Chapter XIII

The Controversy in New England

The “Hawes correspondence” appeared, in the Connecticut Observer, of February 20, 1832. In this correspondence, Dr. Haves, of Hartford, in a letter to Dr. Taylor, enumerates some leading doctrines of theology, and informs him, that “there are not a few in the community who, from some cause or other, are apprehensive that you are not sound on those doctrines, and much alarm has been expressed, lest, as a teacher of theology, you should introduce heresy into our churches.” He therefore tells him, “I cannot but feel that you owe it to yourself, to the institution with which you are connected, and to the Christian community in general, to make a frank and full statement of your views of the doctrines above mentioned;” and calls on him for “a clear and full expression” of his sentiments on these subjects.

Dr. Taylor, in reply, acknowledges, that “an impression has been made, to some extent, that I am unsound in the faith. This impression, I feel bound to say, in my own view, is wholly groundless and unauthorized.” He appeals to “the repeated and full statements” of his opinions, already before the public, as “sufficient to prevent or remove such suspicions. The course you propose, however, may furnish information to some, who may desire it before they form an opinion, as well as the means of correcting the misrepresentations of others. I, therefore, readily comply with your request, and submit to your disposal the following statement of my belief, on some of the leading doctrines of the gospel:” He then proceeds to give his creed, on the controverted points, in eleven articles, couched in language which would indicate but slight deviation from the theology of the orthodox ministry of New England. But, to these articles were added certain explanatory statements, which left no room to doubt, that the orthodox language of the articles was employed in an altogether different sense from that in common use. It further transpired that, as at first communicated, Dr. Taylor’s letter contained some things which Dr. Hawes thought unfit for publication; and that he had obtained Dr. Taylor’s permission, and altered the paper, with his own hand, thus omitting the most “frank and full” statements in the whole paper. The conclusion was inevitable, that the correspondence was a device to hoodwink the public.

In 1833, another effort to quiet apprehension, was made by Dr. Beecher, who, addressing himself in a series of letters to Dr. Woods of Andover, undertook to show, among other things, that in New England, there are, among evangelical men no differences in principle, upon any fundamental point; and no Shades of differences which do not admit of an easy and peaceful comprehension within the acknowledged limits of sound orthodoxy.” He stated himself to have had “the deliberate opinion, for many years, derived from extensive observation, and careful attention to the elementary principles of the various differences which have agitated the Church, that the ministers of the orthodox Congregational Church, and the ministers of the Presbyterian Church, are all cordially united in every one of the doctrines of the Bible, and of the Confessions of Faith, which have been regarded and denominated fundamental.”

It was; in fact, a matter of no little importance to this ingenious and eccentric divine, to be able to establish the position thus so confidently stated. His relation to the publication and defence of the New Haven speculations, was most intimate and responsible.

Dr. Taylor was in the habit of submitting his controversial pieces to the revision of Dr. Beecher, before publication. “This was the fact, in regard to the review of Dr. Tyler’s remarks, published in the Christian Spectator, for September, 1832,”—one of the most exceptionable productions of the author’s pen; in which he misrepresents and denounces the doctrines of a real corruption of the nature of man, incurred in the fall; of the possibility that God could have prevented sin in the universe; and of the necessity of the immediate transforming agency of the Holy Spirit, in regeneration. It was true, in regard to Dr. Taylor’s communications for the Spirit of the Pilgrims, in his controversy with Dr. Tyler; in which all the peculiarities of the New Heaven system were brought under discussion. In one instance, Dr. Beecher took so much liberty with a com munication, that Dr. Taylor, in a subsequent number, had occasion to make the following remark :”Here I shall first advert to an error in phraseology, which, though not my own, occurred in some instances, in my reply to Dr. Tyler’s Remarks. This arose from the inser tion of a passage, while my reply was passing through the press, by one of the conductors of the Spirit of the Pil grims. For the liberty thus taken, I am not disposed to censure my friend, considering our long intimacy, and the coincidence of our views on theological subjects, and the desire from which it sprung of giving an additional illustration of my opinions.” That Dr. Beecher was the “friend” here referred to, was well understood, and it will be perceived that Dr. Taylor, here, in this public manner, claims a “coincidence of views” with Dr. Beecher, on theological subjects. This was published, under Dr. Beecher’s own eye, in a periodical of which he was one of the conductors and was suffered to pass without contradiction.

The line of argument adopted by Dr. Beecher, in his attempt to harmonize differences, and of the various publications from the pens of Drs. Harvey, Woods, Tyler, Rand, etc., in opposition to the teachings of New Haven, we do not propose to examine.

In 1833, at a convention of the ministers of Connecticut, who were opposed to the New Haven system, the Pastoral Union was formed, on the basis of agreement in the articles of a creed which was framed for the occasion. By this Union, the East Windsor Theological Institute was founded, as a barrier against the progress of error. How inadequate for the purpose, this organization and seminary, a glance at some of the articles of its creed will evince. This was neither the Westminster Confession, nor the Savoy, the Shorter Catechism, nor any of the received Confessions of the Reformed Churches; but an original paper, of which the following articles indicate the most important positions.

“9. That Adam, the federal head and representative of the human race, was placed in probation; that he disobeyed the divine command, fell from holiness, and involved himself and all his posterity in depravity and ruin. And that, from the commencement of existence, every man is personally depraved, destitute of holiness, unlike and opposed to God; and that, previously to his renewal by the Holy Spirit, all his moral actions are adverse to the character and glory of God; and that, having the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, he is, justly, exposed to all the miseries of this life, and to eternal damnation.

“10. That sin consists in the moral corruption of the heart, the perverseness of the will, and actual transgressions of the divine law.

“12. That the only Redeemer of the elect, is the Lord Jesus Christ, who being God, became man and continues to be God and man, in two distinct natures and one person for ever.

“13. That, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God; that repentance, faith and holiness are the personal requisites of salvation, in the gospel scheme; that the righteousness of Christ is the only ground of the sinner’s justification; that this righteousness is received by faith, and that this faith is the gift of. God: so that our salvation is wholly of grace; that no means whatever can change the heart of the sinner and make it holy; that regeneration and sanctification are the effects of the creating and renewing agency of the Holy Spirit; and that supreme love to God constitutes the essential difference between saints and sinners.

“14. That the atonement made by Christ, in his obedience and death, is the only ground of pardon and salvation to sinners; and that this ground is sufficiently broad for the offer of pardon to be sincerely made to all men.”

It was a common remark among the disciples of the New Divinity, that the Confession of Faith contained, indeed, the system of doctrines taught in the Holy Scriptures; but that it also contained much besides. An examination of this standard, erected by the soundest divines of New England, against. the errors of New Haven, may illustrate the significance of the expression; which is a key to the principle on which that Confession was adopted so readily, by every class of New England theologians, in entering our Church. The doctrine of original sin, “the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of man’s whole nature”—the “sin in Adam and fall with him,” is utterly obscured. The only difference between New Haven and East Windsor on this point, is, that the latter dates depravity from the commencement of existence, the other from the beginning of moral agency. The eternal Sonship of Christ is ignored, a doctrine fundamental to his divinity and to the Godhead. The vicarious atonement of the Mediator, his satisfaction to justice, and justification through his imputed righteousness—all, are either ignored, or so veiled in vague expressions that the New Haven professors would have found no great difficulty in subscribing. The good intention of the articles is neutralized by their sinister ambiguity:

It is not, therefore, strange that East Windsor has accomplished, comparatively little, in staying the tide of error, and re-establishing the churches in their ancient faith.

A few months after the organization of East Windsor, the Rev. Daniel Dow, one of the Corporation of Yale, being on a committee to attend the examination of the theological department of that institution, stated in his report, that, in his view, there had been a departure from the doctrines on which the institution was founded, in the instructions given. He specified the Dwight Professor of Didactic Theology, (Dr. Taylor,) as having published doctrines contrary to the creed required of that professor. Upon this report, the Corporation took no action; but appointed a committee to “inquire into the usages of the institution, respecting assent to articles of faith;” and invited the professors to a conference with the Board, on the subject. The result was a “Statement” from the professors, with the, publishing of which the Corporation terminated its action in the matter. From this statement, it appeared, that, since 1722, all the officers of Yale College had been required to declare their assent to the Savoy Confession. This assent was further accompanied with an exposition of their views, in detail; designed to ascertain that their adoption really meant what it purported to be. In 1753, “when a controversy respecting ‘New Divinity,’ arose, a stricter assent was exacted, as a safeguard against apprehended errors. Not only the officers, but the trustees of the college were required to make a declaration of their belief in the Assembly’s Catechism and Confession of Faith, not for substance of doctrine, merely, but for all the sentiments therein contained, and to renounce all doctrines, or principles, contrary thereto.”

Upon the election of Dr. Styles to the presidency of the college, in 1778, he, objected to the strict rule thus adopted, which had continued, until then, in full force. In a conference with the Corporation, he stated his difficulties, and a compromise was effected, the president subscribing the following declaration: “I do, hereby give my assent to the Confession of Faith, and rules of ecclesiastical discipline, agreed upon by the churches of this State in 1708.” The professors hence argue, that. the subscription, thus established, was only for substance of doctrine.

It further appeared, from this statement, that, when Dr. Taylor was inaugurated, he, in signing the pledge required by the founders of the chair, communicated to the Corporation, an additional creed, expository of his faith. “This creed was accepted by the Corporation, as affording satisfactory evidence, that the ‘substance of doctrine,’ in the platform, is fully maintained.”

In their statement, the professors present a synopsis of the doctrines of the Reformation, which probably contains the most precise definition to be obtained, of the extent to which the plea of substance of doctrine is held to justify deviation from those doctrines which. are comprehended in a strict subscription.

” It will be generally agreed that the cardinal doctrines of the Reformation were the following

“The entire depravity and ruin of man by nature, as the result of the sin of Adam. Justification by faith, through the atonement of Christ, to the exclusion of all merit in the recipient. The necessity of regeneration, by the special or distinguishing influences of the Holy Spirit. The eternal and personal election of a part of our race to holiness and salvation. The final perseverance of all who are thus chosen unto eternal life. These, taken in connection with the doctrine of the Trinity; of the eternal punishment of the finally impenitent; and of the divine decrees, which is partly involved in that of election, constitute what may be called the Primary Doctrines of the Reformation.

” In addition to these, we find, in the writings of some of the Reformers, and of the Puritan divines, another class of statements, whose object was to reconcile the doctrines enumerated above, with the principles of right reason; and to reduce them to a harmonious system of faith. These may be called Secondary, or Explanatory Doctrines. As example of these we may mention: The imputation of Adam’s sin to all his descendants, in such a manner as to make them guilty and punished, in the operation of strict justice, on account of his act. The imputation of Christ’s righteousness, to the believer, as the ground of his participating, on the same principles of strict justice, in the benefits of his death. The doctrine of particular redemption, or the limitation of the atonement to the elect. The doctrine of man’s entire want of power to any but sinful actions, as accounting for his dependence on God for a change of heart; et coet.

“Many of the old divines attached high importance to this latter class of doctrines, though differently stated by different writers; but they did so, only because they considered them essential to a defence of the primary doctrines, enumerated above. In the progress of mental and moral science, however, a great change of sentiment has taken place, in this respect. One after another of these secondary, or explanatory doctrine has been laid aside. Other modes have been adopted of harmonizing the orthodox system of faith, and reconciling it to the principles of right reason, more conformable, it is believed, to the simplicity of the Gospel; without diminishing, but, rather, increasing, the attachment felt for the primary doctrines of the Reformation.”

The former class, it will: be observed, constitute “the system of doctrines.” The latter are explanatory of it and may be rejected, with a good conscience, by one who declares his acceptance of the Confession, as containing “the system of doctrines taught in the Holy Scriptures.” It contains “the system;” and much more!

It is significant, that the creed of East Windsor, as already exhibited, tacitly recognized this same distinction, and ignores all but the ” Primary doctrines.”

For a time, Andover Seminary was looked upon as a reliable bulwark. Dr. Woods, the professor of theology, was one of the first and firmest to challenge the teachings of New Haven, and warn the churches of the dangerous character of the doctrines there promulgated. But Dr. Woods, himself, at first, denied utterly the doctrine of imputation. “The imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, in any sense which those words naturally and properly convey, is a doctrine which we do not believe.” At a later period in this life, he changed his views, as to the propriety of retaining the phraseology of the Catechism, on the subject. But he so explained the imputation both of Adam’s sin and of the righteousness of Christ, as to harmonize avowedly with Hopkins, and Emmons, and the younger Edwards, who openly and consistently denied it. Speaking of the younger Edwards’ account of the improvements in theology made by his father, Hopkins, and others, Dr. Woods asserts that, to the true doctrine of justification, by the imputed righteousness of Christ, the younger Edwards makes no objection. “All the improvement he mentions, is, that a mistaken idea of justification had been renounced, and a just idea adopted.” “Any one, who examines the matter, will find that Willard and the old Calvinists explain and defend the doctrine of imputed righteousness, much in the same manner with Edwards, both father and son:” Hopkins and Emmons, he says, “Professedly rejected the doctrine of imputed righteousness.” But he insists that it was not the genuine doctrine which they repudiated; but a caricature. They really held the doctrine; only they were not aware of it!

One thing is certain, that if the doctrine of Hopkins and the younger Edwards, as thus endorsed by Woods, be the true doctrine of imputation, the Reformers and Assembly of Divines were strangers to it.

The position of Dr. Woods, of itself, implies a remarkable state of sentiment, among those who founded and governed the institution at Andover. The Constitution, ordained by the founders, provides that every professor in the, seminary shall be a man of sound and orthodox principles, according to the system of doctrines denominated the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism. Every professor must, on the day of his inauguration, publicly make and subscribe a solemn declaration of his faith in divine revelation, and in the doctrines of the Catechism. He must solemnly promise to defend and inculcate the Christian faith, as thus expressed, in opposition to all contrary doctrines and heresies. He must repeat the declaration and promise, at the close of every five years; and should he refuse this, or, should he teach or embrace any of the proscribed heresies or errors, he shall be, forthwith removed from office.

Yet, it is doubtful whether one of the founders believed the fundamental doctrine of imputation, as stated in the Catechism; or, expected it to be taught. It is, therefore, no just matter of surprise, that, for years, whilst the instructions from the chair of Christian Theology were so indeterminate, as to be comprehensive of every school of New England divinity, prior to the rise .of New Haven—if we may judge from the statements of Dr. Woods, above cited—any orthodox tendencies, were neutralized by the more definite and brilliant prelections of the other instructors. The vague and inadequate conceptions of Professor Stuart, respecting the atonement, published in 1824, were followed by his denial of the eternal Sonship of Christ, and his doctrine on the nature of sin, put forth in his Commentary on the Romans, and his Essay on Sin, the doctrine of which differs scarcely a shade from that of the New Haven professors. And, soon, the chair of divinity, itself, was occupied by the inventor of the subtle distinction between the theology of the intellect, and the theology of the feelings; and the youth of Andover are openly taught to reject with scorn the doctrine of original sin; to regard regeneration, as a change in the balance of the susceptibilities; to deny the doctrine of the covenant of works; the satisfaction of Christ; and the justification of believers, through the merits of his righteousness, imputed to them. And, now, the ultimate and not distant point, to which all these currents tend, is plainly indicated, in the fact, recently announced, that, “In one year, five of the students of Andover lapsed into Universalism.” Similar phenomena are developing at the most of the other New England schools.

The facts here narrated lead to the conviction, that the causes of defection must have been widespread, and the defenses of the ancient faith generally removed. In New Haven, itself, Goodrich, Fitch and Taylor, each, independently and simultaneously, came to the same position, on the nature of sin, the fundamental question in the whole controversy. And, at Andover, notwithstanding the antagonism toward that. institution and its former theology, in which New Haven avowedly originated; the spirit of emulation and rivalry, incident to the situation; the actual standard of opposition reared by Professor Woods; and the punctual and solemn exhibition and adoption of the Catechism, every five years; the same heresies soon gained an easy possession, and now hold undisputed control. Nor may the fact be overlooked, that no such defection in the seminaries, could have taken place, or would have been tolerated, unless the same causes had wrought similar results, among the ministry at large.

To the question, What is the secret of this most strange and lamentable phenomenon ? there can be but one answer. The cause of all these doctrinal aberrations is to be found in the various features of the Edwardean system, already exhibited; especially, in the doctrine as to the nature of sin and holiness; and in the denial of the representative office of Adam, and of the fact, thence resulting, that “we sinned in him and fell with him, in his first transgression.” The rejection of this fundamental doctrine carried with it, inevitably, the repudiation of the parallel doctrine of justification, by the imputed righteousness of Christ; and these two being removed, all is gone.

Upon the denial of original sin imputed, at once arose the two questions, How then did sin originate? and, What is its nature? And, from the answers to these questions—conformed to the denial of our sin and fall in Adam, resulted a necessary reconstruction of the whole system of theology. From the subtle speculations of Taylor, and the plausible theory of Stuart, to the wild and despairing fancies of the author of the Conflict of Ages, every scheme that has been substituted instead of that of the Westminster divines, was originated in the struggle to find some means to account for sin, the efficient connection between us and Adam being denied.

And, then, the landmarks of a strict adoption of the Confession being, by common consent, removed, there remained no longer any barrier of warning or restraint, Each one claiming the right to depart from the received system, at least on that fundamental point, no one was entitled to limit his brother by the measure of his own aberration. Thus, conscience was satisfied, and ecclesiastical authority disarmed. At first it was but a rivulet, which stole through the embankments. But it was the letting out of waters; and the crevasse which followed was as inevitable as the relation of cause and effect.

The system of New divinity started out, professedly, in the interest of vital religion, and zeal for the salvation of souls; and, in all its history, wherever propagated, it has assumed this guise, and affected to oppose itself to a “dead orthodoxy.” In this connection, the fact is of interest, that, from the origin of the New Haven heresy, the opposition of Nettleton was prompt, open and consistent, to the last day of his life. Perhaps, no other man in this country, during the present century, has been more blessed of God in winning souls. Long before the new system had been promulgated, which held forth promises so bright for the reviving of religion, the old doctrines had been well proved by Nettleton’s hands; and found to be the wisdom of God, and the power of God, to salvation to many. Not only did he refuse to exchange the weapons thus tried, for the new forgings of New Haven. Not only did he urge his ex postulations, personally, upon Drs. Taylor and Beecher. But he sent forth warnings to the churches, in tones so unambiguous as greatly to annoy those gentlemen; who affected to regard themselves as the authors of his character and influence. “Dr. Taylor and I have made you what you are,” said Dr. Beecher to him, “and, if you do not behave yourself, we will hew you down.” This language the Doctor afterward explained as a jest; a fact; however, which he seems not to have men tioned, when he told the story to Dr. Taylor, by whom it was repeated. Whether jesting, however, or earnest, this avowal was not necessary, in order to ascertain the position of the parties. The Pelagian controversy began, at the first instant, in hostilities declared; between its authors and this true representative of the scriptural piety and the pure and Spirit-born revivals of the ancient faith.

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