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BY THE REV. G. S. PLUMLEY.
What Reconstruction is. The General Assembly of 1870. - Philadelphia. - Organization. - Incidents. -Joint Committee on Reconstruction. Its Report as modified. - The new Synods and Presbyteries. Theological Seminaries. Home Missions. - Foreign Missions. - Publication. - Sabbath School Literature. - Education. — Selection of Candidates. - Church Erection. -Ministerial Relief. - Work for the Freedmen. - Concentration of the Plans of the Church. - Remarks of Dr. John C. Backus. Report on the Finances of the Church. - Committee on Unification. -. The Southern Church. - Popular Education. - Memorial Fund. - Heidelberg Catechism. - - Social Reunion. Work of the Assembly well performed. Satisfaction of the Church. - What yet remains to be done.Hopes and Responsibilities. — God's Promise.
UPON the consolidated Church is laid the task of Reconstruction. This includes a new arrangement of Synods and Presbyteries, constitutional and other changes made necessary by combining into one two previously distinct branches, and a fresh adjustment of the agencies hitherto employed by them both for missionary and other Christian efforts. Its full accomplishment will, moreover, add to the power of the Church as an instrument for doing good, it will prune her administration from everything not approved by experience, it will enable her to adapt her plans to the demands of the present and the future, and more fully equip her for the mighty work to which her God now calls her. Such a task may well employ the best
thoughts and most earnest prayers of all her officers and members, for the Divine voice once more is saying to her, "Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations."
If this view of the magnitude and scope of the work of Reconstruction be correct, the General Assembly of 1870 performed its full share of it, by defining its outlines, and commencing to fill them up.
The object of the present chapter is to review what this Assembly thus transacted, and to indicate what yet remains for its successors to accomplish.
Philadelphia was in every way most appropriately a place of meeting for the first Assembly of the Reunited Presbyterian Church. It has been claimed that the first Presbyterian Church in this country was here organized. The mother Presbytery was formed in the same city in 1705. Forty-four General Assemblies had here been welcomed previous to the division, and after it, nine of the Old School and seven of the New School Assemblies transacted their business in Philadelphia. Its very name suggests harmony, and during the ses sions of 1870, its citizens, with liberal kindness and unsurpassed hospitality, accommodated the nearly six hundred delegates that composed the Assembly, rendering their sojourn most agreeable, and filling up the intervals of their business with pleasant, social entertainments.
The General Assembly convened, as was most fitting, with that congregation from which all others in the city date their origin, in the First Presbyterian Church, on Washington Square (the Rev. Albert Barnes and
Herrick Johnson, D.D., pastors), on Thursday, May 19, 1870, at 11 a. M.
To prepare for this meeting, arrangements of the most ample character had been made by a joint-committee, consisting of the Rev. Herrick Johnson, D.D., chairman, the Rev. Alexander Reed, D.D., the Rev. Z. M. Humphrey, D.D., and Messrs. William G. Crowell, Morris Patterson, and J. A. Gardner. These gentlemen were indefatigable in their endeavor to secure the comfort of their numerous guests. Their forethought had provided ample accommodations for all the wants of the large deliberative body meeting with them, and from the commencement to the close of its protracted sessions, the cheerfulness and constant courtesy with which their arduous labors were rendered elicited the united commendation of all for whom they toiled. The thorough success of their efforts deserves special mention.
As the opening exercises commenced in the spacious edifice of the First Church, the sight was pleasant and impressive. The ground floor of the house was nearly filled by the Commissioners and the Delegates from various kindred bodies. Upon the platform were seated representatives of the Free Church of Scotland, the United Presbyterian Church of Great Britain, and of the Irish Presbyterian Church; also the Rev. Thomas DeWitt, D.D., one of the oldest ministers of the Reformed (late Reformed Dutch) Church. A floral committee had tastefully decorated the pulpit, the desks of the clerks, and the galleries with choice evergreens and flowers. Over the pulpit they had suspended the words: "NoW ARE THEY MANY MEMBERS, YET BUT ONE
BODY;" while at the rear end of the Church were seen the date of the division with that of the Reunion: 1837, 1870. An audience, that crowded every portion of the building not reserved for the Assembly, gladly united with its members in the services of praise and prayer which preceded the sermon of the Rev. Dr. Fowler, the last Moderator of the New School branch. This discourse at once entered upon the subject of the Reconstruction of the Reunited Church, and suggested its outlines.
Dr. Fowler's text was Ephesians iv. 4: "There is one Body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling." The preparation of this dis course was somewhat advanced before it was noticed that the Rev. F. Allison, D.D., had chosen the same text when preaching in Philadelphia, May 24, 1758, before "The Reverend Synod of Philadelphia and the Reverend Commission of the Synod of New York," on occasion of the former Reunion of the Presbyterian Church. Instead, however, of changing the text, as was his impulse at first, Dr. Fowler retained it, as sanctioned by such an authority for it, rather than interdicted by such a use of it.
The portion of the sermon which relates to Reconstruction is as follows:
First, the Reunion lays upon us a work of reconstruction. I will not intrude on the part assigned to committees appointed to report to this General Assembly. They are charged chiefly with the necessary changes in the boundaries of our judicatories, and with the combination of our two sets of evangelistic agencies. The further question arises, Is any modification of our ecclesiastical administration desirable and feasible?
Everything distinctive in our polity is beyond inquiry, of course. As none of us entertain a thought, so none of us could present a proposition
looking the most remotely to the least alteration of our Presbyterianism. We fully approve it. We ardently love it. Study and observation and experiment commend it to our judgments and hearts. But is our method of operation incapable of improvement? Has trial developed no faults or defects in the organs we furnish for the functions of our Church?
For example, how is it in reference to supervision? Our organization provides for it. Indeed, it is characterized by it. We define Presbyterianism as "a series of courts of review and control." But ours is a supervision by bodies. Presbyteries, Synods, and the General Assembly excrcise it. Is there not a measure, and is there not a method of it, that could be entrusted to individuals, and that would be useful to the Church? None of us could be reconciled to an Episcopacy-technically so called. The parity of the ministry is inviolable among us, and imperiousness and inquisitiveness are intolerable by us. We must be freemen and peers. And we would not sacrifice self-training, self-incitement, self-restraint, for the quickening and check of a bishop's crook and eye. We must be, we will be, laws to ourselves. But cannot individualism be reconciled with a supervision by individuals, and would not our Presbyterianism be helped by it? Prelacy and Methodism largely owe their efficiency to it, and guarded against excess and abuse, and an appendix to supervision by judi · catories, might it not add to our force?
This would be no novelty in Presbyterianism, as it would be no intrusion upon it. John Knox established it in the Scotch Kirk, which he divided into ten dioceses, for each of which a superintendent was appointed. The first Book of Discipline directed that these superintendents should have their own special kirks, besides the common charge of others, and that they should not "remain in their own kirks above three or four months, but should pass again to their visitations." Their duty was described as not only to preach where they went, but to "examine the doctrines, life, diligence, and behavior of the ministers, elders, and deacons;" to "consider the order of the kirk, the manners of the people, how the poor are provided, how the youth are instructed, how the purity and discipline of the kirk are kept, how heinous and horrible crimes are corrected," and to "administer and dress things out of order with their counsel the best way they may."
The genius of Presbyterianism presides in the study. Our ministers are the thinkers and scholars of their profession, and particularly set apart for the inculcation of principles and doctrines. Diligently do they prosecute their special mission, and they need little additional incitement and guidance in it. We feel our shortcomings and deficiencies more in out-of