Four Mile Presbyterian Church
6078 Tuscarawas Road
Ohioville Borough, Beaver County, Pennsylvania 15009


Part I

Discipline

Solomon says that some say, "What is the cause that the former days are better than these?" But he also adds that men do "not inquire wisely concerning this." We are sometimes told that people were better long ago than they are now; that there was more piety, more religion, more godliness, or whatever you please to call it, in the church then than now-a-days. Well, now, if we take the record as it stands of many of those who were once members of this congregation, and members of session, if they were not good, if they were not godly, it was not for want of discipline; or, if we take it the other way, that they deserved all the discipline they received, then the conclusion must be that their piety or godliness was not of the highest order. If the session had not much to do in the reception of members, they had a good deal to do with a good many of them after they were received, as the records of session show. From 1831 to 1851 there were forty-eight cases of trial, or persons charged with various crimes. There was hardly a meeting of session held but some person was charged with or tried for some alleged crime or misconduct. So far as the records show, the session took the short method of dealing with members. There does not seem to have been any private dealing with them, but they were at once cited to appear before the session and answer the charge, whatever it might be.

Now discipline is a very good thing in its place, and when properly exercised, being of divine appointment; but this wholesale application of it is only an injury to the cause that it is designed to benefit. Some of the things charged were of a trifling character, while others were of a more serious nature, and as such required the exercise of discipline. There is a large number of crimes, so-called, with which different persons were charged, but it is not necessary to recount them in this history. There was one thing that occasioned a good deal of trouble, and for which a good many persons were called to account. It is called in the records, "irregular marriage." Young men and women then were just like they are now: they wanted sometime to get married, but often didn't feel like having the matter told publicly in meeting. The same was at one time, I believe, the rule in other churches. It was a custom that had come from the old country, and it was included in the confession of faith. The rule then was, that the proposed or contemplated marriage be announced in the church by the minister or clerk - three sundry Sabbaths before the marriage was to take place. But some didn't like to pass through the ordeal of publication. They thought it easier to get married without this, and then confess to the session, I suppose, that they wouldn't do it again. At length the rule was modified so that one announcement was regarded as sufficient; and after some time it is said, about all that was necessary was to communicate the matter to the session, and they would tell their wives, and so the news would soon pass around. One of the elders, who was a Justice of the Peace, was called to account for marrying a couple without publication. He was ajudged guilty of an offense. At first he would not submit to the decision of session, and was suspended, but in a short time he acknowledged his fault and was restored. The effect of calling these things to remembrance is to produce a smile, but our fathers were no doubt sincere in regarding them as the very essence of orthodoxy.

There was another matter of a more serious nature which gave a good deal of trouble to the session. It was what was called "occasional hearing" - that is, members of the church were not allowed to go to hear the preaching of other denominations, more especially, I believe, on the Sabbath. Now, while there is a principle involved here, yet I think our fathers carried it too far. In most things there are two extremes, to one or the other of which persons are liable to go. It is well not to go to either. But the better way is, if possible, to strike the golden mean. It is presuming a good deal when a church forbids her members to hear any but her own ministers preach, or punish them if they do. The presumption is that they have all the truth, and the others have not the truth at all; that they have the gospel that saves, and the others have not. But that is more than any denomination has authority to claim. But I take it that the golden mean is when persons have preaching of their own, their place is in their own church and in their own congregation, unless in some particular case and for some special reason. They have no business to be running here and there and neglecting their own church services. They are under obligation to give encouragement to one another as members of the same congregation. They are under obligation to give encouragement to their pastor by their presence in the house of God, waiting on his ministrations. There was a case of three persons being excluded from the privileges of the church for occasional hearing. They refused to submit to the action of session, and the case was carried to Presbytery. What action Presbytery took in the case does not appear from the records of session. But as time advanced and light increased, the stringency on this question gradually yielded, and in 1852, the session had become so much easier on the matter that members might go to the Associate Reformed or the Covenanters without being censurable, if they had no preaching of their own. But the effort was finally abandoned of endeavoring to prevent members from going to hear the preaching of others. Those who went occasionally, no doubt, found that there were good, green pastures outside of their own enclosure, and, like breachy animals, having found one good picking once, they would be likely to try it again; and if they could not go and return without being punished for what they had done, many would conclude not to return at all; and if a church has no other way to retain its members in its own communion than by this method, it cannot retain them at all. I do not know of any denomination that occupies such postion now, and endeavors to maintain it, but the small remnant of the Associate Church that did not go into the Union - or, indeed some of them did go into the Union, remained in it awhile, and afterwards went out, and I suppose would only ask to be forgiven for that one little sin. But there is too much intelligence and too much freedom of thought at the present day for any church occupying such position to make any progress. The car of progress is passing along, and those who will not take passage on it must be left behind. But the church will move on in its glorious work of disseminating the light of divine truth.

As the records show, at one time the spirit of insubordination seemed to run quite high. At one time thirteen persons were called to account for insubordination to the session, a part of them absenting themselves and withdrawing their support. Their case was taken to Presbytery, and it seems that the decision of Presbytery was in their favor, for at a meeting of session afterwards, the session agreed to submit to the decision of Presbytery in the case of the members that had declined.

It seems that a good many of the members of session were from time to time called to give an account of their conduct. There are several instances of this kind recorded; but it is not necessary here to recount them.

During the twenty years from 1831 to 1851, there is a notice of some case of trial on almost every page of the minutes, and in some cases two or three are noted. The time for about two years and a half from 1851, or up to October, 1853, seems to have been, so far as the record shows, the most troublesome time in all the history of the congregation. It seems to have been war times in the congregation. It was during this time that thirteen persons were called to account for insubordination, and it seems that a number of these persons, if not all of them, withdrew from the congregation at that time. Some went to the Presbyterian Church, and some to the Convenanter Church. But it seems also, that they did not all stay where they went. Though the time just referred to was a time of a good deal of trouble and of division in the congregation, as all congregations have their times of trouble, yet I believe it is due to the congregation to say that its general character has not been that of a troublesome one. There have been some troubles, there have been divisions and differences, perhaps some strivings who would be greatest - yet, not withstanding these things, a good degree of unity and harmony has prevailed in the congregation, so that they have been able to work together in the good cause; and so far as I know, there is nothing but good feeling, peace and harmony in the congregation at the present time; and I might ask, might it not be well sometimes to have more strivings who could do most for advancing the cause of God among us? Strivings of this kind would be very appropriate, and would no doubt be productive of happy results.

There are no minutes of session from October 27, 1853 to October 20, 1855. From that time up to the present, either the character of the people must have greatly improved, or a different policy must have been pursued by the session, as there are but seven or eight cases noted from that time to this.


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