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State of Connecticut was the hive, from which swarms of emigrants went to the fertile regions of the frontier. Our borders were principally occupied by Congregationalists, in connexion with the General Association of Connecticut, and by Presbyterians, in connection with the General Assembly. As for their common interest, they banded together against the savage and the wild beast, and joined hands in throwing up their dwellings and fortresses, without disputing about the fashion of either ; so, for their common faith and worship, they were willing to make common cause in building up churches, and securing and sustaining the protecting institutions of religion, without , regard to the minor points of church government. Each yielded a little, that both might enjoy together, what neither could enjoy alone, the stated ministration of the gospel. To remove all objections, however, which might arise in any minds, to this noble, evangelizing spirit of charity, the highest Ecclesiastical Councils of the two sects, corresponded on the subject, and in 1801, only eleven years after the formation of the constitution, united in recommending a plan, by which the Congregationalist from Connecticut, and the Presbyterian in the new settlements, might unite in supporting the gospel. Its object was to prevent alienation, and to promote union and harmony, It enjoined on all the missionaries of both parties, the promotion of mutual forbearance and accommodation between the two sects. It recommended, in case of minister and people belonging to different sects, that all should maintain their respective forms of government and discipline, and preserve their ecclesiastical connection, settling their difficulties, between minister and people, by a sort of arbitration, or council
, composed of half of each sect, unless all could agree to submit to the forms of the sect to which the minister should belong. In case of a mixture of Presbyterians and Congregationalists, in the same settlement, it recommended their uniting in one church, administering discipline by a committee from the communicants, with a right of appeal to the Presbytery or the Church, as the accused should be of one or the other sect. This was the “ Plan of Union," and by its operation, the churches were rapidly extended. The stated ministrations of the Gospel, brought forth its appropriate fruits, and the plan of union remained undisturbed till 1837, a period of thirty-six years, during which time the “ new settlements" of 1801, had become the populous cities—the rich and flourishing counties and States of 1837.
“During the last few years, various causes have operated in each General Assembly, to produce discord and contention. A large party, of great respectability, have been desirous of carrying certain measures, but being in the minority, have been, of course, defeated. They have not concealed their chagrin, and, finally, they attempted a system of party organization. They called a Convention to concert measures by which a majority might be secured in the
Assembly of 1837,* or failing in that, a secession produced. Their avowed purpose was to carry their measures, or. “ dissolve the union” of the Presbyterian church. The Convention met a few days previous to the meeting of the Assembly of 1837, and determined on their course. Unexpectedly, however, when the Assembly met, the disunionists † found themselves in the majority. They suddenly changed their course-entered, without sufficient deliberation upon ill-digested measures, and immediately proceeded to secure their conquest, by acts of nullification and exclusion—and, by imposing new tests, to prevent the popular voice from ever putting them again in the minority.
"It had been observed that a large part of the representatives from the Presbyteries in Western New-York, and the Western Reserve, had usually voted against the wishes of the disunionists, and those regions were the new settlements" of 1801, where the Plan of Union was designed to operate. The leading disunionists thought this furnished the means of getting rid of a troublesome minority and, on their suggestion, the Assembly passed resolutions, without notice, abrogating the Plan of Union-excluding from the Church the Synods of the Western Reserve, Utica, Geneva, and Genessee -binding the clerk to enrol no commissioners to the next Assembly who should come from those regions; and denying to the representatives from new Presbyteries the right to sit in the Assembly, till after much of its important business be transacted, and even then, except by permission, on submitting to new tests. These acts were the more easily accomplished, inasmuch as the reading clerk, (whose whole duty it is to read correctly,) in reading the roll to take the questions, omitted, intentionally, the names of a large number of the unionists, who were actual, sitting members of the Assembly, and the moderator, and the Assembly, decided it was out of order for them to ask for the enjoyment of their privilege of voting.
* The first Convention of this kind which was avowedly called for the purpose of promoting party organization was that which was invired from Presbyteries and minorities of Presbyteries in the celebrated party paper denominated “The Act and Testimony,” in June 1834, and which convened in Pittsburgh in 1835, a few days previous to the meeting of the General Assembly of that year. The influence of this Convention was found to be so efficacions, that the party were encouraged to call, Conventions for similar purposes in 1837 and 1838. -Ed.
+ The majority being changeable, the terms “majority” and “minority” are extremely inconvenient, as descriptive of the parties. The terms Old School and New School, being also liable to objection, as conveying no idea of the distinction between the parties, I have preferred the terms “disunionists” for the inajority, on the leading measures in 1837, and “unionists” for the other party.
"Are these proceedings valid and binding on the Churches? What is their force and operation ?
“ It is contended by the one party, that they are valid in their whole extent, and that by their fair construction and operation, they shut out from the Presbyterian Church, all the Courts and Councils, Synods, Presbyteries, Sessions and Churches all the professing Christians, clergy and laity-men, women, and children, within the boundaries of the Synods of Utica, Geneva, Genessee, and the Western Reserve, amounting to about 500 ministers, and about 60,000 private Christians. The other party as confidently contends that the proceedings are all unconstitutional and void, and that the integrity of the Presbyterian Church is unimpared, and its constituency undiminished.”
Our author proceeds to state the leading principles of the Presbyterian Church government, the organization, rights and duties of Church Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods and the General Assembly, and shows that “the great principles of American liberty are the foundation principles of religious liberty and of Presbyterian right in our church constitution." He remarks truly, that “the only punishments known to the church constitution, are admonition, rebuke, suspension or exclusion from church privileges till repentance, and excommunication ;-and in case of a minister, suspension and deposition from his office .of bishop. The highest punishment to which their authority extends,' says the constitution, is to exclude the contumacious and impenitent from the church.' Declaring one out of the church is always a judicial sentence,” etc. He then raises the following inquiry :
“ Tested by them,” (these principles,) " What becomes of the resolutions cutting off large portions of the Church? Construe them as we will, view them in any light, is it not true that they violate every one of these principles, and seem to have been passed in utter derision of all our constitutional rights and safe-guards? The General Assembly, a mere appellate Court,--sitting in Philadelphia -has inflicted the highest ecclesiastical penalty on 60,000 laymen and 500 clergymen-residing in other States-many hundred miles distant— without notice —without accuser--without accusation, without citation--without proof or pretence of trial—without sentence -without naming an individual-or specifying an offence—and with the express admission, that an unknown, indefinite portion of them, were strictly Presbyterian in doctrine and in order,' and were guilty of nothing.”
These are the naked facts. Our author's position is that
the resolutions referred to, if they have any force, are clearly equivalent to a sentence of excommunication, because there is no way, except by excommunication, in which a member can be put out of the church, unless it be by dismission with recommendation to another church. Are these dismissed to another church? What church? Are these recommended ?
The question then to be examined is, whether these resolutions can have any validity as resolutions of exclusion or excommunication? They are as follows.
But as the Plan of Union adopted for the new settlements in 1801, was originally an unconstitutional act on the part of that Assembly, these important standing rules having never been submitted to the Presbyteries ; and as they were totally destitute of authority as proceeding from the General Association of Connecticut, which is invested with no power to legislate in such cases, and especially to enact laws to regulate churches not within her limits; and as much confusion and irregularity have arisen from this unnatural and unconstitutional system of union ; therefore it is
“ Resolved, That the act of the Assembly of 1801, entitled a Plan of Union, etc. be, and the same is, hereby abrogated.
“Resolved, That by the operation of the abrogation of the Plan of Union of 1801, the Synod of the Western Reserve is, and it is hereby declared to be, no longer a part of the Presbyterian church in the United States.
“ Be it resolved, by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church in the United States of America:
"1. That in consequence of the abrogation, by this Assembly, of the Plan of Union of 1801, between it and the General Association of Connecticut, as utterly unconstitutional, and therefore null and void from the beginning, the Synods of Utica, Geneva, and Genessee, which were formed and attached to this body, under and in execution of such Plan of Union, be, and they are hereby declared to be, out of the ecclesiastical connection of the Presbyterian church in the United States of America, and not in form or fact an integral portion of said church.
“2. That the solicitude of this Assembly on the whole subject, and its urgency for the immediate decision of it, are greatly increased by reason of the gross disorders which are ascertained to have prevailed in those Synods, (as well as that of the Western Reserve, against which a declarative resolution, similar to the first of these, has been passed during our present session;) it being made clear to us, that even the Plan of Union itself was never consistently carried into
effect by those professing to act under it. “3. That the General Assembly has no intention by these resolutions, (or that passed in the case of the Synod of the Western Reserve) to affect in any way the ministerial standing of any member of either of said Synods ; nor to disturb the pastoral relation in any church: nor to interfere with the duties or relations of private Christians in their respective congregations; but only to declare and determine, according to the truth and necessity of the case, and by virtue of the full authority existing in it for that purpose, the relation of all said Synods, and all their constituent parts to this body—and to the Presbyterian church in these United States.
“4. That inasmuch as there are reported to be several churches and ministers, if not one or two Presbyteries, now in connection with one or more of said Synods, which are strictly Presbyterian in doctrine and order : Be it therefore further resolved, that all such churches and ministers as wish to unite with us, are hereby directed to apply for admission into those Presbyteries, belonging to our connection, which are most convenient to their respective locations : and that any such Presbyteries as aforesaid, being strictly Presbyterian in doctrine and order, and now in connection with either of said Sy. nods, as may desire to unite with us, are hereby directed to make application, with a full statement of their respective cases, to the next General Assembly, which will take proper order thereon.”
“ These resolutions, it will be seen are all made to depend upon the unconstitutional character of the Plan of Union. If the Plan of Union was constitutional, the resolutions fall of course to the ground. It is important, then, to inquire into its nature, and the consequences of its abrogation."
As this “ Plan of Union” has come to be a document of so much importance in American church history, and also that the reader may appreciate the force of the remarks which follow, we deem it proper to give it a place in this review.
THE PLAN OF UNION.
From the Assembly's Digest, p. 297. A Plan of Union between Presbyterians and Congregationalists, in
the new settlements, adopted in 1801. Regulations adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church in America, and by the General Association of the State of Connecticut, (provided said Association agree to them) with a view to prevent alienation, and promote union and harmony, in those new settlements which are composed of inhabitants from these bodies.
“ 1. It is strictly enjoined on all their missionaries to the new settlements, to endeavor, by all proper means, to promote mutual forbearance and accommodation between those inhabitants of the new settlements who hold the Presbyterian, and those who hold the Congregational form of church government.