Imágenes de páginas


WESTEL WILLOUGHBY, M. D. died at Newport, N. Y., October 3, 1844, aged 74 years. Dr. Willoughby was born in Goshen, Conn., but in early life established himself in Herkimer county, N. Y., then a comparatively unsettled part of the country. Here he spent his days, the object of esteem, confidence and respect throughout a wide region. Standing among the first in his profession, he was also elected to various places of public trust, at one time discharging judicial functions, and at another holding a seat in the national legislature. Amiable, upright and disinterested, he deserved the estimation which he enjoyed. An enlightened and consistent Unitarian, he for many years was a member of the church in Trenton under the pastoral care of Rev. Mr. Peirce. His death was preceded by a long interval of gradual decay, which made the termination an event to be desired rather than deplored. We recur to his days of health, and think of him as a dear and honored friend.


HON. JONAS KENDALL died at Leominster, Mass., October 22, 1844, aged 87 years. Mr. Kendall spent his long life in his native town, where he enjoyed a high and well-deserved estimation. Diligent and successful in business, he found time for much and careful reading and for the discharge of various public trusts. He was often in the State legislature, and during one term represented his district in Congress. "He was long a member of the Christian Church," and cherished the faith and hope of the Gospel.


DEACON JAMES ALGER died at Chelsea, Mass., November 2, 1844, aged 74 years. Mr. Alger was born in Bridgewater, where he passed the greater part of his life, and where he was long connected with the church under the charge of Rev. Dr. Sanger. His latter years were passed beneath the roof of his son, the pastor of the First church in Chelsea. Peculiar physical infirmities prevented him for many years from pursuing any active employment, but the privation was borne patiently, while he waited for his departure with Christian resignation and hope.


HON. WILLIAM PRESCOTT, LL.D. died at Boston, Mass., December 8, 1844, aged 82 years. Judge Prescott was a native of Pepperell in this State. After graduating at Harvard College, in 1783, and pursuing his professional studies under the late Mr. Dane, he devoted himself to the practice of the law successively in Beverly, Salem, and Boston, till the year 1828, when the state of his health obliged him to relinquish such engagements, and spend the last years of his life in the more secluded habits of a Christian scholar. He was called by his fellow-citizens to sustain various important relations in civil life, but he declined an elevation to the judicial bench except for a brief period, when he presided in the Court of Common Pleas for this county. His sound judgment, various learning, and unspotted integrity gave him a large influence. Learning and religion always found from him ready and faithful service. After his removal to Boston he became a member of the New South congregation, with which he continued till his death. He died suddenly, of an affection of the heart.


[blocks in formation]

It is obvious that the condition and prospects of any religious denomination must depend not merely on its professed tenets and constitution, and on the views, character, manners and social position of its members; but, in some measure also, on the civil and ecclesiastical institutions of the country, on the presence or absence of an Established Church, and on the spirit, disposition and influence of the prevailing sects by which it is surrounded. In all these respects the Unitarians of England and America differ materially; though it is still true that much of what has lately appeared in the pages of the Christian Examiner on the

* We are indebted for this paper to a clerical friend in England, by whom it was prepared for the Examiner at our request. In his own words, the writer desires that "the following observations may be regarded merely as the expression of his individual views and feelings; especially as he is removed to a distance from the great focus of information in the metropolis; and as the several congregations of which the body consists are so entirely independent of each other, and vary so much in their character and circumstances, that the impression produced on the mind of an individual by such observations as he is able to make on a part of this extensive field, may or may not be applicable to the whole." VOL. XXXVIII. 4TH S. VOL. III. NO. III.


present position of the latter, may to a very considerable extent be applied to the former. In both countries, the public profession of Unitarian sentiments by religious bodies, known and distinguished from others by their avowed adoption of these views, has been the slow and gradual, but, as it would seem, the natural and almost inevitable result of the habitual exercise of free inquiry and private judgment, unfettered by subscriptions to human creeds and articles of faith. In most instances the spirit of liberality has first shown itself openly in the practical assertion of this right; and the cases are but few in either country, where the consistent and unbiased employment of it has failed, in process of time, to lead the way to a gradually widening deviation from the received standards of orthodoxy. On the other hand, those churches which have continued for a series of years to profess, unchanged, the tenets of their forefathers, have almost invariably manifested the spirit of conservatism by the strict enforcement of subscription to a specified creed.

From the earliest period in the history of English Protestant Dissent, this appears to have been the most marked line of distinction between the two leading bodies which received the respective denominations of Presbyterians and Independents. The first of these names was borne by much the larger portion of the "ejected ministers," — that noble band of confessors, who on St. Bartholomew's day, 1662, when the Act of Uniformity came into operation, surrendered their stations in the Church of England. They inherited this name from those who, towards the close of the civil wars between Charles and his Parliament, would gladly have erected on the ruins of the Episcopal Establishment a national Church of their own, under the auspices and patronage of the State; and it must be owned, that in their attempts to accomplish this object, some of their leaders at that time betrayed a spirit of intolerance not inferior to that of the other politico-religious sects of their day. The ordeal, however, which awaited their descendants in the persecuting reigns of Charles II. and James II., seems to have completely cured them of all disposition to lord it in this manner over the consciences of their brethren; and hence, in the time of King William, the term Presbyterian iu this country no longer implied any peculiar form of

church government; and was in fact nothing more than the received denomination of a certain class of Dissenters, varying to a considerable extent in their opinions on controverted points, but united in disclaiming all pretension or inclination to bind either themselves, or other churches, or their own successors, to the profession of any creed or articles of human formation. Resting their own faith on "the Bible and the Bible only," and conceding to others the same privilege which they claimed for themselves, of ascertaining, by the unbiased use of the best lights they could command, the true meaning of that sacred standard, they sought and duly valued the stores of human learning for that purpose; but allowed no uninspired man or body of men to prescribe to them what they were to think, to believe, or to do, in order to obtain eternal life. They gladly looked to human learning to assist, but not to human authority to direct, their judgment. They could not but be conscious, that in the exercise of this liberty they had themselves in many instances seen reason to change the opinions they once professed, and to deviate considerably from the strict rule of what their fathers had styled orthodoxy; and therefore they would naturally anticipate the probability, that those who were to come after them would in like manner be led to reject some things which appeared to them to be true, and to adopt others which they had not found in the word of God.


It is not enough to say that they would naturally do this: we know from the history of those times, that they did in fact draw this obvious inference from their principles, and that they did act upon it. This is manifest from the wellknown character of their most distinguished leaders, and from many remarkable passages in their writings.* It is also seen, not only in the unfettered constitution of their churches, but in the absence of all restrictive doctrinal clauses from the deeds and other documents by which the places of worship they erected, and the property of various kinds set apart by them to religious uses, were conveyed.

* Decisive evidence to this effect is exhibited in a very curious collection of "Historical Proofs and Illustrations," prepared for the House of Lords on behalf of the Appellants in the Hewley case, by the Rev. Joseph Hunter. It is much to be wished that this valuable work could have been laid before the public, in a form which would have rendered it generally accessible.

They were the more likely to draw this inference from the additional circumstance, that the age in which they lived was peculiarly an age of controversy; when many points of doctrine on which Christian sects have been accustomed to differ, particularly the doctrine of the Trinity and the leading tenets of Calvinism, were made the subjects of eager and vehement debate by various parties both among Churchmen and Dissenters.

In the constitution of their churches, though called Presbyterians, they were practically Independents or Congregationalists; at least as much so as those who at that time were distinguished by these names, and who have transmitted them to a large and increasing body of Dissenters at the present time. For each congregation was from the first, and has always continued to be, perfectly independent and free from any external control in the management of its own concerns. But the two denominations, though agreeing in this respect, differed widely in the other more important particulars to which we have already referred. The Independents, while they rejected all external interference, adopted in each separate congregation a rigid system of internal discipline, and maintained in their strictest. form the doctrines of Calvin, as they found them embodied in the catechisms and Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly. Not contented with this, they sought to impose the same profession upon others, and introduced into the trust-deeds of their chapels and endowments provisions strictly tying them down to the exclusive support and maintenance of certain specified opinions. From that time to the present, the two parties, with a very few exceptions on either side, have continued to act on these opposite principles; the consequence of which has been, that while the descendants or representatives of the one party still maintain (at least in words*) the creed of their forefathers,

* There can however be no doubt, that in very many cases, even where the words are still retained, the meaning assigned to them deviates materially from the rigid system of the Independents in 1694, when the final separation took place between them and the Presbyterians. A series of articles were put forth a few years ago as a sort of declaration of faith by the London Congregational Board, which would certainly have been regarded by the founders of their sect as a grievous falling off from the true standard. These articles were adduced in the discussions which took place after the decision of the Hewley case, as to the division of the spoil, to prove that the Independents had no claim, as being not only

« AnteriorContinuar »