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those mere civil corporations denominated towns or parishes, who can believe there was no practical distinction? There must have been a distinction wide and visible, which every one understood and felt.
III. The Congregational churches of Massachusetts have been, from the first, religious societies, or voluntary associations for religious purposes, possessing, like all other associations for lawful purposes, the power and the right of self-organization, preservation, and government. They are, when regularly assembled, deliberative bodies, capable of moving and acting upon any subject that may properly come before them.
They have ever had the sole right of admitting and excluding members. This right is expressly recognized in the Platform (chap. x.) and, so far as we know, has not been disputed.
They have also the right of choosing their own officers ;-by which we mean their pastors and deacons, and other officers if they shall think proper. This right is not only secured in the Platform (chap. viii.) but is most strictly and clearly a natural right. What voluntary association for any lawful purpose, was ever denied the right of electing its own officers ?
The right here claimed for the churches has not been disputed, except in relation to the choice of pastor. The discussion before us may therefore be confined to the right of the churches to choose their own pastors..
And here let it be distinctly understood, that we assert no right, on the part of the church, to choose a minister for the parish. The parish, like the church, is a body of itself. Like the church, it has its own powers and rights; and among these, the right of choosing its own religious teacher. The church has no more right to choose a minister for the parish, than the parish has to choose a pastor for the church. The parish may, if it pleases, give up its right of choice to the church, saying virtually, “We will accept for our minister, him whom you shall please to choose as your pastor;" and then the church may exercise this right, without criminal usurpation. Or the church and parish, as it is for their mutual interest to operate together, may enter into a compact, expressed or implied, that they will have a concurrent choice; the church agreeing not to establish a pastor, in opposition to the will of the parish; and the parish agreeing not to contract with a minister, in opposition to the will of the church. But, antecedently to any such compact, or relinquishment of right, the power of choice remains entire, in each body. The church cannot, without criminal usurpation, attempt imposing a minister on the parish; and neither can the parish, nor any other civil power, without criminal usurpation, attempt imposing a pastor on the church.
*Chier Justice Parker describes a church as a “voluntary association,” and “ an organ ization for religious purposes." Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. pp. 195,501.
We have spoken of the right of the churches to choose their own pastors. It should be insisted farther, as we pass along, that this is a right which they are not at liberty to relinquish,—a right which they are bound duly and faithfully to exercise. They are bound by the example of the apostolical churches, and by the institution of Christ himself. The Great Head of the churches has intelligibly signified his pleasure on this subject, and his pleasure they must regard. They cannot surrender the right of choosing their pastors, without betraying his cause; and no earthly power can wrest it from them, and be innocent.
With this exposition of the right and duty of the churches, in regard to the choice of pastor, we proceed to exhibit the manner in which this right has been exercised, from the first settlement of Massachusetts to the present time.
The Massachusetts colony commenced in 1629. Until 1641, a period of eleven or twelve years, no law is known to have passed on the subject, and Chief Justice Parker thinks, “ without doubt, the whole assembly were considered the church,” and were entitled to vote in the choice of pastor.* _We have shewn already, that the whole assembly, at this period was not considered the church; but the church was a distinct and well defined body, whose members had made a public profession of their faith, and entered into solemn covenant with God. It may now be shewn conclusively, that the churches, at this early period, chose their own pastors.
1. This, as we have seen, was their natural right, and their bounden duty,—a right and a duty which they well understood, and agreeably to which it is to be presumed they practised, unless we have positive evidence to the contrary.
2. It was the invariable practice of the Congregational churches in England, to choose their own pastors. After the formation of the first Congregational church in England, in 1616, in the manner already pointed out, “ Mr. Jacob was chosen pastor, by the suffrage of the brotherhood, and others were appointed to the office of deacons.”+ In the Savay Confession, framed a few years after the settlement of this country, but expressive of the practice of the Congregational churches in England from their first organization, it is stated expressly that the church “has full power, within itself, to elect and ordain all church officers;"—that “pastors, teachers, and elders are to be elected by the suffrage of the church;"—and that ordination “conveys no official power, without a previous election of the church.”I
3. We have farther evidence of the practice of the churches, during the period in question, from the Cambridge Platform. This was framed only nineteen years from the commencement of the colony; and most of the earliest ministers, such as Wilson, * Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. p. 514. Neal, vol. ii. p. 126. Ibid. vol. vi. p. 216.
Cotton, and Norton of Boston, Elliot of Roxbury, Shepard of Cambridge, and Mather of Dorchester, were members of the Synod who framed it. They drew the Platform, says Gov. Winthrop, “according to the general practice of the churches,”* with which they could not but be well acquainted. And yet they say, “officers are to be called by the churches whereunto they are to minister.” And again ; "a church, being free, cannot become subject to any, but by a free election.” And again; “the churches have power to choose their officers and ministers.”+
4. But we have stronger evidence even than this. We have the practice of the very first churches which were instituted in the colony. After the formation of the church in Salem, in 1629, the brethren “chose Mr. Skelton their pastor, Mr. Higginson their teacher, and Mr. Houghton their ruling elder.”I The first church in Boston, instituted in 1630, not only exercised, from the first, the right of choosing its pastor, but for almost an hundred years, “ was alone concerned in fixing the minister's salary, and in making all pecuniary appropriations.”|| “In the year 1632, Mr. Thomas Weld was prevailed with, by the importunity of the Roxbury church, to accept of a pastor's office among them.” After a church had been formed at Newtown, in 1635, the members “chose Mr. Shepard for their pastor.” In 1636, Mr. Sarnuel Whiting “removed unto Lynn, the church there inviting him to be their pastor."** In 1637, “the church at Concord chose Mr. Buckly teacher, and Mr. Jones pastor.”+t In 1638, Rev. Ezekiel Rogers came into the colony with a church, and settled at Rowley. Here the brethren “ renewed their church covenant, and their call of Mr. Rogers to the office of pastor, according to the course of other churches." II In 1639, " the church of Dorchester, not contenting themselves with a single officer in the ministry of their church, invited one Mr. Burr, and gave him a call to office."||||
It would be easy to multiply instances such as these. Indeed we may safely challenge any one, versed in the early history of Massachusetts, to produce an instance, in which persons residing here, who were not in covenant, were called a church, or in which any person was constituted the pastor of a church, but by the free election of the brethren.
The period, to which the preceding inquiry has been limited, is only the eleven or twelve first years of the colony ; as this is the only period concerning which there has been, or can be the least dispute. In 1641, it was by law determined, that “ every church
* Hist. of N. Eng. vol. ii. p. 231. q Winthrop, vol. i. p. 180.
** Mather, vol. i. p. 455. * Neal, vol. ii. p. 231.
# Winthrop, vol. I. p. 217. Emerson's History of the first church 1 Ibid. p. 279.
| Hubbard's Hist. p. 277. Hubbard's Hist. p. 188.
hath free liberty of election and ordination of all her officers ;” and “ of admission, recommendation, dismission, and expulsion of officers or members, according to the rules of God's word." In 1668, this law was re-enacted, with important additions. The church was explained to mean “such only as are in full communion;" and power was expressly given to the church, of choosing, not only a pastor for itself, but a ininister for the town.*
In 1692, soon after the erection of the colonies into one province by the charter of king William, it was enacted, that “every minister, being a person of good conversation, able, learned, and orthodox, that shall be chosen by the major part of the inhabitants of any town, at a town meeting duly warned for that purpose, shall be the minister of such town, and the whole town shall be obliged to pay towards his settlement and maintenance.”+—This law is usually represented as depriving the church of its right in the choice of a pastor. But the law itself says nothing of this, and we do not see on what the inference is founded. The subject of the law is, not the church and its pastor, but the town and its minister. And what is taken from the church is, not, as we understand it, the right of choosing its own pastor, but that of choosing a minister for the town.
The law, however, was not sufficiently explicit, and in many places could not be enforced. Accordingly it was repealed the next year, and in place thereof it was enacted, “ that each respective gathered church, in any town or place, being in want of a minister, shall have power, according to the directions given in the word of God, to choose their own minister ; and the major part of such inhabitants as do there usually attend on the public worship of God, and are by law duly qualified for voting in town affairs, concurring with the church's act, and the persons thus elected and approved accepting thereof, and settling with them, shall be their
minister,” &c. In addition to this, it was provided, in 1695, , "that when at any time a church shall make choice of a minister,
and the inhabitants of the town or precinct shall deny their approbation of the church's choice, the church may call in the help of an ecclesiastical council ; and in case the council shall approve the election of the church, such minister, accepting the choice, and settling with them, shall be the minister of the town or precinct; but if the council shall not approve, the church shall proceed to the election of another minister."S
Here the subject rested, until the adoption of the Constitution, in 1780; a period of eighty-five years. During all this while, the church continued to choose its own pastor, and the town or parish its own minister; and the choice falling ultimately, in almost every case, upon the same person, the churches had rest, and the * Colony Laws, pp. 101, 101.
Ibid. Province Laws, p. 250.
Ø Ibid. p. 286
interests of religion were secured and promoted. But one instance has been mentioned, or is recollected, in this long course of years, in which church and parish so seriously disagreed respecting the choice of a minister, that a separation was the result. This occurred at Middleborough in 1744. Of the particulars concerning this case, we are not informed; but the fact, that it stands alone in the books of those who feel interested to disparage the state of our ecclesiastical affairs previous to the adoption of the Constitution, is evidence strong of the general harmony which at that period prevailed.
In the third article of the bill of rights prefixed to the Constitution of Massachusetts, it is provided, “ that the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, shall at all times, have the exclusive right of electing their public teachers, and of contracting with them for their support and maintenance.”
This language has been thought by some to take from the church the right of electing its own pastor, and to place it, in this respect, entirely within the power of the parish. But to this conclusion we can by no means subscribe. We are unwilling to charge those venerable men, who framed the Constitution of this Commonwealth, with so great and needless an innovation upon the immemorial usages of the country; and still more, with so gross impropriety and injustice, as the interpretation above given would imply. Would they, by a single clause, take from perhaps five hundred churches, a right which had been guaranteed to them by immemorial usage, by long established laws, and (as they supposed) by Christ himself? Would they take from five hundred associations of persons for the most solemn purposes of religion, a right which is claimed by all voluntary associationsthe right of electing their own officers, and oblige them to receive as officers, as pastors, who should preside in their meetings, administer their ordinances, and break to them the bread of life, those whom other and foreign bodies, mere civil corporations, should please to set over them, or force upon them? The supposition cannot be admitted; and we desire to be thankful that it need not be.
We shall endeavor to shew, first, that the passage above quoted from the Constitution is not inconsistent with the right of the churches to choose their own pastors; and, second, that it secures to them this right.
1. It is not inconsistent with the exercise of this right. If it is inconsistent with it, and was intended and known to be, at the time of its adoption, how can it be accounted for that its adoption was not strenuously opposed by the churches. Why did they acquiesce in it? How could they, indeed, without surrendering their dearest natural rights, abandoning all previous usage, reproaching the memory of their fathers, violating acknowledged duly,