Page images
PDF
EPUB

ment, too, the number of the judges will be reduced within reasonable bounds; and persons who feel themselves aggrieved, will not be obliged to travel five hundred or one thousand miles in pursuit of justice: it will be brought to their own door.

In the synods, as designated above, there exists so much general similarity and homogeneity, and so much agreement as to the proper course to be pursued in ecclesiastical matters, that there is reason to think, that each of them would be harmonious in its operations; and it is our sincere belief, that general harmony of all the synods would be the result. Even those portions of the Church which are supposed to be less attached to her standards, according to the old interpretation, and less in love with Presbyterian church government, in its rigorous application, would, when left to pursue their own course, undisturbed, rally round their own standards, with a zeal which they do not now manifest. And when captious and acrimonious controversy is ended, a more calm and deliberate opinion will be adopted respecting the points in dispute. And we have so firm a persuasion, that the doctrines of our Confession and Catechisms are those of the Holy Scriptures, that we are confident, the more men love the truth, and study the word of God, the more highly will they esteem these summaries of doctrine. And here we will ep out of our way to express our opinion, respecting creeds and confessions. No society of a religious kind can exist without them, written or unwritten. None of these formularies are infallible, unless so far as they contain the very words of Holy Scripture; when a man subscribes a creed, or asserts solemnly to any Confession of Faith, he does it, just as if he had composed it for the occasion, as expressing the opinions which he entertains on the different articles of faith which it comprehends. It matters very little, what the precise form of words may be, in which our assent is given; the understanding of all impartial men will be, that no man can be honest, who adopts, without explicit qualification, a creed which contains doctrines which he does not believe. To admit this, would render all such instruments and engagements perfectly nugatory; and is repugnant to the moral sense of every unsophisticated mind.But when a man composes a creed for himself, he will be ready to acknowledge that it is not infallible; that in many respects, the doctrines asserted might have been more clearly

expressed, and that his language may not always have been the most appropriate.

But to return from this digression, we would advert to another consideration, which, in our opinion, strongly recommends the organization now proposed. In a large extent of country over which our Church is spread, domestic slavery exists, and is practised by Church members, under the impression that, in existing circumstances, it is lawful, and authorized by the precepts and practice of the Apostles. But those parts of the Church where slavery is not tolerated, view the whole thing with abhorrence, and cannot exercise, in many cases at least, charity towards the holders of slaves. This subject has been threatening to disturb and divide the Presbyterian Church almost ever since it had an existence; and the evil has been only prevented by great prudence in the General Assembly. They have commonly continued to evade this agitating subject; but this course has not satisfied all, and, before long, it must come up, in such a form as greatly to disturb, if not to rend the Church asunder. But by the proposed plan of arrangement, all the Churches in the slave-holding States will be separated from those of the non-slave-holding States, and there will be no opportunity of their coming into collision in the ecclesiastical judicatories.

And we need not take up time in remarking, that there will not, upon the new plan, be such a consumption of time, in attending the judicatories of the Church, nor such a destitution of the means of grace, by the long absence of ministers, as at present. And as the places of the meeting of the synods . contemplated in the plan, will be within moderate distance, the aged members will more frequently be able to attend, than at the General Assembly; and those bodies, in which wisdom and experience are so much needed, will not be so commonly made up of a majority of young and inexperienced men.

It is taken for granted, in all that has been said, that the standards of the Church, as they now exist, would continue to be adopted by all, as at present. The only thing which could require any change, would be the rule providing for alterations; but as far as it appears to us, this might continue the same as now; for at present, when a majority of the whole number of Presbyteries vote in favour of an alteration, the General Assembly do not consider themselves to be possessed of any power or discretion to counteract the will of the majority, thus constitutionally expressed. And although, according to the new organization, the General Assembly will have no appellate jurisdiction from the judgment of the synods, nor any controlling power over these bodies, yet in the business of proposing standing rules or alterations, in the adopted standards, this body can act as the organ of the whole, in sending down proposals, and in receiving the opinions of the presbyteries, and declaring to the Churches what is determined by the vote of the majority.

If it be inquired, how can this new plan be brought into operation? the answer is, that it must be done constitutionally, as the original plan of government was adopted, and as all constitutional changes have been made since. Let a commit. tee be appointed by the next General Assembly to propose an overture to the presbyteries, requiring them to send up their opinions on the subject, by the next meeting, and thus, if the plan should be acceptable to the presbyteries and the Churches, within a year from next spring, the whole matter may be adjusted, and a large proportion of the existing causes of heart-burning, contention, and confusion, be for ever removed.

But whether the plan for a new organization of the Church, which we have proposed, meet with acceptance or not, something must be done to alleviate or remove some of the inconveniences which at present attend the meetings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. The evil begins to be felt so seriously by many, that an effort will undoubtedly be made, at the next meeting of the General Assembly, to have some proposition sent down to the presbyteries, to effect such an alteration in the constitution of the Church, as will diminish the number of members in the Assembly. Some presbyteries have already had the subject under consideration, and at least one synod has directed that a memorial be laid before the next meeting of the Assembly, the object of which is to request, that measures be taken to reduce the number of members in that body. Different methods of effecting this object have been proposed. It is evident, that it will not do to increase the ratio of representation from the presbyteries, for this would be to allow the small presbyteries an undue advantage over the same number of members in the large presbyteries, unless it should be so ordered, that two small presbyteries should unite in sending delegates. Another method of attaining the object which has been repeatedly proposed, is to alter the constitution so that the commissioners to the Assembly should be appointed by the synods, instead of the presbyteries, according to a ratio which would limit the number of members within moderate bounds; and provision might be made in the rule, which should be adopted, that the delegates should be chosen from the presbyteries composing the synod, so that each should have the privilege of furnishing its just proportion. Although we prefer a more radical reform, and are of opinion, that all other measures will prove mere palliations, and that the difficulty will recur, and the pressure be felt hereafter as sensibly as at present; yet we are so deeply convinced of the necessity of adopting speedy measures to reduce the Assembly to a convenient size, that we will concur in either of the plans yet mentioned, if this should be found agreeable to a large majority of the Church. Certainly, there ought to be no objection to sending down some one of these plans to the presbyteries. we see no evil as likely to arise, from sending down all of them, and letting the presbyteries choose the one which, in their judgment, is the best; or, if they should, after all that has happened, be of opinion that nothing ought to be done, be it so. They have the natural and constitutional right to determine this matter.

We have been induced to bring this subject before the Churches, that there may be an opportunity of giving it an impartial examination; and that the delegates to the next General Assembly may come up to that body prepared to act on the subject. And if the Presbyteries, generally, would consider the subject, and instruct their commissioners in regard to this matter, it would probably prevent a great deal of unnecessary discussion in the Assembly. We should be gratified also, if what we have written should invite free and temperate discussion in the periodical papers, between this time and the meeting of the supreme judicatory of the Church. If a plan better than any which has been thought of or proposed by us shall be brought forward, we shall be ready to adopt it in the place of our own, and will promote it as cordially as if it had been devised by ourselves.

ART. III.-HENGSTENBERG'S VINDICATION OF THE

BOOK OF DANIEL*.

The principles and tendency of German criticism, as applied to sacred subjects, have been so long, and so justly, objects of suspicion with the religious public, that we are glad of an opportunity to bring before our readers something better from that quarter. We take pleasure, even in announcing the existence of such works as the Christologie of which we have already given specimens, and the volume now before us, from the same pen.

It is as pleasing as it is novel, to read books so strongly marked with all that learning and acuteness which constitute the glory of the German literati, yet having for their object the defence of revelation, and savouring throughout of evangelical religion. The present publication may, indeed, be regarded as a direct attack upon that form of infidelity which arrogates the lofty name of rationalism, or rational religion, and instead of rejecting the Scriptures in a mass, chooses rather to destroy their divine authority and practical effect by the plausible refinements of a subtle criticism. The author, who is known to some of our readers, we presume, as the conductor of an evangelical religious newspaper, and to others as a young but very learned and devout professor in the Berlin University, informs us in his preface, that he had determined to compose a compendious introduction to the Old Testament, for the express purpose of counteracting a work of the same kind by the learned neologist de Wette. As such a work, with such a design, however, was a new thing under the sun, he soon found that it would be necessary to go into large details, and pursue minute inquiries, for the purpose of detecting falsehood and establishing the truth. This led him to project a larger work upon the same general plan, but in filling up the outline, he discovered that some single branches of the subject furnished matter for as many volumes, and were too important to be hurried over slightly. He finally determined to discuss these topics seriatim, publishing the results of his research from time to time. Of this series we have here the first volume, intended to demonstrate the genuineness

Die Authentie des Daniel und die Integritæt des Sacharjah, erwiesen von Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, Dr. der Phil. & der Theol. der letzt. ord. Prof. Berlin, 1831, 8vo.

« PreviousContinue »