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cumstances which gave it being. In the principles and temper of its founders we discern the germs of those great features, which remain its characteristic features to the present day, and in which it differs from every other system of discipline, even the one, most nearly allied io itself, and with the members of which it has been united in the friendliest intercourse. To this day, the Congregational churches of New England, whether in city or country ;-whether exposed 10 continued and vexing assaults from the strenuous spirit of proselytisin of other denominations, or maintaining, here and there, their ancient hold of the affections and respect of an entire community ; are still true to certain great maxims of church polity and of christian liberality, which, without being indebted to the sovereign efficacy of unchanging and unchangeable symbols, have yet been far more effectually kept alive, in the spirits and habits of living men. The fact, that they still retain those features, which their founders gave them, is the cheering fullment of the prayersul and prophetic wish so fondly cherished by those founders, that their care in “ foundation work,” might be felt through centuries which were to follow.
Before the Reformation of Luther, the church, by advances easily to be traced, had grown up into a powerful and regularly constituted polity. It was furnished with its officers, innumerable ;-officers superior and officers inferior, the circuit of whose authority was greater or smaller. Its parts were held together most firmly by the term of ecclesiastical authority, and the awful horror of final excommunication. The church was a vast commonwealth by itself, empbatically imperium in imperio, to whose independent existence and spiritual dignity it was deemed necessary, that immunities should be secured, and encroachments provided against. As every species of influence gradually accumulated within its hands, and a dreadful corruption of manpers was eating at its breast, there arose in its midst, that high place for the Bishop of Rome, on which the man of sin ascended to uphold a mysterious domain of iniquity, before whom, to use the language of another " the firm earth trembled wherever he strode, and the grass turned black beneath his feet.”
The Reformation applied one remedy to these evils. It wrested from the Pope that double usurpation, which he had claimed, over the visible and invisible kingdom of God. From bis girdle it plucked those awful keys, by which he claimed to open and shut the doors of Christ's house on earth, with which there moved in a mysterious harmony, the gates of Paradise, as they opened to admit the happy soul to the joys of Heaven, or smote forever backward, the man on whom God's vicegerent had set the mark of his anger.
In this most important respect, it changed the entire frame of church polity. In most other respects it left it unchanged. The old idea of the church as consisting of its officers rather than its members, was still retained. Whether presbyters as equal in authority were considered as the highest of its functionaries, or bishops were exalted over their fellows; the church was still regarded as in nothing different from the body of its officers, confederated according to their several powers. These officers derived their authority from God, at the hands of one another—and not from God, at the hands of the body, whose organs they were. These officers alone could perpetuate the church, by a transmission of their official character. They could not, except in circumstances of the extremest necessity, originate from the christian society itself. A few might allow that in certain cases, which might be supposed, they might derive their being from the society whose organs they were, but none entertained the idea, that such a local society had the resources of an independent life within itself, on wbich it might fall back without the grievous sin of rending the body of Christ.
When in opposition to these views of the church, wbich till then were the only views, the distinctive principle of Congregationalism was asserted, it excited contempt, wonder, and suspicion. It is amusing to notice the remarks of the writers of the day upon this new prodigy. The account of them which Fuller bas recorded, is a striking comment on the strangeness of their opinions. The honest and witty bistorian, wbile be aims to give an impartial record of their origin and history, and seeks to do them justice in every particular, cannot conceal the honest stare of wonder, which gathers upon his half comical, half serious face; nor can be refrain froin a few sly strokes of his wit at their amazing simplicity : “Thus the church, formerly like a chain, with links of 'dependence on one another, should hereafter become like a heap of rings each entire in itself.” “Their adversaries object,” he adds a little further on, “ that none can give an exact account of all their opinions, daily capable of alteration and increase. While such countries, whose immovable mountains and stable valleys keep a fixed position, may be easily surveyed; no geographer can accurately describe some
parts of Arabia, where the flitting sands, driven with the winds, have their frequent removals ; so that the traveller findeth a hole at his return, where be left a hill at his departure. Such is the uncertainty of these Congregationalists in their judgments, only they plead for themselves, it is not the wind of every doctrine, but the sun of the truth, which with its new lights, makes then renounce the old and embrace new resolutions."
Baxter also, though he aims to say nothing but in the most candid spirit,* and though in his statement of their opinions he yields every principle for which they contend, does nevertheless show most plainly that he was suspicious of their principles, and disliked their bold assertion of them.
The origin of Congregationalism may easily be traced, and its history can be comprised in a few words.
About the year 1583, Robert Brown began to broach those opinions, by which his followers were afterwards known. “He was of a worshipful family nearly allied to the Lord Treasurer Cecil. He denied the church of England to be a true church, and her ministers to be rightly ordained ;” in which respect, as in others, the Congregational brethren entirely dissented from him. The ministers and deacons according to his discipline, were chosen by the brethren, set apart by the brethren also by the laying on of hands, with fasting and prayer, and what is more worthy of notiee, they held their office only at the pleasure of those who conferred it.
Driven from their native land, by a fierce persecution, numbers of the Brownists fled to Holland and among them John Robinson, who erected a congregation upon their model at Leyden. “ He set out upon the most rigid principles” of the Brownists, " but by conversing with Dr. Ames and other learned men, he became more moderate," and though he insisted on the necessity of separating from the reformed churches, he allowed them to be true churches of our Lord Jesus Christ. He “ pitched on a middle way between presbytery, as too
We wish that more frequent use were made of Baxter's life of himself, in matters concerned in the history of those times. Coleridge says of this book, and no man was a more thorough student of English history than he,“ Pray read with great attention Baxter's life of himself. It is an inestiinable work. I may not unfrequently doubt Baxter's memory, or even his competence, in consequence of his particular modes of thinking ; but I could almost as soon doubt the gospel verity as his veracity." SECOND SERIES, VOL. II. NO. III.
rigorous, imperious and conclusive, and Brownism, as too vague, loose and uncertain." His“ main platform was, that churches should not be subordinate, parochial to provincial, provincial to national, but co-ordinate, without superiority, except seniority of sisters, containing no powerful influence therein."
In the year 1616, Mr. Jacob, the associate and friend of Robinson, with others, “ laid the foundations of the first Congregational church in England. Standing together they joined hands, and solemnly covenanted with each other in the presence of Almighty God, to walk together in all God's ways and ordinances, according as he had already revealed, or should further make them known to them."
In 1620, a portion of the congregation at Leyden removed to New England, moved by “a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancement of the kingdom of Christ."
Soon there focked to this new and blessed land bands of emigrating pilgrims. Numbers who thus came over bad already separated from the church of England,-numbers had never withdrawn themselves from her embrace. Though followed with pains and penalties for their non-conformity to some of its prescriptions, they had never been clear in their consciences that it was right to erect themselves into a separate communion. But all united themselves upon the discipline here established, and their descendants rest beneath the shade of the vines which were thus planted, and eat of their healthful and refreshing fruit.
No one in the least degree familiar with the men and history of those times, can be surprised that the Congregational views of church discipline were then adopted. To us it is not a malter of wonder ihat they were advanced at no earlier period after the Reformation, nor that they found so great favor at the time when they were brought into notice, in the Providence of God, as a natural result of the progress of correct opinion.
We cannot wonder, that in an age of fermenting thought, of bold investigation and of fearless experiment, there should liare been a man like Robert Brown, who with an impatient ardor, should have seized upon certain important principles, which till then had been unknown, and should have carried them to a wild and fanatical extreme. Nor can we wonder, that more reflecting men in the communion of his followers, were by the evil working of a system that embodied but half the truth, and that distorted, induced to resort to the Scriptures, with a more careful study and by its light to separate truth froin falsehood.
Least of all do we wonder, that the opinions of the wise and tolerant Robinson should have gained so rapid favor, in the eyes of those who in their sad experience, were beginning to find that the hierarchy of the Classis might exercise a tyranny as grievous and as irresponsible as that of the Prelacy. No one can read the history of the Westminster Assembly and not see that there was reason in the provident carefulness and the suspicious dread, with which the dissenting brethren kept themselves free from a “synodical power:” and that there might have been the most abundant occasion for Milton to complain, in the excess of his indignation, that “ New Presbyter is but Old Priest writ large.” Nor can one meditate upon the practical workinys of this same synodical power, as exhibited in the history of the Presbyterian church of Scotland and America, without being deeply convinced that it is an usurpation over the freedom of God's heritage, which may convert the sacred wand of discipline “into an iron rod with which to dash out the brains of God's faithful ministers."*.
* It must be admitted that a synodical power” has been at. tempted to be exercised, in some of the judicatories of the presbyterian church, which would fully justify this remark, were it not demonstrable that this exercise of power, at least in the manner of it, is wholly unauthorized both by the spirit and letter of American Preshylerianism. The power conferred upon the judicatories by the system itself, rightly understood, is not " usurpation.” It is a power conferred, by the consent of the governed, for the purposes of salutary discipline, and it is wrong to argue from the mal-administration of a government in particular instances, against the system of the government itsell, unless it can be shown that the system is one which encourages usurpation. We object also to this confounding of the Presbyterian church in this country with that of Scotland, as if the systein and sanctions of the government of both were the same. The reverse of this is true. In the Scotch church all the power of gove ernment originates in its General Assembly, and is enforced by the arm of the civil law. But in the Presbyterian Church in this country all power emanates from the people, or the brotherhood, as much as it does in the Congregational church, and is carefully distributed among the successive judicatories, with constitutional checks and guards against its abuse. The assumption and the exercise of power not thus conferred is a departure from the fundamnental principles of