« AnteriorContinuar »
ART. IV.- DOMESTIC MISSIONS.
1. The Fifteenth Annual Report of the Board of Missions
of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.
Presented May, 1831. 2. The Fifth Annual Report of the Home Missionary
Society. Presented May, 1831.
These annual reports of two very important Missionary Boards, have received, what they undoubtedly merit, a large share of public attention. It is deeply to be regretted, however, that this attention, in the minds of so many individuals, should have been connected with feelings of controversy, of ardent rivalship, and even of something allied to hostility. We have no desire to revive, much less to extend, these feelings. Much rather would we allay or terminate them, especially as we entertain the opinion that they ought never to have been excited. But the recent perusal of the reports before us, has given rise to a train of thought which we feel inclined to lay before our readers.
In reflecting on the objects and the posture of the two Boards, whose reports are before us, one of the first thoughts which arose in our minds, was that of regret and even of surprise, that either of them should ever have entertained the wish of amalgamation, or, indeed, of any other kind of official connection with the other. We will not stop to inquire with which of them a proposal of this kind originated, or by which it has been warmly and perseveringly urged: but with whomsoever it originated, or by whomsoever it was pressed, we are persuaded that, however plausible it might have, at first, appeared, and however favoured for a time by the friends of peace, a more unwise proposal was never made; whether we have respect to the prosperity and efficiency of the Boards themselves, or the amount of usefulness which they might hope, jointly or severally, to be the means of imparting to the Redeemer's kingdom.
The truth is, the ministers and members of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, are seriously divided in opinion on several questions, and among the rest, on this, viz. “Whether, in conducting Missionary operations, it is better to act by an Ecclesiastical body, or by a voluntary
association.” In reference to this question, it is not easy to say on which side the majority lies. On each side, there is, undoubtedly, much piety, talent, zeal, and activity. And where conscientious men not only think differently, but feel strongly, and attach great importance to their respective opinions and feelings, there seems no possibility, without a miracle, of avoiding controversy; and controversy rendered on the one hand more ardent and impassioned, and, on the other, more mischievous and deplorable, by the very circumstance that those who are engaged in it are good men, and act on honest and deep conviction.
If we be asked with which of these disputants we agree? we answer, we do not entirely agree with either. We think both, to a certain extent, right, and both wrong. We are of the opinion, that every Church which believes her professed doctrines, and values her own peculiar order, owes it to her Master in heaven, to the cause of truth, and to herself, to endeavour to propagate, as extensively as she can, these doctrines and this order; and to do this in her ecclesiastical capacity. In fact, every Church, that would be faithful to the great object for which a Church was instituted, ought to consider herself as a MISSIONARY SOCIETY, bound to maintain in perfect purity, and to spread abroad to every creature, all the doctrines and institutions of Christ. That Church which contributes largely of the pecuniary means which God has given her towards the propagation of the Gospel, and the building up of Zion, and yet gives the application of these means entirely out of her own hands to an irresponsible body or bodies of men, who may or may not employ them agreeably to her wishes, may be pious, and zealous, and active; but surely cannot be considered as faithful to her own confession and testimony before men. If she does not believe her doctrine and order to be conformed to the word of God, she ought not to attempt, for one moment, to maintain them; but if she really supposes them to be founded upon, and agreeable to, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, she ought not indeed to be bigotedly or blindly attached to them; she ought not to cherish an offensive, proselyting spirit; far less ought she, with fierce and fiery zeal, or by any other indirect or unsuitable means, to attempt to enlarge her borders. But still she ought, undoubtedly, by all fair, honest, and honourable means, to endeavour to extend the reception of the influence of what she verily believes to be the truth as it is in
VOL. Iv. No. I.-K
Jesus. Those who call this sectarianism, or High Church, plainly show that they understand neither the authorized meaning of terms, nor the nature of Christian duty. There is no question, it is true, that individuals and bodies of professing Christians, by perverting these principles, or carrying them to excess, may deserve to bear the stigma of these opprobrious names. But it is just as plain, that all enlightened and conscientious Christians, and by consequence all Churches, which are made up of individual Christians, are bound to use all means consistent with the entire exercise of Christian charity; in short, all those means which they are cordially willing should be used toward themselves, for promoting the reign of that faith and practice which they sincerely believe will be conducive to the best interests of mankind. It is beautiful, indeed, and truly edifying, to see the disciples of Christ acknowledging Christians of different evangelical denominations as brethren in Christ, communing with them, and joy. fully co-operating with them in plans and efforts for spreading the Redeemer's kingdom. All this may be done without the sacrifice of a single truth or duty; nay, to the great advancement of Christian edification. But when those who consider themselves as “witnesses for God,” in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, (as all professing Christians ought to be, and to consider themselves, are willing to give up every distinguishing point in their testimony, to break down every fence which excludes error, and to pronounce all steady and consistent “contending for the faith once delivered to the saints,” sectarian bigotry; they may greatly applaud themselves as patterns of expanded charity; but they rather deserve the title of latitudinarians, and, so far as their influence extends, are but preparing the way for that liberality which really confounds truth and error.
We think, then, that we see very powerful reasons why every denomination of Christians, as such, and especially in an extended, growing, and free country like this, should have in constant and vigorous operation a Missionary system for publishing and extending their own peculiar principles, sending forth itinerant preachers, disseminating books, and planting Churches of her own order; and thus, while they are ready and liberal in contributing, as far as they are able to the extension of the cause of Christ in general, bend their principal force toward the propagation of that pure system which
Christ has committed to his Church to be maintained and extended.
On the other hand, we are quite as well persuaded that voluntary associations for spreading the Gospel have been eminently useful,—may still be eminently useful,—and ought by no means to be denounced or put down. They may enlist as active, steady, and liberal coadjutors, many whom, perhaps, no ecclesiastical body could attract or engage. They may gain access to persons and places which no ecclesiastical Board could so well, or, perhaps, at all, reach. And their irresponsible and unshackled movements may prove eminently conducive to the extent, the popularity, and the vigour of their operations. We have, therefore, greatly rejoiced in the existence of such a body as the “American Home Missionary Society.” We have wished it well, have been glad to hear of its prosperity; and cannot for a moment doubt that it has been extensively useful. Thus we have thought concerning it; and thus we still think. It holds a most important place in the great operations of the present day for the conversion of the world. Important as is the Board of Missions of the General Assembly, and freely as we give to it our first and our peculiar affection, as the organ for extending that Church which we decisively prefer to any other on earth;—it by no means, in our opinion, supersedes the necessity of the Home Missionary Society. There is ample room for both and more. There is abundant need of both. And no one, it seems to us, can doubt that a much greater amount of good has been accomplished, and is likely to be accomplished by both, than by either alone. Our judgment, then, is, that both ought to be encouraged and sustained. Let each keep its proper place; let each do its appropriate work—and all will be well. There, surely, ought to be no collision in such a cause as this; and, surely, there need be none, if all parties, after informing themselves of the real state of facts in every part of the country, were disposed to act, in all cases, in the genuine spirit of the Gospel.
Some, indeed, have felt apprehensive that voluntary associations might become animated by such a spirit of inordinate ambition; might so encroach, and grasp, and invade, as finally either to break down those ecclesiastical Boards which are now prosperous and efficient, or so bind them to their own car, as to embarrass and enfeeble their movements, and ultimately to defeat the primary purpose for which they were
formed. Dangers of this kind have been apprehended by some from the movements of the Home Missionary Society. But surely a plan so obviously unjustifiable as this, ought not lightly to be imputed to a body of truly pious and respectable men. Such a course, on their part, would be as plainly impolitic and unwise as it would be unjust. It would be blindly indulging a spirit of present cupidity, at the certain expense of a proportional loss of influence, and consequently of power, in time to come. In our opinion, the real strength, and the ultimate consummation of the popularity and unenvied triumph of the Home Missionary Society, will be best of all consulted by her faithfully retaining that place, in truth, as well as in the public eye, which has been described:-interfering with no ecclesiastical arrangement; seeking no connexion with any ecclesiastical body; subjecting her plans and movements to no ecclesiastical stipulations. A different course, though it may promise to that Society more influence and potency at present, will assuredly engender jealousy, hostility, and strife, and tend ultimately, and at no great distance of time, to weaken and embarrass it in a manner and to a degree not now anticipated. Nay, we will be candid enough to say, that if we were capable of entertaining such projects, and were about to sketch a plan by which that Society might most speedily and surely gain a paramount influence in the United States, we should advise its conductors sacredly to act on the principles just laid down. They would thereby make more friends, create fewer enemies, excite less jealousy, and speedily gain a degree of influence over all open, candid, liberal minds, which scarcely any thing could resist.
It is earnestly to be hoped, then, that the conductors of the Home Missionary Society will, in time to come, scrupulously adopt this course: that we shall never hear more of amalgamation with the Assembly's Board of Missions; of a Joint Executive Committee beyond the mountains; or of any other device for implicating either Board with the plans and movements of the other. On some points of policy and duty we feel dubious, and as if nothing but fair experiment could indicate with certainty the wisest course; but as to the correctness of the judgment which we have expressed, we have no more doubt than we have of the truth of any mathematical axiom. And if we belonged to the Board of Direction, or to the Executive Committee of that Society, and were as exclusively devoted to its interests as a conscientious Christian ought to