the council. And at the next church meeting, which was on the 26th of March, Mr. Edwards offered to join with them in calling a council, if they would consent that he should choose two of the churches out of the county, in case the council consisted of but ten churches. The church however refused to comply with this, at one meeting after another repeatedly; and proceeded to warn a church meeting and choose a moderator, in order to act without their pastor. But, to pass by many particulars, at length, at a meeting of the church, warned by their pastor, May 3d, they voted their consent to his proposal of going out of the county for two of the churches that should be applied to. And they then proceeded to make choice of the ten ministers and churches, of which the council should consist."