Chapter XXX

Discipline Attempted

The signers of the Act and Testimony, therein covenanted with each other, respecting disseminators of doctrinal errors, to “make every lawful effort to subject all such persons, especially if they be ministers, to the just exercise of discipline, by the proper tribunal.” In accordance with this announcement, several prosecutions took place, resulting in a demonstration of the futility of expecting to restore an extensively corrupted Church, by means of personal process against individuals. In every instance, the whole party at once made common cause with the accused. Every art of party management was brought. into requisition, to confuse and embarrass the proceedings, to weary out the prosecution, to create side issues, and distract the public attention from the real questions; to prevent calm and candid investigation, and secure the immunity of the accused. And the success of these measures demonstrated, beyond question, that the signers of the Act and Testimony did not exaggerate the extent of the danger, that the evil was already beyond correction by the ordinary remedies of the Constitution.

Already, before the Act and Testimony was written, the case of the Rev. George Duffield had been tried before the Presbytery of Carlisle. This gentleman published, in 1831, an octavo volume of 613 pages, on “Spiritual Life, or Regeneration.” The dedication tendered the work to the people of his charge, “as an atonement for occasional attempts, in the early periods of his ministry among them, to explain the great fact of a sinner’s regeneration, by the aid of a philosophy, imbibed in his theological education, interwoven in many of his exhibitions of scriptural truth; but for years past repudiated, by their much‑attached pastor.” The philosophy and explanations thus repudiated, were those of the Westminster standards; as the author distinctly indicates in the course of his discussions.

It being a common fame that the book contained grave doctrinal errors, the Presbytery of Carlisle, in 1832, appointed a committee to examine it. This committee made report at an adjourned meeting held on the 27th and 28th of June, setting forth the errors of the book.

The errors enumerated were twelve in number, metaphysical and theological: 1. As to the nature of life; that it “consists in the regular series of relative, appropriate, characteristic, action, in an individual being.” 2. That the soul is produced ex traduce from the parents. 3. That the image of God in which man was created consists, principally, in his threefold life, vegetable, animal, and spiritual. 4. That Adam was related to his posterity, as parent only. 5. That the death of infants is not penal. 6. That depravity consists exclusively in the acts and exercises of the will. 7. That infants have no moral character. 8. That the inability of sinners is wholly of the will. 9. That regeneration consists in a voluntary act of the will, under the influence of moral suasion, in which the soul is active, not passive. 10. That, by election the Scriptures mean nothing else than the actual conversion of men to God. 11. The human nature of Christ possessed no personal, characteristic holiness, irrespective of and previous to his moral acts and exercises. 12. The author speaks unguardedly and erroneously on being filled with the Holy Spirit. “We have seen. already,” he remarks, “that ideas of personal inhabitation, of infused grace, and of any mystic agency of the Spirit, form no part of the scriptural doctrine of his influence.”

Of these opinions, the first was designed to constitute a psychological basis for the doctrinal scheme which follows. The enumeration, among doctrinal errors, of the traducean theory, as to the origin of the soul, was certainly an indiscretion; as that doctrine has been held, from the days of Tertullian and Augustine, by many of the ablest and most orthodox men who have blessed the Church. Says Turrettin, “not a few of the old divines believed it, and Augustine himself, more than once, seems to incline to it. And it is not to be questioned, that its admission relieves the subject of original sin of every difficulty.”

The Presbytery adopted the report, and warned all her ministers, elders, and people against the errors of the book. It, also, appointed Messrs. Williams and Wilson a committee, “to confer with Mr. Duffield, in a friendly manner, respecting the erroneous doctrines contained in his book.”

Mr. Duffield had protested against the committee of examination as unconstitutional. Upon the same ground, he refused to take any part in the discussion of the report. He and Mr. Dewitt complained to the Synod of Philadelphia, against these entire proceedings.

In Synod, it was decided, that as the principal complaint of Mr. Duffield, and that on which the other two rest, and from which they spring, is “that without the preferring of charges, citation, and other steps of judicial process, the Presbytery have in fact condemned him, as heretical,” and the Synod are distinctly informed, that the Presbytery intend, as soon as practicable, to commence and issue such process, therefore,

“Resolved, That further progress in the present complaint is unnecessary, if not improper, until the Presbytery shall have brought the contemplated trial of Mr. Duffield to an issue; which they are hereby enjoined to do as soon as possible.”

Accordingly, the Presbytery, on the 20th of October, appointed a committee, which, on the 28th of November, reported a list of charges, identical with those previously made against the book, except that the twelfth was omitted, and the eleventh combined with the seventh. The case came on for trial, on the 11th of April, 1833.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and the forenoon of Monday were expended by Mr. Duffield in pleas to the competence of the Presbytery, and of members of it, to the sufficiency of the charges, denying the existence of common fame, and so on. Particular emphasis was laid upon the fact that the charges did not write the name, “heresy,” against the errors charged. Upon various points, he entered Protests, Complaints, and Appeals.

Presbytery, at length, proceeded to hear the charges and evidence, the prosecuting committee, and Mr. Duffield; whereupon, the vote was taken, and the charges were sustained, except the third and tenth, which were rejected.

It was then resolved that, “as to the counts, in which Mr. Duffield has been found guilty, Presbytery judge that Mr. Duffield’s book, and sermons on Regeneration, do contain the specified errors, yet as Mr. Duffield alleges that Presbytery have misinterpreted some of his expressions, and says he does in fact, hold all the doctrines of our standards, and that he wishes to live in amity with his brethren, and labor without interference, for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, therefore,

“Resolved, That Presbytery, at present, do not censure him, any further than warn him to guard against such speculations as may impugn the doctrines of our Church; and that he study to maintain the unity of the Spirit, in the bonds of peace.”

Against this decision, Mr. Duffield gave notice of an appeal to the General Assembly; which, however, he did not prosecute. Under the name of an appeal, however, he published an elaborate document, in which, taking up the charges, one by one, he tried to show that he had not maintained or propagated opinions or doctrines, at variance with the Confession of Faith.

When these proceedings came before the Synod of Philadelphia, in review, in October, 1833, action was postponed, in consequence of the sickness and absence of Mr. Duffield. The next year, it was. taken up, and a minute adopted, censuring the leniency of the Presbytery. And so ended the case. Light has been recently shed. upon it by the exposition made by Dr. Duffield, of the “Doctrines of the New School Presbyterians,” in the Bibliotheca Sacra for July, 1863. The reader who will compare the charges, of which the Doctor was convicted, with the article in that quarterly, will see that the doctrinal system, involved in those charges, is precisely that, in all its essential features, which he describes with approbation as the theology of the New School.

We have already seen something of the theological position and relations of Dr. Lyman Beecher. In 1832, upon the nomination of Arthur Tappan, Esq., as the condition of a gift of 25,000 to the Lane Seminary, he was chosen to the presidency of that institution; to which, none but ministers of the Presbyterian Church were eligible. Whilst he was holding this appointment in consideration, the Rev. James Weatherby, of Mississippi, visited New England, as delegate from the General Assembly to the General Association of Connecticut. Dr. Beecher sought an interview, in the course of which he informed Mr. Weatherby of the appointment, and expressed some doubt of being able to come up to the requirement as to Presbyterianism. Mr. Weatherby told him that any doubts on that subject admitted of easy solution. If he could, with a good conscience, answer affirmatively, the questions put to candidates for the ministry, he was a Presbyterian. Dr. Beecher, at once, brought a Confession, and placing it in the hands of Mr. Weatherby, requested him to propound the questions. This he did, and received affirmative answers, to all except the second, “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?” The reply was, “Yes, but I will not say how much more it contains” Mr. Weatherby closed the book, saying that he was no Presbyterian. After some conversation on the subject, the process was, at the request of Dr. Beecher, repeated; but. with the same result. Again the subject was discussed, Mr. Weatherby remarking that no such Yankee answer would do. That it was idle for Dr. Beecher to pretend to be a Presbyterian. Finally, the Doctor proposed a third trial; when he passed successfully through the ordeal, giving the answer in simple affirmative. He, soon after, wrote to the Third Presbytery of New York, declaring his affirmative answer to those questions, was thereupon received as a member, and, immediately, at his own request, dismissed to join the Presbytery of Cincinnati.

Such was the début of this distinguished leader, in the Presbyterian Church. At the time of his arrival in Cincinnati, that Presbytery had been for some time suffering distraction, from the success of the policy of Dr. Peters, by which it was filling with New School men, and being pervaded with New School doctrines, measures, and policy. Dr. Beecher had been selected as the leader of this party, and was, at once, recognized in that office. “I have been chosen and come,” said he to a distinguished gentleman, then connected with a literary institution in that region, “to make the West what New England is; and I can do it. I have pledge of the co-operation of such and such eminent men; and I want you to help me.”

When he was admitted into the Presbytery of Cincinnati, upon dismission from the Third Presbytery of New York, Dr. J. L. Wilson offered a protest, which was refused a place on the record, on the ground that he was moderator, and not entitled to vote, and, therefore, had no right to protest.

A motion was, thereupon, made, for a committee to inquire as to a common fame charging the Doctor with doctrinal error. This motion was rejected. A similar motion was made, in April, 1833, postponed until the fall, and, then, indefinitely postponed. Against this conclusion, complaint was made to the Synod; which decided, that Presbytery could not be compelled to proceed, judicially, unless a responsible prosecutor appeared. Appeal was taken to the Assembly of 1834, which threw it out on technical grounds.

At length, in November; 1834, Dr. Wilson presented himself at the bar of Presbytery, and tabled charges against Dr. Beecher, under four general heads and numerous specifications. These exhibited the New School theories, as to man’s native depravity, ability, and the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. They further charged the Doctor with teaching a doctrine of perfection, contrary to the standards, with slander, in belying the whole Church of God, by representing these as being its accepted doctrines, and with hypocrisy and dissimulation, in professing attachment to the Confession of Faith.

Upon the presentation of these charges, the Presbytery entered them on record, but postponed the consideration of the subject, till the next stated meeting, from the 11th of November, 1834, till the 10th of April, 1835. At that time, it ordered the citation of the witnesses, warned the prosecutor, solemnly constituted as a judicial tribunal of the Lord Jesus Christ; and then adjourned for two months, till the 9th of June! At the June meeting, the case was at length, taken up and issued. The discussion was protracted through more than a week, and. resulted in the acquittal of the accused, and, a reference to the Synod of Cincinnati, to decide what censure should be inflicted on the prosecutor. Against this decision, Dr. Wilson took an appeal.

Before the Synod, such explanations and statements were made by Dr. Beecher as satisfied the majority of that body. It however decided, that the appeal be sustained; 1st. Because there was no reason to censure Dr. Wilson. 2d. “Because, although the charges of slander and hypocrisy are not proved; and although Synod see nothing in his views, as explained by himself to justify any suspicion of unsoundness in the faith; yet, on the subject of the depraved nature of man, and total depravity, and. the work of the Holy Spirit in effectual calling, and the subject of ability, they are of the opinion that Dr. Beecher has indulged a disposition to philosophize, instead of exhibiting, in simplicity and plainness, the doctrines as taught in the Scriptures; and has employed terms and phrases, and modes of illustration, calculated to convey ideas inconsistent with the Word of God, and our Confession of Faith; and that he ought to be, and hereby is, admonished to be more guarded in the future.”

Dr. Beecher declared his ready acquiescence in this decision of the Synod; which, thereupon, expressed its satisfaction, and advised him to publish, “at as early a day as possible, in pamphlet form, a; concise statement of the argument and design of his sermon on native ability, and of his views of total depravity, original sin, and regeneration, agreeably to his declarations and explanations, made before Synod.”

Dr. Wilson appealed to the Assembly. When, however, the case came before that body in 1836, he was induced by the advice of brethren, to waive the prosecution; as Barnes’ case was then pending, the decision upon which, it was hoped, would determine the questions involved in this.

In response to the advice of Synod, Dr. Beecher published, not a concise pamphlet statement, as recommended, but a volume of “Volume of Views on Theology,” a work comparatively orthodox.

That Dr. Beecher had held and taught the leading points of New School theology, is unquestionable. And, that there is an irreconcilable difference between his various statements on the subject, is equally certain, a difference to be accounted for, perhaps, to a great extent, by the idiosyncrasies of an intellect, intensely active, but capricious, illogical, and, seemingly, almost devoid of memory.

About the time of Dr. Beecher’s removal to Ohio, there existed in Yale Seminary an association of young men whose attention was turned to the West, with a view to the same object which brought him to Cincinnati. They originated the plan of Illinois College, and organized themselves into a board of trustees, before they had ever seen Illinois. As fast as the associates entered the ministry, they removed to that State, united with the Presbyterian Church, and located around the institution, which with the Rev. Edward Beecher, late a tutor in Yale, at its head, they destined to be the Yale of the West. Dr. Taylor and the other divines of New Haven were the counselors of the enterprise; the American Education and Home Missionary, Societies afforded all the requisite means; and the wealth of New England was freely bestowed upon an enterprise so full of promise.

In 1833, the Rev. Wm J. Fraser tabled charges, before the Presbytery of Illinois, against President Beecher and the Rev. Professors J. M. Sturdevant, and Williarn Kirby, for teaching erroneous doctrines. The witnesses relied upon were mostly students of the college. After considerable progress had been made in taking testimony the accused proposed, as a substitute for all testimony, a statement of their faith, in writing. This the prosecutor accepted. It was as follows:

“We believe and teach, that the sinner has power to make himself a new heart, without the influence of the Holy Spirit; but, that such is his voluntary aversion to his duty, that he never will do it, without those influences; and that, of course, he is dependent on them for salvation.

“That the nature of sin is such, that no man can become a sinner, except by his own act; and yet, that all men sin, in all their moral conduct, from the commencement of their moral agency; and that the reason of this fact is to be found in the original fall of the human race.

“We believe and teach, that God, foreseeing from all eternity that such would be the character and condition of men, determined to interpose, for the salvation of a certain part of the human race, and to make them willing to do their duty; not from any foreseen good in them, as the exciting cause of his conduct, but from a regard to his own glory and the general good. That those whom he does not thus interpose to save, are left to deserved ruin, as the natural result and just punishment of their own voluntary depravity; but we do believe, that if men were the subjects of an absolute inability to obey the law of God, or accept the offers of the gospel, such that nothing but the influences of the Spirit of God could give them ability, it would then be tyrannical in God, to withhold from a certain portion of the human race those influences, and yet damn them to all eternity, for not obeying his law, or accepting his gospel.




Upon this profession of faith, the Presbytery, after protracted discussion, decided that “The accused brethren do not teach doctrines, materially or essentially, at variance with the standards of the Presbyterian Church and the Word of God.” Mr. Fraser appealed to the Synod. But he was induced to drop it, in the expectation that the other cases then pending would lead to a settlement by the Assembly, of the questions involved.

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