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However, they were all agreed, that Mr. Edwards ought to have liberty to go out of the county for some of the council. And at the next church meeting (the 26th of March) Mr. Edwards offered to join with them in calling a council, if they would consent that he should choose two of the churches out of the county, in case the council consisted of but ten churches. The church however refused to comply with this at one meeting after another repeatedly; and proceeded to call a church meeting and choose a moderator, in order to act without their pastor. But, to pass by many particulars, at length, at a meeting of the church, convened by their pastor, May 3d, they voted their consent to his proposal of going out of the county for two of the churches that should be applied to. And then they proceeded to make choice of the ten ministers and churches, of which the council should consist. Accordingly the churches were applied to, and the council was convened on the 19th of June. After they had made some fruitless attempts for a composition between the pastor and the church, they passed a resolution by a majority of one voice* only, to the following purpose : “ That it is expedient that the pastoral relation between Mr. Edwards and his church be immediately dissolved, if the people still persist in desiring it.” And it being publicly put to the people, whether they still insisted on Mr. Edwards's dismission from the pastoral office over them? A great majority (above two hundred against twenty) voted for his dismission; and he was accordingly dismissed, June 22, 1750.
The dissenting part of the council entered their protest against this proceeding, judging that it was too much in a hurry, considering the past conduct and present temper of the people. And some of that part of the council who were for the separation, expressed themselves surprised at the uncommon zeal manifested by the people in their voting for a dismission; which evidenced to them, and all observing spectators, that they were far from a temper of mind becoming such a solemn and awful transaction, considered in all its circumstances.
Being thus dismissed, he preached his farewell sermon on the 1st of July, from 2 Cor. i. 14. The doctrine he observed from the words was this, “ Ministers, and the people that have been under their care, must meet one another before Christ's tribunal, at the day of judgment.” It was a remarkably solemn and affecting discourse, and was published at the desire of some of the hearers. After Mr. Edwards was dismissed from Northamptom, he preached there occasionally, when they had no other preacher to supply the pulpit; till at length a great uneasiness was manifested by many of the people, at his preaching there at all. Upon which the committee for supplying the pulpit, called the town together, to know their minds with respect to that matter; when they voted that it was not agreeable to their minds that he should preach among them. Accordingly, while Mr. Edwards was in the town, and they had no other minister to preach to them, they carried on public worship among themselves.
Every one must be sensible that this was a great trial tu Mr. Edwards. He had been nearly twenty-four years among that people; and his labors had been, to all appearance, from time to time greatly blessed among them: and a great number looked on him as their spiritual father, who had been the happy instrument of turning them from darkness to ight, and plucking them as brands out of the burning. And they had from time to time professed that they looked upon it as one of their greatest privileges to have such a minister, and manifested their great love and esteem of him, to such a degree, that (as St. Paul says of the Galatians) “if it had been possible, they would have plucked out their own eyes, and given them to him.” And they had a great interest in his affection : he had borne them on his heart, and carried them in his bosom for many years; exercising a tender concern and love for them: for their good he was always writing, contriving, laboring; for them he had poured out ten thousand fervent prayers ; in their good he had rejoiced as one that findeth great spoil ; and they were dear to him above any other people under heaven. Now to have this people turn against him, and thrust him out from among them, stopping their ears, and running upon him with furious zeal, not allowing him to defend himself by giving him a fair hearing; and even refusing so much as to hear him preach ; many of them surmising and publicly speaking many ill things as to his ends and designs! Surely this must come very near to him, and try his spirit. The words of the Psalmist seem applicable to this case: “It was not an enemy that reproached me, then I could have borne it; neither was it him that hated me, that did magnify himself against me, then I would have hid myself from him. But it was thou—my guide and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company."
* One of the churches which Mr. Edwards chose did not see fit to join the council. However, the minister of that church being at Northampton, was desired by Mr. Edwards and the church tu sit in council and act, which he did. But there being no messenger from the church, the council was not full, and there was a disparity; by which means there was one vote more for an immediate dismission, than against it.
Let us, therefore, now behold the man !—The calm sedateness of his mind; his meekness and humility in great and violent opposition, and injurious treatment; his resolution and steady conduct through all this dark and terrible storm were truly wonderful, and cannot be set in so beautiful and affecting a light by any description, as they appeared in to his friends, who were eye-witnesses.
Mr. Edwards had a numerous and chargeable family, and little or no income, exclusive of his salary; and, considering how far he was advanced in years; the general disposition of people, who want a minister, to prefer a young man who has never been settled, to one who has been dismissed from his people ; and what misrepresentations were made of his principles through the country, it looked to him not at all probable that he should ever have opportunity to be again settled in the work of the ministry, if he was dismissed from Northampton: and he was not inclined or able to take any other course, or go into any other business to get a living: so that beggary as well as disgrace stared him full in the face, if he persisted in his principles. When he was fixed in his principles, and before they were publicly known, he told some of his friends, that if he discovered and persisted in them, it would most likely issue in his dismission and disgrace; and the ruin of himself and family, as to their temporal interests. He therefore first sat down and counted the cost, and deliberately took up the cross, when it was set before him in its full weight and magnitude; and in direct opposition to all worldly views and motives. And therefore his conduct in these circumstances, was a remarkable exercise and discovery of his conscientiousness; and his readiness to deny himself, and forsake all that he had, to follow Christ. A man must have a considerable degree of the spirit of a martyr, to go on with the steadfastness and resolution with which he did. He ventured wherever truth and duty appeared to lead him, unmoved at the threatening dangers on every side.
However, God did not forsake him. As he gave him those inward supports by which he was able in patience to possess his soul, and courageously row on in the storm, in the face of boisterous winds beating hard upon him, and in the midst of gaping waves threatening to swallow him up; so he soon appeared for him in his providence, even beyond all his expectations. His correspondents and other friends in Scotland, hearing of his dismission, and fearing it might be the means of bringing him into worldly straits, generously contributed a considerable sum, and sent it over to him. And God did not leave him without tender, valua. ble friends at Northampton. For a small number of his people who opposed his dismission from the beginning, and some who acted on neither side, but after his dismission adhered to him, under the influence of their great esteem and love of Mr. Edwards, were willing, and thought themselves able to maintain him; and insisted upon it that it was his duty to stay among them, as a distinct and separate congregation from the body of the town, who had rejected him.
Mr. Edwards could not see it to be his duty to stay among them, as this would probably be a means of perpetuating an unhappy division in the town; and there was to him no prospect of doing the good there, which would counterbalance the evil. However, that he might do all he could to satisfy his tender and afflicted friends, he consented to ask the advice of an ecclesiastical council. Accordingly a council was called, and met at Northampton on the 15th of May, 1751. The town on this occasion was put into a great tumult. They who were active in Mr. Edwards's dismission supposed, though without any good ground, that he was contriving with his friends, again to introduce himself at Northampton. They drew up a remonstrance against their proceedings, and laid it before the council (though they would not acknowledge them to be an ecclesiastical council), containing many heavy, though groundless insinuations and charges against Mr. Edwards, and bitter accusations of the party who had adhered to him ; but refused to appear and support any of their charges, or so much as to give the gentlemen of the council any opportunity to confer with them about the affair depending, though it was diligently sought. The council having heard what Mr. Edwards and they who adhered to him had to say, advised, agreeably to Mr. Edwards's judgment, that he should leave Northampton, and accept of the mission to which he was invited at Stockbridge; of which a more particular account will be given.
Many other facts relative to this sorrowful and surprising affair (the most so doubtless of any of the kind, that ever happened in New-England, and perhaps in any part of the Christian world) might be related; but as this more general history of it may be sufficient to answer the ends proposed, viz., to rectify some gross misrepresentations that have been made of the matter, and discover the great trial Mr. Edwards had herein, it is thought best to suppress other particulars. As a proper close to this melancholy story, and to confirm and further illustrate what has been related, the following letter from Joseph Hawley, Esq. (a gentleman who was very active in the transactions of this whole affair, and very much a
leader in it) to the Rev. Mr. Hall, of Sutton, published in a weekly newspaper in Boston, May 19th, 1760, is here inserted.
TO THE REV. MR. HALL, OF SUTTON.
Northampton, May 9, 1760. Rev. Sir :-I have often wished that every member of the two ecclesiastical councils that formerly sat in Northampton, upon the unhappy differences between our former most worthy and Rev. pastor, Mr Jonathan Edwards, and the church here, whereof you were a member ; I say, sir, I have often wished that every one of them truly knew my own sense of my own conduct in the affairs that the one and the other of said councils are privy to. As I have long apprehended it to be my duty not only to humble myself before God for what was unchristian and sinful in my conduct before the said councils, but also to confess my faults to them, and take shame to myself before them; so I have often studied with myself in what manner it was practicable for me to do it. When I understood that you, sir, and Mr. Eaton, were to be at Cold Spring at the time of the late council, I resolved to improve the opportunity fully to open my mind then to you and him thereon; and thought that probably some method might be then thought of in which my reflections on myself, touching the matters above hinted at, might be communicated to most if not all the gentlemen aforesaid who did not reside in this county. But you know, sir, how difficult it was for us to converse together by ourselves, when at Cold Spring, without giving umbrage to that people; I therefore proposed writing to you upon the matters which I had then opportunity only most summarily to suggest; which you, sir, signified would be agreeable to you. I therefore now undertake what I then proposed, in which I humbly ask the divine aid; and that I may be made most freely willing to confess my sin and guilt to you and the world in those instances which I have reason to suppose fell under your notice, as they were public and notorious transactions, and on account whereof, therefore, you, sir, and all others who had knowledge thereof, had just cause to be offended at me.
And in the first place, sir, I apprehend that, with the church and people of Northampton, I sinned and erred exceedingly in consenting and laboring that there should be so early a dismission of Mr. Edwards from his pastoral relation to us, even upon the supposition that he was really in a mistake in the disputed point: not only because the dispute was upon matters so very disputable in themselves, and at the greatest remove from fundamental, but because Mr. Edwards so long had approved himself a most faithful and painful pastor to the said church. He also changed his sentiments in that point, wholly from a tender regard to what appeared to him to be truth; and had made known his sentiments with great moderation, and upon great deliberation, against all worldly motives, from mere fidelity to his great Master, and a tender regard to the souls of his flock, as we had the highest reason to judge. These considerations now seem to me sufficient; and would (if we had been of a right spirit) have greatly endeared him to his people, and made us to the last degree reluctant to part with him, and disposed us to the exercise of the greatest candor, gentleness and moderation. How much of the reverse whereof appeared in us, I need not tell you, sir, who were an eye-witness of our temper and conduct.
And although it does not become me to pronounce decisively on a point so disputable as what was then in dispute; yet I beg leave to say, that I really apprehend that it is of the highest moment to the body of this church, and to me in particular, most solicitously to inquire, whether, like the Pharisees and lawyers in John the Baptist's time, we did not reject the council of God against ourselves, in rejecting Mr. Edwards, and his doctrine, which was the ground of his dismission. And I humbly conceive that it highly imports us all of this church most seriously and impartially to examine what that most worthy and able divine published, about that time, in support of the same, whereby he being dead yet speaketh. But there were three things, sir, especially in my own particular conduct before the first council, which have been justly matter of great grief and much trouble to me almost ever since, viz. :
In the first place, I confess, sir, that I acted very immodestly and abusively to you, as well as injuriously to the church and myself, when, with much zeal and unbecoming assurance, I moved the council that they would interpose to silence and stop you in an address you were making one morning to the people, wherein you were, if I do not forget, briefly exhorting them to a tender remembrance of the former affection and harmony that had long subsisted between them and their Rev. Pastor, and the great comfort and profit which they apprehended that they had received from his ministry; for which, sir, I heartily ask your forgiveness; and I think that we ought, instead of opposing an exhortation of that nature, to have received it with all thankfulness.
Another particular of my conduct before that council, which I now apprehend was criminal, and was owing to the want of that tender affection and reverend respect and esteem for Mr. Edwards, which he had highly merited of me, was my strenuously opposing the adjournment of the matters submitted to that council, for about two months; for which I declare myself unfeignedly sorry; and I with shame remember, that I did it in a peremptory, decisive, vehement, and very immodest manner.
But, sir, the most criminal part of my conduct at that time, that I am conscious of, was my exhibiting to that council a set of arguments in writing, the drift whereof was to prove the reasonableness and necessity of Mr. Edwards's dismission, in case no accommodation was then effected with mutual consent; which writing, by clear implication, contained some severe, uncharitable, and, if I remember right, groundless and slanderous imputations on Mr. Edwards, expressed in bitter language. And although the original draft thereof was not done by me, yet I foolishly and sinfully consented to copy it; and, as agent for the church, to read it, and deliver it to the council; which I could never have done if I had not a wicked relish for perverse things; which conduct of mine I confess was very sinful, and highly provoking to God; for which I am ashamed, confounded, and have nothing to answer.
As to the church's remonstrance, as it was called, which their committee preferred to the last of the said councils (to all which I was consenting, and in the composing whereof I was very active, as also in bringing the church to their vote upon it); I would, in the first place, only observe that I do not remember any thing, in that small part of it which was plainly expressive of the expediency of Mr. Edwards's resettlement here as pastor to a part of the church, which was very exceptionable. But as to all the residue, which was much the greatest part thereof (and I am