THE COMMUNITY OF DISSENTERS;
SOME REMARKS ON THE PROPRIETY OF TERMS
COMMUNION IN GENERAL.
WHOLE INTENDED TO OBVIATE SOME MODERN OBJECTIONS,
SATISFY THE MINDS OF THOSE WHO ARE WILLING TO BE INFORMED ON THE SUBJECT.
[originally published in 1806.]
"They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship."—Acts 2:42.
CONTAINING SOME REMARKS ON THE PROPRIETY OF TERMS
OF COMMUNION IN GENERAL.
WERE mankind disposed to drop their prejudices, and to allow the subject a dispassionate consideration, it is presumed that the propriety of explicit terms of admission to the privileges of the church might easily be discerned. They seem, indeed, to result from the very nature of society, in this imperfect state. By society, we understand a number of reasonable beings, accountable to God and one another, all closely united on some general principles, in which they agree, and on which they resolve mutually to act, for the good of the whole. It is self-evident that they can never properly co-operate in the prosecution of the same great designs, unless there be a good understanding amongst them; but it is not easy to conceive how this can properly subsist, without a clear and distinct statement of the general principles in which they agree, and of the important ends which they have in view. Hence it is, that all societies, less or greater, civil or religious, have their respective regulations; the approbation of which is made the condition of membership and of participating in the peculiar privileges of the society. So very powerful is the law of necessity in this case, that, in all ages of the world, its operation on the minds of men hath been uniformly felt. Now, in ecclesiastic society, the great object of public creeds and explicit terms of communion is, to State and explain the general principles in which the members of the association are agreed, in order to promote a good understanding and a proper harmony amongst them. The adoption of terms, therefore, seems to be highly requisite. Nor doth this mode of reasoning concerning their propriety, in the least savour of will-worship; for, it must ever be remembered, that no terms in any church are warrantable, unless they be plainly sanctioned by "Thus saith Lord." But when the matter of them is found to be scriptural, we thus prove them to be, like every other part of our holy religion, a reasonable service.
It is objected, "If terms of communion as you grant should always be, for the matter of them, scriptural, why state them of our own language at all; can we express them any better than they are already expressed in the Sacred Oracles?"
To this we reply, That if mankind in general properly understood the Scriptures, at first instance, and were disposed rightly to apply them, we should certainly say, Amen, to the doctrine of the objection; but it obviously proceeds on a very false supposition, namely, that all in general who apply for admission to the privileges of the church may be expected properly to understand and apply the Scriptures, without the diligent use of ordinary means for their assistance. The mournful experience, however, of the Church in every age and daily observation, assure us that the Scriptures are very liable to abuse, and are often grossly perverted. The trumpet blown in Zion, therefore, must give a distinct sound. Were the Roman Catholic, the Episcopalian, the Independent, and the Presbyterian to be asked, if they were willing to receive the Bible as the rule of their conduct in their church capacity—they would all answer in the affirmative. But it doth not follow that their very opposite modes of church government are substantially the same, and equally agreeable to the revealed will of God. The Arian, the Socinian, the Arminian, the Antinomian, and the Calvinist, are all equally ready to aver that the Bible is the standard of their faith and practice. Must we hence conclude, that their several doctrines are the same? Or would there be even the shadow of consistency in such a mixed association of communicants sitting down at the same table, under the open profession of believing in the same Lord, and of holding the one faith, and the one baptism, of his prescription? To instance one particular out of many—suppose a Roman Catholic and a Protestant to be both asked, if they believe in the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, concerning the administration and reception of the Lord’s supper; none of them would hesitate to answer, Yes. They would, with equal readiness, subscribe these words in the original institution, "This is my body." We could not certainly from this conclude, that the absurd doctrine of transubstantiation, and the Protestant doctrine, that the bread only signifies or represents Christ’s body, are much the same. Nor is it easy to see the smallest propriety or consistency, in such persons holding communion together at the Lord’s table. But if the Scriptures must be made the terms of communion, at first instance, or without any explanation and statement of truths, in our own language, we shall soon find ourselves obliged to admit persons of diametrically opposite faith and practice. Explanation is surely necessary. And our public creeds and terms of communion were never viewed in any other light, even by those who have been most warmly attached to them, than as subordinate helps for our right understanding and applying the Scriptures. We never formed the remotest thought of substituting them in the place of the Bible, or putting them on a level with it; but when they are evidently "founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God"—the manner in which all our subordinate standards are uniformly qualified—we reckon it our duty to adopt them and faithfully to adhere unto them. It is observable that almost all the public creeds, confessions, and explicit terms of communion, take it for granted that these confessions and the Word of God are at variance with each other. They suppose the one to require what the other forbids: and hence, they state the question, Whether we should obey God rather than men? But if God and men require, substantially, the same thing, where is the inconsistency of obeying both in their own place? A warm zeal for the Holy Scriptures and a strong attachment to sound creeds and terms of communion, are so far from implying any contradiction, that the one necessarily involves and loudly proclaims the other. He, who, in the time of danger, uses the best means in his power for the defence and protection of the injured, certainly proves the best friend. While many are perverting the Scripture to their own and others’ destruction, we should do the most we can to have them kept pure and entire. It will be said, "The native force of truth, and the power of God, who is the author of the Scriptures, will keep them pure, and make them successful, independent of our creeds and confessions." But God, in his infinite wisdom, hath been pleased to work by means adapted to the end, and to instruct us by men of like passions with ourselves. Besides, upon the principle of expressing terms of communion in the language of Scripture only, would it not follow that men were equally restricted to employ none other than the language of the Holy Spirit, in all their social acts of religion, such as offering their joint prayers to God, and administering the ordinances of the gospel? Nay, in the perusal of the Scriptures themselves, would we not be restricted to the necessity of resorting unto the original words of inspiration, without daring to use even the most just and correct translation? But it is obvious, and hath often been proved by facts, that the grand aim of this objection is, first to demolish the strong bulwarks of orthodox terms of communion distinctly ascertained; and then, by the bare sound of unexplained scriptural phrases, to establish the cause of error the more easily.
The propriety of explicit terms of admission to the privileges of the Christian Church will also appear, by turning our attention to the following, and such like very solemn and divinely inspired injunctions. I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment. Only let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel of Christ; that, whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel."[1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:27.]
From the express words of the Holy Spirit in these passages, it is abundantly plain that the union positively required consists not merely in worshipping together, within the same walls, or in sitting down together at the same holy table of the Lord. It evidently comprehends a union in sentiment, and in the open profession of the truth as it is in Jesus. They must "be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and must speak the same things;" but in every period of the church false doctrines have actually been propagated—misunderstandings and divisions have taken place. How error, which the adversaries of truth have taught and propagated, in their own language, and in their own way, can be either consistently or successfully refuted, and the opposite truths fairly stated, so as to form a proper contrast, unless we meet our opponents on their own ground, and also use human language in exhibiting a faithful testimony for the truth, it is not easy to see. If we should simply refer them to the Scriptures without any reasoning on the subject, they would reckon themselves secure in the possession of their erroneous opinions. Nor is it less difficult to discern how divisions can be properly prevented, or misunderstandings removed, without clearly stating and explaining our sentiments. We cannot otherwise consistently walk together as those who are agreed, "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." And firmly believing "That there is one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism."[Ephesians 4:3,5.]
It is purely in subserviency to this Scriptural union that we insist on having distinct terms of communion. Meanwhile, we do not, as some modern writers allege, "present to our minds a description of a society without any difference of judgment whatever in religion, and studying to believe whatever is the practice of their brethren, rather than what the Word of God enjoins concerning affection and Christian fellowship." We are sensible that while men are in this imperfect state, some diversity of opinion may still be expected to exist, even after all the means which can be used to prevent it. But this, instead of weakening, greatly strengthens our argument, while it evidently shows the propriety of employing, at least, all the means in our power, in order to prevent this diversity. As to "believing whatever is the practice of our brethren," we, indeed, wish to "contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." And to "be followers of them, who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises." It is not, however, the practice, either of our reforming forefathers of old, or of our brethren in our own times, that we make the formal reason of our belief. We consider the law of God as obliging both them and us "to think the same things, and to speak the same things; holding fast the form of sound words, and keeping the ordinances as they have been delivered to us." While we study, by all means possible, to have our own and our brethren’s faith and practice harmonizing together, we constantly contend that both theirs and ours must be in unison with the infallible standard of truth and duty.
We shall likely be told, "Though the Apostle, in the above and similar passages of Scripture, required Christians assiduously to press after the exalted attainment of unanimity in the faith, yet he never can be understood as suspending the enjoyment of church-fellowship among them, on such unanimity; for the elsewhere enjoineth upon them the duty of mutual forbearance in some matters of faith and practice, Wherein they might happen to disagree. Wherefore, the condition of fellowship seems rather to have been unanimity in fundamental articles only, and an agreement to forbear in less matters when the sentiment might be various." But it is evident that this objection proceeds upon a capital mistake, with regard to the proper objects of the Christian forbearance intended by the Apostle. These are not matters of faith and practice to be believed and observed, but such weaknesses and infirmities of temper as are inseparable from this imperfect state, together with the personal injuries which one Christian may receive from another; accordingly, applying the word to such objects, he thus exhorteth Christians—"Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any."[Colossians 3:13.] From the frequent occurrence of these objects in social life, the Christian will find ample scope for this forbearance. His charity as to these will bear all things, and cover a multitude, of sins, while his well-directed zeal will prompt him to contend earnestly for all the faith once delivered to the saints. The doctrine of modern forbearance among persons of opposite belief, inducing them to form a compromise in which they mutually agree to differ, and never more to mention discording tenets, leads, in its native tendency, to the suppression of truth, and the lasting concealment of so many articles of faith, as the jarring sentiments may happen to hinge upon. And what is the amount of this, but to banish for ever from the faith of the Church, a great number of precious truths contained in the Word of God, and designed by him for the spiritual comfort and edification of his people? And all this to obtain a Catholic union amongst professing Christians, at the expense of losing sacred truth. An agreement to divide, in matters of faith and practice, sounds ill with the injunction, "be perfectly joined together in the same mind."
The argument taken from the believing Jews being allowed communion in the Christian Church, while they still retained some of the old ceremonies, will not help the matter. These ceremonies were originally of divine institution, a circumstance which never can apply to any human invention; and, besides, there was a positive permission, under certain restrictions, granted by the Church’s Head to the believing Jews to observe, for a time, some of the ancient ceremonies respecting meats and drinks, till they should be better instructed on the subject of their total repeal, by the death of the glorious Surety, "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth; for God hath received him."[Romans 14:3.]
Our Lord’s doctrine in his Epistles to the Churches of Asia, evidently favours distinct and explicit terms of admission into the fellowship of the Christian Church, in all succeeding ages. As the true and faithful witness is himself the glorious author of these Epistles, no reason is left for disputing the truth or propriety of what they contain. And as they are all concluded with this solemn injunction, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches;" it is equally certain that what things they inculcate were written for our learning; and, in their true spirit and scope, are no less applicable now than they were then.
But the Church of Pergamos is sharply reproved for retaining in her communion those, "who held the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication." As also those "who held the hateful doctrine of the Nicolaitanes." The Church of Thyatira, in like manner, receives very severe reprehension from Him who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, "because she suffered that woman Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce his servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols." The meaning of which seems to be, that this Church did not properly call to account, and openly exclude from her communion, some person, or class of persons, within her jurisdiction, who, in respect of extensive influence, lascivious practice, and cunning craftiness, lying in wait to deceive, remarkably resembled Jezebel of old—whence the following things are abundantly obvious:—1st, That the public, and regularly installed office-bearers of the Church, though they have not, in themselves, originally any authoritative power, yet they have a ministerial power, derived from the Church’s glorious Head, in virtue of which it is their province, acting in his name, and according to the plain revelations of his will, to judge and determine concerning the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of his house. If they were not really clothed with such a power, they could never, consistently, be blamed for not exercising it. 2dly, That the Church’s testimony should be clearly stated, in defence of truth and holiness, and should also be faithfully pointed, not only against all error and immorality in general, but, in a special manner, against those errors and immoralities which more remarkably prevail where providence hath ordered her lot. The ensnaring doctrines of Balaam and of the Nicolaitanes were prevalent in Pergamos and Thyatira, and should therefore have met with the most pointed opposition from these churches; while the discipline of the Lord’s house should have been faithfully and impartially executed upon those who propagated them. 3dly, That every true church of Christ ought to exclude from her fellowship all who hold and propagate erroneous opinions, or are chargeable with immoral practices; the Spirit of God, speaking in the Scriptures, always being the supreme judge; while "The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts." 4thly, That the toleration of error and immorality, in whatever shape these may appear, is a thing expressly condemned in the Scriptures. The God of truth himself, by reason of his glorious perfection, neither can nor will do it. For any mortal, then, to take so much upon him, must certainly argue the highest presumption. Whether he be clothed with civil or with ecclesiastic authority, it must be extremely arrogant to assume a power of defending, supporting, or maintaining what the universal and unerring standard of right and wrong positively prohibits. The solemn charge against the ministry of the church in Thyatira, was, "Thou sufferest."
In the spirit of modern objections, we might expect to hear it said, "Why were not those persons who held the doctrines of Balaam, and of the Nicolaitanes, allowed to think for themselves in matters of religion? Might it not have been granted that their lips and their consciences were their own, and that no man was lord over them?" Nay, but who art thou, O man, that repliest against the plain dictates of the Holy Spirit, speaking in the Scriptures? Though no man or class of men be lord of another’s conscience, yet the God of truth, who hath favoured us with a very full and clear revelation of his will, is assuredly the Lord of all our consciences; and no man can ever consistently plead a right to think, speak, or act, differently from what he hath prescribed in his Word. And be it so, "that there is considerable difficulty in ascertaining the true meaning of Scripture, and that every one will be disposed to put his own gloss upon it, and so leave us as much in the dark as ever with respect to the path of duty." The only just inference we can draw from this is, that we have the greater need to double our diligence, and to call in the aid of expositions, confessions, explicit terms of communion, and every other rational mean which may be helpful to remove the difficulty, and for enabling us to understand one another. But if, from the doctrine that we cannot easily bring men to think and speak alike concerning the meaning of the all-perfect standard, this inference were to be drawn, "that nothing should be positively fixed, but every one left to believe, and to profess, as he may find cause," we then go upon the very absurd supposition, that there is unreality in things, independent of men’s opinion and fancy; nor any possibility of rightly understanding what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Which leads us, at once, into downright scepticism; a most dangerous extreme, to which many of the loose modern doctrines evidently tend. He must be very little acquainted with his Bible who doth not grant that its contents, in general, are incomparably more plain, and easy to be understood, than are the contents of the statute books in the kingdoms of this world. Yet every, the meanest and most illiterate subject in the kingdom, must regulate his conduct according to the laws of his country, or suffer for his transgression. The authority of Jehovah is, unquestionably, superior to that of any earthly prince; while those things which immediately concern our faith and practice, as Christians and members of the gospel-church, and with regard to which the solemn authority of God is interposed, are of infinitely more importance than our temporal affairs. And, seeing the Lord hath given us a very full and clear revelation of his will, with the fairest opportunities and best means of understanding it to plead a liberty, of turning it into a thousand shapes, and accommodating it to such faith and practice as every one may choose to prescribe for himself, is certainly expressive of very little regard to the King of saints.
To the above we shall only at present add the divinely authorized practice of the apostolic church; from which may be drawn an invincible argument to prove the propriety of explicit terms in admitting to Christian privileges in the house of God. When the church’s risen Lord, in virtue of having received all power in heaven and in earth, sent forth his disciples, in their public capacity, he authorized them to administer the seals of the new covenant, or testament, in his blood. He, at the same time, gave it in solemn charge, to accompany the administration of these seals with the instructing of the nations in the knowledge of divine truth. And it is observable, that they were not to content themselves with teaching them one, or a few leading truths, which might be called fundamental; but all the different articles of his revealed will in general, so far as they had opportunity, and circumstances might require.—"Teaching them," says he, "to observe ALL THINGS whatsoever I have commanded you."[Matthew 28:20.] To this rule, prescribed by their adored Master, the Apostles were ever careful to conform their public administrations.
On the memorable day of Pentecost, when their hearers "were pricked in their heart, and said unto them, What shall we do?" the term of admission to the privilege of baptism was, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost." As much as to say, in faith’s dependence upon Him who is exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins, and, with holy contrition of soul, renounce your former errors, and abominable practices. Change your former sentiments and conduct. Receive Christ, as made of God unto you wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Embrace the Christian religion in all its peculiar doctrines. On this footing you shall receive the privileges of the church. Accordingly, it is added, "They that gladly received His word were baptized." From the preceding part of the chapter we learn that this word, which they received, was a plain sermon concerning Christ in his mediatorial capacity and work; clearly exhibiting him as the once crucified, but now exalted Lord of his church—the Saviour, who was delivered for our offences; and raised again for our justification.[See Acts 2.]
After the Ethiopian eunuch had heard an important and very instructive passage of the Old Testament, concerning the true Messias, properly explained to him, and had given suitable attention to a precious gospel-sermon, delivered from it, he expressed his wish to receive the ordinance of baptism. The reply was, "If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest." The eunuch answered, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." After this profession, "They went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him."[Acts 8:37,38.] Cornelius and his company solemnly and openly professed, "Now we are all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God." In this day of thee Redeemer’s power, they were a willing people; professing themselves ready to receive, and obey every law of the God of heaven so soon as it was made known to them by the mouth of his servant. "The Holy Ghost fell on all them who heard the Word;" namely, the affecting sermon, concerning Christ and him crucified. "Then answered Peter, can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized?—And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord."[Acts 10.] Still, we see, the greatest care is taken to have the subjects of the ordinance properly instructed in the mysteries of the Christian religion; and to obtain from them an open profession of their faith in Christ, and of their ready subjection to the laws of his kingdom.
With regard to the ordinance of the Lord’s supper, the Apostles, in their terms of admission, were no less pointed and explicit. "Continuing steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine," was, by them, inseparably connected with church "fellowship in breaking of bread;" i.e., as the best expositors ordinarily understand the passage, in partaking of the Lord’s supper.[Acts 2:42.] They were ever anxious that this holy ordinance should be guarded against abuses, occasioned by divisions, heresies, or gross profanity. They admitted none to their Redeemer’s love-feast but such as professed their ready subjection to the comely order of his house; and were careful to examine themselves, before they should eat of that bread and drink of that cup. They were abundantly sensible, that he who eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. But none can truly be said to discern the Lord’s body unless they properly understand, as well as seriously believe, the gospel-scheme of salvation, through the complete satisfaction of Christ, in his people’s room.
Fully consistent with this is the Apostle’s holy zeal, that none should be introduced into the church, nor suffered to embody with her, who are erroneous in their opinions, and wish to mix their own inventions with the institutions of Christ. Speaking of such "false brethren, unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out their liberty, which they had in Christ Jesus, that they might bring them into bondage," says he, "to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you."[Galatians 2:4,5.] It cannot, therefore, we presume, be refused that soundness in the faith, then delivered to the saints; professed submission to the divinely appointed ordinances of the Gospel; approbation of that church-order which Christ himself instituted, and authorized his ministers to observe; together with holiness of conversation, were positive terms of communion in the primitive Christian, church.
We shall be told, "the principal term was, believing in Christ, which is certainly much more simple than the very complex, and intricate terms of later times." But however specious this objection may, at first sight, appear, if closely examined it will be found to be the fruit of inattention. While we speak of believing in Christ, the glorious object of faith must be considered in the same light, in which the Sacred Scriptures reveal him; and not as every individual may think proper to paint him in his own imagination. Who, then, is the Scripture-Christ, in whom we are to profess our faith; in order to our being admitted into the fellowship of his church? He is in his Father’s equal: "I and my Father are one."—The eternal Son of God: "God sent forth his Son"—Immanuel, i.e., having the two distinct natures of God and man, closely united in his own divine person: "Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all God blessed for ever"—set up from everlasting; and, voluntarily, undertaking the great work of redemption, as the covenant-Head and surety of his people: "According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world. Jesus was made a surety of a better testament. Lo, I come." Destined, in the eternal purposes of heaven to undergo all those sufferings which he actually underwent, and in the very same manner, too: "For of a truth, against thy holy child, Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done."—Actually manifested in the flesh, at the time appointed; made under the law, and suffering, substantially, the same punishment which his people’s sin deserved, though himself without sin in order that he might redeem them from the curse. "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed."—The author and finisher of that law-magnifying righteousness, which is imputed to the believer, for his justification: "By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous;" in a word, the Prophet, Priest, and King of his church: "A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you. Thou art a Priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec. Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion. He is given to be Head over all things to the church, which is his body." Strip the glorious object of our faith of any one of the above precious characters, and you present unto us another Christ than the Scriptures reveal; and, therefore, one with whom Christians have nothing to do. Suppose, then, any should come unto us, denying the proper divinity of Christ, his eternal sonship; incarnation; substitution in the room of his people, or any other of his peculiar properties; we could not, consistently, receive them. Even the Apostolic term of admission, "If thou believest with all thine heart," when taken in the true spirit and scope of it, would oblige us to insert, in our terms of communion, the precious articles opposed; or to exhibit, and require assent, unto some plain summary of divine truth; evidently comprehending these, and whatever other things may, in a special manner, be called "the word of Christ’s patience."
Considering, then, their consistency with the great and general principle, on which all societies in the world find it necessary to act; the express injunctions of the Holy Spirit, concerning unity of sentiment and profession; the doctrine of our Saviour, in his Epistles to the Asiatic churches; and the divinely authorized practice of the Apostolic church; we cannot well refuse the propriety of having explicit terms of admission to the privileges of the Gospel-church, in the times wherein we live. Having said thus much, with respect to the terms of communion in general, it will now be necessary to turn our attention unto our own terms, in particular, and to offer a few remarks upon them as they lie in order.
TERMS OF MINISTERIAL AND CHRISTIAN COMMUNION AGREED
UPON BY THE REFORMED PRESBYTERY:
I. The acknowledgment of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, to be the Word of God, and the alone infallible rule of faith and practice.
II. The acknowledgment of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, to be founded upon, and agreeable to the Word of God.
III. The owning of divine right, and original of Presbyterian church-government.
IV. The acknowledgment of the perpetual obligation of our Covenants, National, and Solemn League. And, in consistency with this, acknowledging the Renovation of these Covenants, at Auchensaugh, 1712, to be agreeable unto the Word of God.
V. The owning of all the Scriptural Testimonies, and earnest contendings of Christ’s faithful witnesses; whether martyrs, under the late persecution, or such as have succeeded them, in maintaining the same cause; and especially of the Judicial Act, Declaration and Testimony, emitted by the Reformed Presbytery.
VI. Practically adorning the doctrine of God, our Saviour, by walking in all his commandments and ordinances blamelessly.
ON ARTICLE I.
THE first of these Terms respects the Scriptures of truth, as the alone infallible rule of faith and practice. Considering that live in a land of Gospel-light, and are addressing ourselves to Christians, it is hoped that our readers, in general, admit the propriety of this article. And never, surely, could it be more seasonable than in this "day of trouble, rebuke, and blasphemy;" when Deistical opinions are making very alarming progress amongst mankind. Besides, it must ever be remembered, that the sacred institutions of the gospel-church are to be found no where else but in the Holy Scriptures; hence a proper knowledge and belief of these becomes indispensably necessary, in maintaining church communion.
Believing the whole Bible to be given by inspiration of God, we take both the Old and New Testament into the account, as the great standard of human conduct in all periods of the church, and with regard to all duties, in every station and relation of life. We are sensible that the Jewish ritual is now abolished. It comprehended, in general, a system of bodily services, expressly denominated CARNAL ORDINANCES, PATTERNS OF THINGS IN THE HEAVENS, AND SHADOWS OF GOOD THINGS TO COME: while the substance, or body, is declared to be of Christ. Accordingly, these patterns, or types, must all be considered as finding their corresponding anti-type in the Messiah’s gospel-kingdom. Expecting, then, whatever can be properly reduced to this description, and can be plainly shown to have been abolished by the coming of Christ, the rest must be viewed as of standing force to the end of the world. Whatever necessarily respects the gracious dispositions of the mind, and the inward exercises of the soul, or the moral conduct of men towards God, or towards one another, whether in civil or in ecclesiastic society, that must still, in the true scope and spirit of it, be understood as meant "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." Nay, even from the ancient carnal ordinances, we may still draw many precious and instructive inferences, though these ordinances themselves are no longer to be observed. And we may also add, that it must remain still to be the indispensable duty of all Christians, diligently to search into the meaning of these ordinances; inasmuch as a competent knowledge of them is absolutely necessary to our right understanding of the great truths, concerning the Messias, in the New Testament; many of which are delivered to us in typical language. While, therefore, the gospel church standeth upon the foundation of Apostles and gospel prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone,[Ephesians 2:20.] she never can be supposed to let drop one of her terms of communion, a tenacious adherence to the Old Testament, as a part of the rule of her faith and practice, or to treat it like a thing of inferior importance, as the manner of some is.
Convinced of the self-evidencing power, intrinsic worth, and divine excellencies of the Holy Scriptures, we ever wish them to be considered as a complete and sufficient rule in themselves, independent of oral law, tradition of the fathers, or any human invention whatever; and in opposition to the absurd notion, "That the true sense depends upon the church." At the same time, in our practical application of the inspired Oracles, we consider them to be the rule, as consistently understood, and properly applied. For, though they be an absolutely perfect and sufficient rule in themselves, yet it is possible to mistake their true meaning; but thus we endeavour to guard against the conduct of those who, while they pretend to believe in the divine authority of the Scriptures, do, meanwhile, evidently wrest them, imposing glosses which make one part of the Sacred Volume to contradict another, and which lead us away from the true scope and design of the whole.
ON ARTICLE II.
THE second Article of our Terms requires an owning of the doctrines contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. On this, also, we shall endeavour to give unto those who ask us a reason of the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear.
It is only after mature deliberation, carefully comparing them with the Word of God, and receiving full conviction in our own minds of their being wholly founded upon it, that we consider the Confession and Catechisms, or any other human composure whatever, as properly entitled to our belief, and deserving to be ranked amongst the subordinate standards of our church. But, after being convinced of their agreeableness to the infallible rule, we cheerfully receive them.
It is not with the remotest intention of supplying a defect in the Oracles of truth, which we ever consider as a complete rule in themselves; nor is it at all in the view of putting either the Confession, or any other book in the world, on a level with the Bible, that we adopt these explanatory standards; but purely to ascertain the true meaning of Scripture, help us to understand one another in our church-fellowship, and, through these mediums, to transmit a faithful testimony for truth, from generation to generation. Abundantly satisfied that they are remarkably useful for such purposes, we bless the Lord that ever we have had opportunity to adopt them.
The Confession and Catechisms, especially considering the distant period at which they were compiled, are, perhaps, the best guarded and the most accurately expressed composition to be found in our language; yet we do not view our general and sincere approbation of even the whole doctrines contained in them as necessarily involving the idea that every word is the best chosen, or every expression so properly guarded as it might have been, had the authors known what objections were to be raised against them. But we do not wish to make these eminent men of God offenders for a word, or single incautious expression, when we have the fullest and plainest evidence for their real intention and leading design.
If any detached expressions in these standards should, at first sight, seem to be at variance with the doctrines taught in other parts of the same book, or with the plain and openly avowed sentiments, as well as the uniform practice of the compilers, on all other occasions, we consider the law of Christian charity as strongly binding us to explain the dubious-like expressions, by the plain and uniform doctrines of the same men, rather than to force our own meaning on the particular expressions, at the expense of making them contradict the clear and obvious doctrines, more fully illustrated in other parts of these authors’ writings. Unless we go to work in this manner, no human composure of any considerable extent could ever pass without severe censure. Denied the benefit of this rule, many of the modern publications in favour of Christian forbearance might, and with far less straining too, than what is often employed in torturing our Confession, be pressed into the service of absolute scepticism and confusion. Yea, by taking hold of detached expressions, and refusing or neglecting to compare one place with another, the Holy Bible itself might soon be compelled to blaspheme, as hath frequently, indeed, been the case, while it has been in the hands of infidels and gross heretics.
To these standards themselves, and to our terms of communion requiring an approbation of them, it has been objected, "That they contain a discussion of the ordinance of civil government, and require Christians to take an active part in both the erection and management of it; whereas, civil government being an ordinance of man, and versant about the affairs of this life, properly belongs to the men of the world. Christians, therefore, being called out of the world, and sustaining the character of strangers and pilgrims, should mind objects of a spiritual nature, and never interfere with an institution of this kind." To this we answer, it is, indeed, a glorious truth that the Christian is, by the grace of God, called out of the world lying in sin, and is instructed to attend to matters of far superior importance than things terrene. But it is equally certain, that the new situation in which religion places him, neither deprives him of any rights, nor forbids the discharge of any duties which belong to him, as a man. It only qualifies him the better for the right management of these. In one sense, he is still a man of the world, being necessarily conversant about the affairs of this life, while obliged to form plans and labour for his temporal support. Connected in this manner with the world, and united with fellow-men, he is, of course, induced to consult for the security of his person and property, which necessarily leads him to adopt the order of civil government; and when, like a Christian, he opens his Bible, to see what instructions on a subject of this kind he may derive from it; he there finds the sacred plan clearly laid before him, the ordinance of civil government delineated, in its divine original and ends; accomplishing, at once, the great purposes of security to person and property, the cultivation of morals, and the advancement of piety, together with the sovereign command of its divine Author to act accordingly, "Thou shalt provide, out of all the people, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them. If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church."[Exodus 18:21; 1 Corinthians 6:4.] Is it not to Christians that these and similar passages of Scripture are addressed? And doth not the addressing of them thus, on the great subject of civil government show the very intimate connexion which they have with it in all its concerns? But if so be the case, it can never be placed to the score of error, for these Confessions to attribute unto a Christian people the right and duty of interfering with the ordinance of civil government; nor can their doing so be reckoned inconsistent with the character of "strangers and pilgrims on the earth."
It hath also objected, "That these standards do not preserve the necessary distinction between church and state; and, consequently, grant to the civil magistrate by far too much power in ecclesiastical matters. This mistake," it is supposed, "hath arisen from not sufficiently attending to the difference between the Old and New Testament dispensations." But it should be remembered that a sinful and improper connexion between church and state could never be sanctioned by the God of infinite perfection, neither under one dispensation nor another. It will be no salvo to tell us, "That the carnal ordinances of the ceremonial law were once authorized by God himself, and yet it would be highly improper to observe them now." These, as we have already said, were shadows of good things to come; and, therefore, whenever the substance was enjoyed, could be no longer needed. But they were all innocent. None of them, surely, were "Antichristian, sinful, and absurd in their nature," as the connexion in question is often pronounced to be.
That the church is a free and distinct religious society, independent of any civil magistrate on earth; receiving all her laws from Christ alone; required to convene, adjourn and dissolve all her assemblies, from the highest to the lowest, in no other name than his; and taught to transact all her affairs, in virtue of that authority, which is derived from Him, as her alone Head and Lord, we firmly believe. It is also our fixed persuasion that no magistrate upon earth hath any judging, prescribing, dispensing or controlling power, either in or over the church of Christ, strictly considered in her ecclesiastic capacity. Nor have we yet seen any inconsistency between this, and, at the same time, teaching, as we ordinarily do, that, amongst a people favoured with the Word of God, bearing the Christian name, and having reached high attainments in state reformation, it is requisite for the magistrate openly to profess and practice the true religion exclusively; not, indeed, as a thing to be judged by him according to his own fancy, but as already clearly judged and prescribed for him and his subjects both, by the unerring standard of that Lawgiver, who is the sovereign Lord of both his and their conscience. If the negligence of others, and concurring circumstances require, we reckon it also the part of the magistrate, possessing a holy zeal for the declarative glory of God, to excite the ministers of religion to do their duty, by meeting together in their assemblies, and diligently transacting the affairs of the church, according to their Lord’s prescriptions. But the magistrate must not, upon any consideration whatever, interfere with their work when met, any other way than by protecting, defending and encouraging them in carrying it forward; and being himself present, if he please, to satisfy his own mind that they are acting according to the law of God. But judicially to pronounce any sentence, or, authoritatively to call, adjourn, or dissolve them, in his own name, he hath no power in any case whatsoever. We consider it also to be the magistrate’s province, formally and openly to declare his approbation of the church’s righteous decisions, and his resolution to employ the authority and influence attaching unto his exalted station, for carrying these into effect. We are likewise of opinion that the magistrate may warrantably punish gross outward acts of vice and immorality, in general, whether they be transgressions of the first or of the second table of the moral law. Still, however, we apprehend that all this may be said and done without any improper blending of civil and religious things.
It is observable, that even under the Old Testament, which, in these matters at least, is now considered by many as entirely out of the question, the church and state were, by divine appointment, perfectly distinct. They had distinct judicatories, civil and an ecclesiastic Sanhedrim. Their respective office bearers were easily known and distinguished; judges and officers in the state, priests and Levites in the church. The causes tabled before their respective courts, and submitted to their decisions, were different; civil matters in the one, and religious in the other. The pains and censures which they severally inflicted were also dissimilar; corporal punishments in the state, suspension from privileges and excommunication in the church. The rulers in the one were positively prohibited then, as well as now, from interfering with the work belonging to the rulers in the other. Hence that very explicit doctrine, "Behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all the matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king’s matters." And that severe reprimand, addressed to even a righteous king of Judah, "It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests, the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense."[2 Chronicles 19:11, and 26:18.] Even under this dispensation, we see civil and religious things must be kept quite distinct. It is, indeed, expected that the office-bearers in both departments shall profess the true religion, act in the fear of the Lord, and co-operate in the prosecution of the same great and general object, the glorifying of God upon earth. But they must do it by acting, each in his own proper sphere, taking good heed that the one never intermeddle with that which properly belongs to the province of the other.
Our reforming forefathers, in Scotland especially, clearly perceived this distinction, and were very careful to have it observed, even in what is ordinarily called the first period of the reformation. Let them speak for themselves. "The power and policy ecclesiastical," say they, "is different and distinct in its own nature from that power and policy which is called civil power: albeit they be both of God, and tend to one end if they be rightly used, viz. to advance the glory of God, and to have godly and good subjects. The civil power is called the power of the sword, and the other the power of the keys. The magistrate commandeth external things, for external peace and quietness amongst the subjects; the minister handleth external things only for conscience’ cause. The magistrate handleth external things only, and actions done before men; but the spiritual ruler judgeth inward affections and external actions, in respect of conscience, by the Word of God. The civil magistrate craves and gets obedience by the sword, and other external means; but the ministry by the spiritual sword and spiritual means. The magistrate neither ought to preach, minister the sacraments, nor execute the censures of the kirk, nor yet prescribe any rule how it should be done; but command the ministers to observe the rule commanded in the Word, and punish the transgressors by civil means. The ministers exercise not the civil jurisdiction, but teach the magistrate how it should be exercised according to the Word. The magistrate ought to assist, maintain, and fortify the jurisdiction of the kirk. The ministers should assist their princes in all things agreeable to the Word, provided they neglect not their own charge by involving themselves in civil affairs."[2d Book of Disc. chap. l. Agreed upon in Gen. Ass. 1578, and inserted in the Regis. of Ass. 1581.] And again: the Commissioners of the kirk, addressing themselves to the king, very plainly tell him, "Although the persons of men are subject to your majesty and the civil judges when they offend against your laws, yet, in matters merely ecclesiastical, and concerning conscience, no Christian prince can justly claim, or ever claimed such a power to judge; seeing the prince in this behalf is but a member of the kirk, and Christ only the Head, who only hath power to give laws in matters of conscience. To confound the jurisdictions, civil and ecclesiastical, is that thing wherein all men of good judgment have justly found fault with the Pope of Rome, who claimeth to himself the power of both the swords." Concerning the king’s act, annulling the excommunication of a Mr. Robert Montgomery, they observe, "To pronounce the sentence of excommunication against impenitent sinners, or absolve them from the same, or to decern the same, effectual or not effectual, can no more pertain to the prince or any civil magistrate, than to preach the Word and minister the sacraments; for they are both in like manner committed by Christ our Master to the true office-bearers within his kirk, when, as he said, ‘TELL IT TO THE CHURCH,’ &c."[Animadversions presented by the Commissioners of the Kirk to the King at his Parl. in Linlithgow, Dec., 1585. Cald. Hist. p. 188,192.]
The famous Mr. James Melville, in his reasons for not subscribing an Erastian writ, issued by the king and parliament, anno 1584, and required to be subscribed by the ministry, hath these remarkable words, when expostulating with those who had subscribed:—"Ye have taken away the lawful power, by your subscriptions, of pastors, doctors, and elders of the kirk, which they have to convene in the name and authority of Christ, the only sovereign Ruler and Commander of his kirk, for discharging of their duties and callings, which he hath laid on them, to be used for his service, and salvation of the souls of his people. And truly, as well might they have discharged the conventions, for hearing the Word and ministration of the sacraments, as for the exercise of discipline and government of the kirk; seeing the one is no less laid upon the back of the officers of Christ’s kingdom, as a special part of their duty and charge, than the other; and they have the command and power to use the one no less than the other, without waiting for any authority or command of men. As freely as the king hath his power and authority of God the Creator to discharge his office in things civil and temporal; as freely have pastors, doctors, elders, and deacons in the kirk power and authority from Christ their Mediator to do their office, in things heavenly and spiritual:"—Doctrine marking a very clear distinction between church and state.
His brother, Mr. Andrew Melville, in like manner, addressing himself to the king, in a private conference between him and some ministers, makes bold to tell his prince, "Sir, there are two kings and two kingdoms. There is Christ and his kingdom the kirk, whose subject King James the sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a head, nor a lord, but a member; and they whom Christ hath called, and commanded to watch over his kirk, and govern his spiritual kingdom, have sufficient authority and power from him so to do, which no Christian king nor prince should control nor discharge, but fortify and assist."[Cald. Hist. p. 167-8. and 329.] The two first of these extracts speak the sentiments of the ancient church of Scotland, collectively considered, in her public representatives; and the two last, the sentiments of two valiant witnesses for the royal prerogatives of Christ, individually considered, but who, at the same time, spoke the language of many others, whose testimony could be produced were it necessary.
If we descend to the ever-memorable second period of the reformation, when our subordinate standards were composed, we will find the distinction between church and state very clearly taught and sanctioned by the highest authorities, in both the civil and religious departments, the Parliament of Scotland, Feb. 7, 1649, "Enact and ordain, that before the king who now is be admitted to the exercise of his royal power, he shall, among other things, consent and agree, that all matters civil be determined by the Parliaments of this kingdom, and all ecclesiastic matters by the General Assembly of this Kirk." And it is well known, that when the king’s commissioner presumed to exercise an Erastian power over the church, by taking upon him, in his majesty’s name and authority, to dissolve that famous assembly of the church of Scotland which sat at Glasgow in the year 1638, they solemnly protested against that glaring encroachment on the royal prerogatives of Christ, the alone King of Zion; boldly asserted the church’s liberties, as a distinct, free, and independent, spiritual kingdom; and went forward with their work in the face of the royal proclamation, and many other dining threatenings, issued out against them. In the Hundred and Eleven Propositions, drawn up by order of the General Assembly, 1645, our reformers declare, "The civil power and the ecclesiastic ought not, by any means to be confounded or mixed together." Accordingly, they go on, with much judgment and accuracy, to draw the line of distinction between the two, in a considerable number of particulars.
Add to these the express doctrine of the standards themselves, "The Lord Jesus as King and Head of his church, hath therein appointed a government, in the hand of church officers, distinct from the civil magistrate."[Westminster Confession of Faith. chap. 30.] Agreeably to this, the London ministers assert, "As the church and state are distinct polities, so have they subjects, laws, and officers, distinct always in the formal conception, though materially in divers things they may agree. A preacher and a judge are two distinct callings."[Divine Right of Gosp. Minis. p.66.] In like manner the Scots Commissioners, when they were sent to treat with the king, amidst the public disturbances in 1639, and were asked, what they particularly wanted, requested, amongst other things, "That all matters ecclesiastical might be determined by the assemblies of the church, and matters civil by parliament."[Steven. Hist. vol.2, p.741.]
Should any still venture to affirm, "that our worthy reformers had no just ideas of the distinction between church and state, but inconsiderately blended these together; they must do it at the expense of manifesting their ignorance, or deep-rooted prejudice, or both. To teach that magistrates and ministers should both be qualified according to the Word of God, professing the true religion, and using their best endeavours, in their respective stations, to promote the declarative glory of God amongst men, is one thing; and to teach that the one of these powers may warrantably interfere with the business of the other, is quite another thing. The former was done by our forefathers; but to the latter they would never subscribe, reckoning it rather their duty to resist unto blood, striving against sin.
Nor is it inconsistent with this for them to say, "That the magistrate hath authority, and it is his duty to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire," and so on: and to grant, "That he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God."[Westminster Confession of Faith. chap. 23, sect. 3.] Let the whole paragraph be taken in connexion. It begins with positively refusing to the magistrate any right to "assume to himself administration of word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven." i.e., He must by no means interfere with either the doctrine and worship, or the discipline and government of Christ’s house.
Consequently, they never dreamed of allowing him to sit as judge upon any of these. No; he is only to take particular notice, that those things which are already judged and determined by the law of the God of heaven, and, in conformity to that law agreed upon by the church’s representatives, be all faithfully observed in their proper place. Let the passages of Scripture cited in proof be carefully attended to, and they make the meaning clear as noon-day. In these passages, those that were over the king’s matters are expected to keep in their own sphere; while those priests and Levites who were over the matters of the Lord are required to observe the province which the God of the church had appointed for them. Good Jehoshaphat, on this memorable occasion, assumes no judging or legislative power, at least in church matters; but merely prompts and excites the whole office-bearers, in both departments, conscientiously to discharge the important duties of their respective stations, according to the rules already prescribed by God himself. In this sense, surely, a Christian magistrate may safely "take order, that whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven."
Suppose, that an honourable master, having a great number of servants, in different capacities, under his authority, were to appoint for some of them a certain piece of important work, and pointedly to prescribe the whole plan to be scrupulously observed in carrying it forward, but, at the same time, were to require another servant to take notice that they faithfully observed their lord’s prescriptions, we would not, certainly, from that, conclude that the person taking such oversight, for the time, was the proper judge how the work was to be done, or the author of the regulations to be observed by the performers of it. The application to the case before us is abundantly obvious. As to the magistrate’s power of calling synods, and being present at them, our reformers explain themselves in the 51st of the above mentioned propositions. "The magistrate," say they, "calleth together synods, not as touching those things which are proper to synods, but in respect of the things which are common to synods, with other meetings, and civil public assemblies; i.e., not as they are assemblies, in the name of Christ, to treat of matters spiritual, but as they are public assemblies within his territories."
But even supposing it should be rather a stretch for our Assembly to signify, as they do in their act at Edinburgh, Aug. 27, 1647, "That the necessity of occasional assemblies should first be remonstrate to the magistrate, by humble supplication, before the church use her intrinsic power in calling them." Yet why torture a single unguarded expression? seeing, in the very same sentence, they plainly teach. "That it is free for the church to assemble together synodically, as well PRO RE NATA, as at the ordinary times, by the intrinsical power received from Christ, as long as it is necessary for the good of the church so to assemble." Besides, it was evidently their intention by this act, to preserve, on their part, the amicable correspondence, which should ever exist between church and state; and, at the same time, to prevent the odium which might otherwise attach to their meetings in these troublesome times, as though they were designed to promote some seditious plans, which they wished to conceal from the present government.
The subordinate standards, of which we speak, especially our solemn Covenants, are also charged with favouring compulsory measures, even in matters purely religious. And hence it is supposed, that our reformers did not properly understand the rights of private judgment, nor the proper spirit of our Saviour’s doctrine, "That his kingdom is not of this world." Neither this, nor the above mentioned, are new objections. All of them, and many others besides, were urged, if not with greater, at least, with as much plausibility as they are now, more than a hundred years ago. They were also very ably answered by the reformers themselves, though many of the publications on that subject are now to be obtained with difficulty, and some of them not at all.
It is given as the character of the upright man, that he will not be readily disposed even to take up a reproach against his neighbour.[Psalm, 15:3.] But it is matter of regret, in our time, that many will swallow with greediness bold and totally unfounded assertions, in opposition to the covenants and work of reformation; while they will scarcely grant a hearing to strong and incontestible proof in their favour. If one, speaking at random, should tell them, "Our reformers were for propagating their religion by fire and sword. They went about, with the covenants in the one hand and the sword in the other, giving men their choice;" at once the malicious tale is believed; opinions and principles are formed upon it; though, all the while, a grosser calumny never existed. Our reformers, in the possession of their religious, as well as civil liberties, taught the propriety of DEFENDING themselves by arms, when they were wickedly attacked, and attempts made to rob them of their valuable rights; but to the doctrine of actively propagating religion by the sword they were totally strangers. Let not our law condemn any man before it hear him, lest the Heathen themselves rise against us, in the judgment.
With regard to the National Covenant of Scotland, respectable men, of indefatigable industry and unwearied research have solemnly declared, that, after a laborious investigation, they could find no proper evidence that any force was ever used in Scotland to make any take the Covenant, except in 1639, by Montrose and Monro, two military men, without any warrant from church or state.[Brown’s Lett. on Toleration, p. 151.] These two officers, whose zeal in this affair was not according to knowledge, and who acted beyond their commission, afterwards appeared in their true colours, as dangerous enemies to the work of reformation. But the unwarranted act of an individual or two can never be justly charged upon the great body, openly and honestly disavowing all such conduct.
Messrs. Henderson, Dickson, and Cant, these eminent servants of Christ, distinguished in 1638 by their public spirit, in valiantly promoting the covenanted interest, make free to assert, "No pastors in our knowledge have been either forced to flee, or have been threatened with the want of their stipends, for refusing their subscription. Arguments have been taken from promised augmentation of stipends to hinder subscription. Fear of worldly loss rather hinders men to subscribe, than scruples of conscience. In this day of the Lord’s power, his people have most willingly offered themselves in multitudes like the dew of the morning. Others, of no small note, have offered their subscriptions, and have been refused till time should try their sincerity from love to the cause, and not from the fear of man. No threatenings have been used, except of the deserved judgments of God, nor force, except the force of reason, from the high respects which we owe to religion, to our king, to ourselves, and to our posterity."[Ans. to Doctors of Aberdeen, p. 42, 44.] Speaking of the remarkable cheerfulness with which the covenant was almost universally subscribed, in 1638, says a pious writer on the subject, "They resolved upon renewing the National Covenant, which had been almost buried for forty years before. Being read in churches, it was heartily embraced, sworn, and subscribed by all ranks, with many tears and great joy; so that the whole land, great and small, a very few excepted, without any COMPULSION FROM CHURCH OR, STATE, did, in a few months, cheerfully return to their ancient principles, and subject themselves to the oath of God for reformation."[Willison’s Testimony, p. 7.] On this memorable occasion, we see, compulsory measures were neither needed nor employed.
After the treaty at Birks, in 1639, when "the king complained that the Scots still kept up unlawful meetings, who pressed the subjects daily to adhere to the covenant. Lord Loudon answered, that no meetings were kept up by them but such as were agreeable to the acts of parliament; and although they behoved to adhere to their covenant, as most necessary and lawful, yet they averred, that none had, to their knowledge, been urged to subscribe it."[Steven. Hist. vol. 3, p. 761.] As the king, at this time, strongly urged the abjuring of the covenant, our worthy reformers, considering its obligation as indissolvable, judged it seasonable, when necessity pointed out the duty of trying who were friends or foes, to offer the covenant for subscription to such of the lords of session as had not already subscribed it. The result was, that the most of them refused it. Yet, even these historians who are well known to disapprove of the covenant, cannot so much as pretend that ever the least violence was offered to the recusants; "yea," adds our author, "this had been a practical contradiction to what the covenanters had all along declared."[Steven. Hist. vol. 2, p. 709.] Are these the men who wished to propagate the religion of Jesus by the sword of steel?
In the progress of the reformation, our noble ancestors still declare themselves the friends of that properly bounded liberty, wherewith Christ hath made his people free. The express words of the standards themselves are, "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to the Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship."[Westminster Confession of Faith. chap. 20, sect. 2.] They evidently consider God alone as the sovereign Lord of the conscience; and, at the same time, the conscience of every man as subject to his righteous law. Accordingly, whenever the public regulations of either church or state are actually brought to this unerring rule, fully demonstrated to be agreeable unto it, and not only so, but also solemnly ratified by the mutual consent of the representatives in either department, then all become obliged to conform: not in virtue of some men’s claim to exercise lordship over the conscience of others, but in virtue of the divine authority, speaking through the medium of scriptural regulations; in virtue of that mutual consent, by which these regulations were adopted; and in virtue of that responsibility, not only to God but also to one another, which is inseparable from the very existence of all society, whether civil or ecclesiastic. After this, for individuals or malignant factions, under the pretence of conscience and the right of private judgment, to rise up in open rebellion against the established authorities, is evidently to fight, not only against men, hut against God himself.
This was exactly the case in those troublesome times, when the Confession and covenants were composed. And it is to men of this description that our worthy reformers refer, when, in the 4th sect. of this same chap. they say, "Because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretence of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God." Such are the persons who, they say, "may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the church, and by the power of the civil magistrate." It is in this sense, likewise, that our Testimony is to be understood, when it approves of proceeding against some atrocious offenders, not only by church censures, but also by the power of the magistrate. That both the civil and the ecclesiastical authority of that time agreed to have the covenants enforced by civil, as well as ecclesiastical pains, is not refused. But let the case be truly stated, and it is hoped that the seeming inconsistency of this will soon vanish.
The public calamity under which the nation then groaned was twofold; strong opposition to the true reformed religion, as openly professed in the church, and malignant plotting against the fundamental laws and liberties of the state. Both these evils were combined in the malicious conduct of many restless and formidable factions in the land. The enemies, with whom the covenanters had to do were not simply chargeable with heretical opinions, peaceably retained with themselves, but with heretical opinions, manifested, supported, and propagated, in a seditious and treasonable manner. This is attested by the preamble to the Solemn League and Covenant itself, the well authenticated histories of that period, and other unexceptionable vouchers.—"The miseries of Ireland," says Mr. Henderson, who was personally concerned in framing the League, "and the distresses of England, and the dangers of the kingdom of Scotland growing to greater extremity, the convention of estates, upon their meeting, received information of divers treacherous attempts of Papists in all the three kingdoms."[Coll. of Serm. Speeches,& c. p. 104. Edit. Glas. 1741.] The Westminster Assembly, in their exhortation to the taking of the covenant, expect many cheerfully "To join in this happy Bond, for putting an end to the present miseries, and for saving both the king and kingdom from utter ruin, now so strongly and openly laboured by the Popish faction, and such as have been bewitched and besotted by that viperous and bloody generation."[Id. p.374.] Speaking contenting false kinds of peace, Mr. Tesdale, a member of the Assembly, observes, "You may soon discover here the peace of our adversaries, the agreement of Atheists and Papists, Priests and Prelates, Irish rebels and English traitors to ruin church and commonwealth."[Serm. bef. Parl. Aug. 28. 1644. p. 6.]
We see, then, that the persons of whom the malignant factions were composed sustained a double character; they were, at once, obstinate gainsayers of the truth as it is in Jesus, and seditious enemies to the state. The remedy behoved to be suited unto the disease. Accordingly, we find, that the Solemn League, though loosely taken, it may be considered as a religious covenant, yet, when strictly viewed, is evidently a complex oath, containing, not only a religious vow, to be for God and not for another; but also an oath of allegiance to the civil government, in the defence of the nation’s precious liberties. No wonder, then, that the censures be also twofold, civil, and ecclesiastical pains. But were they administered indiscriminately, and out of their proper place? By no means. Considered simply as obstinate enemies to the religion of Jesus, or as scandalous in their practice, the offenders were brought before the church, and proceeded against by her censures, sometimes even to excommunication. But proving, as many of them did, still irreclaimable, and persisting in their seditious and treasonable measures, they were also considered as rebels in the state; ,and were then, and not sooner, delivered over to the civil power, to be punished accordingly. Is it not still the custom, and reckoned a warrantable custom too, to punish seditious and treasonable persons with civil pains?
It will, no doubt, be objected, "Why did our reformers give their covenant this form; could they not have framed two distinct covenants, or oaths, the one civil, and the other religious?" To this we reply, that, from the calamitous circumstances of the time, they could scarcely be considered as having proper room left for a choice in that respect. The complex evil, and the double character, were already before them; and, therefore, they framed their covenant so as to meet the double danger. They might, indeed, have split it into two, and sworn the one on the one day, and the other on the other. But where would have been the substantial difference? If things are kept distinct in themselves, and each observed in its own place, though they should be done by the same men, and on the same general occasion, the harm cannot be very great. Doth not the Christian, acting in character, perform both civil and religious duties every day of his life? Why, then, may he not, in the same covenant, solemnly engage to do both?
But, in order to substantiate the charge of compulsory measures in matters of religion, a character must be found exactly of the following description:—A person, in every other respect a peaceable and inoffensive member of society, propagating no opinions, nor chargeable with any practices injurious to the peace and happiness of mankind; but only found to entertain some religious scruples in his own mind about the propriety of the covenants, or such like, in all other respects harmless. If it can be proved that men of this description had corporal punishments inflicted upon them, by the authority of church and state, it will be doing something to the purpose. But all arguing from the complex character, without attending to the distinctions observed by our reformers themselves, is evidently inconclusive.
As it is a subject of much discussion in our times, we crave the attention of our readers to a few additional extracts, out of many, which might be produced in defence of the ancient Covenanters against the charge of unwarrantable compulsion in matters purely religious.
The famous assembly at Westminster, in their exhortation to the taking of the covenants, when answering the objection about the extirpation of Prelacy, positively declare, "Nor is any man hereby bound to offer any violence to their persons, but only in his place and calling to endeavour their extirpation in a lawful way."[Col. of Serm, p. 375.] This exhortation was read and approved in the English House of Commons.
Mr. Coleman, a member of the Assembly, in reply to the query, "Whether by any law, divine or human, may reformation of religion be brought in by arms?" says, "I answer negatively, It is not. The sword is not the means which God hath ordained to propagate the gospel; Go and teach all nations; not, Go and subdue all nations, is our Master’s precept."[Id. p. 152.]
Mr. Caryl, another member of the Assembly, and whose praise is also in the churches, in his sermon, at a public convention for the taking of the covenant, hath these very plain and expressive words, "Where conscience is indeed unsatisfied, we should rather pity than impose, and labour to persuade rather than violently to obtrude."[Id. p. 179.]
Mr. Palmer, also a member of the Assembly, and an able advocate for the covenanted interest, thus ingenuously teacheth, "I know a difference is to be put, when we come to deal with persons tainted with dangerous opinions. Some are to be handled with all compassionate tenderness, as being scrupled through weakness and infirmity; but others, who are not only obstinate, but active to seduce and breed confusion, must be saved with fear, as pulling them out of the fire, and that they may set others on fire also. Though still a spirit of meekness is requisite, even toward such, in regard to their persons."[Serm. bef. Parl. Aug. 13, 1644. p. 55.]
Mr. Thorowgood, who also ranks in the honourable list of Westminster Divines, very honestly declares his sentiments on the subject. "Fierce and furious prosecution," says he, "even of a good cause, is rather prejudice than promotion. We must tenaciously adhere to all divine truths ourselves, and with our wisest moderation labour to plant and propagate them in others. Opposites, indeed, must be opposed, gainsayed, reclaimed; but all must be done in a way, and by the means appointed from heaven. It is one thing to show moderation to pious, peaceable, and tender consciences; it is another thing to proclaim beforehand toleration to impious, fiery, and unpeaceable opinions. Let moderation be so much awake, that discipline fall not asleep. The Papists, indeed, expect your moderation, and surely such should be shown them as may preserve your lives, and the kingdoms, from their frauds and cruelties. Though their religion, like Draco’s laws, be written in blood, yet none of them ever suffered death among us, merely for religion."[Serm. bef. Parliam. Dec. 25, 1644. p.15,21.] One extract more shall at present suffice.
Mr. Gillespie, our young, but singularly judicious commissioner to the Westminster Assembly, meets this objection, "Why are we forced and compelled into the covenant?" "Answer I. If any known malignant, or complier with the rebels, or with any enemy of this cause, hath been received either to the covenant or sacraments without signs of repentance, I mean such as men in charity ought to be satisfied with, for their former malignancy and scandal, it is more than ministers and elderships can answer, either to God, or to the acts and constitutions of this national church, I trust all faithful and conscientious ministers have laboured to keep themselves pure in such things. 2. Men are not otherwise drawn or forced into the covenant, than into other necessary duties. Nay, it ought not to be called a forcing or compelling. Are men forced to spare their neighbour’s life because murder is severely punished? Or are men compelled to be loyal because traitors are exemplarily punished? There may and must be a willingness and freeness in the doing of the contrary duty, although great sins must not go unpunished. Men are not compelled to virtue because vice is punished, else virtue were not virtue. Those that refuse the covenant, reproach it, or rail against it, ought to be looked upon as enemies to it, and dealt with accordingly; yet, if any man were known to take the covenant against his will, he were not to be received."[Miscel Quest. p.191,192.]
Such sentiments plainly show that our reformers were pretty well acquainted with the nature of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, Christian liberty, and the rights of conscience; and that they would suffer little, or rather nothing at all, by a comparison with the most enlightened modern writers on the subjects. It is hoped that our readers will carefully observe that the doctrines contained in the above extracts, of which kind many more can be produced, were not spoken in a corner, or amongst a few select friends: they were delivered in the most open manner, and before the most public associations, composed of all ranks and degrees of men in the kingdom. They were heard, approved, and ordered to be published, by the highest authorities in church and state; at the very time when, in their respective places and stations, they were employed in taking and enforcing the covenants.
To an unbounded liberty for every man to think and act as he pleases, even in contempt of righteous laws, whether human or divine, these champions for truth were, indeed, strangers; but of liberty, without licentiousness, they seem to have had pretty correct ideas. A modern writer, whose sentiments in general appear to be abundantly liberal, and who will not very readily be convicted of narrow-mindedness or bigotry, says, "I denominate that a state of liberty in which every man’s person, property, and free agency, is secured or circumscribed by laws which have been agreed to by the majority of the people at large, either in their own persons, or by a representation primarily and tacitly, if not expressly allowed by the people. Salutary restraint," he adds, "is the very principle of liberty; and they who, from their restless disposition, or from misapprehension, endeavour to throw off every species of coercion, are in reality enemies to that freedom which they pretend to promote."[Knox’s Essays, vol. 1, p. 54-5.] He is speaking chiefly of civil liberty, as circumscribed by the salutary laws of the state; but the same doctrine, substantially, will apply to religious liberty, as circumscribed by the righteous laws of Christ in the church. The covenants respect both. And, however much our reformers might have differed from this author on some other topics, it is obvious that, with respect to coercion, or legal restraint; they ordinarily acted upon the same general principle which he here recognizes. The covenants, and other corresponding public deeds of that time, were the result of general and mature deliberation. They were adopted by the mutual consent of the nation’s representatives at large, both in church and state. In obtaining this consent, our worthy forefathers insisted much and frequently on the propriety of acting from judgment and conscience. They showed much holy diligence to have all ranks of men well informed concerning the nature, the warrantableness, and the seasonableness of such covenants. If any, otherwise peaceable and inoffensive subjects, in church and state, had religious scruples in their own mind, both the open doctrine and uniform practice of our pious ancestors recommended all possible tenderness, in labouring to have these removed. But, on the other hand, when cruel Popish factions, under the fair pretence of only claiming a liberty to serve God, in their own way, were plotting the utter ruin of both church and state, and seeking the overthrow of all laws, human and divine; in such a case, indeed, they could not help thinking that salutary restraint and well regulated coercion were indispensably necessary. And what nation under heaven, properly consulting her own safety and happiness in time of danger, would not find it advisable to act on the same great principle?
But after all, even though we should allow that some acts of council, of parliament, or of assembly, are expressed in terms too rigorous, and manifest rather too much keenness to have the covenants imposed on all men in the kingdom, whether reason were or none, how does that affect the cause? Whatever high opinion we may have of these acts, in general, they were never incorporated into our standards or testimonies; nor is the approbation of them ever imposed on any person, as a term of admission to the privileges of the church. We never asserted that, even in the best period of reformation, the church was perfect; or, that every particular measure, on every occasion and in every place, whether in England or Scotland, was, in all its circumstances, defensible and proper. The Confession, and Covenants themselves, are neither the better nor the worse for the manner in which they were at first enforced. It hath been a received maxim in all ages that, amidst great and public dangers, some severe laws have been enacted, rather with the design of striking terror into restless opposers, than with the view of being literally executed in every instance of transgression. If we be really the friends of our covenanting ancestors, how is it that we will not make the same allowances for them which have been made for all other men in similar circumstances, ever since the world began?
Should any, to excuse their opposition, say, "They have nothing to do with the above, or with any other sentiments of our reformers, in the rest of their writings, the plain language of the standards themselves warrants their objections;" it is evident this amounts to the same thing as to say, that they have nothing to do with Christian candour, or that charity which thinketh no evil, but rather teacheth us to bear even our opponent to an amen, and to allow him the liberty of explaining himself. Were the objectors to find detached expressions, selected from their writings or speeches, and tortured in the most unmerciful manner, without admitting their connexion with the other parts of the same writings, or with the uniform practice of the same men, it is presumed that they would embrace the earliest opportunity of claiming that same liberty for themselves which they, very unreasonably, refuse to our reformers.
Fully satisfied, therefore, that the contents of our Westminster Confession of Faith, and Catechisms [Larger and Shorter], are agreeable to the Word of God; finding such dubious-like expressions, as may seem, at first sight, rather to favour unwarrantable coercion, to be very clearly explained in other writings of the same men; and convinced that both the ancient and modern objections against them are ill founded; we reckon it still our duty, and expect it of all who wish to hold communion with us, to approve, and adhere to them, substantially, as they stand.
ON ARTICLE III.
THIS article requires our assent to the divine right and original of Presbyterian church government.
As the great body of the inhabitants of Scotland profess themselves Presbyterians; the propriety of this article, it is hoped, will not be much disputed; but though it should, it doth not comport with our present design to enlarge on the subject.
That the power of church discipline and government is not lodged in the community of the faithful at large, but is entrusted to the office-bearers, or public and regularly installed ministry of the church, appears perfectly obvious from the distinction which is constantly made, through the whole of the New Testament, between the spiritual rulers, called to labour in Word and doctrine, or to rule with diligence, and those who are to be subject to them in the Lord, obeying them, and esteeming them highly in love, for their works’ sake. It is no less evident from our Lord’s words, addressed to the apostle Peter, and his fellow disciples, now solemnly called and set apart to the work of the ministry, by himself, as King upon the holy hill of Zion. "Upon this rock," says he, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."[Matthew 16:18,19.] The same thing is also manifest from those inspired epistles, addressed to the angels or ministry of the churches in Asia. The ministry in one of these churches is sharply reproved for retaining in communion persons who were erroneous and openly scandalous; while the ministry of another is much commended for casting them out:[Revelation 2.]—Plainly importing, that the power of ministerially binding, and loosing, in the name, and according to the laws of Christ, was lodged with them.
That lesser ecclesiastical courts, of more limited inspection and jurisdiction, should consider themselves as subordinated unto greater courts, where there are more counsellors, and, consequently, the higher probability of safety, in passing such decisions as are of general concern, is sufficiently obvious from the sacred description of that venerable synod which met at Jerusalem in the days of the Apostles.[Acts, 15.] While it perfectly harmonizes with the nature, and comely order of all society in general. And,
That the church’s adored Head allows no superiority to any one individual minister of he Gospel above another, but considers them all as brethren of equal authority, is clear as noonday, from his own express and very pointed language. "Ye know," says he, "that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you. One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock."[Matthew 20:25,26, and 23:8; 1 Peter. 5:3.] The indiscriminate use of the words bishop and PRESBYTER, in the New Testament, to signify one and the same official character, and the granting to a judicial meeting of presbyters the power of ordination, which is the highest power claimed in the church, also proclaim the equality of Gospel ministers.
The Presbyterian form of church government, therefore, agreeably to our subordinate standards, seems to be the only form which can properly claim a divine original. It makes a distinguished part of the faith once delivered to the saints in these covenanted isles of the sea. In the support and defence of it, our pious and venerable ancestors made a noble stand, many of them resisting unto blood, striving against sin, and not reckoning their lives dear unto themselves; if so be they might transmit it, in its original simplicity and purity, to the rising race, as the divinely appointed and comely order of Christ’s house. We, accordingly, consider it as still deserving a place in our terms of admission to the privileges of the church. Those who wish to see its claim to a divine original fully demonstrated by strong and conclusive arguments, may consult, among others, the publications mentioned at the foot of the page.
ON ARTICLE IV.
THE fourth article respects the perpetual obligation of our solemn Covenants, and the propriety of the Renovation at Auchensaugh, 1712.
The great and important duty of public covenanting, even in New Testament times, hath been so fully illustrated, and clearly defended in many publications, both ancient and modern, that we reckon it quite superfluous to enter into a discussion of the subject here.
While we firmly believe that the public covenants of ancient Israel comprehended great and important moral duties, equally incumbent upon men, in all periods of the church; while we find that the first commandment of the moral law, in the true scope of it, requires us to avouch the Lord to be our God, and to persevere in his worship and service, the very substance of all proper religious covenanting; while we cannot refuse, that the third commandment, rightly understood, plainly teaches us to fear the Lord our God, and, when lawfully called unto it, to swear by his name; while we read many precious predictions in the Old Testament, foretelling that, in the days of the Messias, men should subscribe with their hand unto the Lord, vow a vow unto him and perform it, and should say, Come, and let us join ourselves unto the Lord in a perpetual covenant, never to be forgotten; and while we find, that every baptized Christian, taking the Bible into his hand as the rule of his faith and practice, sitting down at the holy table of the Lord, and opening his mouth in a public profession of the Christian religion, evidently doth what is to all intents and purposes substantially the same with solemn covenanting; though we had no other arguments for it, we cannot withhold our consent to the propriety of our ancestors' conduct, in taking the burden upon them for themselves and their posterity, that they would be for God, and not for another: in the believing improvement of his gracious promise, "I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee."
A very slight attention to our solemn covenants will serve to show that the matter of them is Scriptural, and that, therefore, they may be safely sworn.
As to the National Covenant of Scotland, its great object is, evidently, the renouncement of Popery, together with all superstitions of the same description. But if the church of Rome be the mystical Babylon of the New Testament, if the Romish church indeed be false, blasphemous, idolatrous, bloody, soul-ruining, and deceitful, as hath often been abundantly proved, and as the Presbytery have shown in their "Testimony and Warning against Popery,"[Published 1779.] then the divine injunction applies, in its full force, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." Our obedience to this sovereign command is very properly testified, by seriously swearing, in the name and strength of the Lord, never to touch the unclean thing.
A great many acts of parliament are introduced into this National Covenant. The reason is sufficiently obvious. Our reformers, at that time, were considered by many as taking too much upon them, acting beyond their commission, and laying themselves open to the charge of seditious conduct. In their own vindication, they quoted these numerous acts, to prove that they were doing nothing but what was authorized by the fundamental laws of the kingdom, as well as by the Word of God. If those who approve of the Covenant have an opportunity of seeing and reading these acts, for their own satisfaction, it is well, they should certainly embrace the opportunity. At the same time, though they should never have it in their power to see one of them, yet it is practicable for them to swear the covenant itself, in truth, in righteousness, and in judgment. They have the body of the solemn deed, and may, at all times, compare it with the infallible standard of right and wrong.
It is also observable, that, in describing the various abominations of Popery, the National Covenant employs many terms, which, though familiar to the church of Rome, that mystery of iniquity, yet cannot well be supposed to be fully understood by every Protestant reader, who may consent unto the covenant. This much, however, he may see at once, that these strange and antiscriptural terms must be descriptive of such human inventions as are entirely beside the Word of God, being added to the things contained in that sacred book; and, therefore, ought to be rejected. An instance or two will serve to illustrate this. We renounce "His five bastard sacraments." Every one probably does not know that these are "marriage, ordination, confirmation, penance, and extreme unction;" but Christians, in general, can very easily know that the only sacraments in the New Testament are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; and, consequently, that no institution besides can ever consistently be admitted as a proper sacrament. Mention is made of the Pope’s "shavellings." There may, possibly, be many sincere believers in the Protestant churches who cannot tell that these mean his "monks or friars, of different orders, who have their heads shaven in different forms, to mark their distinguished pretended holiness;" but all may know that no such orders were ever appointed by Christ, and, therefore, the doctrine respecting them can make no part of the faith delivered to the saints. The same may be said of all the other Antichristian abominations. Meanwhile, it is not intended to discourage, but rather to recommend such proper researches after the knowledge of these things as may enable us to oppose them with judgment and precision.
Turning our attention to the Solemn League of the three nations, we find that in the first article we engage to preserve the true reformed religion where it is already established, and to carry forward the reformation where it is not yet completed. Say not the Scriptures that this is our duty? "Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Remember how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast. Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection. For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee."[Philippians 3:16; Revelation 3:3; Hebrews 6:l; Titus 1:5.]
In the second article, we profess to use our best endeavours, without partiality, for the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy, superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness. All these have, oftentimes, been clearly proved to be gross corruptions of Jehovah’s worship, and open violations of his holy law; concerning which his express language is, "Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. Purge out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump. Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up."[Deuteronomy 12:31,32; 1 Corinthians5:7; Matthew 15:13.]
In the third article, we undertake to preserve the rights and privileges of the civil authorities, in the preservation and defence of true religion, and liberties of the kingdoms. Nothing can be more consonant to the divine injunctions, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well. He is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid, for he is a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. Pay ye tribute also, for they are God s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing."[1 Peter 2:13,14; Romans 13:4,6.] In these passages the lawful authority, official character, and important duty of the magistrate, are inseparably connected with the people’s obedience and support.
In article fourth, we solemnly resolve to employ our endeavours for discovering, and bringing seasonably to condign punishment, all such incendiaries and malignants as wickedly hinder the reformation, and foment divisions in the kingdoms. Which is nothing more than what the Lord himself requires, when he says, "Execute judgment in the morning, and deliver him that is spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor. Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision."[Jerem. 21:12; Song, 2:15; Philippians 3:2.]
In article fifth, we swear to do what we can in our respective places, for preserving, to all posterity, the settled peace and union of the kingdoms. The union principally intended respects the common faith, delivered to the saints, in all its branches; and, therefore, the endeavouring to keep it exactly corresponds to the inspired recommendation, "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace."[Ephesians 4:3.]
In the last article of this League, we bind ourselves to assist and defend each other, and jointly to persevere in prosecuting the great ends of the covenant, without giving place to indifference or defection. God himself certainly commands so much. "Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel. Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."[Galatians 6:2; Philippians 1:27; 1 Corinthians 15:58.]
To covenants, the matter of which is so evidently agreeable to the unalterable precepts of the moral law, we may safely apply the inspired Apostle’s language, "Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto."[Galatians 3:15.] Indeed, if it can once be proved, as it has often been, in the most convincing manner, that the church, as such, as well as men in other capacities, may warrantably enter into public scriptural covenants at all, their obligation must necessarily be perpetual; inasmuch as the church, collectively considered, is still the same permanent society, which can never die; though the individuals, of whom she may have been composed, in any given period, should be no more. And, if even civil deeds amongst men, when they are legally executed, bind not only the persons presently entering into them, but them, their heirs, and successors to all generations; much more must we consider these religious covenants, which are executed according to the revealed will of our heavenly Lawgiver, to be binding not only upon the generation of the church, more immediately entering into them, but also on their heirs and successors to the end of the world.
Concerning these covenants, some have proposed the query, "In what sense can they be said, as they are in our Testimony, to be of divine authority or obligation?" We reply, The divine authority of heaven’s great Sovereign is, evidently, interposed, in requiring us to enter into such covenants, "Vow unto the Lord your God." And when once we have entered into them, the same divine authority binds us to performance, "Pay that which thou hast vowed." Add to these, that the great and dreadful name, THE LORD OUR GOD is invoked in the solemn transaction, while his declarative glory among men is deeply concerned in the faithful fulfilment of our engagements. So that, besides the intrinsic obligation of the covenants, viewed simply as human deeds, whereby men bind their souls, there is, in all such covenants, an obligation of divine authority, requiring first to make, and then to perform our covenants; from the invocation of the divine name, considering JEHOVAH as witness and avenger, and from the interfering with the divine glory, in the keeping or violating of our oath. Hence, in the Scripture, the same oath is, in one respect considered as the covenant of the man giving his hand; and, in another respect, as the Lord’s covenant, whose glory is concerned in it.[Ezekiel 17:18,19.] Our Testimony, if properly attended to, explains itself; telling us, the covenants "are of divine authority, obligation, AS having THEIR FOUNDATION UPON THE WORD OF GOD."[P. 173, Belfast Edition.]
Some have also questioned, "Whether or not the covenants can properly lay us under any additional obligations to duty, besides what we are already under, from the divine law?" In all disputes, the explaining of our terms is highly requisite, If by additional or superadded obligation be meant something introduced to supply a defect, or to bind where we were at liberty, it is plain that no human covenants can, in this sense, impose a superadded obligation; for God’s law is absolutely perfect, and necessarily binds to every possible duty, both as to matter and manner, according to the station which we fill. But if by superadded obligation be meant a further and very awful consideration, which also should have a strong influence in prompting us to the faithful discharge of his duty; in this sense the covenants undoubtedly contain an additional obligation; for, besides the authority of the divine law obliging us, we, by our own voluntary deed, likewise bind ourselves to the conscientious performance of the same things.
Those who approve of the original covenants themselves, cannot consistently deny the propriety of the Auchensaugh renovation, which is also mentioned in this article of our Terms; seeing it must be obvious to every one who hath properly perused that deed that there is not the least substantial alteration. After omitting, the designations, Noblemen, Gentlemen, &c. which could not apply to them, being only a few private Christians, with one minister and a probationer, and after adding a few marginal notes, accommodating them to the real circumstances in which the swearers then were, the old covenants remain as they were. There are, indeed, accompanying that renovation, an enlarged Acknowledgment of sins, and an Engagement to duties. These, also, were necessary, in order, to accommodate the solemn transaction unto the existing circumstances of the nation in which the swearers lived, as well as unto their own condition.
It will not be refused, that in the Engagement to duties connected with the Auchensaugh renovation, our zealous forefathers use some remarkably strong, and perhaps rather incautious expressions, in declaring their resolution not to submit unto some of the public burdens which they particularly specify. But they evidently considered their submission unto these as necessarily implying a homologation of the present constitutions, civil and ecclesiastic and on that footing, refused to yield. In the leading and general principle, then, that it is inconsistent for Dissenters to submit unto such things, as, strictly speaking, imply an approbation of the present constitutions, or a proper recognizing of the constituted authorities, they and we are perfectly agreed. But, as it is difficult to draw the exact line of distinction between these things which, in the very nature of them, abstracting from any question for conscience’ sake, properly imply the recognizing of the existing power under which they are done, and those things which do not, we need not be surprised though there be some diversity, both in opinion and practice, concerning the yielding or not yielding to some particular specified national burdens.
It is abundantly obvious that all the taxations in general which our noble martyrs, in the late persecution, positively refused to pay, were imposed avowedly for the purpose of suppressing the very cause which these martyrs were endeavouring, at the hazard of their lives, to, maintain; and not simply for the general and undefined support of the existing government. This brought the matter closely home to their conscience, as faithful witnesses for Christ and his persecuted cause. But as no taxations in our time are, as yet, imposed for a similar purpose, it is surely pushing the matter too far to consider the bare yielding unto them, for wrath’s sake, as necessarily involving a contradiction to the martyrs’ testimony. Even these martyrs themselves, as far as we can learn, yielded to the general burdens which were not of the description above specified; and yet they openly disowned the powers which then were. Swearing oaths of allegiance to the existing authorities; holding places of public trust under them; praying, in the formal and unqualified manner, for a blessing, prosperity, and success unto them, in their official capacity as our rulers; and formally recognizing their several courts of judgment, are the principal things which our Testimony specifies, as necessarily implying approbation of the united constitution, and a direct acknowledgment of the existing power. But it does not view any thing else in the same light as matters stand at present. So long, therefore, as we are enabled to keep ourselves free of these, and while we do not find the general national burdens demanded as any proof of our loyalty, nor for the purpose of suppressing the cause which, we are endeavouring, through grace, to maintain, we cannot consider ourselves as convicted of inconsistency, though we be obliged to allow that those who are set over us "have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure; and we are in great distress." What we chiefly intend by introducing the Auchensaugh Bond into our Terms, is the approbation of renewing the covenants, as it was then done, at that place, without overlooking any of the reformation attainments, either in church or state; and by giving a faithful testimony against all the defections and prevailing sins in both. But we do not reckon ourselves responsible for every unwary expression which our forefathers have used.
ON ARTICLE V.
IN the fifth article of our Terms, we require an owning of the scriptural testimonies, and earnest contendings of Christ’s faithful witnesses; and especially of our own Judicial Act and Testimony, stating and vindicating the various reformation attainments of these lands in which we dwell.
In the instructive visions of the Revelation, we find the faithful martyrs of Jesus represented him as slain, not only "for the Word of God," but also "for the testimony which they held."[Revelation 6:9.] If, therefore, we mean to sustain the honourable character of public witnesses for Christ and his cause, and to be followers of them, who, through faith and patience, are now inheriting the promises, it seems to be highly requisite that we should exhibit an impartial testimony in defence of all the precious reformation attainments, and in opposition to all the departures therefrom, which have so mournfully stained our national character, and provoked the Lord to plead a controversy against us.
Meanwhile, in exhibiting our testimony, we make no pretensions to infallibility or perfection. Our design, we hope, is good, but we are very sensible that human weakness and infirmity must always be discernible in our best performances. We do not assert, either with respect to our own, or the other testimonies which we approve, that there are no incautious expressions in these compositions. Considering the time, and the peculiarly trying circumstances, in which the compiler of them existed, and considering that they were men of like passions with others, it would, perhaps, be rather unreasonable to expect so much. But if none of the precious truths, stated and vindicated in these testimonies, be given up; if none of the errors or immoralities which they condemn be countenanced; or, in other words, if the whole substance be conscientiously retained; we mean not to differ with those who may plead that some particular modes of expression might be altered for the better.
Let it also be carefully observed here, that, with regard to the Deeds of which we speak, we wish to be understood in the same sense as before, concerning the Confession of Faith and the Covenants. It is only after diligently perusing, pondering, and comparing these testimonies with the Word of God, and after finding them to be founded upon, and agreeable unto it, that we mean to rank them among the subordinate standards of our church. But, as two, or more, cannot consistently walk together in church-fellowship, unless they be agreed in sentiment concerning the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of the church, and concerning, the proper, way of glorifying God upon earth, we reckon it exceedingly requisite that this agreement should be properly ascertained. For that important purpose, amongst others, these testimonies seem to be very much calculated. And it is only to such of them as truly deserve the characteristic epithets of SCRIPTURAL AND FAITHFUL, that we require the assent of our church members. If any are disposed to question the propriety of applying these designations, either to our own, or to the rest which we approve, we are always ready, as opportunity offers, to reason the matter with them. If we can agree, it is well; "Let us strive together for the faith of the Gospel, and continue steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." If we cannot agree, we must part in peace. For we never entertained the remotest thought that these matters were to be adjusted by any other weapons than those of Scripture and reason, under the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit.
ON ARTICLE VI.
The last article of our Terms respects a holy and blameless conversation before men. On this, we apprehend, there is no need to make any remarks. Even those who seek but for the form of godliness must admit its propriety. And certainly those who seriously study to reach the life and power of true religion will, at once, approve of giving this qualification a place amongst the conditions of admission to sacred privileges, in the sanctuary of that divine Lord, whose name is THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL; who hath taught his church to sing, "Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever;" and who hath solemnly declared, "that without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
In proposing the above Terms of communion, we wish a difference to be made between persons holding, proclaiming, and propagating sentiments in religion, opposite to those which are recognized by our Terms, and persons who may be, comparatively, ignorant, or have private views of their own, but are willing to be farther instructed. The former must be positively debarred from church fellowship, whereas milder treatment is due to the latter.[Jude, 22,23. Romans 14:1.]
Let it also be remembered, that there is a material difference between church-communion, properly so called, and private occasional communion, with those who may agree in the great essentials of salvation, through a crucified Saviour. Church communion, among the professing members of Christ’s mystical body, we consider as lying chiefly in their conscientiously walking together, and enjoying mutual comfort in the regular observation of all public Gospel ordinances, in general, and joint participation of the solemn seals of the new covenant, in particular; as these are dispensed by the ministers of religion, who are vested with office, according to the laws of Christ. This, necessarily, requires unanimity in all those things which belong to the constitution of the church in her organized capacity; such as, doctrines to be believed, a certain mode of worship to be observed a form of government to be exercised, and discipline to be administered. As it doth not appear that the church, in her complete and organized capacity, can exist without any of these articles, so neither is it easy to conceive how persons holding jarring sentiments on these important subjects can consistently enjoy church fellowship with each other. Private Christian communion, we apprehend, consists in the joint discharge of those religious duties which are not peculiar to official characters as such, but are common to them and all Christians at large, in their individual capacity. Of this kind we may reckon reading the Scriptures; religious conversation, as opportunity offers, in the course of providence; occasional prayer with the sick; when desired; praising God in the family, when providentially lodged together; joint craving of Heaven’s blessing on the provision of our table, and such like. From private and occasional communion, with Christians of other denominations, in things like these, we never thought of debarring our people; though we cannot help being of opinion, that church fellowship should ever be regulated by some such scriptural terms as those which we have endeavoured to exhibit and explain.
Upon the whole, after taking a review of our principles, as founded upon the Word of God, and summarily comprehended in the subordinate standards of the church, we are still persuaded that it is our duty to stand upon the same footing on which we have always hitherto stood, as a distinct body of professing Christians; endeavouring to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. Amidst all the revolutions in sentiment, whereby the present age is distinguished, we can find no reason for considering our avowed principles in any other light than that in which we have ever viewed them. Notwithstanding, for the satisfaction of those who have repeatedly desired some farther information, we have exhibited the above Explanation and Defence, it is humbly apprehended, that no greater concessions or allowances than those which we have made, can be reasonably expected of men, professing, as we do, to adhere unto the whole of our covenanted reformation, both in church and state.
It only remains, that we all, unanimously and seriously, supplicate the throne of God, for grace, "to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord."
 In the above mentioned Animadversions, our reformers say, “It is a great fault to a civil magistrate to JUDGE upon doctrine, errors and heresies; he not being placed in ecclesiastical function, to interpret the Scripture.” Cald. Hist. p. 188.
 The Grand Debate; The Divine Right of Church Government, by the London Ministers; The Due Right of Presbyteries, by Mr. Rutherford: Letters on the Constitution, Government, and Discipline of the Christian Church, by Mr. Brown; A Short Vindication of Presbyterial Church-Government, by Mr. Whytock.