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Declaration and Testimony for the Present Truth.

Database

Declaration and Testimony for the Present Truth.

James Dodson

By

David Steele,

Minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church,

With a LETTER From

REV. THOMAS HANNAY,

AND A SUPPLEMENT BY OTHERS.

 

"Truth has fallen in the street."—Is. 59:14.

"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee,

that it may be displayed because of the truth."—Ps. 60:4.

 

Philadelphia:

Jas. B. Rodgers, Steam-Power Printer, 52 & 54 N. Sixth St.

1864.

 

READER,—Art thou only a stranger in our New Testament Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? It is manifest to all who are commonly called Covenanters, that the once famous Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, with her ecclesiastical posterity in other lands, is in a deplorable condition by manifold and successive divisions. The Lord, in his righteous displeasure, has for many years poured out a perverse spirit in the midst of us. We are divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel. Is there not a cause? Yes, verily, our hearts have not been right with God, neither have we been steadfast in his covenant. It is no violation of the law of charity to declare, that in matters of the Lord, some amongst us, both in public and private stations, have hearkened more to the counsels of flesh and blood than to the voice of Him who "speaketh to the churches," and to the testimony of his faithful witnesses. We may adopt the apostle’s complaint: "All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s."

But our present purpose is not so much to criminate others; nor is it our intention to bring a railing accusation against any. We would aim rather to lay before the reader some of the desolations of our Zion, that his eye may affect his heart,—that he may be induced to search out the causes of these desolations; and that he may be aroused to the use of such divinely appointed means as the Lord will own and bless for the healing of our breaches, which are great like the sea.

It is a fact to be lamented, that there are now [1864] in existence six Synods,—two in Scotland, two in Ireland, and two in America,—all claiming to be, and to be considered, as each representing the original organic body; while in each land neither will recognize the validity of the claims put forth by the other. In Scotland the two Synods are separated because they do not interpret and apply the same judicial testimony in the same manner; and this is equally true of the two Synods in Ireland and of those in America. The framing and adopting of different Testimonies in these countries has, doubtless, furnished occasion for a divided fellowship.

From the year 1815 and onward, some of the brethren in Scotland began to find fault with their own Testimony, first emitted in the year 1761. These excepted to its prolixity, abstruseness and want of charity towards other denominations. This party grew in numbers and influence so as to change the formula of the Terms of Communion in 1822. At that date, Rev. James Reid, the oldest minister in the body, was constrained to separate from the majority, that he might walk by the rule of former attainments. The majority went on in the way of their own heart, and by the years 1837-9 effected a remodeling of the whole Testimony, in conformity to the advanced stage of the world’s progress in the nineteenth century. Many have thought all along, and perhaps more think now, that the proposed remodeling proved to be a material change of the platform laid down in the original Testimony.

The new Scottish Testimony is received by the four Synods in the British Isles. We consider it defective, as compared with the former, in not recognizing the obligation of the Auchensaugh Renovation of our Covenants. It gives no direction to the people relative to sitting on juries or occasional hearing. Besides, an applicant for fellowship is required to give his approbation of the principles only, contained in the Historical part, with the "proper application of them;" while he is left in uncertainty as to where the proper application is to be found. This uncertainty will account for the late disruption in the body. Again, both Synods in Scotland adhere to a formula of Terms of Communion from which the Auchensaugh Bond was expunged in 1822; yet one of these Synods holds fellowship with one of the Synods in Ireland, in whose formula of Terms the Auchensaugh Bond is retained! Add to this, that the Irish Synod has now in overture a new draft of a Historical part of the Testimony; which, if at all necessary, must be presumed to be materially different from that of Scotland. The same Synod, in the year 1853, renewed the Covenants as a Church. Rev. William Anderson, Loanhead, Scotland, was forward in effecting the removal of the Auchensaugh Bond in 1822; while in 1853, he disapproved the mode of covenant renovation ecclesiastically by the Irish Synod, which still retains the Auchensaugh Bond! "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"

We sympathized with the minority in Scotland while struggling against defection by the majority [who left in 1863 and later joined the Free Church, 1876]; but we greatly regret, that in reorganizing they did not aim at regaining the elevated position from which all had fallen in 1822,—a position clearly defined by those worthies, whom the Lord had qualified by the gifts and graces of his Holy Spirit, to set the Mediator on the throne as Head of both Church and State, at the close of the Second Reformation in 1649. Our fathers, who came after, were honored of the Lord to frame and adopt a Judicial Testimony "for the whole of our covenanted reformation, as attained unto betwixt the years 1638 and 1649 inclusive." And well had it been for us, their degenerate posterity, had we been satisfied with the scriptural foundation then laid, and continued to carry on the superstructure. But alas! a confusion of tongues has hindered co-operation; and now there are amongst us many who speak more than half the language of Ashdod.

The first great breach in our covenanted Zion occurred in the year 1650, when a majority of the commission of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in compliance with the desire of the perjured king Charles II., agreed to admit to places of power,—civil and military,—the open enemies of God and of his people. A minority in the Assembly resisted the ruinous measure, and entered a solemn protestation against it. Then originated the historical designations—Resolutioners and Protesters—characteristic of the two parties till the present time. Intimate alliances, forbidden by God, ventured upon by the sons of God with the daughters of men, brought the flood upon the world of the ungodly. And such immoral amalgamations from the days of Balaam have been followed with disastrous consequences to the Church and to the world. "What part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" In the close of the eighteenth century, our fathers ventured upon an alliance with papists and others in Ireland, to cast off the British Government; and the Lord chastised his people for that daring breach of his law and covenant. All, as many as joined that confederacy were scattered and brought to naught. In Scotland at the present time, many of the covenanted posterity of those who loved not their lived unto the death, are "saying a confederacy" with the civil and military powers, helping by oaths of allegiance and the elective franchise to uphold that bloody horn of the beast, which God has declared his purpose to destroy. These are solemn and important facts, which we earnestly beseech all our covenant brethren to ponder, and to contemplate the penal consequences which are to follow. Such are some of the many instances of defections, heart-burnings and divisions in the churches in the British Isles, which are the bitter fruits of dealing treacherously with God and with each other.

In the United States, a document entitled "Reformation Principles exhibited," was framed and adopted about the year 1806, which became, as, no doubt, it was intended, a substitute for the original Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The very title of this work would seem to indicate the design of its authors. It is an exhibition of principles, as though principles or doctrines constituted the whole of the church’s testimony. This would confound the radical and essential distinction between a Confession and a Testimony. For, whereas a Confession consists of a declaration of our joint apprehension of what God speaks to us in the Holy Scriptures; a Testimony consists in the right application of principles to the heart and life of individual and social man, and this application of principles, as well as the principles themselves, tested by the Supreme standard, the Word of God.

The book, usually called the American Testimony, consists of two parts,—the first Historical, the second Declaratory or doctrinal. A third part was contemplated and promised, but never framed. It was to be argumentative. On a cursory examination of the preface to the book, the reader will find that the declaratory part of the authors’ "plan" is alone called testimony—"the Church’s standing testimony." He will, moreover, perceive that the other two parts are to be viewed and taken as "helps to understand the testimony." Thus it is evident that the very nature and design of a Testimony is overlooked, and the platform framed by our fathers in Scotland in 1761 is totally changed. They clearly distinguish between a declaration of doctrines and testimony, as he who runs may read in the very title page:—"Act, Declaration and Testimony." The testimony of Christ’s witnesses consists formally of facts, as all evidence must; but Reformation Principles Exhibited makes it consist of principles. The Testimony of the Church is necessarily progressive; but this document represents it as stationary. Thus it is evident to any intelligent reader that, by the plan followed in Reformation Principles Exhibited, the testimony of the martyrs of Jesus is supplanted, name and thing. And it is sufficient to mention here, that the Testimony now held by the Synods in Scotland and Ireland, is constructed after the same model; and, however it may be superior in some of its provisions, is wholly inadequate to the exigencies of these eventful times.

Doubtless it is known to all whom these lines concern, that while the Synods in the British Isles adhere to the same Testimony, they refuse to hold organic or ministerial fellowship, and the same is true of those in America. From this state of things might it not be fairly inferred, that the Testimony of the Church needs re-adjustment? The practical consequences of removing the ancient land-marks, which the fathers had set, are deplorable; and many are bewailing them in secret before the mercy-seat. Confidence in church guides is shaken, and in many honest and pious hearts, almost destroyed. In this dark and cloudy day they wander from mountain to hill, and are in danger of forgetting their resting-place. They grope for the wall like the blind—they stumble at noon-day as in the night. And, whereas it is the duty of Zion’s watchmen to give warning to her citizens of approaching danger; of her guides to remove stumbling-blocks out of the way of the Lord’s people; it is not to be disguised that, on the contrary, the leaders of the people, as of old, cause them to err, and destroy the way of their paths, both by precept and example.

In Scotland the Synod, having expunged from the terms of communion the Auchensaugh Bond in 1822, did ever since countenance the practice of members in sitting as jurors, occasional hearing, voting for members of Parliament, and swearing allegiance to the anti-Christian throne of Britain. All these breaches of covenant were perpetrated against the remonstrances of a reclaiming minority, giving rise to a succession of divisions, in which, among the ministry, only Rev. James Reid and Dr. [John] Cunningham evinced fidelity to Christ, and to their own covenant engagements, and ordination vows. The minority, in the late disruption of 1863, have come deplorably short of our covenanted unity and uniformity.

In the United States the avowed remodeling, but real changing of the Testimony and Terms of Communion, has caused a succession of similar disruptions during a period of more than a quarter of a century. The "Historical View" contained in the volume styled Reformation Principles Exhibited, having been declared to be no part of the Testimony, and so no term of communion; the terms of communion having been mutilated, and the Auchensaugh Bond rejected, and the formula of terms having been changed and adopted without even the form of overture: how could uniformity be maintained among those who ranked under a banner so inadequate in its provisions, and so equivocal in its inscriptions? The whole past history of the organic body in America, demonstrates the unanimity in sentiment, and uniformity of practice, were wholly impracticable.

Some members began to think that in consistency with the standards as remodeled, they could shun or lighten the cross by acting jurors. This practice gave rise to contentions and alienations among brethren. Those who could, without challenges of conscience, act as jurors, perceived that consistency would warrant taking the oath of allegiance, and enjoying all the privileges of American citizenship. They acted accordingly, and the body was rent asunder in the year 1833 [into Old Lights and New Lights]. The party who still professed to adhere to the American Testimony, under the groundless and delusive supposition that the Historical View was part and parcel of the Testimony, very soon after the disruption, began to differ in sentiment and practice. Popular excitements and resulting combinations against slavery, intemperance and other destructive enormities in society, infected many ministers and members, carrying them away into voluntary confederacies with "people of all religions, and of no religion." This course of conformity to the world, and violation of our covenanted uniformity, was long and strenuously resisted by a minority in the social circle, in the pulpit, and in all the ecclesiastical judicatories. The majority continued, all along, to reiterate and justify this course, until the Lord began to visit the inhabitants of the land with the awful and desolating judgment of civil war. And now, amidst the convulsions of revolutionary times, the same majority justify or connive at the practice of their fellows, both of the ministry and membership, in making common cause in a contest, wherein neither the objects nor the military associations are "according to the mind of God." If civil associations with the wicked are corrupting to the people of God, much more so are military alliances with such.

Besides a practical departure from the footsteps of the flock, this majority has ventured to modify and change, in part, the "Form of Government and Directory for Worship" adopted by the Church of Scotland. In their recently published "Book of Discipline," Sessions as well as Presbyteries, are authorized to ordain candidates for office—from the teaching elder to the deacon with the laying on of hands; thus confounding the distinction clearly defined by our reforming ancestors, between the "power of order and the power of jurisdiction!" They have, moreover, attempted synodically to rescind the rule requiring the proclamation of banns before marriage; and the practice of continuous singing in the public worship of God is generally introduced in violation of the "great law and golden rule" of charity, that all things be done unto edifying,—as well as in contravention of their own declaratory act in the year 1838. And, besides, these innovations on the doctrine and order of the church, have been perpetrated by a usurpation on the part of an inferior court of the power and jurisdiction which pertains only to the supreme judicatory—a general assembly.

Having thus essayed in conscious weakness to lay before the reader some of the steps of defection from reformation attainments, and the woeful results; we would beseech and obtest all our brethren in all lands, where their lot is cast, sadly to consider and seriously to ponder this state of things, and to ask themselves,—Is there no remedy? "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no Physician there?"

Let it be distinctly understood that we, whose names appear on these pages, are alone responsible for this publication. Nor is this instrument to be received as implicating or binding any as a symbol of faith. Our single aim and object is to call the attention of all such as take pleasure in the rubbish and stones of Zion, to her present low condition and divided state. We know and delight to be assured, that many in Britain, Ireland and America are likeminded with us. We earnestly desire and invite co-operation with a view to a speedy re-adjustment of the judicial testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. For the accomplishment of this object the writer was commissioned by the Reformed Presbytery last April [1864] to "consult and define in overture, with ministers, and other fit persons in the British Isles." And while the object of his mission was not favored by the Synod of Protesters in Scotland, or the delegates in attendance from the Irish Synod; it is with pleasure he thus publicly declares,—that he was greatly encouraged by elders and members in the three kingdoms. The design of issuing some such manifesto as the foregoing, did not originate with the writer. It was first suggested by a cherished friend, whose generous hospitality the writer enjoyed while in Glasgow. And it is in compliance with the earnest solicitation and urgent request by many both in Europe and America, that the writer has been induced to publish this Declaration. On diligent searching the several Testimonies emitted since the overthrow of the work of reformation in the year 1650, the reader will doubtless find that none of them exhibits a platform so near the holy Scriptures, or presents so fully the position occupied by our church from 1638 to 1649, as that which was adopted at Ploughlandhead, Scotland, 1761. Surely we may adopt and apply the language of Nehemiah:—"Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach."

DAVID STEELE, SR.

Sparta, Randolph County, Ill.

 

Philadelphia, Sep. 1864.

 

 

 

 

 

LETTER FROM REV. THOMAS HANNAY.

 

 

 

I have for several years been much grieved with the state of affairs in that branch of the Church with which I am still connected; and perceiving that matters, ever since the present war commenced, were becoming worse, I sent a letter to the Synod containing a candid expression of my views, and also a respectful request, to which I had every reason to believe I should receive an answer. On learning, however, from some of my brethren at the last meeting of the Synod in Philadelphia, that I would receive no answer to my request, I asked them to return my letter, and declared at the same time my determination to correspond with you, Mr. Steele, in order to ascertain your true position as a witness in the Church of Christ. I have now to say, that I have been much pleased in being privileged with a personal interview with you in the city of Philadelphia. I must also confess, that since I have seen you, I am led to believe, that your position in the witnessing Church of Christ is much higher that what I have been yet privileged to occupy since I left the Revolution Church of Scotland, in the fellowship of which I was born and received the sealing ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper.

I joined the witnessing Church under the ministry of the Rev. William Symington, in Stranraer; and ever since I set my face Zionward, I have been inquiring after the good old paths. I desire to make progress till I find a resting-place for my soul. Fearing that the progressive steps that have been taken for some time by a majority in the body, although much more popular and agreeable to the taste of the present age, yet not so safe, I was constrained to declare to all my brethren in Synod, on receiving back my letter, that I continued my connexion with them only on the ground which was occupied by the Synod when I gave them my certificate when I first arrived in America, 1841. Since I made this declaration, I have resolved to continue my connection till I ascertain what shall, or what can be effected at the next meeting of Synod.

Hoping that the declaration which you propose to publish may be a means, under the blessing of Christ, of bringing his faithful witnesses to co-operate in the work of re-adjusting the Judicial Testimony of the Church,

I am, yours truly,

THOMAS HANNAY.

Philadelphia, Sept. 20, 1864.

 

Address, Allegheny City, Pennsylvania,

Care of Rev. T[homas] Sproull, D.D.

  

SUPPLEMENT.

We, the subscribers, have been grieved with steps of defection from our Covenanted Reformation by the several bodies who claim ecclesiastical relation to our reforming progenitors; and especially grieved and disappointed in our just expectations of redress from the Synod commonly called Old Light. Our respectful memorials and petitions, at their late meeting were not discussed in Synod, nor the grounds of our grievances removed.

The representations made in the foregoing declarations and statements by Rev. Messrs. Hannay and Steele, so far as we are able to ascertain, are just, true, and seasonable; and we earnestly hope that all who love the truth and the peace, may thereby be led to consider what is to be done in order to unite the witnesses of Christ in Britain, Ireland, and America, on the platform of our Church in the year 1649.

Robert M’Connell, 
John Smith, 
David Peoples, 
Robert Alexander, 
John Grieves, 1918 Samson St. Philad. 
Andrew Mitchell, 725 S. 15th St. ‘’ 
William Young, 132 York St., ‘’ 
Robert Elliot, 1721 Lombard St. ‘’ 
David Longwell, 24 N. 18th St. ‘’

Andrew Young, 
Thomas Paley, 251 N. 13th St. ‘’ 
Mary Grieves, 
M. M’Ilwee, 
Jane Gibson, 
M.A. M’Cabe, 
M.A. Morrison, 
Daniel Morrison, 
J. Morrison, 
M.J. Morrison.