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PROCEEDINGS OF THE PHILADELPHIA PRESBYTERY,
IN RELATION TO THE CASE OF
MR. ALBERT BARNES.
(For the following Narrative, the writer is indebted to a friend who had am
ple opportunities of ascertaining the facts in the case, and he here publishes it without any alteration. ]
The debates in the Presbytery of Philadelphia, on the reception and installation of the Rev. Albert Barnes, have been regarded with unusual interest by many, as involving points of great moment to the Presbyterian Church, in relation both to her discipline and doctrine. They have not only furnished a pregnant theme for conversation, but a subject for the essayist and reporter. Several of the religious periodicals have lent their aid in circulating statements, from which the spirit of impartiality and equal justice has been discarded. Even in the earliest stages of the affair, and previous to any decision, this course was pursued, with the evident intention of prejudicing the public mind, and producing an effect which would influence the final determination of the Presbytery. The truth should never be dreaded, however loudly proclaimed or widely diffused; but when honest intentions are misrepresented, and facts are misstated, alarm is justifiable, and passiveness becomes criminal.
A pamphlet lately published in the city of New York, professes to give an accurate and detailed history of the debates in question, in which the names of the speakers are mentioned, and abstracts of their speeches furnished. The writer of it, in our opinion, was totally disqualified for his task ; a disqualification arising either from entire ignorance of his subject, or a determined dishonesty in its exhibition. He alike conceals the weak points of the majority and the strong points of the minority. He has betrayed little capacity for comprehending the argument, and less discretion in publishing his incompetency. In a word, the sketch contains just sufficient colouring of truth, to give plausibility to general misrepresentation. Many, however, may receive his report as true, until they are furnished with more authentic information; and to supply this, we have been reluctantly compelled to abandon the reserve which we had intended to observe whilst the case was under judgment. A report of speeches which occupied a debate of seven days continuance, is not our intention. Such a report, to be honest, should be full, and would not only be tedious, but at this time, impracticable; and we should consider our candour and integrity in jeopardy by an imitation of the writer of the “Sketch," who reports a long speech in three unmeaning lines of a pamphlet. We must, however, be excused in following his example in one particular; we mean his freedom in the use of names. In exercising this privilege for the purpose of rendering our narrative intelligible, it will be our aim to " render to Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's,” avoiding the charge of libel, except where the truth may be construed into libel. This much being premised, we proceed to give the promised detail of circumstances in the order of their occurrence.
In the month of it became the subject of common conversation, that the First Presbyterian Church of this city were directing their attention to the Rev. Albert Barnes, of Morristown, N. J. with the intention of presenting him a call to become their Pastor. His talents, ministerial fidelity, and success, were spoken of in terms of high commendation. At the same time, it was notorious that the candidate had never occupied the pulpit of the First Church, and that with the exception of a few individuals, the congregation were entirely ignorant, as far as their personal experience was concerned, of his ministerial qualifications. In addition to the verbal testimony of friends, a sermon preached and published by Mr. Barnes, was referred to in proof of his ability. This was freely circulated among the congregation, and the commendations bestowed upon it naturally excited the curiosity of many not connected with this Church, to see and peruse it. A rumour was at length heard, that this sermon contained errors in doctrine, which placed it in direct conflict with the doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian Church, and the truth of the rumour was shortly afterwards confirmed in a review* of the sermon, published in the “ Philadelphian.” This review proposed to place the sermon of Mr. Barnes and the Presbyterian Confession of Faith in juxta-position, that the discrepancies between them might be observed at a glance.
a glance. This publication was decryed as an ungenerous and malignant personal attack upon the author of the sermon, although it speaks for itself, as a temperate exercise of a right which every individual possesses, of canvassing the merits of any published document. A reply from the pen of
* The writer of this review was the Rev. Wm. M, Engles, whose name was revealed by the Editor, the Rev. Dr. Ely, to certain gentlemen belonging to the First Church, who had taken umbrage at the review. This was done without his concurrence, and he felt that he had reason to complain, that persons totally unauthorised to make the demand, and who were disposed to make an ungenerous use of the information, should have been gratified by the Editor at the first expression of their wish.
the Rev. Dr. Wilson soon appeared, and a controversy of considerable length between him and the reviewer was conducted and published in the same periodical.
In the mean time, a congregational meeting had been held in the First Church, and a call was determined upon for the Rev. Mr. Barnes. According to constitutional provision, it was necessary that this call should be submitted to the Presbytery, that they might grant or withhold their permission for its prosecution before the Presbytery of Elizabethtown, of which Mr. Barnes was a member. At this stage, the ecclesiastical proceedings in the case commenced. When the call was presented before the Presbytery, at their stated meeting in April, and permission asked by the commissioners to prosecute it, the venerable Dr. Green arose, and with a manner characterised by kindness and courtesy, solicited the attention of the judicatory whilst he detailed the reasons which would induce him to give a negative vote on the motion then pending. These reasons, he said, were founded upon Mr. Barnes' doctrinal errors, as they had been recently proclaimed to the world in his printed sermon, and upon which he proposed briefly to animadvert. His attempt, however, was hastily interrupted by a comparatively youthful member of the Presbytery, (Mr. Biggs) who affirmed it to be both irregular and unkind, to make the sermon a ground of judgment, as it would virtually amount to an arraignment and trial of Mr. Barnes for heresy, whilst he was beyond the jurisdiction of Presbytery. A motion to this effect was made and seconded, and a debate of considerable length and animation ensued on the point of order. On the one side, it was contended that a congregation had an unquestionable right to call any favourite candidate, provided his standing was regular in a co-ordinate judicatory, and that it was an arbitrary stretch of authority to interfere with that right upon any grounds; that the presentation of a call to Presbytery did not imply a right in them to adjudicate, but was merely a pro forma proceeding; and that to urge objections to a call, grounded upon the doctrinal delinquencies of a candidate, however proclaimed in his writings, was extra-judicial, whilst he remained unimpeached in the Presbytery to which he regularly appertained. On the other side, it was maintained that a congregation which had voluntarily subjected itself to the jurisdiction of a Presbytery, had no such independent right as that which was pleaded ; that their right to call was not more clearly demonstrable than the right of Presbytery to object and refuse permission to proceed to subsequent steps; that the very fact of submitting a call to Presbytery for approval, implied the right of disapproval, and so far from being a mere pro forma proceeding, was a direct acknowledgment of jurisdiction; and, finally, that if members of a Presbytery had a right to vote upon such a question, they had a right also to state the reasons which determined their vote, and if these reasons were deduced from an authentic printed document, they neither violated the constitution of the church nor the laws of brotherly kindness in urging them. The argument being finished, it was decided by a vote of thirtyseven to ten, that it was perfectly regular for the members of Presbytery to raise objections to the prosecution of the call from Mr. Barnes' printed sermon; the Rev. Dr. M'Auley and Messrs. Patterson, Belville, Biggs, Sandford, and Hoover being the only ministers who dissented. The attempt to enforce the gag law upon Presbytery having thus happily failed, the sermon of Mr. Barnes was read entire before Presbytery, by its order, and the debate then proceeded upon the original motion, “Shall the call be prosecuted?” The discussion of this question was protracted and singular in a high degree. Those who are now known as the “minority,” met the question fearlessly upon its doctrinal merits, and opposed the call because Mr. Barnes had recently published a Sermon on the Way of Salvation, in which,
1. He makes no mention of the cardinal doctrine of justification by faith.
2. In which he contemptuously rejects the doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin.
3. In which he intimates that the first moral taint of the creature is coincident with his first moral action.
4. In which he denies that Christ sustained the penalty of the law, and employs language on the subject highly derogatory to the character of Christ.
5. In which he boldly affirms that the atonement of Christ had no specific reference to individuals.
6. In which he declares, that the Atonement in itself secured the Salvation of no Man, and possessed only a conditional efficacy.
7. In which he maintains that the entire inability of the sinner for holy actions consisted in indisposition of the will; and, finally, in which he declares his independence of all formularies of doctrine, notwithstanding his professed adherence to them.*
* It was thought by the minority, that these were not the comparatively venial errors of Hopkinsianism, but the more dangerous ones of Murdock, Taylor, and Fitch, which have recently been grafted on the original stock.
Professor Woods of Andover, in his late admirable reply to some points in the speculative, philosophical religion of Dr. Taylor, coincides precisely with the minority of the Philadelphia Presbytery, in estimating the doctrines of the New Haven School. He considers them as in a high degree erroneous and dangerous. His language in the 98th page of his Letters, justly exposes the view by which the minority were influenced in their proceedings. It is as follows: “Whether right or wrong, we have been accustomed to consider the controversy which early arose in the Church between the Orthodox and Pelagians, and which, after the Reformation, was continued between the Lutherans and Calvinists on one side, and the Arminians or Remonstrants on the other, as of radical importance. Now, how would you expect us to feel, and, with our convictions, how ought we to feel, when a brother, who has professed to be decidedly Orthodox, makes an attack upon several of the articles of our faith, and employs language on the subject of moral agency, free will, depravity,
) In addition to these reasons, it was also incidentally objected that the call was irregularly framed, omitting one important clause of the form, which is in these words, “and having good hopes, from our past experience of your labours." The fact
was, that the congregation had no past experience of the labours of the candidate, as they had never heard him preach; and this fact, which induced the remarkable omission, accounted also for another fact, that but fifty votes were given for the call, out of more than two hundred and twenty in the congregation who were legally entitled to vote.
On the part of the majority of Presbytery, the debate was conducted in a truly novel manner. With the single exception of Thomas Bradford, Esq. who honestly avowed his coincidence of sentiment with Mr. Barnes upon Hopkinsian ground, there was a studious and persevering endeavour to avoid the doctrinal discussion. The Rev. Dr. M.Auley admitted that the sermon contained some things which were not true, some that were equivocal, and some that were unhappily expressed; but he maintained that we had nothing to do with Mr. Barnes' doctrinal sentiments, although the Presbytery had just decided the validity of such a scrutiny. The Rev. Mr. Sandford occupied the same ground, substantially, and hoped that he might not be considered as giving any opinion upon the doctrinal question. The remarks of the Rev. Dr. Ely were written at length, and read before the Presbytery, and the tenor of them was, that although there were many things in the Sermon which appeared suspicious, yet, with a little of his interpretative and explanatory aid, they could be reconciled with orthodoxy. But the allpowerful argument which appeared to be most relied upon, if we judge from its frequent reiteration, was, that Mr. Barnes had the confidence of many excellent men, that he was an exemplary Christian, and that he had been a successful preacher of the Gospel! This furnished a prolific topic for declamation, and the understandings of the Presbyters were forgotten in the anxiety to affect and enlist their feelings. A persecuted saint, assailed in his character and impeded in his career of usefulness, was a picture, it would seem, too affecting for the judgment of some men to withstand. Whether such appeals were honourable in a doctrinal discussion of this kind, the candid reader is left to decide. But this was not all, attempts were made to overawe the minority. They were told that the world had already sounded the alarm of ecclesiastical domination and tyranny—that the discussion was doing great disservice to the cause of religion in the community at large-that public sentiment was too enlightened and liberal to countenance such inquisitorial proceedings—that the call in question was from the First Presbyterian
divine influence, &c. which is so like the language of Arminians and Pela gians, that it would require some labour to discover the difference?”