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did make an actual reality in every settlement which they formed. And the network of Congregational churches, with which they covered over much the larger portion of New England, presented a completeness and symmetry of organization for the religious instruction and spiritual nurture of a free people, never attained to elsewhere in this country, and probably not even in the world. An unobstructed development of their principles would have covered our whole territory with such a chain of organizations from ocean to ocean. At least, on every six miles square of our inhabited territory, they would have planted such a society, not cared for and governed by some distant ecclesiastical authority, but by its own living forces, and efficiently caring for all the intellectual, moral, and spiritual necessities of the entire population within its limits ; nor for these alone, but supplying the physical necessities of all the sick, the poor, and the afflicted.
And such a religious organization is essential to our national life and health. It is one of the great vital forces of all free society. There can be no better future, no millennium, either political or religious, without it. We do but grievously deceive ourselves if we imagine a sublime superstructure of freedom can be reared up, covering a continent, and enduring for ages, if this element is wanting. Some men among us glory in the superiority of this generation over our simple-minded fathers. But we are sadly fallen from the grace of such an organization for the religious culture of the people ; and it is a grievous fall. Many of the stars are fallen eren from the sky of New England, and no other luminaries have taken their places, and many others are sadly dimmed in their lustre and are reeling from their orbits. In most of the country which lies west and south of the Hudson, we have abandoned the conception itself, as impracticable and impossible. An eminent divine of one of the middle States, alike well known for his fervid eloquence and his burning zeal for the Christian cause, who thought I loved New England better than I ought, once sent this message to me in my distant home in the West, “Tell Mr. S. he cannot make New England in the West.” Alas! thus far it is true, and it is this very element of New England which we have been unable to transplant. But I have not ceased and shall not cease to try, till I despair of my country and of the Church of God.
It would be greatly to the purpose of the present occasion to exhibit an exhaustive view of the causes which have prevented the realization of this simple but grand conception west and south of the Hudson. The time, however, which can be allotted to this discourse would be entirely insufficient for such a presentation. But there are four of these causes which seem to me imperatively to demand the consideration of the National Council. They are,
1. Want of homogeneity in our population. 2. Negro slavery.
3. Undue reliance on temporary, superficial, and inorganic efforts for home evangelization; and,
4. Want of sufficient tenacity in adhering to our own polity.
In naming the first of these, want of homogeneity in our population, I do not chiefly refer to the fact that everywhere there is a portion, and in some communities a very large portion, of the population, who are not believers in the gospel, who are either indifferent or hostile to that faith which is the basis of all living and permanent Church organizations. However deeply we must deplore this fact, this unbelieving portion of the population is not numerous enough to throw any insuperable obstacles in the way of a ubiquitous organization of the Church on Congregational principles. It rarely or never occurs in any American community, that, if the gospel is preached in its purity, such multitudes will not embrace it in the love of it, as to render the organization and sustentation of a Christian Church easy. And this remains true, after we have made ample allowance for those forms of semi-Christian belief and worship which reject that gospel which we have received. That gospel which consists in repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, will still find adherents, who will be both able and willing to sustain an organized Church with all its ordinances. At least, within the circle of my observation, this has rarely, if ever, failed to be true. Aid they might need, while struggling with the first difficulties of a new settlement. But when these were a little over, I have seldom or never known a community in which there was not enough of earnest and devout Christians to sustain the institutions of social religion, if they were united in their endeavors; or, at least, in which, if the gospel were for a little time faithfully preached, it would not win converts, and make the problem of the Church easy. There are few communities, East or West, in which a Christian teacher may not preach as Paul did at Corinth, with the assurance that the Lord “has much people” there.
But the heterogeneousness of which I speak is of another kind. Almost everywhere west and south of the Hudson, the descendants of New England have met a religious population, holding, in a greater or less degree of purity and simplicity, the same religious faith as themselves, who yet are not willing to accept their conception of the Church. Ererywhere beyond the western boundary of New England, they meet not only the divisions which have arisen among Independents on the mode and subjects of baptism, but, in its almost endlessly multiplied modifications, the Presbyterianism of Geneva, Holland, and Scotland, and the various offshoots of the modified Episcopacy of the Wesleys. The inevitable consequence is, a conflict of rival conceptions of the Church, which renders impossible the construction of any such system of religious organization as the Congregational conception of the Church has produced in New England. It is not only true that no one of these Christian denominations is able to construct a ubiquitous system for the instruction of the people in the things of God, but that their mutual rivalries render it impossible that such a system should exist, either by the efforts of any particular denomination, or of all together. This is not a random assertion, but it is capable of demonstration ; and if true, it is surely worthy of the most serious consideration, not only of the Congregational churches, but of all men of every denomination that love our country and the kingdom of God.
In cities and large towns, all the different religious denominations that exist in our country may be represented by religious organizations, embodying each its own conception of the Church; and in this way provision may be made, in some sort, for the religious instruction of the population. But it is quite essential to the great social experiment which we are trying on a scale so gigantic, that our rural civilization should attain to a completeness never known in any other land. The means of intellectual, moral, and religious culture must not be shut up in cities : they must be carried to every square mile of our territory, and brought within easy reach of every human habitation. Every six miles square of the entire habitable surface of our country must contain such permanent and effective institutions for the instruction of the people, and the whole people, that the man who has never travelled beyond the limits of his own native township may yet have a noble education, and be a truly cultivated and civilized being, the product of all the centuries that are past. In order to this, I need not prove to this audience that it is indispensable that the Christian sanctuary shall be built there, and that on each successive Lord's Day the assembled people shall feel the influence of social worship, and of the clear, lucid, and earnest exhibition of evangelical truth.
What I affirm is, that the heterogeneousness of our population, in the sense in which I have defined it, renders it impossible to effect any such religious organization ; but that, on the contrary, vast regions and multitudinous populations are by it doomed to religious destitution and a moral desolation, like some great Sahara, with only here and there a blooming Oasis.
Subtracting from the sum total of our population the population of our cities and large towns where religious institutions can be maintained in some sort, in spite of the causes of which I am speaking, the remainder of course will be our rural population; and it will not be found to exceed some twenty-eight to the square mile, or about one thousand souls to each township of six miles square. Let us then bear in mind that in each of these townships will be found the usual amount of indifference to religion, and misbelief and unbelief; and that all this must be counted out, in estimating the capability of the township to sustain social religion. After then subtracting from the one thousand souls that inhabit the township all persons of this character, the remainder cannot be presumed to exceed six or seven hundred of all ages from the cradle to the grave, and of both sexes. If these were united, you could not expect of them more than that they would be able to s'istain one Church with energy and efficiency. What then can we hope for, \if they are to be divided between Presbyterians in all their diversities of Dutch, Scotch, and American origin, Wesleyan Episcopacy in all its modifications and independency, with the divisions which have arisen respecting the mode and subjects of baptism? What but the impossibility of sustaining any religious organization whatever ?
And yet what I have supposed is but the stern and terrible fact over vast districts of our territory; and the result is religious destitution and religious anarchy, from which we can not only discern no deliverance in the immediate future, but we do also clearly see, that, in the present line of things, deliverance is impossible; that the evil must wax worse and worse with each successive generation forever. Sects will multiply and unbelievers will multiply, and the house of David will wax weaker and weaker. We might as well hope that the barrenness of the Arabian desert will be healed, while yet the clouds refuse to pour
their rain upon it.
Religious men of New England birth and education have impressed upon the very substance of their souls the conception of a religious organization of society, which will bring the influence of a regular Christian sanctuary within easy reach of every dweller on the soil. And they know well that by such an arrangement only can the education of the people be provided for. And I thank God, that in the hope of realizing this noble conception they will, if need be, pour out their money like water, in sustaining Home Missionary societies, in founding schools and colleges, and in educating young men for the Christian ministry; and they will give their own sons and daughters to this work in a spirit of as true heroism as ever poured out life in the defence of liberty, or endured martyrdom for the truth as it is in Jesus. And I shall never cease to thank God that it is so.
But we are in duty bound to look the stern facts of the case full in the face; and if we do so, we shall acknowledge and feel to our heart's centre that obstacles at present exist over the whole West and South, which render the realization of the noble conception which inspires this glorious Christian heroism as impossible as to cover the ice-fields of the polar circle with the luxuriant vegetation of the tropics.
It is often asserted, and seldom or never contradicted, that this want of homogeneity of which I speak is the inevitable result of religious freedom, acting through the permanent laws of the human mind. If that is so, the prospects of our country for a high religious civilization are gloomy enough. But I thank God the assertion, often as it is made, is made gratuitously. Nobody has, so far as I know, ever proved it; and to me it seems not only unproved, but most clearly untrue. The whole history of this country, from the landing of the Pilgrims till now, furnishes no proof, or ground of suspicion, that religious men, in the full enjoyment of religious liberty, would ever have invented any other Church polity than independency. I know not that any centralized system of Church gorernment ever originated in this country, or any other country enjoying full religious liberty. Our Presbyterianism all sprung from the State churches of Geneva, Holland, and Scotland. It was originally constructed as an ecclesiastico-political system, through which a State Church could exert its power of control over all the religious interests of a nation. Organization did not begin with the people and grow up into the General Assembly, but with the General Assembly, and extended its radii of administration downwards to the Church sessions. If any one doubts this, I commend to his especial study the history of the Church of Scotland, and would especially recommend as a text-book the work of that stanch Presbyterian, Mr. Hetherington. Presbyterianism has greatly multiplied its sects in this country. But it has been only by subdivisions of itself, of which it has an unlimited capacity. They have all arisen from the attempt to carry out its principles in an atmosphere of freedom. But the system itself freedom never generated in any country, and there is no proof that it could. With no propriety can it be claimed as any necessary product of a religious liberty, however numerous its off-shoots may be in a free atmosphere.
There is just as little reason to believe that the Wesleyan polity could have originated from a condition of perfect religious liberty. Mr. Wesley's aim certainly was to organize an army of brave soldiers for Christ, and so to command it in the name of the Lord as to secure its efficiency. But the principles of organization by which that command was to be exercised were derived from the Episcopal hierarchy of the Church of England, which he never ceased to love and cherish. The seminal principle of the system is not, that of the people propagating that gospel which they have received, but that of the rulers converting and governing the people in the name of the Lord.
I am free to affirm, that to begin with a free, self-governing Christian people, and develop from it either the Wesleyan or the Presbyterian polity, seems to me as impossible as to create an aristocracy by the free votes of democrats. Give us nothing but liberty and Christianity to begin with, and if we ever have any ecelesiastical centralization, it must be imported from some other clime.
As to the Papal and Episcopal systems of government, the case is still plainer. If we can find them taught in the inspired Word, of course we can account for their existence. But as most of us are unable to see that the Holy Scriptures lend them any support, we can only recognize them as offshoots from the civil and military systems of imperial Rome and the middle ages, transplanted to this land of freedom, and here endeavoring, with what success time must determine, to maintain themselves in the midst of all the forces of universal and absolute religious liberty.
The assertion, then, that the heterogeneous character of our population is the inevitable result of our perfect religious liberty, is without any foundation at all. The conflicting systems by which our population is divided and distracted are, for the most part, not the products of religious liberty, but of the Church and State systems of Europe, transplanted to American soil, and here trying the very interesting experiment, whether their existence and their power can be propagated in the midst of the absolute religious liberty of the United States. If in the all-wise providence of God they are destined to succeed in this greatest ecclesiastical experiment of the nineteenth century, then must every system of effort for establishing a symmetrical and efficient system for the religious instruction of the whole people necessarily be a failure. The whole history of the Church, from the great schism of the Eastern and Western churches to the last disruption of American Presbyterianism, shows, with the certainty of demonstration, that centralized Church governments, whenever they are liberated from State control, and are free to act out their own nature, will always indefinitely multiply rival Church governments and sects by their own internal convulsions. They all exhibit thc phenomenon of a government claiming and exercising the right to command, without the power to compel obedience. They are all perpetually in the condition in which our Federal Government would have been,
if the doctrine of the Democratic party at the outbreakof the Rebellion had prevailed, that the Federal Government has no right to coerce a State. We should now have had as many nations as States. Every centralized Church government acts under these impossible conditions, and consequently is liable to be divided into two rival governments, whenever the majority or the governing power commands what any portion of the membership are unwilling to obey. It is therefore true, that, as things now are, we not only have so great a multiplication of rival ecclesiastical powers as to render efficient religious organization impossible, but also the certainty of an indefinite increase of their number in the future.
Want of homogeneity in our population is, then, one potent cause which has hindered, and is hindering, such a religious organization of our whole country as would have resulted from the development of the ideas of our New-England fathers. And it is an obstacle of giant magnitude with which we have still to contend.
2. Another fatal hinderance to the realization of the great conception of our NewEngland fathers has ever been negro slavery. On this point I need not detain you long, for the principles of the case are too familiar to require much illustration. Slavery degrades one-half the population to the condition of beasts of burden, and denies them any place in society as independent and personally responsible human beings. Our conception of the Church, on the contrary, is founded on the equal brotherhood of the human race. It cannot be supposed that the proud and lordly master can ever admit his slave to equality in Church relations, and recognize his independent manhood as a Christian brother. A higher power may admit both to the Church, and govern both; but the master will never admit the slave to an equal share with himself in the government of the Church, on principles of democratic equality. If churches of our polity exist in such circumstances, their membership must be confined either to the enslaving or to the enslaved class. Among the latter, in the Baptist connection, they have existed in great numbers. But driven out from all the fountains of knowledge, and deprived day by day of the earnings of their own hands, what could these poor people do for the spiritual enlightenment of the communities under whose oppressions they and their fathers before them lived and groaned ?
Nor could the principles of our polity develop themselves with any better effect in the enslaving class. The white population of the slaveholding States has always been divided into two classes, which are separated by an immense distance from each other, the wealthy and aristocratic slaveholders, and the poor white men, reduced both in respect to property and intelligence to a position scarcely less wretched than that of the slave himself, and this latter much the more numerous class. A population thus degraded, and reduced to ignorance and barbarism, would furnish but poor materials out of which to construct such Congregational churches as those which the fathers planted in the wilderness of New England. Many of this class have been organized into Baptist churches, and much has thus been achieved for their spiritual benefit. But little could be hoped from them in the way of a religious organization to supply the moral wants of a great people. Poverty and ignorance have been their leading characteristics, accompanied, of course, by a degrading servility to the proud and selfish aristocracy that is above them.
The wealthy slave-holding class, on the other hand, could not be expected to choose a system of Church government founded on the idea of an equal Christian brotherhood. It is impossible that such a polity as ours should be successfully developed, in a community thus divided by artificial and unjust legislation, into classes so widely removed from each other. When English aristocrats learn to love and cherish English Independency, you may expect our American slave-holding aristocrats to love and cherish the Congregationalism of New England. In both cases the Congregational polity is sure to be