Page images
PDF
EPUB

nately, go out and fight against each other to the death, and come in together to the Lord's table, at once con sistent foes and consistent friends. No church could preserve its oneness the land over, through such a civil war as ours, unless the Church of Rome, with its bond of union in another and distant country.

Leaving now a topic which might well have occu pied a much larger space, it may be desirable, running over the whole period of this history, to condense into a few paragraphs, in the order of time rather than of logical connection, some brief allusions to events, particularly acts of the General Assembly, to which little room comparatively can be given. The troubles of 1837 and 1838 interrupted fraternal intercourse with various evangelical bodies at home and abroad, with which, however, a friendly correspondence was speedily re-established. Soon after the division, measures were not unsuccessfully adopted to revive and invigorate the office of deacon. Various arrangements and changes have been made to secure to the boards the advantage of periodical publications, to disseminate intelligence of their work through the churches. The latest accounts shew a circulation of sixteen thousand copies of the monthly Record; nearly one hundred thousand of the Sabbath School Visitor of the first, with thirty-four thousand additional copies of that of the fifteenth, of the month; and three thousand five hundred of the pamphlet, with almost fifty-two thousand of the news paper, edition, both monthly, of the Foreign Mission ary; besides many thousands of the several yearly reports and of various occasional issues. From about 1849, the project of a weekly religious paper, like the

Methodist Advocate, was pressed upon the Assembly for several years successively, but without effect. Yet the church has always acknowledged the unspeakable importance of religious papers, many of which have been established by private enterprise. The value of its periodical publications to the Old School, before the division, none can estimate. But then they were weighty with doctrinal discussion, and bristling with the arms of sturdy polemics. One of our most honored ministers recently said, in an address to theological students, "I cannot help thinking we shall need, in the next ten years, a little more controversial preaching:" he might wisely, perhaps, have added, "and a little more doctrinal and controversial newspaper writing."

It is probable that Millenarianism has become more prevalent among the Old School than it was in 1838, though lately it seems to have suffered a decline. The Assembly has more than once strongly recommended preaching without manuscript and expository preaching. It has discouraged ordination sine titulo. Twice the presbyteries have virtually declined to make provision for a voluntary demission of the ministry. Twice the Assembly has refused to submit to them a proposition to allow marriage with a deceased wife's sister, and other marriages falling within the same general prohibition; and it has sustained discipline for such a connection, with the explanation, however, that, though the union was sinful, it was not invalid; and with the result that church judicatories, as to discipline in this case, do each one what is right in its own eyes. Total abstinence from intoxicating drinks has

been strongly recommended, though not enjoined; unless we may regard the equivocal language of the Assembly's acts of 1865 and 1869 as amounting to an injunction, which a majority of the church, it is proba ble, would hardly sustain. Romish baptisms, after long hesitations, have been by a nearly unanimous vote declared void. The subject of union, more or less intimate, with evangelical, and especially Presbyterian, bodies in the United States, other than the New School, has repeatedly been brought before the Assembly, and has always awakened a favorable interest, as in the cases of the Presbyterian National Union Convention. of 1867, and the National Council of Evangelical Churches proposed, in 1869, by the General Synod of the Reformed Church. The ordinations of all Protestant communions have been pronounced valid, with the express proviso, however, that ministers received from other bodies must possess the qualifications required by the Presbyterian standards. The dismission of church-members to the world has been condemned. In 1853, the Assembly addressed a memorial to Congress requesting the adoption of measures for securing the rights of conscience to our citizens abroad. The American Bible Society and the American Colonization Society have been warmly commended, although the alterations made by the former, in the received English version and its accessories, were in effect condemned, though not until the society had itself seen its mistake and withdrawn its revised editions. In 1858, the centennial anniversary of the reunion of the Old and New Sides was celebrated. The Assembly has refused to authorize the preparation of a church-commen

tary on the Bible. The subject of unemployed minis ters and vacant congregations has been repeatedly dis cussed, but without any effective action. Mr. Joseph M. Wilson, the indefatigable advocate of churchmanses, has succeeded in engaging for his project the favorable attention of the church.

There have been several attempts, during the same period, to make important changes in the Form of Government, Book of Discipline and Directory for Worship. Offices for the administration of baptism and for the public admission of church-members have been proposed, but have not found favor. An able committee, appointed in 1864, elaborated a plan for trying judicial cases in synod and in the General Assembly by a commision of appeals in each, composed of four ministers and four elders, elected, two every year, for four years. This plan, however, was rejected by the presbyteries, although it has been an almost universal conviction, that some radical change ought to be effected for the dispatch of judicial business in our larger church courts. The entire recasting of the Book of Discipline has, moreover, been before the General Assembly and the church, some of the ablest, most influential men having been engaged in the work, ever since the year 1857, until the anticipation of reunion suggested the wisdom of leaving the business to be consummated by the reunited body. There have been, besides, slight and wholly ineffectual efforts, in some quarters, to induce the church to return to the use of a liturgy.

The interval of separation has been one of very marked literary activity in the Old School body. Some

thirty original volumes, from this source, of comment upon various portions of Holy Scripture have appeared; and a very large number of important works, biograph ical, historical, dogmatical, practical, and miscellaneous. Probably no other denomination in the United States has produced, within the same period, so many theolog ical books of standard value.

Before the southern churches seceded in 1861, that is, in twenty-three years from the separation, the Old School branch had much more than doubled the number of its communicants, ministers, and congregations. And now, after that secession and the loss also of the Declaration and Testimony party, it re-enters, with forces not very far from double, into organic union with the New School. To the Assembly of 1869, additions of more than fifteen thousand communicants upon examination were reported, and contributions for congregational and benevolent purposes of between four and a half and five millions of dollars. Excepting the troublous times of the rebellion, the whole period under review has been one of peace, steady enlargement, and uninterrupted prosperity. No small share of this prosperity has been due to the happy operation of the boards and similar agencies of the church. The superior advantages of these, as compared with voluntary union associations, for building up, not only Presbyterianism, but also the kingdom of Christ, few of either school now question. For a time, after the separation, many church-members and some congregations of the Old School preferred to make voluntary societies the channels of their benevo lence. Their Christian freedom in this matter was not disputed; their preference was not condemned.

A

« PreviousContinue »