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rejected with scorn and contempt. We need, therefore, feel no surprise that our polity has no existence among the intelligent and wealthy classes of the South, and that the Congregational churches which once existed in South Carolina and Georgia have long since been swallowed up in those organizations in which the Christian brotherhood is less distinctly recognized. It may therefore be assumed, that, while slavery continued in the South, our polity was possible there only among the slaves and the most degraded and ignorant of the white population ; ond that there it would be quite powerless to provide a system of religious instruction for a great, free, and enlightened people.
And it should be remarked, that this obstacle to the progress of our polity has been felt much beyond the limits of the slave-holding States. Slavery has attacked, with terrible effect, that doctrine of fraternal equality which the gospel teaches, not only in the slave-holding States, but in all parts of our country, and especially in those portions of it to which emigrants from the South have gone in large numbers. It has fearfully assailed the fundamental principle of our free institutions, both civil and ecclesiastical, and, if God had not come to our aid in the destruction of slavery, would ere long have subverted the Republic itself. And the weakening of this principle shows itself earlier and more strikingly in the Church than in the State. Thousands, who would not acknowledge themselves aristocrats, would feel a decided aversion to joining a Church which was governed by the vote of the majority, and in which the vote of a poor man would be worth as much as their own. And that the growth of this aristocratic spirit has been greatly fostered and extended by the influence of a slave-holding aristocracy on our society, and that tastes have thus been generated which incline strongly to the less democratic forms of Church polity, I cannot for a moment doubt. He who has watched the causes which, for the last thirty years, have resisted the progress of our polity in the North-West, will not need proof of this proposition.
3. Another obstacle which has greatly hindered our organic work is undue reliance on modes of effort which are inorganic, and necessarily temporary and superficial.
I must tell you frankly, fathers and brethren; this has been a very painful subject to many of your frontier laborers during the last thirty years. We have seen great, and in their design truly Christian societies, having the ear of all our churches, and holding the very highest place in their regard, founding their plea for large pecuniary contributions upon the assumption, that the founding of the Church, the sustaining of an enlighteded Christian ministry, the rearing-up of the permanent institutions of Christian learning, is too slow a process; that the results are too remote ; that these efforts cannot reach the people, and that, therefore, other and speedier methods must be adopted. You must send the colporter with his bibles, his tracts, and Christian books, and thus carry the word of life to the people at their own homes. And this logic has been accepted, accepted against the solemn and clearly uttered protest of the very men whom you had sent there to build up the institutions of a Christian civilization on the frontier; and not only accepted, but most vigorously acted upon. While it has been a matter of the greatest difficulty to get a few hundred dollars to aid a feeble new congregation in building a house of worship, while heroic home missionaries and their still more heroic wives have been called to endure the severest privations and the greatest and most distressing hinderances in their work, while fields the most inviting of organic missionary enterprise could not be entered for the want of means, and while those colleges which your farseeing liberality has founded were left so feeble and inadequately provided with the needful resources as often to fill the hearts of those who labored in them with shame and deep despondency, — while all these things and more were going on before our eyes, on those very same fields, funds derived from the sacred treasury of Christian benerolence were expended by tens of thousands, in the circulation of tracts and printed volumes, which few care to read, and multitudes could not read if they would. I should not be surprised to learn, that for many successive years more money was annually expended in Illinois, in peddling religious books, than the entire cost of sustaining all the colleges which Christian liberality has founded there.
I do not say that all this has done no good. But I do say, that, having been constantly for more than thirty-five years, in the heart of the great North-West, I have never had but one view of it. It has always seemed to me very bad economy. As I have looked at these things, I have never doubted that the children of this world are
very deed, in their generation, wiser than the children of light. To found institutions as the vital organs of Christian society is our first business, and let us never be cheated into forgetting it. And there is no substitute for them, any more than for eyes and ears and lungs in the body. Let us build such institutions if we do nothing else. And let us put our books and our tracts and our Sunday-school libraries into the hands of our missionaries, as their munitions of moral warfare.
And I must ask any man, well informed and of sound judgment, what, beyond the permanent institutions we have founded, we have to show for the evangelical labors of the last thirty-five years in the North-West. I would ask him too, if we had, in the respects now indicated, used our money more wisely, these results might not have been far more abundant than they are ; whether, if we had used the funds we have spent in forcing the circulation of printed books, in founding and building up our churches and our colleges, our churches might not have been far stronger and more numerous; and whether our colleges might not have been far nearer than they are to the attainment of the great destiny intended by their founders. For my part I have no doubt of it.
Let us learn by experience ; let us put these more superficial and temporary agencies in their proper place, and address ourselves to our great organic work, and determine to do that, whatever else we neglect, and to trust in God that the seed we thus sow shall yield a glorious harvest for millions yet unborn. If we could learn this lesson, one of the greatest obstacles with which we contend would be overcome.
4. The only remaining obstacle of which I shall speak is the want of sufficient tenacity in adhering to our principles.
I do not mean that Congregationalists are tired of their mode of government, and desirous to change it for another. This is far from being true. As a general rule, and in its ordinary and normal working, our system in a good degree satisfies the taste of an intelligent, active-minded people, both for tranquillity and freedom. There is movement enough to give consciousness of life; freedom enough to give opportunity for individual development; and tranquillity enough to content even quiet and conservative spirits. In all these important respects, the history of the system gives abundant indications of a capability of enduring forever.
But it has been the glory of our churches, that under their influence men have always learned to put the gospel immeasurably higher in regard and honor than any mere forms and ceremonies and governments. And may they retain that glory for ever! And yet out of this very characteristic has grown one of the chief obstacles in the way of our realizing that grand organic conception with which our fathers subdued the wilderness.
As the men of New England emigrate westward, they would always, if left to their own tastes and wishes, organize the Church after the pattern of the fathers. And the song of New England have pitched their tents toward the setting sun in sufficient numbers, and with sufficient preponderance of intellectual and moral weight, to have exerted, if they had adhered to their own polity, an irresistible formative influence on the religious institutions of our country, from the Hudson to the shores of the Pacific. And I do
not see how an enlightened, thoughtful New-Englander, acquainted with what has happened and is happening in our country, can help regretting that they did not do it. But the past is unalterable, and regret is useless. The reason why they did not do it is obvious. They held as a sacred article of their faith, that the gospel is primary, and government secondary. They met other streams of emigration, not of New England, holding the same precious faith with themselves, but tenacious of quite another system of polity. For the sake of securing the coöperation of these good men in planting the Church in the wilderness, they were induced, sometimes at a single step, sometimes by little and little, to surrender the polity of their fathers, and accept that of Calvin and Knox in its stead. They did not prefer the change, it cost them a struggle ; but for the sake of unity and coöperation, they thought it best. And so the fathers of New England taught their emigrant sons, and it came to be understood, that the difference between the Congregationalism of John Robinson, and the Presbyterianism of John Knox, was a mere difference of longitude; that to cross the Hudson would make a good Presbyterian of any Congregationalist. Worse than this; when, a little more than thirty years ago, young men who went out from you to plant the gospel on the banks of the Mississippi began to feel a decided longing for the polity of the Mayflower, and to organize churches on that platform, they were met by their fathers and brethren here with a frown, and often treated by the leading men of New England as men wanting in sober sense and sound judgment. I am uttering the experience of more than one man in this audience. That state of things has, thank God, passed away, never, we trust, to return.
But the evil is not yet cured; or if I may not assume that it is an evil, this obstruction to the progress of our Church principles, in the regions which lie towards the going-down of the sun, is not yet removed. Need I say that to this hour Presbyterianism grows more from Congregational roots than from its own ? that multitudes of the most gifted men whom the New England churches rear for the Christian ministry treat this question of polity as one involving no principle at all? do not hesitate a moment to accept the highest positions in the Presbyterian Church, and to become its standard-bearers “and champions for the spread of its most distinctive and denominational peculiarities, in advance of all others ?” I need not say that this same facility of abandoning our polity is constantly exhibited by our emigrant laity, as well as by our ministry. New England men making their homes in the West, will, without hesitation, turn their backs on Congregational churches that need their help, to unite themselves with Presbyterian churches, for no higher motive than to secure customers to their business, or to attain to a higher social position.
The progress of the Congregational polity in the North-West during the last twenty-five years has been truly wonderful, unsurpassed certainly by that of any other religious denomination. But it has all been accomplished in spite of the existence of this obstacle in greater or less degree over all that field. It has achieved much, very much; but for this obstacle it would have accomplished vastly more. Many churches which are now weak would have been strong, and many which have been absorbed by the centralization of the Presbyterian Church would have remained in the simpler and freer polity of the fathers.
I cannot doubt that by this process the organic power of the emigration from New England has been greatly diminished; its power to multiply churches where churches are needed; its power to endow and sustain schools and colleges; its power to train up a Christian ministry; its power to multiply and strengthen all the institutions of a Christian civilization; its power to transplant whatever is precious in New England to the West, and the South, and the shores of the Pacific.
It is now quite time I draw this discourse to a conclusion by a brief consideration of one great practical inquiry: What is, to the churches represented in this Council, now the line of practical wisdom and Christian duty ?
1. We must never abandon that grand conception of a symmetrical and ubiquitous religious organization for the moral and spiritual care and culture of the whole people. To abandon this is to abandon the experiment of American liberty as a miserable failure. We cannot, we cannot succeed in this grandest social experiment of the age, except through the high intellectual and religious culture of the whole people. Our mothercountry, England, is governed by her upper and middle classes : to these classes, therefore, she applies the forces of a high and noble culture, that they may be fit to govern, and leaves the lower classes in a great degree uncared for. This is at least consistent. We are governed by the people, the whole people, and therefore to the whole people we must apply all the forces of intellectual and moral culture, that all may be qualified to wield that share in the government which the law accords to them. Nothing but ruin can come of elevating the masses to the position of rulers, while we do not so teach and train them as to qualify them to rule well. And in order to this end we must have a ubiquitous rural civilization, purified and exalted by the influences of free Christian worship and instruction.
And to conclude that a system of perfect religious freedom cannot give us such a religious organization, that it will necessarily produce such a conflict of religious sects as to render it impossible for rural districts ever to establish the permanent institutions of religious instruction and worship, is to admit that the experiment of religious liberty is a failure, and that we must go back to some Church and State system, which can, by the compulsory power of law, divide the country into parishes, and maintain in every one of them the means of religious as well as of secular instruction. We must solve this problem by a free system, or acknowledge, in the face of exultant Europe, that our Protestantism and our voluntaryism have signally failed. It is the trial question of American religious freedom, whether by it we can provide for the religious culture of our whole people. The Congregational churches must not be the first to pronounce this experiment a fail
God forbid ! 2. We have a far better prospect of success through our own polity than through any other to which we might be induced to lend our coöperation. He who should adopt any form of centralized Church government, with the hope of effecting through it a universal religious organization for our country, would certainly choose an instrument very ill adapted to his ends. Rival governments, each claiming jurisdiction over the whole territory, in face of every other, may in this way be multiplied indefinitely, and be brought into more and more intense rivalship with each other; and that is all we can expect from that instrument, however vigorously used. This is about as hopeful for securing a religious organization for our country, as to favor State rights and no coercion was of perpetuating our national unity. It can only aggravate the evil indefinitely, and drive us farther from the end we wish to reach.
But if we will, even now, be true to the polity of our fathers, there is hope of ultimately attaining to complete success. The independeney of the local Church is, as we have shown, a true development of the seminal principle of our national life. All centralized Church government is contradictory to it. The events of the last five years have taught us, as with a voice from heaven, that that principle is to be developed in the whole social life of this great nation ; and that any and all principles which are contradictory to it, are, sooner or later, to be eradicated through the agitations and convulsions which they themselves occasion. I affirm that the principle of centralized Church government does constantly demonstrate its opposition to the foundation principles of American society, by the agitation, confusion, and anarchy which it causes. In this conflict I think it
reasonable to believe that the principle itself will sooner or later be overturned and destroyed.
This state of things cannot exist always. Men will see at last that these evils must be remedied, or the gospel itself must perish, and the light of the Sun of Righteousness go out. Men will cease at length to make labored apologies for the ceaseless conflict of the sect system, and begin to look around them for some platform on which the whole Church of God on earth can stand together, and make war on one another no more. And when they do begin in earnest to inquire after such a platform, they will find it in the independency of local churches, built on the everlasting foundations of the simple truth as it is in Jesus ; each disciple as an equal brother receiving every other, and putting no yoke on his neck which the Master hath not imposed.
I have no wish to claim any especial glory for New England. The history of New England is not above criticism, and the men of New England I hope are not yet too wise to learn. But the principles which found their way to these shores in the cabin of the Mayflower, are evidently destined to prevail over this continent from ocean to ocean, and to give character to all our social systems both in Church and State. And I can see no reason why men who hold that conception of the Church, which was one of the most remarkable characteristics of that Pilgrim band, should despair of its power to overspread the continent. The tendency of American society is to localize the government even of the most centralized churches, is apparent to every well-informed man. Presbyterianism cannot be the same in America that it is in Scotland. Neither Presbyterianism nor Methodism can be the same in the presence of active and efficient Congregational churches, that it is in the absence of any such influence. In such circumstances their central forces are always weakened, and their local and individual forces strengthened. Why, then, should we doubt that a force which is always active and potent, and springs up from the very source of our national life, will ultimately prevail ? In such circumstances, can we doubt for a moment that independency is the fittest instrument of religious organization in this free country?
One of the obstacles which has hitherto effectually resisted our progress over half our territory has been destroyed by a mighty earthquake from God. Babylon the great is fallen. Negro slavery shall no longer resist the organization of the Church on the basis of the equality of the Christian brotherhood over half our country. Another of the four obstacles which I have mentioned will be entirely removed when we, and all the churches represented here, adhere to our principles of ecclesiastical freedom with a zeal corresponding to their preciousness. The rivalship of opposing forms of Church governments is the only serious one that remains. In respect to this we may reasonably assume that there is deliverance in the not distant future.
“The day of freedom dawns at length,
The Lord's appointed day." We have only to select that one of the conflicting systems in which all men are most likely to find harmony and fraternity, under the full-orbed influence of American freedom, evangelical truth, and the Spirit of the Lord, and to adhere to it. For my part, I am at no loss to choose.
3. We must teach and defend the principles of our polity. Such has not been our custom. Some
may have done it; many have neglected it. We have not seldom trained our sons and the people of our charges, from infancy to gray hairs, without their ever once having heard one earnest and thorough statement of the reasons why they are, and should continue to be, Congregationalists. We have even inculcated upon ourselves and our brethren the notion, that a minister of the gospel can hardly be worse employed