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and members of the Independents, or among those of the Methodists ? Among Independents or among Episcopalians ? The Churches, previously to the Union, are described as being “isolated.” What then are the Associations ? What is our co-operation in missions? What the voluntary and unshackled interchange of services between the ministers of every part of the country? What the kind reception of the deputations of all our benevolent societies? What the unquestioning acknowledgment of the pastoral and Church recommendations of each independent Church by all others ? An isolated Independent Church! Where does it exist ? Where is there any proof of any material discrepancy of opinion or action in the lodependent Churches ?* Did they not all exist in a state of preparedness for joint action and excitement when they arose, in the time of Sidinouth, in their might, 10 astonish the imbecile bigot who would have shackled the glorious liberty of preaching? Did they not all separately petition for the redress of the same grievances? It is much questioned whether they would be so morally powersul if appearing to be operated upon always by movements from above; by some great ecclesiastical machine, acting only when touched by the master-hand. One of the grandest, as also one of the simplest, lessons which the world has had an opportunity of learning, has been afforded by the rise, increase, and united operation of Independent Churches. It is that of spontaneously concurrent separate action, for the same ends, on the part of small independent democracies, not permanently organized, and forming together no one ecclesiastical body. Language requires, for the sake of distinction, nouns of multitude; and it has, perhaps even more correctly than in the case of any other sect, grouped us under the very apt description only of a denomination. A permanent connexion of all the Churches would constitute them an ecclesiastical body; and however the name might be eschewed, the world would find it difficult to distinguish between this and a combined church. It would be considered the Church of Churches. The lesson, however, we have practically exhibited is, how very little of formal and authoritative government, or even of external controlling influence, may be requisite for persons and communities acting, in the main, upon simple scriptural principles.
Finally, it is submitted that such of the objects contemplated by this Union as are unquestionably good, might be as well, if not far better, accomplished by free unecclesiastically constituted societies. There is a Home Missionary Society already. Why may there not be a separate and independent Colonial Missionary Society? It might much sooner rise to the freedom and greatness worthy of its excellent objects, (as so beautifully depicted by the masterly pen of Mr. Wells,) even if avowedly including the extension of pure independency, by being unshackled from combined ecclesiasticism. What objection, if it is thought desirable, can there be to a society for the support of Independent or Congregational principles, to include in its objects the collection and preservation of a library, and the support of a Congregational lecture? But why should the Churches, as avowedly spiritual communities, be kept continually upon an electioneering movenent; or, in the absence of this, why should they be, as Churches, under the sweeping name of a denomination, made by repute, if not morally, responsible for acts which a principal number of those Churches cannot effectively regulate or control?
Independent Churches, like independent nations, require, and are bound to observe, mutual alliances of friendship and co-operation. Every enlightened
• These are confessedly delightful facts, but they are known only to those who are familiar with the internal polity of our churches. “ The world" is to know the anion of the disciples of our Lord, and it is required, therefore, not for the porposes of denominational display, but as a testimony to great and spiritual principles, that tbose feelings and sympathies, wbicb 80 bappily exist, ebonld be represented in some visible form before the public. Those who bave had the privilege of attending the assemblies of the Union, have felt the concentrated influence of ibere fraterval emotions, in a way never to be forgotten, and it may be hoped that something of that feeling bas been diffused amongst the charcbes by the circulation of the annual addresses of those meetings.
friend of freedom, however, lifted up his voice against a permanent and too powerful Holy Alliance, which, in its now reduced proportions, has not yet ceased most ambassadorially to protest that it never contemplated the slightest interference with the liberty and independence of the states. Oct. 30, 1837.
Rev. A. Wells' Third Reply. SIR, I can honour in the “ Layman" and Mr. Peek, and in all Congregational Christians who feel with them, their solicitude to preserve from possible violation the Scriptural independency of churches formed on the principles of the New Testament, for I fully participate in it. But that anxiety may be, if not excessive, yet misdirected. In your two respected correspondents I think it is so. The last letter of the Layman abounds in statements, and it might be added imputations, which exceedingly need correction. But I shall not pursue what is incidental and subordinate in the controversy, both because it would be endless to enter into discussion on every remark that invites animadversion : and because I am much more anxious to write on the real merits and principles of the question, than to pursue the controversy in a detailed refutation of particular arguments or illustrations, that seem to lie remote from the real merits of the question. The other mode would be far more easy, and far more readily conduct to a seeming triumph. In drawing my own share in this corres. pondence to a close, the utmost brevity will be studied; and with a view to attain some arrangement in the reply intended to the reasonings of the “ Layman” in his third letter, they may perhaps be advantageously classed under distinct heads.
1. The free and undefined terms of the Union are objected to. I have already remarked, and now repeat the observation, that the absence of strictly defined terms of communion is the beauty and safety of the Congregational system. We are without creeds, or texts, or defioitions on doctrine, discipline, and forms; but are as far remote, to say the least, as any body of Christians from injurious laxity on what is really essential or important. Now our undefined, but understood agreement in faith and practice is found quite sufficient to regulate with safety and success, the fellowship of the churches in matters far more vital to their peace and purity, than are any proceedings contemplated by the Congregational Union of England and Wales. Ministers are ordained ; pulpits are freely exchanged; open admission of the members, often of distant churches, to occasional fellowship is practised, on terms beautifully combining agreement which does not infringe liberty, and liberty which does not destroy agreement. But exact written and defined terms and tests for the regulation of these solemn acts of fellowship between churches and ministers, and they would thenceforth be utterly impracticable. The Union is therefore built up in accordance with the known genius and practice of the whole Congregational body. There is in it no real departure in this respect from the maxims most approved and cherished among us. Nothing would be more easy than to adduce lengthened and plausible objections in theory, against the general practices of Congregational churches now alluded to, but the safety, peace, success of the practice is felt; it cannot be denied or impeached. So with the Union. It sounds plausible to assert that associations have exceeded their powers ; that minorities of churches in those bodies, when the majority have decided to join the Union, are wronged; that there must be constant electioneering in churches upon the choice of delegates ; that the advocate of the Union is in a dilemma between strict terms of Union for the churches which would render it impossible, and free terms which render it no real Union at all. The answer is, in practice the plan on which the Union is based does answer its object. It gathers together with a happy balance of freedom and agreement, the churches and ministers who consent to unite. It invades no right or liberty of its own members, far less those of any not connected with it. Nor does it act or speak in the name
of any but its own members and constituency. Meantime its treatment of associations is not disrespectful or evasive. It does not hail them when they adhere, and defy them when they do not; but respecting their constitution, and the terms on which they admit individual churches to their fellowship, feels that it may in all instances safely follow their judgment, and admit to the general Union whatever church or pastor they have received and recognized. There is no perilous laxity in their Union, which may not be equally charged on preexisting organisations, for on their practices and judgments it is built. It may be usserted without fear of disproof, that there is no body of professing Christians that can, with so much safety and ease, attain an extensive and beneficial organization as Congregationalists, because they know how to dispense with binding tests and definitions, without the sacrifice of truth and purity.
2. The extent of the Union is put forward as perhaps the greatest of all objections to it. But indeed in respect of what is thought the strongest objection to the Union, namely, its tendency to interfere with, and acquire power over the churches, an extensive Union with general objects is far less dangerous than more limited associations interposing, though but in a way of conference and advice, in questions of doctrine and discipline arising in particular churches within their own limits. The very extent of the Union renders its interference in any but general proceedings and interest, impracticable. The Layman does not disapprove of " the assembling, upon occasions arising, of ministers and others deputed by the churches in any particular neighbourhood for the purpose of counsel and influence respecting both doctrine and discipline." The friends of the Union would, I apprehend, pause long before they gave their consent to any such proceeding. It has ever been out of such attempts to determine doctrine, and intluence discipline, that usurpations have grown; not out of efforts by open and general proceedings to spread the Gospel in connexion with scriptural simplicity of forms and discipline. This latter is the object of the obnoxious Union. The “ Layman" is prepared to approve synods, but he dreads Unions. He sees danger where there is none, and overlooks it where it really exists.
And then why is it said that the Union is “ striving how relatively large and powerful it can be and look;" and that it “ dignifies itself by a mighty name,” because it is designated as the Congregational Union of England and Wales, when indeed, as the Layman very well knows, the Union does not claim to be national in any obnoxious or ambitious sense? It does not even pretend to include all the Congregational churches of the nation. All it intimates by its title is, that any such churches within the specified geographical limits are eligible, upon prescribed terms, for admission into it.
Then because of the extent of the Union it is urged, that the chief management will necessarily fall into the hands of a few leading and active men. Of course, it is plainly impossible it should be otherwise. The Layman admits it is so with our great Religious Societies; but then this is represented as of no importance, because they are societies. But this is a Union. In fact, societies and the Union are in this respect precisely in the same position. They are founded and managed on confidence, with a reserved power to the constituency of interference whenever that confidence is abused or shaken. Happily few occasions have arisen in the history of the great religious institutions of this age, in which their constituents have deemed it necessary to interpose, or even display, their ultimate power ; but it is ever felt, though rarely seen. When the constitution of the Bible Society was threatened, the subscribers came out with effectual unanimity and numbers for its preservation. And is it insinuated that the ultimate constituents of the Union would either be less anxious to preserve their principles, and their rights; or that, under the constitution of the Union, they would have less power to controul its executive? Were all the pastors and deacons traitors to their principles and trust, there is no restriction as to the numbers of delegates the churches might send to offer effectual resistance. Let the committee, or assembly of the Union ever issue a declaration that falsifies the cherished doctrines of the churches; or adopt a proceeding that invades
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their liberties or rights-I own it is difficult to suppose the apprehension of such apostacy to be seriously entertained even by the Layman himself; it will soon be seen ihat the churches embraced by the Union, have as effectual power as they have resolved will for their own protection.
Dr. Oven's opinions are, no doubt, accurately stated and quoted, in respect to the proper extent of such synods as he is advocating. But then nothing can be more diverse as to their objects than those synods and the present Cnion-so much so as to make it necessary to reverse the rules regulating their relative extent. Here are synods on the one hand, as the whole scope of the Doctor's treatise shows, to consider and adjust, by counsel and influence, questions of doctrine, order, discipline, and worship, arising out of the practice of some one or more of the churches uniting to constitute the synod. How should such assemblies, convened for such purposes, be otherwise than limited in extent? Here I shall interpose two remarks by the way. One is, that this scheme of the intercommunion of churches, advocated hy Dr. Owen, comes in proof of an assertion already made in this correspondence, that our ministers and brethren, especially the advocates of the Union, are more Independents and less Congregationalists, than our fathers in the faith. The other is, that the objects and constitution of those early Congregational Unions, to which you, Sir, alluded, will answer the Layman's question, “ Why did they die away!" They were both too much and too little Presbyterian. They had too much of the interference, and too little of the authority, of Presbyterianism. On the other hand, we have a union aiming at no interference with any church; contemplating nothing but general questions and objects; seeking communion with other large confederations of Christians; corresponding with churches in all parts of the world; designing to spread Christ's Gospel, in connexion with the forms he appointed, in remote regions. For these objects the union of great numbers is as safe as it is necessary. The whole proceeding is in its very nature expansive, comprehensive, and free. It is not sectarian but catholic, for we seek fellowship with all who hold the head, and should hail with joy at our annual assemblies the delegates of evangelical Episcopalians or Presbyterians. It is not tyrannous, for it obtains power over no man. Entrance into its fellowship, and departure from it, is equally voluntary and free. And if the Layman would intimate that Dr. Owen, who advocated limited synods, would never have sanctioned extensive unions, I will complete one of his own partial quotations of the venerable divine - “ Yet is not the world itself so wide, but that all places being made pervious by navigation, this communion of churches may be visibly professed, and in some instances practised, among all churches, from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, where the name of Christ is knoron among the Gentiles; wherein the true nature of the catholic church and its union doth consist, which is utterly overthrown by the most vehement pretences that are made unto it, as those in the Church of Rome.” Here is the object of the union sketched, and the soul of the union breathed, by this great man, even under the unfavourable circumstances of those dark and iroublous days in which he lived. Had he, with all his largeness of soul, dwelt with us, inferior men, in these more glorious times; bad he beheld the wide world made pervious indeed by science, commerce, freedom, colonization ; had he seen our rising mission and churches in every region ; had he witnessed the churches of America, in his day just planted, in their present extent, power, and activity-would Dr. Owen, in these times and circumstances, have declined uniting with the Congregational Union of England and Wales, to profess visibly; and in the instances of mutual delegations or friendly epistles to practise with all these churches the communion of the Catholic Church? I shall rather believe he would have exulted to cross the Atlantic, deputed by the churches united in the Congregational Union of England and Wales, to salute the churches of varied orders in America ; that all the greatness of his comprehensive mind, and all the fervour of his Christian love, would have found delighted exercise, in the communion of saints assembled in the annual meetings of the pastors, the deacons, the delegates of the associated churches; assemblies rendered the more catholic, and therefore to him the more delightful, by the presence of messengers of churches of other forms, but of the same faith.
3. The constitution of the annual assemblies of the Union is condemned, because all the officers of the associated churches are eligible to attend and vote; and the opinion of Dr. Owen is adduced, that, in the synods of which he is treating—very different bodies, as we have seen, from the Union now advocated, no church officer should be admitted, by an er officio right, to participate in the power and proceedings of the assembly. Who would differ from ihat wise and venerable man in this judgment ? Not certainly the advocates of the Union. No church officer is eligible to act in the Union by inherent right and virtue of office; but by voluntary agreement of those who join the Union that their pastors and deacons shall be eligible. Had such a synod as the Doctor is treating of, been assembled in his day, and the churches embraced by it had agreed that their officers should attend and bear part in the proceedings, he would not have considered them as appearing by right of office, but of election. So the Union does not hold that all church officers have a right ex mero officio to appear and act in any association that may be formed of the churches of which they are officers, the point on which Dr. Owen offers his opinion, but it gives the right, it chooses church officers to attend its assemblies. The being an officer of a church is a qualification; but that it is a qualification does not spring from the office, but from the grant and agreement of the associated churches. Therefore it is not correct that “the Union has proceeded to legislate that the churhces may send delegates, but, if so, they must meet and vote with certain ministers and deacons, who need not to be elected by the churches, as the Union itself has appointed them ex officio members, co-ordinates in voting power with the delegates who may be sent!” The Union has never legislated at all for the churches. The ministers and brethren in London, with whom first originated the proposal for a Union, invited the churches in the country to send delegates from the country to confer on the subject. Those thus deputed, in conference with their London brethren, prepared the draught of a constitution for the proposed Union, and circulated it widely throughout the churches, both in town and country, giving an entire year for mature consideration to all parties. A second meeting of delegates adopted the constitution for themselves and their constituents. They then invited other associations and churches to join the Union, and many have in consequence done so. All who have joined have known the terms of fellowship. Each church adhering to the Union has known that it would thereby constitute its officers er ufficio delegates to the annual assembly, and that they would meet the officers of all the other united churches on similar terms. And by this adhesion, on these known terms, they have as much chosen their pastors and deacons to be members of the annual assembly, as if they had sent them there by express subsequent delegation ; and no officer of a church is a member of the general assembly by virtue of right inherent in office, but by virtue of a voluntary compact, which gave the privilege to every office bearer in the associated churches. And I believe this arrangement is one of the very last things in the Union which would be felt by our churches as objectionable, or as a difficulty in the way of their adhesion.
4. Sectarianism is strongly urged against the Union. Attempts by it to spread the Gospel are described as presenting a “pugnacious” aspect; as tending to build up a "mighty ecclesiastical power ;” as presenting " denominational advantage as a primary and prominent object.”. Are these things so ? The real truth is, that while every other body of British Christians had long been actively engaged in spreading the Gospel in connexion with their own distinctive views of doctrine and discipline, Congregationalists alone had appeared indifferent under what forms the spreading religion of Christ should be professed. The friends and founders of the Union felt that there was in this indifferency some dereliction of duty in respect to views of truth, not, indeed,