[Published in 1795, this document precedes the re-erection of the Presbytery as jurisdiction separate from Scotland or Ireland, in 1798.]
An Act of the Reformed Presbytery in North America for a Day of Public Fasting, with the Causes thereof:
THE times and circumstances in which the remnant of the Reformed Covenanting Church, in the United States of North America, finds herself existing, are, to her, loudly admonitory; the signs of the times are truly ominous, and call her to acts of the most deliberate consideration as to present duty toward God, her own children, the world of mankind at large, and succeeding generations—and upon the most mature view of present systems, providential calls, conscious guilt, divine commands and threatenings, together with the approved example of past generations, she finds herself, in her collective capacity, urged on to essay the very solemn work of public fasting and humiliation with all convenient speed. It is hoped the following survey of all the causes will call forth her own connections to earnestness and ingenuity in this business, and, at the same time, serve as an apology for her to the generation, and an admonition to them to consider their ways.
I. Ignorance, mightily prevails through this extensive country. It is truly pitiable to traverse the regions of this great wilderness, from one end to another, and behold the wretched state of old and young in respect to the knowledge of divine revelation and its great and important doctrines. This renders mankind an easy prey to every imposture that is practiced upon men by those swarms of false teachers, who, in every corner of the land, debase religion and bring it into the lowest degree of degradation by their damnable doctrines and anti-christian practices. What renders this symptom the more alarming is the vain, self-conceited idea, which not a little flatters the pride and vanity of this generation, namely, that they are an enlightened people; too justly we may complain that this “people is destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hos. 4.6.
II. Unbelief, like iron bars, closes out Christ and the knowledge of his person, offices, and redemption, from the ears and hearts of them to whose doors the gospel is daily sent. How far the ravages of the late war, with sanguinary scenes which attended it, may have hardened the heart and blunted the feelings of this nation and generation, is not easy to say: but certain it is that a cold, skeptical disposition prevails exceedingly, and is generally attended with a contempt of the close, heart-searching doctrine of God’s Word; when the most pressing, tender and animated calls are delivered to perishing sinners, the missionaries of heaven have the mortification, too often, to behold indifference written on the countenances of auditors and beholders, and to see them go away and make light of the most solemn and pathetic warnings, notwithstanding that God has sworn that none such shall enter into his rest—that they shall not see life, but that the wrath of God abides on them.
III. The open affronts cast on God’s moral law in this country equal, yea perhaps exceed, anything that has ever been attempted in any country professing Christianity. Were the instances rare, and conducted behind the curtain, though this would be matter of lamentation, yet the visible affront to the Divine Majesty would not be so great. But this is far from being the case. Impudence seems, in modern times, to have outdone her former efforts and to have banished almost the last blush from a hardened generation, of whom we may say, with Solomon: “There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eye-lids are lifted up.” Atheism walks abroad at noonday. It is quite fashionable with not a few, who pretend to superior refinement of understanding, to mock the being and perfections of their Maker and Judge. False worship is established and openly practiced in every part of the land, and the most wicked and gross heretics and idolaters are invited to come and take shelter under the wings of the present civil power, provided only they will first fall down and worship the golden image which a corrupt and infidel people have set up. False swearing is extremely common. Oaths are most lamentably and unnecessarily multiplied, so that the consciences of men seem, in a high degree, callous to that most solemn act of religious worship. Idolatry in swearing, by kissing a book, is little scrupled at, though jurants in this country are under no legal temptation to this species of immorality. God’s creatures are much abused by the intemperate use thereof, to the great dishonor of his name and affront of his religion. Was ever the Sabbath known to be treated with more contempt in any country? No! America might blush at many Popish countries on this head. The little provision which the laws have made for suppressing this heaven-daring sin, is nearly rendered useless by the remissness and carelessness of magistrates, who are often themselves the ringleaders in this iniquity. Relative duties are ill understood and as ill practiced. Wicked principles about civil government gain ground. Rulers seem to have no idea, nor [those] ruled any desire, that civil power should be morally qualified; they mutually laugh to scorn the design of subordinating civil rule to the glory of the Messiah’s kingdom. Parents neglect the education of their children, and children contemn the authority of their parents. Ministers neglect their flocks, and their flocks wander far from and contemn their shepherds. Murder is not uncommon; ruining and murdering characters is so frequent that it has almost lost its odium in the public opinion. That abominable species of murder, even enslaving thousands of fellow creatures for life and their posterity without end, and degrading them below the brutes, is now reduced to a regular system, and seems, by a long prescription to brave a remedy. There is, for the present, power on the side of the oppressors, but no power on the side of the oppressed. What humane man but will mingle his tears with those of his fellow mortals, when he sees them shut out from every source of rational happiness, far banished from their native homes, torn from dear relations, and wallowing in the most abominable uncleanness, while every means of ameliorating their condition is artfully kept from their view by their insolent and murderous masters. Oh! America, what hast thou to account for, both to God and man, on the head of slavery alone? Alas! when shall God arise for the cries of the oppressed? Uncleanness seems to claim America for its favorite soil. Cozening and deceit in dealing walk abroad with a boldness which shows the honor and moral sentiments of America to be at a very low ebb. False witness bearing, the natural and inseparable concomitant of an unnecessary multiplication of oaths, abounds in every quarter; it has become so common, indeed, that its abettors seem to be got, in a great measure, beyond shame. Covetousness, that native vice of the depraved heart of man, makes its appearance in various shapes. Conscience seems to slumber, while the strong man armed keeps the house. The pride of life, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, are becoming the mainspring of human action. Oh! that men saw the purity and perfection of the divine law, and felt its power to convert the souls that lie in sin.
IV. A worldly, mercenary spirit greatly prevails. What the Apostle means when he desires us to set our affections on things above, and not on things on the earth, seems not to be studied, nor scarcely attempted to be reduced to practice. Not a few seem to think there is something in the American seasons, agriculture, and avocations, that apologizes for worldly-mindedness and neglect of close walking with God. But, let not men deceive themselves. God will not be mocked. In all places where he records his name he expects that men will worship him in spirit and in truth. Let us remember the apostolical advice: “Love not the world, neither the things of the world; for if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
V. This wretched evil increases hardness of heart and insensibility under all the means of God’s appointment for the correction and reformation of mankind. If he smiles, in his providence, they wax wanton, and take his wine and oil to deck their idols with. If he frowns, they grow sullen, and, at least in their hearts, curse him to his face. If he calls by his word, they sleep on and say, a little more sleep, a little more slumber, and a little more folding of the hands to sleep; or, perhaps, oppose any movings within, by promising to hear them at a more convenient time. Thus insensibility eats out religion from every part of the human family, when it is indulged. It ruins hearts, families, churches and nations.
VI. Untenderness in the lives and conversations of professors is truly lamentable. The bride, the Lamb’s wife, is loudly called upon to adorn the doctrine of God her Saviour. If she does not, who will, in a crooked and perverse generation? How awful that any who profess to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes, should prove themselves, by their practice, to be enemies to the cross of Christ. And may we not all lament that we stand more or less chargeable on this quarter, so that the word of truth comes to be evil spoken of thereby, and a wicked generation hardened in their evil ways.
VII. The little success of the gospel in these dregs of time, is very afflicting. Never, perhaps, had the ministers of the gospel more reason to take up that bitter complaint, who hath believed our report and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? The Lord in just anger has awfully withheld the refreshing and awakening influence of his Spirit. Men are fond to heap up to themselves teachers, having itching ears. They desire to have smooth things taught. And, alas! it seems too evident that God is giving them up to their idols, and to be filled with their own ways. Any feeble attempts that are made to introduce sound doctrines, and the power of real holiness, meet with little encouragement. Men seem generally contented—they are settled on their lees. Those who would call them to a more close consideration of their ways, seem to be setters forth of new Gods. Oh! for a day of divine power, when Jehovah shall make these hard-hearted sinners who are far off from God and righteousness, know and consider their ways. Oh! that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end.
VIII. What ground of mourning when we behold the rooted and immovable aversion which generally appears against the introduction of a covenanted work of reformation in this western world! Some attempts have been made to disseminate these divine principles, in different parts of the American continent, by the witnessing remnant in Britain and Ireland; but, alas! it appears that her transatlantic sons soon wearied of the cross. The late revolution in America seems to have afforded a desirable pretext for casting it away. How honorable this pretext will prove to the agents, or advancing to the cause of Christ, time will more fully unfold. In the meantime we desire to lament bitterly that our former brethren in the cause and testimony of Jesus in this rising empire, who ought to have been like dew among the nations where they were scattered, and who lacked not weapons, nor a glorious opportunity to display the banner of truth, did so faintly turn back and fall before so small a temptation to the rending the remnant of Christ’s witnesses in this new world, and that they still persevere to cast cold water on every attempt to revive God’s work in the midst of the years.
IX. We desire, as a witnessing remnant of the Lord’s people scattered among the nations, to mourn at the lax and wicked notions that a great part of this nation entertains upon the article of civil government, namely: that it is utterly resolvable into the corrupt will of unprincipled and ungodly men, without any regard to the moral law, than which, perhaps, a more wicked doctrine has never been broached among Adam’s miserable posterity. We moreover lament that this nation made such a poor improvement of the noble opportunity they enjoyed of setting up a good moral civil constitution among them. How shameful was their return to God, when he had delivered them from the scourge of a cruel war, and put it in their power to do something for his honor, that they made their State Constitutions nests for almost all uncleanness and cages of every unclean bird; they engaged to protect every enemy of God and of his Christ, provided they will take shelter under the wings of the United States. How miserably have many been deceived who have sacrificed their blood and treasure to get rid of cursed Popery and prelacy, with other damnable heresy, when they see these very evils taken under the national protection of an unthoughtful people. Tell it not in Gath.
X. If we dig a little farther, we should yet see, if possible, greater abominations. We will find Satan transforming himself into an angel of light, and attempting to deceive the very elect. Wherever we turn, we hear a cry: Lo! here is Christ, and lo! He is there. Our ears are dunned with strange conversions, wonderful regenerations and amendments of life. “Are not these men the agents of God?” is the common cry. But a little attention will convince persons of sober understanding that these are the desperate efforts of Satan to introduce a wild, enthusiastic fire in place of the regular operations of the Holy Ghost in the conversion and sanctification of men, to the dishonor of God, hardening a generation in their contempt of religion, deluding many simple souls, and bringing on themselves swift destruction.
XI. Damnable heresies are propagated, with indefatigable zeal, by Satan’s agents in almost every quarter of this extensive continent, such as the denial of the doctrine of a Trinity in unity, the atonement of Christ, the divine authority of the Bible, the efficacy of the Spirit in the conversion of sinners, the perseverance of the Saints, the universal depravity of human nature, and the eternity of punishment, all of which abominable heresies are eversive of the very foundations of Christianity.
XII. There is great reason to lament the want of a Christian spirit, among professors of the same cause one toward another. How ready are such often to bite and devour one another! How ready to rip up private faults! How hard to be brought to exercise a forgiving spirit, when differences arise! How negligent to converse together about the concerns of God’s glory and their mutual edification! How untender are they to fallen brethren, to restore them in the spirit of meekness! How slack in stirring each other up to a holy, disinterested zeal for the public concerns of God’s glory! How slow to inquire after each other’s welfare! How little sympathy do they exercise to one another in distress! How slow to set an example to one another in sacrificing their private interests to the public concerns of God and religion in the world! Alas! alas! such was not the character nor conduct of Christians toward each other in those days when even pagans were wont, with admiration, to say: “See how the Christians love one another!” And how hard are the professors of this day to be brought to ministerial admonition and discipline! How hardly are they brought to the exercise of social prayer, family worship, non-conformity to the world, and abstinence from fleshly lusts! How hardly brought to keep social intercourse in praying societies with one another, or even to confess their faults for neglecting these important duties! And all this to the deadening of their own souls, retarding God’s sent servants.
For these, and many other weighty causes that might be mentioned, the Presbytery do appoint the first Wednesday of November next to be observed by themselves and people of their communion, through the United States, as a day of most solemn prayer and fasting. And they do hereby, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, earnestly beseech their said connections not to make light of this injunction, but to essay the work with great solemnity; to search their hearts most severely, examine their ways, and cry mightily to the Lord that he would avert just judgment from this guilty land, which seems impending; that he would pity us in our low estate, think upon us, and assist us while we attempt to set up his fallen Tabernacle in this western world; and that every person and family would mourn apart and endeavor to set forward of thorough reformation.
At the same time the court find themselves bound to call themselves and their scattered connections to the exercise of thanksgiving to God for any reviving he has given us in our bondage, particularly that he has preserved some berries on the topmost branches, in a time of such general apostasy; that he has been pleased to send any to break the bread of life among his people, and search out the strayed sheep where they have been scattered in the dark and cloudy days, and that he is giving some hopes that he will have a seed to do him service in this remote part of the world until the times of more general refreshing shall come from his presence.
W. KING, Moderator.
J. M’KINNEY, Clerk.
Rocky Creek (S.C.), CHESTER DIST., August 5, 1795.