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DIED in this city, on Sunday morning, the 27th inst, Mrs. ANN H. CoNverse, aged 27; wise of Sherman Converse, and daughter of Samuel Perkins, Esq. of Windham.
Mrs. Converse possessed a vigorous understanding, which had been improved by a good education; and she had the confidence and affection of all who enjoyed her acquaintance. During the present revival of religion in this place, she became the subject of deep religious impressions, which terminated, as there is every reason to believe, in the conversion of her soul to God. She made, some months since, a public profession of her faith in Christ, and in her daily walk, evinced the power of that religion, which controls the affections and regulates the conduct. It pleased the Gracious Being who had thus extended mercy to her, to put her faith to an early trial. After a short but distressing illness, she was called to depart this life. In full view of death, she expressed a strong confidence in the goodness of God, and relied with composure and joy upon
the merits of the Saviour for accept. ance with him. There were circumstances in the situation of the deceased, which rendered her death peculiarly affecting. A husband, parents, and numerous friends, were involved by it, in deep affliction; an only child, and that an infant of a few days old, appeared to solicit the kind attention of a mother. But He who seeth not as man seeth, determined the event, and the pious mind will reflect with gratitude upon the mercy connected with the judgment. Before the deceased was visited with sickness, she was led to trust in God, and to hope in Christ; and was at the close of life enabled, with a hope, full of immortality, to commend her spirit into the hands of her Redeemer. In view of a scene like this, how invaluable do the consolations of religion appear ! In the sudden death of this amiable and pious woman, the providence of God unites in saying “Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.”
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To the Editor of the Christian Spectator. SIR,
I find that the Christian Spectator, Vol. II. No XI. contains a brief reply to the remarks of A. D. on two questions pertaining to Ecclesiastical Discipline. I am happy that your work is open to a free and candid discussion of important questions relating both to sentiment and practice in the christian church. As I find the sentiments relating to one of those questions are disputed, and supposed to be erroneous, I am inclined to submit a few remarks by way of reply; and more especially, since Farel, in view of one important point, has declared it “the duty of your correspondent to place it in its true light.” The point alluded to is an exception to that rule of evidence which “your correspondent” has considered as established both in the Old Testament and the New. Farel supposes he has discovered an exception which will justify a general departure from the rule established by divine authority. I fully agree that if he has formed a mistaken opinion, “the mistake is pretty extensive;” so extensive, indeed, that for the honor of the divine Legislator, the interest of the church, and the safety of the individual members of Christ’s family, it ought to be pointed out, and placed in its true light.
It is, if I do not misapprehend his meaning, the acknowledged opinion of the writer of the reply, that the divine Legislator did give a rule of evidence, plain, simple, and definite; and that this rule required for conviction, two or three positive witnesses to the sameovert act. He acknowledg
es, in plain terms, that in Numb. xxxv, 30, Deut. xvii. 6, and xix. 15, “is fully stated the principle, that two or more witnesses to the same act are required.” He concedes further that “the first three passages selected from the New Testament, so “far as they relate to the question, go perhaps to establish the general law of evidence.” To establish what general law of evidence 2 The law, unquestionably, contained in the passages quoted from the Old Testament, “in which is fully stated the principle, that two or more witnesses to the same act are required.” We are agreed then that such a law has been given—that it was established in the Old Testament, and has by the same authority been confirmed in the New Testament. If I understand F. it is his opinion, further, that unless an exception to this rule can be found, sufficient to justify a departure from the letter of its meaning, it is yet in force, and binding on the church. With this idea in view he has searched the sacred volume, and concludes he has made the important discovery. He has found an exception which, in his opinion, does away the force of the rule, and renders it safe and proper to convict “by other testimony than that of two or three witnesses to the same overt act.” Here then we are fairly at issue. It is denied that an exception has ever been made to this rule, which so modifies, alters, or does away its force, as to justify the church in convicting a member on circumstances, conjectures, or presumptions, of ever so high a color, where two or three positive witnesses are not to be found. The exception which F. considers as bearing so hard on the general rule as entirely to alter its complexion and force, is Deut. xxii. 25–27.-This, it is acknowledged, has been generally understood to bring a case to view, which will justify convicting of a crime on the testimony of one witness only; and where a capital punishment is the penalty. And I shall not deny that those who framed the penal statutes of this and other countries, have been influenced by this passage. But it is a motorious fact that civil courts always proceed with extreme caution in such cases. Probably an instance cannot be found where a man has been convicted and executed merely on the testimony of one person, without any corroborative fact by which her testimony is supported. And the reason probably is,that they feel the great danger of putting either life or liberty in the power of an individual. And possibly another reason of the caution may be that a doubt rests upon the mind whether the passage is thus to be understood. It is not certain but that the general opinion may be erroneous. It has been generally understood that the testimeny of the abused person will alone convict and take away the life of the agressor. But before this instance is admitted as overthrowing,or essentially altering one of the most important laws in the statute book of the church, it should be proved that this is the meaning of the passage beyond the possibility of contradiction. If such an inference is to be drawn—an inference which takes away one of the most important privileges of the accused members of Christ's family, bare assumption is not enough. We know not what evidence was required that the betrothed damsel was in the field —that she was sound there, and attacked. It is not said that two witnesses are not to be required to each of these facts. That the man should die, we agree. But that no testimony in the case was required only of the abused woman, is rather assumed, than declared in the Bible. Whether the case alluded to be an
how this exception so alters the general law, as to give authority to the church to convict upon “other testimony than that of two or three witnesses to the same overt act.” It is justly observed by F. that the question is general, and the answer of A. D. is so. Is it not equally true that the rule of evidence laid down in the Bible is a general rule, embracing the whole range of crimes of which men may be accused? Of this there can be no doubt. Let me ask then, do civil courts with a general rule before them, if they find an exception to that rule, in one extraordinary case, feel at liberty to depart from it in all cases P Do they allow themselves to lay aside an established rule, that has become ven
-erable by age and long use, and act
according to the impulse of the moment P This would destroy the rule in all cases. Can we believe the divine Legislator has given a plain, definite rule of evidence for his church, and then by a single act, and that for an extraordinary specified case, set aside that rule, and left his church without any guide in the very interesting affair of judging in cases of discipline? If the argument of F. founded on the law relating to a crime, supposed to be proved by the testimony of a single witness, prove anything, it will prove too much. If this comes in the place of the law to which it is supposed to be an exception, and is to govern the church in her decisions, then we may in other cases convict on the testimony of one witness. It is claimed that this is an exception to the general rule, or law of evidence; such an exception as warrants a departure from it, and justifies the church in finding a complaint supported, and censuring the accused person “upon other testimony than that of two or three witnesses.” If this be a just conclusion, will it not follow that we may, and, indeed, that it is an imperious duty, not only in some cases but in every case, to convict on the testimony of a single witness? This however, would be a bold stride. It would be taking ground that might make us tremble for our christian privileges, and for that standing on which we have supposed our safety very much depends. I am constrained to say that the law, Deut. xxii. 25–27, is not to be viewed, nor was it ever designed, as an exception to any law in existence. It was a particular and special statute, given for the express purpose of applying to a particular case, should such an one ever occur. It has, therefore no bearing upon the generallaw of evidence; nor does it, in any degree, affect the general rule by which our decisions are to be governed, in cases of discipline. As well might F. argue from the command to Joshua to make war upon the Canaanites, that offensive war is in all cases lawful. Joshua was not barely permitted, he was commanded, to make war upon the Canaanites. He was required to push the war to extermination, and to take possession of the country. But was it not a general rule, an established, well-known rule, that offensive war may not be engaged in—that it is murder? We find, notwithstanding, a command to depart from this rule. Will it thence follow that offensive war is lawful— that men may innocently commit murder? Has this command to Joshua such a bearing upon the general law against offensive war, as to render it an innocent, harmless thing? May the strong, at pleasure, make war upon the weak, overcome them, dispossess them, and take possession of their inheritance? If the reasoning of F. is conclusive, I see not why this consequence will not inevitably follow. When the statute was given that
makes the testimony of two or three witnesses to the same overt act necessary to conviction, it was designed to be a perpetual rule, not to be repealed, nor so modified as to do away its force. The law of God is as unalterable as his character, his nature, or his decrees. This is true of every law excepting such as were originally designed to cease, or go out of force at the end of a limited period. Of this class were many of the laws to the people of Israel. They were evidently of limited extent, and designed to cease with the Jewish commonwealth. Aside from statutes of this nature, the laws of God are to stand forever, and his precepts to all generations. He needs not, like imperfect men, to repeal, alter, or amend his laws. Nor need men if they were perfect. Should God alter, amend, or repeal any one of his laws it would at least, imply that it might be made better—and, if so, that it was not perfect at first—and, if so, an inference might be drawn against the perfection of its author. God never had occasion, and never will, to alter a law to make it better, or more perfect. Nor was there ever any occasion to give an exception to any divine statute, that should so alter or modify it, as to produce a different course of proceeding upon it. He might as consistently with his exalted character, totally, and forever repeal it. It seems to be insinuated, if not expressly declared, that A. D. would resort to a string of circumstances which “must combine in number and weight sufficient to amount to two, or more, witnesses of veracity.” And says the writer, if he maintains this, “I shall not contend with him.” He surely will not be called to contend with me on that point. But says the writer, “the moment he attempts to fortify his assertion in this manner, he gives up the argument, and admits that his conclusion is erroneous.” In this we fully agree. But wherein, Mr. Editor, has A. D. resorted, or proposed to resort, to circumstances “to fortify his assertion ?”
There are, it is readily admitted, many things to come into consideration in the trial and decision of a case of discipline. The testimony is to be weighed: The competency of witnesses, as well as their credibility is to be inquired into, and fully ascertained. But if we inquire as to the competency of a witness, and find upon sufficient evidence that he is incompetent—or if on sufficient testimony we find him deficient in point of credibility, is this resorting to circumstances in the decision of the case? I think not, Sir—A. is introduced as a witness to confirm the testimony of B—. If both are competent, and both credible, the fact is proved. But on inquiry it appears that A. is not a competent witness. He is then no witness. His testimony is not to be received. Produce such witnesses to any number, and we have not, in the sense of the divine law, two or three. Or supposing you find on enquiry, by substantial testimony, that A. is a bad character, so bad that no credit is to be given to his declaration. In that case his testimony is to be rejected and wholly disregarded, and of course you have but one witness. But is this resorting to circumstances, placing circumstances in the place of positive testimony ? No sir. It is setting up and supporting a fact, viz. that A. is a bad character—a person of no credibility, and therefore his testimony not to be regarded at all. This decision is formed not upon light elicited from circumstances, but upon plain facts.
There is one passage of scripture which was introduced in support of the conclusion that two or three witmesses are necessary to convict of a crime, which F. considers of primary importance in deciding the question, on which, he says, A. D. “has offered but a single remark.” It is one that he acknowledges himself wholly incompetent to discuss. The passage is I. Tim. v. 19, Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. This passage, it is acknowledged, was introdu
ced in support of the conclusion, which I have supposed the law of evidence given us in the scriptures, sully establishes. It was thought to be directly in point; and I should not have supposed there was any peculiar obscurity or difficulty in it, had Î not obtained the idea from the discussion I am examining. Says the writer of this discussion, “The natural construction of the passage, certainly is that, against those who were not elders, he might receive accusations by some other rule of evidence.” He proceeds, “This text considered by itself, if it refers to the subject at all seems, therefore, to be against deciding in the negative, without any exception, the question discussed by your correspondent.” Had the person who has expressed this opinion given no other evidence of ingenuity, and sound judgment, I presume the body of your readers woul not place him in the front rank of expositors. Why should elders, pastors or ministers in the church, be a privileged order of men P What reason can be assigned why an elder should stand acquitted, and uncondemned, unless there appear against him double that weight of testimony which would consign a private brother to infamy and disgrace? This will hardly accord with the principles of liberty and equal privileges of the present day; nor will people believe, without more complete evidence than they can get from this passage, that it is a doctrine taught in the word of God. No evidence, it is believed, can be found in the whole book of God to support this construction. It is the doctrine of the scriptures, and has been the invariable practice of the church of God, it is confidently believed, to proceed with elders, and lay brethren, by the same rule of evidence. A candid attention to the passage, and a fair construction of it, cannot lead to the conclusion that two or three witnesses were not necessary to conviction and censure in the church. Going on the ground that it is a