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us in the spirit of comprehensive catholic love. It is the happiness of Congregational churches, that they of all churches are most free from ecclesiastical hindrances to communion with believers of other denominational fellowships; it is, therefore, their duty to be foremost in attempts to advance christian love and communion, as far as ever conscientious differences of opinion will allow.
2. By public, solemn declarations of the judgment of the annual assembly, whenever they shall be required, on questions of great and general interest to society, as affected by religion, or by institutions established for promoting religion among men.
3. By promoting among Congregational churches vigorous efforts to spread the gospel in our own or other countries, in connexion with their own distinctive views of divine truth and church order. The Committee are not unapprised that a censure is by some cast on this last-mentioned design, as being sectarian, and unworthy the large and liberal views of Congregational Christians, to whose generous spirit no methods of spreading the gospel are by them deemed becoming and consistent, but such as are entirely catholic and irrespective of denominational differences and peculiarities. To such objections the Committee would reply, that they are themselves ardent friends of efforts to evangelize the world on the catholic principle of merging sectarian differences, wherever that noble principle can be adopted and acted on. But the Committee conceive that to improve and enlarge their own denomination, while it is an object to which the catholic principle is of course inapplicable, is a primary, indispensable duty of Congregational Christians. If those views of doctrine and church order, from attachment to which we have separated from other christian churches, are not deemed by us of such importance and truth as to be worthy of strenuous efforts for their defence and spread, then our existence as a distinct body of Christians is needless and sectarian. But Congregational Christians have always deemed their distinctive sentiments on church order of great and vital importance from their scriptural authority, and their direct powerful tendency to preserve sound doctrine, christian liberty, and spirituality in the great body of the faithful. In this view they have been thought worth labouring and suffering for. In this view a standing witness for them in the world, has always been deemed a sacred duty required by fidelity to Christ, to truth, and to spiritual godliness. The Committee think, therefore, that our churches ought not to be indifferent and supine as to the growth of their own sentiments and their own body. If we are, other denominations are not: and can it be wise or consistent in us to witness the zeal of others in propagating denominational peculiarities which we deem erroneous, while we refrain from every exertion to spread those we regard as both true and important? We condemn not others, but we would learn of them. Every other large community of Christians has its distinct organization for its own denominational improvement; its own separate denominational mission to the heathen; its own distinct denominational efforts in England, Ireland, and the Colonies. And the Committee feel it cannot be just, that the Congregational churches who, late and slow, are at length meditating for themselves movements in imitation of the efforts of other bodies of Christians, each to build its own house, should for this suffer the reproach of especial sectarianism : and when that taunt proceeds from members of their own body, it is to be presumed it must originate in want of due consideration.
As to the present position, and prospects for the future, of the Union, the Committee find cause both for discouragement and hope. They are cheered by the adhesion to the general union of a very large body of our pastors and churches; by reviewing seven successive general assemblies of the Union, which have proved delightful seasons of holy fellowship, and in which have prevailed great peace, candour, and love, and a devout, fraternal christian spirit; by the successful conduct of a most interesting delegation to our Transatlantic brethren; by receiving at the several annual assemblies delegates from various bodies of British American and Continental Christians, charged with assurances of love, and deputed to maintain with our body, fraternal communion; by the commencement of a most promising mission to the British colonies; and by the gratifying measure of public approbation which has sanctioned the attempt to improve our devout psalmody, by the publication of the Congregational Hymn Book; as well as by a variety of proceedings on less important matters, which have all tended to prove how much a general union was needed, and how many valuable purposes it may, if generally supported, be made to accomplish.
The Committee look with some degree of discouragement on the fact, that a very considerable number of the pastors and churches of our denomination still hesitate to join the Union: they regret to have found themselves compelled, from want of a more vigorous and general co-operation, for the present to suspend the prosecution of a design of the utmost importance to the whole denomination, namely, by one effectual effort to discharge all our chapel debts. And the Committee are as yet unable to commence any plans or efforts for home missionary operations, which they propose to themselves as an object of paramount importance. Nor can the Committee forbear to mention as a serious discouragement, that even the churches which have joined the Union, supply funds in so sparing a manner, that pecuniary difficulties have not been the least of those with which the Committee have had to contend, and have prevented the Comunittee from adopting those vigorous measures to advance the objects of the Union, which they would have employed had they possessed the necessary funds.
For the future, the Committee will allow no despondency to fix itself on their ininds, or to influence and enfeeble their counsels. They are, in the first place, confident in the soundness of those views in which the Union originated, and in the importance, they will even add, the grandeur of its design, which will, they are assured, be more and more appreciated by the whole denomination, as discussion and experience shall make more evident its true nature and happy effects." The Committee, sanctioned by the general assembly, have obtained a permanent agency, exclusively devoted to the service of the Union, by which means they hope all their proceedings will be conducted with increased order, punctuality, and vigour. And, finally, it is the intention of the Committee to bend their whole energy in advancement of the great design committed to their administration; they will faithfully employ their utmost persevering efforts to give it full effect; and in dependance on the divine blessing, and sustained by the approval and aid of their brethren, they will not doubt of a happy and most fruitful result of their labours.
When the Committee proceed to expound their view of the means by which the Union may be extended and consolidated, and all its best results attained, they place the entire stress of all they recommend and desire in one word “organization-which is the great desideratum first, second, and third in importance and necessity; and without which, whatever also may be necessary, must remain unattainable. Let not any of our brethren be startled by this announcement, as if any thing fatal to the liberty, or inconsistent with the independency of our churches, were meditated. In fact, the Committee of the General Union of the Congregational Body desire no arrangement for accomplishing its objects, but such as is familiar, and has been long established among us. County or district associations form the simple and only organization desirable or requisite. Let these associations become universal and efficient; let them include all our churches, and enter on a course of vigorous action, and the machinery for a general union of our Body is complete. Any other organization this Committee would disclaim and discourage, for there are no members of our denomination more convinced than themselves that there may be too much organization as well as too little, and that the former might be a greater evil than the latter ; that for our churches the simplest and the freest modes of combination are the best; and that in constructing a machinery for the union and combined action of our denomination, which it has so long and so greatly needed, we ought to take warning, and beware of whatever might fetter or alarm, by the obvious fact, that there is at this moment hardly another denomination of Christians which does not find its authorities and its organizations the cause of struggles, divisions, and difficulties. This does not prove that there ought to be no union and no organization ; but it teaches us that these advantages may be pushed too far, and be too dearly purchased ; and that they certainly will be so, if organization cripples individual action, or union is drawn so close as to require the sacrifice of liberty.
The Committee, therefore, invite attention to the fact, that the General Congregational Union of England and Wales is not a union of individual churches, but of county and other associations; and no churches are in their individual capacity eligible for union, but such as are in connexion with, or recognized by the association within whose district they are located. By settling the General Union on this basis, all reasonable ground for jealousy was removed; existing associations might plainly perceive there was no design to undervalue or supersede them; the need of any test to determine what churches should be deemed eligible for union was obviated
and the recognition of churches and ministers was left, where it had always resided, to the knowledge and discretion of neighbouring pastors and their flocks. County and district associations are, therefore, equally the elements out of which the general Union is to be formed, and the instrumentality by which all its operations must be conducted. Through the committees or officers of associations, all the correspondence between the Committee of the General Union and the churches must be carried on, and all information received and communicated. By district associations, all home missionary operations must be conducted, which the General Union can but counsel, encourage, and, when able, assist by pecuniary aid. To the associations the General Committee must look for support in the colonial mission. By the officers of the associations, and by delegates appointed by those bodies, the Annual Assembly of the Union must be constituted. On the same principles, and for the same objects which have proved it good for the churches of a county to unite in an association, it will be found good for all the associations in the kingdom to unite in a general confederation. Union will be found to be strength; fellowship will be found delightful; and the several parts of a great whole will derive benefit and energy from the body of which they are the members.
The Committee of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, therefore, direct their first and deepest anxiety to obtain efficient local associations; and should the Committee be successful in promoting their formation where as yet they do not exist, or the greater efficiency of those already organized, this alone will be an advantage adequate to justify and repay the labour and expense of forming the general union. The Committee will be ready to render all the advice and assistance in their power to their brethren in any part of the country, who are anxious to organize new associations, or to revive or re-model existing ones. They will rejoice to enter into correspondence with their brethren on this subject. They invite, they entreat the co-operation of ministers and other influential Christians to promote this great design. For how stands the fact at this moment, in respect to local associations of Congregational churches throughout England ? In the first place, a very large proportion of our churches are not united in any association, or for any purpose whatever. Then many associations are very inefficient. Some are formed of ministers only; others unite pastors and churches. Some undertake home missions and village preaching; others aim at no public objects, but contemplate only the friendly and pious intercourse of the members. Some give vigilant attention to the state of the associated churches, and to such general matters as affect their prosperity; while others do not embrace such proceedings as any part of their design.
The Committee of the General Union earnestly desire to see associations universal throughout the country. They have no fondness for circumstantial uniformity. Differences of local circumstances, or customs, or opinions, may make some variations in the plans of different associations desirable and advantageous; but some leading principles all should recognize. In extent, a local association
should not be too wide. Attendance at its meetings, and the management of its affairs then becomes difficult; interest in its proceedings decays, and they fail in vigour and efficiency. If a county be too extensive, it should be dividel, and an association established in each district. Every association should include both pastors and churches. If ministers desire for strictly ministerial fellowship, a friendly association of their own, let it by all means be established; but for public denominational interests and objects, there should be an association uniting both churches and their pastors. These associations should take cognizance of those public general matters which affect the welfare of the united churches. Every association should prosecute home missions, seeking to promote the Gospel as held and professed by themselves: to gather new churches and increase old ones by the active labours of evangelists employed under the patronage of the association. And let the Committee be permitted to add, every association extending its views beyond the limits of its own immediate district, should be connected for fellow. ship, correspondence, and co-operation with all other associations, through the medium of this general Union, with its annual assembly, central committee, and official agency.
And now, dear brethren, the Committee entreat your candid, thoughtful consideration of the case thus submitted to your judgment, and they hope for your zealous co-operation to carry into effect a design which, in their apprehension, promises great and most important results to the whole community of the Congregational Churches of England and Wales. Let it be owned, that what the Committee thus warmly recommend, is but an experiment; yet it is an experiment founded on such principles, directed to such objects, and promising such happy success, as to render it most worthy of a fair and complete trial. It is, besides, an experiment which has already received some degree of trial; and, as far as it has been tried, it has, to the full, answered expectation: nor can it be doubted that further trial will yield equal or greater cause for satisfaction. The Committee will not, they do not anticipate the failure of the present hopeful attempt to effect a General Congregational Union for England and Wales; but they will not withhold the suggestion, that the ill success of this attempt, were it to fail, would utterly discourage, if not absolutely prevent any future design for the same object; it would go far to prove a Congregational Union an impossibility. Former attempts to accomplish this most desirable object had, indeed, proved abortive; but the founders and promoters of the present Union felt that it deserved yet another and more vigorous trial. That effort was commenced with much prayer, deliberation, and deep anxiety to omit nothing that might contribute to success. For seven years it has been persevered in, and sustained by many of our most distinguished brethren. The Committee will not say they are satisfied with the result, but they can say they are not disheartened by it. And now they gird themselves for a vigorous attempt to carry forward what has been thus far advanced, to greater extent and efficiency, to abiding per. manence and results. Should, therefore, these meditated proceed.