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than in defending the ecclesiastical polity to which, after all, he thinks it his duty to adhere. And then we are surprised and shocked that our brethren treat the matter of Church polity, not as a question of principle, but of mere convenience and worldly advantage. And as things have been over three-fourths of our territory, there are far more motives of convenience and worldly advantage inclining a man to be a Presbyterian, than a Congregationalist. There are hundreds in this assembly who could testify to the truth of this from their own experience. If there are reasons why we should adhere to our polity at all, the same reasons would prove that our practice in respect to teaching and defending our system should undergo a speedy and total change.
I imagine, however, I hear an objector inquiring, What! would you abandon that glo. rious characteristic of all our past history, that the gospel alone is primary, and all questions of mere polity, by a great remove from it, merely secondary? Bishop Butler has very truly said, “ It is one of the peculiar weaknesses of human nature, when, upon the comparison of two things, one is found to be of greater importance than the other, to consider this other as of scarce any importance at all.” I must add that it seems to me that this is preëminently “the peculiar weakness” of us Congregationalists. We have a polity, the glory of which is that it immeasurably exalts the spiritual truths and moral precepts of the gospel .above all questions of mere polity; and therefore we never teach our people the excellence of this polity at all, or even explain to them its principles, but leave them without any instruction on the subject, to be swallowed up by other polities, under the influence of which they will be very sure to acquire and transmit to their children after them an intense spirit of proselytism, which is alike foreign to our history and to Christianity. Would it not be well to draw a little of the attention of our people to questions of polity, to guard them against such a danger ?
There is at the present time a tacitly understood truce among the various denominations in respect to the open advocacy of their peculiarities of faith and order, especially the latter, entered into for the sake of peace and good feeling. We are told that the minor questions which divide evangelical Christians are not important enough to justify the agitation and the disturbance of good feeling and Christian charity, which might result from the open discussion of our differences. These differences are assumed to be important enough to justify our rending the body of Christ asunder for the sake of them ; important enough to justify us in demanding for every little community in Christendorn at least six Church organizations, when one only can be supported, and thus entailing on the whole Christian cause division and weakness before its enemies, and religious anarchy; they are important enough to justify Christian men, and, still more, Christian women, in plying with unresting activity all the arts, all the social influences, all the motives, both religious and secular, of the most intense proselytism, to build up each his own denomination ; but not important enough to justify us in a little honest, outspoken defence of what we really think to be important truth, and clear and fair refutation of what we think to be erroneous and injurious.
Indeed, fathers and brethren, I have in some sense taken my life in my hand in delivering such a discourse as this on the present occasion. I am in danger of being thought to have violated established inter-denominational law, and thereby to have criminally disturbed the peace of those high contracting ecclesiastical powers which at present assume to divide Protestant Christendom among them. Nor need I limit the statement to Protestant Christendom. The truce, when once fairly established, will necessarily embrace Romanism itself. We have, in recognizing such a truce to the extent we have recognized it, erected a false standard of judgment, by which any Christian minister would be sure to be condemned as a bigot and a bitter sectarian who should truly represent to his congregation the falsehoods, the delusions, and the despotisms of Popery. That great red dragon is to-day greatly protected from the merited and healthful indignation and abhorrence of a free Christian people by this truce among our Christian denominations. We cannot agree not to rebuke one another, without imposing restraint on ourselves in respect to rebuking other and perhaps more heinous sinners.
This truce proceeds upon the assumption that the present divided condition of Protestant Christians is an inevitable result of religious freedom, and destined to be perpetual, and that therefore we must divide up every Protestant community among the existing powers ecclesiastical as quietly as possible. The advocates of those centralized Church governments which, like the Presbyterian and Methodist, are not exclusive, generally not only accept this state of things as inevitable, but apologize for it as desirable and beneficial to the interests of Christ's kingdom. I am glad to say that I have met very few Congregationalists who take this view of it. They generally deplore it as a great and intolerable evil. If, however, we would be truly prepared for our great work, we must go one step farther, and believe that the Lord has deliverance for his people; that they are not perpetually to wander thus bewildered and confounded; that the Lord will at last appear, and lead his people over Jordan into the promised land of freedom and blessed fellowship. And, amid all the confusion of the present, we must seek light from God to guide us in the true path by which he will lead his people to this blessed consummation, and point out that path to all over whom we have any influence, and exhort them to pursue it.
For myself, I must frankly declare, that, to me, the whole beauty and preciousness of the Congregational system lies in this, – that it is a method by which the whole Church of God under heaven may stand in blessed moral unity, on the basis of the gospel, the whole gospel, and nothing but the gospel, divided and distracted by no forms or ceremonies or governments which man hath devised. And I think, in the midst of such a scene of religious anarchy as that in which I have lived, such a polity is worthy of being explained, defended, and adhered to, till God shall call me hence.
4. We must make this ecclesiastical question one of principle, otherwise we cannot be efficient laborers for the evangelization of this continent and the world. If our gifted and strong young men regard the present confused and anarchical condition of religious society in the Valley of the Mississippi as necessary and inevitable ; if they are taught that there is no question of principle at issue between the Protestant denominations, and that all which a pastor can do is, in the general rivalship of churches, to build up his own as well as he can, by the power of his eloquence, the attraction of his own social character, and the social influences which he can gather around him, and by the excellence of his organ and his choir, without any appeal to the principles and convictions of the people: I say if strong and vigorous-minded young men see that churches are chiefly to be built up by such influences as these, they will feel little attraction in the pastoral office, and seek some other profession; or if they enter the ministry, a sense of these difficulties will weaken their hands, and sicken their hearts and crush their spirits. And this, my brethren, is one of the most potent causes which is thinning the ranks and impairing the energies of the Christian ministry.
Let us have done with all this. Let us bring before our minds the grand conception of a continent to be overspread with a net-work of Christian institutions. Let us with devout earnestness inquire what ecclesiastical system is the fittest instrument for achieving this great result; and when we have chosen it with full conviction, we shall wield it with hearty good will; we shall see and feel the giant obstacles that oppose us; but we shall believe that the truth and spirit of God are strong enough to overcome them. We shall not be intolerant or exclusive. We shall meekly instruct those who oppose themselves, but we shall instruct them, and not dodge them by any cunning artifices. We
shall have principles to defend, and we shall defend them, and we shall put our brethren of other denominations on the defence of theirs ; and if the truth is with us, our cause will go up, and theirs will go down ; if with them, theirs will go up, and ours go down. In either case we shall have labored successfully, and the truth will have triumphed.
If we mean to be efficient, we must not purpose to hold our own in a conflict of sects, admitted to be interminable and inevitable; but in all thing we must be the advocates of principles which are true, and therefore, through God, mighty, and destined to overcome and exclude all opposing error. And it is infinitely important that this spirit be infused into the Independent churches all over the world. English Independency is suffering the same paralysis, only in a far higher degree. It is but too content to be the religion of the middle class. It is expected, if a family becomes rich and great, it will desert “the Chapel" and go to “the Church.” English Independency must have done with this. It must recognize its principles as true for all men, and fitted to rule the world, and wield them with the expectation of overturning the proud hierarchy which has so long crushed them down, and establishing, in face of the aristocracy of England, the doctrine of the equal brotherhood of the disciples of Christ. It must demand for its sons a culture as large and as generous as Oxford and Cambridge give to the sons of nobility and the State Church. It must claim to speak in the name of the Lord, alike to high and low, rich and poor. When this spirit fully possesses English Independency, bishops will hold their mitres and their revenues by a very frail and transient tenure. Fathers and brethren, both in this country and in England, any polity is worthy of being advocated and defended thus, or it is not worthy of being adhered to at all. If it is true, let it triumph and reign; if false, let it go into oblivion as soon as possible.
Finally, we must be in earnest. God never gave to any other people such a problem to be solved as that which he has given to the Christian people of our country, — to plant the gospel under the full-orbed sunlight of civil and religious freedom, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the eternal snows of the Arctic to the eternal verdure of the Tropic. In these last few months he has come with his own terrible earthquake, and shaken down and utterly destroyed the only political barrier which obstructed our progress. The land is now before us, and the sunshine of freedom is on it all. And God is calling us as by a voice speaking to us from out of the sky, Arise and build ; rear up the Church of Christ on the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone, over all those hills, amid all those valleys, that it may teach to all the millions that shall soon dwell there, in your own dear mother-tongue, these wonderful works of God; that it may be so ubiquitous that no human being shall fail to hear its melodious summons every Sabbath morning to the house of Christian prayer and praise; that all those dark places of the land that have been cursed by the abominations of slavery may be purified, and filled with light, and covered over with a population as peaceful, as free, as enlightened, and as religious, as the inhabitants of the sweetest valley that nestles among New-England hills; in one word, to found and nurture the institutions of learning, freedom, and religion, for a mighty nation very soon to surpass in population the empire of China, and in wealth and ubiquitous influence the empire of Britain.
And shall we deal lukewarmly, coldly, and in a worldly spirit, with the elements of such a problem ? Shall we not, in such a cause, pour out our wealth like water, and give our sons and daughters to the work, as freely as patriots ever gave their sons to their country, and offer our own selves as freely as our adorable Redeemer gave himself for us?
The Committee on Credentials made a partial report.
Temperance Celebration on the 17th inst., asking the Council to take part in the
On motion of Dr. Thompson, of New York, it was voted, that while this body acknowledge the courtesy of this invitation, and deeply sympathize with the object of the celebration, the pressure of the business of the Council is such as to compel it to decline compliance with this invitation.
A committee on nominations was appointed as follows: Rev. I. P. Langworthy, of Massachusetts; His Excellency J. G. Smith, of Vermont; Rev. M. Badger, D.D., of California ; Rev. Flavel Bascom, of Illinois; Asahel Finch, Esq., of Wisconsin.
Adjourned to three P. M.
THURSDAY, JUNE 15, 3 P. M.
On motion of H. C. Bowen, Esq., of New York, the following telegram was ordered to be sent to the President of the United States, viz. : To His Ercellency Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, Washington,
The National Council of the Congregational churches of the United States now in session in this city, representing nearly three thousand churches in all sections of the country, desire to present you their Christian sulutations, to assure you of their profound sympathy in your great and trying labors, to promise you their loyal support and prayers, and express their solemn conviction that the hundreds of thousands embraced as worshippers in their churches will most heartily coöperate with you in extending the institutions of civil and religious liberty throughout the land. (Signed)
W. A. BUCKINGHAM, Moderator. Mount Vernon Church, Boston, June 15, 1865.
The committee to report Rules of Order made their report, which was accepted and adopted as follows:
RULES OF ORDER.
I. Each morning, at the time to which the Council is adjourned, the Moderator shall open the meeting with prayer, and the Scribe shall read the minutes of the preceding day, that any needful correction may be made.
II. In case of an equal division of votes, the Moderator shall have a casting vote.
III. Whilst the Moderator is putting any question or addressing the body, no one shall walk out of or across the house ; nor in such case, or when a member is speaking, shall entertain private discourse or read any printed book or paper; nor whilst a member is speaking shall pass between him and the chair.
IV. When any member, in debating or otherwise, shall transgress the rules of the body, the Moderator shall, by his own authority, or at the request of any member, call him to order; and if a question shall arise concerning his being in order, it shall be decided by an appeal to the body.
V. Every member, when he wishes to speak, shall address the Moderator, who shall announce his name. When two or more rise at once, the Moderator shall name the member who is first to speak.
VI. No member shall speak more than twice to the merits of the question in debate, except by special permission of the body; nor more than once until every member choosing to speak shall have spoken.
VII. Every motion, except for adjournment, shall be reduced to writing, if the Moderator or any two members desire it.
VIII. When a motion is regularly made and seconded, and has been stated by the Moderator, it cannot be withdrawn or modified by the mover without the consent of the body.
IX. No vote can be reconsidered except on the day of its passage or the next succeeding, and on motion of one who voted with the majority.
X. When a question is under debate, no motion shall be received but to adjourn, to lay on the table, for the previous question, to postpone to a day or hour certain, to commit, to amend, to postpone indefinitely; which several motions shall have precedence in the order in which they are arranged. On a motion for adjournment, for laying on the table, for indefinite postponement, or for the previous question, there shall be no debate.
XI. The effect of a negative of the previous question is to allow further debate and the issue of the subject in due order; the effect of adopting the previous question is to put an end to debate, and to bring the Council to a direct vote upon pending amendments, if any, and then upon the original question.
XII. If a question under debate contains several parts, any member may have it divided, and the question taken on each part.
XIII. Every committee shall consist of three members, unless expressly ordered otherwise by the body, and shall be nominated by a committee appointed for the purpose.
XIV. If the report of a committee contains nothing more than matters of fact for information, or mat ers of argument for the consideration of the Council, the question is, Shall the report be accepted? and that question, unless superseded by a motion to reject, to recommit, to postpone, or to lay upon the table, shall be taken without debate. Such a report, if accepted, is placed upon the files of the Council, but, not being an act of the Council, is not entered on the minutes.
If the report is in the form of a vote or resolution, or of a declaration, expressing the judgment or testimony of the Council, the additional question arises, Shall the report be adopted ? — and motions for amendment are in order. Such a report, if adopted, with or without amendment, is the act of the Council, and is entered on the minutes.
If a report gives the views of the committee on the matter referred to them, and terminates with the form of a resolution or declaration in the name of the Council, the adoption of the report is the adoption only of the resolution or declaration; and while the report at large is placed on file, that part of it which has become the act of the Council is entered on the minutes.
XV. It shall be the duty of the Business Committee to prepare a docket for the use of the Moderator, upon which shall be entered all items of business which members of the Council may desire to bring before the body ; and except by special vote of the Council, no business shall be introduced which has not in this manner passed through the hands of the committee.
Credentials accrediting to the Council various delegates from foreign bodies and churches were read and accepted; and on motion of Rev. Dr. Bacon, of Connecticut, it was voted that these delegates be received as honorary members of the Council.
On motion of Rev. Mr. Eustis, of Connecticut, it was voted that a Committee on Business, a Committee on Finance, a Committee on Printing, and a Committee on Devotional Exercises, be appointed; the number of each to be fixed by the nominating committee.