Reasons of dissent from the Act of Synod rescinding the Act, which ordered the Congregations to read the lines in the public singing of the praises of God.
[In 1847, when Synod rescinded the "Declaratory Act" of 1838, James R. Willson, one of the eldest Covenanter ministers and professor of theology, submitted the following dissent:
1.The rescinding act, as the undersigned believes, is, in its import, not warranted by the practice of God’s people of the days of David, for then the lines were read, that all might have the privilege of praising God.
2. It is calculated to encourage insubordination, as it has been passed in answer to a petition of Topsham congregation, which, for many years, refused to obey what the petitioners themselves admit, was a law of Synod.
3. It tends to distract the church, by appearing to depart from that uniformity in worship which the church has always laboured to maintain, which is dear to the saints, and in which God delights:—"Jerusalem, as a city, is compactly built together." It is an attempt to remove one pin of the tabernacle, and thus impair the strength which makes it compact. Many will be grieved for this. The writer is among these.
4. The act is an accommodation to the corrupt Congregationalists of New England, where the insubordination of Topsham congregation originated. By yielding to corruption, farther and more dangerous encroachments are encouraged. It was admitted in the argument, that one reason, and, as the undersigned thinks, the main one, for rescinding the act, is because those who are without oppose lining. That reason is equally availing against the weightier matters of the law, embodied in our Testimony.
5. The rescinding act is equivocal. It is well known that many, of whom the undersigned is one, deem the law of our manner of worship still exists in all its force, as it has never been rescinded, and that it does not lie in the mouth of any inferior authority, or of any congregation, or of any member to declare that the expediency of the law, making it imperative, has ceased to exist. They believe that though all adult Covenanters can read, yet there are thousands who attend on preaching, as in England, Ireland, and Scotland, that cannot read, all of whom have their mouths closed, while a very few only, are celebrating the praises of God. Other members, who plead for the congregational manner of worship in this matter, will interpret, as they have done for years, the law in the Directory of Worship, to authorize every congregation, if it is pleasing to it, with the session, to sing continuously. For the purpose of settling definitively the meaning of that part of our law, the act, now rescinded, was passed. The undersigned, with all due deference to Synod, thinks this kind of equivocal legislation, now so common in all corrupt Protestant churches, ought to be avoided.
6. The undersigned deems this rescinding act a step of defection. There are in carnal times, and a lukewarm state of the church, three distinctly marked steps in backsliding. 1. Ceasing to do such things as ought to be done, as not proceeding in the argumentative part of the church’s testimony, and halting in the settlement of the governmental order of the Lord’s house, and the non-renovation of covenant. 2. Undoing what has been done. 3. In doing the contrary. The undersigned saw, with great pain, these degrees of defection, which led to the lamentable New Light defection. He is constrained, with deep sorrow of heart, to put the rescinding act in the second class.
7. The rescinding act is a departure from the footsteps in which the flock of Christ have walked, for at least two hundred years, and all this for no valid reason, as the undersigned thinks.
8. Christ says of the tithing of mint, anise and cummin, "These things ye ought to have done." While the undersigned admits that there are weightier matters of the law far more important, he still earnestly dissents from the rescinding act, because it is like the letting out of waters, which though very small at first, wear, for themselves continually, larger and larger channels. He shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, who teaches men to condemn the loops and taches of the tabernacle.
June 1, 1847