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which most other persons would probably have given the invitation ; and, so far as I can see, was the only manner, which propriety could have justified. An accusation had been made against certain individuals, sustained, in the view of Mr. Edwards, by evidence sufficient to justify him, in communicating the fact to the church. He did so, without naming the parties accused. The church, instead of calling for their names, voted that the Committee should investigate the case; and, if the evidence appeared to support it, should lay it before the church. With such a voto to guide him, it would have been wholly incorrect in Mr. Edwards, as chairman of the Committee, to have publicly mentioned the names of the persons accused; for the Committee did not know but that they were innocent; and, if they were innocent, to have named them in this manner, would have been, to fix a most unjust stigma upon their characters. As, therefore, both the accused and the witnesses must be present before the Committee ; justice, as well as kindness, demanded, that they should be named without discrimination.
We have seen, that the individuals thus named were very numerous; that some one or more of them belonged to almost every influential family, in the church, and in the town; that the great body of the members of the church, who had just voted at once to investigate the charge, and, if found true, to punish the offenders, on hearing the names of their own children or relatives mentioned, (though they did not know but they were summoned merely as witnesses,) immediately changed their minds, and determined if possible to stop the enquiry; and that they encouraged the young people, in openly contemning the authority of Mr. Edwards and the Church. How different was the conduct even of a heath who, on discovering his son to have been guilty of an offence, which the laws of his country punished with death, could himself, when sitting as judge, utter the fatal order, “I, lictor, liga ad palum,' from that of these professed disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ; who first voted the offence to deserve the discipline of the church, and then, from an apprehension that their own sons might be among those accused of committing it, resolved at all hazards to prevent the investigation, which might establish their guilt. They first voted that the honour of Christ, and the purity of his church, demanded the investigation; and then would not suffer it to proceed, because their own sons might be found among the guilty.
Such was the conduct of a sufficient number of a church, consisting of more than seven hundred members, to put a stop to a case of christian discipline, which they had unanimously resolved to pursue: Math. x. 37,“ He that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy
The personal hostility of the family, residing originally in an adjoining town, was another cause of exciting opposition to VOL. I.
Mr. Edwards, among the people of Northampton. This hostility originated, during the revival of religion in 1734. At that time, there was a prevailing tendency, in the county, and the province, towards Arminianism; and the individual, with whom this hostility commenced, appears to have been strongly biassed in its favour. When Mr. Edwards came forward publicly to oppose it, particularly in his discourses on JUSTIFICATION, with so much talent and success; he thought proper to interfere, and in a sense to demand, that Mr. Edwards should desist from the undertaking. His failure to comply with this demand occasioned a violent hostility ; which, being only rendered rancourous by the publication of these discourses, and by the firmness of Mr. Edwards, in doing what he believed to be his own duty, was at length communicated to various members of the family of a superior character, residing in more distant parts of the country. For the fourteen years following that revival, the individual in question, a near relative of Mr. Edwards, often too visiting Northampton, and always riding by his house, refused except in three instances to enter his door; though Mr. Edwards regularly called on him and his family, and, according to his own statement in a subsequent letter, did all in his power to win his kindness. Probably nothing could more effectually have rivetted this hostility, and rendered the breach irremediable, than the attempt made by Mr. Edwards to change the views of the church at Northampton, and of the country at large, as to the qualifications for christian communion, in direct opposition to the sentiments of Mr. Stoddard. When the difficulties in the church had fairly commenced, this gentleman came often to Northampton, to advise with the leaders of the opposition, and threw his whole influence into that scale. His brother, also, residing at a distance, warmly espoused the same cause, and continued, as long as he resided in the country, the confidential friend and adviser of Mr. Edwards' enemies. When that brother went abroad, he himself discharged the same office, with great zeal and fidelity, regularly helping forward the spirit of disaffection and hostility, until the separation was effected.
But the prime cause of this unhappy event, and that, without which it would not have taken place, was the change in Mr. Edwards' views, respecting the qualifications for communion at the Lord's Supper. - Having been educated in a church, in which a stricter practice had prevailed, he had some degree of hesitation about the correctness of the other mode, even at the time of his ordination. But he never had examined the subject; the controversy respecting it was over, and it had long ceased to be a subject of discussion in the country; the clergy and their churches had taken their sides, and great numbers of both throughout NewEngland, and almost all in the immediate vicinity, had adopted the lax method; other churches were becoming more and more fa
vourable to it; his own colleague and grandfather, the man, whom from his infancy he had been taught to regard with the highest veneration, the man, every where known as “the venerable Stoddard,” the man of wisdom, and piety, and of commanding influence, not only at Northampton, but throughout the province, had been its champion; no very able work, on the other side of the question, had then been written; many arguments of great plausibility could certainly be adduced in its favour; and many clergymen, of sound understanding and unquestioned piety, had been convinced by these arguments, that this was the mode of admission pointed out in the word of God: in these circumstances, it is not surprizing that a young man of twenty-three should conclude, that the practice was probably right, and adopt it of course.
The change, in Mr. Edwards' views on this subject, did not take place suddenly, but was the result of time and circumstances, and the effect of long and laborious investigation. In the revival of 1734, a considerable number of those, who became communicants, appear to have discovered, ultimately, no evidence of the christian character, and no interest in religion. They were members of the christian church, without one characteristic to qualify them for belonging to it. This fact, unquestionably, led Mr. Edwards to doubt the propriety of their admission. His doubts must have been greatly strengthened, in the subsequent revival of 1740; when a still larger number of the same description appear to have been admitted; and, especially, when he saw them, in 1744, uniting their whole strength and influence to prevent the wholesome discipline of the church, and drawing after them great numbers of a better character. These events of providence must have set in a striking light the absurdity, and the danger, of unsanctified professions.
The more Mr. Edwards examined the subject, the more were his convictions strengthened, that the prevailing mode of admission was irrational and unscriptural. As he knew that the question was a practical one, one on which he must act, when his mind was fully made
and that his acting against the lax mode of admission, (to which his conscience would of course constrain him, if he was ultimately convinced that it was unlawful,) would be followed with important consequences, not only to himself and his family, but to the people of Northampton, and to the whole church of the Province; he read, with care, every treatise he could find, in favour of the lax mode of admission, and endeavoured to allow every argument on that side its full weight; that, if at length compelled to take the other side, he might certainly know that it was the side of truth, and that no argument could shake it.
It should here be remembered, that, while Mr. Edwards was thus carefully and conscientiously examining this subject, he perfectly knew, that he could not openly take the side of strict communion, without imminent hazard of sacrificing the comfort and hopes of himself and his family. The church and people of Northampton, with scarcely a dissenting voice, were most bigotedly attached to the other mode: some of them, because they believed it the scriptural mode, and conscientiously regarded the sacrament as a converting ordinance; others, because it was the lax mode, and of course grateful to a mind governed by lax principles; and all, because it had been introduced and defended by Mr. Stoddard, and had now been practised for nearly half a century. If he espoused the stricter mode, he must come out publicly in its defence, and of course in direct opposition, to his grandfather. The churches and clergy of the county, with scarcely a dissenting voice, were absolutely determined to maintain that mode. and would, in that case, be decidedly opposed to him. The minister of Springfield had not forgotten the opposition, made by him to his own settlement. Four others of the clergy were connected with the family, and accustomed to act with them of course. Numbers of the clergy, were either openly or covertly Arminian in sentiment; and, in consequence of the successful attacks of Mr. Edwards on their own system of faith and practice, were by no means to be regarded as his friends. He was past forty-five years of age; he was almost wholly without property; and he had eight children all dependent on his salary for their support. That salary was the largest salary paid by any country congregation in New-England. If he came out openly on this side, he well knew that his church and people, in a body, would turn against him, and demand his dismission; and that the clergy and churches of the county, who would in all probability be the umpires in case of any controversy, would, with scarce an exception, side with his people. Rare indeed is the instance, in which any individual has entered on the investigation of a difficult point in casuistry, with so many motives to bias his judgment. Yet Mr. Edwards, in examining the arguments on both sides, seems from the beginning to have risen above every personal consideration, and to have been guided only by his conscience. At every step of his progress towards the ultimate result, he saw these accumulated evils before him ; and, when his mind at length decided, that he could never more, with a clear conscience, receive any one into the church, upon the lax plan of admission; he threw himself on the care and protection of a faithful God with the very trust and courage of a martyr.
Having thus found, that a minute survey of the causes, which led to the dismission of Mr. Edwards, only serves to exhibit his evangelical integrity, and the general excellence of his christian character, in a clearer and stronger light; we will now review the
conduct of the various parties, connected with this unhappy controversy, from its commencement to its close.
The time and manner, adopted by Mr. Edwards, for making his sentiments known, are worthy of our observation. Several years before the ultimate crisis, his mind was so far settled as to the subject of his enquiry, that he found, unless he could obtain more light with regard to it, it would be impossible for him to receive any one into the church, according to the existing mode of admission. At this time, he “ freely and openly expressed this opinion, before several of the people; which occasioned it to be talked of among many in the town, and in various parts of the land.” In the work on Religious Affections, also, he intentionally gave very explicit intimations of his views of Visible Christians, and of the nature of a Christian Profession ; particularly, in the following remarks: “A Profession of Christianity implies a profession of all, that belongs to the essence of christianity. The profession must be of the thing professed. For a man to profess christianity, is for him
, to declare that he has it; and therefore, so much as belongs to a true definition of a thing, so much is essential to a true declaration of that thing. If we take only a part of christianity, and leave out an essential part; what we take is not christianity, because something of the essence of it is wanting. So if we profess only a part, and leave out an essential part; what we profess is not christianity. Thus, in order to a profession of christianity, we must profess, that we believe that Jesus is the Messiah,—and that Jesus made satisfaction for our sins, and other essential doctrines of the Gospel ; because a belief of these things is essential to christianity. But other things are as essential to religion, as an orthodox belief; which, of course, it is as necessary that we should profess, in order to our being truly said to profess christianity. Thus, it is essential to christianity, that we repent of our sins, that we be convinced of our own sinfulness, that we are sensible we have justly exposed ourselves to the wrath of God, that our hearts renounce all sin, that we do with our whole hearts embrace Christ as our only Saviour, that we love him above all, that we are willing for his sake to forsake all that we have, and that we give up ourselves to be entirely and forever his. These things as truly belong to the essence of christianity, as the belief of any of the doctrines of the Gospel ; and therefore, the profession of them as much belongs to a christian profession.—And, as to those things, which christians should express in their profession,—they ought to express their repentance of sin—their conviction, that God would be just in their damnation
- their faith in Christ, and reliance on him as their Saviour, and joyfully receiving his Gospel—their reliance on his righteousness and strength, and their devotion to him as their only Lord and Saviour—that they give up themselves entirely to Christ, and to God through him—their willingness of heart to embrace religion,