Chapter XXI

The System of Congregationalizing Agencies

It will have been observed, that all the difficulties and distractions, developed in these pages, resulted directly from the admission into our Church of a foreign, a Congregational element. It remained unassimilated; and engaged in the most strenuous, varied, and persistent exertions, to accomplish the transformation of the Church, in doctrine and order, and to deprive her of her evangelic office.

The organization of instrumentalities to accomplish these objects was, now, most comprehensive, and complete; the energies devoted to them were untiring; and the resources at command abundant.

At the foundation, was the American Education Society. This society, organized in Boston, in 1815, and reorganized in 1826, was constructed with admirable skill, with a view to acquiring complete control over ministerial education, throughout the country. Its structure, as reorganized, was that of a close corporation. Contributors of one hundred dollars, if laymen, and forty dollars, if ministers, became thereby honorary members. But the right to vote was, after the reorganization, restricted to those already members, and to such others as, from time to time, were chosen by them. In the annual report of this Society, for 1831, it announced 604 young men aided, in ninety institutions of learning; 411 in New England, and 193, elsewhere. Its receipts were $40,450.34; its expenditures $49,892.80. and its permanent fund $53,933.27. Four hundred ministers of the gospel had already been sent forth from among its beneficiaries; and “one‑sixth, if not one-fifth, of all the students connected with theological seminaries, in the United States,” were claimed as under its care.

One conspicuous feature in its system of organization was, its Branch Societies and Boards of Agency. Of these, it had nine, distributed from Maine to Indiana and Illinois. The largest and most important of them, was the Presbyterian Branch. We have already seen the origin and attitude of the Presbyterian Education Society, organized in New Brunswick, and located in New York. When the Board of Education was formed, in 1819, this Society inserted the following article in its constitution.

“This Society shall be auxiliary to the Education Board established by the General Assembly; and shall annually report to them their proceedings; reserving to themselves, however, the full and unrestricted right of taking up any young man who may give satisfactory evidence of piety and talents.”

This nominal relation continued, until the year 1826; when a proposition was made by the Board of Managers, to the Directors of the American Education Society, for union. “The Presbyterian Education Society agreeing with the American, in the great principles which form the basis of its operations, was accordingly united with it, under the name of the Presbyterian Branch of the American Education Society. This arrangement took place in May, 1827. From this Time, till May, 1831, the Branch, by mutual agreement, confined its efforts within the States of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; except as assistance was occasionally rendered to the parent society, in sustaining the common cause.” The system announced by the Presbyterian Branch was this:

“1st. In the selection of objects of patronage, the mere distinction of sect is to be wholly disregarded; but. no young man is to be taken under the care of the Society, or can receive aid from its funds, until he has given satisfactory evidence, to an Examining Committee of three persons, one of whom is always appointed by the Directors of the American Society, of his piety, his talents, his indigence, and his determination to devote himself to the work of the gospel ministry; which determination must be expressed in writing, and repeated quarterly.

“2d. All moneys, furnished from its funds, to young men under the care of the Society, are advanced as a loan, not a gift, and for the repayment, without interest, (and as soon as God shall enable him,) of all the money so received by him, each young man shall give his bond.

“3d. All accounts must be kept in the name of the American Education Society, and transmitted, quarterly, to the Secretary of the Presbyterian Branch, to be by him transmitted to the Secretary of the American Society, in time to be laid before the Directors, at their quarterly meetings.’

“4th. Over all young men, aided from the funds of the Education Society, the Secretary of the American Education Society, the Rev. E. Cornelius, late of Salem, Massachusetts, is to exercise a constant paternal supervision; and part of his duty, it will be, to visit, and personally converse with each of them, at least, once a year.”

In a word, the Presbyterian Branch was a mere instrument, of the American Society, in the field assigned to it. The Presbyterian Church, at large, outside the three enumerated States, was left under the immediate supervision of the Society. The experiment thus made, however, soon demonstrated that the Society, under its own name, could accomplish but little, within the bounds of the Presbyterian Church. The subject became, therefore, matter of consideration, in the Board of Directors, and it was concluded, by them, “that the interests of the Society would be promoted, by a reorganization of the Presbyterian Branch, so as to extend its operations, within the territorial limits of the Presbyterian Church.”

It was, therefore, agreed by the parent Board, that hereafter, the administration of the affairs of the American Education Society, within the territorial limits of the Presbyterian Church, out of New England, be committed to the Presbyterian Branch; if agreeable to said Branch.” The fundamental conditions of this union were that “the principles and rules of the American Education Society, as existing at the time of this arrangement, or, as they may be hereafter determined, with the concurrence of the Presbyterian Society, be received and observed, in all cases, where they are capable of being applied;” and “The Secretary of the parent society to have the liberty of residing in New York, and superintending the affairs of the Presbyterian Society; if, in his judgment, he can better promote, by such an arrangement, the general interests confided to him; in which case, his support to be provided for, by the two societies, in such manner and proportion as may be agreed upon, by their respective Boards, or Committees.”

The plan was adopted, in May, 1831; and, thereupon, the Presbyterian Education Society issued a circular, setting forth the objects and principles of the new arrangement. “As the American Education Society was located in the heart of the Congregational churches of New England, and the Presbyterian Branch had an annual surplus income, to be appropriated in the destitute parts of the country, it was judged best that the Branch should enlarge its sphere of operations, to its former dimensions, and appropriate its own funds; especially, as those most. needing them were in the limits of the Presbyterian Church. This, beside being the most natural method, would be less likely to excite jealousies of denominational influence.” “By virtue of this, new arrangement, the Branch resumes the former name of Presbyterian Education Society, and occupies its former limits. It takes, as its own, the rules of the American Society, and assumes its engagements, within prescribed limits. The entire concerns of that Society, out of New England, are now committed to this, as a co ordinate institution; under no other restriction, in the administration, than that of conforming to received rules, and reporting proceedings, regularly.”

“The name of the Society, it will be perceived, is Presbyterian. It is so, in fact. It has been nurtured in the bosom of the Presbyterian Church; and owes its success to the liberality of its members. But, though Presbyterian, it is not a sectarian institution.”

Such was the sole ground upon which this institution claimed to be Presbyterian. It had the name, and the money, of Presbyterians. But it was neither responsible to the Presbyterian Church, nor sought her welfare, nor trained the youth committed to its charge in her faith. It was a “catholic society,” and her catholic spirit is the glory of the Presbyterian Church! And all this was written and published over the signature of ” E. Cornelius, Cor. Sec’y.” Dr. Cornelius, the Corresponding Secretary of the Boston Society, had been invited to fill the same office, for the Presbyterian Society; and had accordingly removed to New York, and, without going through the form of joining the Presbyterian Church, was become the controlling spirit, in the institution which, thus, assumed charge of her most vital interests.

When, in 1828, the Rev. William T. Hamilton, appeared before the Synod of Pittsburgh, as agent of the Presbyterian Branch of the American Education Society, a few pointed questions, propounded by Dr. Janeway, compelled the agent to confess to the Synod, that the title, “Presbyterian,” was a “misnomer.” Striking out the word “Branch” from the name, only rendered it more utterly untrue. But this was the mode by which the Boston Society transferred the seat of its operations to New York, and made the Presbyterian Church its special field.

Already, in 1829, Professor Stuart of Andover had assured the public, that, to his “certain knowledge,” the Directors of that society, in and about Boston, were in the habit. of recommending “all young men, who go from New England into the boundaries of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, to unite with the Presbyteries, and not to hold on upon Congregationalism;” and that “nearly one-half of the young men who have gone from the Andover Theological Seminary, have become Presbyterians.” We have already seen the sort of theology which those Andover youth were taught by Professor Stuart; and, in the very document in which he makes the above statement, the professor indulged in a style of remark respecting the General Assembly, very illustrative of the kind of sentiments, with which his pupils would enter it; alike hostile and contemptuous, toward its doctrines, its order, government, and institutions.

Such was the system, devised by out Congregational brethren, for training a ministry for the Presbyterian Church. Professedly, indifferent to the doctrinal diversities between Andover, New Haven, Princeton, Auburn, and Lane, it was immaterial whether the theology, which the candidates imbibed, and the system of order in which they were instructed, were in harmony, or at variance with those of our standards. That, on both of these subjects, they should generally be latitudinarian, arose, of necessity, from the circumstances in which they were placed, and the avowed indifference of the society by which they were sustained. The Secretary, in his paternal visitations, brought annually to bear upon them, influences, the more potential, because not too frequent to degenerate into familiarity. Every report which the young men made, every dollar which they expended, directed their thoughts and affections toward New England, and the principles governing its various “catholic” and “national” institutions. Thus, the system was eminently adapted to gain control over the candidates, within the bosom of the Church, itself, and mould their principles to the purposes of the society and its patrons. But the great fountain of supplies for our ministry was New England, itself. Her youth, trained, whether by Taylor, or Woods, or Tyler, it was immaterial which; and held in pecuniary bonds to the society, as all its beneficiaries were, for the amounts expended in their education, were encouraged to enter the Presbyterian Church, by patrons, who could scarcely speak of its distinctive principles and character, without evincing their repugnance and scorn.

To usher these accessions into our bosom, and find for them fields of labor and influence, the American Home Missionary Society stood ready, and prepared, at all points. ” It was organized,” says a writer, already quoted, “on the presumption, that, provided the land can be supplied with an intelligent and faithful gospel ministry, it is a matter of inferior moment, whether the churches be called Congregational, Presbyterian, or Dutch…The Board never asks the candidate for missionary work, What Seminary has instructed you? What shade of orthodoxy do you profess? What party do you march with ? What shibboleth do you pronounce? It asks him, only, for his credentials, as a minister of the Gospel.”

If it was doubtful whether a candidate would stand the test of a Presbyterial examination, he was ordained, before being sent out; perhaps, by a Congregational council; but, more frequently, by the Presbytery of Newburyport, or the Third Presbytery of New York. Neither of these bodies was in any danger of hesitancy, upon the score of doctrine or order. The former of them, at one time, ordained nine young men, as evangelists, for the American Home Missionary Society. The latter, upon another occasion, at the request of the same society, set apart ten. Most of these were destined to fields in the Presbyterian Church, in Ohio and the West; where, in all directions, Presbyteries were organized, competent and entitled to try and judge the qualifications of those who felt called to labor among them. But, armed with “clean papers,” these youthful cadets of liberal Christianity claimed and received admission into the Western Presbyteries, and whilst, in many cases, altogether ignorant of the Confession and order of the Church, assumed and exercised decisive control, over all its dearest interests.

Coincident with these operations from without, was the policy pursued, within the bosom of the Church. “If a candidate for the ministry was rejected by an orthodox Presbytery,” says Dr. Wilson, “for unsoundness in the faith, he was immediately sent off to New England, or to the Western Reserve, or to some other unsound region, and there invested with ministerial office, and sent back with clean papers; and was soon in our churches and judicatories. At the last meeting of the General Assembly, (that of 1834, I heard a New School gentleman boast, that he had brought into the Presbyterian Church, about thirty-eight, in this way; some of whom were then members of the Assembly. The consumption of time, and the great trouble of manufacturing Presbyterian ministers in this way, was made a subject of grievous complaint; and was urged as a reason for the organization of “elective affinity Presbyteries,” that they might proceed more expeditiously in this “good work!” The New School gentleman was, the Rev. Mr. Patterson of Philadelphia.

With the facilities which were at their command, it would have been strange, if the managers of this vast system had overlooked the advantage of securing control, at such places as promised to become centres of great and extensive influence. Cincinnati was, of these, evidently, the first in importance. Dr. J. L. Wilson, the father of the ministry there, was a man of great ability and influence, and of a warm and trusting spirit. His confidence was easily gained, on behalf of plans which purported to have nothing in view but the building of Christ’s kingdom. The Presbytery of Cincinnati was speedily filled with young ministers from the East, fully imbued with the new theology, and eager to signalize their zeal by enterprises and triumphs on its behalf. The venerable Wilson awoke from his sleep; but it was, to find himself betrayed and bound.

Lane Seminary had been founded by the beneficence of an Old School minister, the Rev. James Kemper, who gave seventy acres of land, in the suburbs of Cincinnati, for the purpose of a theological seminary; provided, the professors should be in connection with the Presbyterian Church, under the care of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Subsequently, Mr. Lane, a Baptist gentleman, through Dr. Wilson, gave twenty thousand dollars to the institution; which were expended in erecting buildings. Measures were taken to endow the professorships of the Seminary. Mr. Arthur Tappan, of New York, President of the Presbyterian Education Society, and Auditor of the American Home Missionary Society, offered to endow the chair of theology, provided he were allowed to nominate Dr. Beecher to the post. The proposition was accepted, and the Dr. was transferred from Boston, and the perplexities of his position as the confidential adviser and apologist of Dr. Taylor, to preside over the interests of Presbyterianism, at the great centre of influence for the West. Soon, his son, the Rev. Edward Beecher, was translated from the tutorship in Yale, to preside over Illinois College.

While the fountains of education were being thus seized, a new impulse was given to the tide of ministerial immigration, from New England into the Church; and the fact began to be openly and unequivocably avowed, by the younger and more imprudent of the number, that they were coming, with the express design to gain control over, and revolutionize it.

In the system organized, under the auspices of the American Societies, the form of adopting the Confession of Faith was usually observed, by ministers, ordained within the Church; although it was divested of real significance. The Plan of Union threw the doors, yet more widely, open; and individual ministers, and entire associations were received, without any inquiry, as to doctrine, or allusion to the Confession of Faith. Thus, a great number of ministers were brought into the bosom of the Church, without even a pretence of attachment to it, or respect for its doctrines or order. On the contrary, the majority of them were not only Congregationalists, in their views of order; and, in their faith, held to one or other of the multiform phases of New England theology; but were under bonds to the Education Society, for the debt incurred in their preparation for the ministry; and dependent, for daily bread, upon the treasury of the Home Missionary Society, by which their fields of labor were selected and their subsistence provided.

To all this, is to be added, the silent but enormous moral power exerted by the American Board of Commissioners, by virtue of the mere fact that it, a New England institution, was the only representative of the spirit of missions in our Church, the only channel through which our people could express their love to the souls of the heathen, and their reverence for the Saviour’s last command. And, to crown the whole, the spirit of Moderatism was occupying almost all the high places of the Church, which were not possessed by the New School; presiding with few exceptions, over all our colleges; filling our influential pulpits; and occupying the chairs of instruction in our seminaries, ready, always, to cry ” Peace!” and to frown upon the first indications of any such active zeal for the truth as threatened to disturb the sinister tranquillity which they so fondly cherished. It was, under God, mainly due to the fidelity, courage, and faith in God, displayed by our unpretending country pastors and elders, that the Church was rescued from the devices which were formed respecting her.

Such is an outline of the system of organizations and influences, which conspired against the Presbyterian Church. It was not, indeed, designed to rend her to pieces, to dissolve her organization or diminish her numbers. On the contrary, the authors of the policy dazzled their imaginations with visions of a national Church, as comprehensive in its embrace as the ambitious “national societies” by which it was to be developed; and which were to shine and thrive in the light of its greatness. The churches of New England, the Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Dutch, the Scotch, German, and Associate Reformed, these all, were to be included. And not these alone. Prospects undefined and boundless opened to the imaginations of the patrons of these schemes. But the magnificent conceptions thus pictured to fancy, were to be realized at the expense of all that is worth holding dear, in the Presbyterian Church, her scriptural and saving faith, and her divinely originated and symmetrical order. The design was entertained and avowed to alter the Confession of Faith. On this subject, the Rev. Dr. J. L. Wilson thus testifies.

“The first declaration of this kind, which I shall notice, was made by an agent of the American Home Missionary Society; who, by his movements, first opened my eyes, to perceive the real designs of the New School. He said, not to me, but to other persons; one of whom was so startled as to reveal the secret; He said, holding the Confession of Faith in his hand, ‘In a few years, we will have the majority and then we will alter this book as we please.'”

“Another declaration was made to me, in my own pulpit. I was speaking to the gentleman, about some erroneous opinions advanced in a sermon he had just delivered. He said, ‘In less than twenty years, there will not be a Confession of Faith containing more than three articles.’ This gentleman ranks with the moderates; and is a leading man, in some parts of the Church. This is in perfect accordance with the fact that so many brief Confessions of Faith have been recently published, both East. and West, and, in some places, substituted for the standards of the Presbyterian Church.”

In fact, in many parts of the Church, wherever the Plan of Union prevailed, these abbreviated Confessions were in vogue, and, in a great measure, superseded the Westminster formularies. In 1836, a member of the Assembly, from the Western Reserve, was found to be entirely unacquainted with the Confession of Faith; and was induced to purchase and take home a copy, by a member of the Presbytery of Ohio, who ascertained that the book would be a curiosity, not to him only, but to some of his Presbyterian neighbors.

The idea of an alteration of the Confession of Faith, so as to admit of a more easy comprehension of diverse sentiments, and consequent increase of accessions to the. body, was not a mere passing suggestion of the less considerate and influential, but was seriously cherished, by some of the most considerable persons in the Church.

As the members were returning from the Assembly of 1836, two parties of them spent a night in rooms adjoining; separated by nothing but a plank partition. In one of these rooms were two of the most distinguished New School doctors; and in the other, the Rev. Samuel G. Winchester, and the Rev. James A. Peabody, Financial Secretary of the Board of Education. The attention of the latter was suddenly arrested, by a remark made in the adjoining room, in a tone so unguarded that they were involuntary hearers. “If the doctrine of election were out of the Confession of Faith,” said the speaker, “what a glorious career would be before our Church!” “It is too soon,” was the reply; “The people will not bear it, yet.” The interlocutory was here interrupted, by the voice of Winchester, warning the speakers, that they were overheard.

Such was the ulterior design; and in the mean time, the emphasis of the “system,” in the ordination pledge served almost the same purpose.

Whilst a system so comprehensive was organized, for ends so momentous to the Church, the structure was such as to be beyond the inspection and entirely independent of the control or interposition of its courts. The friends and officers of the American Societies were everywhere, in all the courts of the Church, ready and vigilant, to seize every opportunity to tease, and criticise, and harass her Boards; to encumber their organizations, embarrass their action, and neutralize their exertions. But the friends of the Church and, of its Boards had neither voice nor hearing, in the councils of the societies. The condition of the privilege of speech, in those councils, was a liberal pecuniary pledge of devotion to their prosperity. And, even this was not sufficient, to confer a right to vote upon their affairs; unless the zeal of the giver was so well assured as to secure his enrollment, by a vote of those already in possession of the control.

Said a writer, in 1837: “The gratitude of Presbyterian candidates is secured, and a consequent modification of their sentiments effected, the pecuniary obligations are held, and the influence consequent on such obligations preserved, the young men from New England are systematically crowded into our Church, and our judicatories filled with those who, frequently, have not studied, understood, adopted, or even read our standards; and, if our literary and theological institutions are free from the influence, it must be, because, if our Presidents and Professors are not more than men, they are, at least, more than other men. We ask, then, would any other sect or denomination, besides the Presbyterian Church, have ever endured the operation of such a tremendous moral power; operating, year after year, within its ecclesiastical jurisdiction? Could any other find, among themselves, a formidable party, to encourage and sustain such a foreign interference?”

The history of the Church of God scarcely exhibits more signal pledge of her heaven‑born vitality, and the conservative power of the true principles of doctrine and order, with which Christ has endowed her, than is presented. in the fact that our Church came off, wounded, indeed, and scarred, but triumphant, from the struggle with the tremendous system of agencies, without and within, by which she was beset, and seemingly overpowered. Bound, though she was, with seven green withes; when she awoke out of her sleep, they were as a thread of tow, touched by the fire.

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