[in a letter to Dr. John Cunningham]
MR. EDITOR,—After all that has been said and printed during the past quarter of a century, the important question is still propounded—“What is the difference between the Scottish and the American Testimonies?” Indeed there is reason to believe that this question is sometimes put by those who do not seek information; who are content to suppose there exists no material discrepancy between them. Some, however, are higher minded, and earnestly desire a satisfactory answer to the above inquiry. For their sakes I propose to furnish a concise answer in this brief article.
Let the title pages of the two books called Testimonies be examined and compared, and the reader will at once discover that what is popularly called “The American Testimony” is not even called by that name. Now there must have been some reason for the change of name. There was a reason—the best of reasons of its kind; there was nothing in the book contemplated by those who framed it, of the formal nature of testimony; it was simply an “Exhibition of Reformation Principles.” This is more fully declared in the Preface, where the reader is plainly told that the doctrines of the book—the “Declaratory Part, is the....Testimony.” Thus the well established and defined term Testimony, is changed from its former ecclesiastical use, and forced to mean doctrinal declaration. This confounds testimony with confession. History and argument are here expressly excluded from being any part of the Testimony, Terms of Communion, or “articles of faith.” There never was perhaps a greater absurdity presented to an unbiased and enlightened mind, than to affirm that abstract principle constitutes testimony. Yet from the natural indolence of the human mind, and even of a believer’s mind, and from the equally natural predisposition to exercise implicit faith in matters ecclesiastical, this palpable absurdity has gained popular currency. Law and facts, principle and practice, are always distinct, although in matters of judicature they are inseparable.
On the title page of the Scottish Testimony (1761) these significant words are contained:—“Act, Declaration and Testimony.” The meaning of the word “Act” is the sanction which the Reformed presbytery gave to the whole book, the history, and argument, as well as the doctrinal declarations and condemnation of errors in the last part of the volume. But babes in Christ require yet further simplification: well—
In the former and larger part of the volume, the reader will see that facts are recorded—history; and then, all along, argument, is intermingled with the facts or events stated: for it is only by comparing the authenticated doings of men with the Divine law, that their moral character can be truly tested. Now these facts and arguments, in the truly enlightened judgment of our witnessing forefathers, constituted the formal testimony of the church. Herein were traceable “the footsteps of the flock” of Christ, the “flock of slaughter.” The statement of doctrines, thus sustained by the approved application of the divine law to individual and social man, closes the volume. So that whilst, the word Testimony is commonly applied to the whole volume, the book itself on the very title page, distinguishes clearly the “testimony” from the “declaration.” The reader may now see with his own eyes, that, the two Testimonies are diametrically opposite, the American book making doctrine the Testimony, and the Scottish book making history and argument; the Testimony: and consequently that, “Reformation Principles Exhibited” has neither the name nor the formal nature of a Testimony!
Why then should it be thought strange that innovations and changes should arise and prevail among a people who have rejected from the terms of their fellowship the approved examples of our reformers as directive to them?
We may thus be prepared to account for the following among other constitutional changes among professing Covenanters, as matters of fact, though not of right, and the baleful consequences.
In 1806 the Terms of Communion were unpresbyterially changed in America, in several places, besides the removal of the Auchensaugh Bond. In Scotland this Bond was expunged in 1822, and in Ireland the same was effected in 1865. The “Covenants themselves” must follow.
The moral and eternal law of charity (1 Cor. 13. and 14.) has been disregarded in the three lands generally, in the mode of conducting the public praise of God. Many mouths of God’s precious children have been forcibly shut, whilst leaders, in “vain repetitions,” are intent only on worshipping the music!
The “Rule on Occasional Hearing,” founded on a moral basis, is gone into general desuetude in the face of solemn vows.
“Proclamation of banns” has given place to private and clandestine solemnization of marriage.
The powers of order and jurisdiction, clearly distinguished by our reformers, are now frequently confounded in the ordaining of elders and deacons by imposition of hands.
Unholy associations with people of all classes and characters, secret and public, for the attainment of moral, civil, military, and political objects, have disintegrated the once faithful and formidable covenanted brotherhood of Britain, Ireland, and America, so that our scriptural unity and uniformity have well nigh disappeared.
Such is a specimen of the constitutional changes, which I do not hesitate to call defections, all resulting from the primary departure from the Testimony of 1761. In all the three lands the expunging of the Auchensaugh Bond was necessarily followed by a corresponding change in the Terms and Testimonies. Thus defection became reduced to a kind of system; only the adopting of a series of doctrines as a Testimony, was an outrage on all system.
So far as I know at this writing, the “Original Seceders” of Scotland, whose Testimony was written by the late eminent Doctor Thomas M’Crie, are the only organised body of Christians who appear to retain a Scriptural conception of the testimony of Christ’s witnesses, as the Scottish martyrs left it in the hands of the “Society People.” Defective as their Testimony may be in its bearing upon the civil reformation in the British Isles, it certainly and clearly exhibits the grand outlines of what a faithful Testimony ought to be, next to that of 1761.
The Testimonies published in Scotland by the first Seceders, and held by their brethren in America, were essentially defective in its integral parts; and the same is true of that which was emitted by the Reformed Dissenters in this country when they left the Associate Reformed Synod. These bodies excluded history from their bonds of fellowship, and consequently often lost their organic identity, merging into their bodies, or forming new combinations.
Believing the testimony of Christ’s witnesses to be in its very nature progressive, and believing that no judicial Testimony now extant fully confronts Antichrist in the ever-shifting phases of his constituent parts; it has been my earnest, and often expressed desire for years, to have the Testimony readjusted, so as to embrace all Scriptural and reformation attainments. And I am ready to co-operate in any humble attempt for this object, with any and all who fear God and approve the faithful contendings of the martyrs of Jesus in the British Isles, “who loved not their lives unto the death.” But I cannot, while in possession of rational powers, and directed by the Spirit and word. of God, receive or own as a Testimony, mere abstract doctrinal declarations.
Philadelphia, June 3rd, 1869.