Page images
PDF
EPUB

few assemblies have witnessed as much of the suaviter in modo with the fortiter in re. The former was so evident as to call forth the remark from many, that “this was the only General Assembly within their knowledge, that seemed to have done any good to the city.” Its influence must have been happy, for there certainly was manifested very much of the spirit of the gospel.

It is not our purpose to give a detailed view of the proceedings of the Assembly,—these have been abundantly reported through the weekly papers,—but simply to remark briefly on those topics of public interest, which elicited discussion.

Dancing. The first subject which excited attention, was a memorial from the third Presbytery of New York, on the subject of promiscuous dancing, calling the attention of the Assembly to its prevalence in the churches, and the necessity for renewed exercise of discipline, in order to its suppression. The fact of the prevalence of dancing by professors of religion, not only in the large cities, but throughout the length and breadth of the land, seemed to be admitted on all hands. Some, however, thought that the evidence of the fact before the Assembly was not such as to call for action on the subject; some, that it belonged to the lower judicatories alone to attend to matters of discipline; that it fell not within the province of the Assembly, as now limited in its powers, to enter into the detailed evils existing in the church, and that it would be of little avail for this body to bear its testimony against prevailing sins. Others contended, and we think rightly, that the constitution expressly empowers the Assembly to act in such cases, and that one of its chief duties must now be, since its judicial powers are cancelled, to consult, in every way, for the spiritual good of the church, and to send down its admonitory voice, when any particular sins are evidently becoming prevalent.

Promiscuous dancing had become so peculiarly one of the amusements of a world lying in wickedness, and was in itself productive of so many evils, which seem inseparable from it, that all denominations of evangelical, spiritual Christians had denounced it as an amusement unbecoming the Christian profession, and savoring too much of a love of the world. Among others, a loud testimony was borne on this subject, some years since, by the Episcopal Convention. But the impression has been gradually gaining ground, for a few years past, that it is a graceful accomplishment, and a very innocent recreation,

“ have no

highly conducive to good health, both by the exercise of the body, which it ensures, and the cheerfulness of the heart, which it inspires. We confess, we are afraid of it-afraid it will spoil the piety of many, seduce others away from the spiritual walks of the devoted follower of Jesus, and render the line of distinction between the church and the world so ill defined, as to lead multitudes to rely on a false hope, and stumble over worldly professors into the gloom of eternal night. Let it ever be remembered that the friendship of the world is enmity with God;" that we must “come out and be separate;" fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness," and "avoid even the appearance of evil.” Dancing is not essential either to healthful exercise, or to a cheerful spirit: and, whilst we are decidedly unfriendly to locking up the sympathies, and freezing the aniinal spirits of children and youth, we cannot but feel that danger to the spirituality of the individual and the church is near, when those who profess to love Christ, and follow in his steps, manifest a disposition to enter into the vain and exciting amusements of an ungodly world.

The Sabbath. After hearing some very forcible and appropriate remarks on this subject from Rev. Justin Edwards, D.D., strong resolutions were offered, bearing decided testimony against public violations of the law of the Sabbath prevalent in our land, and encouraging the church to more decided action on this great question, so deeply involving the highest interests, and the permanent existence of this republic. Even these resolutions met with opposition from some few of the members; not, however, because the opponents did not feel sensible of the prevalence of the evil, nor because they did not fully sympathize with others in their love for the Sabbath, and their ardent desire for its better observance, but because they did not believe it the appropriate business of the Assembly to bear testimony against public evils.

We should have been disposed to believe, that this opposition and the arguments on which it rested had taken possession of the minds of those who presented them, in connection with their fears of the question of slavery, and had, unawares, become with them a principle of universal application, had not the venerable Dr. Hill himself warmly advocated the passage of the resolutions, and expressed astonishment at the declaration of opposite sentiments, and especially at the ground of that opposition. He believed it the duty of the Assembly to bear its testimony against crying evils, and regarded the antagonist opinion as new-fangled doctrine, such as he had never before heard expressed in the General Assembly

As intimated on the former topic, we are quite of the Doctor's way of thinking; and we should regret to see the powers of the Assembly so construed, or so frittered down, that its solemn voice of admonition could not be lifted up against violations of God's law. Far distant be the day, when

the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, shall resolve that it has no right, and is not in duty bound, to express its disapprobation of acknowledged sins.

Whatever may be said to the contrary, its testimony has great weight with the churches, and is felt even by the world, to be a powerful testimony. On this very question of the Sabbath, its decisions will be everywhere known, and generally respected, as the final judgment of a wise and educated body of men, from all parts of the union, and of more or less influence in their spheres of action at home. We should have felt as if an important link were wanting—as one of the speakers expressed it-in that golden chain of testimony which we trust is to enircle this land on this great subject, if this Assembly had witheld its testimony.

Slavery. Under the present constitution of government and society in this country, the subject of slavery is one of peculiar interest. No nation on earth is situated in respect to it as we are; for its existence among us is diametrically opposed to the fundamental principle of that glorious Declaration of Independence, which resulted in our freedom. To proclaim the one on our fourth-of-July anniversaries, and, at the same time, to foster the other, is a mockery of truth, a proclamation to the world of our own inconsistency, and a practical desertion in the life of the principles which we loudly proclaim with the lips.

In consequence of occasional rash procedures and unguarded denunciations, on the part of some of those interested in the great cause of emancipation, the sensitiveness of the South had become so extreme, that any agitation of the subject whatever, whether politically, ecclesiastically, or otherwise, was looked upon as disturbing the body politic, and interfering with individual and exclusive rights of southern men. Hence, it became a serious question, whether, in our ecclesiastical organizations, we ought to act at all on the subject of slavery, as we manifestly could not, without sensibly affecting the feelings of many of the southern ministers and churches, and compelling them to adopt a separate organization, thus marring the unity of the church. On the other hand, it was felt that slavery is so manifestly a violation of the fundamental principles of the gospel, and the duty of the church to bear its solemn testimony against every crying evil so clear, that for the church in her organized capacity to shrink from the responsibility of testifying against the evil, would be to abandon the cause of truth and righteousness, out of a sinfnl, selfish regard to consequences.

Thus stood the matter when the Assembly convened; and men entertaining these opposite views, and coming from North, South, East, and West, were delegates in that Assembly.

The question must be discussed. It was seen on all hands that there was no possibility of avoiding it. There were men there, who would never submit to an entire exclusion of the whole subject from the attention of the Assembly: and consequently all prepared themselves for a full and free expression of opinion, with a desire to reach the truth. It was resolved to sit with open doors, that all, who chose, might hear and report the discussion. The moment was big with interest when that great Assembly entered on a free, full, untrammeled discussion of that great subject which now agitates the world !-How was it to proceed ? How issue? Would the speakers, ardent in the cause, be able to preserve their dignity and suppress passion ? Or should we be obliged again to witness, what had been too often seen already in that same place, ebullitions of evil feelings and unguarded denunciations of brethren? If the discussion should grow too warm, would the community bear it?-And the issue! Were those who had thus far walked together in love, now to be sundered? Was this Constitutional Assembly to be broken into fragments, and were its members to go home alienated from each other, and weeping over the divisions of Israel ? None could tell. All was dark uncertainty

There was evidently a large representation in favor of some decided action on the subject; and in the earlier part of the discussion, votes on a substitute for the original report of the committee, and on a question of indefinite postponement, clearly indicated a strong feeling in favor of bearing testimony against the sin of slavery. At one time it was thought such testimony would certainly be borne by a decided vote of the body; but after a calm, deliberate, and protracted discussion, it was finally resolved, by a large majority, to leave the subject, where it has been, with the lower judicatories.

The argument, condensed and expressed entirely in our own language, was nearly as follows: On the one hand it was contended that slavery was a governmental, civil evil, made legal by the laws of the Southern States; and not only legalized, but manumission, except for colonization, actually prohibited. Many good men, therefore, were involuntarily slave-holders, desiring to manumit, but being unable, because their slaves preferred bondage to colonization in Africa. To censure men, therefore, for what they could not help, without breaking up all the foundations of order and of society itself, did not seem to be the spirit of the gospel.

A second argument was, that a system of slavery, quite as bad as that of the United States, existed under the Roman Empire, in the days of the Apostles, and without any decisive antagonism on their part. The churches were not urged to ecclesiastical action, but, on the contrary, the relation of master and slave was distinctly recognized, and their respective duties clearly and gently pointed out. The conduct of the Apostles is a safe guide, and if they did not deem it necessary ecclesiastically to denounce slavery as a sin, we need feel no scruples about following in their steps. To act differently from them in similar circumstances, might be a very dangerous action. The proper and only safe mode of action on this system, so interwoven with the whole civil polity of the Southern States, was to imitate the Apostles, in preaching the truth on the great subjecť of salvation, and promulgating the grand principles of the gospel. Christ's kingdom is not of this world, therefore, his ministers are not to meddle with political matters, but to preach the gospel.

The other principal argument, on this side of the question, that which we think had most weight,—was, that the unity of this great portion of the church is far more desirable than any divided testimony against slavery as a sin. We had lived and loved together; had walked through the furnace, and had come out purified; God had diffused the spirit of brotherly kindness among us, and had poured out his Spirit in nearly all our churches: why, then, should we proceed to such action, in a case at least doubtful, as would certainly lead to the secession of those Southern ministers and churches, which now sympathize with the Constitutional Assembly, and greatly prefer its organization and principles ? Shall we now, simply for the purpose of having the testimony of this Assembly against slavery, and that

« PreviousContinue »