The 1837 division of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. left Dr. Asa Hillyer on the side of the New School. He deplored the schism, but never let it affect his fraternal relations with those from whom he was ecclesiastically separated. He recommended mutual forbearance and charity, and enjoyed to the end of his life, which was now near at hand, the unabated good-will and warm personal esteem of prominent men on both sides of the Old School/New School division.
In his final days, one of Hillyer’s last public efforts was a sermon preached before the Synod of Newark, taking as his text the words of Abraham to Lot:
“Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee?” (Genesis 13:8-9).
Rev. Hillyer urged that there was ample room in our vast country for the fullest activity and expansion of both Assemblies [Old School and New School], and, holding up the noble example of the Hebrew patriarch, he said–
“Let all who have interest in the throne of grace, and all who love the Redeemer and the Church which he purchased with His own blood, unite their prayers and their influence for the spread of this benevolent, this heavenly principle. Beloved brethren, (he added), permit me as your elder brother, as one who has borne the heat and burden of the day, and whose departure is at hand, affectionately to press these remarks upon the Synod now convened. We are indeed a little band. Separated from many whom we love, we occupy a small part of the vineyard of our common Lord. But let us not be discouraged. Let none of our efforts to do good be paralyzed by the circumstances into which we have been driven. Rather let us with increased zeal and diligence cultivate the field which we are called to occupy, while we are always ready to cooperate with our brethren in every part of the land in spreading the Gospel of the grace of God, and in saving a wretched world from ruin.”
Words to Live By:
From what I have seen of his story, I suspect that Rev. Hillyer did not personally hold to the errors that were said to define the New School wing of the division. His continued fraternal relations with Old School men offers some proof of that. He was, in his own words, more “driven by circumstances,” as many numbered among the New School were. It is a mark of good Christian maturity to hold your convictions firmly, yet still be able to work alongside other Christians who may not share your every conviction or who may have other affiliations. Such fellowship may certainly have its limits, but much can often be accomplished within those constraints. Notice that phrase in Hillyer’s words, above—the Gospel of the grace of God. Without that foundation, there can be no true fellowship. But where we share that common ground of the Gospel of the grace of God, there—and there only—do we have a basis for praying together and working together.