Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

Archive for the ‘The Charleston Observer’ Category

Post-GA, 1836

In Old School/New School Division, Princeton Theological Seminary, The Charleston Observer on 01/07/2013 at 09:04

I continue to gather primary source materials on the events leading up to the momentous 1837 split of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The following article appears to have been written by the Rev. Benjamin Gildersleeve, editor of The Charleston Observer and one who showed some sympathies for the New School side of the debate. Here he writes in opposition to talk of division, utilizing to good effect an article which had recently appeared in the Princeton Seminary journal, The Biblical Repertory.

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, 10.40 (1 October 1836): 157, columns 2-5.]

The Biblical Repertory for July, contains an able review of the proceedings of the last General Assembly, and as the question of a division of the Church has been mooted even at the South, we take pleasure in copying from it the concluding remarks which we recommend to the particular attention of our readers.

1. In the first place, nothing, in so momentous a concern, should be done under the sudden impulse of even good feeling. A zeal for truth, a sense of wrong, a conviction of danger to the best interests of the church may be so excited by recent events, as to urge even wise men, to measures, which in cooler moments neither their judgments nor conscience would approve.

2. Nothing should be done on vague or indefinite grounds. Men are very apt to satisfy themselves of the propriety of taking almost any course, not obviously immoral, if they feel that they are actuated by good motives. It is not enough, however, in such matters, that we should desire to promote the purity of the church, or the general interests of religion; we must have some definite principles, which will commend themselves to the understanding and conscience, and which will hear the scrutiny of posterity———of the bar of God. We must be able to give a reason for our conduct which shall satisfy the impartial and competent, that it is right and wise; that it necessarily results from our principles. We consider this a matter of great importance. Every day affords melancholy examples of the confusion and inconsistency which arise from acting on the mere general ground of doing what seems to make for truth and righteousness. Measures involving precisely the same principles are opposed or advocated by the same individuals, as they happen to make for or against the cause or the party which seems to them to be the best. We see constantly in our public judicatories, the power of the courts extended or contracted, the rules of procedure enforced to the letter or construed away to nothing, as the occasion requires. This is not always, nor, we trust generally, the result of dishonesty. It is the result of the want of fixed principles. Hence this inconsistency; this justifying to-day, what was condemned yesterday; this applauding in one man what is censured in another. If so much evil results from this source, in matters of ordinary routine, what must be the consequences of random action, on occasions which threaten organic changes, whose effects are to last for ages? Read the rest of this entry »

Double Handed Folly

In Signs of the Times, The Charleston Observer on 27/05/2013 at 14:19

Truly there is nothing new under the sun. This from THE CHARLESTON OBSERVEROctober 8, 1836:


The practice of carrying knives and Pistols in our peaceable community prevails to an alarming extent, and should be expressly prohibited by an act of the Legislature as unlawful weapons. Lord Ellenborough it will be recollected, caused a law to be passed making it a capital offense to stab, wound, or maim, with felonious intent; and if we cannot check a fierce and furious spirit in other sections of the country, means, strong and effectual means must be adopted to prevent it here. Persons must not misunderstand their rights—they must not suppose because this is called a free country that it is not, or was not a country of laws—of order and good government. Carrying Knives and Pistols is illegal, because it may lead to a breach of the peace. A man armed at all points with deadly weapons is more apt to get into broils and difficulties than he who is unarmed, for he feels confident of his own strength, and in a sudden ebullition of passion the dagger may be fatally used. They should be abolished by Statute : there is no necessity to carry them, and they are dangerous to the peace, the safety, and the character of the City.

Now this is wrong in a city constituted like ours, and the subject should occupy the attention of our public authorities, and above all convictions for stabbing should be followed by strong and severe punishments.—New York Evening Star.

It is strange that Intelligent Editors should live in the midst of scenes of immorality for years, comment upon them in every paper, and in all aspects, and yet should let their philosophy be perpetually on the surface. What harm in carrying knives by the gross, if there is no disposition to use them? Is it the habit of carrying private arms, or the habit of cherishing those feelings which make arms pernicious, that is to be censured? If Quakers should arm their whole sect, who would fear evil? And why? Quakers do not drink, don’t gamble, do not haunt theatres, nor horse races, nor sporting clubs.—Now if the good citizens of New York would let alone the knives and pistols and dirks and fall upon the evil morals of their vagrant population, if they would purge out their grog shops—maintain the influence of religion over the community, visit theatres less and church more, we should soon hear as little about the danger of carrying “knives,” as we did forty or fifty years ago. And their political papers, if they would cease to laud the theatre, to puff demoralizing scenes, would find less need of bewailing the consequences. As it is in the morning they bid god speed to strong causes of vice and immorality; and in the evening they bemoan their natural and inevitable results. This is double handed folly.

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer 10.41 (8 October 1836): 162, columns 3-4.]

Attendance at Church Courts

In Polity, The Charleston Observer on 25/05/2013 at 10:48

Attendance and participation in the courts of the Church—those meetings of the Session, the Presbytery and the General Assembly—always involve some level of personal cost and expense for each attendee. For some the cost is greater than for others. This is one reason why the meetings of Presbytery and General Assembly move regularly from one location to another, so that inconveniences are averaged out over time for all the officers of the Court.
All of this is nothing new. There have always been those who questioned the expense, and perhaps not without good reason, each in his own situation. But as you will read, there are also good and compelling answers urging upon Commissioners their full participation at the Courts of the Church.

For The Charleston Observer.

Mr. Editor.—Is it my duty to travel between four and five hundred miles, at an expense of at least fifty dollars [at least a month’s wages in 1836], for the sole purpose of attending Synod, when in all probability its business would be as well conducted without as with my presence? And in so doing I should be necessarily absent from the people of my charge two, if not three Sabbaths?
—A Member of Synod.

REPLY.—We answer, 1. Should every member of Synod conclude from similar premises that it was not his duty to attend, there would be no meeting at the time and place appointed, and of course no business done.

2. One member frequently changes the entire complexion of a meeting; and no one has a right to suppose that his presence is a matter of indifference.

3. If the member can afford the expense it will be money well laid out, and if not, his people should aid him. The time occupiied in going and returning, may often be profitably employed. The journey may be of advantage to his health. In conference with his brethren he may receive a new impulse in his Christian course, and be better prepared to labor with effect among his people on his return; so that neither he nor they will be losers by his absence.

4. When he was set apart to the work of the Ministry, he was expected to make many sacrifices for the good of the cause. And if his brethren to whom he has solemnly promised subjection in the Lord, did not regard attendance upon the Judicatories of the Church as important, they would not have exacted an apology or excuse for non-attendance.

5. Instances are exceedingly rare that a Minister has ever cause to regret the sacrifices which he has made in attending the Judicatories of the Church. On the contrary he most usually feels himself amply repaid for all the sacrifices which it has cost him.

6. The present crisis of the Church seems to demand more than ever a full attendance both of Ministers and Elders, cost what it may. [In 1836, the Old School/New School debate was raging in the PCUSA, and the momentous split of the two factions came a year later]

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, vol. 10, no. 39 (24 September 1836); 154, column 4.]