Unitarian body. The friends of the Preamble were fully prepared for all the consequences of its passage. In their judgment, whatever fraction might be cooled or repelled by the ground taken in the. Preamble could not, under any circumstances, long cohere with a Church organization of any sort, or long continue to care much for the name "Christian,” If the momentum of the body, sphering itself in its motion as an active, working Church, - working, we mean, not merely or chiefly as a philanthropic association and upon the general interests of society, but as a Church devoted to the increase of personal faith and piety and the ordering of men into Christian fellowship and communion, -- if the increased momentum of such a body should throw off what does not properly belong to it, what insupportable calamity would that be, or what serious weakness could it produce? No Christian cause can suffer from the self-alienation of any who refuse or dislike the name of believers in Jesus Christ, as Master and Head of the Christian Church.

It would be unjust to many who were opposed to the Preamble adopted in the convention of 1865, to say, that they did not substantially agree with the majority in their views of the importance of the Christian Church, or in their love for the person and devotion to the work of Christ. Many objected to it, doubtless, on grounds of respect for others' liberty, many from a distaste for the special words chosen, and many for purely theoretical reasons, At any rate, after protesting at the time and protesting in their pulpits afterwards, the great majority of the objectors to the Preamble continued to be friends of the National Conference, and determined to work with it, and not outside of it or of the denomination it represents.

We cannot spare time to give the history of the denomination for the last eighteen months. The most careless observation would notice the general quickening of our cause, both in individual churches and in denominational life. It is said, that forty-three churches have been added since that time to the denominational register, which is an increase of about one-seventh of the whole number. The re-animation of our

At any

faith and activity is too plain to need proof. Everybody confesses it. What part the National Conference had in producing this revival of courage and effort, it is not necessary to consider too carefully. At any rate, the existence of the renewed life has been concurrent with the existence of the Conference, and, whether as cause or as effect, they are indissolubly associated.

Whether the denomination plainly saw this or no was doubtful even a month ago. It had been thought and said by a few censors of the New-York Convention, that it was contrived and guided to a predestined goal by a few zealots for organization, who did not understand the wishes or wants of the denomination; that it was a superfluous addition to, or else an attempted supplanting of, organizations already existing. How far this feeling existed in the churches or among the ministers, it was not easy to measure. rate, the more immediate friends of the movement were determined to use no personal solicitation or special efforts of any kind to overbear the legitimate wishes and free inclinations of the churches in regard to the National Conference. They wished to know the actual mind of the Unitarian denomination, being resolved to abide by its will. The churches had enjoyed an opportunity of seeing for themselves. If they commonly and freely chose to be represented at the second session, it would prove the reality of their faith in the Conference, beyond cavil or dispute.

Before the official report of the Syracuse session is published, we cannot speak positively of the number of churches represented there. But it is perhaps near enough to say, that it was within ten of the number which sent delegates to the general convention of the Unitarian churches at New York. That is to say, while one hundred and ninety-six churches were willing to meet in general convention, one hundred and eighty-six were willing to enter the organization that convention established, - a proportion altogether beyond the most sanguine expectations of its friends.

The character and variety of the representation, both clerical and lay, showed that every section and school of our body

was integrated in this common movement; while the energy, temper, and spirit of the Conference proved that liberty and order, differences of opinion and unity of Christian sentiment, inflexible dissent with mutual respect and love, could be reconciled and made reciprocally helpful.

We can at this late hour, while the press is waiting for these pages, give only a glance at the more important points made in the late session.

1. The outspoken loyalty of the Unitarian denomination to the Church and person of the Lord Jesus Christ was re-affirmed in the earnest debate on Rev. Mr. Abbot's Resolution proposing to substitute for the Preamble a general statement of faith in Christian principles, and in combined action in furtherance of them. A majority of two-thirds refused to allow the change. It is impossible to recall the discussion on this point without the liveliest gratitude for the spirit in which it was conducted on both sides, and especially by the minority. It is very certain, that the opposite schools in our body were never more deeply convinced of each other's sincerity, and of the foundation of their respective positions in the profoundest convictions of each, than after the debate on the first day of the late session. It became clear, that a solemn and tender earnestness animated the young man who, pale with emotion, called for the change of the Preamble. It was just as clear, that the majority who refused it were not moved by expediency, or fear of the world's eyes, or by unreasoning attachment to what is old and customary; but by a profound sentiment of loyalty to a Master they loved, and “a name above every name" but that of Almighty God. The opposition pleaded for some gloss or modification which would save their conscience and their self-respect; but the majority also had conscience to obey and self-respect to maintain, and could not sacrifice the convictions of two-thirds to one-third of the body.

It had been forgotten, that the day before the Preamble was passed in New York, it had been unanimously agreed, that all resolutions passed in the convention were binding upon individual members, only to the extent in which they recommended themselves to their individual conscience; the Conference, not being a legislative body, but a purely advisory one. When the minority discovered this clause in the published report of the last Conference, they seemed greatly relieved, but not more so than the majority. For nothing was more obvious than the yearning of the conservative and radical parties in the convention towards each other. There was no wish for separation or exclusion, but, on the contrary, the strongest desire for union; and it is our full conviction, that the frank and manly discussion, while it emphasized the differences of the extremes, did a great deal to develop a ground of union between them in mutual respect and love, and a sense of common faithfulness to conscientious conviction.

2. The next point made by the Conference was the adoption of a plan of local organization, by which the whole body of our churches were to be districted into Local Conferences, each to be responsible for missionary operations within its own boundaries, and to meet periodically by lay and clerical delegates. We cannot better express the end and object of this local organization than by quoting from a private communication, as follows:

“ The whole story about the country churches, generally, is They cannot send delegates. The Conference is absolutely out of their reach. My own society might perhaps send, as they are not a weak society, but a tolerably strong one, — probably above the average country societies. But it would require so much urging and drumming up and factitious effort to raise a hundred and fifty dollars for this purpose, that it would be sure to alienate them from the Conference. This sum looks trifling to those whose societies are large and wealthy, but it is one-fourth or one-third of the salaries of some of our ministers whose churches would be excluded. I cannot better tell you how the whole thing looks from my position than giving you, verbatim, an extract from my discoursings which I had written to preach to my people on this subject :

61 presume, that with some extra, abnormal effort you might send delegates. But how is it with the societies all about you ? — some of them too weak to have a stated ministry, and none of them strong enough to be taxed annually to send delegates to a convention, which perhaps next year will meet a thousand miles off. And, if you will run over the list, you will see, that about one-half the churches of the


denomination are in precisely the same state. Of the two hundred and seventy-five Unitarian churches, you will find, that about one hundred and thirty-seven are small and weak ones, sure to be left outside the new organization, and practically cut off from its benefits. For what they need most of all things is, not a few dollars sent them annually from the American Unitarian Association, but to be drawn in and embraced in the warm fellowship of the churches, that the sympathy and life-blood of the whole body may be sent into all the extremities. That is what we want as a denomination, and what we bave never had. There is ministerial fellowship, associations of clergymen; but those golden words, “ the communion of saints” and “the fellowship of the churches,” we hardly know the meaning of. It has been the standing objection against liberal Christianity these thirty years, that it was not a religion for the people; it was for the city, but not for the country; for the parlors and studios, but not for the fields and workshops ; for scholars and for ladies and gentlemen, but not for the men and women who grapple with the hard realities of life. You see that this new organization is running directly in this channel. If a plan had been devised to make liberal Christianity, as represented by it, a metropolitan religion merely, withdrawn from the country at large, they could not have hit upon a device better adapted to its end than its present constitution. The one hundred and thirty-seven feeble societies which will be left out were not all of them originally small and weak. Some of them were strong and flourishing once, but have gone into decline; and the light is dying upon their altars. How came they to be weak ? That is a question which opens a most interesting chapter in the history of the denomination. Doubtless, there is a twofold answer to it. In some of them, I fear, the people have only been fed on negations and husks, and not on vital and saving truth. But this is not all. They have been chilled and frozen in their isolation and solitude. There is a large and flourishing denomination, the Orthodox Congregational; one which does not hover about the cities, but strikes its roots deep into all the country towns. Their organization is a perfect network, taking into it every hamlet, and aiming to take in every cottage, in the commonwealth. Wherever there is a Unitarian society, an Orthodox church is planted on the opposite side of the way. It begins, very likely, with three members and a prayer-meeting, and a home missionary who comes to help them on. It grows stronger from year to year. It draws its life from the liberal church opposite. It increases as the other wanes. By and by, it becomes self-supporting, and contributes to

« ElőzőTovább »