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Mr. Edwards, therefore, had a perfect right to select his own half of the Council; and justice to himself and his family demanded it. Had he originally asserted this right, and persevered in the assertion, no ultimate measure could have been adopted, but by a Council fairly chosen, and equally balanced. For the sake of peace, he unfortunately relinquished a part of this claim, in the outset; and then, both the Precinct and the Church were determined, that he should relinquish the remainder. Under the pretence, that the Platform recommended Councils to be taken, generally, from churches in the vicinity, they insisted, that the choice of both parties should be confined to the county of Hampshire. This was a mere pretence; for neither the church of Northampton, nor any other church, in the county or out of it, had ever adhered to this recommendation; and that church had even been represented in the Councils of other provinces. The church perfectly knew, that only one church in the vicinity, and only two churches and three ministers in the county, sided with Mr. Edwards, that the subject in controversy had excited sharp contention, that many of the ministers and churches of the county had warmly disapproved of the course, pursued by Mr. Edwards, in advocating the cause of strict admission, that three of the ministers of the county were connected with the family,* and that one of them was personally opposed to him, from his having publicly defended the proceedings of the Council, which refused to ordain him. They perfectly knew, therefore, that, if the Council were taken exclusively from the county, almost every individual in it would be on their side, and opposed to Mr. Edwards, on the very question in dispute. This was the reason, why they contended so earnestly, for a Council exclusively from the county. Probably no example of injustice, as to the choice of umpires, more palpable and shameless, is to be found on the records of controversy. They were resolved to have no Council, unless one, whose decision they could know beforehand would be in their favour.
The course of conduct pursued by the first Council, as to the points submitted to them, is scarcely less deserving of censure. One of these points was, whether Mr. Edwards had not a right to go out of the county, in selecting his part of the Council; another, whether he had not a right to preach on the qualifications for communion, and whether it was not reasonable that the people should hear him. The members of the Council, in conversation with the parties, acknowledged freely, that these were rights, which Mr. Edwards could indisputably challenge; but utterly neglected to say so in their Result. Their private conversations, they well knew,
Two of these, and the brother of the third, were actually selected by the Church, for the Decisive Council.
This gentleman was also selected for the Decisive Council.
Mr. Edwards could make no use of; but their Official Award, in their Result, would have given him a very great advantage. This neglect could not have been an oversight; because Mr. Edwards urged it upon them, in the most solemn manner, as what he had a perfect right to demand of them as umpires, that they should officially decide these questions. Their failure to do it, therefore, was unquestionably owing, either to their disagreement with Mr. Edwards on the main question, or to their unwillingness to offend the people of Northampton; and, in either case, was wholly inconsistent with evangelical integrity.* They had accepted the office of umpires, and had heard the cause; and then, they would not give an award in favour of one of the parties, when, in conversation, they freely owned, before both, that he was in the right. Probably no similar example can be found, in the annals of Arbitration.
When Mr. Edwards, from a determination not to call a Definitive Council, until he had done what lay in his power to convince the people of their error, had commenced a series of Lectures, on the point in controversy, the same spirit was still manifested; for, though the Lectures were well attended, more than half of the audience were from abroad, a large proportion of the church and people refusing to be present.
With the constitution of the Final Council, the individual already referred to, as personally hostile to Mr. Edwards, and as the friend and counsellour of his enemies, could scarcely have been better satisfied, had he selected them himself; for one of the five was his near kinsman, another his own minister, another the brother of his brother-in-law, and the fourth and fifth, the two most decided opposers of Mr. Edwards among them all: one, in consequence of his having defended the course pursued by the Council, which refused to ordain him; and the other, from violent hostility to the system of doctrines, of which Mr. Edwards had been a most successful champion. Each of these gentlemen, also, was a warm advocate of the lax mode of admission; and several of them decidedly hostile to revivals of religion, and to the doctrines of grace. Their delegates appear to have been men, who would act with their ministers. The church of Cold Spring, one of those selected by Mr. Edwards, refused to send its messenger; and, though the pastor of that church sat and acted with the Council, the umpires chosen by Mr. Edwards were still in the minority, on every vote. This was in direct opposition to the mutual understanding and agreement of the parties. In the ultimate arrangement of Mr. Edwards and the people, when the final Council was chosen, it was explicitly understood, that neither party should have advantage of the other in point of numbers; and when Mr. Edwards insisted on this
These remarks refer, of course, only to those, who were in the majority.
understanding, and declared that, according to the agreement of the parties, he was not bound to proceed with such a disparity, the majority refused to postpone the case until it could be remedied. This was doing the very injustice, at which the church had long aimed in vain.
Soon after Mr. Edwards was dismissed, the church and people voted, that he should not be allowed to preach in their pulpit; and actually closed it against him, even when they had no one else to preach. They preferred being without the preaching of the gospel, to hearing Mr. Edwards. And of the conduct of the church, when, at the request of his friends in Northampton, but wholly in opposition to his own opinion, a Council of ministers had been convened, to advise them as to their duty, the letter of Mr. Hawley is an exposure, which needs no farther comment.
BUT we are also to regard this melancholy event, as brought about under the direct appointment of an All-wise Providence; and, in its immediate and remote effects, we may discover the ends, which it was designed to answer. Among these, may be mentioned the following:
It showed, in a striking light, the instability of all things, that depend on man. No people had manifested more pride in their minister, or expressed a stronger attachment towards him; yet, for merely performing his duty, in a case where conscience, and the word of God, plainly allowed him no alternative, they turned against him, and resolved, in a body, to drive him from his office.
The question in controversy, between Mr. Edwards and his people, was one of vital importance to the purity and prosperity of the Christian Church. Wherever the lax method of admission has prevailed, all distinction between the church and the world has soon ceased, and both have been blended together. This question had never been thoroughly examined; and it needed some mind of uncommon powers, to exhibit the truth with regard to it, in a light too strong to be ultimately resisted. The controversy at Northampton compelled Mr. Edwards to examine it, with the utmost care; and the result of his labours has rendered all farther investigation needless. At the same time, his character, and the peculiar circumstances in which he was placed, gave to his investigations a degree of fairness and candour, rarely witnessed in works of controversy.
The dismission of Mr. Edwards was an event of so singular an aspect, as to rivet the attention of the whole American Church, and, of course, to rivet that attention to the question in controversy between him and his people. It was necessary, not only that the subject should be ably treated, by some powerful advocate of truth, but that the Treatise should be extensively read. This result was thus effectually secured, at the time. And the fact, that Mr. Ed
wards, a man whose character and writings have been so deeply interesting to the church at large, was on this ground, and in such a manner, dismissed from his people, has had great influence, from that time to this, in drawing the attention of christians to this subject, on both sides of the Atlantic.
This however, was not enough. It was necessary, also, that the genuine consequences of this mode of admission, its legitimate effects on the character of the church of Christ, should be fully developed; and no where, probably, could this have been done, in a manner so clear and striking, and with such convincing power, as in the church of Northampton. That church was preeminently "a city set upon a hill." Mr. Stoddard, during an uncommonly successful ministry, had drawn the attention of American christians towards it, for fifty-seven years. He had also been advantageously known, in the mother country. Mr. Edwards had been their minister, for twenty-three years. In the respect paid to him, as a profound theological writer, he had had no competitor from the first establishment of the colonies, and, even then, could scarcely find one in England or Scotland. He had also as high a reputation for elevated and fervent piety, as for superiority of talents. During the preceding eighty years, the church had been favoured with more numerous and more powerful revivals of religion, than any church in Christendom. The accounts of several of these revivals had circulated extensively, wherever the English language was spoken. The great body of the church had been gathered, under the ministry of Mr. Edwards. Their union, as minister and people, had been eminently prosperous and happy; so much so, that, had the voice of Prophecy announced such an event, as about to take place somewhere in New-England, probably Northampton would have been last selected, as the place, where the prediction could have been fulfilled. The truth of God, during the preceding eighty years, but especially during the preceding twenty-seven, had been preached with great power and faithfulness, particularly the absolute necessity of a change of heart to salvation; and the church was united in receiving the doctrines of grace. Both Mr. Stoddard, and Mr. Edwards also, while they received communicants without demanding evidence of their piety, did every thing else, which they could do, to promote their piety, and that of the church at large. Never probably was there a more advantageous opportunity, to exhibit the genuine influence of the lax mode of admission, on the piety and purity of a church, when, too, the most powerful causes were in operation, to prevent and counteract that influence, than in the church of Northampton. When, therefore, the christians of America beheld the members of that church uniting in one body against their once loved and venerated minister, whose labours had been so much honoured of God and man, resolving at all hazards to drive him from them, refusing con
tinually to hear him declare, from the desk, what the Holy Spirit had taught respecting the subject in controversy, refusing to read it when he had declared it from the press, and even refusing him an opportunity, to explain his views concerning it in private friendly conversation; when they saw them circulating "gross, scandalous and injurious, slanders, against Mr. Edwards and his particular friends," descending to the arts of political chicanery to effect their purpose,† endeavouring in every possible way to deprive him of a known acknowledged right in the choice of the Council, and, after his dismission, not suffering him to preach to them, even when they could procure no one else; they had the highest practical evidence of the tendency of the lax mode of admission, to corrupt the purity, and destroy the peace and prosperity, of the church of Christ. So violent was the shock given to the feelings of men, by this strange and surprising occurrence, that it produced at the time, and has ever since produced, a powerful reaction against that mode of admission, as well as against every species of lax theology in principle and practice. Probably no one event, of apparently malignant aspect, ever did so much, towards reforming the churches of New-England.
Many difficult subjects of theology, also, needed, at that time, to be thoroughly examined and illustrated; and to this end, some individual of expanded views and profound penetration, as well as of correct faith and elevated piety, was to be found, who could give the strength of his talents and his time to these investigations. The providence of God had selected Mr. Edwards for this important office; but so numerous and engrossing were the duties of the ministry at Northampton, that, had he remained there, he could not have fulfilled it, but in part. To give him abundant opportunity and advantage for the work assigned him, he was taken from that busy field, at the best time of life, when his powers had gained their greatest energy, when the field of thought and enquiry had been already extensively surveyed, and when the labours of the pulpit were fully provided for and anticipated; and was transferred to the retirement and leisure of a remote frontier village. There he prepared, within a little period, four of the ablest and most valuable works, which the Church of Christ has in its possession.
It is worthy of our observation, also, that the consequences of Mr. Stoddard's error fell with all their weight on his own grandson, and his numerous family. To this one cause, they might attribute the heaviest trial and calamity of life. This is very often, if not usually, the course of God's providence.
Previous to this event, Mr. Edwards' life had been eminently
* Letter of Mr. Hawley.
† Particularly in the Precinct meeting deciding, previously, on the measures to be adopted by the Church.