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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tion with it, we have but a single suggestion to make, in this part of
our Review. They " arlvise that that Church has not been dissolved,
hut still exists on its original foundation " 1 Here is a mode of
*' advice," which to ourselves is quite as " new," as any doctrine of

ours can have been to the Council. They '^advise" "that that

Church has not been dissolved" ! There can be no mistake. The
Council have so '* abvised " !

It is to no purpose, therefore, that any one shall appeal to the vote
of the majority of Howard Street Church, — by which, under advice
•conscientiously given by a Mutual Council, that Church, on the 4th of
May, 1847, was declared to be dissolved and no longer to exist. This
Ex parte Council of December, 1849, and January, 1850, "advise

THAT THAT CmURCH HAS NOT BEEN DISSOLVED,* BUT STILL EXISTS ON

5TS ORIGINAL FOUNBATioN " ! ! 1 Vcrily, this Council was an " advi-
sort/" body, — with a vengeance.

We have seen, that by their first resolution, Dec. 18, the Council
say, " That, so far as this Council is advised on the subject, Mr.
Ooss has done nothing to forfeit his standing in his own Church." In
the Result, it is said, absolutely, ''the brother is in good and regu-
lar standing in his Church." And this is said, when, by a report of
the committee which waited upon the pastor, Dec. 18, it appears in
their Minutes, that he stated to the committee, " That Mr. Goss was
not in good, standing ! " Votes of the Church also, which the clerk
had communicated, admit of no fair interpretation or construction,
other than that which sustains the witness of the pastor, in every iota.

And yet this Council in their Result directly and openly contradict.,
or, to use their own choice word, they have " rebutted" the testimony
of the pastor to their committee! What may be inferred, then, if
other votes of the Church had been communicated ; and if the pastor,
or a committee of the Church, had appeared in person before the
Council ? — Would it have made any difference 1

A more impartial witness than ourselves may here speak. " It is in
evidence before the Council," says Dr. Hitchcock, — " that Mr. Goss
was informed by a committee of the Tabernacle Church, that said
Church were dissatisfied with his course in neglecting for more than a
year to commune with said Church, or attend her meetings, according
to his covenant engagements. And it appears to me, that Mr. Goss
should have suspended his application for dismission at this point,
until he had obtained official notice from said Church, that by explana-

* Some years before an English statesiriRn had declared, that the " Schoolmaster
is abroad," — a son of France and a son of Holland, — meeting together in our father-
land, — thus " advised " : " Did it rain io-morroio? " "I believe it wasl "



34

tion, or concession, or forgiveness, he had removed this obstacle in
the way of his recommendation. Until such official notice is pro-
duced to this Council, what ground have we to conclude that Mr.
Goss is in a suitable position in relation to the Tabernacle Church, to
be a proper subject for our recommendation 1 No Council has the
right to invade the independence of a Church, by expressing a primary
opinion respecting the standing of one of its members. The Church
has the right to act first in the case. Plainly no Council can originate
a process against any member of a Church, and they have no power
to decide a case which they could not originate, until it comes before
them by an appeal. Upon a question of character, or Christian
standing, no member of a Church has a right to ask for a Mutual
Council, until censured by the Church. And if he does so, the Church
is not bound to grant his request ; and, consequently, he has no right
on their refusal, to call an Ex parte Council. I do seriously call in
question the right of this Council to recommend Mr. Goss to Howard
Street Church, in present circumstances, or to any other, or take any
action respecting his Christian character and standing." *

" I am so unfortunate as to differ in opinion from the Council in re-
gard to the existence or non-existence of Howard Street Church," &c.

But the most extraordinary fact in the proceedings in the case of
Mr. Goss, is that to which Dr. Hitchcock himself makes no reference.
It is, that when the Council passed their votes respecting him, and
when they adopted their Result, thei/ did not knoio that he loasin being
in any ■part of the loorld ! !

Unconditionally, and without the least qualification, they advise him
just as if he loere then in Salem, — to " renew his application for a let-
ter of dismission and of recommendation ; " — and, then, if refused he
is '* advised to offer hin^self for membership to the Howard Street
Church," so called, and these are "advised to receive him." And
this too, when, at the time of the votes, he was in the steamer Ohio,
approaching the West Indies, and at the time of the Result was far on
his way from Panama to San Francisco.

The Council have given him advice thus to act, whatever may be
the honest convictions of the Tabernacle Church, in regard to his
present standing, — whatever may hereafter be true of him, under the
liabilities and exposures of a long absence, amidst perilous temptations,
so many thousand leagues from the watch and care of " his own
Church," or of those at Howard Street. With the full consent and
approval of this Council, he may break away from that covenant which
says :

Affectionately giving up ourselves to one another in the Lord, we solemnly
covenant faithfully to watch over each other, to seek the promotion of each
other's spiritual good, to submit ourselves to the discipline and government
of Christ in his Church, and watchfully to avoid all sinful stumbling blocks
and contentions, as become a people, whom the Lord hath bound up together
in the same bundle of life.

What would the author of the "Ratio Disciplinse of 1726" ; — what
would his venerated grand-parent, Richard Mather, whose image and

"" Remonstrance," in " Congregationalist," March 1, 1850.



35

superscription may be seen in every part of the " Platform of 1648";
— what would Wilson, Cotton, Shepard, Eliot, Hooker, Davenport,
Higginson, Hubbard, and all that illustrious company, have said of
such proceedings, as those of the late Council? Would they ha.ve
thrown their arms of protection around a member of a Church, who,
without asking consent, and for no good reason, according to the prin-
ciples and prescriptions of our Congregational polity, loithdrew from
his brethren in covenant ? They would as soon have abjured Chris-
tianity itself.

We challenge the Council to quote from the Cambridge Platform, or
from any other standard authority, a single passage, which would war-
rant Ezekiel Goss to leave, as he did, the Tabernacle Church. If it
be true, as they say, that " when a member applies for letters of testi-
monial and dismission, and no process of discipline is pending against
him, he is entitled to receive them, 0[J^ unless some brother declares
that he is offended, and will take immediate steps in respect to it,"
[it?] — then must it also be true, that, out of these narrowest of all
limits, the Churches have no discretion or liberty in any case what-
ever; but are bound, at the shortest notice, to dismiss any member, or
any number of members, who, for the most trivial reasons, or from
the most transient impulses, might ask for letters of testimonial to other
churches. We must take the liberty to suggest, that such special
pleading, even by very reputable Congregational ministers and civil-
ians, appears to us to be very " new " and very poor Congregationalism !

Ezekiel Goss now has the full approbation and permission of the
Council to leave the Tabernacle Church, forever ; notwithstanding the
palpable violation of his covenant with the brethren of that Church.
That covenant they can call a " holy covenant ; " provided only, that
the question is, whether the Howard Street Church could be dissolved
by a vote of the majority. If, however, the question is, whether Eze-
kiel Goss has a right to a dismission from the Tabernacle Church, then
the covenant in its " holiness " is remembered no more. The circum-
stances have entirely altered the case !

The Council themselves are our witnesses. And these are the breth-
ren, who have looked " with undissembled wonder and astonishment"
upon the " phenomenon," that our humble selves and our associates
should " claim to be inspired by reverence for the fundamental princi-
ples and accredited usages of our fathers ! " These are the brethren,
who, upon the most " weak and beggarly elemerits " of ex parte testi-
mony alone, and after the merest mockery of a form of investigation
of facts, have, as but a part only of their Result, condemned the action
of the Tabernacle Church ; have pronounced their emphatic benedic-
tion upon a misguided and erring member; and have given him cre-
dentials or testimonials, as " in good and regular standing" in the very
Church from which he had, for a year and a half, entirely withdrawn
himself, in worship, in communion, and in sympathy! For such extra-
ordinary and flagrant proceedings, we hold our brethren of this Coun-
cil responsible to the community, to our Churches, and to Chkist!



36



§ The nature of a Cungi'egationol Covenant, and the question of the
Right of a Majority to Dissolve a Church, considered.

After disposing of the case of Mr. Goss, the Council proceed in
their Result, to consider "the questions at issue," in regard to the
Howard Street minority. " In entering upon the discharge of this
duty," they say :

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 which it was attempted to dissolve the Howard Street Church, and by
which that act is defended, are not only novel, but in our judgment would, if
carried out, effect an entire revolution in our Churches as it regards the im-
port and sacredness of the covenants by which they are bound together ; and
furnish a new instrument of destruction, to be used in every case of diffi-
culty 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 con-
strained 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 funda-
mental principles of our system, and the obvious dictates of truth and right-
eousness.

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 deci-
sion, we shall commence our investigations by the inquiry, what these "fun-
damental principles and accredited usages" and "precedents" are, in the
present case ?

After such a statement, it would certainly have been expected, that
the Council would have made some quotations from the founders of
our system, which would be seen at once to relate to the subject before
us, in a distinct, definite, unequivocal, and irresistible application.
Seriously, we could not imagine what it was, that had been so unac-
countably overlooked, by many beside ourselves, both older and
younger, and by some too, whose reputation for sound learning and
ripe scholarship, as well as acute discrimination and practical good
sense, would not suffer by comparison with that of any member of the
late Council. And since it is a matter of fact, that a considerable
number of Churches have been dissolved, — not always by unanimous
desire, but quite as often by vole of the major part only, both in deed
and in form, — we had no small curiosity to see what the Council had
discovered or had previously known, which makes such a dissolution
an absolute anomaly, and an intolerable outrage.

It was, then, with perfect astonishment, that we read the pages
[12 — 17] of the Result, in which the Council have professed to give
us their synopsis or summary of the " fundamental principles of our
system," according to the witness of the fathers, " relative to the cov-
enant, by which believers in our Churches are bound to God, and to
each other." If we should now take out every passage, which has
been cited, and should separate it entirely from the unqualified asser-
tions and assumed inferences of the authors of the Result, it would
be seen, that there is not a syllable of a sentiment, which is not found



37

in the usual forms of our most recent Congregational covenants, or in
the most familiar articles of church administration, as exhibited, for
example, in the well known Ratio Disciplinse of 1829. In truth and
soberness, this grave attempt, therefore, with such elaboration and
complication of remark upon a few simple sentences, to explain the
import and obligations of a church covenant, — was no more expected
by us, than would have been a very solemn series of references, with
exhortations annexed, to one or more of the earliest copies of the
Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Assembly, and some four or
five folio "Expositions" of the same, like that of Flavel, — with an
allusion, perhaps, to a new edition of the New England Primer, — in
order to teach the General Association of Massachusetts, " What is
the chief end of man ?"

It would have been just as much in point, as regards the main ques-
tions at issue, if the Council had quoted any six forms of Congrega-
tional covenant in our most recent Orthodox Churches of New England,
or any other forms out of New England, even as far off as the mission-
ary Churches of the Sandwich Islands. There is not one of the early
covenants as quoted, or as in any way explained hy the fathers them-
selves, which at all intimates that a particular Church has no power,
right, or authority, to change its covenant, to adopt a new covenant,
or to dissolve the very essence of its own particular organization and
distinctive identity or individuality. What the Council say of the
fathers, is one thing, and a very different thing from what the fathers
have said themselves.

" Churches," the Council say, "were with the fathers no mere vol-
untary associations for mutual religious improvement, which those who
formed might dissolve at pleasure, and replace by what they deemed
better, or by none at all, as they saw fit," (p. 16.) And are " Churches "
so esteemed by any of the Essex South Conference? Produce the
testimony ! Caricature is here out of place.

But did not the fathers consider " Churches " to be " voluntary asso-
ciations" 1 And where has anyone of them ever said, that these
could not, at any time, or for any reason, be dissolved, by the vote of
a regular majority ? If there is any record of this sort, why have not
the Council brought it forth to us ? We shall not be content with the
asseverations of the Council, as if the very testimony of the fathers in
their own person. And when we are told, as in the name of the
fathers, "that the covenant with man is included in the covenant
with God ; " or that they who " covenanted with God to do all his
known will, whether it was expressly stated or not, covenanted to come
into church-estate with their brethren, and to remain in it," — we think
that the Council had forgotten, that the chief fathers had all been of
the Church of England, which denies the whole doctrinal basis, and,
of course, the whole superstructure of our Congregationalism.

Could the formers of the First Church in Salem have had any idea
of becoming Congn gationnlists , when, in the father-land, they first
entered into a personal covenant with God ? And if they had contin-
ued to be Episcopalians, or members of the old established Church,
would they have lived in violation of that personal covenant? Yet if
the words of the Result are to be considered a just expression of the
views of the fathers, every one of the fathers was hound hy his origi-



38

nal covenant with God, to become a Congregationalist ! And all
other true believers have been, or are, under the same obligation.
Because, " coming into a church-state is an essential part of the obli-
gation assumed " by those who " give themselves up to God ; so that
the covenant v/\\h Him is a covenant to enter into, and to remain in a
visible particular Church, by a covenant with them," " vphether it was
expressly stated or not ! "

We do not object in the least to the doctrine, that a personal cove-
nant with God binds the believer to the duty of obeying all the known
will of God. But Congregationalists as we claim to be, ex animo, we
have never before heard, that our Congregational church covenant is
really included in our personal covenant to be the Lord's. We cer-
tainly have been accustomed to suppose, that believers may be Episco-
palians, or Presbyterians, for example, without any violation of " the
obligation assumed in giving themselves up to God." Yet we have
been in error, if the Council are right in their fundamental position.
Thousands and hundreds of thousands of real Christians, as we must
believe, are partakers of the ordinances and " the seals of grace," yet
are not, in ?Lny Congregational sense, members of " a particular vis-
ible chur<:h."

It is a very easy matter, in laying down premises, to assume far too
much, and in drawing inferences, to prove far too much. We have
other strictures to make upon the representation of our brethren of the
Council, in respect to the connection between our Congregational cov-
enants and the personal covenant with God. And we shall show, as
we think somewhat conclusively, that, even admitting the general
statements of the Council, their inferences in particular do not follow
from their premises, as surely as they have supposed.

The Council, or some of them, it seems to us, have been at great
labor, in preparing so successfully to place the fathers before us in a
false position. They have not given us the true state of the ecclesias-
tical controversy, which was so zealously maintained, in the period
when our Congregational system was commenced. Quite too freely
have they drawn upon their own imagination ; although it must be con-
fessed that they have made an imposing display of names and authori-
ties. And it must have been an effort, as we presume, to work them-
selves up so high as to exclaim : " Such were the views of the fathers
on this most momentous theme." See Appendix.

We owe, as we conceive, a duty to the fathers, in giving them an
opportunity to speak for themselves, as they have not been allowed to
speak by this Council. And it may then be seen, how far the Council
were warranted to represent them, as in the Result before us. And
the reader will be better able to judge, whether we deserve to be called
" radical reformers," or are obnoxious to the charge of inventing " a
new instrument of destruction, to be used in every case of difficulty
and division in a church." — pp. 12, 16.

Our Congregational Churches may be said to have originated in the
organization of the Church of Robinson, in the North of England, in
1602. " Several religious people," says Gov. Bradford, * * * *
" as the Lord's free people, joined themselves by covenant into a
church-state, to walk in all his ways, according to their best endeavors,
whatever it cost them ! " When the Pilgrims of Plymouth were about



39

embarking for America, there was this agreement ; " Those who go

FIKST, TO BE AN ABSOLUTE ChURCH OF THEMSELVES, AS WELL AS THOSE

WHO stay; with this proviso, that as any go over or return, they shall
be reputed as members, without farther dismission or testimonial."

The Church of Plymouth, therefore, was constituted in Holland.
And upon the simple basis, or according to the model of that brief
and beautiful covenant, — " as the Lord's people, to walk in all his loays,
according to their best endeavors, whatever it cost them," — our Con-
gregational Churches have all been gathered and sustained, under
the gracious care of our covenant God. Whenever a true Orthodox
Congregational Church is now formed, it must consist of such persons
only, as have made an open profession of their faith in Christ, and en-
tered into a solemn covenant with God and one another, to walk to-
gether in a church-state, obeying the precepts and observing the ordi-
nances of the Gospel.

Very early in the 17th century, the Brownists, or Independents, gave
occasion to much ecclesiastical strife. And a fierce controversy it
was, which raged for some years before the time of the settlement of
New England. After the Massachusetts colony at Salem had been
established, and the Churches in Boston, Dorchester, and other towns
had attracted much attention in England, very serious difficulties
arose, in consequence of the unwillingness of the pastors and members
of these Churches, to receive or acknowledge as communicants with
full privileges, those who had no other claims than the ordinary recog-
nition of church-standing in the establishment. The ministers, also,
who had been ordained at home, were ordained here; and persons who
had been considered Christians in every proper sense, had now taken
upon themselves the obligations of a special covenant of church-mem-
bership.

There was much trouble and perplexity in the minds of brethren in
England, with whom as members of the established Church, our New
England fathers had been united in Christian sympathy and purposes.
It seemed to them, as if the action of the brethren here implied, that
the brethren there were not really members of Christ's visible Church ;
and that the requisitions adopted in our early Churches were both un-
reasonable and unscriptural. Hence, among other manifestations of
their views and feelings, some of them sent over a list of " Thirty-two
Questions;" — answers to which were written in 1639, by the cele-
brated Richard Mather, the same who wrote the " Answers"* to the
*' Nine Positions," which last were of small consequence, in compari-
son with the first.

Take these as examples of the " Thirty-two Questions."

1. Whether the greatest part of the English there (by estimate) be not as
yet unadmitted to any Congregation [Church] among you, and the reasons
thereof?

2. What things do you hold to be essentially and absolutely necessary to
the being of a true visible Church of Christ ?

3. Whether do you not hold all visible believers to be within the visible
Church, as members thereof, and not without in the Apostle's sense, 1 Cor. v.,

* J{ot " written," a,s the Council say, " in all probability by the celebrated John
Cotton."



40

and, therefore ought so to he acknowledged and accepted in all Congrega-
tions [Chs.] wheresoever they shall come, and are so known ; and ought, (if they
desire and be not otherwise unfit) of right to be permitted to participate in
all God's ordinances, and church priviledges there, so farre as they person-
ally concern themselves, although they be not as yet fixed members in partic-
ular covenant, either with that Congregation [Church] where for the present
they reside nor with any other?

4. Whether you do not hold, that Baptism rightly (for substance) partaked,
doth make them that are so baptized, members of the visible Church; and
BO to have a right (at least quoad nos) to all the priviledges thereof (so far as
they are otherwise fit) untill they be cast out (if they so deserve) by excom-
munication ?

8. Whether do you require of all persons of age, whom you admit members
of any Church, —

(1.) A publike vocall declaration of the manner and soundness of their
conversion.

(2.) A publike profession of their faith concerning the Articles of Reli-
gion.

(3.) An express verbal covenanting to walk with ^jj^ the said Churchin
particular, in Christian fellowship.

O^J^ (4.) And not to depart from the said Church afterward, without the
consent thereof; or how do you hold and practice in these things.''

9. Whether do you hold all, or the most of our parish assemblies in Old
England, to be true visible Churches of Christ, with which you may lawfully
joyne in every part of God's true worship (if occasion served thereto); or if
not all or the most, then what ones are those which you so account, and with
which you durst so partake or joyne ; and in what respects ?

12. Whether do you hold, that every Believer is also bound to joyne him-



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 35 of 51)