Chapter XVIII

The Education Question

Coincident with the occurrence of the question as to the education of ministerial candidates, were the agitations which divided the New York Missionary Society; the dissatisfaction in the Synod of Philadelphia at the spread of Hopkinsian doctrines; and the opposition to Princeton Seminary, which was manifesting itself, in connection with the inaugural pledge of the professors, to which we have already referred.

In 1815 the American Education Society had been organized in Boston; and was already putting forth its energies, to possess and control the Presbyterian Church; giving occasion, to anxious fears, on the one hand, and, on the other, to high expectation, as to its influence, in forming the future character of her ministry.

Under the influence of such considerations as these circumstances were calculated to induce, a conference was held, in Baltimore, at the close, of the sessions of the Synod of Philadelphia there, in October, 1818, to consult on the formation of an education society. As the result, the Rev. Drs. Janeway, and Neill, and the Rev. James Patterson, were appointed, to mature a plan for such a society; and the Rev. R. F. N. Smith, the editor of the Religious Museum, published at Milton, Pa., was requested to announce the proceedings to the public; which he did, earnestly recommending the subject to his readers, and especially to the members of Synod; to each of whom he sent a copy of the paper.

The committee engaged in an extensive correspondence, on the subject. They found it to be the opinion of the Professors of the Theological Seminary at Princeton, and of many other ministers and members of the Presbyterian Church, that one general education society ought to be established; which should be under the immediate inspection of the General Assembly, and which should be a faithful representative of the whole denomination; that this society ought to embody, systematize, and direct, all the energies of our Presbyteries and congregations, which may be devoted to the education of young men willing to consecrate themselves to the ministry, but unable to defray their own expenses, while preparing for the work; that this society ought to carry the sons of her adoption through the whole course of their academical and theological studies, until they obtain licensure; that the managers of this society should serve as a standing committee, or Board of Education, for the supreme judicatory of the Church; through which all the Presbyteries, and such auxiliary societies as might be formed, should annually report to the Assembly; what they have done on this subject and that this society should, from the surplus funds of the different Presbyteries, and such other resources as may be obtained, create a general fund, from which all co­operating Presbyteries and auxiliary societies, may derive such assistance as the number of their candidates, and other circumstances may demand.

With a view to effecting such an organization, the committee called a meeting, in the Third Church, Philadelphia, on the 9th of December, 1818. This meeting appointed the Rev. Drs. Janeway, Neill, Wilson, Green, Alexander, and Miller, with the Rev. James Patterson, a committee to draught a constitution, to be reported at an adjourned meeting, to be held on the 17th of the same month. At that time, the constitution was reported and adopted, the society organized, and officers elected.

Simultaneous with this movement, in Philadelphia, was a similar one, in New York. On the 23d day of October, 1818, a number of ministers and laymen met in the session room of the Brick Church, New York, and resolved, unanimously, to attempt the formation of a society, for the education of poor and pious youth, for the gospel ministry. A committee was appointed, to prepare a plan for such a society. The committee met, on the 10th of November, in the session room of the Wall Street Church, and agreed upon the form of a constitution. This they reported to a meeting held at New Brunswick, New Jersey, on the 26th of November, when a society was organized, under the style of “The Education Society of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.”

Drs. Alexander and Miller, attended this meeting. But they found the prevalent feelings so hostile to the authority of the General Assembly, to the doctrines of the standards, in their strict acceptation, and to the plan of Princeton Seminary, that they withdrew, and returned home.

The essential difference between the two societies appears, distinctly, on the face of their constitutions. The society, organized at New Brunswick, the seat of which was New York, jealous of ecclesiastical control, and of doctrinal strictness, made no recognition, in its articles, of the authority of the Assembly, and no provision for any denominational relations, whatever; nor for the theological training of beneficiaries. “Article 1. This society shall be called—The Education Society of the Presbyterian Church, in the United States of America. Article 2. The object of the Society shall be to assist indigent and pious young men destined for the gospel ministry, in acquiring an academical education.”—And that was all.

The constitution of the other society contained these clauses. “Article 1. This Society shall be called—The Education Society of the Presbyterian Church, under the care of the General Assembly. Article 2. The object of this society shall be to furnish pious and indigent youth, of the Presbyterian denomination, who have the gospel ministry in view, with the means of pursuing their academical and theological studies. Article 8. It shall be the duty of the Board of Managers every year, to communicate to the General Assembly, for their information, a copy of the report, required by the last article, [the annual report,] as soon as possible after it shall have been laid before the Society. Article 13. The annual meetings of the society shall be, always, held in the city of Philadelphia, on the Tuesday next after the commencement of the annual sessions of each General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church; at such time and place as the Board of Managers may direct.”

At the third meeting of the Board of Managers of the Philadelphia Society, held on the 11th of January, 1819, their attention was called to a printed circular letter, signed by the Rev. Dr. James Richards, of Newark, New Jersey, and others, stating that an offer had been made, by some members of the New York society, through the brethren at Princeton, for the union of the two societies, on certain specified terms. The writer stated, that, pained at the existence of two rival societies, and anxious not to lose the benefit of a general and combined operation, some of the brethren had proposed to the gentlemen at Princeton, through a common friend, “so to enlarge the object of the society, as to include, according to their wishes, both a theological and academical course, and to locate the institution in Philadelphia, as the American Bible Society is located in New York, by choosing two-thirds of the directors there; thus making that city the chief seat of operations; retaining, however, the principle of alternation, in the anniversary.”

This circular, although not officially certified, was sent out under the auspices of the New York Society; and was, therefore, supposed to be an authentic statement of what it was willing to do. The Board of Managers at Philadelphia, therefore, drafted a project of union, on the basis here indicated; in which, the only modification suggested, upon the New York overture, was, with respect to the annual meeting. Anxious that it should be held in the presence of the General Assembly, the Board proposed the holding of a semiannual meeting, in New York, during the sessions of the Synod of New York and New Jersey. Should this plan not prove acceptable, they proposed that each of the societies “request the General Assembly, which is to convene in May next, to appoint an Education Board of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, in the United States of America; and that, in case such a Board shall be established, each society shall alter its style, so as to become auxiliary to said Board.”

These propositions were immediately communicated to the New York Society; but the response was not in the spirit anticipated. The New York Board replied that, as to these propositions, they have not found in them that appearance of conciliation they had been led to expect;” and that, as the Philadelphia Board “could not be ignorant of the views of this Board, it may be matter of conjecture, what could be the motive, in submitting a plan of union, which yields nothing to their brethren.” They intimate that it was incautiously, in a moment of anxiety, and to prevent division,” that a number of members of this Board offered to the brethren at Princeton, to include the theological course.” But, in view, especially, of doctrinal differences, they are, now, decidedly of the opinion that the object of the society “ought to be exclusively to assist indigent and pious young men, destined to the gospel ministry, in acquiring an academical education.”

To the proposal, that the Assembly be petitioned to erect a Board, they replied that their Society, had “so far pledged itself to the public, in the choice of its officers, and in the organization of auxiliary societies, and executive committees, that it would be incompatible with that pledge, to abandon the essential features of its constitution, or to become, itself, auxiliary to any other body.”

The New York plan, of abandoning candidates, when they were about to enter upon their theological studies, was a scheme, palpably, contrived to render these two societies mere feeders to the American Education Society and the New England Theological Seminaries. The pledge, which rendered it impossible that the New York society should become auxiliary to the Assembly’s Board, proved no obstacle to a subsequent subordination, and ultimate union with the American Society.

In a final review of these negotiations, the Philadelphia Board remarked that it augured ill for the peace and prosperity of our Church, “to hear our brethren plead difference in theological views, as a reason for limiting the object.—And have matters come to this pass, that members of the same Church cannot associate, in assisting young men in their theological education? Why can they not associate? Is not the Confession of Faith a basis wide enough for us to walk together, in peace? All the ministers and elders belonging to this Board have professed ‘sincerely to receive and adopt the Confession as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures.’ And the ministers and elders belonging to the other Board have made the same profession. We are willing to go, heart and hand, with our brethren, in supporting the doctrines contained in our Confession. Are they willing?…If they are afraid to trust the matter in the hands of the supreme judicatory of our Church, this Board have more confidence in the wisdom and integrity of that venerable body.”

The Philadelphia Board, further, as an act of justice to themselves, informed the New York society that they “would willingly have conceded the principle of alternation in the anniversaries, rather than prevent a union.”

So ended this correspondence. At the meeting of the General Assembly, in May, 1819, an overture came in, for the organization of a Board of Education. It was referred to a committee, of five; every man of which, but one, belonged to that class of moderates, who opposed the decisive maintenance of the principles and polity of the Church. They reported a constitution for a General Board, which was adopted by the Assembly. And, so far, the “Calvinists” of the Church seemed to have succeeded. But the Board was left so entirely destitute of resources, and the means of obtaining them; and so restricted in its functions and objects, that the apparent success, availed nothing. The voluntary societies availed themselves, most diligently, of the interval, during which the Board had existence without powers. In 1821, it applied to the Assembly for authority to employ agents to solicit funds, and fulfill the designs of the organization. But the Assembly found it “inexpedient, for want of time, to act” on the application.

In 1824, that judicatory, was requested “to authorize the Board of Education to select such young men as are contemplated by the constitution of the Board, for the gospel ministry, and make provision for their sup port.” For five years; the Board had existed without this power! The request was, at length, granted, and the Board began to exist, as a power for usefulness.

Still, however, there was a most deplorable want of efficiency, in the management. From 1824 till 1829, the duties of Corresponding Secretary were performed by the Rev. Dr. Ely, in connection with the multiplicity of his pastoral and other labors. The Rev. William Neill, D. D., was then called to that office. His second report, was made in May, 1831. It exhibited sixty‑five beneficiaries on the roll; the treasury in debt; no funds on hand, and no attempt made, nor plan proposed, to supply the deficiency. A committee was appointed by the Assembly, to report on the expediency of making any alterations in the organization of the Board. A member of this committee, the Rev. Moses Chase, of Western New York, contemptuously re marked, that. the Board was dead, and it would be well to leave its burial to the Philadelphia brethren. The suggestion was, in the same spirit, acquiesced in, by the party which was a majority in that Assembly, and now began to be designated as the New School. The opportunity thus given was seized upon by the Old School party; who, thereupon, proposed an enlargement of the Board, which was granted. They were, also, allowed to make their own nominations for the vacancies, and the names proposed were elected. At the first meeting of the reorganized Board, Dr. Neill resigned his office. On the next day, the 8th of June, the Rev. Dr. John Breckinridge was elected his successor. He accepted, upon condition that $10,000 were, in the first place, put into the treasury; and that the Board should make it the basis of future operations, “to receive, at all hazards, every fit candidate, who may come, regularly recommended; trusting to God and his Church to sustain it in redeeming the pledge.”

These conditions were complied with, and the policy thus inaugurated by Dr. Breckinridge, and the vigor infused into all its operations, by the personal energies of that eminent servant of Christ, at once lifted the Board out of the depth into, which it had fallen; and started it forward on a career of prosperity and usefulness.

Such is the first chapter in the history of a succession of persistent plans, designed to bind our Church, hand and foot, to “liberalize” and corrupt her divine and saving theology, and to enervate and subsidize the resources and efficiency of her scriptural polity.

We have seen the energy and zeal, displayed by the Hopkinsian party, in its endeavor to take charge of the education of the rising ministry; and the unfavorable light in which they viewed the Seminary at Princeton. In such circumstances, they did not overlook so evident a feature of policy, as the establishment of a Theological Seminary. The importance of such an institution had been the subject of private conversation for some time. In February, 1818 it was proposed to the Synod of Geneva, which was, at the time, the sole offspring and representative in New York, of the Plan of Union. The Synods of Geneses and Utica were formed, subsequently. After discussion, the Synod resolved to ask the advice of the Assembly. That body replied that it was not prepared to give any opinion or advice, on the subject of the overture, “which contemplates the establishment of an academical and theological seminary; believing the Synod are the best judges of what may be their duty, in this important business.”

At a special meeting of the Synod; held in Auburn, in August of the same year, it was determined to proceed at once to establish a theological seminary; and, on certain conditions, to locate it at Auburn. The conditions were promptly complied with, and the institution so located. Application was then made to the Legislature, for a charter, which was obtained, in April, 1820.

This charter appoints certain persons, and their successors, “Trustees of the Theological Seminary of Auburn, in the State of New York.” To them are entrusted the immediate care and management of the funds and property, for the uses of the institution; but “in such way and manner, only,” ” as shall be appointed by the Board of Commissioners hereinafter mentioned:”

“A representation, annually to be chosen, of two clergymen and one layman, from each of the following Presbyteries, and such other Presbyteries as shall hereafter associate with the said Synod, for the purpose, to wit: shall compose a Board of Commissioners, who shall have the general superintendence, management, and control, of the aforesaid institution; and who shall have authority to fill the places of the aforesaid Trustees, as they shall become vacant; to appoint the tutors, professors and other officers of the said institution; to fix and determine the salary and other compensation of the said officers; to authorize and direct all such appropriations of their funds as they shall think proper; to make by‑laws and regulations, for themselves; to choose their own president and other officers; and to determine what number of their Board shall form a quorum, for doing business.”

Under this charter, the Boards of Trustees and of Commissioners were constituted, and on May 2d, 1821, the institution was organized by the election of the Rev. Matthew La Rue Perrine, D. D., of New York, the Rev. Henry Mills, D. D., of Woodbridge, New Jersey, and the Rev. Dirck C. Lansing, of Auburn, professors. The last of these, was a temporary appointment. Two years after, the chair of theology was conferred on the Rev. James Richards, D. D., of Newark, New Jersey, who was inducted into office, on the 23d of October, 1823.

Whilst the Hopkinsians of New York and New Jersey were rearing the walls of Auburn, those of Tennessee were laying the foundations of Maryville.

The Hopinsianism of East Tennessee was of sporadic growth. The case of the Rev. Dr. Hezekiah Balch, who was tried before the Assembly, in 1798, on charges of doctrinal error, has already been noticed in these pages. Dr. Balch had acquired his new sentiments in the course of a tour to New England, in 1795, on behalf of Greenville College, of which he was the founder and president. As he was a zealous propagandist, his Hopkinsian sentiments were soon diffused to a considerable extent among his ministerial brethren, but few of whom possessed sufficient theological learning, to render them altogether proof against such specious innovations. And, as he remained at the head of the college, until his death, in 1810, and was succeeded by his friend and associate, the Rev. Dr. Coffin, a disciple of the same school, the result was the dissemination of his theological sentiments throughout East Tennessee, by means of the alumni of the college, who became the pastors of the churches. Such was the manner in which, through the casual visit of an individual to New England, the speculations which have corrupted the theology of the East gained footing in the only locality which they ever possessed in the South. The similar tendency, developed at a later period, in South Carolina, in the publications of the Rev. W. C. Davis, and the apparent sympathy of his Presbytery, was quickly suppressed, by the firm and judicious exercise of discipline.

In 1819, the Synod of Tennessee determined to found a theological seminary. The institution was opened in 1822, under the charge of the Rev. Dr. Gideon Blackburn, who was a pupil of the Rev. Dr. Robert Henderson, Dr. Balch’s son‑in‑law. Dr. Blackburn was an ardent disciple of the school of Hopkins, and a devoted advocate of voluntary societies, and enemy of the Boards of the Church.

He was succeeded, in this post, by the Rev. Dr. Isaac Anderson. The latter had been early trained in the faith of his Presbyterian ancestors. But coming, as a student of theology, under the private tuition of Dr. Blackburn, some years before the establishing of the seminary, the latter set himself with extraordinary earnestness and diligence, and with complete success, to turn him from the doctrines of his youth, and establish him in the better way devised by the divine of Newport.

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