MINUTES OF THE REFORMED PRESBYTERY.
GREENE COUNTY, OHIO.
MASSIE’S CREEK MEETING-HOUSE, June 2, 1841.
THE Reformed Presbytery met according to adjournment and was constituted by prayer. Members present, Rev. David Steele, Moderator, Rev. Robert Lusk; Messrs. Thomas Steele, of Xenia and, Massie’s creek congregation, and Nathan Johnston, of Greene, Harrison county, Ruling Elders. Rev. Robert Lusk was appointed Moderator, and Matthew Mitchel continued Clerk. The minutes of the former meeting of Presbytery were read and approved.
Rev. David Steele reported and read his correspondence since last meeting of Presbytery, and his proceedings in correspondence were approved.
On motion, Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed to report on our ecclesiastical relations, with special reference to those calling themselves Reformed Presbyterians. Rev. R. Lusk, Nathan Johnston, and Thomas Steele were appointed that committee.
The court, on motion, adjourned to meet at the house of Thomas Steele, on to-morrow at 3 o’clock P.M. Closed by prayer.
House of Thomas Steele, June 3d, 3 o’clock P.M.
Presbytery met pursuant to adjournment, and was constituted by prayer. All the members present. The Committee appointed to report on our Ecclesiastical Relations reported. The report being read, paragraph by paragraph, and remarks made thereon, was re-committed.
The court, on motion, adjourned to meet at the meeting-house tomorrow, at 11 o’clock. Closed by prayer.
Meeting. House, June 4th, 11 o’clock A.M.
Court met and was constituted by prayer. All the members present. The committee appointed on our ecclesiastical relations, was called upon and reported. The report being read, on motion was accepted, and on motion was read, paragraph by paragraph, amended, and on motion adopted. It is as follows:
The committee appointed on our ecclesiastical relations &c. offer the following:—
The church of Christ, from the doctrines which she holds, the subjection to her blessed Lord which she professes, the organization bestowed upon her, and the object thereof, has in times past been as a city on a hill, and such is to be her position in time to come. Being distinct from all other communities in organization, with the reasons and objects thereof, her members should be intimately acquainted not only with her abstract doctrines, but also with the efficacy of these doctrines on their own life and conversation. And altho’ every living member sustains a relation to the Head, which shall never be dissolved; yet the mere circumstance of having a name to live, as it respects either organization or membership, will not secure the reality in the one case or the other. Hypocrites have been in the true church, and local churches, so called, have been, in their very organization, synagogues of Satan; or, as in other cases, have so far degenerated as to be considered no longer churches of Christ. Hence the necessity of attention, by every lover of truth,—by all who desire to promote the declarative glory of God, to have a knowledge of the distinct characteristics of the church of Christ. As to individuals, it is an unalterable law,—“without holiness no man shall see the Lord:” and as to communities, the same law is equally applicable,—it cannot be expected that God will dwelt in them.
Opposition in profession, to any part of revealed truth is evidence of the ascendancy of the carnal heart; and the relinquishment of acknowledged doctrine carries with it additional guilt, being a violation of voluntary engagements; and obstinacy in such defection must eventuate in the reprobation of the community.
Time was when the Reformed P[resbyterian] Church in the British Isles and America was considered one, both in doctrinal profession and covenant engagements. This time has passed, and now various distinct fellowships lay claim to the designation of witnesses, and profess to be the followers of the martyrs of Jesus, who sealed with their blood the testimony which they held.
Discrimination must be exercised, to ascertain who they are and where they are, who are following the footsteps of the flock. These are such who neither oppose nor relinquish the doctrines professed, nor the testimony maintained, by their witnessing and covenant ancestors; nor cast off the obligations under which they have been brought by the deeds of their forefathers.
Formerly, all who claimed the name of Reformed Presbyterians in Europe and America, whether as sojourners or emigrants, had free access to the privileges of the church in either country. She was considered one, although geographically divided by the Atlantic Ocean; because professing ostensibly the same faith in both hemispheres. It is now known that different fellowships exist, based upon different views of her profession and obligations;—hence the visible unity is destroyed, and antagonist principles put into operation.
The doctrines contained in the Westminster Confession and in our Testimony, declared to be agreeable unto and founded upon the word of God, relative to civil government, had been, for a length of time, practically disregarded by individuals and by courts of the church in America. Discrepancy of views led to a division of the body in 1833. A large proportion of the people, but especially of the ministry, professing to have obtained clearer views of the application of their principles to civil society, considered the American Government as the moral ordinance of God, and consequently entitled to the christian’s approbation and conscientious support. This party, from the assumption of having attained to clearer views than their brethren of the nature of civil government, were commonly known by the name New Lights. The other party, as contradistinguished from these were denominated Old Lights: nevertheless both continued to claim the original designation, Reformed Presbyterian.
Corruption in doctrine on the part of the Old Lights, leading necessarily to the violation of covenant engagements in practice, and the exercise of tyranny in discipline, forced some members to a separation from the body in ‘38. This party, characterized by a Safety League and Declinature, also assumes to be the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
The same corruptions continuing to operate, with additional aggravations, and these cherished and defended by influential members as leaders; and the western part becoming more fully acquainted with the extent of defection, some were alarmed and saw the necessity of resorting to scriptural means of reform. Efforts to stay the progress of declension proved unavailing. The Synod refused to retrace her steps, by confessing her sins, and ascertaining her own legality and freedom when formally called thereunto. Thus a separation was loudly called for, and an organization imperatively demanded, that a judicial banner be displayed for the doctrines and order exemplified by our covenant fathers.—Hence the organizing of the Ref’d. Presbytery in ‘40, in order to hold fast and transmit to posterity all the faithful and public deeds of the Ref’d. Covenanted church.
The two Synods in the British Isles, as appears from their published proceedings, have pursued for substance the same course as the parties in defection from Reformation attainments in America. Different degrees of defection from covenant attainments are, however, discernible among the several and conflicting parties, in the land of our fathers.
The Synod of Scotland has been, since 1822, in a course of declension, having at that date expunged from her terms of communion the Renovation of the covenants at Auchensaugh, 1712. The tendency of this measure was to divide, and it is now matter of history that some were obliged to withdraw from the body. Among these was the Rev. James Reid, author of the Memoirs of the Westminster Divines, who continued in a state of separation till his death; near to which, he declared that he “could not have laid his head on a dying pillow in peace,” had he acted otherwise. By this unfaithful act of formally removing from their terms of communion, a solemn public deed; the Scottish Synod went back to the year 1648, thereby overlooking, lightly esteeming and virtually condemning their own former act: together with the solemn and judicial recognition of the same by the Reformed Presbytery in 1761: as also, disregarding the unanimous judgment of all the judicatories of the Ref’d Church in Ireland, Thus they plainly manifested a disposition to innovate on the church’s profession, and an evident determination to remove her ancient landmarks.
Although the Synod in Ireland has not formally expunged the deed; yet she has virtually recognized the act as righteous, by continued fellowship, judicial and ministerial, with the Synod of Scotland. This continued communion had an unhappy influence upon the Synod in Ireland, tending to foster a spirit of neutrality, in violation of one of the provisions of our Solemn League. The innovations prevailing in Scotland found advocates in Ireland, by whom their adoption was strenuously urged. This, together with conflicting sentiments on the doctrine of Magistracy, has more recently resulted in separate communions in Ireland. While we cordially approve the faithful contendings of the majority in that body, for the integrity of our Standards on the head of magistracy; we are obliged in conscience, to express unequivocally our disapprobation of their tolerating the aforesaid innovations; as also, their countenancing of, and co-operating in, the popular, voluntary associations of the day,—such as “Sunday Schools,” “Temperance Societies,” &c.—calculated to undermine our covenanted uniformity, divert the attention and alienate the affections of Christ’s witnesses from each other and from his own institutions, and eventually to effect disorganization.
As the Reformed Covenanted church has ever been professedly a witnessing church, and in correspondence with this trait of character, has been frequently called to the unpleasant work of testifying against other christian communities: so also, as Paul withstood Peter face to face, we are now urged, as matter of duty, however painful, to testify against our former brethren.
In view of the foregoing state of things among the professing witnesses for a covenanted work of Reformation; your committee recommend the adoption of the following resolution:—
That this Presbytery cannot, in consistency with covenant engagments, or fidelity to Jesus Christ, hold communion judicially, ministerially, or in the dispensation of word or sacraments, with any of the aforesaid communities, assuming our name,—whether in America or the British Isles, until the causes of existing separation shall have been removed, according to the laws of the house of God.
R. Lusk, Ch’n.
A recess of 20 minutes was moved and carried.
Time of recess having expired, the court came to order at the call of the Moderator. A paper was presented containing Doctrinal Queries for the consideration of the court, signed Nathan Johnston, which were read and referred to a committee consisting of Rev. R. Lusk, Rev. D. Steele, and Thomas Steele. The paper is subjoined:
The following doctrinal questions are respectfully submitted, for the consideration of this court; and its judgment thereon earnestly solicited: that thereby serious doubts may be removed from the mind of the subscriber and from the minds of others.—
1. Is the fear of hell, as a motive to obedience, consistent with saving faith and useful to a believer?
2. Are the people of God threatened with eternal punishment, in case of apostasy?
3. Are believers commanded to fear eternal misery?
4. Is a man in a state of justification, at the same time liable to condemnation?
5. Are the fear of hell and saving faith, both graces of the new-born soul?
On motion, the court adjourned to meet at the house of Thomas Steele, on Monday next, at 5 o’clock P.M. Closed by prayer.
House of Thomas Steele, June 7, 5 o’clock P.M.
Presbytery met and was constituted by prayer. All the members present. The Committee, to whom were referred Doctrinal Queries for consideration, reported. The report was accepted; and, on motion, was read, article by article, and unanimously adopted, and is as follows:
Your committee, to whom was referred a series of doctrinal questions, would respectfully offer the solutions following:
It is assumed in all these questions, that the person contemplated is the called and justified of God;—he is denominated a “believer.” His state, thus viewed, proclaims not only relationship, but also the exercise of powers proper and peculiar to that relationship,—faith. Faith contemplates God as a Father and Lawgiver, and views the new creature as a child and a subject of law. This law, or rule of obedience to the believer, is not to be viewed as securing or forfeiting his happiness: but as an objective expression of parental authority on the part of God; and on the part of the believer, a rule of life.
In proportion to his conformity thereto, grace bestowed becomes visible, God is glorified, and the degree of the believer’s sanctification may be estimated.
In the fair and obvious application of the aforesaid principles, a negative answer is given to the questions severally.
1st. Because faith views God in actual relationship, as a Father in Christ; and not through the medium of the broken law: hence “the fear of hell” is “inconsistent with saving faith,” as it results from viewing God through a different medium, and springs not from the new life, as a motive to obedience.
2d. Because the covenant of grace secures all who are embraced therein, from final apostacy. The believer is an heir; and by faith views God as just and faithful. God, thus viewed, threatens not “his own people with eternal punishment:” or, in other words, a forfeiture of their inheritance.
3d. Because of the reasons preceding.
4th. Because in view of covenant relationship, the hypothesis is absurd.
5th. Because the “fear of hell” arises from considering God, in his judicial character, through the broken covenant; consequently it cannot be a “grace” emanating from a God in Christ. All graces bestowed by a covenant God, return in their activity to himself.
R. LUSK, Ch’n.
Moved and carried, that the Sessions and people under the care of this Presbytery be enjoined to observe the last Thursday of October next as a day of thanksgiving, and that the causes be left discretionary.
On motion, Presbytery adjourned to meet at Brushcreek, second Monday of April, 1842, at 11 o’clock, A.M. Closed by prayer.
R. LUSK, Mod.
M. MITCHEL, Clk.