SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Promoting Authentic Biblical Christianity.
Looking for free sermon messages?
Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video

SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER X THE GREAT SCHISM

The Development Of Religious Liberty In Connecticut by M. Louise Greene, Ph. D.

CHAPTER X THE GREAT SCHISM

If a house be divided against itself. -- Mark iii, 25.

From such a revival as that of the Great Awakening, parties must of necessity arise. Upon undisciplined fanaticism, the Established church must frown. But when it undertook to discipline large numbers of church members or whole churches, recognizedly within its embracing fold and within their lawful privileges, a great schism resulted, and the schismatics were sufficiently tenacious of their rights to come out victorious in their long contest for toleration.

The proviso of the Saybrook Platform had arranged for the continued existence of churches, Congregational rather than Presbyterian in their interpretation of that platform; yet, as late as 1730, when but few remained, the question had arisen whether members of such churches, |since they were allowed and under the protection of the laws,| ought to qualify according to the Toleration Act. The Court decided in the negative, arguing that, although they differed from the majority of the churches in preferring the Cambridge Platform of church discipline, they had been permitted under the colony law of May 13, 1669, establishing the Congregational church, and had been protected by the proviso of 1708. The Court in its decision of 1730 seems also to have included a very few churches that had revolted from the religious formalism creeping in under the Saybrook system, and that had returned to the earlier type of Congregationalism. After the Great Awakening, churches |thus allowed and under the protection of our laws| were found to increase so rapidly that the movement away from the Saybrook Platform threatened to undermine the ecclesiastical system, and to endanger the Establishment. Seeing this, the Court, or General Assembly,[a] began to enforce the old colony law that with it alone belonged the power to approve the incorporating of churches. And shortly after it began to harass these separating churches, and to enact laws to prevent the farther spread of reinvigorated Congregationalism unless of the Presbyterian type. Soon after 1741, the churches that drew away from the Saybrook system of government became known as Separate churches, and their members as Separatists. When these people found that the Assembly would no longer approve their organizing as churches, they attempted, as sober dissenters from the worship established in the colony, to take the benefit of the Toleration Act. The Assembly next |resolved that those commonly called Presbyterians or Congregationalists should not take the benefit of that Act.|

Here was a difficulty indeed. There was no place for the Separatist, yet there was need of him, and he felt sure there was. Furthermore, there were others who felt the need to the community of his strong religious earnestness, though they might deplore his extravagances. His strong points were his assertion of the need of regeneration, his reassertion of the old doctrines of justification by faith and of a personal sense of conversion, including, as a duty inseparable from church membership, the living of a highly moral life. The weakness of the Separatist lay in his assertion, first, that every man had an equal right to exercise any gifts of preaching or prayer of which he believed himself possessed; secondly, of the value of visions and trances as proofs of spirituality; and finally, of every one's freedom to withdraw from the ministry of any pastor who did not come up to his standard of ability or helpfulness. It followed that the Separatists insisted upon the right to set up their own churches and to appoint their own ministers, although the latter might have only the doubtful qualification of feeling possessed with the gift of preaching. The Separatists organized between thirty and forty churches. Some of them endured but a short time, suffering disintegration through poverty. Others fell to pieces because of the unrestrained liberty of their members in their exhortations, in their personal interpretation of the Scriptures, and in their exercise of the right of private judgment, with the consequent harvest of confusion, censoriousness, and discord that such practices created. In years later, many of the Separate churches, tired of the struggle for recognition and weighed down by their double taxation for the support of religion, buried themselves under the Baptist name. Indeed they |agreed upon all points of doctrine, worship, and discipline, save the mode and subject of baptism.| A few Separatist churches, a dozen or more, continued the struggle for existence until victory and toleration rewarded them. After the teachings of Jonathan Edwards had purified the churches and had driven out the Half-Way Covenant, against which the Separatists uttered their loudest protests, many of these reformers returned to the Established church.

In the practice of -- their principles, the Separatists, both as churches and as individuals, were often headstrong, officious, intermeddling, and censorious. They frequently stirred up ill-feeling and often just indignation. The rash and heedless among them accused the conservative and regular clergy of Arminianism, when the latter, influenced by the Great Awakening, revived the doctrines of original sin, regeneration, and justification by faith, but were careful to add to these Calvinistic dogmas admonitions to such practical Christianity as was taught by Arminian preachers. The Separatists feared lest the doctrine of works would cause men to stray too far from the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and they were often very intemperate in their denunciation of such |false teachers.| It was a day of freer speech than now, and at least two of the great leaders in the revival had set a very bad example of calling names. Mr. Whitefield considered Mr. Tennant a |mighty charitable man,| yet here are a few of the latter's descriptive epithets, collected from one of his sermons and published by the Synod of Philadelphia. Dr. Chauncey of Boston quotes them in an adverse criticism of the revival movement. Mr. Tennant speaks of the ministers thus: -- hirelings, caterpillars, letter-learned Pharisees, Hypocrites, Varlets, Seed of the Serpent, foolish Builders whom the Devil drives into the ministry, dead dogs that cannot bark, blind men, dead men, men possessed of the devil, rebels and enemies of God.

Naturally, party lines were soon drawn in New England. There were the Old Calvinists or Old Lights on the one side, and the Separatists and New Lights on the other. The New Lights were those within the churches who were moved by the revival and who desired to return to a more vital Christianity. In many respects they sympathized with the Separatists, although disapproving their extravagances. In many churches, hounded by the opposition of the conservatives, the New Lights drew off and formed churches of their own. Thus while the Separatists may be compared to the early English Separatists, the New Lights would correspond more to the Puritan party that desired reform within the Establishment. In the eighteenth century movement, in Connecticut, the Old Lights held the political as well as the ecclesiastical control until, in the process of time, the New Lights gained an influential vote in the Assembly. Always, there was a good, sound stratum of Calvinism in both the Old and the New Light parties, and also among the Separatists, and the latter were generally included in the New Light party, especially if spoken of from the point of view of political affiliations. The idiosyncrasies of the Separatists softened down and fell away in time. The Calvinism of Old and New Lights became a rallying ground whereon each, in after years, gathered about the standard of a reinvigorated church life; and then the terms Old Light and New, with their suggestions of party meaning, whether religious, or political, passed away. The term Separatist was retained for a while longer, merely to distinguish the churches that preferred to be known as strict Congregationalist rather than as Presbyterianized Congregationalist, or, for short, Presbyterian.

From the time of the Great Awakening, there were nearly forty years of party contest over religious privileges, many of which had been previously accorded but which were speedily denied to the Separatists by a party dominant in the churches and paramount in the legislature; by a party which was determined to bring the whole machinery of Church and State to crush the rising opposition to its control. Accordingly, it was nearly forty years before the Separatists received the same measure of toleration as that accorded to Episcopalian, Quaker, and Baptist. It was ten years before the New Lights in the Assembly could, as a preliminary step to such toleration, force the omission from the revised statutes of all persecuting laws passed by the Old Light party.

The keynote to the long struggle was sounded at a meeting of the General Consociation at Guilford, November 24, 1741. This was the first and only General Consociation ever called. It was convened at the expense of the colony, to consider her religious condition and the dangers threatening her from the excitement of the Great Awakening, from unrestrained converts, from rash exhorters, and from itinerant preachers, who took possession of the ministers' pulpits with little deference to their proper occupants. The General Consociation decided --

that for a minister to enter another minister's parish, and preach or administer the seals of the Covenant, without the consent of, or in opposition to the set tied minister of the parish, is disorderly, notwithstanding if a considerable number of the people in the parish are desirous to hear another minister preach, provided the same be orthodox, and sound in the faith and not notoriously faulty in censuring other persons, or guilty of any scandal, we think it ordinar rily advisable for the minister of the parish to gratify them by giving his consent upon their suitable application to him for it, unless neighboring ministers advise him to the contrary.

This was not necessarily an intolerant attitude, but it was hostile rather than friendly to the revival. It left neighboring ministers, that is, the Associations, if one among their number seemed to be too free in lending his pulpit to itinerant preachers, to curb his friendliness. Intolerance might come through this limitation, for the local Association might be prejudiced. If its advice were disregarded and disorders arose, the Consociation of the county could step in to settle difficulties and to condemn progressive men as well as fanatics. In its phrasing, this ecclesiastical legislation left room for the ministrations of reputable itinerants, for among many, some of whom were ignorant and self-called to their vocation, there were others whose abilities were widely recognized. Foremost among such men in Connecticut were Jonathan Edwards himself, Dr. Joseph Bellamy of Bethlem, trainer of many students in theology, Rev. Eleazer Whelock of Lebanon, Benjamin Pomroy of Hebron, and Jonathan Parsons of Lyme. Among itinerants coming from other colonies, the most noted, after Whitefield and Tennant, was Dr. Samuel Finley of New Jersey, later president of Princeton. Naturally men like these, who felt strongly the need of a revival and believed in supporting the |Great Awakening,| despite its excitement and errors, did not countenance the rash proceedings of many of the ignorant preachers, who ran about the colony seeking audiences for themselves.

The measures of the General Consociation were mild in comparison with the laws passed by the legislature in the following May. Governor Talcott, tolerant toward all religious dissenters, had recently died, and the conservative Jonathan Law of Milford was in the chair of the chief magistrate. Governor Law had grown up among the traditions of that narrow ecclesiasticism which had always marked the territory of the old New Haven Colony. Moreover, the measures of the Consociation had been futile. One of the chief offenders against them was the Rev. James Davenport of Southold, Long Island, who not only went preaching through the colony, stirring up by his fanaticism, his visions, and his ecstasies, the common people, and finding fault with the regular clergy as |unconverted men,| but who pushed his religious enthusiasm to great extremes by everywhere urging upon excitable young men the duty to become preachers like himself. He had introduced a kind of intoning at public meetings. This tended to create nervous irritability and hysterical outbursts of religious emotionalism, and these, Davenport taught his disciples, were the signs of God's approval of them and their devotion to Him. The government, watching these tumultuous meetings, concluded that it was time to show its ancient authority and to save the people from |divisions and contentions,| the ecclesiastical constitution from destruction, and the ministry from |unqualified persons entering therein.| Accordingly, in May, 1742, the Assembly passed a series of laws, so severe that even ordained ministers were forbidden to preach outside their own parishes without an express invitation and under the penalty of forfeiting all benefits and all support derived from any laws for the encouragement of religion ever made in the colony. The new enactments also forbade any Association to license a candidate to preach outside its own bounds or to settle any disputes beyond its own territory. These laws also permitted any parish minister to lodge with the society clerk a certificate charging that a man had entered his parish and had preached there without first obtaining permission. Furthermore, there was no provision for confirming the truth or proving the falsity of such a statement. In connection with the certificate clause, it was also enacted that no assistant, or justice of the peace, should sign a warrant for collecting a minister's rates until he was sure that nowhere in the colony was there such a certificate lodged against the minister making application for this mode of collecting his ministerial dues. Finally, the laws provided that a bond of L100 should be demanded of a stranger, or visiting minister, who had preached without invitation, and that he should be treated as a vagrant, and sent by warrant |from constable to constable, out of the bounds of this Colony.|

These laws restrained both ordained Ministers and licensed candidates from preaching in other Men's Parishes without their and the Church's consent and wholly prohibited the Exhortations of Illiterate Laymen.

These laws were a high-handed infringement of the rights of conscience, and in a few years fell and buried with them the party that had enacted them. These were the laws which he (Davenport) exhorted his hearers to set at defiance; and seldom, it must be acknowledged, has a more plausible occasion been found in New England to preach disregard for the law.

The laws were framed to repress itinerants and exhorters through loss of their civil rights. By them, a man's good name was dishonored and he was deprived of all his temporal emoluments. By many, in their own day, the laws were regarded as contrary to scriptural commands, and to the opinion and practice of all reformers and of all Puritans. These laws, with others that followed, were not warranted by the ecclesiastical constitution of the colony, and could find no parallel either in England or in her other colonies. Trumbull calls them --

a concerted plan of the Old Lights or Arminians both among the clergy and civilians, to suppress as far as possible, all zealous Calvinistic preachers, to confine them entirely to their own pulpits; and at the same time to put all the public odium and reproach upon them as wicked, disorderly men, unfit to enjoy the common rights of citizens.

Yet for these laws the Association of New Haven sent a vote of thanks to the Assembly when it convened in their city in the following fall.

Jonathan Edwards opposed both the spirit of the General Consociation and also the legislation of the Assembly. He expressed his attitude toward the Great Awakening both at the time and later. In 1742 he wrote: --

If ministers preached never so good a doctrine, and are never so laborious in their work, yet if at such a day as this they show their people that they are not well affected to this work [of revival], they will be very likely to do their people a great deal more hurt than good.

Six years later Edwards wrote a preface to his |An Humble Inquiry into the Qualifications for Full Communion in the Visible Church of God,| a treatise severely condemning the Half-Way Covenant, and urging the revival of the early personal account of conversion. In this preface he excuses his hesitation in publishing the work, on the ground that he feared the Separatists would seize upon his arguments to encourage them and strengthen them in many of their reprehensible practices. These, Edwards reminds his reader, he had severely condemned in his earlier publications, notably in his |Treatise on Religious Affections,| 1746, and in his |Observations and Reflections on Mr. Brainerd's Life.| In his preface Edwards repeats his disapproval of the Separatist |notion of a pure church by means of a spirit of discerning; their censorious outcries against the standing ministers and churches in general, their lay ordinations, their lay-preaching and public
exhortings and administering sacraments; and their self-complacent, presumptuous spirit.| Edwards believed that enthusiasts, though unlettered, might exhort in private, and even in public religious gatherings might be encouraged to relate in a proper, earnest, and modest manner their religious experiences, and might also entreat others to become converted. He maintained that much of the criticism of an inert ministry was well founded, that much of the enthusiastic work of laymen and of the itinerants deserved to be recognized by the regular clergy, and that they ought to bestir themselves in furthering such enthusiasm among their own people. Edwards urged also his belief in the value of good works, not as meriting the reward of future salvation, but as manifesting a heart stirred by a proper appreciation of God's attributes. Jonathan Edwards held firmly to the foundation principles of the conservative school, while he sympathized with and supported the best elements in the revival movement.

This attitude of Edwards eventually cost him his pastorate, for he judged it best to resign from the Northampton church, in 1750, because of the unpopularity arising from his repeated attacks upon the Half-Way Covenant and the Stoddardean view of the Lord's supper. Nevertheless, it was the influence of Jonathan Edwards and of his following which gradually brought about a union of the religious parties, after the Separatists had given up their eccentricities and the leaven of Edwards' teachings had brought a new and invigorated life into the Connecticut churches. This preacher, teacher, and evangelist was remarkable for his powerful logic, his deep and tender feeling, his sincere and vivid faith. These characteristics urged on his resistless imagination, when picturing to his people their imminent danger and the awful punishment in store for those who continued at enmity with God. Of his work as a theologian, we shall have occasion to speak elsewhere.

Some illustrations of church life in the troublous years following the Great Awakening will best set forth the confusion arising, the difficulties between Old and New Lights, and the hardships of the Separatists. Among the colony churches, the trials of three may be taken as typical, -- the New Haven church, the Canterbury church, and the church of Enfield. Nor can the story of the first two be told without including in it an account of later acts of the Assembly and of the attitude of the College during the years of the great schism.

The pastor of the New Haven church was Mr. Noyes, whom many of his parishioners thought too noncommittal, erroneous, or pointless in discussing the themes which the itinerant preachers loved to dwell upon. Moreover, Mr. Noyes had refused to allow the Rev. George Whitefield to preach from his pulpit while on his memorable pilgrimage through New England. Mr. Noyes had also forbidden the hot-headed James Davenport to occupy it. As a result of their minister's actions, the New Haven church was divided in their estimate of their pastor. There were the friendly Old Lights and the hostile New. Neither party wished to carry their trouble before the Consociation of New Haven county, for that had come at last to be a tribunal |whose decision was at that time considered judicial and final.| Moreover, at the meeting of the General Consociation at Guilford in November, 1741, it was known that Mr. Noyes had been a most active worker in favor of suppressing the New Light movement. Consequently the New Lights, though at the time in the minority, sought to find a way out from under the jurisdiction of the Saybrook Platform and its councils by declaring that the church had never formally been made a Consociated church. This was literally true, but the weight of precedent and their own observances were against them. Like other churches in the county, which had come slowly to the acceptance of the Saybrook councils as ecclesiastical courts, it had finally accepted them in their most authoritative character. Such being the case, the New Lights hesitated to appeal against their minister before a court presumably favorable to him. After the New Lights had declared the church not under the Saybrook system, Mr. Noyes determined to take the vote of his people as to whether they considered themselves a Consociated church. But as he was a little fearful of the result of the vote, he secured the victory for his own faction by excluding the New Lights from voting. Thereupon, the New Lights took the benefit of the Toleration Act as |sober dissenters,| and became a Separate church. The committee, appointed for the organization of the new church, declared that |they were reestablished as the original church.| The benefit of the Toleration Act accorded to these New Light dissenters in New Haven, to some in Milford,[b] and to several other reinvigorated churches in the southern part of the colony, roused the opposition of the Old Lights in the Assembly, and, as they counted a majority, they repealed the act in the following year, 1743. Three or four weeks after the New Haven New Lights had formed what was afterwards known as the North Church, the General Assembly met for its fall session in that city, and, as has been said, the New Haven Association immediately sent a vote of thanks for the stringent laws passed at the May meeting. The Court, moved by this indication of the popular feeling, by the importance of the church schism and its influence throughout the colony, by the conservative attitude of Yale College, and also by having among its delegates large numbers of Old Lights, proceeded to enact yet more stringent measures than those of the preceding session. The result was that the North Church could hire no preacher until they could find one acceptable to the First Church and Society, because the pastor elected by the First Church was the only lawfully appointed minister, since he owed his election to the majority votes of the First Society. Furthermore, the Court, in 1743, refused a special application of the North Church for permission to settle their chosen minister, and it was some five or six years before it ceased this particular kind of persecution and permitted the church to have a regular pastor.

The story of this New Haven church extends beyond the time-limit of this chapter, but it is better completed here. The stringency of the laws only increased the bitterness of faction. In 1745, feeling ran so high that a father refused to attend his son's funeral merely because they belonged to opposing factions, and an attempt to build a house of worship for this Separate church resulted in serious disturbances and in the charge of incendiarism. The New Lights preferred imprisonment to the payment of taxes assessed for the benefit of the First Church. At last, in 1751, the October session of the General Assembly thought it best |for the good of the colony and for the peace and harmony of this and other churches| infected by its example, to advise that the differences within it be healed by a council to be composed of both Old and New Lights. The suggestion bore no fruit, and a year later the New Lights themselves again asked for a council, even offering to apologize to the First Church for their informality in separating from it, and for their part in the heated controversy that followed; but Mr. Noyes induced his party to refuse to accede to the proposed conference. As the North Church had grown strong enough by this time to support a regular pastor, Mr. Bird accepted its call; yet for six years longer, because the Assembly refused to divide the society, the New Lights were held to be members of the First Society and taxable for its support. But in 1757, the New Lights gained the majority both in church and society, a majority of one. At once, the New Lights were released from taxes to the First Church. Now the dominant party, they attempted to pay back old scores, and accordingly demanded a division of both church and society property. The claim to the first was unfair, and they eventually abandoned it. The church quarrel finally ceased in 1759, after a duration of eighteen years, and in 1760 Mr. Bird was formally installed with fitting honors.

In the early days of the Great Awakening, the Canterbury church became divided into Old Lights and New, and a separation took place. Before the separation, a committee, who were appointed to look up the church records, gave it as their opinion that the church was not and never had been pledged to the Saybrook Platform. Nevertheless, the very men who gave this decision became the leaders of the minority, who determined to support the government in carrying out its oppressive laws of 1742. These laws had been passed while the committee were searching the church records. The majority of the church, incensed at having their liberty curtailed, proceeded to defy the law by listening to lay exhorters and to itinerants just as they had been in the habit of doing ever since the church had felt the quickening influences of the Great Awakening. This majority declared that it was |regular for this church to admit persons into this church that are in full communion with other churches and come regularly to this.| This decision the minority characterized as unlawful according to the recent acts of the Assembly. The majority proceeded to argue the right of the majority in the church as above the right of the majority in the society, or parish, to elect the minister and to guide the church. In an attempt to satisfy both parties, candidates were tried, but they could not command a sufficient number of votes from either side to be located permanently. A meeting in 1743 of the Consociation of Windham (to whose jurisdiction the Canterbury church belonged), together with a council of New Lights, brought temporary peace. A candidate was agreed upon; but in a few months the New Lights became dissatisfied with him because of his approval of the Saybrook system of church government, his acceptance of the Half-Way Covenant, and other opinions. Controversy revived. The majority of the church withdrew, and for a while met in a private house for services, which were conducted by Solomon Paine or by some other layman. As a result, the Windham Association passed a vote of censure against the seceders. Paine wrote a sharp retort, for which he was arrested, although ostensibly on the charge of unlawfully conducting public worship. He refused to give bonds and was committed to Windham jail in September, 1744. Such crowds flocked to the prison yard to hear him preach, and excitement ran so high, that the officer who had conducted his trial appeared before the Assembly to protest that such legal proceedings did but tend to increase the disorders they were intended to cure. Accordingly, Paine was released in October.

The interest of the whole colony was now centred on the defiant and determined Canterbury Separate church, and the November meeting of the Windham Association had the schism under consideration, when Yale expelled two Canterbury students whose parents were members of that church.

In October, 1742, in order to protect the college and the ministry and to deal a blow at the |Shepherd's Tent,| a kind of school or academy which the New Lights had set up in New London for qualifying young men as exhorters, teachers, and ministers, the General Assembly had decided that no persons should presume to set up any college, seminary of learning, or any public school whatever, without special leave of the legislature. The Court had also enacted that no one should take the benefit of the laws respecting the settlement and support of ministers unless he were a graduate of Yale or Harvard, or some other approved Protestant university. It had also given explicit directions for the supervision of the schools throughout the colony and of their masters' orthodoxy, and had advised Yale to take especial care that her students should not be contaminated by the New Lights. The Congregationalists had reported the |Shepherd's Tent| as a noisy, tumultuous resort, because it was occasionally used for meetings, and had added that it was openly taught in that school that there would soon be a change in the government, and that disobedience to the civil laws was not wrong. The Assembly, fearing that it might |train up youth in ill practices and principles,| sought to put an end to it. As to the advice to the college, Yale was only too eager to follow it, and the same year expelled the saintly David Brainerd for criticising the prayers of the college preachers as lacking in fervor. His offense was against a college law of the preceding year which forbade students to call their officers |hypocritical, carnal or unconverted men.| The college, as the New Light movement increased, came to the further conclusion that --

since the principal design of erecting this college was to train up a succession of learned and orthodox ministers by whose example people might be directed in the ways of religion and good order ... it would be a contradiction to the civil government to support a college to educate students to trample upon their own laws, to break up the churches which they establish and protect, especially since the General Assembly in May 1742, thought proper to give the governors of the college some special advice and direction upon that account, which was to the effect that proper care should be taken to prevent the scholars from imbibing those or like errors; and those who would not be orderly and submissive, should not be allowed the privileges of the college.

Solomon Paine made answer to this law. With fine irony, he assured the people that in effect it forbade all students attending Yale College to go to any religious meeting even with their parents, should they be Separatists or New Lights, because --

no scholar upon the Lord's day or other day, under pretence of religion, shall go to any public or private meeting, not established or allowed by public authority or approved by the President, under penalty of a fine, confession, admonition or otherwise, according to the state and demerit of the offence, for fear that such preaching would end in |Quakerism,| open infidelity, and the destruction of all Christian religion, and make endless divisions in the Christian church till nothing hut the name of it would be left in the world.

The two Cleveland brothers, John and Ebenezer, had spent the fall vacation of 1744 [c] with their parents at their home in Canterbury, and by request of their elders had frequented the Separatist church there. On their return to Yale, the boys were admonished. They professed themselves ready to apologize, but not in such words as the authorities thought sufficiently submissive, for the latter considered that the boys had broken the laws |of God, of the Colony and of the College.| The boys very ably argued that, under the circumstances, there had been nothing else for them to do but to go to church with their parents when requested to do so, and held to their position. Yale expelled them, and there followed a sensation throughout the colony.

The leaders of the New Light party in the church of Canterbury were the nearest relatives and friends of the Cleveland boys, who came to be regarded as martyrs to their religion. Their treatment opened the question as to whether the steadily increasing numbers of New Lights were to lose for their children the benefit of the college, that they helped to support. Must they, in order to send their sons to college, deprive them for four years of a |Gospel ministry| and lay them open to consequent grave perils? Why should New Lights be required to make such a sacrifice, or why, in vacation, should their children be required to submit to the ecclesiastical laws of the college? If Episcopalians were permitted to have their sons, students at Yale, worship with them during the vacations, why should not the same liberty be granted to equally good citizens who differed even less in theological opinions?

Because of this college incident the difficulties in the Canterbury church attracted still more attention, but the end of the schism was at hand. In the month that witnessed the expulsion of the Clevelands, the minority of the original First Church voted that they were |The Church of Canterbury,| and that those who had gone forth from among them in the January of the preceding year, 1743, as Congregationalists after the Cambridge Platform, had abrogated that of Saybrook. Consequently, to the minority lawfully belonged the election of the minister, the meeting house, and the taxes for ministerial support. Having thus fortified their position, they by a later vote declared: --

That those in the society who are differently minded from us, and can't conscientiously join in ye settlement of Mr. James Coggeshall as our minister may have free liberty to enjoy their own opinion, and we are willing they should be released and discharged from paying anything to ye support of Mr. Coggeshall, or living under his ministry any longer than until they have parish privileges granted them and are settled in church by themselves according to ye order of ye Gospel, or are lawfully released.

At the repeal of the Toleration Act in 1743, a new method had been prescribed for sober dissenters who wished to separate from the state church, and who were not of the recognized sects. The method of relief, thereafter, was for the dissenters, no matter how widely scattered in the colony, to appeal in person to the General Assembly and ask for special exemption. Moreover, they were promised only that their requests would be listened to, and the Assembly was growing steadily more and more averse to granting such petitions. As a result of this policy, the Separatist church of Canterbury did not have a very good prospect of immediate ability to accept the good-will of the First Church, which went even farther than the resolution cited above. The First Church offered to assist the Separatists in obtaining recognition from the Assembly. This offer the Separatists refused, preferring to submit to double taxation, and thus to become a standing protest to the injustice of the laws.

After the expulsion of the Clevelands, Yale made one more pronounced effort to discipline its students and to repress the growth of the liberal spirit. She attempted to suppress a reprint of Locke's essay upon |Toleration| which the senior class had secretly printed at their expense. An attempt to overawe the students and to make them confess on pain of expulsion was met by the spirited resistance of one of the class, who threatened to appeal to the King in Council if his diploma were denied him. His diploma was granted; and some years after, when the sentiment in the colony had further changed, the college gave the Cleveland brothers their degree.

The church in Enfield had an experience somewhat similar to that of Canterbury, to which it seems to have looked for spiritual advice and example. The Enfield Separate church was probably organized between 1745 and 1751, though its first known documents are a series of letters to the Separate church in Canterbury covering the period 1751-53. These letters sought advice in adjusting difficulties that were creating great discord in the church, which had already separated from the original church of Enfield. In 1762, the Enfield Separatists, once more in harmony, renewed their covenant, and called Mr. Nathaniel Collins to be their pastor. They struggled for existence until 1769, when they appealed to the General Assembly for exemption from the rates still levied upon them for the benefit of the First Society. They asked for recognition, separation, and incorporation as the Second Society and Church of Enfield. They were refused; but in May of the following year, -- a year to be marked by special legislation in behalf of dissenters, -- the Enfield Separatists again memorialized the Assembly, and in response were permitted to organize their own church. This permission, however, was limited to the memorialists, eighty in number; to their children, if within six months after reaching their majority they filed certificates of membership in this Separate church; and to strangers, who should enter the new society within one year of their settling in the town. The history of the Enfield Separatists gives glimpses of the frequent double discord between the New Lights and the Old and among the New Lights themselves. The period of the Enfield persecution extended over years when, elsewhere in the colony, Separatists had obtained recognition of their claims to toleration, if only through special acts and not by general legislation.

If churches suffered from the severe ecclesiastical laws of 1742-43, individuals did also. Under the law which considered traveling ministers as vagrants, and which the Assembly had made still more stringent by the additional penalty |to pay down the cost of transportation,| so learned a man as the Rev. Samuel Finley, afterwards president of Princeton, was imprisoned and driven from the colony because he insisted upon preaching in Connecticut. Indeed, it was his persistence in returning to the colony that caused the magistrates to increase the severity of the law. When the ministers John Owen of Groton and Benjamin Pomeroy of Hebron, as well as the itinerant James Davenport of Southold, criticised the laws, all of them were at once arraigned for the offense before the Assembly. There was so much excitement over the arrest of Pomeroy and Davenport that it threatened a riot. All three men were discharged, but Davenport was ordered out of the colony for his itinerant preaching and for teaching resistance to the civil laws. Pomeroy, his friend, had declared that the laws forbade any faithful minister, or any one faithful in civil authority, to hold office. Events bore out his statement, for ministers were hounded, and the New Light justices of the peace, and other magistrates, were deprived of office. Pomeroy, himself, was discharged only to be complained of for irregular preaching at Colchester and in punishment to be,deprived of his salary for seven years. The Rev. Nathan Stone of Stonington was disciplined for his New Light sympathies. Philemon Bobbins of Branford was deposed for preaching to the Baptists at Wallingford. This last procedure was the work of the Consociation of New Haven county, which thereby began a six years' contest, 1741-47, with the Branford church. In 1745 this church attempted to throw off the yoke of the Consociation by renouncing the Saybrook Platform.

During these years of persecution, the opposition to the Old Light policy was gradually gaining effective power, although the college had expelled Brainerd, and Mr. Cook, one of the Yale corporation, had found it expedient to resign because of his too prominent part in the formation of the North Church of New Haven. The Old Lights in the legislature of 1743 passed the repeal of the Toleration Act because the New Lights had no commanding vote; but they were increasing throughout the colony. Fairfield East Consociation had licensed Brainerd the year that Yale expelled him. Twelve ministers of New London and Windham county had met to approve the revival, notwithstanding the repeal of the Toleration Act and the known antagonism of the Windham Association to the Separatists. Windham Consociation and that of Fairfield East favored the revival. Large numbers of converts were made in these districts, and many also in Hartford county. In the New Haven district the spirit of antagonism and of persecution was strongest.

It was in accordance with the laws of 1742-43 that Mack, Shaw, and Pyrlaus, Moravian missionaries, on a visit in 1744 to their mission stations among the Indians in Connecticut, were seized as Papists and hustled from sheriff to sheriff for three days until |the Governor of Connecticut honorably dismissed them,| though their accusers insisted upon their being bound over under a penalty of L100 to keep the law. |Being not fully acquainted with all the special laws of the country, they perceived a trap laid for them and thought it prudent to retire to Shekomeko| (Pine Plains, Dutchess County, N. Y.). Missionaries sent out from Nazareth and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, had established this sub-centre for work in New York and Connecticut, and in the latter colony, in 1740-43, had made Indian converts at Sharon, Salisbury Indian Pond, near Newtown, and at Pachgatgoch, two miles southwest of Kent. Here was their principal station in Connecticut. They had made, in all, some twenty converts among the Indians, and had reclaimed several of their chief men from drunkenness and idleness. Moravian principles forbade these missionaries to take an oath. Consequently, the greed of traders, the rivalry of creeds, together with the belief that there was something wrong about men who would not swear allegiance to King George, -- notwithstanding their willingness to affirm it, and notwithstanding their denial of the Pretender, -- gave rise to the conviction that they must be Papists[d] in league with the French and their Indian allies. Accordingly both magistrates and ministers arrested the missionaries, and hurried them before the court at Poughkeepsie or at New Milford. Though the governors of both states recognized the value of the mission work, popular feeling ran so high that New York, in September, 1744, passed a law requiring them to take the oaths prescribed or to leave the country, and also commanding that |vagrant Teachers, Moravians, and disguised Papists should not preach or teach in public or private| without first obtaining a license. In Connecticut, as has been said, the laws of 1742-1743 were enforced against them; later, when during the Old French War groundless rumors of their intrigues with hostile Indians were circulated against them, a vain hunt was made for three thousand stands of arms that were said to be secreted in their missions. The severe persecution in New York had driven these missionaries into Pennsylvania and into Connecticut, but these rumors of intrigue broke up their work and caused the abandonment of their stations in the latter colony. Some of these, such as Kent, Sharon, and Salisbury, were revived in 1749-1762, at the request of the English settlers as well as of the Indian converts.

Returning to the main story of the progress of dissent, we find that in 1746 the General Court of Connecticut felt obliged to safeguard the Establishment by the passage of a law entitled, |Concerning who shall vote in Society Meetings.| Its preamble states that persons exempted from taxes for the support of the established ministry, because of their dissenting from the way of worship and ministry of the Presbyterian, Congregational, or Consociated churches, |ought not to vote in society meetings with respect to the support or to the building and maintaining of meeting houses,| yet some persons, exempted as aforesaid, |have adventured to vote and act therein,| as there was no express law to the contrary. The new law forbade such voting, and limited the ecclesiastical ballot to members of the Establishment who |were persons of full age and in full communion with the church,| and to other unexempted persons who held a freehold rated at fifty shillings per year, or personal property to the value of forty pounds. This law was just, in that it excluded all dissenters who had received exemption from Presbyterian rates. It included all others having the property qualification, whether they wanted to vote or not. That it was felt to be a necessity is a witness to the increasing recognition of the strength of the dissenting element.

In 1747, the Consociation of Windham sent forth a violent pamphlet describing the Separatists as a people in revolt against God and in rebellion against the Church and government. But the tide of public opinion was turning, and popular sentiment did not support the writers of this pamphlet. Moreover, the secular affairs of the colony were calling minds away from religious contentions as the stress of the Old French War was more and more felt. In 1748, venturing upon the improvement in public sentiment, Solomon Paine sent to the legislature a memorial signed by three hundred and thirty persons and asking for a repeal of such laws as debarred people from enjoying the liberty |granted by God and tolerated by the King.| It was known to these memorialists that a revision of the laws, first undertaken in 1742, was nearing completion, and their desire was that all obnoxious or unfair acts should be repealed. The petition met with a sharp rebuff, and, as a punishment, three members were expelled from the Assembly for being Separatists. But by such measures the Old Lights were overreaching themselves. A mark of the turning of public opinion was given this same year, when, upon the request of his old church in Hebron, the church vouching for his work and character, the Assembly restored to his ministerial rights and privileges the Rev. James Pomeroy. The unjust laws of 1742-43 and of the following years were never formally repealed, but were quietly dropped out of the revision of the laws issued in 1750.

Thenceforth the people began to tolerate variety in religious opinions with better grace, and the dominant authoritative rule of the Saybrook Platform began to wane, though for twenty years more it strove to assert its power. In 1755, the Middletown Association advised licensing candidates for the ministry for a term of years. The idea was to prevent errors arising from the personal interpretation of the Scriptures and indifference to dogmatic truths of religion from creeping into the churches. About the same time, the Consociation of New Haven invited their former member, Mr. Bobbins of Branford, to sit with them again at the installation of Mr. Street of East Haven. Conciliatory acts and measures such as these originated with both the Old and New Lights, and did much to lessen the division between them. Discussion turned more and more from personal opinions, character, and abilities, to considerations of doctrinal points. The churches found more and more in common, while worldly interests left the masses with only a half-hearted concern in church discussions.

To summarize the effect of the Great Awakening as evidenced by the great schism and its results thus far considered: The strength of the revival movement, as such, was soon spent. The number of its converts throughout New England was estimated by Dr. Dexter to be as high as forty or fifty thousand, while later writers put it as low as ten or twelve thousand, out of the entire population of three hundred thousand souls. The years 1740-42 were the years of the Great Awakening, and after them there were comparatively few conversions during any given time. Even in Jonathan Edwards's own church in Northampton there were no converts between 1744 and 1748. The influence of the Great Awakening was not, however, transient, nor was it confined to the Congregational churches, whether of the Cambridge or the Saybrook type. Baptist churches felt the impetus, receiving many directly into their membership, and also indirectly, from those Separatist churches which found themselves too weak to endure. Episcopalians added to their numbers from among religiously inclined persons who sought a calm and stable church home unaffected by church and political strife. The Great Awakening created the Separatist movement and the New Light party, revitalized the Established churches, invigorated others, and through the persecution and counter-persecution that the great schism produced, taught the Connecticut people more and more of religious tolerance, and so brought them nearer to the dawn of religious liberty. Such liberty could only come after the downfall of the Saybrook, Platform, and after a complete severance of Church and State. The last could not come for three quarters of a century. Meanwhile the leaven of the great revival would be working. On its intellectual side, the Great Awakening led to the discussion of doctrinal points, an advance from questions of church polity. These themes of pulpit and of religious press led, finally, to a live interest in practical Christianity and to a more genial religion than that which had characterized the Puritan age. The Half-Way Covenant had been killed. Education had received a new impulse, Christian missions were reinvigorated, and the monthly concert of prayer for the conversion of the world was instituted. True, French and Indian wars, the Spanish entanglement with its West Indian expedition, and the consuming political interests of the years 1745-83, shortened the period of energetic spiritual life, and ushered in another half century of religious indifference. But during that half century the followers of Edwards and Bellamy were to develop a less severe and more winning system of theology, and the fellowship of the churches was to suggest the colonial committees of safety as a preliminary to the birth of a nation, founded upon the inherent equality of all men before the law. This conception of political and civil liberty was to develop side by side with a clearer notion of the value of religious freedom.

FOOTNOTES:

[a] This term came with the royal charter of 1662, but only gradually displaced the familiar |General Court.|

[b] The Milford church, like that of New Haven, suffered for many years from unjust exactions and taxation.

[c] Commencement then came in September.

[d] And this notwithstanding their willingness to include in their affirmation a denial of Mariolatry, purgatory, and other vital Romish tenets.

<<  Contents  >>





©2002-2019 SermonIndex.net
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Privacy Policy