Chapter XXXI

Barnes’ Second Trial

The case toward which all eyes now turned, and on the decision of which all the interests of orthodoxy seemed, for the time, to hang suspended, was, the second trial of Mr. Barnes. The prosecutor was the Rev. Dr. George Junkin. The charges were based upon the doctrines contained in Barnes’ Notes on the Romans, which had just issued from the press. They were entered before the Assembly’s Second Presbytery, on the 23d of March, 1835; and the prosecutor entertained the hope and expectation that the trial would be issued, with a reasonable promptitude, so as to enable him to carry the case at once to the Assembly of 1835; and thus secure a decision of the vital questions involved, with as little delay and consequent agitation of the Church as possible. Such, however, was not the policy of Mr. Barnes and the Presbytery. From the entering of the charges, until the 30th of June, more than three months, the time was consumed by the Presbytery in evasive measures, designed to avoid altogether a trial of the case. At length, when, apparently, every such resource had failed, the latter date was set for the trial. At the appointed time, the Presbytery met. The parties were present and ready to proceed. But a new evasion had been discovered. The charges were in the following terms :

“The Rev. Albert Barnes is hereby charged with maintaining the following doctrines, contrary to the standards of the Presbyterian Church. 1. That sin consists in voluntary action. 2. That Adam, (before and after his fall,) was ignorant of his moral relations to such a degree, that he did not know the consequences of his sin would or should reach any further, than to natural death. 3. That unregenerate men are able to keep the commandments, and convert themselves to God. 4. That faith is an act of the mind and not a principle, and is itself imputed for righteousness.

” Mr. Barnes is also charged with denying the following doctrines, which are taught in the standards of the Church, viz.: 5. That God entered into covenant with Adam, constituting him a federal or covenant head, and representative to all his natural descendants. 6. That the first sin of Adam is imputed to his posterity. 7. That mankind are guilty, i.e., liable to punishment on account of the sin of Adam. 8. That Christ suffered the proper penalty of the law, as the vicarious substitute of his people, and thus took away legally their sins, and purchased pardon. 9. That the righteousness, i.e., the active obedience of Christ to the law, is imputed to his people for their justification; so that they are righteous in the eye of the law, and therefore justified. 10. Mr. Barnes also teaches, in opposition to the standards, that justification is simply pardon.”

In all this the word, heresy, is not to be found. Presbytery, therefore, after deliberation, assumed that no offence was charged, in the accusation, as it stood; and resolved to allow the prosecutor to withdraw his charges, for the purposes of emendation, or, otherwise, Presbytery would not proceed to the trial. This Dr. Junkin refused to do; and was about to retire; when further reflection convinced the Presbytery that it would be utterly impossible to defend the position which it had taken. The action was reconsidered, and Dr. Junkin allowed to proceed. The trial lasted for a week, and resulted, according to expectation, in the acquittal of Mr. Barnes; only the Rev. Mr. (now Dr.) Boardman, and Elders Bradford and Stille voting in the negative.

Dr. Junkin now proposed to appeal directly to the General Assembly. To this, however, Mr. Barnes strongly objected. Dr. Junkin, therefore, waived this intention, and inquired whether the appeal could go to the Synod of Delaware,would it ever meet again? To this inquiry several voices responded, “No, it can’t meet, Its time of meeting is after the time to which the Synod of Philadelphia stands adjourned; and, of course, it cannot meet.” “Then,” said the Dr., “the appeal must be to the Synod of Philadelphia.” In this view, all tacitly concurred; and to that Synod, the appeal was taken.

The Synod met, in York, on Wednesday, the 28th of October. On Thursday, the appeal of Dr. Junkin was reported, and the Synod resolved to issue it. The next morning, Dr. Ely presented a minute, which had been adopted by the Assembly’s Presbytery, the day before:

“Whereas, the General Assembly of our Church dissolved the Synod of Delaware, at and after the meeting of the Synod of Philadelphia, which occurred yesterday; whereas, the said Assembly passed no order for the transfer of the books, minutes, and unfinished business of the Synod of Delaware and of the Presbyteries then belonging to the same, to any other Synod or judicatory; and whereas, it is utterly inconsistent with reason and the excellent standards of our Church, that any Presbytery should be amenable to more than one Synod, at the same time, therefore, resolved, That the Presbytery will, and hereby does decline to submit its books, records, and proceedings, prior to this date, to the review and control of the Synod of Philadelphia, until the General Assembly shall take some order on the subject.”

Rev. Dr. John Breckinridge asked Dr. Ely if he did not draft the minute of the Assembly, and suggest the plan therein proposed; and now, if there was a trap in it, was it not strange that he, the author of it, should plead it against the Synod ?

Dr. Ely replied that he did draft the original minute; but the Assembly did not order the Presbytery to put the records into the hands of this Synod. He was thankful that a slip had been permitted in the legislation. Dr. Miller had amended his minute; and thus “in the providence of God, they had been permitted, in their very anxiety to secure their end, to do that which protects the Assembly’s Second Presbytery in their rights.”

The use here made of Dr. Miller’s amendment, was very extraordinary. It must be admitted that the amendment, taken by itself, without respect to the circumstances, and the unquestionable design of the Assembly, did give some color of ground for the position now taken by Dr. Ely and the Presbytery. It was, however, entirely neutralized by the well understood and unquestioned design of the Assembly, a design invested with all the sacredness of a solemn covenant of peace. The interpretation now adopted was, further, forbidden by the anomalous and unconstitutional attitude, in which it would have placed the Presbyteries concerned, subject to no synodical supervision, whatever, for the year which was now closed. In fact, that interpretation seems to have been a mere afterthought, which occurred to some one, a day or two before it was plead at the bar of Synod.

The attitude assumed by the Presbytery was, the more extraordinary, as Mr. Barnes himself did not pretend to deny the jurisdiction of Synod; professed to be ready for the trial of the appeal; and yet sheltered himself behind this action of his Presbytery, and refused to plead, unless the official records of the Presbytery were obtained; although, he was well aware that authentic copies were before the Synod.

The attitude of the Presbytery and of Mr. Barnes was not permitted to arrest the proceedings, in the Synod. Dr. Junkin produced and authenticated a copy of all the evidence and of the judgment of Presbytery: The Synod, thereupon, proceeded to try the appeal, not withstanding the refusal of Mr. Barnes to plead. Five days were spent in the hearing, when the vote was taken, the appeal sustained, and Mr. Barnes found guilty of errors, some of them fundamental, and all contrary the doctrines of the standards and Word of God. He was suspended from the ministry, ” until he shall retract the errors hereby condemned, and give satisfactory evidence of repentance.”

Against this decision, Mr. Barnes took an appeal to the General Assembly. It came up early in the sessions of the Assembly of 1836. Constitutionally, this appeal could not lie; as Mr. Barnes had not submitted to trial. But this was not regarded. The case occupied the most of nine days of the sessions. The general principle on which Mr. Barnes based his vindication, is thus stated, in his published ” Defence.”

“Of the Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly, I may be allowed to say, that when I expressed my assent to it, as ‘a system of doctrines,’ I did it cordially; and that I have never had occasion to regret the act. I then regarded it, as I do now, and ever have done, as the best summary of the doctrines of the Bible which I have seen…The system of truth contained there, as distinguished from all other systems, the Socinian, the Pelagian, the Arian, the Arminian, etc., has appeared to me the true system; and without hesitation or fluctuation, I have received it. I have not forgotten, however, that nearly two hundred years have elapsed, since it was formed; that language often varies its meaning; and that views of philosophy, which insensibly insinuate themselves into theology, seldom continue the same two hundred years. I have thought that there was perhaps, somewhat too much harshness and severity of language in the general cast of the Confession; and that a few expressions do not convey, without much labored exposition, the meaning o£ the Scriptures. To a few of those expressions, small in number, and not affecting the system as a system, I have always taken the exceptions which others have been allowed to do.”

In the course of the proceedings, on the appeal, there appeared, at one time, to be a prospect of amicable adjustment of the whole matter. So ample seemed the explanations of Mr. Barnes; so full the retractions which he was understood to make, and so hearty apparently, his acceptance of the teachings of the Confession, on the questions at issue, that Dr. Junkin was induced, to say to the Assembly, “If the concessions which we heard yesterday can be put in a form that is satisfactory, I shall be willing to take a course that will save the time of this Assembly.” Had Mr. Barnes been willing to put upon record the acknowledgments which he had made, on the floor, the case would there have ended, and the peace and unity of the Church might possibly have been preserved. This fair prospect was, however, quickly closed, by the announcement of Mr. Barnes that he had not retracted anything; and that he never would.

In the discussion which followed the hearing of the parties, the attitude assumed by the New School leaders was as arbitrary and uncompromising as was that of Mr. Barnes. While some of the members affected to see no irreconcilable difference between the sentiments of Mr. Barnes and the doctrines of the standards, others recognized and openly gloried in the difference, only complaining that Mr. Barnes was too orthodox. The body of the New School made Mr. Barnes’ case their own, and avowed that with him they must stand or fall. Dr. Peters, their unquestioned leader, took the position that Mr. Barnes was not merely to be tolerated, but entitled to all confidence and honor. Dr. Skinner avowed that he was himself on trial, in the person of Mr. Barnes, and was unwilling that ” the slightest censure” should be inflicted on him. And, said Dr. Peters, “I honor the design of preparing a doctrinal book that shall be divested of technical language and hard names; and I not only adhere to the doctrines, but for the most part, to the very language of Mr. Barnes’ book.” In his estimation, not Mr. Barnes, but Dr. Junkin, if any one, must be held dependent upon the toleration of his brethren; since he denied the doctrine of natural ability.

On the final question, the appeal was sustained, by a vote of 134 to 96; six declining to vote; the Synod of Philadelphia being, of course, out of the house. The suspension of Mr. Barnes was then reversed, by a vote of 145 to 78; eleven declining to vote.

Dr. Miller then offered a resolution pronouncing the judgment of the Assembly, that some of Mr. Barnes’ published opinions are materially at variance with the Confession of Faith and the Bible, “especially with regard to original sin, the relation of man to Adam, and justification by faith in the atoning sacrifice and righteousness of the Redeemer;” censuring the manner in which he had controverted the language and doctrines of the Confession; and admonishing him to review his work, on the Romans, and to rectify its objectionable statements; and “to be more careful, in time to come, to study the purity and peace of the Church.”

This resolution was rejected by a vote of 109 to 122; three declining to vote.

Two protests were entered, against the decisions of the Assembly, in Mr. Barnes’ case. One of these was signed by one hundred and one members, and the other by sixteen; all of whom, but two were signers of the first. To these protests, a reply was adopted, which was, perhaps, the most extraordinary feature of the whole case. It was reported by a committee consisting of the Rev. Drs. Skinner and Allen, and the Rev. Mr. Brainard. Dr. Beecher was understood to have had a principal hand in its preparation. Mr. Duffield seconded Dr. Skinner’s motion for its adoption; and it would seem to have received the unanimous vote of the New School majority of the Assembly. In this paper, the Assembly declared that the phraseology of Mr. Barnes had not been always sufficiently guarded, but that, even in the first edition of his Notes on the Romans, “the language is, without violence reconcilable with an interpretation conformable to our standards;” much more, therefore, the revised edition, in the light of “all his disclaimers before the Assembly, and all his definite and unequivocal declarations of the true intent and meaning of his words, in the first edition.”

To substantiate this position the reply proceeded to give “a careful analysis of the real meaning of Mr. Barnes, under each charge, as ascertained by the language of his book and the revisions, disclaimers, explanations and declarations which he had made.” For example, it asserts that “Mr. Barnes nowhere denies, much less, ‘sneers’ at, the idea that Adam was the covenant and federal head of his posterity. On the contrary, though he employs not these terms, he does, in other language, teach the same truths which are taught by the phraseology.”

But Dr. Junkin’s charge was, that Mr. Barnes denied Adam to be the federal head and representative of his natural posterity; and, among the proofs cited from the book, were the following: “Nothing is said here, [Romans v. 19] of the doctrine of representation. It is not affirmed that Adam was the representative of his race, nor is that language used in regard to him in the Bible. (2.) Nothing is said of a covenant with him. Nowhere in the Scriptures is the term covenant applied to any transaction with Adam. (3.) All that is established, here, is the simple fact that Adam sinned, and that this made it certain that all his posterity would be sinners. Beyond this, the language of the apostle does not go; and all else that has been said of this is the result of mere philosophical speculation…Various attempts have been made to explain this. The most common has been, that Adam was the representative of the race; that he was a covenant head, and that his sin was imputed to his posterity, and that they were held liable to punishment for it, as if they had committed it themselves. But, to this, there are great and insuperable objections. (1.) There is not one word of it in the Bible. Neither the terms, representative, covenant, nor, impute, are ever applied to the transaction, in the sacred Scriptures. (2.) It is a mere philosophical theory; an introduction of a speculation into theology, with an attempt to explain what the Bible has left unexplained.”

Again, “A comparison is also instituted between Adam and Christ, in 1 Cor. xv. 22, 45. The reason is, not that Adam was the representative or federal head of the race; about which the apostle says nothing, and which is not even implied, but that he was the first of the race; he was the fountain; the head, the father; and the consequences of that first act introducing sin into the world, could be seen everywhere. The words representative, and federal head, are never applied to Adam, in the Bible. The reason is, that the word representative implies an idea which could not have existed in the case, the consent of those who are represented. Besides, the Bible does not teach that they acted in him, or by him; or that he acted for them. No passage has ever yet been found that stated this doctrine.”

On Romans v. 12, he says: Paul “was inquiring into the cause why death was in the world; and it would not account for that to say that all sinned in Adam. It would require an additional statement to see how that could be a cause. The expression ‘in whom all have sinned’ conveys no intelligible idea. As men had no existence then, in any sense, they could not then sin. What idea is conveyed to men of common understanding, by the expression, ‘they sinned in him’?”

This looks not unlike a sneer. It was in the presence of such language as this, cited by Dr. Junkin, from Mr. Barnes, that the majority of the Assembly entered it upon record, that he “nowhere denies, much less sneers at, the idea that Adam was the covenant and federal-head of his posterity;” that in fact, he teaches the same truths, in other language! How were the Prosecutor and the Church to understand this assertion, so plainly contrary to truth, and to the evidence staring them in the face?

As remarkable as the assertion of Mr. Barnes’ orthodoxy, was the statement of the reply, as to the doctrinal views of those who were pronouncing his acquittal. “So far,” said they, “is the Assembly from countenancing the errors alleged in the charges of Dr. Junkin, that they do, cordially, and ex animo (From the heart) adopt the Confession of our Church, on the points of doctrine in question, according to the obvious and most prevalent interpretation; and do regard it, as a whole, as the best epitome of the doctrines of the Bible ever formed. And this Assembly disavows any desire, and would deprecate any attempt to change the phraseology of our standards, and would disapprove any language of light estimation applied to them; believing that no denomination can prosper whose members permit themselves to speak slightly of its formularies of doctrine; and are ready to unite with their brethren in contending earnestly for the faith of our standards.”

What meant this remarkable statement ? Had Drs. Skinner, Duffield, and their associates been suddenly converted into the soundest of Old School men ? Did the phrase “the obvious and most prevalent interpretation,” contain a hidden meaning? Or, must the Old School conclude that the leaders of the Assembly began to find, or to fear, that they were drawing too heavily upon the good nature of their Moderate allies, that the avowals, which had been so boldly made, in the discussion of Barnes’ case, were in danger of alienating them, and of opening the eyes of the people? Was it thus, that a necessity arose for such a testimony of reverence for the Confession? and was that testimony to be understood, not as expressing the private sentiments of individual leaders of the party, but what they knew to be those of “the Assembly,” that is, of the majority of the members, all parties included? Such were the questions which forced themselves into notice, in view of all the facts connected with the case.

Whatever its meaning, so earnest a protestation of orthodoxy, coming from such a quarter, and in such circumstances, entirely failed to conciliate the confidence, or quiet the alarms of the minority. They read this declaration, in immediate connection with the incredible assertion that Mr. Barnes’ contradictions were in perfect harmony with the doctrines of the standards. They could not but reflect upon the avowals of indifference to the authority of the Confession, and rejection of its teachings, which they had heard so freely uttered, during the discussion of the appeal. They remembered the written avowals of Messrs. Edward Beecher, Sturdevant, and Kirby, when on trial, and the finding of their Presbytery thereupon. They remembered the writings of Beman and Cox and Duffield, and many others. In the light of such facts and recollections it was impossible for them to believe that the history of a quarter of a century of controversy and rebuke, in defence of the doctrines of the gospel, was all an unreal figment of the imagination, a troubled dream. Nothing in the whole history so shocked the conscience of the Church, or so prepared it for the action of 1837, as did this attempt to cover the doctrinal derelictions of Mr. Barnes and the party.

The real sentiments of this Assembly were more truly illustrated by an anecdote which was related by Mr. Finney, when, subsequently, his cordial relations with the New School had been terminated, by his advance to perfectionism. Whilst, in the progress of the trial, the subject of original sin was under discussion, one of the New School doctors penciled a couplet on a card. It was passed, in succession, to three others, each of whom added a line; so that, when the circle was completed, it read thus:

In Adam’s fall, We sinned all.
In Abel’s murder, We sinned furder:
In Tubal Cain, We sinned again.
In Doctor Green, Our sin is seen”

Mr. Finney states that “the above occurrence was a matter of common talk, among the New School members of the Assembly, at the time; and not an individual, so far as was heard, expressed his disapproval of it.”

Whatever else, however, was still doubtful, one thing was now apparent. Discipline, as a means of vindicating the doctrines of the standards, against the incoming flood of error, had been fully tried, and utterly failed. The disease was too inveterate and pervasive for that remedy.

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