OLD PRESBYTERIAN DISSENTERS,
UNDER THE INSPECTION OF
THE REFORMED PRESBYTERIES OF SCOTLAND,
IRELAND, AND NORTH AMERICA.
COMPREHENDING ALSO AN
ABSTRACT OF THEIR PRINCIPLES.
INTENDED AS AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PERUSAL
OF THEIR JUDICIAL TESTIMONY, AND OTHER
The several Names, by which the Old Dissenters have been known and
THE Old Presbyterian Dissenters have assumed, and received the appellation of DISSENTERS, on account of the part which their forefathers acted, at the Revolution, in 1689, while they openly and candidly dissented from the public deeds of the nationís representatives, in both church and state; considering these deeds as involving a mournful departure from former laudable attainments. The epithet OLD has ordinarily been prefixed, to signify, that they are of longer standing, as a distinct body, than any other denomination of Presbyterians, who have separated from the Established Church. In some parts of the country, especially in Ireland, they have been called COVENANTERS, because of their avowed attachment to the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms.
Various nick-names are frequently given to them by others. They have been called WHIGS; a term which, it is well known, has often been applied to the zealous friends of civil or religious liberty,óCameronians; from the Rev. Richard Cameron, who fell at Airsmoss, in Kyle, on the 20th of July, 1680, by the sword of his bloody persecutors; while he, and a number of his followers, being suddenly and furiously attacked, were nobly defending their lives and religious liberties,óMOUNTAIN-MEN; on account of their adhering to the same cause with those, who supported and countenanced the faithful preaching of the Gospel, on the mountains and moors of Scotland, during the Persecution; and because they themselves, in want of better conveniency, have often been obliged, even since the Revolution, to administer ordinances in the open fields: though this is not so much the case now, as it once was,óMíMILLANS; from the name of the first minister who espoused their cause, after the Revolution; and whose immediate descendants, of the second and third generation, are yet employed in ministering among them. Were the intention of the imposer good, all these nick-names might be considered as very harmless.
There is, however, one very forbidding epithet, viz. ANTI-GOVERNMENT PEOPLE, which some have bestowed on the Dissenters, but which they justly reject, with abhorrence; in as much as they firmly believe, and have also repeatedly shown from the press, that it is totally inapplicable to them. Unless, indeed, it be either from gross ignorance of their avowed principles, or from pure malice, wishing to make them as obnoxious, before the world, as possible, it is difficult to conceive, how this term could ever be applied to the Old Dissenters. So far are they from being unfriendly to civil government amongst men, that they have uniformly and strenuously contended, that it is a precious ordinance, instituted by the Great Creator of heaven and earth, and comprehended in the revelations of his will; in which the ends of it are evidently declared to be, his own glory, the external protection of his church, where the true religion is known and professed, and the good of mankind at large. Nor do Dissenters object to the particular kind of civil government, adopted in our own country, viz. a mixed monarchy. The great matters, on which their scruples turn, are the terms, or fundamental conditions, on which persons are admitted into places of power and trust, in the nation. Could they, in judgment and conscience, approve of these, an idea necessarily implied in owning any government, so long as language retains its usual meaning; did they find these terms of advancement agreeable to the revealed will of God, which they consider as the standard of human conduct, in civil as well as in religious society, and could they once be persuaded in their own minds, that they are consistent with the fundamental laws of the kingdom, in the purest times of that Reformation, unto which they still wish to adhere; instead of differing from the other inhabitants of Britain, concerning their acknowledgments of the present government, they would find a peculiar pleasure in concurring with them. But plainly perceiving, that the Revolution terms of advancement to power are of a different description; the Old Dissenters cannot, in judgment, approve; but find themselves, indeed, under the disagreeable necessity of openly entering a protest against national backsliding, whether it be in church or state. Doing so, they consider themselves as proceeding on the great, and generally admitted principle, that human society is formed by mutual consent, and not by compulsion, or by one party lording it over another. If this be the case, Dissenters cannot consistently be refused the privilege of openly avowing their satisfaction with the fundamental laws of that Great National Society, to which, in the persons of their worthy ancestors, they heartily gave their consent, and to which they still adhere in their own persons; neither can they be justly blamed, after using the best means of information in their power, for following the dictates of their own mind, under the direction of a higher rule, in dissenting from the deeds of those who, at the Revolution, receded from the former laudable attainments, and reorganized the society on principles entirely different.
But let it always be carefully observed, that after publicly entering their dissent from the Revolution-settlement of church and state, and candidly assigning their reasons; it ever hath been, and they trust ever shall be, the study of the Old Dissenters, to live peaceably and inoffensively, without giving disturbance either to small or great. Nor do they wish this to be admitted on their bare assertion. Let stubborn facts bear witness. Let their conduct undergo the severest investigation, for a hundred years back; and it will be found, that in no rebellions, seditions, or public disturbances of any kind, have they ever had a share, or taken any active part. They never entertained the idea, of either opposing public measures, or propagating their own principles, by violence; nor had they ever the remotest thought of injuring either the person, or the property, of any man, high or low, rich or poor, however far he may differ from them, in his opinions. On the contrary, they sincerely wish, by every consistent mean in their power, to promote the peace and happiness of human society, wherever Providence may order their lot. With what shadow, then, of either reason or candour, they may still be called the ANTIGOVERNMENT PEOPLE, the impartial public shall be left to judge. [return to CONTENTS]
The Rise and Progress of the Old Dissenters.
As the Dissenters hold no new opinions, with respect to either civil or religious matters; it is obvious that they cannot, with any propriety, be denominated a sectary, or new upstart society. If we carefully consider the well authenticated histories of our memorable Reformation, from 1638 to 1649; if we examine the printed acts of assembly, during that period, and also the acts of parliament, fixing the conditions of civil rule in the nation; if we candidly peruse the subordinate standards of the Church of Scotland, adapted at that time, as parts of the covenanted uniformity for the three kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland; if we peruse also the Informatory Vindication, Cloud of Witnesses, Plain Reasons, and other books of a similar description, and compare with all these, the Judicial Testimony of the Reformed Presbytery; the native conclusion will be, that the origin of the Old Presbyterian Dissenters, under the inspection of the said Presbytery, may be safely traced to the reformed and covenanted Church of Scotland, when she looked forth fair as the morning, at the year 1649. The Old Dissenters evidently stand on the same ground with that famous church; though they must confess themselves the unworthy descendants of such ancestors.
From the begun decline, in 1650, to the restoration of Charles II. in 1660, the dismal clouds of Cromwellís usurpation, enthusiastic Independency, and public resolutions, together with sinfully-qualified tolerations and indulgences, rendered it extremely difficult to recognise the faithful witnesses, for the preceding reformation attainments. Yet, even during that period, there was a considerable number, whose unextinguished zeal for the reformation, influenced them to stand boldy forward, and display a banner for the truth. This necessary duty was performed by solemn remonstrances, and protestations, against the public resolutions, and other backslidings of the time.
From the Restoration, to the year 1688, when the Revolution took place, comprehending the twenty-eight years of the most inhuman and bloody persecution, the Churchís testimony for the word of Christís patience, was honourably supported, by the faithful preaching of the Gospel in the fields, after those ministers, who honestly avowed their attachment to the former reformation, had been silenced by public authority, and ejected from their parish churches; by solemn declarations and testimonies openly exhibited against the prevailing abominations of the time; by the Sufferersí Informatory Vindication, in connection with Mr. Shieldsí Hind let loose, and the Rev. Mr. Renwickís Testimony against toleration, given in to some ministers in Edinburgh, a short while before his death; and by the earnest contendings and dying speeches of the martyrs, who sealed their steadfast adherence to the truths of Christ with their blood, shed on the scaffolds, and on the high places of the field.
From this noble race of martyrs, the line of succession was still preserved, at the memorable Revolution, in 1688. The last ordained minister, who, previous to this period, had gone out and in before them, saying, in his Masterís name, "This is the way, walk ye in it," was the forementioned Rev. James Renwick; who suffered at the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, Feb. 17th, 1688. After his death, Mr. Alexander Shields, author of the Hind let loose, &c. and a preacher, who had laboured a considerable time along with Mr. Renwick, in supporting the same testimony, continued to preach among the people, who had lately lost their young champion, and much beloved pastor.
While matters were in this situation, a Mr. Thomas Linning, who had been formerly sent over to Holland, for finishing his education and receiving ordination, came home to Scotland. He, together with a Mr. William Boyd, who had also lately come from Holland, joined with Mr. Shields. These three together administered Gospel ordinances, for a few months longer, and renewed the covenants at Lesmahago, amongst the poor afflicted people above-mentioned. But when the General Assembly met at Edinburgh, in 1689, the three ministers, deserting their former flock, and relinquishing, in many respects at least, their former principles, gave in their accession to the judicatories of the Revolution church. Thus the people, who wished closely to adhere to the reformation attainments, were left as sheep without a shepherd.
Having, long before this time, formed themselves into praying societies, they still continued these; and had, at particular times, a general correspondence of all the societies together; in order to ascertain the state of matters through the body at large, and to cultivate a closer acquaintance with one another. In this very trying, and rather singular situation, without any change of sentiment, they steadfastly adhered to the very same principles, which were openly espoused, and solemnly ratified, by the covenanted Church of Scotland, in the times of her purest reformation; as can be clearly and fully proved, from their written deeds and declarations.
Thus they remained for about the space of sixteen years, till, in 1706, the Rev. John MíMillan, formerly minister of Balmaghie, in Galloway, having previous to this left the Established Church, acceded to them, and espoused their cause. Receiving an unanimous call to be their minister; he took the pastoral charge of them, and laboured amongst them, for many years after, with much acceptance; as hundreds of respectable characters have attested, both before and since his death.
After Mr. MíMillan had laboured long by himself, he and his people at last received the accession of the Rev. Thomas Nairn; who had been in connexion with the Secession church; but, for reasons which were published to the world, had dissented from them. Mr. MíMillan and he, with some ruling elders who had been regularly ordained before, and who held the same principles, formed and constituted a Presbytery, in the name of Christ, the alone King and Head of his Church, on the 1st of August, 1743, under the title of THE REFORMED PRESBYTERY. This title it still bears, not that they consider themselves as any better than other men, or as having, in their own persons, arrived at higher degrees of perfection: Such thoughts they never entertained; but purely for this reason, that it is at least their honest intention, faithfully to adhere to the whole of our reformation attainments, in both church and state, without knowingly dropping any part of these. On this account, it is presumed, they may justly enough be called the REFORMED, or REFORMATION-PRESBYTERY; while, in another point of view, they might, with equal propriety, be denominated, the DISSENTING PRESBYTERY.
A Mr. Alexander Marshall, who had formerly got the ordinary education of regular students in divinity, having passed the usual pieces of trial, with approbation, before the Reformed Presbytery, was by them licensed to preach the Gospel, in the month of April, 1744. He soon after received a call, was regularly ordained, and took his seat with the other two, as a co-presbyter. After this the Reformed Presbytery, from time to time, received small accessions to the number of both their ministers and people. Having obtained help of God, they continue to this day; witnessing none other things, than what many thousands, in the once famous and reformed Church of Scotland, have witnessed before them. [return to CONTENTS]
Concerning the deceased Mr. M ĎMillanís coming off from the
No sooner was the Rev. John MíMillan ordained to the holy ministry, in the parish of Balmaghie, in Galloway, Sept. 1701, and had entered on the discharge of the important duties belonging to his office, than he began to discover a strong attachment to Reformation principles. Accordingly, he and other two members of the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright, so early as in the month of July, 1703, after having used other means more privately, for exciting their brethren unto their duty, drew up, and presented to said Presbytery, a paper of grievances; craving, amongst other things, that some effectual measures should be taken, for reviving the remembrance of the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms; explicitly asserting the Divine right of Presbytery; openly avowing Christís sole Headship over his Church, together with her intrinsic liberties; and for impartially stating, and mourning over the many sins of the land.
The other two ministers, who had joined with Mr. MíMillan, at first, in presenting this paper, were soon prevailed upon to drop the farther prosecution of the grievances; by which means he was left alone. Considering it as a matter of conscience with him, he still persisted in pleading for redress. This soon rendered him obnoxious to his Presbytery. He was considered as a troubler of Israel. Accordingly, in the same year, 1703, a libel was preferred against him, in a very informal and unjust manner, some of themselves being judges. The illegality of this measure was abundantly obvious; inasmuch as, at one and the same meeting of Presbytery, Mr. MíMillan was appointed to preach a visitation-sermon, as a member of that court, in the regular exercise of his office; and also cited to appear at their bar, as a pannel. Besides, when some attempt was made to lead a proof, not so much as one single charge in the libel could be substantiated. Ashamed, it would seem, of their own conduct, the Presbytery offered to pass from their libel, if Mr. MíMillan would promise to drop the prosecution of his grievances, and cordially join with them. Upon his refusal to comply with this proposal, unless he should obtain some redress of such weighty grievances, matters, between him and the Presbytery, wore still a more unfavourable aspect than before. No other remedy appearing to be now left, for the disburdening of his own conscience, he entered his solemn protest against the proceedings of the Presbytery, declined their authority, and appealed to the first free and faithful General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Upon this the meeting broke up, and a considerable number of the members went home. The rest repaired to a neighbouring church, constituted themselves anew, and, in a very rash and unprecedented manner, deposed Mr. MíMillan from the office of the ministry; without paying the least attention to his protest and appeal; and without so much as informing either him, or his congregation.
Whether such a sentence, clothed with these circumstances, and without either having, or so much as pretending to have, for its foundation, error in doctrine, immorality in practice, insufficiency for the ministry, or unfaithfulness in the discharge of it, could really be considered as ratified in heaven, the impartial reader may judge. Mr. MíMillan had no hesitation in declaring it to be unjust, and such as could not bind his conscience. All the crime, was honestly contending, for the faith once delivered to the saints. His repeated pleadings with his mother Church, in the discharge of this duty, were indeed branded with the epithets of IRREGULARITIES, AND DISORDERLY COURSES. And upon the footing of these the sentence proceeded. But how improperly such terms are applied to the conduct of Christís witnesses, in faithfully endeavouring, "whereunto they have already attained, to walk by the same rule, and to mind the same things," it is, surely, not very difficult to see. Convinced that the sentence passed against him had no warrant, either from Scripture or reason, and having the testimony of a clear conscience, that if any thing justly deserving such treatment had been laid to his charge, there were thousands of respectable witnesses to attest his innocence; Mr. MíMillan still continued in the regular exercise of his ministerial office, upon the footing of his former protest and appeal; and was well received by his parish, who uniformly acknowledged him as their lawful pastor, still supporting and countenancing him in that capacity, notwithstanding all that had happened.
It has been objected, "that although, upon the footing of his protest and appeal, he continued, for some time, to exercise his ministry amongst his people; yet he was soon prevailed upon, by the Commission of the General Assembly, to subscribe the acknowledgment, which they had prepared for him, namely, THAT THE SENTENCES OF AN INFERIOR CHURCH JUDICATORY, THOUGH UNJUST, OUGHT TO BE SUBMITTED TO; AND THAT REDRESS IS TO BE CRAVED AND EXPECTED FROM SUPERIOR JUDICATORIES. Agreeably to which position, he actually desisted from the exercise of his ministry, at least for a while."
The fact was never refused. But does it follow, as some have supposed, that Mr. MíMillan hereby divested himself of his office, and so confirmed the sentence of deposition? If the following things be carefully attended to, it will evidently appear, that no such conclusion can be drawn from the premises.
In the first place, as the sentence was palpably illegal in its form, and proceeded upon such allegations as could never,from the nature of the things themselves, warrant deposition; it must necessarily be considered as, in itself, null and void, independently of either Mr. MíMillanís opinion, or his conduct, with regard to it. But,
Secondly, It is a well-authenticated fact, that Mr. MíMillan himself never entertained any opinion of this sentence but one, from the day on which it was first pronounced against him, till the day of his death, the short time during which he desisted from the exercise of his ministry not excepted; for even then, as well as at all other times, he solemnly remonstrated against it, as unjust, and such a sentence as could never be binding upon his conscience, nor be considered as any proper reason for his dropping the exercise of his ministry. By this it clearly appears, that he never viewed any thing, which he either said or did, after the passing of that undeserved sentence, as involving his approbation, or consent.
Thirdly, When Mr. MíMillan rashly yielded to the fore-said acknowledgment, which the Commission had prepared for him; he was persuaded to do it under the fair promise and high-raised expectation, that, if he would only be silent and remain in Edinburgh for a short time, he should have justice done to him, and be restored to his flock again, according to his wish. On this condition alone he submitted; and by this stratagem he was taken in the snare. Besides, the very position itself; to which he subscribed, "That the sentence of a church judicatory, though unjust, ought to be submitted to," whether it be on one pretence or another, is obviously false, and ought to be rejected by every honest man, so soon as he perceives the error and danger in it.
Fourthly, As the Churchís power is purely ministerial, and she is only the organ or channel, through which office-power is conveyed, from Him who walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks, and holds the stars in his right hand; it is perfectly obvious, that she has no original authority of her own, or absolute right, either to give, or to recall the ministerial office. The one and the other must be done in the name and agreeably to the revealed will of Christ. And if her deeds speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. Consequently, they cannot bind. Considering these things; we may sadly affirm, that Mr. MíMillan still retained his ministerial powers, notwithstanding all that was done, either by the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright, or himself. Accordingly,
He no sooner found time to bethink himself; and deliberately consider what he had done, than he perceived his mistake, and sincerely repented of his rash deed, in consenting, either upon one condition or another, or for any given time, to drop the usual exercise of his ministry. Resuming his wonted courage, he entered, without further delay, on the conscientious discharge of the important duties belonging to his station. He considered his former protest, declinature, and appeal, as yet remaining in their full force; inasmuch as he had never retracted them, nor taken any step to render them null; but, on the contrary, had repeatedly confirmed them, by his after-remonstrances, against the unrighteous deed. He was still heartily received and welcomed by his former flock, who, notwithstanding all that had befallen him, considered and treated him as their lawful pastor. It is obvious, that he, and those of his parish who adhered to him as their minister, must now be considered as in a state of separation from the Established Church; and openly avowing their adherence to the principles of Scotlandís Covenanted Reformation.
It was while matters continued in this situation, that he received the harmonious call, above-mentioned, from the united Societies of the Old Presbyterian Dissenters, who had never embodied with the Revolution Church, but remained still without a minister. In the year 1707, they called and invited Mr. MíMillan, to take them also under his ministerial inspection, along with the people who had all along adhered to him; upon the footing of the Covenanted Reformation between 1638 and 1649. With this request he cheerfully complied.
Acting still upon the same principles, he, and a Mr. John MíNeil, probationer, on the 29th of Sept. 1708, gave in to the Commission of the General Assembly at Edinburgh, a joint protestation, declinature and appeal. In this deed they recognise substantially the very same doctrines, and principles, which are contained in the Informatory Vindication, and in the Judicial Testimony of the Reformed Presbytery; while their protestation and declinature are founded on much the same defections and corruptions of the Revolution Church, as are stated and condemned in that Testimony: as the printed copies of the protest and declinature, which are yet to be seen, plainly evince.
The public are hereby certified, that the foregoing statement, with respect to the deceased Mr. MíMillanís leaving the Established Church, is taken from original papers and other documents, the authenticity of which is indisputable; and which could still be shewn, were it necessary.
Upon the whole, it is obvious, that notwithstanding all the objections of his adversaries, Mr. MíMillanís standing claim to the full exercise of his ministerial powers, even to the day of his death, was as valid as hundreds of others, in similar circumstances, whose title has never been disputed. It could be no less valid than the claim of all such Protestant ministers as were once in the bosom of the Romish church; but, separating themselves from her communion, and advocating the cause of the Reformation, were subjected to the papal thunder of depositions, excommunications, and solemn execrations. Protesting against the unhallowed deeds, they continued in the exercise of their ministry, and were still reputed the ambassadors of Christ, until the day of their death. It cannot be less valid than the claim of the first ministers of the Secession. These too were suspended and deposed, by the judicatories of the Revolution Church. And it is deserving of notice, that the real reasons of these deeds were remarkably similar to the reasons of Mr. MíMillanís deposition, namely, their persevering remonstrances against the defections and corruptions of their mother Church; and refusing to drop their earnest contendings with her, until they should obtain some redress of their just grievances. Denied this, they protested against the unjust sentences passed upon them, and still went on in the exercise of their ministry. But it is presumed that our Seceding brethren would not take it very kind, to have their ministerial commission called in question: nor are we disposed to do it. The ministers of the Relief Church will be found in a similar situation. The Rev. Thomas Gillespie, who had been minister of Carnock, was, in the year 1752, deposed by the Assembly, for refusing to countenance a violent settlement. He, with another minister, who had left his charge, and was therefore cast out from the communion of the Established Church, constituted themselves into a Presbyterial capacity, and still went on in the exercise of their office. The Reformed Presbytery, therefore, are not alone, as to the footing on which they retain their ministerial authority.
Having attended to these things, the impartial reader will now be at no loss to discern, how illiberal and uncandid, to say no worse of it, must be the statement, contained in a late pamphlet, entitled, "A Narrative of the State of Religion in Britain and Ireland. Agreed upon and enacted by the General Associate Synod, 2d September, 1803." Edit. Edin. 1804. What, in this Narrative, respects the Old Dissenters, is comprehended from p. 85, near the top, to p. 89. And we are truly sorry to find, that in the whole account given of them, others can speak for themselves, there is scarcely one fair and candid representation of facts. Dark insinuations, unfounded assertions without the shadow of either proof or illustration, and statements remarkably calculated to mislead, comprise the principal part of what is said concerning this people. In an age so distinguished for high claims to liberality of sentiment, and christian charity, we certainly should have expected rather different treatment from our brethren. But the public, who have perused our writings, on the subject referred to, will judge for themselves.
With regard to the Dissenters, this Narrative informs us, "That they had their rise, as a distinct, religious party, so long ago as the end of the 17th century, when three ministers, viz. Messrs. Lining, Shields, and Boyd, after giving in two papers of grievances to the Assembly, were received into the communion of the Established Church. Several of the people who formerly adhered to them, considered that by joining with that Church, they had materially dropped their testimony, and therefore declined going along with them."
The representation here given is, so far just, that, upon this occasion, the people acted the part which is ascribed to them. But we are not, certainly, to consider this as their first appearance. We have found already, that, even as a distinct witnessing party, contending for Scotlandís Covenanted Reformation, and endangering their lives in the high places of the field, their origin must be traced more than twenty years farther back than the Revolution. "Destitute of pastors," it is said, "they soon gave way to strange fancies about the nature and ends of civil government." But whether these fancies were strange, or common, it is plain to a demonstration, as we have also seen above, that they were none other than what had been entertained by our reformers in general, between 1638 and 49; none other than what were ratified by the fundamental laws of the Kingdom of Scotland; and none other than what were sworn unto, in the Solemn League and Covenant of the three Kingdoms. "Having formed themselves into praying societies," we are told, "they continued without ministers or public ordinances." If the meaning be, that they only formed the societies at that time, when they had lost the three fore-mentioned ministers, it is a glaring misrepresentation. These societies also were formed more than twenty years before.
The uncandid Narrative proceeds, "Mr. MĎMillan had been deposed by the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright." It is not refused. But pray, dear brethren, what were the reasons of his deposition? Bore they any resemblance to the reasons, for which the first ministers of your own party were deposed by the same Established Church? If they did, why not signify this also, seeing you reckon it necessary to publish the fact? Is not the uninformed reader, as the greatest part likely are with regard to that affair, left to suppose, or rather to conclude, that it would, no doubt, be for error in doctrine, immorality in practice, or some other sufficient cause, that he was deprived of his office. But it seems, that it would have been too candid to tell the stubborn fact, that none of these were in the case; and that it was on account of his steadfast adherence to Reformation principles, and his honestly insisting for a redress of grievances. "Having," it is said, "for some time submitted to the sentence; upon receiving a call from these Societies, he at his own hand entered upon the exercise of his ministerial office among them." No, certainly; to that sentence, as just or as binding upon his conscience, he never yielded by subjection unto it, no, not for so much as one hour. By what means, and on what fair promises, he was led into the snare of keeping silence, for some Sabbaths, have been shown above. Having never been legally deprived of his office, nor laid it down, there could be no harm in exercising it at any time when occasion required. But let it be carefully observed, that his entering again on the exercise of his ministry, after the short silence, was altogether unconnected with, and independent of, the call, which he afterwards received from the Societies: though one would naturally conclude, from the dark insinuating Narrative before us, that it was at least one, or rather the alone moving cause of the step which he then took.
The other misrepresentations of the Old Dissenters, contained in the Narrative of which we now speak, have been repeatedly considered and answered, by our Presbytery and several of their members, in their former publications; and it is hoped, that the reader will reckon it but equitable, to hear both parties, before he draw his conclusions. It hath, indeed, been much the manner of our Seceding brethren, especially of late, to pay no more attention to the answers, which have been made to their accusations, than if they had no existence; and, at the same time, still to continue the former cry. Perhaps, for their own ease and safety, it may be wisely enough done; but whether or not it be a candid treatment of their Dissenting brethren, the public must judge.
In dismissing this Narrative before us, there is one thing which can scarcely be overlooked. The poor despised Dissenters receive no credit, for the reality of any thing that they do: all must be put to the score of mere pretence and false appearance. "They proceeded, A. 1712, to WHAT THEY CALLED a renovation of our covenants.óMr. Thomas Nairn, with Mr. MĎMillan, constituted themselves into WHAT THEY DESIGNED The Reformed Presbytery.óA. 1761. They published WHAT THEY CALLED, An Act, Declaration and Testimony," &c. The reader shall be left to judge, whether that be a very handsome mode of speaking, at the beginning of the 19th century; or if it does not rather savour of the old rancour, which has too much characterized the controversial writings of former times. [return to CONTENTS]
The Reformation Attainments, to which the Old Dissenters
wish still to adhere.
IT will, we apprehend, be admitted, that whatever advances the individual christian may have made, in useful knowledge, in the vigorous exercises of religion, or in precious intercourse with Heaven, he should ever be careful to preserve these. If this be the duty of the individual; it must be difficult to see, on what principle it can be refused, that it is also the duty of society, whether great or small. On this general principle, then, we are disposed to think, that even of enlightened civil society, it may be expected, that whereunto they have already attained, in laudable reformation, they should walk by the same rule, and mind the same things.
It is, besides, observable, that the injunctions to this purpose, contained in the Sacred Scriptures, are conceived in very general terms, and seem to admit of the most extensive application. When we are required to remember how we have received and heard, to hold fast that which we have, to consider wherein we have left our first love, and so on; there is no restriction of the duty to one species of attainments more than to another. If the advances which have been made be agreeable to the revealed will of God, if they be calculated to promote his declarative glory, whether in civil or religious society, and if they be for the good of mankind, it seems to be positively required, that we steadfastly adhere unto them.
Add to these, that the sin of backsliding, or departure from former attainments, is, in the Sacred Volume, marked by the most pointed reprehension. Many terrible things in righteousness, were threatened against ancient Israel, for transgressions of this kind. Our Saviour, in his personal administrations upon earth, very solemnly warned against the sin of going back. And in his Epistles to the Asiatic Churches, there is no one thing more severely reprimanded than this.
Endeavouring thus to weigh matters in the balances of the sanctuary, the Old Dissenters have uniformly, and decidedly, been of opinion, that it is their indispensable duty, to contend for the whole of the Faith once delivered to the saints. They mean the approving part of their Testimony to embrace, in general, all the noble exertions which have been made for the support and defence of the truth as it is in Jesus; from the first dawn of the Gospel on our benighted isles, to that memorable period, when Scotlandís Reformation arrived at the zenith of its glory. They indeed put a speciality on the attainments between 1638 and 1649; for this obvious reason, that while they look back to all the preceding, they comprehend, at the same time, many new and precious advances in both Church and State reformation.
Even the infant struggles of the Culdees, or worshippers of the true God, for the first two or three hundred years after the planting of the Christian religion in Scotland, are not to be overlooked, but remembered with gratitude. Soon after the days of the Apostles, while the persecution raged against the Christians in the Roman empire, many fled to our isle for shelter; and, bringing their religion along with them, maintained the pure worship of God, in the midst of heathen superstition. While they opposed on the one hand, the idolatry of the Druidical priests; they were no less zealous on the other, against the Pelagian heresy, which much prevailed at that time. By means of these faithful witnesses, the ordinances of Christ were long preserved in their original simplicity; while their holy, humble, and circumspect lives were no small recommendation to their Saviourís religion.
In process of time, there arose, in the Church, men who loved to have the pre-eminence; and, from about the middle of the 5th, to the beginning of the 16th century, there was a gradual and alarming progress in that worse than Egyptian darkness, which at length wholly overspread the land. A kind of Episcopacy was first introduced by Paladius, the Missionary of Rome; and to that succeeded, step by step, all the dreadful abominations of Popery. Yet, even during that long and dismal period, the Lord left not himself without his witnesses. There were still some who contended for the faith once delivered to the saints, were valiant for the truth upon the earth, and loved not their lives unto the death. And the more rare such conduct then was; the more honour should be attached unto it. As the blood of such Martyrs afterwards proved the seed of the Church; it is highly proper, that their names, and their earnest contendings, should be kept in everlasting remembrance.
Shortly after the commencement of the 16th century, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Messrs. Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, and other fellow-sufferers, in the kingdom and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, valiantly to oppose those antichristian abominations, which had long stood in the holy place. These brave champions in the Reformation cause, made a noble stand in defence of the truth; they resisted error and corruption, even unto blood, striving against sin; they had the honourable testimony of God and a good conscience, in the midst of their sufferings; while their memories, and honest pleadings, will be savoury among the faithful friends of Christ, to the latest posterity.
Between the years 1557, and 1590, comprehending the principal part of what has usually been termed our first Reformation, many precious efforts were made, for the purging of the Lordís sanctuary, and also for the rectifying of abuses in the state. A considerable number of public bonds or covenants, for the maintenance of the true religion, were seriously entered into. Among these, the deed known by the name of the National Covenant of Scotland, holds a distinguished place. The famous Scotch Confession of Faith was composed, and was also adopted, and solemnly ratified by both Church and State. The first and second books of Discipline were, prepared, and brought into practice, as precious helps for supporting the comely order of Christís house. Many laudable acts were passed, in opposition to the mass, the abuse of the Sacraments, the Popeís usurped authority, and other branches of the Romish superstition. Solemn protestations and remonstrances were repeatedly entered, against the encroachments, which the civil powers were often making on the prerogatives of Christ, and the intrinsic privileges of the Church. Much diligence was shewn, even for the reformation of the State; while many precious laws were enacted, for guarding the throne against iniquity, and requiring both prince and people to profess and practise the same true religion, and what is very remarkable, for that time, the line of distinction, between the civil and the ecclesiastic authority, was drawn with a very considerable degree of precision. Such noble exertions, for suppressing the abominations of mystical Babylon, and in defence of the truth, have always met with our hearty approbation.
As to the interval, between 1590 and 1637, when diocesan Prelacy gained very much ground in Scotland; there were then also many faithful witnesses, who wrestled very earnestly in behalf of the Protestant and Presbyterian religion; and whose honourable exertions in witnessing for Christ, were long and gratefully remembered. But we now proceed to declare our special and hearty approbation of the precious Reformation attainments, between 1638 and 1649; as these evidently put the cope-stone upon the building, with the shoutings of "grace, grace, unto it."
While turning their attention to the remarkable advances in reformation, which distinguished this period, the Old Dissenters are not ashamed to acknowledge that they include the salutary laws of the State, as well as the procedure of the Church, in the objects of their approbation. They consider the Holy Scriptures, wherever they are enjoyed, as the standard of human conduct, even in the state or commonwealth of Godís professing people. Nor are they able to conceive, why six of the ten precepts in the moral law should respect the demeanour of mankind in civil society; or why so much should be said concerning the qualifications and duties of civil rulers in the volume of inspiration, if it be not the design of JEHOVAH, that these parts of revelation should be actually applied, as well as the rest, and that the rules which they exhibit, should be reduced to practice. To us it appears inconsistent and absurd, to set aside the revealed will of God, even in these matters; and to send back those who enjoy it, to the feeble light of their natural and unassisted reason; in the organizing of civil society, fixing its fundamental laws, and ascertaining the terms, or conditions, on which the places of power and trust are to be filled. A civil state, or nation at large, we have been accustomed to consider as a voluntary association of free agents, having a right to fix on what fundamental laws, and terms of admission into power, they may judge most proper, and best calculated to promote the good of the society; providing that, in all cases where they have the benefit of the Bible, these laws harmonize, either with the letter, or with the genuine spirit and scope of the Scriptures.
Having these views, and acting on these principles, we find that our worthy ancestors, at the period to which we now refer, formed both their civil and their ecclesiastical constitution in such manner as appeared unto them, to be consistent with the plainly revealed will of God. From the throne, to the lowest seat of judgment in the nation, the places of power were carefully guarded, by salutary laws; excluding Papists, Prelates, and all others, of every description, who were evidently known to be unfriendly to the covenanted uniformity, and to that precious work of Reformation, which, in the holy providence of God, was now brought forward to very considerable perfection. Even the army was in like manner purged of disaffected persons; while similar laws guarded the various military posts through the kingdom.
While, in this manner, the fundamental and solemnly ratified statutes of the kingdom, excluded the known enemies of the Reformation; they, on the other hand, required of all such as should be admitted into places of power, the open profession of the true Protestant and Presbyterian religion, as delineated in the word of God; the acknowledgment of the doctrines contained in the Confession of Faith, and in the Catechisms Larger and Shorter; subscription to the binding obligation of the covenants, National and Solemn League; together with the practical countenancing, defending and promoting of these, to the utmost of their power, and through the whole extent of their jurisdiction. Many valuable laws were also enacted by the legislature, for encouraging the taking and subscribing of the covenants, and for suppressing open wickedness.
The advances in reformation, which distinguished the ecclesiastical department, at this period, were no less remarkable and worthy of approbation. Prelacy was clearly found to have been abjured by the National Covenant of Scotland. The five articles of Perth, viz. kneeling at the Sacrament of the Lordís Supper, private administration of it, private baptism, confirmation of children, and observation of holy days, were also found to be condemned by the true spirit of said Covenant. Accordingly, the National Covenant was solemnly renewed and sworn by all ranks in the land, in this view, and with this explanation of it. The arrogant, ignorant, and grossly scandalous bishops were suspended, and deposed from their offices. Christís headship, as the alone King upon the holy hill of Zion, and the intrinsic privileges of his Church, were boldly asserted, and strenuously contended for in the face of every opposition. Patronages were totally abolished. The Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms, was composed as a happy mean of healing the breaches whereby the land did shake: it was cheerfully sworn by all ranks, and vigorous exertions was made, to have the ends of it promoted, through every part of the united kingdoms. The best endeavours were made for the promoting of personal holiness; the sanctifying of the Lordís day; the regular performance of family worship, in the houses of great and small; conscientious attendance upon public ordinances; and the pointed discharge of all the relative duties, in civil and religious society. A Scriptural Confession of Faith, and Catechisms [Larger and Shorter], were diligently prepared, openly adopted, and solemnly ratified, by Church and State; as the subordinate standards of doctrine, for the Church of Christ, in the three kingdoms. The precious form of Presbyterian Church government, drawn from the word of God, was also composed, and publicly received, as a part of the covenanted uniformity. A valuable Directory, for the conducting of public and private worship, was adopted with the same view. And a great many acts of the Reforming Assemblies were published, for assisting in the future management of Church affairs.óThus the professing spouse of Christ looked forth, "fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners."
Considering human society as formed by mutual consent, and themselves as free agents, the Old Dissenters have always reckoned it their duty, and they reckon it their duty still, solemnly and openly to avow their approbation of the Reformation constitution, both civil and ecclesiastic. But in making this avowal, it is very remote from their intention to say, that even the Reformation constitutions were absolutely perfect, and incapable of any further improvement; or, on the other hand, to say, that there was nothing good in the Revolution-settlement. Such thoughts never once entered into their minds. Meanwhile, in respect of conformity to the revealed will of God, the latter can certainly bear no comparison with the former. [return to CONTENTS]
The Departures from the Reformation Attainments, against which
the Dissenters reckon it their duty to testify.
WHILE the Ministers, and Professors of the Christian religion, in general, are required to consider themselves as "set for the defence of the Gospel;" it seems likewise to be an important part of their duty, "not to suffer sin upon their brother;óto withstand those who are to be blamed;" and to testify against the generation amongst whom they live, in so far as the deeds thereof are evil.
Our Lord himself, not only bore witness unto the truth; but, at the same time, solemnly remonstrated against the Scribes and Pharisees, for introducing error, and other corruptions into the Church of God. We also find him, in his Epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, particularly commending those who withstood the introduction of error and corruption; while he severely reprehends such as tamely submitted to these evils, and delivered not their own souls, by faithfully warning against them.
In imitation of their Lord and Master, we find the Apostles ever careful to combat the false doctrines, corruptions in worship, and gross immoralities, which appeared in their times. It may, indeed, be difficult to manage this part of an honest testimony, with becoming temper and spirit; but the most necessary and important duties are often attended with much difficulty, in the right performance of them.
Tracing the defections from former attainments, according to the order of time in which they happened; we must give a distinguishing place to the anarchy and confusion, which were introduced at the beginning of Cromwellís usurpation; by means of which the Reformation constitutions, both civil and ecclesiastic, were completely unhinged. The public resolutions, for receiving into places of power and trust, through the nation, even such as were abundantly well known to be unfriendly to the covenanted uniformity and fundamental laws of the kingdom, belong also to this period. These things happened in the years 1650-51: And they loudly proclaimed our departure from the living God: for we may always expect, "that the wicked will walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted." Both Church and State revolted more and more, till the restoration of Charles II. in 1660.
From the Restoration until the Revolution, which happened in the year 1688, we find a long and dismal train of defections which particularly claim our attention; and deserve to be remonstrated against, by all who plead the Reformation cause. Amongst others, the following may be specified:ó
The rash and unqualified restoration of Charles, without any security, either sought or given, for the preservation of the true religion, or the observation of the coronation oath, which he had taken at Scoon, many years before; the superstitious observance of a public anniversary, on account of that unhallowed restoration; the Heaven-daring act recissory, in the year 1661, with other sinful acts of the same backsliding Parliament; openly and avowedly, overturning at once, the preceding glorious work of Reformation, and branding it with the odious appellations of rebellion and sedition; the re-admission of Prelacy, with its numerous train of concomitant evils, after having been abjured, by all ranks of men through the kingdom, in the most solemn manner; the tyrannical restraining of ministerial freedom; the restoring of patronages; the frequent imposition of sinful, and, in some instances, self-contradictory oaths; the contemptuous rejecting, burning and burying of the public National Covenants, alongst with other publications of the same spirit and tendency; the barbarous and most inhuman persecution of the faithful witnesses for the Redeemerís cause, during the long period of twenty-eight years; together with the many unwarrantable, cunningly devised and deeply ensnaring tolerations, and indulgences, which characterised this period, especially the latter end of it.
While Dissenters testify against toleration, they are not to be understood as meaning a merely passive toleration, implying nothing more than simply permitting men to exist unmolested, and to hold their different opinions, without using external violence to make them change these, or to exterminate them from the face of the earth, if they do not. Forbearance of this kind, after every scriptural and rational mean has been used without effect, cannot be condemned. But what they have in view, is that authoritative toleration, in which the rulers of a kingdom, assuming the character of judges in these matters, by their proclamations, or other public deeds, declare what different opinions, or systems, they will allow to be taught and propagated, and to what modes of worship they will give countenance and protection; while they exclude others from that supposed privilege.
This is unquestionably to usurp the prerogative of JEHOVAH: for it should ever be remembered, that no man whatsoever has any right, even for himself, either to hold or propagate opinions which are at variance with the revealed will of God. Nor have church-members themselves, whether in official or in private capacity, a right either to profess or practise any other religion than what JEHOVAH, the great Lord of the conscience, prescribes for them. Hence says the Churchís Lawgiver, "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." How, then, can any man, or class of men, give to others a right, which they have not themselves? The true religion, sanctioned by Divine authority, speaks for itself, and needs no toleration from men: false religion ought to be rejected as reprobate silver, and is incapable of toleration. To speak with holy reverence, God himself cannot allow it, inasmuch as it is contrary to his glorious perfections; for mortal men, then, to give it their countenance, must certainly be very daring presumption. But, to carry forward our enumeration,
We may further observe, that between the Revolution, in 1688, to the present time, there will also be found many striking evidences of our mournful backsliding; against which it becomes us to testily, and over which we ought deeply to lament. The remarkable goodness of Divine providence, at the Revolution, in graciously delivering the nation from popish tyranny and bloodshed, was sadly misimproved, by the formation of exceedingly defective constitutions, both civil and ecclesiastic, and by the corresponding administrations, ever since. Were we to examine the materials of which the great fabric of the united constitution was at that time composed, we should, no doubt, find many excellent things, in both the civil and ecclesiastic departments: but, alas, these were blended with much heterogenuous matter, which tarnished the whole, and loudly proclaimed the retrograde motion of the nationís representatives.
The word of God, which ought to have regulated their conduct, in organizing the great civil society of the State, and in fixing the conditions of advancement to places of power and trust within it, was entirely out of the question. The valuable Reformation acts of the Scottish Parliaments, between 1638 and 1649, which had been formerly considered as so many precious bulwarks for guarding the places of power, were totally overlooked, and formed no part of the British code, at the Revolution, nor have they ever formed any part of it since.
Prelacy, which had been openly abjured by all ranks of men in Scotland, England, and Ireland, was now made the foundation, and chief corner-stone, of the great National building; inasmuch as the open profession and practice of it, in his own person and family; the legal support and defence of it, as the established religion of England and Ireland; together with the preserving unto the diocesan bishops, and churches committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges as, by law, either did, or should, appertain unto them,ówere made the essential, the positively fixed condition, without swearing and subscribing to which, the supreme magistrate could not be permitted to wear the British crown. The bishops, blasphemously styled LORDS SPIRITUAL, were declared to be constituent members in one of the houses of parliament.
A religious supremacy, totally unwarranted, yea positively condemned in the word of God, was still vested in the crown. Hence, by the law of England, the king was constitutedó"The head and supreme governor of the National Church; the dernier resort in all ecclesiastical causes,óan appeal lying ultimately to him in chancery from the sentence of every ecclesiastical judge. In virtue of this authority, it was declared to be his right, to convene, prorogue, restrain, regulate, and dissolve, all ecclesiastical synods and convocations. Nor can it be refused, that this supremacy, though not to the same degree, yet, in the true spirit of it, is extended to the Church of Scotland also. From the Revolution to the present time, the king assumes it as his right, to call, adjourn, or dissolve the General Assemblies of the Church, according to his pleasure; and there have not been wanting instances of doing it in a very arbitrary and authoritative-like manner. He reckons it his prerogative, if need should at any time so require, to circumscribe the objects of their attention, forbidding them to meddle with such things as he may judge it improper for them to discuss. He prescribes for the ministers of the Gospel those political oaths, without the swearing of which they shall not be permitted to exercise their office. He peremptorily commands these ministers, as; his servants, to read, on the Lordís day, after public worship, his proclamations, or other state-papers, which may be subservient to the purposes of government. He authoritatively imposes public fasts upon the Church; and commands them to be observed, under the sanction of such civil pains as he, and his privy council, may think proper to inflict. By that insnaring instrument, THE SACRAMENTAL TEST, he requires, even of those who are in the communion of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, that, in order to qualify them for a post under government, they shall take the sacrament of the Lordís Supper, after the superstitious manner of the Church of England. A most impious prostitution of that sacred ordinance, and a most glaring imposition upon the consciences of men; providing those, who submit to it, have any conscience in these matters! Add to these, that the right of presenting to a vacant charge, through a great many parishes in Scotland, is considered as vested in the crown.
As an additional ratification of all these things, an incorporating union of Scotland and England, was mutually formed in the year 1707; whereby the former state of matters, in the respective churches, was unalterably confirmed. And consequently, an attempt made to seal for ever the destruction of that covenanted uniformity in religion, which characterised the Reformation period. This union was, in the year 1712, followed by a nearly boundless and authoritative toleration; which must also be considered as having the same tendency.
Nor must we forget, in this enumeration, the National countenance given to abjured Popery, by the legal support and defence of it, in the vast province of Canada, in North America; the authoritative toleration of it in England and Ireland, and now also in Scotland; together with the goodwill manifested to protect and encourage it, in the island of Corsica, during the short time that island was attached to the British crown.
The repeated and obstinate refusals to abolish the unhallowed slave trade, together with the wantonly entering into, and prolonging many excessively burdensome and destructive wars; though they may not so directly appear as a contrast to the state of things in the Reformation period; are, notwithstanding, mournful proofs of our National guilt, and departure from the living God; and also deserve to be testified against.
In the Established Church of Scotland, both at, and since the Revolution, there will likewise be found many things, calling for mourning, lamentation and woe. In her first formation, she cannot certainly be considered as a purely scriptural and Gospel Church: but rather as a politico-ecclesiastic fabric, inasmuch as the civil State, taking the lead, prescribed, and fixed for her, the doctrine, the government, and discipline, unto which she must adhere; and, having done this, ordered such constituent members as they thought proper, to sit down in a general assembly, to consult, and to rise again, according to their pleasure. In choosing the model on which she was to form, she, or rather the State for her, made a retrograde motion of nearly a hundred years; knowingly and designedly, overlooking the precious Reformation period, between 1638 and 49: and, consequently, disregarding also her Lordís express command, "Remember, how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent." She has uniformly and tamely submitted to the various encroachments of the civil power, upon her intrinsic rights and privileges; without expressly and openly asserting either the Divine and exclusive title of Presbytery, as the alone mode of Church government appointed by Christ, or his sole Headship over his Church. She has repeatedly and obstinately refused to revive the remembrance of those public and solemn vows, which the nation is under to the Most High God; and accordingly, she has always turned a deaf ear to the many just and weighty grievances which, from time to time, have been tabled before her judicatories, with regard to such culpable omissions. Instead of throwing off the galling yoke of patronage; she has wreathed it more and more closely about her own neck. She has often passed too slightly, and especially in her higher courts, given too much countenance to Socinian, and Arminian errors. Receiving of pecuniary compensations, in place of openly inflicting the censures of the Lordís house, in the case of fornication; private administrations of baptism; and, in a great many instances at least, exceedingly lax admissions to the holy ordinance of the Lordís Supper, are also just ground of regret, in the Established Church.
We are very sorry that there should be occasion to mention, amongst our mournful departures from Reformation attainments, those public testimonies, or statements of religious principles, which treat Divine truths with evident partiality, leaving a very considerable and important part behind. When the ministers of religion are called to teach those amongst whom they labour, to observe all things whatsoever Christ hath commanded; when we are positively enjoined, whereunto we have already attained, to walk by the same rule; and when churches and nations are required to remember how they have received and heard; there is never the slightest information given, that we are at liberty to pick and choose, amongst these things.
But, while we lament the partiality of the testimonies, or statements, which we have in view; let us not be misunderstood, as though we undervalued, or rejected, what is praiseworthy in them. If any man, or class of men, be enabled to be truthful, even in a few things, we desire to rejoice, yea, and herein do rejoice; though we should be under the disagreeable necessity of testifying against them, in some other things, wherein they are to be blamed. The Great Pattern of all perfection himself, who came to bear witness to the truth, commended whatever was good in the Asiatic Churches, to which his Epistles are addressed; though, at the same time, he had somewhat against them. His faithful witnesses, while acting ministerially in his name, and by his authority, seem warranted to follow such a noble example.
To separate from the prevailing party, in a corrupt church; to enter a solemn protest against patronage, the disseminating of erroneous doctrine, and several abuses in discipline and government; and strongly to assert and vindicate the doctrines of free grace, endeavouring at the same time to have them preached and propagated through the land, as our Seceding brethren have done, is all very well. But why not search the evils to the bottom; and exhibit a full and impartial testimony, against all the radical defects of both the civil and ecclesiastic departments in the Revolution settlement? Why attempt to reconcile things which, from their very nature, appear to be altogether irreconcileable; viz. on the one hand, to profess adherence to all the Reformation attainments, between 1638 and 49, when prelacy was solemnly abjured by all ranks of men in the kingdom, and the fundamental laws of the nation required, that the prince and the people should be of the same Covenanted and Presbyterian religion; and on the other hand, to approve and extol a government, the very first and fundamental laws of which require, upon solemn oath, the profession and maintenance of prelacy, as the indispensable condition, upon which the sceptre is to be swayed, in either civil or religious things? Many acts of mal-administration, in the best of human governments, should be overlooked, before we reject them altogether; but when such things are interwoven into the very essence of the constitution, it must make a material difference. Why pretend to justify, and strongly to approve, the conduct of our renowned martyrs, in the time of the late persecution; who, though a very small and despised minority in the nation, totally rejected the authority of the powers who then were, in both civil and religious things; and at the same time, condemn those who cannot in judgment and conscience, subscribe to the British government, on account of its fundamental laws, independent of mal-administrations, necessarily involving the nation in mournful apostacy from their former attainments? Why profess, as is done by one of the parties, to renew the original covenants, which unquestionably embraced all the Reformation attainments, in the State as well as in the Church; and yet exclude from the Bond, avowedly formed for that purpose, the civil part of our Reformation?
We are as much against blending civil and religious things together, or, in other words, putting them out of their proper place, as our brethren possibly can be. It is well known that a very material part of our testimony is stated in direct opposition to this, and is intended to draw the line of distinction, between the Church and the State. But as the same Bible, and the same moral law, require the conscientious performance of our duty to God, and of our duty to man; we are unable to see the inconsistency of expressing our resolution, even in the same covenant, seriously to attend unto the duties, comprehended in both tables of the law, though each in their own place; and also of asserting the character of those superiors, whom we reckon ourselves bound to obey.
Why refuse, as is done by the other party of our Seceding brethren, to make the trumpet give a distinct sound, with respect to the binding obligation of the National Covenant of Scotland, and of the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms? Does the Word of God forbid, or would it be inconsistent with Reformation principles, plainly to speak it out; that these covenants, even strictly and formally considered, as the righteous and divinely warranted deeds of our pious ancestors, are still binding on their latest posterity? Is not the party sworn unto, the ever-living and true God, whose name and memorial continue the same through all generations? And are not the parties, who solemnly lifted up their hands to him, while collectively and formally considered, still in existence? If the same covenant bound the successive generations of ancient Israel; we cannot see, how a scriptural covenant should not, by parity of reason, bind, even yet, from generation to generation.
To dissent from those with whom they formerly associated, on account of their violently settling ministers over reclaiming congregations; and to refuse their countenance to such as preach, or otherwise disseminate, legal doctrines, which are the chief characteristics of the Relief party, is so far commendable. But honesty, in such matters, certainly required, that something more should have been done. A clear line of distinction ought to be drawn, between the church that is left, and the church which professes to take separate ground; instead of their respective members being frequently mingled together, in one of the closest and most solemn acts of church-communion upon earth, the celebration of the Lordís Supper. It is surely requisite, for vindication of the truth, that other defections in the Established Church, as well as patronage and legal doctrine, should be testified against. Instead of denying the duty of explicit covenanting, in Gospel times, as a great number, at least, of the Relief body do; it would be much liker the character of Christís witnesses, openly to assert and defend that duty, both as fully warranted by the word of God, and as a precious part of our Reformation attainments. And in place of condemning, as these brethren also do, even sound and scriptural creeds and confessions, intended as subordinate tests of orthodoxy, and as happy means of bringing christians to "think the same things, and to speak the same things;" it would certainly be more becoming those who mean, as well as others, to be set for the defence of the Gospel, candidly to adopt such creeds, and to join with others in the vindication of them. They cannot but know, that those who have received the crown of martyrdom, for keeping the word of Christís patience, in the hour of temptation, are represented as slain, not simply for the word of God, but also for their testimony, which they held concerning it. Nor will it be easy to deny, that they themselves, and indeed all societies without exception, are obliged, oftentimes, to act on the very same general principles, upon which creeds and confessions can easily be defended; though they may reject the name.
To allow the christian people, who may reckon themselves aggrieved by patronage, to erect a separate place of worship, in the parish, and to choose their own ministers, who may preach unto them the evangelical doctrines of the Gospel, as is done in the Chapels of Ease, through the country, is no doubt suffering the people to exercise part of the liberty wherewith Christ has made his Church free. But to circumscribe the power of these ministers, by denying them, either in whole or in part, the keys of discipline and government, or obliging them to hold these at the precarious will of the parish session, is certainly a novelty in the Church of Christ:óa scheme which has not the shadow of foundation in the revealed will of God.
To manifest a warm zeal, providing it were according to knowledge, for propagating the doctrines of Christianity, in the different parts of the kingdom, as the Union churches, or Tabernacle people, with other Independents, profess to do, cannot be blamed, abstractly considered. But it is certainly matter of deep regret, that this should be done at the expense of overturning, in part at least, the comely order of Christís house; by hurrying forward to the work of the ministry, great numbers of raw and untutored persons, who have not actually used, nor indeed been allowed time to use, the necessary means of preparation, for such an important and arduous undertaking. This procedure is evidently calculated to bring the office of the holy ministry into disrepute; as has frequently been acknowledged, even by those who in other respects, befriended the scheme. It is certainly at variance with both the letter and true spirit of the Divine injunction, "Lay hands suddenly on no man."
We mean not to assert, that what is ordinarily called a liberal, or university education, is, in all possible cases, or in all extraordinary circumstances, indispensably necessary to the work of the ministry; nor do we pretend exactly to draw the line, and to say what degree of it may be requisite. Meanwhile, we apprehend, that it may safely be admitted, as a general rule, that in all ordinary cases, and when time can by any means be afforded, instead of abridging the attention which has been given by Presbyterian churches to such means of preparation; we ought rather, were it practicable, to double our diligence.
It is well known, that the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Greek. How we can expect, without a pretty extensive and accurate knowledge of these languages, to explain unto the people the admirable beauty and force of the nervous original; correct mis-translations; or combat the adversaries of Divine truth, on their own ground, and with their own weapons, while attempting to shelter themselves under particular texts of scripture; it is certainly very difficult to see.
If it has pleased God, in the revelations of his will, to comprehend many references to the ancient customs and usages of different nations; to lead our views to geographical descriptions of countries, which have been the scenes of his wonderful works; and to give us large portions of natural and moral philosophy, with precious stores of theological truths; we should reckon it a fair conclusion, that a very considerable proportion of time and attention, ought to be bestowed on these things, in order that we may ourselves understand what we read, and may be the better fitted, through the Divine blessing on the use of means, to explain and illustrate it unto others, for their instruction and comfort.
As to the superior claim of the Presbyterian, above the Independent, form of Church government; it is surely very obvious, that through the whole of Divine revelation, a line of distinction, clear as noon-day, is uniformly drawn between teachers and taught, the pastors or shepherds of the flock, who are to feed and rule them, and the flock itself put under their care. A statement which, though it stood alone, we humbly apprehend, would amount to a demonstration, that the power, whether of ruling, discipling, or feeding the flock of Christ, is not, indiscriminately, committed to the community of the faithful at large; but to certain persons, solemnly and formally set apart, for that very purpose, according to the obvious rules of the Word.
Nor is it less plain, that the Sacred Scriptures require all office-bearers in the Church, whether only ruling with diligence, or, besides that, also labouring in word and doctrine, to be possessed of such peculiar gifts and qualifications, as cannot be reasonably expected amongst the multitude in general; even granting them to be the multitude of those who believe, and who, in other respects, may be of one heart and one soul. Besides, can it be denied, that when Christ gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and granted a power ministerially to bind and loose on earth, what should be bound and loosed in heaven, when the procedure was in his name and agreeable to his will; he made not this grant to all church-members indiscriminately, but to chosen disciples or apostles, whom he clothed with a commission, to go and preach the Gospel to every creature, and to teach the nations, baptizing them?
It also claims our notice, that, according to the scriptural account of the holy ministry, as comprehending both ruling and feeding, it is such a laborious and interesting service, as requires those who are called unto it, to give themselves wholly to that very thing; whether teaching, they must wait on their teaching; or ministry, they must wait on their ministry.
Add to these, that in the primitive apostolical churches they were not the people, or community of church-members at large, who ordained those decrees, which seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to them, and which were given for regulating the conduct of christian congregations; but they were the APOSTLES AND ELDERS, who had come together for that purpose: in open court to be sure, and cheerfully allowing the multitude to attend: which is also the case with the Presbyterians of latter times.
It will no doubt be objected, "That even with Presbyterians, some of the people, ordinarily called lay-elders, are allowed the honour of ruling in the church." But this militates nothing against the general argument. These ruling elders stand not alone, nor compose the body of those who take the management of church affairs. They are only added, for the better conducting the discipline and government of the church, as helpers or assistants unto those who labour in word and doctrine. They are, by the congregationís choice, selected and separated from their brethren. They are always considered as distinguished from the multitude at large, by such gifts and qualifications, as are requisite for the part which they have to act. And they are solemnly ordained, and set apart for their office. They are, indeed, usually employed, like other men, in some one or other of the common avocations of human life. But even with respect to that, it is an object of attention, that they shall, if possible, be less embarrassed with worldly concerns, than what many others of the congregation must necessarily be. So that we still proceed on the broad principle, "That all are not prophets, all are not pastors," nor are all even ruling-elders, for managing the discipline and government of the Christian Church. [return to CONTENTS]
Containing an outline of the Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, and Government to which the Old Dissenters adhere; and of their present situation. [Anno 1806.]
THE form of sound words, which Christ himself has exhibited in the Sacred Oracles, the Dissenters always consider as the rule for their doctrine. As a subordinate standard, agreeable to this, they adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith, with the Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, which they consider as a well-digested summary of what should be taught in the church. These doctrines are generally distinguished by the namesóEVANGELICAL or CALVINISTIC. But the Dissenters wish to regard things, rather than names. With respect to worship, they consider the following, as the Divinely instituted ordinances of religious worship, in which God is to be worshipped, in spirit and in truth:óPublic prayers, with the heart and with the understanding also, and in a known tongue, but not in written, or humanly prescribed forms;ósinging psalms of Divine inspiration, and these alone;óreading, and expounding the Scriptures;ópreaching and receiving the Word;óadministering, and receiving the sacraments of Baptism, and the Lordís Supper;ótogether with public fasting and thanksgiving, as the circumstances of the church may require. But they reject all rites and ceremonies of human invention, without exception. Agreeably to this, they follow, substantially, as a subordinate rule, the Westminster Directory for public worship.
For regulating their discipline, both as to matter and manner, the Dissenters wish carefully to attend unto what the Spirit saith to the churches, especially in the New Testament; while, in consistency with this, they take what aid they can find from the ancient books of discipline, of public authority in the Church of Scotland, together with the acts and decisions of assembly, in the time of the Reformation. And as to the particular mode of proceeding in these matters, they observe much the same forms of process, with the other Presbyterian churches of Scotland.
With regard to church rule, and the subordination of the several ecclesiastic courts, the Old Dissenters are strict Presbyterians; taking, according to the best judgment they are able to form of them, the Holy Scriptures for their infallible standard; and in subordination to these, adopting the Form of Presbyterial Church government, agreed upon by the Westminster Assembly. Some of their reasons, for preferring this to every other mode of managing matters, in the Church of Christ, may be seen above.
The Old Presbyterian Dissenters have nothing to boast, with respect to the numbers of either their ministers or people. They have not, as yet, had any ecclesiastical court among them, higher than a Presbytery. They have, indeed, three of these in their connexion; one in Scotland, one in Ireland, and one in North America. These and the people under their inspection, have hitherto, on account of their local situation, only considered themselves, and corresponded together, as sister churches, espousing the same testimony, and acting on the same principles. It hath sometimes, indeed, been proposed to divide the Scotch Presbytery, and to form a Synod; but owing to a considerable number of deaths amongst their ministers, it hath not yet been carried into execution. In Scotland, they have about sixteen congregations; some small, and some larger, but none of them very numerous. Of these, eleven have fixed pastors, two of the eleven being collegiate charges. The rest of the congregations are vacant for the present. In Ireland, they have ten congregations, which have fixed pastors, and two vacant. In America, five, which have fixed pastors, and four or five vacant. Their Judicial Testimony, together with the various Defences thereof; their Terms of Communion, accompanied with an Explanation and Defence; together with their several Warnings, against Popery, against Socinian and Unitarian errors, and against some prevailing sins and immoralities, are before the public, and may be consulted by those who choose. [return to CONTENTS]
Containing a few Strictures on a proper Testimony for the Truth.
AMIDST the various capacities in which the christian is called to act, it must not be forgotten, that he sustains the character of a witness, "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord." To support the honour of this character, it becomes necessary to exhibit a proper testimony for Christ and for the word of his patience. It deserves consideration, what may be some of the distinguishing characteristics of such a testimony.
Whether the deed of this kind be verbal or written, it should unquestionably be stated and exhibited under the influence of pure inward motives; the party, whether an individual or a society at large, having it as the great concern, to act in the fear of the Lord, and with a suitable regard to his declarative glory amongst men. Though our fellow-christians cannot enter into the springs of action in our heart, nor have they any title to do it; yet it is the Lordís prerogative, to search the heart, and to try the reins. Accordingly, we owe it as a tribute unto his omniscience, to keep our heart with all diligence, and to examine carefully, if they be right with him, in this, as well as in every other duty; especially as there are many deceits, by which we are liable to be ensnared. A self-righteous principle, disposing the party to say unto his neighbour, "Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou;" a kind of malicious pleasure in finding fault; a desire of making a fair show in the flesh, by having a name to live, amongst those around us; or wantonly assuming the fair cloak of a flaming profession, as a cover for practical irregularities; these, or such like sinister motives, may, peradventure, be frequently found to actuate many professors of religion. The Scribes and Pharisees of our Saviourís time, could manifest a warm zeal for the sanctification of the Sabbath; while the malicious design was, to asperse the character of Him who could not possibly be convicted of sin. Of all such motives the witness for Christ should ever be aware.
Let it also be remarked, that a testimony for the truth, as it is in Jesus, should be wholly regulated by the Sacred Scriptures. These are JEHOVAHíS own testimony, for asserting the honour of his kingdom, and the glory of his excellent Majesty. And wherever they are enjoyed, they should be considered as the infallible standard, for directing the conduct of his reasonable offspring, in both their ecclesiastic and civil capacity. If the Church of the living God candidly confess that he is their Judge and their Lawgiver, as well as their Saviour; if they view themselves as moral agents, responsible to him for every part of their conduct; and if Christ, who, as Mediator, now exhibits the law, for the rule of his peopleís life, be recognised as the rightful Lord and Master of all his witnessing disciples; it necessarily follows, that their public appearances, for the interests of his kingdom, as well as all their other conduct, must be regulated by what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Even in the inferior concerns of human life, wise men at least always act upon a plan, observe some one rule or other, for directing their procedure, and have some distinct object before them. This, surely, cannot be less necessary in the honourable employment of bearing witness for Christ. With respect then, to both the matter, and the manner of a public testimony, the sacred injunction must ever be observed, "To the law, and to the testimony," that is, to the revealed will of God, in the oracles of truth, "if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
The laudable deed of which we speak, though it cannot possibly comprehend a minute detail of every particular, should, notwithstanding, exhibit an unbiassed summary of Divine truth in general. In giving the outline of the precious doctrines contended for, and of the errors and immoralities testified against, there should be no consultations with flesh and blood, in order to avoid reproach. Even such articles as may be more obnoxious to a lukewarm generation, or calculated to render the testimony more unpopular, ought not, for that reason, to be omitted. Every branch of the truth as it is Christ, acknowledges the same Divine Author, and therefore challenges our sincere veneration. The Apostle of the Gentiles "shunned not to declare unto the elders of the Ephesian church, ALL the counsel of God." And when the Redeemer sent his ambassadors to disciple the nations, baptizing them, his positive injunction was, "Teaching them to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you." The modern division of Scripture doctrines into circumstantial, and fundamental, is exceedingly ensnaring, inasmuch as no certain rule can be given, for properly drawing the line between these. Whence it is obvious, that every one will do it as best suits his own purpose. Aided by this delusive distinction, the professors of religion may, if they choose, very conveniently exclude from their testimony, even seasonable and important truths, or precious attainments of former times, under the fair pretence, that these are only the circumstantials of religion.
In order to exhibit a proper testimony to the world, it is no less necessary, that it be conducted with impartiality, as to the persons, or parties, who are justly to be blamed. We are no advocates for the scheme of levelling all distinctions in human society. We readily grant a subordination of rank; and admit the propriety of "giving honour to whom honour is due." Meanwhile we apprehend, that it is fully consistent with doing so, impartially to testify, against the errors and vices of high and low, rich and poor. Even a famous king of Judah may be plainly told, by a faithful minister of the sanctuary, "it appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord." Daniel could give the proud Babylonish monarch his ordinary and distinguishing titles; and yet honestly warn him "To break off his sins by righteousness, and his iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor." Yea, in full consistency with esteem for exalted character, even one eminent apostle of the Lamb may "withstand another to the face, because he is to be blamed," for his partiality and unfaithfulness. The plain call of Heaven is, "Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins."
A testimony, expected to meet the Divine approbation, must also comprehend the great doctrines of eternal life and happiness, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.óPaul, who belonged to that noble cloud of witnesses, with whom the believers of his time were compassed about, declared of himself, "that he was set for the defence of the Gospel." Necessity was laid upon him, to preach the doctrines of free grace and salvation. He determines, comparatively speaking, "to know nothing, but Christ and him crucified." When the Corinthians were made willing in the day of power, and Divinely taught to embrace Christ and his salvation, the same Apostle tells them, for their comfort, "The testimony of Christ was confirmed in you." The beloved disciple was a strenuous advocate for the Eternal Deity, the true messiahship, the prophetical, priestly, and kingly character, and for the sovereign love, and rich grace of his Divine Lord; and he says of himself as a witness for these things, "That he bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw." In like manner, the two witnesses, to whom the Lord gives power to prophesy in sackcloth, during the reign of antichrist, are uniformly represented, not only as "keeping the commandments of God," but, also, as "having the testimony of Jesus Christ." That is, as a judicious expositor well expresses it, "maintaining both a doctrinal and practical witness to the purity of the Gospel, and of all its ordinances of worship, according to Christís institutions." Indeed, a proper concern for the honour of the Redeemer, and the happiness of immortal souls, renders this part of a public testimony indispensably necessary.
It must not be forgotten, that every such deed, as properly deserves the name of an honourable testimony for Christ, and for the word of his patience, must also, in a special manner, include those truths, which are particularly opposed, in the time and place in which the witnessing partyís lot has fallen. The conduct of the valiant soldier, in the armies of earthly kings; might serve for the christianís example here. A garrison, appointed to defend a town, or other important place, will carefully observe where the danger is greatest, or the most furious assault is made; and will manage the defence accordingly. Let not the spiritual and good soldiers of Jesus Christ, required to endure hardness in his cause, be behind in this duty. Let them ever observe, and zealously contend for the PRESENT truth. That Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, promised to the fathers; that he came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them; that he died for his peopleís offences, and rose again for their justification; that he was exalted as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel and the forgiveness of sins; and that there was no salvation in any other;óthese were the great truths most violently attacked, and vigorously opposed, in the days of the Apostles. Accordingly, they set themselves for the defence of these, in the most strenuous manner; not loving their lives even unto the death. In this, as in many other things, they have left us a noble example, that we should follow their steps. Once more,
A testimony, rightly stated for the interests of religion, should, undoubtedly, embrace all the honourable attainments of former times. Either this must be admitted; or some excuse must be found for going back, even after we have known the way of righteousness. But for this the word of God makes no allowance. On the other hand, it teaches us to examine, not only if the things contended for, be good and important in themselves, abstractly considered; but also if they have been known and received before. And if it be found, that they make a part of the "faith once delivered to the saints," and have been comprehended in the former faithful testimonies of the church, this is always viewed as an additional consideration, for enforcing our steadfast adherence unto them. It is well known, agreeably to what hath been noticed in the above abstract, how many terrible things in righteousness are spoken, by the inspired prophets of old, and by Christ and his Apostles, in New Testament times, against the sin of backsliding, or leaving our first love. And also, what solemn injunctions are given, "To remember how we have received and heard; and to hold fast that which we have, that no man take our crown." Every testimony therefore, which drops even a part only of former honourable attainments, must be in so far deficient, and liable to exception. Seriously attending to these things, the danger of going back on the one hand, and the satisfaction of obeying the Lordís will on the other, should powerfully influence us all, "Whereunto we have already attained, to walk by the same rule, and to mind the same things." [return to CONTENTS]
ANDREW YOUNG, PRINTER, 150, Trongate, Glasgow.
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