No sooner was the Rev. John M’Millan ordained to the holy ministry, in the parish of Balmaghie, in Galloway, Sept. 1701, and had entered on the discharge of the important duties belonging to his office, than he began to discover a strong attachment to Reformation principles. Accordingly, he and other two members of the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright, so early as in the month of July, 1703, after having used other means more privately, for exciting their brethren unto their duty, drew up, and presented to said Presbytery, a paper of grievances; craving, amongst other things, that some effectual measures should be taken, for reviving the remembrance of the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms; explicitly asserting the Divine right of Presbytery; openly avowing Christ’s sole Headship over his Church, together with her intrinsic liberties; and for impartially stating, and mourning over the many sins of the land.
The other two ministers, who had joined with Mr. M’Millan, at first, in presenting this paper, were soon prevailed upon to drop the farther prosecution of the grievances; by which means he was left alone. Considering it as a matter of conscience with him, he still persisted in pleading for redress. This soon rendered him obnoxious to his Presbytery. He was considered as a troubler of Israel. Accordingly, in the same year, 1703, a libel was preferred against him, in a very informal and unjust manner, some of themselves being judges. The illegality of this measure was abundantly obvious; inasmuch as, at one and the same meeting of Presbytery, Mr. M’Millan was appointed to preach a visitation-sermon, as a member of that court, in the regular exercise of his office; and also cited to appear at their bar, as a pannel. Besides, when some attempt was made to lead a proof, not so much as one single charge in the libel could be substantiated. Ashamed, it would seem, of their own conduct, the Presbytery offered to pass from their libel, if Mr. M’Millan would promise to drop the prosecution of his grievances, and cordially join with them. Upon his refusal to comply with this proposal, unless he should obtain some redress of such weighty grievances, matters, between him and the Presbytery, wore still a more unfavourable aspect than before. No other remedy appearing to be now left, for the disburdening of his own conscience, he entered his solemn protest against the proceedings of the Presbytery, declined their authority, and appealed to the first free and faithful General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Upon this the meeting broke up, and a considerable number of the members went home. The rest repaired to a neighbouring church, constituted themselves anew, and, in a very rash and unprecedented manner, deposed Mr. M’Millan from the office of the ministry; without paying the least attention to his protest and appeal; and without so much as informing either him, or his congregation.
Whether such a sentence, clothed with these circumstances, and without either having, or so much as pretending to have, for its foundation, error in doctrine, immorality in practice, insufficiency for the ministry, or unfaithfulness in the discharge of it, could really be considered as ratified in heaven, the impartial reader may judge. Mr. M’Millan had no hesitation in declaring it to be unjust, and such as could not bind his conscience. All the crime, was honestly contending, for the faith once delivered to the saints. His repeated pleadings with his mother Church, in the discharge of this duty, were indeed branded with the epithets of IRREGULARITIES, AND DISORDERLY COURSES. And upon the footing of these the sentence proceeded. But how improperly such terms are applied to the conduct of Christ’s witnesses, in faithfully endeavouring, “whereunto they have already attained, to walk by the same rule, and to mind the same things,” it is, surely, not very difficult to see. Convinced that the sentence passed against him had no warrant, either from Scripture or reason, and having the testimony of a clear conscience, that if any thing justly deserving such treatment had been laid to his charge, there were thousands of respectable witnesses to attest his innocence; Mr. M’Millan still continued in the regular exercise of his ministerial office, upon the footing of his former protest and appeal; and was well received by his parish, who uniformly acknowledged him as their lawful pastor, still supporting and countenancing him in that capacity, notwithstanding all that had happened.
It has been objected, “that although, upon the footing of his protest and appeal, he continued, for some time, to exercise his ministry amongst his people; yet he was soon prevailed upon, by the Commission of the General Assembly, to subscribe the acknowledgment, which they had prepared for him, namely, THAT THE SENTENCES OF AN INFERIOR CHURCH JUDICATORY, THOUGH UNJUST, OUGHT TO BE SUBMITTED TO; AND THAT REDRESS IS TO BE CRAVED AND EXPECTED FROM SUPERIOR JUDICATORIES. Agreeably to which position, he actually desisted from the exercise of his ministry, at least for a while.”
The fact was never refused. But does it follow, as some have supposed, that Mr. M’Millan hereby divested himself of his office, and so confirmed the sentence of deposition? If the following things be carefully attended to, it will evidently appear, that no such conclusion can be drawn from the premises.
In the first place, as the sentence was palpably illegal in its form, and proceeded upon such allegations as could never, from the nature of the things themselves, warrant deposition; it must necessarily be considered as, in itself, null and void, independently of either Mr. M’Millan’s opinion, or his conduct, with regard to it. But,
Secondly, It is a well-authenticated fact, that Mr. M’Millan himself never entertained any opinion of this sentence but one, from the day on which it was first pronounced against him, till the day of his death, the short time during which he desisted from the exercise of his ministry not excepted; for even then, as well as at all other times, he solemnly remonstrated against it, as unjust, and such a sentence as could never be binding upon his conscience, nor be considered as any proper reason for his dropping the exercise of his ministry. By this it clearly appears, that he never viewed any thing, which he either said or did, after the passing of that undeserved sentence, as involving his approbation, or consent.
Thirdly, When Mr. M’Millan rashly yielded to the fore-said acknowledgment, which the Commission had prepared for him; he was persuaded to do it under the fair promise and high-raised expectation, that, if he would only be silent and remain in Edinburgh for a short time, he should have justice done to him, and be restored to his flock again, according to his wish. On this condition alone he submitted; and by this stratagem he was taken in the snare. Besides, the very position itself; to which he subscribed, “That the sentence of a church judicatory, though unjust, ought to be submitted to,” whether it be on one pretense or another, is obviously false, and ought to be rejected by every honest man, so soon as he perceives the error and danger in it.
Fourthly, As the Church’s power is purely ministerial, and she is only the organ or channel, through which office-power is conveyed, from Him who walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks, and holds the stars in his right hand; it is perfectly obvious, that she has no original authority of her own, or absolute right, either to give, or to recall the ministerial office. The one and the other must be done in the name and agreeably to the revealed will of Christ. And if her deeds speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. Consequently, they cannot bind. Considering these things; we may sadly affirm, that Mr. M’Millan still retained his ministerial powers, notwithstanding all that was done, either by the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright, or himself. Accordingly,
He no sooner found time to bethink himself; and deliberately consider what he had done, than he perceived his mistake, and sincerely repented of his rash deed, in consenting, either upon one condition or another, or for any given time, to drop the usual exercise of his ministry. Resuming his wonted courage, he entered, without further delay, on the conscientious discharge of the important duties belonging to his station. He considered his former protest, declinature, and appeal, as yet remaining in their full force; inasmuch as he had never retracted them, nor taken any step to render them null; but, on the contrary, had repeatedly confirmed them, by his after-remonstrances, against the unrighteous deed. He was still heartily received and welcomed by his former flock, who, notwithstanding all that had befallen him, considered and treated him as their lawful pastor. It is obvious, that he, and those of his parish who adhered to him as their minister, must now be considered as in a state of separation from the Established Church; and openly avowing their adherence to the principles of Scotland’s Covenanted Reformation.
It was while matters continued in this situation, that he received the harmonious call, above-mentioned, from the united Societies of the Old Presbyterian Dissenters, who had never embodied with the Revolution Church, but remained still without a minister. In the year 1707, they called and invited Mr. M’Millan, to take them also under his ministerial inspection, along with the people who had all along adhered to him; upon the footing of the Covenanted Reformation between 1638 and 1649. With this request he cheerfully complied.
Acting still upon the same principles, he, and a Mr. John M’Neil, probationer, on the 29th of Sept. 1708, gave in to the Commission of the General Assembly at Edinburgh, a joint protestation, declinature and appeal. In this deed they recognise substantially the very same doctrines, and principles, which are contained in the Informatory Vindication, and in the Judicial Testimony of the Reformed Presbytery; while their protestation and declinature are founded on much the same defections and corruptions of the Revolution Church, as are stated and condemned in that Testimony: as the printed copies of the protest and declinature, which are yet to be seen, plainly evince.
The public are hereby certified, that the foregoing statement, with respect to the deceased Mr. M’Millan’s leaving the Established Church, is taken from original papers and other documents, the authenticity of which is indisputable; and which could still be shewn, were it necessary.
Upon the whole, it is obvious, that notwithstanding all the objections of his adversaries, Mr. M’Millan’s standing claim to the full exercise of his ministerial powers, even to the day of his death, was as valid as hundreds of others, in similar circumstances, whose title has never been disputed. It could be no less valid than the claim of all such Protestant ministers as were once in the bosom of the Romish church; but, separating themselves from her communion, and advocating the cause of the Reformation, were subjected to the papal thunder of depositions, excommunications, and solemn execrations. Protesting against the unhallowed deeds, they continued in the exercise of their ministry, and were still reputed the ambassadors of Christ, until the day of their death. It cannot be less valid than the claim of the first ministers of the Secession. These too were suspended and deposed, by the judicatories of the Revolution Church. And it is deserving of notice, that the real reasons of these deeds were remarkably similar to the reasons of Mr. M’Millan’s deposition, namely, their persevering remonstrances against the defections and corruptions of their mother Church; and refusing to drop their earnest contendings with her, until they should obtain some redress of their just grievances. Denied this, they protested against the unjust sentences passed upon them, and still went on in the exercise of their ministry. But it is presumed that our Seceding brethren would not take it very kind, to have their ministerial commission called in question: nor are we disposed to do it. The ministers of the Relief Church will be found in a similar situation. The Rev. Thomas Gillespie, who had been minister of Carnock, was, in the year 1752, deposed by the Assembly, for refusing to countenance a violent settlement. He, with another minister, who had left his charge, and was therefore cast out from the communion of the Established Church, constituted themselves into a Presbyterial capacity, and still went on in the exercise of their office. The Reformed Presbytery, therefore, are not alone, as to the footing on which they retain their ministerial authority.
Having attended to these things, the impartial reader will now be at no loss to discern, how illiberal and uncandid, to say no worse of it, must be the statement, contained in a late pamphlet, entitled, A Narrative of the State of Religion in Britain and Ireland. Agreed upon and enacted by the General Associate Synod, 2d September, 1803. Edit. Edin. 1804. What, in this Narrative, respects the Old Dissenters, is comprehended from p. 85, near the top, to p. 89. And we are truly sorry to find, that in the whole account given of them, others can speak for themselves, there is scarcely one fair and candid representation of facts. Dark insinuations, unfounded assertions without the shadow of either proof or illustration, and statements remarkably calculated to mislead, comprise the principal part of what is said concerning this people. In an age so distinguished for high claims to liberality of sentiment, and christian charity, we certainly should have expected rather different treatment from our brethren. But the public, who have perused our writings, on the subject referred to, will judge for themselves.
With regard to the Dissenters, this Narrative informs us, "That they had their rise, as a distinct, religious party, so long ago as the end of the 17th century, when three ministers, viz. Messrs. Lining, Shields, and Boyd, after giving in two papers of grievances to the Assembly, were received into the communion of the Established Church. Several of the people who formerly adhered to them, considered that by joining with that Church, they had materially dropped their testimony, and therefore declined going along with them."
The representation here given is, so far just, that, upon this occasion, the people acted the part which is ascribed to them. But we are not, certainly, to consider this as their first appearance. We have found already, that, even as a distinct witnessing party, contending for Scotland’s Covenanted Reformation, and endangering their lives in the high places of the field, their origin must be traced more than twenty years farther back than the Revolution. “Destitute of pastors,” it is said, “they soon gave way to strange fancies about the nature and ends of civil government.” But whether these fancies were strange, or common, it is plain to a demonstration, as we have also seen above, that they were none other than what had been entertained by our reformers in general, between 1638 and 49; none other than what were ratified by the fundamental laws of the Kingdom of Scotland; and none other than what were sworn unto, in the Solemn League and Covenant of the three Kingdoms. “Having formed themselves into praying societies,” we are told, “they continued without ministers or public ordinances.” If the meaning be, that they only formed the societies at that time, when they had lost the three fore-mentioned ministers, it is a glaring misrepresentation. These societies also were formed more than twenty years before.
The uncandid Narrative proceeds, “Mr. M‘Millan had been deposed by the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright.” It is not refused. But pray, dear brethren, what were the reasons of his deposition? Bore they any resemblance to the reasons, for which the first ministers of your own party were deposed by the same Established Church? If they did, why not signify this also, seeing you reckon it necessary to publish the fact? Is not the uninformed reader, as the greatest part likely are with regard to that affair, left to suppose, or rather to conclude, that it would, no doubt, be for error in doctrine, immorality in practice, or some other sufficient cause, that he was deprived of his office. But it seems, that it would have been too candid to tell the stubborn fact, that none of these were in the case; and that it was on account of his steadfast adherence to Reformation principles, and his honestly insisting for a redress of grievances. “Having,” it is said, “for some time submitted to the sentence; upon receiving a call from these Societies, he at his own hand entered upon the exercise of his ministerial office among them.” No, certainly; to that sentence, as just or as binding upon his conscience, he never yielded by subjection unto it, no, not for so much as one hour. By what means, and on what fair promises, he was led into the snare of keeping silence, for some Sabbaths, have been shown above. Having never been legally deprived of his office, nor laid it down, there could be no harm in exercising it at any time when occasion required. But let it be carefully observed, that his entering again on the exercise of his ministry, after the short silence, was altogether unconnected with, and independent of, the call, which he afterwards received from the Societies: though one would naturally conclude, from the dark insinuating Narrative before us, that it was at least one, or rather the alone moving cause of the step which he then took.
The other misrepresentations of the Old Dissenters, contained in the Narrative of which we now speak, have been repeatedly considered and answered, by our Presbytery and several of their members, in their former publications; and it is hoped, that the reader will reckon it but equitable, to hear both parties, before he draw his conclusions. It hath, indeed, been much the manner of our Seceding brethren, especially of late, to pay no more attention to the answers, which have been made to their accusations, than if they had no existence; and, at the same time, still to continue the former cry. Perhaps, for their own ease and safety, it may be wisely enough done; but whether or not it be a candid treatment of their Dissenting brethren, the public must judge.
In dismissing this Narrative before us, there is one thing which can scarcely be overlooked. The poor despised Dissenters receive no credit, for the reality of any thing that they do: all must be put to the score of mere pretence and false appearance. “They proceeded, A. 1712, to WHAT THEY CALLED a renovation of our covenants.—Mr. Thomas Nairn, with Mr. M‘Millan, constituted themselves into WHAT THEY DESIGNED The Reformed Presbytery.—A. 1761. They published WHAT THEY CALLED, An Act, Declaration and Testimony,” &c. The reader shall be left to judge, whether that be a very handsome mode of speaking, at the beginning of the 19th century; or if it does not rather savour of the old rancor, which has too much characterized the controversial writings of former times.