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CHAPTER XVII

ACCOUNT OF DIFFICULTIES AT NORTHAMPTON CONTINUED.

On Friday afternoon, June 22nd, 1750, the result of the council, and the protest of the minority, were publicly read to the people assembled in the church. On the next sabbath but one, July 1st, Mr. Edwards delivered to them his Farewell Sermon, which was soon afterwards published, at the request of some of the hearers. This sermon has been extensively and deservedly styled, “the best farewell sermon that was ever written;” and has been the source from which subsequent discourses, on occasions and in circumstances generally similar, have, to a great extent, been substantially derived. Had it been written in the case of an indifferent person, instead of his own, it could not have discovered less of passion or of irritation, or have breathed a more calm and excellent spirit. Instead of indicating anger under a sense of multiplied injuries, it appears in every sentence to have been dictated by meekness and forgiveness. At the same time, it presents an exhibition of the scenes of the last judgment, singularly solemn and awful. Few, indeed, are the compositions which furnish so many or so unequivocal marks of uncommon excellence in their author; and very few are so well adapted to be practically useful to churches and congregations.

The following postscript to the letter to Mr. Gillespie, 3636    For the letter itself see page cli. cxviii of April 2, 1750, and the letters of Mr. Erskine and Mr. M’Culloch, all written immediately after the separation of Mr. Edwards from his people, exhibit also, in a very striking manner, the calm and tranquil state of his mind at the time when they were written.

“P. S. July 3, 1750. Having had no leisure to finish the preparation of my letters to Scotland, before this time, by reason of the extraordinary troubles, hurries, and confusions of my unusual circumstances, I can now inform you, that the controversy between me and my people, which I mentioned in the beginning of my letter, has issued in a separation. An ecclesiastical council was called on the affair, who sat here the week before last, and by a majority of one voice determined an immediate separation to be necessary; and accordingly my pastoral relation to my people was dissolved, on June 22nd. If I can procure the printed accounts from Boston of the proceedings of the council, I will give orders to my friend there, to enclose them with this letter, and direct them to you—I desire your prayers, that I may take a suitable notice of the frowns of Heaven on me and this people, between whom there once existed so great a union, in bringing to pass such a separation between us; that these troubles may be sanctified to me; that God would overrule the event for his own glory (in which doubtless many adversaries will rejoice and triumph); that he would open a door for my future usefulness, provide for me and my numerous family, and take a fatherly care of us in our present unsettled, uncertain circumstances, being cast on the wide world.

J.E.”

“To the Rev. Mr. Erskine.

Northampton, July 5, 1750.

rev. and dear brother,

I now acknowledge the receipt of three letters from you since I last wrote to you; one of Sept. 12, another of Sept. 20, another of Dec. 22; all of the year 1749. The two first I received in the winter, with Mr. Glass’s Notes on Scripture Texts, Ridgeley on Original Sin, Wheatley’s Schools of the Prophets, Davidson’s Sermon occasioned by the death of Mr. Harrison, and Mr. M’Raile’s Sermon. Your letter written in December, I received a little while ago. I have greatly regretted the want of opportunity to answer you till now; but such have been my extraordinary circumstances, the multitude of distracting troubles and hurries that I have been involved in, (which I cannot easily represent to you,) that I have had no leisure. I have been very uneasy in neglecting to write to my correspondents in Scotland; and about two months ago I set myself to the business, but was soon broken off; and have not been able to return to it again till now. And now, my dear Sir, I thank you for your letters and presents. The books you sent me were entertaining to me, and some of them will be of advantage to me, if God should give me opportunity to prosecute the studies I had begun on the Arminian controversy. There were various things pleasing to me in Glass’s Notes, tending to give some new light into the sense of Scripture. He seems to be a man of ability; though I cannot fall in with all his singularities.

The account you say Mr. Davidson gave of the absurdities of the Moravians, are not very surprising to me. I have seen here in America so much of the tendency and issue of such kind of notions, and such sort of religion, as are in vogue among them, and among others in many respects like them, that I expect no other than that sin, folly, absurdity, and things to the last degree reproachful to Christianity, will for ever be the consequence of such things. It seems to me, that enough and enough of this kind has lately appeared, greatly to awaken the attention of christian divines, and make them suspect that the devil’s devices in the various counterfeits of vital, experimental religion, have not been sufficiently attended to, and the exact distinctions between the saving operations of the Spirit of God and its false appearances not sufficiently observed. There is something now in the press at Boston, largely handling the subject. I have had opportunity to read the manuscript, and, in my humble opinion, it has a tendency to give as much light in this matter, as any thing that ever I saw. It was written by Mr. Bellamy, minister of Bethlehem, in Connecticut; the minister whom Mr. Brainerd sometimes speaks of as his peculiarly dear and intimate friend (as possibly you may have observed in reading his life). He was of about Mr. Brainerd’s age, and it might have been well, if he had had more years over his head. But as he is one of the most intimate friends that I have in the world, and one that I have much acquaintance with, I can say this of him, that he is one of very great experience in religion, as to what has passed between God and his own soul; one of very good natural abilities, of closeness of thought, of extraordinary diligence in his studies, and earnest care exactly to know the truth in these matters. He has long applied his mind to the subject be has wrote upon, and used all possible helps of conversation and reading. And though his style is not such as is like to please the polite world, yet if his youth, and the obscurity of his original, and the place that he lives in, &c. do not prevent his being much taken notice of, I am persuaded his book might serve to give the church of God considerable light as to the nature of true religion, and many important doctrines of Christianity. From the knowledge I have of him, I am fully satisfied that his aim in this publication is not his own fame and reputation in the world; but the glory of God, and the advancement of the kingdom of his Redeemer.

I suspect the follies of some of the Seceders, which you mention in both your letters of Sept. 20, and Dec. 22, arise, in considerable measure, from the same cause with the follies of the Moravians, and the followers of the Wesleys, and many extravagant people in America, viz. false religion, counterfeit conversions, and the want of a genuine renovation of the spirit of their minds. I say, as to many of them, not to condemn all in the gross. The spirit seems to be exactly the same with what appears in many, who apparently, by their own account, have had a false conversion. I am a great enemy to censoriousness, and have opposed it very much in my preaching and writings. But yet I think we should avoid that bastard, mischievous charity, by which Satan keeps men asleep, and hides their eyes from those snares and crafty works of his, which it is of the utmost consequence to the church of God to discern and be aware of; and by which, for want of their being discovered, the devil has often had his greatest advantages against the interest of religion.

The Scriptures often lead us to judge of true religion, and the gracious sincerity of professors, by the genius, the temper, and spirit of their religion: Jam. iii. 17., Eph. v. 9., Gal. v. 19, 25., 1 Cor. xiii. 4,. &c. Rom. viii. 9., I John iv. 16., John xiii. 35., 1 John ii. 10., 1 John iii.14, 18, 19, 23, 24., 1 John iv. 7 ., 1 John v. 12, 13 .and very many other places. I have been greatly grieved at a spirit of censoriousness; but yet I heartily wish that some sorts of charity were utterly abolished.

The accounts you give of Archbishop Herring, of the moderate, generous, truly catholic and christian principles appearing in him, and some other of the dignified clergy, and other persons of distinction in the church of England, are very agreeable. It is to be hoped that these things are forerunners of something good and great to be brought to pass for the church of God.

I have seen some accounts in our public prints, published here in America, of those conversions and baptisms in the Russian empire, which you mention in your last letter; and should be glad of further information about that matter. We have had published here, an extract of a letter, written by Dr. Doddridge to Mr. Pearsall of Taunton, in Somersetshire, and transmitted by him to Boston, in a letter to Mr. Prince; giving a surprising account of a very wonderful person, a German by nation, a preacher of the gospel to the Jews, lately in London; whom he (Dr. Doddridge) saw and conversed with, and heard preach (or rather repeat) a sermon there; who had had great success in preaching to those miserable people in Germany, Poland, Holland, Lithuania, Hungary, and other parts; God having so blessed his labours that, in the various parts through which he had travelled, he had been the instrument of the conversion of about six hundred Jews; many of whom are expressing their great concern to bring others of their brethren to the knowledge of the great and blessed Redeemer, and beseeching him to instruct their children, that they may preach Christ also. I should be glad if you hear any thing further of the affair, to be informed of it by you. I think such things may well be improved to animate and encourage those who have engaged in the Concert for Prayer for the reviving of Religion. I rejoice to hear what you write of some appearances of awakening in Mr. Gillies’s church in Glasgow, and if it continues should be glad to be informed.

I am very glad to hear of what Mr. M’Laurin informs me of the encouragements likely to be given from Scotland to New Jersey college; a very hopeful society; and I believe what is done for that seminary is doing good in an eminent manner. Mr. M’Laurin tells me of some prospect of your being removed to a congregation in Edinburgh, which I am pleased with, because I hope there you will act in a larger sphere, and will have more opportunity to exert the disposition that appears in you, to promote good public designs for Zion’s prosperity.

I thank you for the concern you manifest for me under my difficulties and troubles, by reason of the controversy between me and my people, about the terms of christian communion.

This controversy has now had that issue which I expected; it has ended in a separation between me and my people. Many things have appeared, that have been exceedingly unhappy and uncomfortable in the course of this controversy. The great power of prejudices from education, established custom, and the traditions of ancestors and certain admired teachers, and the exceeding unhappy influence of bigotry, has remarkably appeared in the management of this affair. The spirit, that has actuated and engaged my people in this affair, is evidently the same that has appeared in your own people in their opposition to winter communions, but only risen to a much higher degree; and some of the arguments, that have been greatly insisted on here, have been very much of the same sort with some of those urged by your people in your affair. There have been many things said and done, during our controversy, that I shall not now declare. But would only say in the general, that there has been that prejudice, and spirit of jealousy, and increasing engagedness of spirit and fixedness of resolution, to gain the point in view, viz. my dismission from my pastoral office over them, upheld and cherished by a persuasion that herein they only stood for the truth, and did their duty, that it has been an exceedingly difficult thing for me to say or do any thing at all in order to their being enlightened, or brought to a more calm and sedate consideration of things, without its being misinterpreted, and turned to an occasion of increasing jealousy and prejudice; even those things wherein I have yielded most, and done most to gratify the people, and assuage their spirits and win their charity. I have often declared to the people, and gave it to them under my hand, that if, after all proper means used, and regular steps taken, they continued averse to remaining under my ministry, I had no inclination to do any thing, as attempting to oblige them to it. But I looked on myself bound in conscience, before I left them, (as I was afraid they were in the way to ruin,) to do my endeavour, that proper means should be used to bring them to a suitable temper, and so to a capacity of proceeding considerately, and with their eyes open; properly, and calmly, and prayerfully examining the point in controversy, and also weighing the consequences of things. To this end I have insisted much on an impartial council, in which should be some of the elderly ministers of the land, to look fully into our state, and to view it with all its circumstances, with full liberty to give both me and them such advice as they should think requisite and proper. And therefore I insisted, that the council should not wholly consist of ministers and churches that were professedly against me in the point in controversy; and that it should not consist wholly of ministers and churches of this neighbourhood, who were almost altogether in opposition to me; but that some should be brought from abroad. This I also insisted on, as I thought it most likely an impartial council would do me justice, in the public representation they would make of our affairs, in their result. The people insisted that the council should be wholly of the neighbourhood; undoubtedly because they supposed themselves most sure, that their judgment and advice would be favourable and agreeable to them. I stood the more against it, because in this country we have no such thing as appeals from one council to another, from a lesser to a larger; and also, because the neighbouring ministers were all youngerly men. These things were long the subject matter of uncomfortable troubles and contests. Many were the proposals I made. At last they complied with this proposal, (after great and long-continued opposition to it,) viz. That I should nominate two churches to be of the council, who were not within the bounds of this county. And so it was agreed that a council of ten churches should be called, mutually chosen; and that two of my half should be called from abroad. I might have observed before, that there was a great and long dispute about the business of the council, or what should be left to them; and particularly, whether it should be left to them, or they cxx should have liberty, to give us what advice they pleased for a remedy from our calamities. This I insisted on, not that I desired that we should bind ourselves beforehand to stand to their advice, let it be what it would; but I thought it absurd to tie up and limit the council, that they should not exercise their own judgment, and give us their advice, according to their own mind. The people were willing the council should make proposals for an accommodation; but that, if they did not like them, the council should be obliged immediately to separate us, and would not have them have any liberty to advise to wait longer, or use any further means for light, or to take any further or other course for a remedy from our calamities. At last a vow was passed in these words,—‘That a council should be called to give us their last advice, for a remedy from the calamities arising from the present unsettled, broken state of the church, by reason of the controversy here subsisting, concerning the qualifications for full communion in the church: and if upon the whole of what they see and find in our circumstances, they judge it best that pastor and people be immediately separated, that they proceed to dissolve the relation between them.’ Accordingly a council was agreed upon, to meet here on this business, on June 19th. I nominated two out of this county; of which Mr. Foxcroft’s church in Boston was one. But others were nominated provisionally, in case these should fall. Those that came, were Mr. Hall’s church of Sutton, and Mr. Hobby’s church in Reading. One of the churches that I nominated within the county, refused to send a delegate, viz. Mr. Billing’s church of Cold Spring. However, Mr. Billing himself (though with some difficulty) was admitted into the council. The people, in managing this affair on their side, have made chief use of a young gentleman of liberal education and notable abilities, and a fluent speaker, of about seven or eight and twenty years of age, my grandfather Stoddard’s grandson, being my mother’s sister’s son; a man of lax principles in religion, falling in, in some essential things, with Arminians, and is very open and bold in it. He was improved as one of the agents for the church, and was their chief spokesman before the council. He very strenuously urged before the council the necessity of an immediate separation; and I knowing the church, the most of them, to be inflexibly bent on this event, informed the council that I should not enter into the dispute, but should refer the matter wholly to the council’s judgment; I signified, that I had no desire to leave my people, on any other consideration, any other than their aversion to my being their minister any longer; but, they continuing so averse, had no inclination or desire that they should be compelled, but yet should refer myself to their advice. When the church was convened, in order to the council’s knowing their minds with respect to my continuance, about twenty-three appeared for it, others staid away, choosing not to act either way; but the generality of the church, which consists of about 230 male members, voted for my dismission. My dismission was carried in the council by a majority of one voice. The ministers were equally divided, but of the delegates one more was for it than against it, and it so happened that all those of the council, who came from the churches of the people’s choosing, voted for my dismission; but all those who came from the churches that I chose, were against it, and there happening to be one fewer of these than of the other, by the church of Cold Spring not sending a delegate, (which was through that people’s prejudice against my opinion,) the vote was carried that way by the voice of one delegate. However, on the 22d of the last month, the relation between me and this people was dissolved. I suppose that the Result of the Council, and the Protestation of some of the members, are printed in Boston by this time. I shall endeavour to procure one of the printed accounts, to be sent with this letter to you, together with one of my books on the point that has been in controversy between me and my people. Two of the members of the council, who dissented from the Result, yet did not sign the Protestation, viz. Mr. Reynolds and his delegate, which I suppose was owing to Mr. Reynolds’s extraordinarily cautious and timorous temper. The last sabbath I preached my farewell sermon. Many in the congregation seemed to be much affected, and some are exceedingly grieved. Some few, I believe, have some relentings of heart, that voted me away. But there is no great probability that the leading part of the church will ever change. Beside their own fixedness of resolution, there are many in the neighbouring towns to support their resolution, both in the ministry and civil magistracy; without whose influence I believe the people never would have been so violent as they have been.

I desire that such a time of awful changes, dark clouds, and great frowns of Heaven on me and my people, may be a time of serious consideration, thorough self-reflection and examination, and deep humiliation with me. I desire your fervent prayers for me, and for those who have heretofore been my people. I know not what will become of them. There seems to be the utmost danger, that the younger generation will be carried away with Arminianism as with a flood. The young gentleman I spoke of, is high in their esteem, and is become the most leading man in the town; and is very bold in declaiming and disputing for his opinions; and we have none able to confront and withstand him in dispute; and some of the young people already show a disposition to fall in with his notions. And it is not likely that the people will obtain any young gentleman of Calvinistic sentiments, to settle with them in the ministry, who will have courage and ability to make head against him. And as to the older people, there never appeared so great an indifference among them, about things of this nature. They will at present be much more likely to be thorough in their care to settle a minister of principles contrary to mine, as to terms of communion, than to settle one that is sound in the doctrines of grace. The great concern of the leading part of the town, at present, will probably be, to come off with flying colours, in the issue of the controversy they have had with me, and of what they have done in it; for which they know many condemn them.

An end is put for the present, by these troubles, to the studies I was before engaged in, and my design of writing against Arminianism. I had made considerable preparation, and was deeply engaged in the prosecution of this design, before I was rent off from it by these difficulties, and if ever God should give me opportunity, I would again resume that affair. But I am now, as it were, thrown upon the wide ocean of the world, and know not what will become of me, and my numerous and chargeable family. Nor have I any particular door in view that I depend upon to be opened for my future serviceableness. Most places in New England that want a minister, would not be forward to invite one with so chargeable a family, nor one so far advanced in years—being 46 the 5th day of cxxi last October. I am fitted for no other business but study. I should make a poor hand at getting a living by any secular employment. We are in the hands of God, and I bless him, I am not anxious concerning his disposal of us. I hope I shall not distrust him, nor be unwilling to submit to his will. And I have cause of thankfulness, that there seems also to be such a disposition in my family. You are pleased, dear Sir, very kindly to ask me, whether I could sign the Westminster Confession of Faith, and submit to the presbyterian form of church government; and to offer to use your influence to procure a call for me, to some congregation in Scotland. I should be very ungrateful, if I were not thankful for such kindness and friendship. As to my subscribing to the substance of the Westminster Confession, there would be no difficulty; and as to the presbyterian government, I have long been perfectly out of conceit of our unsettled, independent, confused way of church government in this land; and the presbyterian way has ever appeared to me most agreeable to the word of God, and the reason and nature of things; though I cannot say that I think, that the presbyterian government of the church of Scotland is so perfect, that it cannot, in some respects, be mended. But as to my removing, with my numerous family, over the Atlantic, it is, I acknowledge, attended with many difficulties that I shrink at. Among other things, this is very considerable, that it would be on uncertainties, whether my gifts and administrations would suit my congregation, that should send for me without trial; and so great a thing as such a removal, had need to be on some certainty as to that matter. If the expectations of a congregation were so great, and they were so confident of my qualifications, as to call me at a venture, having never seen nor heard me; their disappointment might possibly be so much the greater, and they the more uneasy after acquaintance and trial. My own country is not so dear to me, but that, if there were an evident prospect of being more serviceable to Zion’s interests elsewhere, I could forsake it. And I think my wife is fully of this disposition.

I forgot to mention, that, in this evil time in Northampton, there are some of the young people under awakenings; and I hope two or three have lately been converted: two very lately, besides two or three hopefully brought home the last year. My wife and family join with me in most respectful and cordial salutations to you, and your consort; and we desire the prayers of you both for us, under our present circumstances. My youngest child but one has long been in a very infirm, afflicted, and decaying state with the rickets, and some other disorders. I desire your prayers for it.

I am, dear Sir,

Your most affectionate and obliged

Friend and brother,

jonathan edwards.”

“P. S. For accounts of the state of religion in America, and some reasons of my conduct in this controversy with my people, I must refer you to my letters to Mr. Robe and Mr. M’Laurin.”


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