Chapter XVII

Earlier Evangelic Agencies

We have already seen, that ‘the General Presbytery was organized, as an evangelic society; and so viewed, distinctly, by its members. Its founders conceived the Church to have been constructed by her Head to be his chosen and sufficient instrumentality, to fulfill the great commission and carry the gospel to every creature. Whilst yet unorganized, and scattered abroad, as isolated lamps in surrounding darkness, when planning the increase and diffusion of the light, they, at once, recognized their own organization, after the scriptural model of our Presbyterian standards, as being the fundamental step in the whole matter.

Hence, they at once announced themselves, in this capacity. Their statement to Sir Edmund Harrison, we have already seen. To the Synod of Glasgow, they write to the same effect. “We have, for some years past, formed ourselves into a Presbyterial meeting, and to our capacities, (considering our infancy, paucity, and the many oppositions and discouragements we have all along struggled with,) taken what care we could, that our meeting, though small, might be for the general good of religion in these parts.”

The reader of the minutes of this body, at once feels, that, he is perusing the records of a missionary society. The business of their meetings, was, to devise and execute the most efficient means of spreading the gospel.

Their correspondence with Europe was opened with that object and occupied with that theme. They feelingly exhibit the destitutions around them, and plead with their more favored European brethren, for more men, to supply the want, and for money to support them, when sent out.

As early as 1717, they, out of their own poverty, laid the foundation of a “fund for pious uses,” to which they solicited the annual contributions of their people. It began with the sum of “eighteen pounds, one shilling, and sixpence,” given “by the members of the Synod themselves,” and “weighed and delivered into the hands of Mr. Jedidiah Andrews, treasurer for the time being;” a most liberal contribution, in their poverty, from those faithful and zealous servants of Christ. There were present, thirteen ministers and six elders; who thus gave a fraction less than a pound each; equivalent to much more, in the present day; a sum which well justified the moving appeals urged by them for aid from Europe. “We ourselves,” say they, “have begun a small fund, for this and other religious purposes among us. But, alas! it is yet so small that little or nothing can be done by it.” Men of God, well done! “The little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation.”

The first appropriation, from this fund, was made in 1719, when “a tenth part of the neat produce of the Glasgow collection” was given to the Presbyterian congregation of New York, toward the support of the gospel among them. The foundations of the magnificent churches of New York city all rest on this appropriation, made in faith, out of the depth of poverty, in that day of small things.

In 1722, the first formal appointment of itinerant missionaries was made. The Rev. Messrs. Hugh Conn, John Orme, and William Stewart, were directed, severally, to visit some Protestant dissenting families in Virginia, who were desirous of supplies from the Synod, to preach four Sabbaths each. From the date of that appointment, the missionary exertions of our fathers were constant and untiring, commissioning, sometimes, settled pastors, sent on tours of a few weeks; and, sometimes, missionaries destined to permanent settlement, in the new churches, founded in the wilderness. They were the first home missionaries on the continent.

For the first century of her existence, until the Plan of Union had time to work out some of its proper effects, the right and duty of the Church to fulfill those functions; which are now entrusted to the immediate charge of her Boards, were never questioned; whilst they constituted, in fact, the principal business, in the annual meetings of the supreme court. From the first hour of her existence, we have seen that domestic missions were her immediate charge, and received, in all her sessions, the most earnest attention. When the General Presbytery was but four years old, she took authoritative control of the ministerial training of David Evans. And, from that day, the charge of education, academic and theological, was among her recognized and most active functions. In that office, the Old Side Synod patronized Mr. Alison’s school, established at New London, in 1741 ; whilst the New Side were laying the foundations, broad and deep, of New Jersey College.

A general and systematic plan was adopted, by the General Synod, in 1771, for the support and education of candidates for the ministry; and means taken to obtain the requisite funds, from the liberality of the churches. The expected results, however, were greatly diminished, by the occurrence of the Revolutionary war. After the close of the war, the subject received comparatively little attention, in the deliberations of the supreme court, until 1805, when the incipient steps were taken, which, in a few years, resulted in the organization of the Board of Education.

Whilst devoting its utmost energies to home evangelization, the General Synod was not indifferent to the condition of the heathen. In 1751, a standing rule was adopted, in view of the “exigencies of the great affair of propagating the gospel among the heathen,” that a collection be taken, in each of the churches, for that object, once a year. On this fund, the Rev. John Brainard was sustained, among the Indians of New Jersey, until his death, in 1781.

With the beginning of the present century, new efforts were made by the courts of our Church in behalf of the aborigines. In 1801, the Assembly and its Committee of Missions, each, published an appeal for missionaries to labor among the Indians. That same year, the Commission of the Synod of Virginia reported to the Assembly, that besides the labors expended within the bounds of the Synod, it had sent two missionaries to Detroit, two to Cornplanter, chief of the Senecas, and two to the settlements on the Muskingum. The next year, it reported nine missionaries, sent west of the Alleghanies, for different periods of time. Of these, three were sent to the Shawanese and other Indians, about Detroit and Sandusky. These were temporary laborers. It also sent a pious young man, to instruct them in agriculture. Blue Jacket, an Indian boy, instructed in Virginia, under the direction of the Commission, had given evidence of a work of grace; and was to go out as an interpreter; and the prospect of success in this mission was favorable.

That same year, the Synod was divided; and the Synod of Pittsburgh erected. At its first meeting held in Pittsburgh, 1802, the following constitution was adopted by the Synod, in order to facilitate its missionary operations :

“1. The Synod of Pittsburg shall be styled, The Western Missionary Society.

“2. The object of the Missionary Society is, to diffuse the knowledge of the Gospel among the inhabitants of the new settlements, the Indian Tribes, and, if need be, among some of the interior inhabitants, where they are not able to support the gospel.

“3. The society shall annually appoint a Board of Trust, consisting of seven members; a majority of whom shall be a quorum, whose duty it shall be to transact all missionary business, which may occur, necessary to be done, between the annual meetings of the society; which Board shall meet quarterly.

“4. It is required of the Trustees, that they employ none as missionaries, except those who give credible evidence of being the subjects of special grace, and of their Christian zeal, wisdom, information, and experience, in ministerial labors; which may enable them to do the work of evangelists, in the most self-denying circumstances.

“5. The Board of Trust shall have authority to draw money from the Treasury, to pay the missionaries whom they have appointed. It is expected, also, that the Board of Trust will give directions to the missionaries, how long they shall be out, and where their mission shall be.

“6. The Board of Trust are required to lay before the society, at their annual meeting, in fair records, all their proceedings, together with the journals of the missionaries; and, if it can be, to have the missionaries attend, themselves.

“7. That the society engage a suitable person, annually, to preach a missionary sermon, on the Thursday, next after the opening of the Synod; at which, a collection shall be made, `for the support of missionaries.’

“Agreeably to the above plan, the Synod proceeded to the election of members as a Board of Trust, when the following persons were duly elected, via.: The Rev. Messrs. John McMillan, David Smith, Thomas Marquis, and Thomas Hughes; together with Messrs. James Edgar, William Plummer and James Caldwell, Elders.”

About this time, also, the Synod of the Carolinas, entered upon the same work, in the Southern field. At its sessions, in 1802, it appointed two missionaries to visit the Natches, and also created a Commission to attend to the missionary business; by which the Rev. William C. Davis was sent to the Catawbas. Thus began the labors of that Synod, among the Indians of the South, the history of which remains to be written.

The Indian missions of the Pittsburgh Synod were conducted, at first, by the agency of itinerant and temporary laborers. But the results soon demanded closer attention and permanent missionaries. In 1805, the Rev. Joseph Badger was appointed a stated missionary to the Wyandots, at Sandusky. Two white men, as laborers, one of whom was ultimately to be engaged as a teacher, and one black man and his wife, were also employed; live stock, household furniture, farming tools, and a boat were sent on; and the foundations laid for a permanent and vigorous mission. In 1806, the Synod applied to the Assembly to assume the charge of this mission. This the Assembly declined, but granted it pecuniary aid thenceforward, for a series of years.

The Sandusky mission was continued, until the war of 1812, when, that region becoming the scene of hostilities, it was necessarily suspended. After the war, it was partially resumed. But the multiplying of the white population, and the gradual dispersion of the Indians, induced its transfer to Maumee, in 1822. Here, buildings were erected, a mission organized, and the foundations of a prosperous future laid. The ultimate destination of this mission we shall see hereafter; as also the history of the Assembly’s own mission to the Cherokees of the South.

It is not, however, our present object to trace the details of the plans and administration of the Synods and Assembly, in the evangelic enterprise; but merely to illustrate the thoroughness with which this was, from the beginning, appreciated by our Church, as the peculiar and paramount office of her courts.

After the organization of the General Assembly, the rapid enlargement of the Church, and increase of its business induced great. embarrassment in managing the various branches of evangelic enterprise, from the long intervals between the sessions of the Assembly, and the brief time allotted to deliberation, when convened.

Still, for a time, the proper remedy did not suggest itself, or may have been, in the circumstances, of doubtful practicability. Until 1802, the whole missionary business was performed by the Assembly, while in session. The field covered by the Synods of Virginia and the Carolinas was, at their request, remitted to the charge of those Synods; the Assembly reserving the right to send missionaries there, at its own discretion. The rest of the country was under the immediate administration of the Assembly; and, by it and the Synods, the work was conducted in the same manner. The missionaries were all itinerants. They were often settled pastors, who were sent on prescribed tours, among the destitute settlements. The Assembly, whilst in session, received the reports of those who had been sent out the year before; approved or censured them; audited their accounts; nominated missionaries for the ensuing year; defined their route of service, and determined their compensation.

In 1802, a standing committee of missions was appointed, consisting of seven members of the Assembly. Its business was merely to collect and digest information for the Assembly during the recess. It was continued, until the close of the Assembly following that by which it was appointed, when the members were superseded by others. Gradually, the powers of this committee were increased, and its organization perfected. In 1816 its name was changed to the Board of Missions, and the whole business was assigned to it, subject to the annual supervision and control of the Assembly.

Whilst the energies of the Assembly were so strenuously given to the supply of the destitute with the Gospel, her attention was arrested, in 1805, by an overture written by the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green, showing the necessity of greater efficiency in the education of candidates for the ministry. The subject was transmitted to the Presbyteries, for consideration, and referred to the next Assembly.

In 1806, the Assembly, after hearing the reports of the Presbyteries, and anxious. deliberation on the subject, determined to recommend to every Presbytery, “to use their utmost endeavors to increase, by all suitable means in their power, the number of promising candidates for the holy ministry; to press it upon the parents of pious youth, to endeavor to educate them for the Church; and on the youth, themselves to devote their talents and their lives to the sacred calling to make vigorous exertions to raise funds, to assist all the youth who may need assistance; to be careful that the youth they take on their funds give such evidence as the nature of the case admits, that they possess both talents and piety; to inspect the education of these youths, during the course of both academic and theological studies, choosing for them such schools, seminaries, and teachers, as they may judge most proper and advantageous; so as, eventually to bring them into the ministry well furnished for their work:”

The Assembly, further, ordered the Presbyteries to make annual report to it, stating what they have done in this concern; or why, if the case shall be so, they have done nothing in it; and that the Assembly will, when these reports are received, consider each, distinctly, and decide, by vote, whether the Presbyteries, severally, shall be considered as having discharged or neglected their duty in this important business.”

The Assembly of 1817, attempted to remedy some defects which were found in the working of this plan, by recommending, to Presbyteries which have funds but no candidates, to correspond with other Presbyteries or the Assembly, for the purpose of obtaining beneficiaries. The inadequacy of this attempt soon became apparent; at the same time that it arrested attention, anew, to the whole subject involved.

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