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It is not true, that the church is an authoritative expositor of the word of God. We acknowledge no such functionary. It belongs to the legislative bodies in our country, in their proper spheres to determine, whether proposed laws contravene the divine law; and this determination, so far as concerns their act, is conclusive upon all, within the regular operation of this act.
It may be further answered, that the church is a Body upon the voluntary principle, receiving and retaining its members through their free will; and that therefore for the regulation of their lives, and the promotion of charity, truth and holiness, it may exercise discipline according to the revealed will of God, determined by its own conscience and judgment irrespective of human laws. The Roman Catholic church could not desire a better place to stand upon to move the world. Except in that church this principle has never obtained, and as already remarked, it is its inost objectionable feature. It would be most perilous in the governments of the United States, free governments resting upon the opinions of the citizens, to admit a body directing and wielding the power of conscience to act upon rules and enforce sentences paramount to the punicipal law, and subversive of the rights it confers. All bodies permitted to exist urder our polity, enjoy the privilege upon the principle, that they can have no rules repugnant to the law of the land. So vital is this principle, that although a Body be constituted by the most positive and unqualified terms without condition or modification, the restriction is implied.
It is to be remarked, that the exercise of discipline, the judicial declaration of rules and principles for the adjudicating of cases, the passing of sentences, are very different matters from the preaching of the word. Every citizen may discuss the laws, argue against their propriety, justice or expedience, petition against them, and use all proper measures for repealing or changing them. The church may hold forth its doctrine, and by all the talent of its ministry and members, enlighten and persuade the public mind, and thus contribute its powerful aid to effect desired reformation of laws or manners; but it is not reconcilable with Scripture or reason, that it should proceed judicially against a person, and condemn and punish him as guilty, for an act conformable to the municipal law, and stamped with its sanction. This divisum imperium, the church adjudging criminal and penal, what the state authorizes as right and proper, would be an incongruity under any system of gov
ernment. The Roman Catholic church in the times of darkness and superstition usurped jurisdiction over marriage; but it was exclusive; marriage was declared a sacrainent, the state was allowed no cognisance of it. In England, in their partial reformation from popery, the ecclesiastical courts retained jurisdiction of marriage cases, and the canon law (the law of the church) is their rule of proceeding and judgment. But there is also statute law of that kingdom, like the enactments of our legislatures, concerning marriage. Now although the ecclesiastical courts, upon questions of marriage, have the canon law for their rule, they must regard the statute law as paramount, and not infringe it: if they proceed, upon ecclesiastical law, against a marriage valid according to the statute, the courts of law interpose and prohibit them. The law of the land is maintained ; nothing is suffered to be done to prejudice what it tions. In Scotland, the law of the state this term is here used indistinction from church) governs upon this subject. It is true, this law is contained in the Article of Marriage and Divorce in the CONFESSION OF Faith, and was prepared by the Westminster Assembly of Divines ; it however does not derive its authority from that Assembly, or from the church of Scotland, but from the Parliament of Scotland, who, upon the application of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, ratified it by statute, and made it the law of the land. That general assembly did not consider that their ratification of the CONFESSION Of Faith gave it requisite efficacy; but after their ratification of it, they applied to the Parliament, the legislative power of their country, for an act of legislation to impart this efficacy to it. In this application they solemnly acknowledge the paramount authority of the legislative power of the country and its act. Upon this principle can a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in these United States disregard the acts of the constitutional legislative power in these states ? The principle obviously requires the observance of the municipal law. If the General Assembly of the church of Scotland deemed it requisite to apply to the LEGISLATURE of that kingdom for a law to complete the CONFESSION OF Faith as a rule in that country, certainly our General Assembly cannot proceed upon it as a rule in this country in direct conflict with the law enacted by our LEGISLATURES. Those familiar with the precedents in the church of Scotland, must consider, that those precedents cannot be applied here; because in Scotland the CONFESSION OF
Faith is attended by statute passed by the Parliament of the kingdom, and is adopted as the law of the land ; there can, therefore, be no conflict of laws in Scotland, for that church has taken for principle that it must have the sanction of the laws of the land : while in this country the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church having adopted the Confession of Faith, as approved by the General Assembly of Scotland and ratified by the Parliament of that kingdom, the church judicatories proceed upon it without reference to the law of the land, and in the present case have formed and affirmed a decision in contradiction to it.
One consequence, a very serious one, of this divisum imperium, the church condemning a marriage as incestuous and convicting the parties of incest, when the marriage was contracted according to law, with its authority and sanction, is, that there can be no repentance. In England or Scotland, when there is a decision that a marriage is incestuous, and a consequent conviction of incest, the marriage is annulled; the parties are put in a condition for repentance, and on repentance they will be received again into the church. But in this country, the church has no power over the marriage; the whole power is in the state; and when the marriage is sanctioned by the law of the state, the parties must continue in it; the state, so far from divorcing, will compel the faithful observance. How then is repentance possible? Its first step and its whole course must trample upon the law. For suppose they yield to the decision of the church, and by mutual consent absolving themselves from the marriage, treat each other as unmarried. In this they violate solemn obligations legally subsisting, and set not only an example of insubordination, under the sentence of the church holding up the law to public odium, but the immoral example of persons in the marriage state living regardless of its bonds; and they are subjected to all the inconveniences of a single state; for they can contract no other marriage. An article in the Princeton Review of July last, justifying the decision of the General Assembly, seems to feel, that perpetual deposition from the ministry and exclusion from the church would be too severe a sentence for the sin. It says, therefore, “ This suspension must continue until the party gives evidence of repentance. What evidence is, in this case, to be deemed satisfactory, rests with the discretion of the Presbytery. No one will doubt that incest is an offence which admits of various degrees.” Remark
ing the difference between marriages with a mother, and with an aunt, with a sister and sister-in-law, it proceeds: “As therefore the offence differs, so should the penalty. We find that in the ancient church the penalty for the marriage of a man with his wife's sister was excommunication for a term of years; for marriage with his own sister it was final excision from the church.” The allusion in " excommunication for a term of years," is to a canon of a Provincial Council, A. D. 314, which ordains, "if any one after the death of his wife took her sister, he must abstain from the communion for five years.” This part of the article is well worthy of examination. Separation of the parties when united in lawful matrimony, would be a scandal to society, a dangerous example, and a deliberate contempt of the laws. That such a separation should be requisite under a sentence of the church, for a restoration to its communion, would not only be a gross reflection upon the civil authority, but would exhibit a countervailing influence incompatible with the spirit of our institutions. The course, related in the History of England, of the monk Dunstan and the Archbishop Odo, toward the beautiful Elgiva and the unfortunate Edwy, could not be endured in this age. The quotation from the Review will not allow, that the sentence in this case, shall extend to the separation of the parties or to their final excision from the church, and it will avoid these consequences by adopting the principle to which it alludes,—that exclusion from church fellowship for a proper period, such as shall be satisfactory to the Presbytery, shall be the punishment. This is a very good suggestion for a Roman Catholic church; but it is not seen how it can be admitted in a Protestant, evangelical one. 6 As therefore the offence differs” (says the Reviewer), “so should the penalty.” The proposition is, that the punishment must be proportioned to the offence, and that when that punishment has been borne, there is an end of punishment; of course, the offender is restored, for there can be no further punishment of the offence; its full punishment has been inflicted. If five years exclusion from communion be the punishment proportioned to the offence, to continue this exclusion longer would make the punishment excessive. This is penance, the true Roman Catholic penance: the sin of the soul cancelled through the suffering of the body: punishment working the restoration of the offender. Five years abstaining from communion, blots out the sin of incest. In our understanding of spiritual punishment, its purpose is to lead to repentance: upon repentance there is forgiveness and restora
tion; not that the sin is cancelled because it has borne its proportionate punishment, but forgiven on the ground of repentance, and until repentance, no matter how small the sin, there can be no forgiveness nor restoration. In a most flagitious case of incest, a man having his father's wife in his father's lifetime, when he had put away the wife, and was evidently penitent, although he had not been excommunicated more than a year, Paul directs the church to forgive and comfort him, lest he “should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.”
« Wherefore I beseech you that you would confirm your lore to him :"suggesting the warning, “ lest Satan should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices." (2 Cor. ii. 5–11. 1 Cor. v. 1–5.) What advantage would it not give Satan in such a case, to exclude, for five years, from church privilege and fellowship! Would not this penalty which the Reviewer finds in the “ ancient church," and suggests for precedent, be a convenient instrument for the adversary? Can we avoid noticing the marked difference between the spirit of Paul's instruction, and that of the precedent of the ancient church? This would admonish us to be distrustful of these precedents, even if history were not so full of warning. To invalidate the allegation, that through the early corruption of Christianity, which came to such head in the Romish church, false rules were adopted as well in relation to marriage as other subjects, the article just quoted from, remarks,“ the marriage in question was forbidden before there was a Pope in Rome.” We do not suppose, the Pope introduced these corruptions; but the corruptions introduced the Pope. Paul says, “the mystery of iniquity doth already work." " The first error we see in the church is effort to depreciate and corrupt the New Testament by engrafting upon it the Old.
But to return to our examination of the ground on which in the case in question the offender can be restored to the church. No one can suppose, that the doctrine of penance can obtain in the Presbyterian church during this generation : restoration, therefore, must be through forgiveness upon repentance. In order to repentance there must be a sense of the sin, so that there shall be a turning from it with grief and hatred, with full purpose of, and endeavor after new obedience. The marriage, therefore, must be treated as a sin, and consequently there must be a separation of the parties :-subjecting themselves to discomfort and danger, and society to the bane of their example. Restoration upon any other ground, supposes that there can be no