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PART I. Section VII.


PART I. Section VII.

James Dodson

General Synod next met in New York city, Oct., 1838. Rev. Js. Blackwood was Moderator and Rev. Jas. M. Willson, clerk. The anti-slavery agitation at this date had become still more intense in all classes and sections of the community, and not perhaps less exciting in all parts of our church: And about this time another question began to assume more importance among us than heretofore. This was the office of the deacon; or rather, the nature and number of his functions, with the sphere and extent of their exercise: for, as on the question of slavery, only one minister, Samuel McKinney, was known to be unsound; so on the deacon’s office, only Rev. C.B. McKee was known to be in error. All other ministers in the church believed alike in the divine institution and permanence of this office. Slavery was for the time the absorbing question, the chief “bone of contention.” Synod’s table might be figuratively said to groan under the accumulation of papers. These presented almost all forms of documents known in ecclesiastical jurisprudence,—petition, memorial, dissent, complaint, protest and appeal. The most important of all the papers, I believe and know, was from the congregation of Walnut Ridge, Indiana. It comprised memorial and petition. It asked of Synod two things, “That the term testimony be restored to its former ecclesiastical use, and that certain cases of discipline be subjected to review.” It excited little attention and produced no visible feeling. To the members, it seemed to contain some insolvable enigma. Even Mr. Sproull came to me and inquired “what the paper meant?” I declined to be an interpreter of what every minister at least ought to understand. Whether the ignorance of members was real or feigned, Synod took no farther action on the paper than to refer it to a member, instructing him to write an answer to the petition of the Walnut Ridge congregation. In his answer, I believe the writer ignorantly called the “Memorial and Petition”—a Letter!

Some of the papers on Synod’s table were complaints of distraction and alienation in several congregations, by a recent innovation in public worship. This was what came to be known as “continuous singing.” It was remarked at the time, that the only two ministers who had as yet ventured to introduce this innovation were natives of Scotland, viz., Messrs. James Milligan and David Scott! Several members spoke earnestly in condemnation of this senseless and unscriptural novelty. Dr. James R. Willson especially, in one of his animated and powerful speeches, delivered a lengthy and conclusive argument against the practice, from the Scriptures and Directory; closing with scathing rebukes of any minister who would dare thus to outrage the cherished feelings and pious associations of aged disciples. Nevertheless, the innovation continued to spread, and in time became general. Although the Doctor’s arguments were weighty and convincing to many, he omitted the one grounded on the obstruction of edification, largely insisted on by the apostle, 1 Cor. 14.

But the greatest trouble, confusion and violence at this meeting were occasioned by a certain licentiate, Francis Gailey, and the course pursued by Synod in dealing with his case. And because I was uncharitably suspected to be then and some years afterwards in collusion with this man, the reader will bear with me in the statement of public facts in some detail. I had never seen Mr. Gailey till this time, nor ever had any correspondence. But, although our fields of labor had been well nigh a thousand miles apart, I had heard of him as a “troubler in Israel,” by his strong and “violent opposition” to voluntary associations. He was unquestionably a man naturally endowed with intellectual vigor and perhaps equally strong passions. By his irritating testimony against confederacies, he had exasperated the ministers of his presbytery; but for some reasons they had never taken judicial cognizance of his conduct. At this juncture, the Clerk of Synod being absent by sickness, I was called to fill his place. Some one of the Eastern ministers introduced the generally unexpected and strange motion, That a special committee be appointed to inquire into the conduct of Mr. Gailey, or words to the same purpose. This motion was advocated in severe language by several ministers, notably by Messrs. James Chrystie and M. Roney. As the motion was about to be put to vote, Mr. Gailey, evidently having anticipated some such action in his case, rose in a pew and began to read from a manuscript. It was instantly discovered that he was reading his protest and declinature. Then arose a great cry. Members called out, “order, Moderator!” The Moderator cried “order!” Some cried, “Put them out,” and one shouted, “Bring the constable.’’ All these sounds were intermingled. The house was well filled, in expectation, it may be presumed, of some such exciting scenes. Mr. Gailey, as soon as the uproar began, ceased reading and resumed his seat. He had sympathizing friends in the audience. Two men, James Sharpe and James Bartley, publicly declared adherence to his protest. Two aisles ran lengthwise in the building from the pulpit. I sat at the Clerk’s table, as his temporary substitute. All others, I think, were on their feet. My position did not permit me to see all that transpired in the commotion. But I saw Rev. John Crozier, cross an aisle to arrest Mr. Gailey’s reading. He instantly stopped reading. I saw some vaulting over the backs of pews. I saw Mr. Roney seize Mr. Sharpe by the breast of his coat, and violently push him backward along the aisle toward the door. I saw Sharpe raise his clenched hand in an attitude to strike, when Roney released his grasp. What was transpiring along the other aisle I “could not see for the press;” but it was currently reported that Mr. Bartley’s coat was “torn on his back!” Amid the noise, confusion and violence, I sat in amazement and mentally asked, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” During recess, at the dinner-table of the hospitable elder, Mr. Andrew Bowden, I remarked, “I think it would have comported as well with decorum and the Synod’s dignity to have allowed those men to ‘have their say,’ and deal with them afterward.” To this, Mr. Roney forthwith replied with emphasis and asperity, “Well—if men will not keep order, they ought to be made keep order.” I merely added, “The first principle of church government is, that her power is wholly spiritual,” and the subject then dropped. Mr. Gailey, as a matter of course, was promptly suspended by the Synod.

But, however deserving of censure the licentiate might be, Synod disposed of his case, (clave errante) in violation of ecclesiastical order. Resort to the exercise of original jurisdiction in the case was wholly unwarranted and manifestly wrong. If the probationer was worthy of censure, he had refused to accept a succession of calls—“without assigning any reason:” and if “he went through the congregations stirring up strife among the people,” etc., as was charged against him illegally on the floor of General Synod; any unbiased and intelligent person will naturally ask,—Why did his Presbytery and the Eastern Subordinate Synod suffer him to run at large in such a course? The attempt by General Synod to give him over to a special committee, for examination, was obviously irregular and tyrannical. For, suppose the Synod had original jurisdiction in the case, there was no formal libel furnished to Synod’s special committee; no witnesses named, or time allowed to summon them, or for the accused to prepare his defense.

Mr. Gailey continued to preach and had a considerable number of adherents in almost every section of the church. He also began to publish a bi-monthly magazine. After my return home from Synod, Mr. Sproull wrote me, as a matter of startling news, “Gailey has commenced editor!—and without a shadow of literature!” This was true, as I had both facts verified ere Mr. Sproull’s letter reached me. As to many others, Mr. Gailey mailed to me a copy of his first issue. I was pleased with this first number, because; it was mostly filled with important and seasonable matter; and hoping for a continuance of such matter—having discontinued what Mr. Blackwood designated, “that shackling thing,” (Mr. Roney’s Reformed Presbyterian), I subscribed for “Gailey’s pamphlet,”—“Without a shadow of literature.” This first number contained copies of certain papers framed by intelligent and faithful elders, and which had been presented to the late Synod. They had been disposed of by Synod so as neither to be incorporated with its Minutes nor added as an Appendix; but, as warmly expressed by some members,—“Let such papers be kicked under the table!” Indeed, I was pleased to see those documents resurrected, that others might see them and be instructed by them. A succession of these papers disseminated among our people added to the popularity and influence of the editor [i.e., Gailey], whom too many supposed to be the author of them. When this supply became exhausted, and the editor had to rely mostly upon his own resources, his incompetence in doctrine and order, as in literature, became gradually apparent. In the time of his brief popularity, he became quite self-confident in conduct and denunciatory in his language: yet there was one thing lacking and earnestly desired—ordination. He was so anxious to be clothed with office that he was not at all scrupulous as to the source whence it might be obtained. Accordingly he applied to the New Lights [1.] in Ireland, but without success. He made application to the Presbyterians in the city of Baltimore, but was not successful. He had recourse also to the New Lights, in America. When his overture was known to Dr. Samuel B. Wylie, he said to some of his ministerial brethren in ironical style,—“O yes, ordain him—by all means ordain him, and get him to curse the pro re natas!” He did not accomplish his object with them. It is probable that his last application was to the Reformed Presbytery. He appeared as the bearer of a petition ostensibly signed by several elders among his followers. He again and failed to obtain his cherished object. He was heard to boast afterward that elders’ names had been “signed with Brush Creek ink!” Having failed to ordination from any quarter, he became increasingly abusive through the medium of his illiterate pamphlet, denouncing ministers of the Covenanter name as “malignants, apostates,” etc., and in his invectives not even sparing the female sex. His adherents wished to establish correspondence among themselves. He set his foot upon this proposal, telling them that he was the “only authorized correspondent.” This alienated some, and others became horrified when they heard him, in a paroxysm of rage, declare from the pulpit,—“James Chrystie and Moses Roney (horresco referens,) shall go down to hell and damnation!” He usurped the office of the ministry, declaring all acts of our ministers not only irregular but invalid. He administered both seals of the covenant, baptizing some of three generations, even proceeding to rebaptize such as had been baptized in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland: and, what is not less remarkable, he found some ignorant and zealous enough to countenance him in profaning and prostituting this divine and holy ordinance. Mr. Gailey’s followers gradually lost confidence in him and dwindled away to nothing. He had married a daughter of a worthy elder in Baltimore. He was “old enough to be her grandfather.” He took her to the City of New York, and after the birth of several children, her brother took her back to her paternal home, and the old man spent his last few years in forced widowhood and in straitened circumstances.

Mr. Francis Gailey’s career was not altogether singular. Several prototypes may be seen in the times of trial in Scotland. Both in the time of persecution and afterward, may be found such pretentious and impracticable individuals, as Andrew Young, William Willson, James Dunnet, Hugh Innes, and others, who tried the patience and the faith of Christ’s covenanted witnesses. “There must be also heresies; among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” This warning enforces the divine injunction, little heeded in our time, “the spirits whether they are of God,” etc.



[1] In writing history an author will sometimes find himself obliged to employ some words and phrases of reproachful character, and to which may have been affixed one or more ideas very objectionable. He cannot be otherwise understood, without much cumbersome circumlocution, Let it here be understood, once for all, that when any such words or phrases may occur, they are not intended or to be interpreted as conveying reproach, contempt, or derision. They are to be understood simply for the sake of distinguishing persons or parties.