Chapter XXII

Barnes’ First Trial

Dr. Taylor’s Concio ad Clerum was preached in the chapel of Yale, on the 10th of September, 1828. On the 8th of February, following, a discourse was delivered, in the Presbyterian church, in Morristown, New Jersey, which fills a place as important in this history, as did that of Dr. Taylor, in the annals of New England theology. The preacher, the Rev. Albert Barnes, was a young pastor, whose earlier years had been passed under the teachings of the Methodist Church. After passing through college, he made a profession of religion, and united with the Presbyterian Church. A few days afterward, he entered Princeton Seminary, as a student of theology. After entering upon the ministry, he became pastor of the church in Morristown. Here, in the midst of an awakening, Mr. Barnes preached, from Titus iii. 4-7, his discourse entitled “The Way of Salvation.” In the following winter, it was published, “at the suggestion, and chiefly at the expense of a few friends; simply with the hope of giving a. more fixed impression of the views then expressed.” This “prefatory advertisement” was dated, December 26, 1829, more than ten months subsequent to the delivery of the discourse; a lapse of time, which, takes with the manner and avowed motives of the publication, precluded the plea of haste or inadvertence, as to the sentiments presented.

At this time, the name of Mr. Barnes was before the people of the First Church in Philadelphia, as successor to the Rev. Dr. James P. Wilson; who was then in infirm health, and, shortly afterward, died. This circumstance at once directed attention to the sermon. The Rev. Wm. M. Eagles published, in the Philadelphian, some strictures, in which he placed the sermon and the Confession in juxtaposition, and showed that, on the fundamental points of original sin and the atonement, the two were irreconcilably at variance. A reply soon appeared, from the pen of Dr. Wilson; and a discussion of some length ensued, between the reviewer and the defender of the sermon.

In the mean time, a congregational meeting was held, in the First Church, and a call voted to Mr. Barnes. This call was submitted to the Presbytery of Philadelphia, at its stated meeting, in April; and leave asked to prosecute it, before the Presbytery of Elizabethtown. In opposition to this request, the venerable Dr. Green urged the erroneous doctrines of the printed sermon. An attempt was made to preclude any discussion on that discourse; on the ground that it was equivalent to an arraignment and trial of Mr. Barnes, for heresy, whilst he was beyond the jurisdiction of the Presbytery. This motion was, however, rejected, by a vote of thirty-seven to ten; and the discussion proceeded. The objections urged against the sermon were, that, whilst it purports to state the way of salvation, no mention is made of the cardinal doctrine of justification; that the author contemptuously rejects the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s first sin; that he intimates that the first moral taint of the creature is coincident with his first moral action; that he denies that Christ sustained the penalty of the law; that he affirms that the atonement had no specific reference to individuals, and secured the salvation of no man; that he limits the inability of the sinner, to an indisposition of will; and that he declares his own independence of all formularies of doctrine; notwithstanding his professed adoption of the Confession of Faith.

On the part of those who favored the call, there was a studied evasion of the doctrinal issue. The Rev. Dr. Thomas McAuley, the Rev. Mr. Sanford, Dr. Ely, and others, admitted, in general terms, that there were some things in the sermon, equivocal, and some erroneous. But, it was denied that the Presbytery had any right to inquire into Mr. Barnes’ doctrinal views; and much was said of his excellent character and piety. The cry of “Persecution!” was raised; and the imprudence, of offending a church so influential and important as the First, was pointed out. Dr. Green and the Rev. Joshua T. Russell, the President and Secretary of the Board of Missions, were admonished that the Board, would suffer, in consequence of the part they took in opposition, a threat to which the subsequent history gave pro found significance.

Upon the question, permission to prosecute the call was granted, by a vote of twenty-one to twelve. The minority entered a protest, in which they set forth the errors in doctrine contained in the sermon. To this no reply was made.

On the 18th of June, following, a special meeting of the Presbytery was held, “for the purpose of consider ing the subject of the reception of the Rev. Mr. Barnes, and to do what may be deemed proper, in his installation.” This meeting was not held in the customary place, but in the lecture-room of the First church, apparently with a view to exert an influence on the minority of Presbytery. Upon the presentation of Mr. Barnes’ testimonials of dismission from the Presbytery of Elizabethtown, it was moved that he be received as a member. After some discussion, Dr. Ely moved, that the motion now under consideration be postponed: that, before deciding on it, any brother of the Presbytery, who may deem it necessary, may ask of the Rev. Mr. Barnes such explanations of his doctrinal views as said brethren may deem necessary.” This motion was rejected.

In the course of the discussion which followed, Mr. Barnes rose, and proposed to make some explanations of his doctrinal views. This, he said, he was willing to do, voluntarily, but not in compliance with a demand; which he held the Presbytery had no right to make.

In making these explanations, he occupied some five minutes. He acknowledged that his sermon was defective, through oversight, on the doctrine of justification. And yet, its theme was, the way of salvation! His further remarks, shed no light on the questionable passages; but only tended to confirm the conviction that his views were radically at variance with the Confession.

At another point in the discussion, Mr. Barnes joined with Dr. Ely, in a proceeding, but little to the credit of either party. Dr. Ely having constructed a series of ambiguous statements, on the points at issue; be was authorized by Mr. Barnes to submit them to the Presbytery, as an exhibition of the faith of the latter. The paper thus submitted, “with the approbation and signature of Mr. Barnes,” was couched in the following terms:

That he does believe and teach,

“1. That God regarded and treated Adam, in the garden of Eden, not as an insulated individual, but as the head and father of all his race; so that his trial was a virtual trial of all his race, and his sentence a virtual sentence on his race.

“2. That, by a divine constitution, such a relation subsisted between Adam and every one of his posterity, that his first act of sinning was to secure, and, by acting in this relation, Adam did secure, the bringing of every descendant of Adam into an estate of sin and misery, in which it was rendered morally certain that they would righteously suffer all the evils which God actually brings upon them; and would, every one of them, so soon as capable of moral agency, commence a course of sinful moral agency, which would be interrupted by nothing but regeneration.

“3. That there is SOMETHING, whether it be called, tendency, disposition, principle, or, depravity, in man, which renders it certain, as a result from Adam’s fall, that the first moral action, and every subsequent one, of every descendant of Adam, by natural generation,. will be sinful, until the subject of this depravity is transformed by the Holy Ghost.

“4. That this depravity of man is such that no one of our race ever did, or ever will, repent and receive the Lord Jesus Christ, without being both PERSUADED and, spiritually and morally, ENABLED by the Holy Ghost so to do.

“5. That all men, in their native state, possess all the requisite natural faculties for serving God perfectly but are wholly destitute of that right disposition, or moral nature, which is requisite to the serving of him acceptably.

“6. That Christ suffered, in the place and stead of sinners; and that believers are justified, or judicially declared to be righteous, solely and entirely on account of Christ’s vicarious righteousness, and of his exclusive merits; which, after they have been given to the believer, are judicially reckoned, and in this sense IMPUTED to him.

“7. That the doctrine of justification should have been more distinctly and prominently brought forth, in his sermon; and that the omission of it was probably owing to this truth, that he had never any difficulty, in his own mind, on the subject, and that no controversy existed, in the place of his former charge, about this all important doctrine.

“8. That Christ did not suffer the identical pains, which sinners would have suffered; and in this sense he was not punished; but that, in the stead of sinners, he a divine and human person, suffered for sinners, that which the wisdom and justice of God deemed an adequate equivalent, or vicarious suffering, to satisfy divine justice, in the place of the punishment merited by the ungodly.”

It was not until two years after these proceedings that the “Hawes correspondence” took place; so that to Dr. Ely, is to be awarded, at least, the palm of originality, in the device here exhibited. One thing, it clearly demonstrated: that Mr. Barnes and his friends did not oppose inquiry into his theological senti ments, so much because of the supposed infringement upon his liberty; for that point was surrendered by the very presentation of this paper, as, because of the embarrassing questions which might be proposed, should he be brought under examination; and the erro neous sentiments which he might, thus be constrained to avow. It was easy to construct phrases of very specious seeming; if no one were allowed to ask precisely what the language was meant to convey or conceal.

Dr. Ely’s paper was evidently designed for popular effect; and no doubt served its purpose. To the theologian, who is at all familiar with the Pelagian controversy; especially, in its more recent New Haven phases, the creed here exhibited, when interpreted in the light of the circumstances in which it originated, is an avowal of essential agreement with the system of the New Haven divines.

After several days’ discussion, Mr. Barnes was received; by a vote of thirty to sixteen.

The Rev. Brogun Hoff then submitted a paper of charges against him, for unsoundness in the faith, as a bar to the installation. This paper the moderator pronounced to be out of order; as being the introduction of new business, at a pro re nata meeting. In this decision, he was sustained by the house, against an appeal taken by Dr. Ely; who, on this point., sided with the minority. All obstacles being thus overcome, the requisite arrangements were made; and, on the 25th of June, Mr. Barnes was installed.

Against these proceedings, the minority complained to the Synod of Philadelphia. In the Synod, the case occupied nearly two days of deliberate investigation. In the course of it, a member put the following question, “Mr. Barnes, it is stated in one of the answers of. our Shorter Catechism that ‘The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called, original sin.’—Mr. Barnes, do you believe this?” To which Mr. Barnes replied, “I do not.”

The Synod, after a full hearing of all the parties, including the reading of an elaborate paper, by Mr. Barnes, decided, by a large majority, to sustain the complaint; condemned the Presbytery of Philadelphia, for not allowing the examination of Mr. Barnes, in connection with his printed sermon, previously to his reception ; and referred the complainants back to the Presbytery, with an injunction to it “to hear and decide on their objections to the orthodoxy of the sermon of Mr. Barnes, and to take such order, on the whole subject, as is required by a regard to the purity of the Church, and its acknowledged doctrines and order.”

Such changes had now taken place, in the Presbytery, that the opposers of the new theology were in a decided majority. Upon the adjournment of Synod, a system of tactics was commenced by the minority, with the design to nullify the decision of Synod and defeat the majority of Presbytery, over the details of which we draw the veil of silence.

At first, the attempt was made to carry matters by a surprise movement, at an adjourned meeting, which, as it happened, was appointed for some purpose, twenty-five hours after the adjournment of the Synod at Lancaster. This failing, and the subject being made the occasion of a called meeting, nearly three days were spent in dilatory motions, designed to preclude all action, unless the Presbytery would surrender the principle, that it had a right to examine and judge the sermon of Mr. Barnes, apart from any judicial process against the author. When, at length, the obstacles thus interposed were overcome, and the Presbytery was about to proceed to an examination of the sermon, the minority entered a protest, declaring such a proceeding unconstitutional, and that, if persisted in, “the undersigned must withdraw from all participation in such proceedings, and complain to the next General Assembly.” In the. sequel, however, it appeared that this withdrawal merely meant silence on the doctrinal questions, involved in the discussion. The protesting members claimed, and exercised, freely, the right to take part in all questions of order; and, in a word, whenever any opportunity occurred, to embarrass the proceedings. They also asked, and the Presbytery granted them the right to dissent, protest and complain, against its proceedings; which, otherwise, they could not have done, as willfully refusing to take part in them.

As the discussion of the sermon was about to commence, Mr. Barnes inquired, whether he had a right to appeal to the Assembly, and thus arrest the proceedings. Being answered in the negative, he presented a paper, avowing the authorship of the sermon, and offering himself for trial; either on the ground of common fame, or, upon charges made by a responsible accuser, or accusers. This request the Presbytery declined to grant; for reasons which were entered at length on the minutes. Mr. Barnes, then, asked leave of absence from the remaining sessions. He stated that he was confident of being able to make such explanations of his sermon as would satisfy the Presbytery of its entire harmony with the Confession of Faith; but, that, upon advising with his friends, he had determined not, then, to do it! His request was granted, at the same time that he was most importunately entreated, by Dr. Green and others, to remain, and give the explanations, which he professed himself so able to do, and which were so necessary to the peace of the Church.

He had, previously, asked whether he was entitled to vote, upon the questions involved in the examination of the sermon. This question was answered in the negative, a decision undoubtedly erroneous; and which was carried, by the votes of his own party, with a few others, against the prevalent sentiments and votes of the majority.

At length, the Presbytery was allowed to proceed to examine the sermon, and a paper offered by Dr. Green was read by paragraphs, amended and adopted. In this paper, the sermon was charged with errors of a dangerous tendency, on some principal points of Christian theology; especially, on original sin, the atonement and justification.

It was now moved by Mr. Engles, ” that Dr. Green, Mr. McCalla, and Mr. Latta, be a committee to wait on Mr. Barnes, to communicate to him the result of the deliberations of this Presbytery, in the examination of his sermon, and to converse with him, freely and affectionately, on the points excepted to, in that sermon; in the hope and expectation, that the interview will result in removing or diminishing the difficulties which have arisen in his case; and that they report at the next meeting of Presbytery.”

The minority had been silent, during the doctrinal discussion. They now resumed activity, and opposed this motion, as involving a direct insult to Mr. Barnes. It was, however, adopted by the Presbytery; whereupon the minority gave notice of complaint to the General Assembly.

The committee took an early opportunity to wait on Mr. Barnes, at his study, in a body. He received them with courtesy; but refused to, hold any communication with them, as a committee, on the subject of their appointment; but said that he was willing to converse with them, individually, and in a private capacity. After remaining about an hour, they rose to leave; when he handed them a paper, stating the reasons of his refusal. These were, in brief, the asserted unconstitutionality of the course of the Presbytery ; and his unwillingness, by any act, to recognize it as of binding force. ‘

The committee made report of these facts and submitted Mr. Barnes’ written answer, to Presbytery, at the stated meeting, in April, 1831. After discussion, it was resolved to refer the whole case to the General Assembly. The reference was accompanied with complaints from Mr. Bradford and from the minority against these proceedings. In the latter paper, the former majority give the following account of the impropriety of their own action, in refusing to entertain the charges, as a bar to the installation:

“No sooner had Mr. Barnes been received by this Presbytery, on the 23d of June, than a paper, containing formal charges against him, for unsoundness in the faith, and signed by Ashbel Green, D. D., the Rev. Wm. M. Engles, the Rev. George C. Potts, the Rev. Alexander Boyd, the Rev. Brogun Hoff, the Rev. A. H. Parker, the Rev. Charles Williamson, and others, was presented to Presbytery, ‘with a view to arrest the installation; and it was decided by the Moderator, that the paper containing the charges could not be admitted, at a special meeting, as the commencement of a trial; because out of order.’ This decision, the undersigned, of whom the Moderator referred to is one, now judge to have been incorrect; because that special meeting was called, not only to receive Mr. Barnes, but to transact any business relative to his installation. These charges should have been constitutionally disposed of, either by declaring them irrelevant, or by taking the requisite steps for trying Mr. Barnes on the same.”

It will be remembered that these charges were only tabled, as a last resort, in bar of the installation, after the Presbytery had utterly refused to allow an examination, either of Mr. Barnes or his sermon. These brethren now acknowledge that the refusal to entertain those charges was a violation of the rights of the members presenting them. Yet they now complain to the Assembly, because the brethren thus injured did not accept of the false position in which, by this confessedly wrongful act they were placed; and prosecute Mr. Barnes, after installation, upon charges which, upon the face of them, were seen to have been tabled” with a view to arrest the installation.” Furthermore, these parties complain to the Assembly against their brethren, for exercising a right of examination, conferred upon them by a judicial decision of the Synod; against which, if these complainants felt aggrieved by it, their only proper remedy was in an appeal from the Synod to the Assembly. Failing of this, they were utterly without a reasonable pretext for opposing the proceedings of the Presbytery; much more, for complaint to the Assembly.

If the case was to be decided upon its merits, by the supreme tribunal, the complainants had small prospect of success. Their confidence was based on other grounds; and was not disappointed.

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