[from THE REFORMATION ADVOCATE MAGAZINE, December, 1874.]
The following document has been long held in retentis, as the reader will see by its date. Its publication would have been seasonable at any time since its origin; but it is peculiarly so just now, when its author is grievously wronged by the professed friends of that covenanted cause, for which he contended throughout his long public life, and to which he gave explicit testimony just before his death. "By it he, being dead, yet speaketh." Covenant-breakers, not satisfied with slandering the living:, must needs assail the character of the dead! It was among the last of [Robert] M’Ward’s labours of love, while in banishment in Holland, in his Earnest Contendings, to roll off the reproaches of Christ, which one of the "good and godly" indulged ministers of Scotland had heaped upon the memory of the famous and faithful John Brown of Wamphray. We would imitate M’Ward in similar labour.
The seasonableness of giving publicity to Mr. Gibson’s testimony at the present time; and we may say, a providential call; and on the part of men, an implied challenge to produce it; will appear from the following language:—"Minutes of the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church," (See R. P. & C. p. 242),—"Synod deems it inexpedient to enter upon any general revision of the Terms of Communion, until they can be reduced to a definite and permanent form, by the completion of the whole system (!) of ecclesiastical order designed by the founders of the Covenanting church in this country."
Now it is well known, or ought to be, that the Rev. William Gibson was one of the "founders of the Covenanting church in this country"—the senior minister of tile Reformed Presbytery at the beginning of the present century. And it is equally well known, or ought to be by all Covenanters, that his junior brethren did, in 1838, in the city of Philadelphia, change their ecclesiastical and civil relations; and that the said Mr. Gibson did thenceforth separate from their ecclesiastical fellowship, and continue so till his death. By his actual separation from those brethren at the above date, he gave a most emphatic and practical testimony against the "system of order" which was then inaugurated by his junior brethren. But now, another class of Mr. Gibson’s professed brethren or ecclesiastical children, propose to improve and complete the work which he and others, as "founders of the Covenanting church in this country" unhappily failed to finish! That is, they propose to "complete the whole system of ecclesiastical order," by bringing their subordinate standards—their terms of communion in particular—into harmony with their Pittsburgh Bond [the Covenant of 1871], Army Oath of Fidelity [when many served in the Union Army during the Civil War], Pennsylvania Charter [that Erastian Charter of civil incorporation], &c. They have declared, and solemnly sworn that they will endeavour to "maintain Christian friendship with pious men of every name," while telling the world that, in doing so, they are carrying out the "design of the founders of the Covenanting church in this country." When thus grievously wronged in his memory, by misrepresenting his sentiments, it cannot be unseasonable to permit one of the "founders of the Covenanting church" to speak for himself.—The position of Rev. James Reid of Scotland, Rev. William Gibson of North America, and Rev. John Cunningham, LL.D. of London, was not equivocal during their lives, nor at their death; and their identity with the Reformed Presbyterian Covenanted church can never be mistaken by any future historian. No sophistry could induce them to believe that a declared adherence, however solemn, to "the spirit of the Covenants," or even to "the principles of the Covenants," is equivalent to owning the covenants themselves. No, no: even a Seceder, Dr. M’Crie [the elder] long since detected and exposed the fallacy of that wretched logic by which the present Dr. M’Crie (a son unworthy of his father), attempted to deceive his brethren and lead them blindfold into the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Nor could Mr. Gibson, (after personal knowledge of the "United Irishmen") ever be persuaded to co-operate with drunkards, infidels, &c., against slavery; nor to "feel and act as one" with slave-holders, oddfellows, &c., however reputedly pious, against drunkenness. He had not so learned Christ."
We cordially invite the reader to try his skill in reconciling the "dying testimony" of Rev. William Gibson with the Pittsburgh Bond [the Covenant of 1871]; bearing in mind, that he was one, and the oldest of the "founders of the Covenanting church in this country." Here follows his said testimony:—"This certifies that I, William Gibson, minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, did cause my name to be signed to a paper written by James J. Atcheson, and directed to the Rev. Moderator and other members of the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church to meet in New York on the first Tuesday of October, 1838, remonstrating against ministers of the Southern Presbytery for joining the association called the "Anti-slavery Society." This I did when in comparative health and in the full possession of my mental powers: and I now further declare my disapprobation of all the voluntary associations of the day; such as the ‘Anti-slavery Society,’ ‘Temperance Society,’ and the like: and I, being now near my dissolution, do leave my testimony against the officers and members of our church connecting themselves with such societies as mentioned above, firmly believing membership in these societies usually called voluntary, to be contrary to Scripture and the standards and approved practice of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Done October 4th, 1838, in the city of New York.
WILLIAM GIBSON, Minister.
Jas. H. Bartley.