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gational polity, might cooperate on terms of mutual con-
cession with Presbyterian churches in their neighborhood.
The proposals had been fraternally received and accepted,
and under the terms of this compact great accessions had
been made to the strength of the Presbyterian Church, of
pastors and congregations marked with the intellectual
activity and religious enterprise of the New England
churches, who, while cordially conforming to the new
methods of organization and discipline, were not in the
least penetrated with the traditionary Scotch veneration
for the Westminster standards. For nearly thirty years
the great reinforcements from New England and from
men of the New England way of thinking had been un-
grudgingly bestowed and heartily welcomed. But the
great accessions which in the first four years of the fourth
decade of this century had increased the roll of the com-
municants of the Presbyterian Church by more than fifty
per cent, had come in undue proportion from the New
Englandized regions of western New York and Ohio. It
was inevitable that the jealousy of hereditary Presbyte-
rians, " whose were the fathers," should be aroused by
the perfectly reasonable fear lest the traditional ways of
the church which they felt to be in a peculiar sense
their church might be affected by so large an element
from without.


The grounds of explicit complaint against the party
called " New School " were principally twofold — doctrine
and organization.

In the Presbyterian Church at this time were three pretty
distinct types of theological thought. First, there was
the unmitigated Scotch Calvinism; secondly, there was
the modification of this system, which became naturalized^
in the church after the Great Awakening, when Jonathan
Dickinson and Jonathan Edwards, from neighbor towns in
Massachusetts, came to be looked upon as the great Pres-
byterian theologians ; thirdly, there was the " consistent
Calvinism," that had been still further evolved by the
patient labor of students in direct succession from Edwards,
and that was known under the name of " Hopkinsianism."
Just now the latest and not the least eminent in this
school. Dr. Nathaniel W. Taylor, of New Haven, was
enunciating to large and enthusiastic classes in Yale
Divinity School new definitions and forms of statement
giving rise to much earnest debate. The alarm of those
to whom the very phrase " improvement in theology "
was an abomination expressed itself in futile indictments
for heresy brought against some of the most eminently
godly and useful ministers in all the church. Lyman
Beecher, of Lane Seminary, Edward Beecher, J. M. Stur-
tevant, and William Kirby, of Illinois College, and George
Duffield, of the presbytery of Carlisle, Pa., were annoyed
by impeachments for heresy, which all failed before reach-
ing the court of last resort. But repeated and persistent
prosecutions of Albert Barnes, of Philadelphia, were des-
tined to more conspicuous failure, by reason of their com-
ing up year after year before the General Assembly, and
also by reason of the position of the accused as pastor of
the mother church of the denomination, the First Church
of Philadelphia, which was the customary meeting-place


of the Assembly ; withal by reason of the character of the
accused, the honor and love in which he was held for his
faithful and useful work as pastor, his world-wide fame as
a devoted and believing student of the Scriptures, and the
Christlike gentleness and meekness with which he endured
the harassing of church trials continuing through a period
of seven years, and compelling him, under an irregular and
illegal sentence of the synod, to sit silent in his church for
the space of a year, as one suspended from the ministry.

The earliest leaders in national organization for the
propagation of Christianity at home and abroad were the
Congregationalists of New England and men like-minded
with them. But the societies thus originated were or-
ganized on broad and catholic principles, and invited the
cooperation of all Christians. They naturally became the
organs of much of the active beneficence of Presbyterian
congregations, and the Presbyterian clergy and laity were
largely represented in the direction of them. They were
recognized and commended by the representative bodies
of the Presbyterian Church. As a point of high-church
theory it was held by the rigidly Presbyterian party that
the work of the go.spel in all its departments and in all
lands is the proper function of " the church as such " —
meaning practically that each sect ought to have its sepa-
rate propaganda. There was logical strength in this posi-
tion as reached from their premisses, and there were
arguments of practical convenience to be urged in favor
of it. But the demand to sunder at once the bonds of
fellowship which united Christians of different names in
the beneficent work of the great national societies was
not acceptable even to the whole of the Old-School party.
To the New Englanders it was intolerable.

There were other and less important grounds of differ-
ence that were discussed between the parties. And in


the background, behind them all, was the slavery ques-
tion. It seems to have been willingly kept in the back-
ground by the leaders of debate on both sides ; but it was
there. The New-School synods and presbyteries of the
North were firm in their adherence to the antislavery
principles of the church. On the other hand, the Old-
School party relied, in the coup d'eglisc that was in prepa-
ration, on the support of " an almost solid South." ^

It was an unpardonable offence of the New-School
party that it had grown to such formidable strength, in-
tellectually, spiritually, and numerically. The probability
that the church might, with the continued growth and in-
fluence of this party, become Americanized and so lose
the purity of its thoroughgoing Scotch traditions was very
real, and to some minds very dreadful. To these the very
ark of God seemed in danger. Arraignments for heresy
in presbytery and synod resulted in failure ; and when
these and other cases involving questions of orthodoxy or
of the policy of the church were brought into the supreme
judicature of the church, the solemn but unmistakable fact
disclosed itself that even the General Assembly could not
be relied on for the support of measures introduced by
the Old-School leaders. In fact, every Assembly from
1 83 1 to 1836, with a single exception, had shown a clear
New-School majority. The foundations were destroyed,
and what should the righteous do?

History was about to repeat itself with unwonted pre-
ciseness of detail. On the gathering of the Assembly of
1837 a careful count of noses revealed what had been
known only once before in seven years, and what might
never be again — a clear Old- School majority in the house.
To the pious mind the neglecting of such an opportunity
would have been to tempt Providence. Without notice,
J Johnson, "The Southern Presbyterians," p. 359,



without complaint or charges or specifications, without
opportunity of defense, 4 synods, including 533 churches
and more than 100,000 communicants, were excommuni-
cated by a majority vote. The victory of pure doctrine
and strict church order, though perhaps not exactly
glorious, was triumphant and irreversible. There was no
more danger to the church from a possible New-School

When the four exscinded synods, three in western New
York and one in Ohio, .together with a great following of
sympathizing congregations in all parts of the country,
came together to reconstruct their shattered polity, they
were found to number about four ninths of the late Pres-
byterian Church. For thirty years the American church
was to present to Christendom the strange spectacle of two
great ecclesiastical bodies claiming identically the same
name, holding the same doctrinal standards, observing the
same ritual and governed by the same discipline, and
occupying the same great territory, and yet completely
dissevered from each other and at times in relations of
sharp mutual antagonism.'

The theological debate which had split the Presbyterian
Church from end to end was quite as earnest and copious
in New England. But owing to the freer habit of theo- inquiry and the looser texture of organization
among the Congregationalist churches, it made no organic
schism beyond the setting up of a new theological semi-

1 For the close historical parallel to the exscinding acts of 1837 see page
167, above. A later parallel, it is claimed, is found in the " virtually ex-
scinding act" of the General Assembly of 1861, which was the occasion of
the secession of the Southern Presbyterians. The historian of the Southern
Presbyterians, who remarks with entire complacency that the " victory " of
1837 was won "only by virtue of an almost solid South," seems quite un-
conscious that this kind of victory could have any force as a precedent or as
an estoppel (Johnson, "The Southern Presbyterians," pp. 335, 359). But
it is natural, no doubt, that exscinding acts should look diflferent when
examined from the muzzle instead of from the breech.


nary in Connecticut to off set what were deemed the "dan-
gerous tendencies " of the New Haven theology. After
a few years the party lines had faded out and the two
seminaries were good neighbors.

The unlikeliest place in all American Christendom for
a partisan controversy and a schism would have seemed to
be the Unitarian denomination in and about Boston.
Beginning with the refusal not only of any imposed stand-
ard of belief, but of any statement of common opinions,
and with unlimited freedom of opinion in every direction,
unless, perhaps, in the direction of orthodoxy, it was not
eas}^ to see how a splitting wedge could be started in it.
But the infection of the time was not to be resisted. Even
Unitarianism must have its heresies and heresiarchs to deal
with. No sooner did the pressure of outside attack abate
than antagonisms began pretty sharply to declare them-
selves. In 1832 Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson, pastor of the
Second Church in Boston, proposed to the church to aban-
don or radically change the observance of the Lord's Sup-
per. When the church demurred at this extraordinary
demand he resigned his office, firing off an elaborate
argument against the usage of the church by way of a
parting salute. Without any formal demission of the
ministry, he retired to his literary seclusion at Concord,
from which he brought forth in books and lectures the
oracular utterances which caught more and more the ear
of a wide public, and in which, in casual-seeming paren-
theses and obiter dicta, Christianity and all practical re-
ligion were condemned by sly innuendo and half-respect-
ful allusion by which he might " without sneering teach
the rest to sneer." In 1838 he was still so far recognized
in the ministry as to be invited to address the graduating
class of the Harvard Divinity School. The blank panthe-
ism which he then enunciated called forth from Professor


Henry Ware, Jr., a sermon in the college chapel on the
personality of God, which he sent with a friendly note to
Mr. Emerson. The gay and Skimpolesque reply of the
sage is an illustration of that flippancy with which he chose
to toy in a literary way with momentous questions, and
which was so exasperating to the earnest men of positive
religious convictions with whom he had 'been associated in
the Christian ministry.

" It strikes me very oddly that good and wise men at
Cambridge should think of raising me into an object of
criticism. I have always been, from my incapacity of
methodical writing, ' a chartered libertine,' free to worship
and free to rail, lucky when I could make myself under-
stood, but never esteemed near enough to the institutions
and mind of society to deserve the notice of masters of
literature and religion. ... I could not possibly give you
one of the ' arguments ' you so cruelly hint at on which
any doctrine of mine stands, for I do not know what
arguments mean in reference to any expression of thought.
I delight in telling what I think, but if you ask me how I
dare say so, or why it is so, I am the most helpless of
mortal men, I do not even see that either of these ques-
tions admits of an answer. So that in the present droll
posture of my affairs, when I see myself suddenly raised
into the importance of a heretic, I am very uneasy when
I advert to the supposed duties of such a personage who
is to make good his thesis against all comers. I certainly
shall do no such thing."

The issue was joined and the controversy began.
Professor Andrews Norton in a pamphlet denounced " the
latest form of infidelity," and the Rev. George Ripley
replied in a volume, to which Professor Norton issued a
rejoinder. But there was not substance enough of reli-
gious dogma and sentiment in the transcendentalist phi-


losophers to give them any permanent standing in the
church. They went into various walks of secular litera-
ture, and have powerfully influenced the course of opin-
ions ; but they came to be no longer recognizable as a
religious or theological party.

Among the minor combatants in the conflict between
the Unitarians and the pantheists was a young man whose
name was destined to become conspicuous, not within the
Unitarian fellowship, but on the outskirts of it. Theodore
Parker was a man of a diff"erent type from the men about
him of either party. The son of a mechanic, he fought
his way through difficulties to a liberal education, and was
thirty years old before his very great abilities attracted
general attention. A greedy gormandizer of books in
many languages, he had little of the dainty scholarship so
much prized at the neighboring university. But the
results of his vast reading were stored in a quick and
tenacious memory as ready rhetorical material wherewith
to convince or astonish. Paradox was a passion with him,
that was stimulated by complaints, and even by depreca-
tions, to the point of irreverence. He liked to " make
people's flesh crawl." Even in his advocacy of social and
public reforms, which was strenuous and sincere, he de-
lighted so to urge his cause as to inflame prejudice and
opposition against it. With this temper it is not strange
that when he came to enunciate his departure from some
of the accepted tenets of his brethren, who were habitually
reverent in their discipleship toward Jesus Christ, he should
do this in a way to offend and shock. The immediate
reaction of the Unitarian clergy from the statements of
his sermon, in 1841, on "The Transient and the Perma-
nent in Christianity," in which the supernatural was boldly
discarded from his belief, was so general and so earnest as
to give occasion to Channing's exclamation, " Now we


have a Unitarian orthodoxy!" Channing did not Hve to
see the characteristic tenets of the heresiarch to whom he
hesitated to give the name of Christian not only, widely
accepted in the Unitarian churches, but some of them
freely discussed as open questions among some orthodox

Two very great events in this period of schism may be
dispatched with a brevity out of all proportion to their
importance, on account of the simplicity of motive and
action by which they are characterized.

In the year 1844 the slavery agitation in the Methodist
Episcopal Church culminated, not in the rupture of the
church, but in the well-considered, dehberate division of
it between North and South. The history of the slavery
question among the Methodists was a typical one. From
the beginning the Methodist Society had been committed
by its founder and his early successors to the strictest (not
the strongest) position on this question. Not only was
the system of slavery denounced as iniquitous, but the
attempt was made to enforce the rigid rule that persons
involved under this system in the relation of master to
slave should be excluded from the ministry, if not from
the communion. But the enforcement of this rule was
found to be not only difficult, but wrong, and difficult
simply because it was wrong. Then followed that illogical
confusion of ideas studiously fostered by zealots at either
extreme : If the slave-holder may be in some circum-
stances a faithful Christian disciple, fulfilling in righteous-
ness and love a Christian duty, then slavery is right ; if
slavery is wrong, then every slave-holder is a manstealer,
and should be excommunicated as such without asking
any further questions. Two statements more palpably
illogical were never put forth for the darkening of coun-


sel. But each extreme was eager to sustain the unreason
of the opposite extreme as the only alternative of its own
unreason, and so, what with contrary gusts from North
and South, they fell into a place where two seas met and
ran the ship aground. The attempts made from 1836 to
1840, by stretching to the utmost the authority of the
General Conference and the bishops, for the suppression
of " modern abolitionism " in the church (without saying
what they meant by the phrase) had their natural effect :
the antislavery sentiment in the church organized and
uttered itself more vigorously and more extravagantly
than ever on the basis, " All slave-holding is sin ; no fel-
lowship with slave-holders." In 1843 ^i^ antislavery
secession took place, which drew after it a following of
six thousand, increased in a few months to fifteen thou-
sand. The paradoxical result of this movement is not
without many parallels in church history : After the draw-
ing off of fifteen thousand of the most zealous antislavery
men in the church, the antislavery party in the church was
vastly stronger, even in numbers, than it had been before.
The General Conference of 1836 had pronounced itself,
without a dissenting vote, to be " decidedly opposed to
modern abolitionism." The General Conference of 1844,
on the first test vote on the question of excluding from
the ministry one who had become a slave-holder through
marriage, revealed a majority of one hundred and seven-
teen to fifty-six in favor of the most rigorous antislavery
discipline. The graver question upon the case of Bishop
Andrew, who was in the like condemnation, could not be
decided otherwise. The form of the Conference's action
in this case was studiously inoffensive. It imputed no
wrong and proposed no censure, but, simply on the ground
that the circumstances would embarrass him in the exercise
of his office, declared it as " the sense of this General


Conference that he desist from the exercise of this office
so long as tliis impediment remains." The issue could
not have been simpler and clearer. The Conference was
warned that the passage of the resolution- would be fol-
lowed by the secession of the South. The debate was
long, earnest, and tender. At the end of it the resolution
was passed, one hundred and eleven to sixty-nine. At
once notice was given of the intended secession. Com-
missioners were appointed from both parties to adjust the
conditions of it, and in the next year (1845) was organized
the "Methodist Episcopal Church, South."

Under the fierce tyranny then dominant at the South
the southern Baptists might not fall behind their Metho-
dist neighbors in zeal for slavery. This time it was the
South that forced the issue. The Alabama Baptist
Convention, without waiting for a concrete case, demanded
of the national missionary boards "the distinct, explicit
avowal that slave-holders are eligible and entitled equally
with non-slave-holders to all the privileges and immunities
of their several unions." The answer of the Foreign Mis-
sion Board was perfectly kind, but, on the main point,
perfectly unequivocal : " We can never be a party to any
arrangement which would imply approbation of slavery."
The result had been foreseen. The great denomination
was divided between North and South. The Southern
Baptist Convention was organized in May, 1845, and
began its home and foreign missionary work without

This dark chapter of our story is not without its brighter
aspects, (i) Amid the inevitable asperities attendant on
such debate and division there were many and beautiful
manifestations of brotherly love between the separated
parties. (2) These strifes fell out to the furtherance of the
gospel. Emulations, indeed, are not among the works of


the Spirit. In the strenuous labors of the two divided
denominations, greatly exceeding what had gone before,
it is plain that sometimes Christ was preached of envy and
strife. Nevertheless Christ was preached, with great and
salutary results ; and therein do we rejoice, yea, and will

Two important orders in the American church, which
for a time had almost faded out from our field of vision,
come back, from about this epoch of debate and division,
into continually growing conspicuousness and strength.
Neither of them was implicated in that great debate in-
volving the fundamental principles of the kingdom of
heaven, — the principles of righteousness and love to men,
— by which other parts of the church had been agitated
and sometimes divided. Whether to their discredit or to
their honor, it is part of history that neither the Protestant
Episcopal Church nor the Roman Catholic Church took
any important part, either corporately or through its rep-
resentative men, in the agonizing struggle of the Ameri-
can church to maintain justice and humanity in public law
and poHcy. But standing thus aloof from the great ethi-
cal questions that agitated the conscience of the nation,
they were both of them disturbed by controversies inter-
nal or external, which demand mention at least in this

The beginning of the resuscitation of the Protestant
Episcopal Church from the dead-and-alive condition in
which it had so long been languishing is dated from the
year i8ii.^ This year was marked by the accession to
the episcopate of two eminent men, representing two
strongly divergent parties in that church — Bishop Gris-
wold, of Massachusetts, Evangelical, and Bishop Hobart, of

1 Tiffany, chap. xv.



New York, High-churchman. A quorum of three bishops
having been gotten together, not without great difficulty,
the two were consecrated in Trinity Church, New York,
May 29, 181 1.

The time was opportune and the conjuncture of circum-
stances singularly favorable. The stigma of Toryism,
which had marked the church from long before the War
of Independence, was now more than erased. In New
England the Episcopal Church was of necessity committed
to that political party which favored the abolition of the
privileges of the standing order; and this was the anti-
English party, which, under the lead of Jefferson, was fast
forcing the country into war with England. The Episco-
palians were now in a position to retort the charge of dis-
loyalty under which they had not unjustly suffered. At
the same time their church lost nothing of the social pres-
tige incidental to its relation to the established Church of
England. Politicians of the Democratic party, including
some men of well-deserved credit and influence, naturally
attached themselves to a religious party having many
points of congeniality.^

In another sense, also, the time was opportune for an
advance of the Episcopal Church. In the person of Bishop
Hobart it had now a bold, energetic, and able represent-
ative of principles hitherto not much in favor in America
— the thoroughgoing High-church principles of Arch-
bishop Laud. Before this time the Episcopal Church had

1 The intense antagonism of the New England Congregationalists to Jeff-
erson and his party as representing French infidelity and Jacobinism admits
of many striking illustrations. The sermon of Nathanael Emmons on
"Jeroboam the son of Nel)at, who made Israel to sin " is characterized by
Professor Park as "a curiosity in politico-homiletical literature." At this
distance it is not difficult to see that the course of this clergy was far more
honorable to its boldness and independence than to its discretion and sense
of fitness. Both its virtues and its faults had a tendency to strengthen an
opposing party.

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 24 of 34)