Isaac Van Arsdale Brown.

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truly degrading to the abettors of this measure, and grievous to
the friends of the church ; but honesty is the best policy. And we
shall honestly endeavour to lay the whole of this dark business
bare to the public view.



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OLD SCHOOL VIirDIOATfiO. 12]

Resolution No. 5 asserts : ** That this Assembly bears solemn
testimony against publishing to the world ministers in good and
regular standing, as heretical and dangerous, without being con-
stitutionally tried and condemned, thereby greatly hindering their
usefulness as ministers of Jesus Christ. Our excellent constitution
makes ample provision fpr redressing all such grievances, and
this Assembly enjoins in all cases, a faithful compliance in meek-
ness and brotherly love with its requisitions, having at all times a
sacred regard to the purity, peace, and prosperity of the church.*'

If honest constitutional investigation were really intended in
this resolution, the itinerant and fluctuating condition of many of
her ministers would present serious obstacles in the way of regu-
lar process. By inspecting the printed statistical tables of the
General Assembly for the year 1833, it will be seen, that of eigh-
teen hundred ministers, the whole number in the Presbyterian
Church, eleven hundred are without pastoral charge, employed
as professors, stated supplies, missionaries, teachers, and agents,
having, in a multitude of instances, no Presbyterial connexion, iu
the immediate sphere of their labours. Hence it is obvious, that
discipline, however much needed and desired, could not be en-
forced in many cases, without great difficulty and delay. Here
is difficulty enough, without any augmentation from the unwise
and injurious legislation of the Assembly. But we are constrained
to express our belief, that the agency of the Assembly in relation
to this subject, when comprehensively viewed and fully carried
out, tends to encourage heresy, and to defeat discipline altogether.

This is our first objection to the fifth resolution. Having, by
introducing the " affinity" system, sanctioned the introduction of
unsound men into the ministry, the Assembly are perfectly con-
sistent with themselves, in attempting to shelter them from cen-
sure, as far as possible, in their public ministry. Indeed, they
would be unfaithful to their own illegitimate progeny, did they
not at least attempt their protection. How is this screen to be
drawn around these holders and propagators of error? Let us
see. The Assembly hold themselves up as rigid champions for
" constitutional trial,''^ ad captandum, they " enjoin a faithful com-
pliance with the requisitions of the constitution." It often hap-
pens, when heretical artifice is at work, that men acting from the
worst principles, use the same language as those professing the
best. We fear it is so here. The Assembly had, a few days
preceding, established the Second Presbytery of Philadelphia.
The avowed object of that m^sure was to collect that portion of
the Presbytery of Philadelphia, who differed from the Confession
o# Faith in theological views, in one Presbytery, where they
might, unmolested by the orthodox, maintain and propagate their
new opinions. The act referred to, was particularly an accom-



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1S3 OLD SOBOOL VlirDIGATBP.

tnodation to I^f r. Barnes, who, in his printed sermon, had de-
nounced the ** framework of faith that has been reared around
the Bible," see 9ih page. All this, the act of the Assenibly on
that subject sanctions. Now, we ask how Mr. Barnes, or any
man, can be brought to " constitutional trial" in that Presbytery,
while they retain their present character and claim the rights the
Assembly have granted them 1 Will* that Presbytery condemn
false doctrine — any opinions which they themselves hold? This is
not to be expected. Indeed, justly interpreting the measures of
the Assembly, a convict at the bar of that Presbytery would have
a right to appeal to the Assembly,, as has already, in substance,
been done, and claim the implied and pledged protection of the
highest tribunal inf the church, in holding the most palpable and
injurious heresy. Ab uno, omnia discs. This is a fafr specimen
of the " constitutional strictness" the Assembly are about to insist
on, with jso much apparent honesty and zeal. To such tribunals,
which are now established by the highest authority, which are
multiplying through our church, and to which unsound men will
unquestionably attach themselves for security, they are to be re-
ferred as the only proper tribunals to test their character and ar-
rest their progress. And what will be the result of trial, if the
farce is attempted at all, before such tribunals ? Speedy acquittal
will be triumphantly proclaimed, and trumpeted throughout the
land, and the heretic let loose again, inspired with increased con-
fidence, under all the advantages of alleged trial and vindication,
to pursue his desola^ng course. On the whole, there is a striking
want of candour and integrity in the whole of this matter. While
the ostensible object appears to be an honest and faithful applica-
tion of our judicial system for the detection and punishment of
error, the real aim of this resolution, when fairly viewed, espe-
cially in connexion with what precedes and follows, may be justly
pronounced, the total prevention of "constitutional trial."

2. It is a serious objection to the resolution before us, that it so
decisively discourages all kinds of criticism and censure of he-
retical men. The reflection it intends primarily to cast upon the
memorialists, for referring to heretical books and their authors, is
in this essay, considered of little consequence. The writer looks
to more important bearings of this intended prohibition. As we
think it must be conceded, there is in the Presbyterian Church,
under existing circumstances, in most cases little or no prospect
of an honest trial of unsound teachers, it is the last and only re-
fuge of the church to watch them closely ; like the commended
Bereans, to examine their doctrines and compare them with the
true standard, to see whether these things are so, and where^jer
they detect dangerous error, to sound the alarm and put the peo-
ple on their guard. Does this effort of the Assembly to suppress



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OLV SCBOOh nirOlOATBD. 12S

free remark, comport with the sacred duty of the supreme guar-
dian of truth, in the Presbyterian body 1 Is it competent for it to
interfere with the independent and upright movements of the
Christian mind in the pursuit of truth 1 in the exercise of failh and
devotion ? Is this the religious liberty of the nineteenth century ?
Our civil rulers, by statute unrestrictedly amenable to law, are
also open to the severest animadversion of the humblest citizen.
Shall our spiritual guides entrusted with immortal interests, be
placed, not only out of the reach of law, but raised above the
most just and necessary inquiries and complaints ? Can that doc-
trine be consistent with the purity and safety of the church, that
ministers whose standing may be technically good and regular,
that is, against whom charges of heresy or schism have not been
tabled before a competent tribunal, are to be considered pure and
innocent until " conslitutibiially tried and condemned," however
corrupt and disorganizing their principles and their conduct may
be, in the eyes of the church and the world 1 What I has it come
to this, that the name of minister may be used as a cloak for
error, as a passport through the church in disseminating false doc»
trines to any extent, however aggravated and injurious, provided
its bearer is so circumstanced, by the remoteness of the Presby-
tery to which he belongs, by its inability to act or by its unsound-
ness in the faith, that he cannot be brought to a regular trial and
condemnation? The advice of the Apostle is worthy of regard,
Rom. X., 17. " Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which
cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrines which you
have learned, and avoid them." But according to the plan enjoined
in the resolution, orthodox ministers, alive to the interests of the
church, must be silent; the people are not permitted to complain;
heretics may roam at large, scattering jBre brands, arrows, and
death, through the church. This injunction is followed up with
the monstrous assumption, that criticising such men is " greatly
hindering their usefulness as ministers of Jesus Christ !" and wh^t
consummates the preposterousness of the whole resolution is the
intimation that all this silence, concealment, and submission, are
required " at all times, out of sacred regard to the purity, peace,
and prosperity of th^ church ! ! !"

We would not be understood to maintain that the result here
anticipated, will certainly follow in every case. Where unsound
ministers are found connected with orthodox Presbyteries, they
may of course, be brought to regular trial. But we maintain that
this will rarely be the fact. Such men will form Presbyterial
connexions suited to their theological affinities. The system now
in operation will tend extensively to bring every element in the
body of the church, unfriendly to our faith and discipline, into
combined and successful action. We have perfectly satisfactory



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124 OLD SCHOOL nirDlOATBB.

reasons for believing that the temptation will be found too strong
to be resisted. Indeed, fact has already confirmed our apprehen-
sion. Is it not mournful that the General Assembly, whose pre-
eminent duty it i^ to defend the faith, enforce good order, and
amalgamate the Christian brotherhood, should introduce princi*
pies and pass acts which invite innovation? We fondly hope that
pure religion has still so deep an influence on the great body of
her ministers, and so firm a hold on the popular mind, that the
evils and dangers presented recently, through many channels,
will inspire constitutional resistance, and produce quick reform^
A Member op New Brunswick Presbytery.

No, VI.— December, 1834.

" Act and Testimony'^ — Additional ground — Resolutions of the

Assembly 7 and 8.

The last Assembly having, in their first resolution on the West-
ern Memorial, attempted to exculpate /ormer General Assemblies^
which favoured the introduction of heresy into the church, and,
at the same time, prospectively, to defend themselves and any
future Assemblies which may pursue the same unconstitutional
policy, in their fifth resolution, which has already passed under
review, they attempt to screen heretical men from censure by
prohibiting the o/thodox, both ministers and people, from freedom
of remark upon their doctrines and measures. It has been shown,
that the remedy which they, with apparent fairness, recommend,
must, under the spurious system they are studiously patronizing, in
most cases where discipline is required, prove abortive, and that
the whole scheme presented in the resolution referred to, when
candidly interpreted, bears decisive marks of intended imposition
on the church. The great object of the successive measures
which the majority are striving to force upon the Presbyterian
body, unquestionably is, to provide for unsound men an easy en-
trance, and an unmolested existence, in the. bosom of the church.

The seventh resolution pursues this object in the following
words: "That a due regard to the order of the church, and the
bonds of brotherhood, requires, in the opinion of this Assembly,
that ministers dismissed in good standing by sister Presbyteries,
should be received by the Presbyteries they are dismissed to join,
upon the credit of their constitutional testimonials, unless they
shall have forfeited thefr good standing."

Until the present, it has been almost unanimously agreed, that
to Presbyteries belongs inherently the right to superintend the
migrations of ministers through the* church, and, by personal ex-
amination, to test the theological soundness of any belonging to
. sister Presbyteries, who may apply for admission. The above
resolution urges a new theory and corresponding practice, that



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<HJ> 8CB00L VIITDIOATKO. 13S

ministers of our own denomination should be received in all the
Presbyteries of our church on a mere Presbyterial certificate.
To the full introduction and ultimate establishment of the ** affin-
ity system/' it, no doubt, appears extremely important to its abet-
tors, that every obstacle, both in the constitution and habits of the
church, should be removed with all practicable speed. With this
end obviously in view, the measure here recommended is no less
artful and daring than some that have preceded. Under the
plausible disguise assumed, every man of penetration and candour
will detect a deadly assault upon the great fundamental barrier
of the Presbyterian Church against heresy. It is true, as implied
in this resolution, that orthodox Presbyteries, in the legitimate ex-
ercise of their rights, are formidable to heretical men and their
devices; and the church will at once perceive, since these Pres-
byteries are now marked out as victims of heretical rapacity, how
inconceivably important it is to preserve and perpetuate them in
their unimpaired purity and power.

To this insidious attempt of the Assembly to make a Presby-
terial certificate an exclusive voucher for character and standing
in the Presbyterian phurch, we hold the following objections :

1. It is a palpable violation of the constitution of the church,
which declares, (Form of Government, chap, x., sec. 8,) "The
Presbytery has power to ordain, to install, to remove, and to
judge ministers." The power, without limitation, of judging
ministers, is vested in the Presbyterial body, it is, indeed, a di-
vine, original, and essential right, which, except in case of appeal,
has never been alienated or transferred to any other body, and
can never be either limited or destroyed but by the exercise of
unlawful power and criminal violence. Take away from Pres-
byteries this primary, fundamental right, and the divine fabric of
Presbyterianism suffers a radical change; its essential character
and peculiar glory at once pass away ; it degenerates into a mere
human device, and ours is no longer the Presbyterian Church,
founded upon the simple, but grand and beautiful platform of the
New Testament, organized by our blessed Lord.

Gospel ministers, from the moment they commence their trials
for the sacred office, till they finish their earthly course, are sub-
ject to the jurisdiction and disposal of the Presbytery. Their
geographical locations, their public exhibitions, their deportment,
their migrations through the church, and " the report of them that
are without," 1 Tim. iii., 7, are proper subjects of inquiry and ad-
judication in the Presbyterial body, both in regard to its own con-
stituent branches and to those of other Presbyteries soliciting mem-
bership. On a judicious and faithful discharge of this trust, de-
F^nds, in a great measure, the purity of the church. Corrupt
^ reabyteries and " falpe teachers" may be prevented from infect*



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1S6 oLh 9CBOOL vnn^ATi^

ing her purer districts by the instrumentality of this constitutional
guard.

2. Making the Presbyterial certificate sufficient evidence of
ministerial character and standing, without farther examination,
will let in upon the church a wide spreading and desolating flood
of error. Every one must see, that this measure is just what the
party in the Presbyterian Church, opposed to her faith and disci*
pline, now need to enable them, without restriction or delay, to
pervade, to occupy, and to infect every portion of the church, by
their unsound and disorganizing men. They have already erected
unconstitutional Presbyteries on the affinity principle. They have,
learned from the cases of Dr. Beecher, Mr. Barnes, and others,
that certificates of dismission from such bodies, are not considered
valid by orthodox Presbyteries. Hence, they have only to con-
stitute these dismissions sufficient vouchers, by laying violent
hands on the power of Presbyteries, and their emissaries of every
grade will at once have free course. This omnipotent outfit can
easily be obtained fromi the Third Presbytery of New York„the
Second Presbytery of Philadelphia, the Presbytery of Ciucinnati,
or from some other affinity Presbytery; and, according to the
plan now proposed, it must prove a passport through the land, and
its bearer may demand instantaneous admission, without exami-
nation, in any and every Presbytery in the church. Since the flag
protects its bearer, Arminians, Pelagians, Emmonites, Unitarians,
and all the litters of errorists now invited to flock hither, will be
enabled to march at pleasure under this irresistible isafeguard.

This is a plain and honest exposition of the resolution under
consideration. It seems really astonishing that a sufficient num-
ber of men could be found in the General Assembly, willing to
offer such>an egregious insult to the understanding and integrity
of the Presbyterian Church ! to her understanding, by presuming
she could be duped into a tame acquiescence ! to her integrity, by
supposing she would not have honesty and firmness enough to re-
pel the aggression ! yet this is the indubitable fact. Here it is —
let every man examine and decide for himself.

3. The measure proposed must exert a deteriorating influence
on the ch§racte^ and usefulness of gospel ministers.

1. Publishing to the world the fact that gospel ministers are no
more accountable to Presbyteries for theological sentiments, must
tend to inspire them with indiflference to intellectual improvement,
theological purity, and official standing. We admit, that minis*
ters should supremely regard higher motives and weightier sanc-
tions, connected with their holy vocation ; but, in every day ex-
perience, we are inclined to think, a sense of constant ametoable-
ness to the brethren, in the frequent changes and migrations to
winch ministers noay justly look forward, operates with very



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OLD SCBOOL YlHDICAtSD. ' 127

many as a paramount motive to diligence in acquiring knowledge,
in cuhivating correct views, and^in much of the detail of official
duty. Tnis motive it is now proposed to supersede.

2. The resolution before us is calculated to degrade the minis-
ters of the gospel, by impairing that noble elevation of mind and
self-respect which conscious integrity and purity inspire in the
honest unsophisticated ambassadors of Jiesus Christ. The course
here recommended prompts them systematically to walk in a dis-
guise, to shun the light lest their errors should be reproved ; men
who, above all others in the world, should be open and communi-
cative, this resolution teaches and urges to cover themselves from
the view of the church by a veil of concealment ; no longer to re-
pose for a standing in the church and a passage through it, upon
tested and proved sincerity, truth, and honour, but to rely upon a
mere scrap of paper, a pitiable Pass, signed by a moderator and
clerk, it may be, of som6 remote, obscure, and unsound Presby-
tery ! If that can be obtained, all is well. Talents, and learning,
and piety, and orthodoxy, and morality, land discreet zeal, are
stale commodities; it may be with such Presbyteries, out of
fashion and of no value, but the Pass is omnipotent in their view.

3. This system will necessarily destroy kind feeling and har-
monious action among brethren wherever it is attempted in prac-
tice. In a pure and peaceful state of the church, instances may
rarely occur in which a resort to catechetical examination may
be deemed necessary. But the power to examine, and, of course,
the right of deciding as to the expediency of exercising that power,
are both vested in the Presbyterial Assembly. Now we ask,
what fair motive a candid, undesigning minister, on removing to
a different part of the Presbyteria'n Churchy can have for declining
this colloquial interview with his brethren ? He stands, in the
sight of God and man, bound by the most sacred pledge to con-
form to the standards of the church. The proposed examination

Ms intended to ascertain the fact, whether or not his doctrinal
views tally with the Confession of Faith. The peace of the church,
the honour, the usefulness, and comfort of the candidate supposed
to be applying for admission, and the fidelity of the Presbytery,
whose powers are called in question, all demand that this great
question of orthodoxy should be settled before this new connexion
is ratified. Ought the candidate to decline this interview? On
the contrary, should he not court an opportunity to disclose his
opinions, particularly on points in regard to which he knows
painful suspicions aiyl controversies exist 1 Does truth seek eva-
sion and concealment? Is purity afraid of the touchstone?

But the bearers of these Presbyterial vouchers will say, " We
are orthodox, and your insisting on examination implies a sus-
picion of our soundness." True, but will declining examination



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128 oiiD womooL YwmtULTWo*

remove the suspicion T Is refusiog iavestigation the beat mode of
deciding character? To this query common sense and universal
experience furnish a decisive negative. Therefore, we say, the
course recommended will certainly increase suspicion, and destroy
all confidence among brethren. The happiness and usefulness of
ministers depend very much upon their union in spirit, in council,
in effort; and these can be based only upon union in faith, in af-
fection, and in object. These unions must be real, sincere, volun-
tary, they cannot be coerced. Now, it is evident, that an attempt
to press ministers into Presbyteries against their will, must pro-
duce jars and animosities, greatly retarding the work of the min-
istry, and distracting the b^y of Christ. The practical influence
of Pass ministers may, therefore, be considered neutralized in or-
thodox districts, except in propagating heresy and promoting di-
visions. Men wearing the badge, which betrays a want of con-
fidence in themselves, cannot expect the confidence of the church,
and we have no doubt that the great body of enlightened, free»
and independent people, constituting the Presbyterian body, will
despise and resist this unkind, unfaithful, and impotent effort,
forcibly to impose upon them and their children an order of men,
who, meanly and under suspicion, shrink from the very test of
faith and character which they have solemnly sworn to observe.

Resolutioft 8. " That, in the opinion of this Assembly, to take
up, and try, and condemn any printed publication as heretical and
dangerous, is equivalent to condemning the author as heretical ;
that to condemn heresy in the abstract, cannot be understood as
the purpose of such trial; that the results of such trial are to bear
upon and seriously to affect the standing of such author; and that
the fair and unquestionable mode of procedure is, if the author be
alive and known to be in our communion, to institute process
against the author, and give him a fair and constitutional trial.*'

The majority having, as appears in their previous enactments,
attempted to throw a shield over men of their own caste, and to
provide for them an open and safe way through the church, in
this resolution are exerting their skill to erect a defence around
their spurious publications. That this is the object of the resolu-
tion cannot be doubted, and that it is, prima facie, a suspicious
transaction, is equally clear. The commonly received opinion
amor^ writers, publishers, and readers is, that all books and
pamphlets issued from the press are public property, additions to
the existing mass of knowledge ; that they are intended for the
moral and literary use of the public; that, o^ course their matter
and manner are proper subjects of criticism and approbation or
censure ; that no man is precluded from the privilege of examining
publications, or forming and expressing an opinion of them, fa*
vourable or unfavourable ; that publication^ purporting to discuss



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OCiD SCBIXtt. VIirBlCATCll. tS9

deeply interesting topics, in theoretical and practical religion, are
pre-eminently engrossing and impressive to the public mind ; and,
that all men who regard truth and morality, as individuals and a^
collective communities, have not only a right, but are peculiarly
obligated to influence the issues of the press, by freedom of dis-
cussion, conducted on independence of opinion. These truths we



Online LibraryIsaac Van Arsdale BrownA historical vindication of the abrogation of the plan of union by the ... → online text (page 15 of 38)