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"The Scribe says he sees but three points. How many the Pastor of Hollis Street Church sees I do not know. I saw but one point this morning where the Scribe sees three, and if there are three seen by the Scribe, the Pastor may see twenty." Another adds, "Suppose the Pastor should say he has no other points, he may discover them before the 1st of June, and he would then have a right to present them." - p. 107. There was no rebuke from the ModerFacts speak for themselves.
Let us now consider the "charges" brought against the Pastor. Every body knows, that for a minister to be useful, he must be free, free to think, speak, and act, and also that the parish be free to think, speak, and act. But if both are free, a collision may come between the pews and the pulpit. The preacher may be over timid, and wise men in the pews complain of that. For example, if the minister preach a sermon on temperance, and say at the end of it, "But, my beloved brethren, I would not have you think my words apply to you; no, God forbid that I should suspect sin of this sober village." Good men will say, "He is not the man for us." Then again the minister may be unduly bold, and meddle with matters too high for him. Good men will have a right to complain. If he is impertinent, sarcastic, scornful, insolent; if he abuses his pulpit by introducing personal spleen, and vents his ill-humor in sermons on laymen by profane swearing, and cases of this kind have happened, all good men should exclaim against it. Explanations, or a separation must follow; but neither party would lose its freedom. "Take heed how you hear," is a good rule. But in such cases of disagreement the issue that is made ought to be the true one. It is unfair to contend with a minister for not preaching Antislavery and Temperance, when the fault is, that he has neither Zeal nor Grace. We should rejoice to see the time, when a perfect openness might prevail, and when not only the preacher did the abstract and concrete work above hinted at, for the greater part of the clergy, no doubt, still aim at that, but when the laity, if they did not find their minister a spiritual guide, should tell him plainly the facts of the case, and say, if it were so, "Sir, we can't bear you; we are hungry, you give us no meat; we are
thirsty, you give us no drink; we are in prison of our prejudices, and sick through our sins, you do not come to us, your words don't visit us, nor comfort us. Why should we trouble one another? The world is large and wide; we wish you may be very useful to others, but you cannot be a Christian minister to us. You don't speak to our souls. Let us part in peace and good understanding." This would be fair to all parties; both would know what they were about, and the "charges," like the grand juror's bill, would make a "true presentment" of the case as it was supposed to be. The active man would not be condemned as a drone, nor the drone as one over active.
Now the "grounds of complaint," alleged against the Pastor before the Council, are in substance as follows. 1. That he has neglected his professional duties for mere secular concerns. 2. That he has preached in an unkind manner on exciting topics, such as ardent spirits, imprisonment for debt, and slavery. 3. That he has not treated his opponents well. 4. That he has shown a want of reverence for the Scriptures. 5. That he has made indelicate statements in the pulpit. 6. That he has not been honest. 7. That he has not been true. 8. That he has promoted quarrels. 9. That he has not shown a proper ministerial decorum in the pulpit and elsewhere.
Now there come up two questions. I. Do these charges make a true presentment of the real subject on which the parties are at issue? II. Are the charges true?
I. To look at the first question, after a careful study of the records of the Council, we confess to a general and very strong impression, that these charges, as a whole, do NOT represent the subject at issue. We must, as impartial judges, agree with the confession of the Moderator, "I
HAVE NOT A DOUBT THAT TEMPERANCE IS THREE QUARTERS OF ALL OUR TROUBLE." p. 204. We confess that, if much stress was really laid on the other offences, we should suppose the complaint would be made at the time the offence was committed. Was such the case? It does not appear. On the contrary, it does appear, that the offence in some cases was favored at the time by some of the very men who brought the present complaints. Mr. Pierpont has doubtless his faults; faults as a minister, faults as a man. They are apparent in this trial. But was he really
on trial for these faults, or were they brought up to serve another purpose? To our mind there is no doubt of the answer which a majority of unprejudiced readers will make.
II. The next question is, are the "grounds of complaint" proven against the Pastor? Here we have not only the opinion of the Moderator, but the whole Council, in the negative. However, the decision of the Council is but a qualified negative. They divide the charges into three classes: those affecting the Pastor's moral character, his ministerial character, and those growing out of the difficulties between him and his parish. They think the first "are not sustained."* "The Council are of opinion that he cannot be so regarded, [that is, as wanting in purity, integrity, and moral truth,'] and ought not to be so prop. 378.
The second class of charges are also dismissed by the Council as not sustained. "They think that few clergymen could have a ministry of more than twenty years so thoroughly scanned and investigated, and not have more instances of neglect and evidence of inattention brought forward against him. Upon this point the Council cannot but consider the investigation had before them as honorable to the Pastor."-p. 379. This decision, however, is somewhat qualified. The Council think he has not always been "wise, prudent, and discreet." "He might have manifested more of calmness and moderation, and through them have been more useful." "The circumstances of his parish, and the condition of things in that quarter of the city, where his ministry was chiefly exercised, were peculiar, and such as called for a large measure and a constant exhibition of that wisdom which is from above," &c. p. 380. "In this wisdom the Council consider the Pastor has been somewhat deficient." "It is to be considered probable also, that, if there was sometimes a want of prudence in the Pastor, there may have been on the part of some of his hearers, unconsciously, a susceptibility to offence, and thus the difficulties have arisen from faults and failings in both parties." Ibid.
In respect to the third class of charges, the Council find
* See the whole remarks, pp. 375-379.
in the Pastor's conduct nothing "vindictive," nor any "intentional irreverence for the Holy Scriptures," though he has made a "use of Scripture language painful to the feelings of this Council."[!] With these exceptions, however, the Council think the charges are "in a measure sustained." p. 381. See also pp. 382, 383.
"The Result in Council" is concluded with this resolution, "That although on such of the charges preferred against the Rev. John Pierpont, as most directly affect his moral character, the proof which has been presented has been altogether insufficient; yet on other charges such an amount of proof has been brought forward, as requires this Council to express their disapprobation of Mr. Pierpont's conduct on some occasions, and in some respects," but not sufficient, in their opinion, to furnish ground for advising a dissolution of the connexion between him and his parish."-p. 383.
This is the sum of the whole matter. With this the Council concluded their long and laborious session. We have spoken before of the pure and high moral character of individuals of that body. It is not for us to inquire what were the motives that weighed with them; not for us to ask how far prejudice or spleen choked the course of justice on the one hand, or how far a deference to public opinion, and a diplomatic fear of the popular sympathy, setting strongly in the Pastor's favor, prevented a full expression of the censure which is insinuated rather than roundly delivered. We know there was a time when ecclesiastical councils governed public opinion. "We have changed all that." Does public opinion govern ecclesiastical councils? We know not. At the time the Council," preceded by the Moderator," first passed into the Supreme Court Room," we heard grave men, and pious men say, "A just judgment is not to be looked for from that body; if they let him off with no censure, they condemn themselves, for God knows they have not undertaken his work. We honor and love the men, but hope no justice from them in this case." Another said, "The Council is a farce. The Boston ministers, instead of trying Mr. Pierpont, ought themselves to be brought before a council for not having done in a good spirit, what he is accused of
doing in a bad one." To our mind there was no little truth in both sayings. We question no man's motive in the matter, but we take it no plain man, who reads the volume before us, will doubt which way the prejudice of the Council tended, or what would have been the decision of at least some of its members, if public opinion, the despot of the vulgar, had not so plainly favored Mr. Pierpont. In every single case, as we understand it, the weight of the Council was thrown against him; offences were sought committed months after the charges were first brought; he was rebuked for a trifle at the very least, and his opponents members of the Council allowed to insult him with no reproof.* Facts tell their own story. It is admitted by the Council that the wrong is on both sides; but how daintily is the complaining party rebuked! In the case of the litigation, was all the "vindictive" spirit on one side? Let the candid reader decide.
What then? Is the Pastor justifiable in all things? We think not. There is something that we must censure, several things we cannot understand; sometimes he pursues, as we think, an oblique course, when a straight one would better compass the end; he allows himself an indignant eloquence, which were better let alone; he gives blow for blow, and scorn for scorn; he does not speak gently. He rebukes sin more strongly than beautifully; we would try him by no vulgar measure, but by the absolute standard of Ideal goodness. As a minister and as a man he does not come up to the measure. It may be said, "His provocation was great." Nothing more true; but what then? The courage that will not stand fire is no courage for us; the Christian virtue which is not superior to ALL temptation is no Christian virtue to our taste. For such departure from the true spirit and the true method let him be censured.
But are we speaking of angels? Let us see how other men of flesh and blood have done under similar circumstances. The Prophet Jeremiah is a man held in some estimation by the Christian Church; but when men said,