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to such churches as are connected with towns or parishes, and wisely provides that these shall not be interrupted in their appropriate duties, but “ shall at all times have, use, exercise, and enjoy all their accustomed privileges and liberties.”
We appeal to the candor of the public to decide, whether this is not the proper interpretation of the law we have quoted; and if it is, it surely goes not a step towards establishing the views of the Judges respecting the church.
7. Chief Justice Parker urges the correctness of his opinions from the consequences of supposing the opposite. “Property bestowed upon churches has always been given,” he says, “with a particular view to some associated body of Christians.” And were churches allowed to “ remove to any other place, perhaps without the Commonwealth, and carry their property with them," the will and design of the donors would be frustrated.* The right of churches to remove with their property out of the Commonwealth, need not here be asserted or denied. It will be in time to settle the question of this right, when such a removal is seriously attempted. In the case of the church in Dedham, on which his Honor was called to decide, the place of worship was removed only to the other side of the street. But even such a removal cannot be allowed, because, says the Judge, “the property bestowed on churches has always been given with a particular view to some associated body of Christians;" or, in other words, “the property bestowed on churches has always been given” with a view to the benefit of some associated town or parish. But a discussion of this point would only bring over the question again—a question which we think we have already settled—whether the church is a mere trustee for the town or parish. We say, and we think we have shewn, that this is not the case ; and accordingly we deny, that “ the property bestowed on churches has always been given,” with a view to the benefit of some associated town or parish, or has indeed ever been given with such a view, especially in the ancient grants, except as the inhabitants of a town may be willing to come, and unite in the worship which the church las instituted.
Having now examined the principle arguments by which Chief Justice Parker has endeavored to establish his views of a church, we proceed to offer our objections. And,
1. The views he has expressed are inconsistent with the natural, inherent rights of the churches, particularly in respect to the choice of their pastors, and the disposal of their property. Many of the churches of this Commonwealth are now in the actual and honest possession of property. Some of this they have acquired by purchase, and some by grant or donation. But, however acquired, it is theirs, and (except where some trust or use is expressed in a
* Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. p 506.
donation) they have a natural right to do with it as they please. They may appropriate it for the support of public worship, or they may not. And if they do thus appropriate it, as in most cases they probably will, they certainly have the right, and it is their duty, to appropriate it for the support of such worship as they in conscience approve. Is not this the natural right of the churches; a right which they may exercise, without reasonable offence to any one? We appeal to the candor and common sense of the community. But, by the late decisions of the Judges, the churches are deprived of this inherent right. They cannot any longer do what they will with their own. Every church is indissolubly bound to some parish, and she must humor the parish in every thing, or she is at once stripped of all. She must receive just such a pastor, and hear just such a teacher, as the parish gives her, and the most she can do with her property, even then, is to have the trouble of taking care of it, and of regularly paying it over to her civil master.
2. The views of the Judges are totally inconsistent, not only with the natural rights of the churches, but with their corporate rights, and with existing laws. We have shown at large that the churches of Massachusetts were early in the possession of corporate rights and powers. They were gathered and organized according to law. It was their province to decide for many years, not only who should be eligible to office, but who should exercise the rights of a freeman. They assessed and collected taxes, of their members and others, for the building of meeting houses, and the support of ministers. They were virtually incorporated, by the legal acceptance and approval of the Cambridge Platform. They long exercised the powers of a legal incorporation, in holding and managing different kinds of property. And, finally, their corporate powers were confirmed and settled, by the act of 1754, which went to secure them in the possession of their property, and to make it certain, both to them and the world, that it never could be wrested from them. But this most equitable intention of the law of 1754 is set aside and perverted, and the corporate rights of the churches are annulled, by the late decisions. For no sooner now is there a collision between church and parish, and the church is compelled in conscience to withdraw, then the parish tells her, 'You are bound to us for life, and you cannot withdraw. You may vote to withdraw, and may go, in a majority ever so large ; but those who remain will be the church, and will retain the property, even to the records. Indeed, if you all go, and go by solemn vote, you go only as individuals— you die as a church-your property remains to us—and we are competent to institute a new church, which will succeed to all the rights and immunities which you have left.'
We thus see that, as the case now stands, there needs but a collision between church and parish, in order to strip the church
of every thing. And the parish can create a collision, at any time, and in many places would be richly compensated for the violence and wrong which it might inflict in doing it.
3. The views we here oppose are wholly inconsistent with the independence of our churches.—We call ourselves Congregationalists, or Independents. It was their regard for the independence of churches which separated our forefathers from the ecclesiastical Establishments of the old world, and brought them to this country. And here they filled the land with independent churches, each having the power of self-organization, preservation, and government, within itself, and acknowledging submission to no authority but that of the Saviour. Our churches still retain the name of Independents, but nothing more. By the late decisions, their real independence is clean gone. They are in a state of vassalage, of thraldom; and the reason why they do not all feel it, is, their masters have not yet chosen to exercise their power. Every church is indissolubly bound to some parish; and, let her treatment be what it may, there is no divorce. She may vote what she pleases, but there she is. She may vote, to an individual, to withdraw, and may think thus to withdraw ; but, instead of withdrawing, she dies by her own hand, and leaves her inheritance to her persecutor. She cannot choose her own pastor, her teacher, her presiding officer; but must be ruled by one, and taught by one, and receive the ordinances at the hands of one, who is set over her by others, it may be against her will and her conscience. She must hear just such doctrines, and unite in just such worship, as the parish directs; and what is more, willing or unwilling, her property must go to pay for it.—This is not an exaggerated account of the civil state of the churches of this Commonwealth, according to the late decisions. It is their real state, and every church must be made to feel it just as soon as the parish with which it is connected is pleased to say the word.
Where, then, I ask, is the independence of our churches? that independence, to establish and secure which, our fathers braved the dangers of ocean, and of exile? It is gone—to the shadow. And there are probably no churches now on earth, in such a state of absolute civil dependence and vassalage, as those of Massachusetts.
4. Notwithstanding what has been said on the civil bondage of our churches, still, owing to the courtesy of parishes, or to their sense of justice, or (what will probably have more influence than either) a regard for their own interest, the actual state of the churches may, in most instances, be tolerable. Cases, however, will occur, under the influence of the late decisions, (and this is one objection which we make to them,) of extreme hardship and injustice. We will suppose one or two, merely as examples.
In one of the oldest churches in the Commonwealth, a sum of money had accumulated, about twenty years ago, from the stated
contributions for the support of the Lord's table. As it was lying useless in the hands of the deacons, it was thought best to purchase with it a piece of land, to be holden by the church, and to be improved, under their direction, for the benefit of their pastor. The plan was carried into effect accordingly, and the land came legally into the possession of the deacons, to be holden by them in trust for the church. Everything was transacted harmoniously, and the plan proved to be a very good one, during the ministry of the existing pastor. But, after his decease, about five years ago, the church and parish disagreed. The parish undertook to impose a pastor on the church, one not only of different sentiments, but, as many believed, of immoral life. The church remonstrated, and entreated; but to no purpose. Supported by the late decisions, the parish would have its own way. Their minister was settled, and the church had no alternative, but to withdraw. It was hard for them to leave the house of worship, and abandon their pews; but, as circumstances were, they thought it harder to remain. They voted, therefore, by a very large inajority, to withdraw. But they were soon given to understand that they could not withdraw, except as individuals ; and that if they withdrew in this way, they must leave all their property, even to their communion furniture and records, behind them. In these circumstances, what could they do? They knew their property was their own. They had purchased it with their own money ; it was held in trust for them by their own deacons; and the parish had no more right to it, than they had to the garments which the church members wore. But what could the brethren of the church do? They could submit and suffer. They could in patience possess their souls, and wait for justice at a higher tribunal than that of their country.
We may suppose another instance. About ten years ago, there was a feeble church and society, situated in a large and wealthy town. They had struggled through many difficulties, and against much opposition, from Universalists and Deists, from the irreligious and profane; but they had been united among themselves, and had succeeded in maintaining the ordinances of the Gospel. At the time of which we speak, one of the best and wealthiest members of the church died, and left a large landed estate, duly and legally secured to the church. No trust or use was expressed in the legacy, but it was to go in succession, and the income to be annually appropriated according to the discretion of the church. About six years ago, many inhabitants of the town were seized with a great desire to have the control and management of this property. Accordingly they made themselves members of the society, dismissed the existing minister, and proposed setting a man of their own liking. The church did all they could to prevent it, but they were disregarded and overwhelmed, and the society's minister was settled. Still, the church supposed VOL. 1.
that they might withdraw, retain their property, and re-establish the minister who had long and faithfully served them. But what was their astonishment and grief, when they found that even this last resource of the afflicted was denied them? They could not withdraw, but as individuals ; and in doing this, they must commit ecclesiastical suicide, and leave their inheritance to their persecutors. And the legacy of their dear brother, on whose grave the grass had scarcely begun to grow, must, in any case, be perverted to the support of a ministry which he would have abhorred.
We hope indeed, that instances like those here supposed, will not often occur in this country, under any civil regulations. But why should they ever? And especially why should they, under the sanction of judicial decisions, which have the force of law ? Better have no laws on the subject, than laws which hold out, not merely license, but encouragement to wrong.
It is an aggravation of the evil, that, in all the instances, like those we have given, which can occur, the injury will invariably fall upon the more conscientious and religious part of the community. The man of easy principles and conscience, who can slide along any way, as his convenience, his interest, or his passions may dictate, will always escape; while those who feel their obligations to God, and who dare not violate them, must be left to suffer for their integrity.
In reply to what we have here offered, it will no doubt be urged, that cases of great hardship would be likely to occur, were the sole power of electing a minister, and of managing parochial funds, to be vested in the church. But we repeat here, for the last time,—and whatever else may be forgotten, we hope this will be remembered,—that we do not claim or wish for the church the right to choose a minister for the parish, or the right to hold or control parish property. We only ask, that the church may be allowed to choose its own pastor, and to manage its own funds; and, in case of inevitable disagreement between church and parish, that it may be permitted to withdraw, and support such worship as it can approve. Is not this a reasonable demand ? Is it not conformable to all our ideas of Christian liberty and propriety? Can any cases of injustice or hardship possibly grow out of it? We appeal again to the candor of the community.
5. It may be necessary to observe, although it should be making but a small advance, that the decisions in question are inconsistent with Scripture, and with the institution of Christ. On a subject such as this, express declarations are not to be expected. It will be sufficient if we shew, that they are manifestly inconsistent with the general spirit of the sacred writings. And is not this abundantly evident, from what has been already said ? If these decisions are inconsistent with the independence of the churches, and with their dearest natural rights, taking from them that which