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the account. The best intentions cannot, in their view, render dissent innocent. To presume to inquire, is sin, to doubt, is to follow the suggestions of satan, to defend and publish dissent is to deserve exclusion from christian fellowship, and a threat of eternal wrath. Mr. Field should have considered this, for he lives where there are staring witnesses to its truth. Yet he seems never to have thought it possible that it could be so with him. He opened his mind candidly, to those around him, and thought they would not condemn a brother until they had argued and laboured with him concerning his alleged errors. Although, as he says, he knew there were men amongst them capable of intrigue,' yet he never barboured a jealousy, that they could have views which would lead them to treat him in so ungenerous and unchristian a manner.' But his unsuspecting temper led him into error. His friends and familiar acquaintance, yea, the very men that acknowledge they have
received from him much instruction,' and have looked to him as an oracle,' rejected him as a heretic, but without taking the trouble of a second or even a first admonition.
а We have no personal knowledge of Mr. Field or of the circumstances of the present transaction. We cannot help regretting, however, that he has not been able to bear this visitation with more equanimity, and that his pamphlet is not better written. But perhaps we might find some excuse for the first burst of emotion in a man, who is suddenly aroused from his delusion and finds himself betrayed where he placed confidence. Even the strong and sometimes coarse sarcasm which he employs, helps to indicate an honesty and strait forwardness of purpose and spirit which cannot be disapproved. And whatever may be the blemishes of a pamphlet, thus written hastily under circumstances of strong excitement and sudden impulse, the case itself has some claim to attention, and will suggest to our readers matter for useful reflection.
Mr. Field, it appears, was a member of the · Franklin Asso. ciation of ministers, and had been so since its formation. Now every one knows that an association has no ecclesiastical authority or domination. Undoubtedly such a body may reject from it any member it pleases; it may do this on the charge of erroneous opinions in theology, or for sins against good taste in composition, or for any assignable cause. But this would be very inconsistent with ihe object of the association, and opposed to the almost universal practice in the churches; such bodies being, in every part of the country, constituted year after year of members who differ, and are known to differ, widely in theological sentiment They never were intended to be tribunals
for the judgment of heresy. This is so certain, that in some parts of the country new bodies have been erected which might have this character, called coN-sociations. It is consistent for these to discipline their members for opinion, because they agree to be disciplined; but in the others, it amounts to a virtual breach of engagement, since a man joins them with the understanding that he is to have perfect freedom of thought and speech. The Franklin Association was, in this respect, no different from others.
The body is constituted by a voluntary subscription to articles, which contain nothing of the nature of a creed; but are intended solely to regulate the conduct of the members in fulfilling the obligations they assume to assist each other in ministerial improvement, literary and moral. No member makes himself amenable to the body for his opinions, as if they were a tribunal for final judgment and decision. Discussion is the grand object, and this with a view to increase in knowledge, and to correct mistakes. Accordingly, let it be further observed, that the exercises, in which the meetings, that are stated and periodical, are employed, have generally been the proposing and answering of questions in theoretic and practical theology. Dissertations have been read, in a multitude of instances, for examination and remark, whether by previous assignment, or otherwise.' p. 3.
This arrangement of duties at the stated social meetings of ministers, is undoubtedly judicious, and calculated to be eminently useful, so long as discussion should be perfectly open and free. But nothing can be more preposterously absurd, if there be but one standard of opinion, and disagreement be made dangerous. It overthrows at once the obvious intention of the institution, and renders it as little useful for the purpose of 'increasing knowledge, and correcting mistakes,' as if the members were only to question each other out of the assembly's cate-. chism. It is vain to write dissertations and discuss questions, where men cannot safely go out of a prescribed circle, and agree to differ. It is mere mockery to pretend improvement, where every suggestion of improvement or even attempt to explain,' may subject one to the loss of his standing. Besides, no association ever existed in which the members were all perfectly agreed in all points of doctrine. It would be a lamentable thing if they should be: for even the members of the Franklin Association could once argue, 'that there was an advantage for improvement, in having a diversity of religious sentiment in the body.' And if they were really anxious for improvement, why should they fear diversity on one subject more than on
New Series-vol. IV.
Our author, belonging to an association thus constituted, and thus professing a readiness to discuss and improve, in which therefore he might expect candour and hope to speak without rebuke, to find aid rather than censure ;--availed himself of the custom of reading dissertations for examination and remark, to introduce his thoughts on various topics which had exercised his mind. The manner in which they were received is very characteristic.
• In the course of this established usage, I solicited, as I had frequently done before, at a regular meeting, the attention of the body to a MS. I had prepared, the same which bas since gone into print. It was, in part, attended to, at that and a subsequent meeting ; but the whole was never read in that body, for the sole reason, that the members discovered no disposition to aid the writer, by their remarks, in his inquiries. They uniformly excused themselves from even giving an opinion of the correctness of the statements and reasonings, which had been submitted to them. And the same studied reserve has been maintained to this day, except so far as will appear in the sequel. p. 4.
The writer is so inattentive to dates, that we cannot learn when this took place. In another part of the pamphlet we are told, that the association have known him to profess and endeavour to defend these doctrines, for more than ten years past.' But when he first submitted them in formal disserta. tions, he does not say. However this may be, he certainly had no reasonable ground to apprehend that at length he was to be formally convicted of a damnable heresy : for he had not been very urgently contradicted, no considerable pains had been taken to prove to him his error, and some individuals even appeared to think favourably of his opinions.
• Several individuals of the Association have, privately, given, at least, a partially favourable decision upon the character of the book. One, venerable in years and judgment, said it had shed considerable light upon the scriptures, though he was not pleased with the vein of sarcasm, which was apparent in a few of its pages.
• Another was reported to me as having said, before the publication appeared, that to what he heard read in Association he could not object; though he was not prepared to say it was true.
Another member, after having heard almost the whole MS. read, (shall I say, that it was one of the committee ?) replied to the author, " You are not a Unitarian."
Others, particularly some of the more cunning ones, who keep their powder-plots in their own heads, until the time has come for lighting the match, have, probably, thought their views would be best promoted by an ostensible neutrality, in doors and out; and their opinion comes out, at this late hour, with some effect. How
ever, all men are, we know, not equally endowed with prudence. Some speak quicker than they afterwards wish they had. p. 10.
Even the scribe of the association for some time could see no harm, but rather imagined he saw truth in these opinions, and at last thought them erroneous, simply because he feared that they might lead to consequences which he disliked ;-which appears from the following curious extract of a letter.*
'I have looked to you as an oracle. I have indeed received, and I would acknowledge it with gratitude, much instruction from many of your communications, and remarks, verbal and written;-and at the outset of your scheme, not suspecting whither it was tending, I fell in with opinions in the abstract, which I cannot now admit, as I see them necessarily connected with other sentiments, which I have not dared for a moment to adopt.' p. 4.
Our author's remarks on this passage have weight in them, and deserve attention.
His considering me as an oracle, was, certainly, doing me an honour I never deserved; and a drawback, to a very considerable amount, is entirely allowable. But when I think, on the other hand, how low, how very low, I am now fallen; I am driven to the reflection; "Lord, what is man!" I am not a little mortified at being doomed to the humiliation of a Hindoo idol, that is first adored, and then unmercifully whipped and vilified by his adorer.
But it was not my oracular authority, that led him to fall in with opinions, which now he dares not admit; for it is not the opinions, themselves, or in the abstract, which now frighten him; but their supposed connections and consequences. And what are these connections and consequences? And what has sealed them up in the depths of mysterious secrecy, that we may not have a single glimpse at them? Why has he not, under the sacred impulse of friendship, disclosed to one, he loves, what has saved him from ruin? that they might rejoice together in a common salvation? Is he indeed my friend? and has he learned his duty from the whispers of the bear in the
*The postscript is as curious as the letter itself, and will need no comment to make its meaning clear.
P. S. The inclosed paper contains the report of the Committee, and the votes of the Association upon it, and in connection with it, which I was directed to communicate to you. I should be pleased to have seen you, but my avocations have been too numerous to give me an opportunity. I was in Charlemont the next Saturday after the Association, but had not then had time to record the doings of the Association at their last meeting or to copy the result of the committee. And on my return it was so stormy, and I had also an appointment to visit a school, that it was inconvenient to call. In going to Hawley I had not time to go by your house. I hope to see you soon.'
fable? We were companions. He descried the danger and fled; but offered no aid to his brother. From the lofty tree of security he looks down; but it is only to upbraid his unfortunate fellow traveller with his prostrate condition in the very mouth of destruction. Oh! why did he not seize him by the hand, and try the experiment of those good angels, who, on the plains of Sodom, would not leave those they were concerned for to the effect of their own tardiness! Why must I be left to fall and perish under the influence of abstract opinions, good enough indeed in themselves, but conducting to mischief; when I am standing close by the side of a brother, who well knows what I am coming to; but will not open his lips to warn me ?
And is this my complaint a mere trick of rhetoric, a flourish of the imagination, calculated only to bewilder us in a fog? What then is the sobriety of fact, the plain, honest, unimposing visage of truth, in the case? It is the following exactly.
'More than two years, ago, I exhibited a plan of scripture interpretation, designed to rescue the Trinitarian doctrine from what I thought to be the rubbish of nonsense, absurdity, and contradiction My brother saw it, and thought it good; but now he tells me, in different words, that it bears the impress of hell, and is calculated to plunge men into the bottomless pit. As soon as the scales had fallen from his eyes, and he saw the awful consequences, of which he now speaks; his love of a soul in danger must have stimulated him to instant interposal. And nothing can pass for an excuse, but the supposition, that the light did not break in upon his mind, until the meeting of Association at Greenfield; and then the views of those present, which might not be controlled, would not allow of delay in signing the death warrant of an offender, whose first admonition was to come in the form of a precept for immediate execution.' p. 11, 12
Another passage in the same letter he thus comments upon, and our readers will not withhold their sympathy with the feeling by which his remarks were dictated.
The subject, I allow, is, in appearance, treated with becoming solemnity, when it is said, "I have examined the Bible-I hope with honesty and prayerful attention." And again, "I would express my ardent wish, that my friend would weigh his sentiments again on his knees, and in the view of that day which is to try you and me."
'I love to hear a solemn exhortation flowing from a sincere heart, when it points me to the throne of grace, and the revelation of mercy in the gospel of reconciliation; and when my importunate intercessions to God for light and aid to guide my researches, shall cease; I shall have no reason to hope for success in my inquiries.
But why has the above strain of fervent, affectionate, entreaty, been deferred to this time? Is there no encouragement to invite sinners to repentance, until the door of mercy is shut against them?