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Commencement of Difficulties at Northampton.- Case of Disci
pline.- Conduct of the Church.— Change, as to admission of members, effected by Mr. Stoddard.—Controversy with Dr. Mather.-Lar mode of admission, early introduced into Massachusetts.—Reasons of its extensive adoption.--Mr. Edwards makes kenown his sentiments.—Violent ferment in the town.Causes of it.—Mr. Edwards not allowed to preach on the subject.—Publishes “ Qualifications for Communion.”—Town request Mr. Williams and Mr. Clark to answer Mr. Edwards' Lectures.-Difficulties in the choice of a Council.
In the progress of this work, we are now arrived at one of the most painful and most surprising events, recorded in the Ecclesiastical history of New England—the separation of Mr. Edwards from the Church and Congregation at Northampton. In detailing the various circumstances connected with it, it is proper, instead of uttering reproaches, to present a statement of facts; for which, as the reader will see, we have been able to procure abundant materials and those of the best character.
Mr. Edwards was, for many years, unusually happy in the esteem and love of his people ; and there was, during that period, the greatest prospect of his living and dying so. So admirably was he qualified for the discharge of his official duties, and so faithful in the actual discharge of them, that he was probably the last minister in New England, who would have been thought likely to be opposed and rejected by the people of his charge. His uniform kindness, and that of Mrs. Edwards, had won their affection, and the exemplary piety of both had secured their confidence; his very able and original exhibitions of truth on the Sabbath, had enlightened their understandings and their consciences; his published works had gained him a reputation for powerful talents, both in Europe and America, which left him without a competitor, either in the Colonies or the mother country ; his professional labours had been blessed in a manner wholly singular; he had been the means of gathering one of the largest churches on earth; and, of such of the members as had any real evidence of their own piety, the great body ascribed their conversion to his instrumentality. But the
event teaches us the instability of all earthly things, and proves how incompetent we are to calculate those consequences which depend on a cause so uncertain and changeable, as the Will of man.
In the year 1744, about six years before the final separation, Mr. Edwards was informed, that some young persons in the town, who were members of the church, had licentious books in their possession, which they employed to promote lascivious and obscene conversation, among the young people at home. Upon farther enquiry, a number of persons testified, that they had heard one and another of them, from time to time, talk obscenely; as what they were led to, by reading books of this gross character, which they had circulating among them. On the evidence thus presented to him, Mr. Edwards thought that the brethren of the church ought to look into the matter; and, in order to introduce it to their attention, he preached a Sermon from Heb. xü. 15, 16, “ Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled : lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” After sermon, he desired the brethren of the church to stop, told them what information he had received, and put the question to them in form, Whether the church, on the evidence before them, thought proper to take any measures to examine into the matter? The members of the church, with one consent and with much zeal, manifested it to be their opinion that it ought to be enquired into; and proceeded to choose a number of individuals as a Committee of Enquiry, to assist their pastor in examining into the affair. After this, Mr. Edwards appointed the time for the Committee of the church to meet at his house; and then read to the church a catalogue of the names of the young persons, whom he desired to come to his house at the same time. Some of those, whose names were thus read, were the persons accused, and some were witnesses; but, through mere forgetfulness or inadvertence on his part, he did not state to the church, in which of these two classes, any particular individual was included; or in what character, he was requested to meet the Committee, whether as one of the accused, or as a witness.
When the names were thus published, it appeared that there were but few of the considerable families in town, to which some of the persons named, either did not belong, or were not nearly related. Many of the church, however, having heard the names read, condemned what they had done, before they got home to their own houses; and whether this disclosure of the names, accompanied with the apprehension, that some of their own connexions were included in the list of offenders, was the occasion of the alteration or not; it is certain that, before the day appointed for the meeting of the Committee arrived, a great number of heads of families altered their minds, and declared they did not think proper to proceed as
they had begun, and that their children should not be called to an account in such a way for such conduct; and the town was suddenly all in a blaze. This strengthened the hands of the accused: some refused to appear ; others, who did appear, behaved with a great degree of insolence, and contempt of the authority of the church : and little or nothing could be done further in the affair.
This was the occasion of weakening Mr. Edwards' hands in the work of the ministry; especially among the young people, with whom, by this means, he greatly lost his influence. It seemed in a great measure to put an end to his usefulness at Northampton, and doubtless laid a foundation for his removal, and will help to account for the surprizing events which we are about to relate. He certainly had no great visible success after this; the influences of the Holy Spirit were chiefly withheld, and stupidity and worldlymindedness were greatly increased among them. That great and singular degree of good order, sound morals, and visible religion, which had for years prevailed at Northampton, soon began gradually to decay, and the young people obviously became from that time more wanton and dissolute.
ANOTHER difficulty of a far more serious nature, originated from an event, to which I have already alluded. The church of Northampton, like the other early churches of New England, was formed on the plan of Strict Communion: in other words, none were admitted to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, but those who, after due examination, were regarded as regenerate persons. Such was the uniform practice of the church, from its formation, during the ministry of Mr. Mather,* and for a considerable period after the settlement of Mr. Stoddard, the predecessor of Mr. Edwards. How early Mr. Stoddard changed his sentiments, on this subject, it
perhaps, impossible now to decide. On important subjects, men usually change their sentiments some time before they avow such change ; and clergymen often lead their people gradually and imperceptibly to adopt the opinions, or the practice, which they have embraced, before they avow them in set form from the desk. Mr. Stoddard publicly avowed this change of his opinions in 1704, when he had been in the ministry at Northampton thirty-two years; and endeavoured, at that time, to introduce a corresponding change in the practice of the church. He then declared himself, in the language of Dr. Hopkins, to be “ of the opinion, that unconverted persons, considered as such, had a right in the sight of God, or by his appointment, to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; that therefore it was their duty to come to that ordinance, though they knew they had no true goodness or evangelical holiness. He maintained, that visible christianity does not consist in a profession or appearance of that, wherein true holiness or real christianity consists; that therefore the profession, which persons make, in order to be received as visible members of Christ's church, ought not to be such as to express or imply a real compliance with, or consent to, the terms of this covenant of grace, or a hearty embracing of the gospel : so that they who really reject Jesus Christ, and dislike the gospel way of salvation in their hearts, and know that this is true of themselves, may make the profession without lying and hypocrisy,” [on the principle, that they regard the sacrament as a converting ordinance, and partake of it with the hope of obtaining conversion.] “ He formed a short Profession for persons to make, in order to be admitted into the church, answerable to this principle; and accordingly persons were admitted into the church, and to the sacrament, on these terms. Mr. Stoddard's principle at first made a great noise in the country; and he was opposed, as introducing something contrary to the principles, and the practice, of almost all the churches in New-England; and the matter was publicly controverted between him and Dr. Increase Mather of Northampton, However, through Mr. Stoddard's great influence over the people of Northampton, it was introduced there, though not without opposition : by degrees it spread very much among ministers and people in that county, and in other parts of New England.”
* Mr. Mather, the first minister, began to preach at Northampton, in the summer of 1658, was ordained June 18th, 1661, and died July 24th, 1669. Mr. Stoddard began to preach there soon after the death of Mr. M. and was ordained Sept. 11th, 1672.
The first publication of Mr. Stoddard, on the subject, was entitled, “ A Sermon on the Lord's Supper,” from Exodus xii. 47,48, printed in the year 1707. In this Sermon he attempted to prove, “ That Sanctification is not a necessary qualification to partaking in the Lord's Supper;"_and, “ That the Lord's Supper is a Converting Ordinance.” To this Sermon, a Reply was given in 1708, entitled, “A Dissertation, wherein the Strange Doctrine lately published in a Sermon, the tendency of which is to encourage Unsanctified Persons, while such, to approach the Holy Table of the Lord, is examined and confuted, by Increase Mather, D.D."* To
* I have not been able to find a copy of Mr. Stoddard's Sermon. From that of Mr. Mather, I find that he insisted on the following points: 1. That it is not to be imagined, that John Baptist judged all baptized by him to be regenerate: 2. That, if unregenerate persons might not be baptized, the Pharisees would not have been blamed for neglecting baptism : 3. That the children of God's people should be baptized, who are generally at that time in a natural condition: 4. That a minister, who knows himself unre. generate, may nevertheless lawfully administer baptism and the Lord's Supper : 5. That as unregenerate persons might lawfully come to the Passover, they may also come to the Lord's Supper, if they have knowledge to discern the Lord's Body: 6. That it is lawful for unregenerate men to give a Testimony to the Death of Christ; that they need to learn
this Reply Mr. Stoddard published a Rejoinder, in 1709, entitled, “ AN APPEAL TO THE LEARED; being a Vindication of the right of visible saints to the Lord's Supper, though they be destitute of a saving work of God's Spirit on their Hearts; against the exceptions of Mr. Increase Mather." Whether any reply was published by Dr. Mather, I have not been able to ascertain.
what God teaches in this ordinance, and to profess what christians profess, viz. their need of Christ and the saving virtue of his blood : 7. That there is no certain knowledge, who has sanctifying grace: 8. That tbe opposite doctrine hardens men in their unregeneracy: 9. That, if unregenerate persons have no right to the Sacrament, then those who come must have assurance: 10. That no other country does neglect this ordinance as we in New England; and that in our own nation at home, so in Scotland, Holland, Denmark, Sweedland, Germany and France, they do generally celebrate the memorial of Christ's death.
Dr. Mather, after stating in his Preface that, notwithstanding his errors, he esteems Mr. Stoddard as a pious brother, and an able minister of the New Testament, a serious practical preacher, in his ministry designing the conversion and edification of the souls of men; and that as such, he does and shall love and honour him, and hopes to meet him where LUTHER and Zuinglius differ not in their opinions; and that still he believes, by his Sermon, he has grieved the Holy Spirit of God in the hearts of many of his children, and gratified the spirit of the world; proceeds to allege the following considerations : 1. That Mr. Stoddard's sentiments are contrary to many express passages of Scripture: 2. That unsanctified men are not fit materials for a Church, and therefore not for admission to the Lord's Supper; and that in primitive times none, but those thought to be converted, were received into particular churches: 3. That unsanctified persons are not in covenant with God, and therefore have no right to the Seal of the Covenant: 4. That there is no Scriptural Promise of Conversion by the Sacrament: 5. That, if a Converting Ordinance, it is not to be withheld from the most profane: 6. That that opinion, which is contrary to the profession and practice of the churches, in the primitive and purest times of christianity, and to the judgment of the most eminent Reformers, and which agrees with the doctrine of Papists, and the looser sort of Protestants, ought not to be received among the churches of New England: 7. That it is impossible for unregenerate persons, while such, to be worthy partakers of the Lord's Table. These were followed by an examination, and at. tempted refutation, of each of Mr. Stoddard's arguments, separately considered.
* This Appeal consists of three parts: I. An attempted Refutation of the Arguments of Dr. Mather: II. An attempted Refutation of the Arguments of Mr. Vines, Mr. Baxter, and Mr. Charnock: III. A Series of direct Arguments, eleven in number, to prove his main positions. Of these the first five and the ninth are found in the Sermon. The others are as follows: 6. Unsanctified men may attend all other ordinances, and duties of worship; and therefore the Lord's Supper : 7. Some unsanctified persons are in external covenant with God,* and therefore may come to the
* By “ some unsanctified persons” in this and the following heads, Mr. S. refers to those professors of religion in good standing, who in their own view and in the viow of others are obviously not christians.