John Ireland.

A second solemn appeal to the church : containing remarks and strictures on the late violent proceedings of a pretended ecclesiastical court against the author online

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nesday, January 16th, at 10 o'clock, A.M., at the vestry of Park
Street Church, Boston, to hear the report of the committee, appointed
to prepare a Result of Council.
Voted to adjourn.

Attest, A. L. Stone, Scribe.

The council met by adjournment, January 16, at 10 o'clock, in the
vestry of Park Street Church, to hear the report of the committee
appointed to frame a Result.

There were present the following churches by their Pastors and

1. Church in South Reading.

Rev. R. Emerson, Pastor.

2. Church in West Medway.

Rev. Jacob Ide, D.D., Pastor.

3. Church in Braintree.

Rev. R. S. Storrs, D.D., Pastor.


4. Church in Randolph.

Rev. Calvin Hitchcock, D.D., Pastor,
Dr. Ebenezer Alden, Delegate.

5. South Church in Ipsivich.

Rev. Daniel Fitz, Pastor,

Bro. Daniel Cogswell, Delegate.

6. Church in Rockport.

Rev. W. Gale, Pastor,
Dea. Thos. Giles, Delegate.

7. Mt. Vernon Church, Boston.

Rev. Edward N. Kirk, Pastor,
Dea. Daniel Safford, Delegate.

8. Salem Church, Boston.

Rev. Edward Beecher, D.D., Pastor,
Dr. Ephraina Buck, Delegate.

9. Park Street Chirch, Boston.

Rev. A. L. Stone, Pastor,
Rev. Louis D wight, Delegate.

10. Church in Middlehoro\

Rev. Israel W. Putnam, Pastor,
Bro. Zechariah Eddj, Delegate.

11. Church in Hopkinton.

Rev. J. C. Webster, Pastor,
Bro. J. A. Fitch, Delegate.

12. Church in Camhridgeport.

Rev. J. C. Lovejoj, Pastor.

Rev. Mr. Emerson in the chair. Prajer was offered by Rev. Mr.
Putnam. The minutes of the last meeting of the council were read
by the Scribe and approved.

Voted, That the Council be by themselves.

Rev. Dr. Beecher, chairman of the committee to prepare a Result,
presented the report of the committee.

Voted, That the report of the committee be accepted.

Moved, That the report be adopted as the Result of the Council.
Carried with two dissenting votes.*

Rev. Dr. Hitchcock presented and read a remonstrance against
the action of the Council.

Voted, That the committee to prepare a Result be a committee to
communicate the action of the Council.

Minutes approved. Voted, To dissolve.

Attest, A. L. Stone, Scribe.

* One of these dissentients expressed his conviction that the Howard Street Church
was not dissolved in fact, and his acccordance with the main principles of the report,
but for particular reasons he declined voting for the result as a whole.


The questions of principle concerning which this council is called
to advise, grow out of the refusal of the Tabernacle Church in Salem
to grant a letter of dismission and recommendation to one of their
members, Mr. Ezekiel Goss, to the Howard Street Church* on the
following alleged grounds.

1. That that church was dissolved by a vote of a majority of the
church in accordance with the advice of a mutual council.

2. That the Essex South Conference had sustained the validity of
the action of the aforesaid majority.

3. That it is not consistent with the principles of order and fellow-
ship in our Congregational churches, nor promotive of the best
interests of the community, to recognize the claims of those who now
assume to be the original Howard Street Church, as valid. f

It was also made manifest to the council, that these were the only
grounds on which the letter was refused, no other cause being
assigned in the documents of the church.

It was indeed reported by a committee of the church, that they
had intimated to him that his absence from church meetings, public
worship and the sacramental seasons of the church, was irregular
and contrary to his covenant, and seemed to proceed from alienation
of feeling, and that on this ground it was improper to grant his
request. I But he was expressly told by the pastor that the church
did not adopt or sanction this report. § Mr. Goss stated in a letter
to the church, Sept. 14, 1849, " I know of no unkind feeling to any
member on my part ; if there is or has been, I wish their forgiveness,
as they would be forgiven." || In Oct. 12, 1849, he said concerning
his absence, in another communication addressed to the church, " I
acted in good faith, supposing that I was in order. I was doing
as others had done without reproach. The pastor knew of my course
and my feeling." He then states that if the pastor and others
thought that he was doing wrong, they ought in covenant fidelity to
have admonished him, " but as it is, I did not know that I was guilty
until I asked to be dismissed, and now I cannot see it. I repeat that
if any have been grieved with any of my wrong doing, I humbly
ask them to forgive, and when I am sensible what the wrong is, I
will endeavor to make all suitable reparations."

This communication however the pastor and church refused to
allow him to read — and when he desired to speak on what the com-
mittee had said to him, they refused to hear him. The reason

* Appendix No. 1. f No. 2.

t No. 3. § No. 4. II No. 5.



assigned for this was that the church had not adopted and thus
endorsed the statements of the committee, and that the church had
neither charges nor charge against him. It was repeatedly said to
him, " we have nothing against you,"* and therefore he was not
allowed to speak. Here then a brother had come before the church
desirous to see his oiBfence, if any there were, desirous to confess and
make reparation when convinced, desirous so to explain his conduct
as to give satisfaction, and yet was not allowed to speak, on the ground
that they had nothing against him. Is it right now in such a case to
hold back grounds of grievance, if any there are, and to refuse to
hear any explanations or receive any confessions or satisfaction that
might have been made, on the oft repeated ground that they had
nothing agamst him ; and yet to refuse him a letter, and then when he
asks relief of an ecclesiastical council, to throw in an intimation that
he was under an unfinished course of discipline ? Or even to inti-
mate that they were about to commence a course ? But even this
last intimation is rebutted by direct testimony. For when it was
suggested to the cl^urch to begin to deal with him, the pastor objected
and they refused so to do.j

We therefore are satisfied that the brother was not under a process
of discipline, but is in good and regular standing. Moreover, as
he expressed sorrow and asked forgiveness if he had grieved his
brethren, disclaimed all intention or consciousness of doing wrong,
and offered to do all in his power to make reparation when convinced
of wrong, he did all that he could, and of course all that any one
could reasonably demand, to give satisfaction to his brethren. If
then the pastor and church refused to receive satisfaction when he
desired to give it, it is no part or province of Christian discipline to
reserve offences for future consideration, and to intimate to him or to
the council, that perhaps, hereafter, they may call him to account.
To do this is rather to abuse discipline as a means of impeding him
in securing his rights, than to follow the law of Christ, if thy brother
say unto thee I repent, thou shalt forgive him.

The council is of the opinion that when a member applies for letters
of testimonial and of dismission, and no process of discipline is
pending against him, he is entitled to receive them unless some
brother declares that he is offended, and will take immediate steps of
gospel discipline in respect to it. Otherwise a member could never
secure his rights, so long as either the pastor or any other brother
saw fit to say that perhaps hereafter he should commence discipline.

As a council, therefore, we are not called on to interfere with an
unfinished case of discipline. No process of discipline had been

* No. 4. t No. 6,


commenced. On the other hand, the brother is in good and regular
standing in his church.

We are therefore called to consider simply the alleged dissolution
of the Howard Street Church, and the action of the Essex South
Conference with respect to it, as the reasons for denying to Mr.
Goss a letter to the Howard Street Church.

It was also made clear to the council, that Mr. Goss had proposed
to the Tabernacle Church to call a mutual council to advise with
reference to the validity of these reasons,* and that they had refused
to accept his proposal. f The reasons assigned by the church for
refusing to unite in calling a mutual council are in substance, that
their own action with reference to Howard Street Church, was taken
with much carefulness, and under a constraining sense of duty to
vindicate and support the fundamental principles and accredited
usages of our Congregational order, as affecting the independence of
each church respectively, and the inalienable rights of majorities in
each church, and that there is no existing occasion to submit its
doings to the revision of a council, neither is there any such occasion
apprehended in the changes of the future.

We suppose that whenever an individual feels his rights invaded
by the action of a church, similar reasons might be assigned hj the
church for refusing to unite in a mutual council. A church will of
course be satisfied that they have acted carefully, and under a sense
of duty, and it is natural to feel that no advice is needed or is likely
to be. But suppose that the individual differs from the church as to
what are the fundamental principles and accredited usages of Con-
gregationalism, and believes them to be violated, and not defended
by the church ? Has he no remedy ?

If such reasons for refusing a mutual council are valid, then
individuals have no possible mode left of vindicating their rights, and
nothing remains but universal and unconditional submission to what-
ever the church shall see fit to do. But it was the express design
of our ancestors in establishing ex parte councils, to avert such a
result, and thereby prevent our churches from becoming irremediable
despotisms. It is therefore plain to the council that a sufiicient
ground for convening us has been made out, and that duty calls on
us to consider the questions at issue, and to give such advice as has
been requested.

In entering upon the discharge of this duty, we cannot but be
deeply affected with the importance of the principles involved. We
are well assured that a case similar to the one in question has rarely,
if ever, occurred in the history of our churches. The principles on

* No 7. t No. 8.


which it was attempted to dissolve the Howard Street Church, and
by which that act is defended, are not only novel, but in our judg-
ment would, if carried out, effect an entire revolution in our churches
as it regards the import and sacredness of the covenants by which
they are bound together ; and furnish a new instrument of destruc-
tion, to be used in every case of difficulty and division in a church.
Great, therefore, as is the respect and affection with which we regard
the brethren who have introduced and are attempting to defend these
new doctrines in our churches, we feel constrained to do all in our
power to subject them to a thorough scrutiny, and to call on our
churches decidedly to reject them, as at war with the fundamental
principles of our system, and the obvious dictates of truth and

And inasmuch as the Tabernacle Church has seen fit to appeal to
" the fundamental principles, and accredited usages," of our churches,
and the Essex South Conference has intimated that " precedents"
sustain their decision,* we shall commence our investigations by the
inquiry, what these " fundamental principles and accredited usages,"
and " precedents" are, in the present case ?

It will, therefore, be seen at once, that the present inquiry is not,
Are our Congregational principles and usages right, and can they be
defended by an appeal to the Bible ? but. What are they in fact ? If
our brethren shall ever see fit, professedly, to repudiate them, then
it will be time to defend them. But, so long as they appeal to them
for support, it is only necessary to inquire what they are.

It is obvious, also, that the principles, usages, and precedents,
which we are called on especially to consider, are those which re-
late to the covenant, by which believers in our churches are bound
to God, and to each other.

We proceed with the more pleasure to consider our fathers' views
of ihe church covenant, because it is a point on which the founders
of our system were perfectly agreed, and to which they attached the
highest importance. With them the covenant was not only a funda-
mental principle of the system, but, as they held it, it was the funda-
mental principle of the whole Congregational fabric. Davenport, in
his defence of Congregationalism against Paget, speaking of the
" formal cause" that is, the organizing principle of the church, says,
" this holy society, the Church of Christ, arises from the coadunition
or knitting together of many saints, into one (body), bt/ a holy cove-
nant, whereby they, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house.
1 Pet. 2 : 4, 5. Though a church covenant be common to all
churches, in its general nature, yet there is a sjjecial co7nhinatio7i,
which gives a jjeculiar heiyig to one Congregational church and its

* No. 9.


members, distinct from all others ; else how could one church have
that power over its own members, which another hath not ?

In Hooker's Survey, Pt. I., chap, iv., the inquiry is raised, What
is that which makes the church to be that which it is ? The reply
is, not invisible union and communion with Christ, but " mutual cove-
nanting and confederating of the saints in the fellowship of the faith,
according to the order of the gospel, is that which gives constitution
and being to a visible church." Of this their antagonists were fully

Rathband charged on the Congregationalists, as an error, that
they made " what they call the Church Covenant, whereby all the
members of the Society (Church) are united to Christ, and to one
another," " absolutely necessary, essential, and constitutional, to
and of the true Church." Welde admits that this is their view of
" a pure Congregational Church, as it is refined according to the
platform of the Gospel."

For this principle, as held and applied by them, they were attacked
both in England and elsewhere, by the opponents of Congregational-
ism. In 1637, certain ministers in England undertook to call the
New England brethren to account, for opinions and practices deemed
by them " groundless and unwarrantable," and forwarded nine po-
sitions of this sort to them, on which they demanded their judgment.
Of these, the sixth stated what they deemed the unwarrantable claim
that no church member could withdraw from a church, Avithout leave
first obtained from the church. The New England ministers admit-
ted the principle, and defended it, on the ground that the church
covenant, of necessity, implied it. This called out a full statement
of their views of the covenant.* This, according to them, consists in
four particulars.

1. " Every member, at his admission, doth openly profess, and so-
lemnly promise, that, by Christ's help assisting, he will not only, in
general, give up himself, — as to the Lord, to be guided by him, so
to the church according to God, to be directed by it ;" but also, in
particular, that he will perform all duties of brotherly love and faith-
fulness to the body ; as of diligent watchfulness over all his brethren,
thereby to prevent sin ; so of faithful admonition, after their falls, to
regain them to the Lord from their sin."

2. " The engagements are not made only by the members ad-
mitted into the church, but by the church back again to the members.
So that, thereby, the whole church in general, and every member in
particular, stand as well in conscience bound, to perform all duties of
love and watchfulness to him, as he doth to them."

3. " These promises, thus lawfully and mutually made, that mem-

* "Written, in all probability, by the celebrated Jolin Cotton.


bers, as also the wliole church, are bound, not only every one for
himself actively to perform them, but passively, also, to suffer his
brethren to do these offices upon and towards himself. If he neglect
the" former, he shall falsify his covenant, so solemnly, before God,
angels and men, made ; and so not only break his promise to his
brethren, contrary to Ps. 15 : 4, but also, in some sort, commit the sin
of Ananias and Sapphira, in lying against the Hoty Ghost, condemned
and severely punished by God's own hand. If he fail in the latter,
he shall not only be guilty of the same sin of breach of covenant
with God and man, as in the former, but shall also be guilty of this
folly of despising council, so much condemned, and shall also proclaim
this his folly and pride, by showing to all the church that he is wise
in his own eyes, and leans to his own wisdom, both reproved in Prov.
3 : 7, and 23 : 4."

4. " From all these things premised, it appears that we can do no
less — and yet we do no more than, first, require a member, before
he depart, according to our covenant, thus lawfully, deHberately, and
, mutually made, to express to his brethren his desire of departing,
and the place and society to which he tends — whether to a godly
church, where he may be edified, or to some corrupt assembly, where
he may be destroyed ! and, secondly, require his grounds and reasons
which move him so to do." All of these particulars are sustained by
an appeal to the word of God. Thus did New England, in a clear
and eloquent testimony, utter to Old England her deepest and most
settled convictions as to the nature and effects of a church covenant.
And it here deserves especial notice how clearly they enforce the
truth, the mutual covenant between member and member, is not
separable from the covenant tvitli God, but is a part of it ; so that,
to violate it, is to lie to the Holy Ghost, as did Ananias and Sapphira.
In short, they covenant with God, not only to serve him, but
also to enter into a church state with each other, and to fulfil the
vows made to each other, in coming into that relation, so that the
covenant with man cannot be broken without breaking the covenant
with God.

It was charged upon our fathers as an offence, that they held such
views of the covenant. In 1644, Eathband endeavored to set forth,
in an odious hght, the principles of our New England fathers — to
whom Welde, of Roxbury, rephed. And it is very striking, that,
among other th'ngs, Rathband quotes, for this purpose, the covenant
of the Church in Salem, as follows : " We, whose names are here-
under written, members of the present Church of Christ, at Salem,
&c., solemnly, in the presence of God, &c., renew this church cove-
nant, which we find this church bound unto at their first beginning,
viz., we covenant with the Lord, and one with another, and do bind


ourselves, in the presence of God, to walk together in all the ways
of God, according as he is pleased to reveal himself unto us in his
word ; and after many specifications, ' we promise to walk with our
brethren and sisters in this congregation (church) , with all watchful-
ness and tenderriess.' " Here the covenant with man is included in
the covenant with God, — " We covenant with God, arid with one
another, to walk together in a church state," is its import. This
same view, as will appear elsewhere, is found in Cotton Mather's
Batio, in 1776, and was then the common form of the churches.
We shall also show, in another place, that it is incorporated at this
very day in the cov^enantof the Tabernacle Church in Salem. More-
over, this view their assailants charged on them as an error. Rath-
band says, that in their definition of a covenant, it is included, " that
they bind themselves to the Lord, to walk in all such ways of holy
worship to him, and of edification, one towards another, as God him-
self hath required of every church, and the members thereof." —
Apol. p. 5 ; Discov. of Cov. p. 3. This Welde concedes.

Such were the views of our fathers on this most momentous theme.
Nor were they heedlessly formed ; for holding them they were sub-
jected to severe and long-continued attacks, and deep study and
earnest prayer was needed to sustain and vindicate their truth.
Burton, in his defence of Congregationalism, against Bastwick, 1645,
says : " Now the very name of covenant is become a bugbear to
many," and again, " You tell us that our gathering of churches hath
no example in Scripture." Bathband says, that " the Apostles went
a shorter way to work — because the Holy Ghost had given them no
such direction, nor was this matter of a church constitution (by a
covenant) then hatcht."

In Hooker's Survey, the whole of the 7th chapter of Part I. is
devoted to answering the arguments against their views of the church
covenant, alleged by Butherford and various others.

Finally, the same doctrine is embodied in the Cambridge Platform,
ch. 4 : sec. 1, 2, 3, where the following words are worthy of particular
notice. After stating that particular churches can be known only by
their forms, they say, " This form is the visible covenant, agreement,
or consent, whereby they give up themselves unto the Lord, to the
observing of the ordinances of Christ, together in the same Society,
which is usually called the Church Covenant. For we see not
otherwise how members can have church power over one another
mutually." Here we see that coming into a church state is an es-
sential part of the obligation assumed in giving themselves up to God,
so that the covenant with him is a covenant to enter into, and to re-
main in, a visible particular church, by a covenant with them.

Such, then, were the views of the fathers of our system, who bore


the burden and heat of the day in laying those deep foundations on
which our churches have for centuries reposed. Churches were with
them no mere voluntary associations for mutual religious improvement,
wJiich those who formed might dissolve at pleasure, and replace by
what they deemed better, or by none at all, as they saw fit. Though
no man could enter the church except by his own free will, yet the
church itself was an ordinance of God, and it was his revealed Avill
that every man who had repented and believed in Christ, (and it was
every man's duty to do this) should enter by mutual covenant with
some particular church into church estate. Of course when they
covenanted with God to do all his known will, whether it was expressly
stated or not, they covenanted to come into church estate with their
brethren, and to remain in it. But that so important a duty might
not be left to mere inference, they expressly incorporated it into their
covenants with God.

Moreover they held definitely and decidedly that if not in covenant
with some particular local church, no one had a right to claim any
interest, or to challenge any privilege in any other local church.
Hence Hooker, in his Survey, expressly says, " In the house of God
we must become covenanting servants if Ave have any interest there,
or think to challenge any privilege there." In other places, he and
others defend this principle at great length, as will hereafter appear.

We are thus full in this investigation because of the confident
appeal of our brethren of the Tabernacle Church to " the fundamen-
tal principles and accredited usages of our churches." We now see
clearly what they are.

We moreover give prominence to this part of the subject, because
those who defend the power of a majority to dissolve the. Howard
Street Church, have found it necessary explicitly to deny, and argue
against these very foundation principles of the Congregational system
— so that a more fundamental issue cannot be raised. If they are
right, all of our fathers Avere wrong — Mather, and Cotton, and Hooker,
and Davenport, and Welde, and the framers of the Cambridge Plat-
form, and the New England ministers who defended our polity
against assailants in old England, and the ancient church of Salem,
and all our ancient churches, and even the fathers of the Tabernacle
Church in Salem, — these are all of them wrong, and the antagonists
of Congre^gationalism are right. All this may be, and if it is so, then
let our foundation principles be overthrown, and a new system be built
upon better. But let not such a work be called a defence of our
" fundamental principles and accredited usages," but a work of
radical reform, and its authors radical reformers.

Again, we give prominence to these principles because the whole
issue depends on them. Here is the great hinge on which the whole

Online LibraryJohn IrelandA second solemn appeal to the church : containing remarks and strictures on the late violent proceedings of a pretended ecclesiastical court against the author → online text (page 18 of 51)