with all its difficulties, and to walk, in a way of obedience to God, universally, and perseveringly-and that all their hearts and souls are in those engagements to be the Lord's, and forever to serve him. Hence, to entitle men to full esteem and charity as sincere professors of christianity, there must, according to the rules of Christ and his apostles, be a visibly holy life, and a profession, either expressing, or plainly implying, the things which have been mentioned." Plainly, no reader of the preceding passages could be at a loss, as to the views, which the writer then entertained, as to the nature of a christian profession.

These declarations, on the part of Mr. Edwards, were all that he ought to have made, before he was called to act; and it so happened, in the providence of God, that, from the case of discipline in 1744, to December, 1748, not a solitary individual offered himself, as a candidate for admission to the church. The church, as a body, by their conduct on that occasion, there is too much reason to believe, had, in a very dreadful manner, grieved the Holy Spirit; and, as a necessary consequence, though Mr. Edwards preached with the same faithfulness and power as in 1727, in 1734, and in 1740, and as he had preached at Leicester and Enfield, where God had signally acknowledged and blessed his labours, the work of conviction and conversion was, during this long interval, wholly unknown. When, however, the first candidate for admission to the church presented himself, Mr. Edwards, with entire openness and frankness, informed the Committee of the Church, that it was impossible for him, with a clear conscience, to receive him, without a profession of personal religion. At the same time, he proposed to deliver the reasons of his opinion from the pulpit; but to this, the Committee wholly refused their consent.

The Treatise on the Qualifications for Communion, on various accounts, here deserves our notice. It was written by Mr. Edwards, for the perusal of his people, because they would not allow him to preach on the subject. It was prepared with a full conviction, that, as to the people of Northampton, it would be prepared in vain; with a conviction that most of those, who would not hear him preach to them on the subject from the desk, would not read it from the press, and that those of them, who did read it, could not read it with calmness and candour. It was prepared with unexampled rapidity-only nine or ten weeks having elapsed, from the time it was commenced, till it was in the printer's hands-and this too, in addition to all the ordinary duties of an extensive parish, and all the multifarious demands of a parochial contest. Yet, it is merely a work of calm, logical reasoning, without a solitary remark indicative of excitement, or feeling, in the author, or the slightest intimation, in any part of it, that it was written in the heat

*See vol. V. pp. 279-281.

of a personal controversy. No mind could act thus, in circumstances like these, which had not learned, in a degree unusual, if not singular, the duty of trusting in the all-sufficiency of God, and of yielding a holy and unreserved submission to his will.

The offer made by Mr. Edwards to his people, April 13th, 1749, just before this Treatise was ready for the press, while it indicates in a very striking manner, the candour, integrity and disinterestedness, of his mind, also shows the exact ground which he took at the opening of the controversy:-" I, the subscriber, do hereby signify and declare, that, if my people will wait till the book I am preparing, relative to the admission of members into the church, is published, I will resign the ministry over this church, if the church desires it, after they have had opportunity pretty generally to read my said book, and they have asked advice of a Council mutually chosen, and followed their advice, with regard to the regular steps to be taken previous to their vote: Provided none of the brethren be permitted to vote, but such as have either read it, or heard from the pulpit what I have to say, in defence of the doctrine which is the subject of it; and that a regular Council do approve of my thus resigning my pastoral office over this church." Mr. Edwards well knew, that, at the time of his ordination, the Church at Northampton had been committed to his especial care; that he had then received a most solemn charge to "feed the flock of God, over which the Holy Ghost had made him an overseer;" that he was directly responsible to Christ, for the manner in which he discharged this duty, and that he could not voluntarily relinquish his charge, except for reasons of the most weighty character. He could not, therefore, think of resigning it, without using every lawful means in his power, to bring them acquainted with what he fully believed to be taught in the word God, relative to a subject, which was most intimately connected with the purity and prosperity of that church, and of the whole Church of Christ. This, he at once claimed as his right, and insisted on as his duty. If he consented to a separation, before he had had such an opportunity of declaring to them the truth of God on this subject, he knew not how to justify himself, before the judgment-seat of Christ. At the same time, he offered voluntarily to resign his office, after he had had this opportunity, if they were not satisfied, that his views of the subject were scriptural; provided a regular Ecclesiastical Council should sanction such resignation. No offer could be more fair than this. It left the ultimate decision of the question to the people themselves, after they had read, or heard, what he had to offer with regard to it. This proves, conclusively, that, in opposing for a while their violent measures, in endeavouring to procure his dismission, he aimed simply to satisfy the demands of his own conscience, and to prevent his people from committing, what he regarded as a most aggravated sin, that of rejecting him as their minister, without giving him any op

portunity to lay before them what God had taught them, respecting the subject in question.

The refusal of the people to suffer Mr. Edwards to preach to them, on the Qualifications for Communion, was a sin of no ordinary magnitude. The strict mode of admission was the primitive mode, in all the New England churches. It was so in the Church of Northampton, and had prevailed in that church for forty-four years. The lax method had been publicly condemned by the General Synod of Massachusetts, in 1679, as a great and public sin, which provoked the judgments of heaven, and which must be repented of, and put away, if those judgments were to be averted. Of this Synod Mr. Stoddard was a member, and had himself joined in this very vote. It had been introduced into the Church of Northampton, without any vote of the church, or alteration of their original Platform, by Mr. Stoddard's forming a short profession, for the candidates for admission, agreeably to his own views, and the church submitting, though not without uneasiness, to his authority. The great body of wise and good men, in the church at large, and in New England, had been, and still were, in favour of the primitive mode; and the great majority of the ministers and churches in New England still adhered to it. Many arguments, and those of great apparent force, could certainly be alleged from the word of God, in favour of that mode, and against the other. Mr. Edwards was their pastor, and spiritual watchman and guide, set over them by divine appointment, to teach them the truth of God, and to guard them against error. He was required by Him, whose commission he bore, to declare to them the whole counsel of God, and to maintain the Discipline of the Church in its purity. They had seen his preaching honoured of God, far beyond that of any other clergyman in America. They acknowledged him to be, and boasted of him as being, a preacher of singular talents and wisdom; one, whose reasoning powers were of the highest order, and who shed uncommon light on the sacred scriptures. Such already was his character, throughout the Colonies, as well as throughout England and Scotland. As their minister, it was, beyond all controversy, his plain right, and obvious duty, to preach to them his own views of truth, on that subject, and on every other; and it was as certainly their duty to hear what he preached, and to examine, with docility and prayer, whether he did not tell them the truth. Waiving the direct assertion of this right, he came and distinctly offered to preach to them on the subject. He told them, that he had examined it with the utmost care and attention, giving the arguments in favour of the prevailing mode all the weight and consideration which he honestly could; that, as the result of this examination, his conscience would not suffer him to proceed in that mode any longer, and that he wished to lay before them, from the word of God, those arguments by which his own mind had been

convinced. This proposal they rejected, in the most direct and explicit manner, and that in numerous instances. They did so, in the Committee of the Church, when Mr. Edwards first proposed it;* in the Precinct meeting ; in the meeting of the Church; and in every subsequent meeting of each of these bodies, when the subject was proposed. Mr. Edwards also urged them repeatedly, and by every consideration of duty, to submit the question to the neighbouring ministers, all but one of whom were on their side, Whether he had not a right to preach on the point in controversy, and whether it was not reasonable that they should hear him; but they refused. He then told them, that they might employ any ministers they chose, to preach in his pulpit on the other side, and in answer to his arguments; but they still refused. Nay, they would not even give him an opportunity to state the reasons of his opinion, in private conversation.

The reason they assigned, why they would not suffer him to preach, unfolds the actual state of their minds. It was, because they feared, that his preaching would make parties in the town. In other words, the great body of the people were now united against Mr. Edwards; the leaders of the opposition were resolved on his dismission; and they were afraid, if he should preach his sentiments, that he would convince a large number of them that he was right, and thus, by making a party in his own favour, defeat the measure on which they had resolved. This was the same as to acknowledge, that the people at large had not examined the question, and that, if they were to hear the discourses of Mr. Edwards, so many of them would probably be led, by the force of argument, to embrace his side of the question in dispute, as to hazard the success of their measures. Thus, when it was pre-eminently their duty to hear the counsel of God, on a great practical question, deeply interesting to their welfare as a church, they deliberately and repeatedly refused to hear it, when brought to them by the man,whom God had appointed to declare it to them; and for the express reason, that they feared his arguments might convince great numbers of them, that they were in the wrong. This was, as a church and people, deliberately to reject the counsel of God, and to declare, that they had made up their minds without examination, and would sue their own course, whether God approved of it, or not.


The same spirit was exhibited, with regard to the Treatise on the Scriptural Qualifications for Communion. The ardour, manifested on the part of numbers, to have it printed, did not arise from a desire to read it, and examine its arguments, but from a wish to remove the objection, raised against proceeding to ultimate measures, that the people had had no opportunity to hear Mr. Edwards' sentiments. When the work was published, the reading of


*Feb, 1749. † Oct. 19.

Oct. 22. ¡ Nov. 3.


it was discouraged; and when numbers of those who read it were convinced of the soundness of the arguments, the town, without generally reading it, held repeated meetings, and by vote applied to two different clergymen to answer it.

The next proposal of Mr. Edwards* to the church, that a Council, mutually chosen, should be called, to consider of the subsisting controversy between pastor and people, and give their advice, as to what course should be taken to bring it to an issue, and what should be done to promote the church's peace and prosperity; was so precisely that, which justice and the platform of the churches required, that the Committee of the church, with only one dissentient, made a report, advising its acceptance. The church refused to comply, on the ground, that they might be ensnared and caught; as such a Council might recommend some adjustment of the existing difficulties, to which the church would not agree, and as they might also advise to the admission of those individuals, who were willing to make a full profession of religion.

The plan, adopted and pursued from the commencement to the close of the controversy, of bringing every measure primarily before the Precinct meeting,t of deliberating and resolving upon it there, and then of recommending to the church to adopt it; was a specimen of craft and management, worthy of a political cabal. In the Precinct meeting, they could pursue their own measures without interruption; for Mr. Edwards could not be present. Here, they could make any representation, and employ any means of excitement; for they had the whole Town to work upon. Here, men of all characters could meet, and vote what should be done in a church of Christ; and then, retiring and separating, could find that their measures were voted over again, when those of their number, who were members of that church, had assembled by themselves.

The controversy, respecting the choice of a Council, exhibits the parties in a similar light. A Mutual Council is, ex vi termini, a Council, in the choice of which, each of two contending parties stands on an equal footing, or has an equal advantage. It is a Council, mutually chosen: either by both parties agreeing upon all the members, or by each choosing half of the members. But if each may choose half of the members, each may certainly say, who they shall be. Any attempt to restrict the choice of one party, is therefore a direct invasion of his right, a gross perversion of justice, and a complete subversion of the principles, on which the government of the churches in Massachusetts was founded.

*Nov. 13, 1749.

+ The inhabitants of a Town, of all classes, when met to deliberate and decide on parochial affairs, constituted what, at that time, was called in the province, a Precinct Meeting.

« ElőzőTovább »