Epilogue
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Epilogue In September 1801, Jonathan Freeman came before Hudson Presbytery to defend the use of hymns, especially those by Isaac Watts, in church. Echoing the sentiments of John Todd who made a similar presentation before the Presbytery of Hanover in 1762, Freeman contended that Christians and their churches would only benefit from singing “unto the Lord a new song.”1 Writers such as Watts “celebrate the praises of God in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs which are derived from the gospel of Christ,” Freeman commented, and if Christians were to “preach Christ crucified” and “pray in his name” it seemed obvious that “Christ should be the theme of our spiritual songs.”2 Again, like John Todd, he was quick to point out that although he was convinced that his fellow Presbyterians needed to seriously consider adopting both the hymns by Dr. Watts and other psalms that he had reworked, he did not assume the solution would be best for all Christians. Keeping with the Presbyterian interdenominational tradition, which stressed Christian liberty and forbearance, he told the ruling body, “We have no authority to meddle with any church out of our own bounds. They have a right to adopt any version they judge expedient. And if every denomination of Christians would pursue this line of conduct, there would not be so many disputes, and divisions among the professed disciples of Christ.”3 Strikingly similar to the language used by synods and assemblies past, Freeman revealed the continued embodiment of those beliefs.To that end, he hoped that his audience, both reading and listening, would not “be led, by the inchanted chord of implicit faith, to embrace what I have 122 / Epilogue advanced upon this subject.” Instead, he called upon them to challenge his opinion and “if other Christians differ, in judgment from me, I have no objection. Let every one act agreeably to scripture, and the dictates of an enlightened, unprejudiced, and good conscience.”4 The following year the hopes of many Presbyterians living and departed were realized when the Presbyterian General Assembly adopted a system of psalmody and hymnody. Granted, since 1763 the leadership of the reunited Presbyterian Church had been open to individual congregations using such songs in their worship, but this was not tantamount to an official endorsement. The question was not settled, as the numerous cases brought before the ruling bodies testify. As Jonathan Freeman and others would have attested, the situation changed completely with an official, but not mandatory, system of psalmody and hymnody. Not only did this collection help ease tensions between Presbyterians, but as an interdenominational effort it also brought the church further in communion with other Christians. Evidence of the intimacy between the denominations, the man at the helm of this project was the increasingly well-known Congregationalist minister and president of Yale College, Timothy Dwight.5 In the past Dwight had worked to bring the Presbyterians and Congregationalists closer together, and he used his time as editor for a similar purpose. At the core of his system were the psalms of Dr. Watts and a selection of his own composition, but more than this, Dwight broadened the denominational representation by including hymns and spiritual songs from Christians across the Protestant spectrum. This brought the Presbyterians closer still to the Congregationalists, and gave official endorsement for the spiritual expressions of Christians beyond the Reformed tradition. Yet, as evidenced by the aftermath of Cane Ridge, the same spirit that fostered cooperation could also lead to divisions. The egalitarian impulses found within the Presbyterian Church that prompted the departure of the Disciples of Christ and the Cumberland Presbyterians were not, however, exclusive to Presbyterians.6 They were part of a larger “sectarian”movement sweeping through the American religious landscape and shaping society as a whole. Among these influential and democratizing sectarian churches, historians such as Nathan Hatch include the Methodists, Baptists, Mormons , Christian churches, Universalists/Unitarians, and the black churches .Their phenomenal success in the nineteenth century has been attributed primarily to two things. First, the democratic beliefs that the Methodists, Baptists, and other non-Standing Order groups possessed made them very attractive to a populace bent on the liberties and equalities of mankind. These denominations denied the assumption that the clergy were innately better in theological matters than the laymen; they empowered individual Epilogue / 123 members by accepting their spiritual reasoning and impulses, and these churches held a strong passion for equality. Second, the way in which these more egalitarian denominations spread their...