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REVIEW OF BOOKS.
The Discipline practised in the Churches of New England: containing, I. A Platform of Church Discipline. II. The Principles owned, and the Endeavours used, by the Churches of New England, concerning the Church-State of their Posterity. III. Heads of Agreement, assented to by the United Ministers, formerly called Presbyterian and Congregational. 12mo. 3s.-London: Hamilton.
THIS judicious republication affords us an opportunity of supplying a deficiency in our review of Dr. Dwight's recently published "Travels." We had extended that article to a, length which we felt to be inconvenient, and we were unwilling to enter at large into any discussion which should have a tendency to protract it. The Doctor's observations on the expediency of legislative interference in support and regulation of public worship, and the conventions of religious societies, required from us a more specific examination than we had scope for undertaking, and the subject is so closely connected with that of the volume before us, as to give us a favourable occasion for resuming the considerations which we then dismissed in a few words. Even now we must study brevity, but we cannot feel satisfied without devoting a somewhat larger allotment of space to so important a subject.
With a view to illustrate the general system adopted in the regulation of ecclesiastical matters by the States of New England, a system evidently founded on the Platform of Church Discipline laid down in the volume before us, -Dr. Dwight enters into a detailed examination of the ecclesi
astico-political code of Connecticut. This State, he informs us, is "universally divided into parishes, each containing one or more congregations, or, in the language of the laws, ecclesiastical societies. These societies are corporate bodies for various purposes." Now we object, in limine, to this recognition by the legislature of religious associations as "corporate bodies for various purposes.". It is nothing less than the first advance towards that most monstrous of all anomalies, the alliance of Church and State; it furnishes the latter with a most powerful medium of influence and control, while it invests the first with a character destructive of its vital qualities, and arms it with a power not only injurious to its proper ends and interests, but tending to its final identification with that world of secular objects, from which in its essential nature it is separate and sanctified. The "society," thus legally constituted, meets, according to enacted forms, once a year, chooses officers and a committee, "possessing the same authority in society affairs, as the corresponding town officers possess in town affairs." At these annual meetings, "the society is also empowered to levy taxes, and choose collectors, by a major vote of the numbers present." All this is very plausible and very political, very orderly and very unecclesiastical, very similar to the parish and vestry system, but very unlike the free, congregational scheme of the Gospel churches. Once a year the" Society" is permitted to meet for the purpose of delegating an authority, which ceases to be scriptural the moment that it is transferred. Where in the New Testament do we find the
secular and the sanctified; it annihilates the communion of the saints, and destroys the very character, and intention of churchfellowship. It places the entire power and patronage in the hands of those who are without the necessary qualifications for using them rightly, and while the "little flock" is thrown into a helpless minority, the multitude have free license to gratify their " itching ears," to " give heed to seducing spirits," to exclude from the pulpit, by a "major vote," the zealous and enlightened evangelist, and to supply his place by unsound and unqualified teachers. Ye, says the apostle, addressing "the church of God," which was at Corinth, are the body of Christ, and members in particular. He enjoins, that there be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another: and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Applied to the system of the New England "Societies," these apostolic injunctions are a bitter mockery. There is schism in the very rudiments of their association, the most fatal of schisms, that between the saints and the world; and the sympathy in suffering and in joy, which the apostle recommends, can have no existence between those who are one in
maintenance of church discipline consigned to a moderator, clerk, treasurer, and standing committee?" A precious junta this to preside over the internal affairs of a Gospel association; to determine, like" town officers in town affairs," the qualifications of members, the nature of offences, and the extent and duration of punishment! Happily, indeed, this last business is not left to their discretion; the plan which Dr. Dwight so cordially approves, relieves them from this burden, by regulating the votes and fines of the society, as well as the "enrolment" of its members. It is, moreover, carefully provided, that "in the case of non-enrolment, a son belongs to the same society to which his father was attached; a widow to that of her husband; and," with a most grave and praiseworthy regard to the principles of equity, new settlers to that which is lowest on the list." It would, however, be unfair to omit, that "persons who soberly dissent from the worship celebrated by ecclesiastical societies in this state, shall, upon lodging a certificate of their dissent with the clerk of the society, be exempted from all society taxes, so long as they shall ordinarily attend on the worship of the church or congregation to which they shall join themselves." This system has been subsequently in some degree modified by the state legis-Christ Jesus, and those who have lature-still by the state legisla- no relish for that high communion. ture-but it remains substantially Such a scheme could have origithe same. nated only with those who were ignorant of the very nature of Christianity, and who mingled with their estimate of its pure character, the gross calculations of political analogy. A more fatal mixture could not have been devised, nor one more likely to secularize the church, and to substitute for its spiritual vitality, torpor and death. In short, such an association is utterly destitute of
Now, waiving all other objections, beyond those which we have already suggested, we would rest our disapprobation of this system, upon two points-1. The absence of any distinction between church and congregation-2. The undue weight consequently given to the majority. The first deficiency has the effect of absolutely confounding the church and the world, the
the primary distinctions laid down in the Scriptures, as well as of the qualities assigned to a church in the volume before us.
"A Congregational Church is by the institution of Christ a part of the militant, visible church, consisting of a company of saints by calling, united into one body by a holy covenant, for the
public worship of God, and the mutual edification of one another, in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus."-Platform of Discipline, p. 4.
One injurious consequence of the commanding influence necessarily given to the "major vote" of a society, constituted on the plan defended by Dr. Dwight, we have already suggested; but, in addition to the want of security against improper office-bearers, the whole system will be conducted, under the control of such a majority, on the principles of secular and municipal policy, and the result will be, as is now extensively the case in New England, that the churches will degenerate, and human glosses usurp the high supremacy of the pure and unadulterated Gospel.
We are sorry to observe a sanction given by the excellent men, who established the congregational discipline in North America, to certain principles which appear to lead directly to the usurpation of which we have just exposed the fatal consequences.
After providing that in the case of defective liberality on the part of congregations, "the deacons are to call upon them to do their duty," the
Platform" goes on as follows.
"If their call sufficeth not, the church
by her power is to require it of their members; and where church-power through the corruption of men doth not, or cannot attain the end, the magistrate is to see that the ministry be duly provided for, as appears from the commended example of Nehemiah. The magistrates are nursing-fathers and nursing-mothers, and stand charged with the custody of both tables; because it is better to prevent a scandal that it may not come, and easier also, than to remove it, when it is given. It is most
suitable to rule, that by the church's care, each man should know his proportion according to rule, what he should do before he do it, that so his judgment and heart may be satisfied in what he doeth, and just offence prevented in what is done."-pp. 29, 30.
The citation of" the commended example of Nehemiah," is a miserable attempt to graft the laws of the Theocracy upon the institutions of the New Testament. However, under the covenant of the law, magistrates might be "charged with the custody of both tables," we shall require better authority than that of the Platform of Church Discipline, for the existence of such a charge under the dispensation of the Gospel. To consign such a power to the magistrate, is to entrust him with an engine of terrible energy, which he is just as likely to abuse to selfish ends, as to wield with advantage to the church, and we must see the matter in a very different light from that in which we at present view it, before we can allow that such a surrender of right is called for, either by expediency, reason, or the word of God. As to the scheme of " a tax," for church expenses, directly maintained by Dr. Dwight, but sanctioned in more reserved language in the passage cited above, we shall only add to what we have before said on that subject, that it is at complete variance with the principle laid down by the apostle, that the contribution be of a willing mind.
In general these points are expressed with considerable caution, though not always in language of perfect coherence, in the system of ecclesiastical regulation laid down by the framers of the " Platform." Like all partizans of half measures, they are perpetually vibrating between consistency and concession; anxious to avow and maintain the right, and yet solicitous to conciliate prejudice, and throw open as wide a door as possible, for the accommodation of all. It appears
to us, that in so doing, they have weakened the edifice and destroyed its proportions. The secular will rush in, take possession of the enclosure, and pervert it to their own purposes. The 17th chapter of the Platform is a "weak invention," intended to balance accurately between two extremes, but full of contradiction and dangerous compromise.
On the whole, however, there is a great predominance of what is truly excellent and valuable in this acceptable republication. The materials have been taken by Mr. Higgins, (of Whitchurch,) from Cotton Mather's well known "Magnalia," and he has given them additional value by his introduction and notes.
The first and most important section of this little volume was originally published under the title of A Platform of Church Discipline; gathered out of the Word of God, and agreed upon by the Elders and Messengers of the Churches, assembled in the Synod, at Cambridge, in New England. To be presented to the Churches and General Court, for their consideration and acceptance in the Lord, the eighth month, anno MDCXLIX."
In 1646, bill was preferred unto the General Court, for the calling of a Synod," for the important object of settling a system of Church Discipline among Congregational Churches of New England.
best light which could be fetched from the word of God; but the court would be after all free; as they saw cause to approve or to reject what should be offered."-p. xxi.
The "Dissenters" seem to have been but imperfectly convinced; and" certain persons come lately from England," with juster notions of "liberty of conscience," so successfully appealed to the general feeling, that much opposition was made to the measure, and "the famous and leading church of Boston particularly" resisted it, but was, at last, satisfied by elaborate sermon," preached by Mr. Norton, on "Moses and Aaron kissing each other in the mount of God!" At length the Synod met, and after some adjournments, accomplished the great object of its delegation.
"The Platform of Church Discipline to be commended unto the churches, was the main chance which the assembly was to mind; in order whereunto they directed three eminent persons, namely, Mr. John Cotton, Mr. Richard Mather, and Mr. Ralph Partridge, each of them to draw up a scriptural model of church government; unto the end that out of those, there might be one educed, which the synod might after the most filing thoughts upon it, send abroad. When the synod met, at the time to which they had adjourned, the summer proved so sickly, that a delay of one year more was given to their undertaking: but at last the desired Platform of Church Discipline was agreed upon, and the synod broke up, with singing The song of Moses and the Lamb, in the fifteenth chapter of the Revelation. Adding another sacred song from the nineteenth chapter of that book; which is to be found metri cally paraphrased in the New England Psalm Book. So it was presented unto the general court, in the month of October, 1648.
"And the court most thankfully accepted and approved of it.”—pp. xxiii,
The Heads of Agreement" were determined in 1692.
"The magistrates in the general court passed the bill, but the deputies had their little scruples, how far the civil authority might interpose in matters of such religious and ecclesiastical cognizance; and whether scaffolds might not now be raised, by the means whereof, the civil authority should pretend hereafter to impose an uniformity, in such instances which had better be left at liberty and variety. It was replied, that it belonged unto magistrates, by all ra tional ways to encourage truth and peace among their people; and that the council now called by the magistrates, was to proceed but by way of council, with the In Mr. Irving's second edition, he
For the Oracles of God, four Ora
tions. For Judgment to come, an Argument in nine Parts. By the Rev. Edward Irving, M,A.
has, among other instances of revision, introduced into his " preface," a paragraph vindicatory of his title, and as we feel it expedient again to advert to this point, we may as well let him explain his own intentions in the adoption of a new or rather revived nomenclature.
"For the choice of these titles, Oration and Argument, I need to make no apology, and I am entitled to no censure. The question is, Are they Orations or are they sermons? Now, according to my notion of the sermon, (which I think is the common one,) it ought to be the exposition and enforcement of a doctrine of Scripture founded upon some particular text, and following the approved
method of division and sub-division. These have no such intention; they are as purely orations, or addresses to move and persuade men upon a particular point, as any of the ancient or modern models. And it would have been absurd, totally absurd, to have given them any other name. In like manner, if the argument be not a regularly constructed argument, let its irregularities and defective parts be pointed out; but merely to object that it shall not so be named, is nothing but another evidence of the poverty-struck invention of this age in things religious, and its resolution to remain for ever in its miserable poverty.
The world, the thirsty spirit of the world, will never be refreshed until more various vessels for containing and serving out the waters of life be discovered and made use of."-Preface, pp. 8, 9.
We are sorry that Mr. Irving should have thought it advisable to express himself in language such as this. We are as unable to understand how an objection to a"name" may be fairly adduced as a proof of " poverty-struck invention," as we are to comprehend in what way the reproduction of old methods under new titles can be considered as an evidence of originality. With strong feelings of personal respect for Mr. I., and with every disposition to view his productions in the most favourable light, we are unable to concede to him the admiration due-if indeed admiration would be due to the discoverer of new modes of pulpit address. in our last number we CONG. MAG. No. 69.
expressed our sentiments, as far as the " Orations" were concerned, respecting their claims to novelty, and we, most assuredly, have not since found any reason for altering our opinion. They are nothing more than sermons, and have even less claim to be considered as
new methods of handling religious truth," than the Astronomical or the Commercial discourses of Dr. Chalmers. Mr. Irving narrows the definition of a sermon purely for the sake of removing a difficulty out of his way; in our view, it has always been a generic term including the different species of discussion and appeal, and we have been auditors of its practical application in quite as many varieties as Mr. I. is likely to invent If the spirit of the world be indeed a
thirsty spirit," it will not be fas tidious respecting the "vessels” out of which it may be invited to drink the waters of life; it will be satisfied with that plain and old-fashioned Gospel, which has "brought many sons unto glory;" it will not be attracted by the singularity or the novelty of the vessel, but will seek the pure and living element, where it is to be found flowing most freshly from its source. But it is idle thus to speculate on the spirit of the world, and there is danger lest in adapt ing ourselves to its humours and caprices, we find ourselves descending to a lower level than we are warranted in occupying, when engaged in that "great work," which forbids us to "come down."
Mr. Irving seems to err at the very outset of his career, by placing a greater reliance on the powers of the human mind than he is justified in doing, either by experience or by the word of God. He lays far too much stress on the efficiency of eloquence and genius in the great business of conversion; and, when he talks of discovering "new vehicles" for conveying the truth 3 P