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PART II. Section IV.

Database

PART II. Section IV.

James Dodson

         I have hitherto studied brevity, frequently checking a prosperity to amplify, as I wished to place before the reader facts, and the principles, true or false, from which the facts originated, that he might have both before his mind in condensed form as elements for his own judgment. It is all important to clearness of apprehension in forming a judgment, that all extraneous matter be kept strictly in abeyance. It is by the introduction of irrelevant matter that our minds are confused: and when this object is gained by the designing and sophistical reasoner, he can lead us captive at pleasure. By this “sleight of men lying in wait to deceive,” many are seduced in all ages, and I know no other method by which pious people are often misled, except by the ignorant abuse or wicked perversion of Scripture metaphors.

          When the late Dr. Cunningham, missionary to the Jews in London, in his Magazine for April, 1867, recounted the steps of defection by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, his catalogue began with the practice of “occasional hearing,” as consistently tending and necessarily leading to all the rest. The second step was “serving as jurors.” At this stage the church had practically fallen from her testimony against the “corrupt constitutions of either church or state.” The process of reasoning on the case is both state and simple to any unsophisticated mind, thus: If I can occupy the same pew with my neighbor on Sabbath, hearing his minister officially declare the Covenants to be “unlawful oaths,” can I scruple to sit in the jury-box with him on Monday, to apply that constitutional law of the State, if “the powers that be” so command? Well, now, is not the case quite plain to any honest man? The third step is to use the “elective franchise” in choosing my representative to assist in the execution of the same law, if the supreme civil power so require as before. Can I consistently hesitate? Certainly, not. The fourth step is the “oath of allegiance.” This cannot be conscientiously refused by any who has employed a substitute to swear for him. Can he, as a Christian? or as a rational creature? No, he cannot. The fifth step is “joining military associations,” to carry out all the provisions of the Constitution, and that one among the rest, which requires the jurant, if required, to slay his faithful brethren—the “Act of conformity.” The fox, Toleration, may be chained any day and the tiger, Conformity, let loose upon his former kind of prey: and the conduct of the occasional hearer in the British Isles opens the flood-gate for all this actual immorality and possibly cruelty. Now, however lightly these things may be looked upon by the world of the ungodly, and by a generation of worldly professors, their nature and importance is not thereby either altered or seriously affected. While the Auchensaugh Bond was conscientiously regarded, it gave vitality to the other symbols of our plighted faith—the very faith of the martyrs of Jesus, a number of their surviving compatriots being present and actively co-operating. And those who had just recently “escaped the edge of the sword” and “come out of great tribulation” were in the best condition to understand their duty, and to feel the weight of covenant obligation. It is highly probable, that henceforth few will be honored to follow in their footsteps till brought into a similar position.

          The course of backsliding by the R. P. Church in America was very similar to that in Scotland; only, as hinted above, with “accelerated motion”—to use a favorite phrase of Dr. Wylie. When Dr. Alex. McLeod’s “Overture” for a great combination of covenanters was under discussion, Dr. Wylie not only manifested apathy in regard to the proposed measure; but, while generally deferring to Dr. McLeod, he went so far as to signify his dislike to what he suggestively designated “injudicious ligatures.” Indeed, I heard a professed Covenanters, less prominent in his own congregation, give expression to a similar sentiment. When told that his subscription to the call of a pastor was to be paid annually, he said, “O this is a free country! I cannot be bound!” Thus it appears that a sense of covenant obligation, and especially the obligation of church covenants, was losing its hold on the consciences of many in the church, and for the same reason—political fraternization. Other instances of backsliding from the doctrine and order to which Reformed Presbyterians are solemnly pledged must not be omitted here; although the very mention of some of them be the occasion of ridicule rather than of conviction of sin, and to none more than to the backsliders. But Ishmael was an early prototype of the persecuting “mocking and scoffers of the last times.” Gal. iv. 29; 2 Pet. iii. 3; Jude 18. Where is now heard the proclamation of the banns of marriage, that barrier erected against clandestine contracts, corrupting the family, the church and the state? This provision of our “Directory” has gone into desuetude, become “a dead letter,” without even the formality of abrogation. Hence, the increasing frequency of sinful desertions and scandalous divorces. The marriage covenant is viewed by many as merely and wholly a civil contract. Were this true, then the parties could lawfully dissolve the connection by mutual consent, as in other merely civil contracts. But the Lord, who instituted the ordinance in Eden before the fall, has taught far otherwise in the Holy Scriptures, both in the Old and New Testaments. Mal. ii. 14, 15; 1 Cor. vii. 39. I know that many look upon the omission of this part of our uniformity as a light matter; but I also know that the omission is a breach of faith, of official oath, interpretative perjury, which is no light matter in the sight of God.

          Similar to the preceding step of defection is the omitting to read the lines of the Psalm in the public social worship of God and in a promiscuous assembly. What is the object of reading with an audible voice? Certainly, that others may be instructed. But, according to the apostle’s reasoning, instruction is impossible if the speaker or reader use a language unknown to the hearer. 1 Cor. xiv. 11. I am not ashamed to reason out a principle on which Paul condescended to reason against learned men at Corinth, who were ignorant of the spirituality and extent of the moral law, the law of charity. I have been long familiar with the objections, the fallacies, which the corrupt ingenuity of carnal minds has opposed to this scriptural rule, framed at Westminster and sanctioned by the Church of Scotland. Some of these are, “The interruption spoils the music.” “All have psalm-books and can read; or, if not, they ought to be able to sing from memory,” etc. These and such like objections are equally irrelevant and childish, evidencing the blindness of the carnal mind to the spirituality of the divine law. As to instruction of the ignorant, or the edification of the intelligent, let the reader ask the question, What is the difference between “speaking in an unknown tongue,” or not speaking at all? The same is true of reading. It is evident that in neither case is edification possible. But the law of God in this very case is explicit and peremptory, “Let all things be done unto edifying,” verse 26. The men of the Second Reformation knew something of the law of charity when they directed the mode of applying the second table of that law as they did in circumstances then existing, assigning a plain and sufficient reason, “While many cannot read.”

          For, if Paul thus applied the law in the case of one individual casually entering the worshipping assembly, and that one unlearned or even an unbeliever (v. 24,) well might they reason a fortiori, “while many cannot read,” in pointing out the right application of the second table of the law. I submit even to a prejudiced Christian, if he only yet trembles at the word of the Lord, the few following texts for his consideration on this question of singing without lining in the public praise of God. Neh. viii. 8; Ps. cxlviii. 12; Matt. xxi. 16; Rom. xiii. 10. I know not any modern innovation among Protestant churches, Presbyterian, and even Reformed Presbyterian churches, by which they approximate nearer in external form to the Romish Latin mass than by continuous singing in public worshipping assemblies. Of course, in social praise, where all can read and it is known by the person conducting the exercise that none present is hindered, the reading is thus superceded.

          Allied to the foregoing innovation is the practice of conducting “religious services over the dead,” in the late residence of the deceased; carrying the corpse to the church; or, repeating such heathen rites at the grave—for they are heathen rites, incorporated by the Romish church with Judaism and Christianity; and like other superstitious ceremonies, baptized “Christian burial.” Few practices under the guise of religion have a more hardening tendency on spectators, and even surviving relatives, than the customary eulogies “over the dead;” and it may be that the indurating influence of the practice may be experienced by the person officiating while he is perfectly unconscious of the process.

          Another innovation, which, like all the others, is additional evidence of defection among professed Reformed Presbyterian churches, is the custom in church courts of what are called “devotional exercises.” These have such a pious name that any objection to them may be considered by some as a sacrilegious profanation. These extra devotions are lawful and dutiful on special occasions; but as engrafted on the long-established order of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, they are indeed an innovation borrowed from the larger, looser, more popular denominations. History attests that as the more spiritual part of religion declines in any church, the more does she resort to the ceremonial part. These devotional exercises in church courts have come into the Covenanted Church within my own recollection. Like most other novelties that have corrupted the body, these have been introduced “within the memory of man.” But some reader may ask, What are these devotional exercises? I answer, they are conducted very much as in the society now called “prayer-meeting.” They consist of singing, reading the Scriptures, and prayer. And who can object to this devotion? Well, I do, and I do so decidedly. Every duty is not to be done at all times. “The Lord said to Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me; speak unto the people that they go forward.” Action, not prayer, was present duty. Now, the immediate business of every church court is to judge—to judge faithfully for the Lord and impartially toward their brethren. That they be qualified for this responsible service, it has been the custom, time immemorial, in the Reformed Presbyterian Church to open the court at first meeting with prayer, and every successive session to do the same. That our fathers deemed sufficient in all ordinary cases. In extraordinary cases they prayed more earnestly with fasting, but we do not hear of their reading, praying, and singing—and singing continuously at every time of re-assembling. And I am sure no one ever saw any judicatory of the Reformed Presbyterian name fifty years ago, where a part of the members were at their devotions in the auditorium; another part eating lunch and “cracking jokes” in the vestibule, and another part financially interested in the basement, all at the same time. I cannot think such exercises are helpful to the proper business for the transaction of which the court meets; nor that the extra time employed in the devotions facilitates or accelerates judicial decisions. The only apparent reason for the innovation is to conform to the customs of more respectable churches as in other things.

          Here than we have a succession of steps of backslidings from the practice of our reforming and godly progenitors, and a series of innovations borrowed from corrupt neighbors. The Reformed Presbytery has endeavored to follow in the beaten path of the uncompromising witnesses whose history is traceable in the well-authenticated documents which from age to age they have furnished to direct their faithful successors. This good old way is difficult, but it is the only safe and pleasant one. It is “the highway of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, but the redeemed shall walk there.” Is. xxxv. 8, 9. All true progress consists in conformity to the Bible: and however the Bible may be perverted by the misinterpretation of men of corrupt minds, its divine Author has promised his Holy Spirit to guide sincere disciples into all truth: that they shall know the truth and thereby be made free, brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Now, all the faithful contendings of Christ’s witnesses have been transmitted to us under their own hand, for none ever could write their history but themselves. And it is equally true that none can certainly interpret their history but themselves. These truths are easily demonstrated by existing and abundant evidence. For example; The Established Church of Scotland claims to be the very church of the First Reformation by John Knox and his coadjutors. The Original Seceders are equally confident that they occupy the exact position of the covenanted church of the Second Reformation, with all the attainments reached by Alexander Henderson and his coadjutors. I have selected only these two claimants, as they are sufficient for my present purpose. Will any other church on earth conceded the claims of the Erastian church to be the church of Knox, which so nobly asserted and at all hazards defended her independence of civil control? Can the Original Seceders establish their claim to be the covenanted church of Scotland while “treacherously” leaving out the “civil part” of our Covenants, National and Solemn League, while pretending to renew them? No, she cannot. The claims of these two parties are preposterous, both having disowned expressly or practically provisions of the Covenants which were essential to each reformation. Neither of these two bodies, which formerly were one, will admit the claim of the other to be the Church of Scotland. Why is this? Because they do not interpret the Subordinate Standards any more than the Bible in the same sense. And this is equally true of all the other Presbyterian churches, whose members are the lineal descendants of the original Covenanters throughout the British Empire and the United States. They all claim kindred with Knox, and other distinguished reformers in Scotland. This claim of relationship, even by those in different lands who have forfeited it by defection, like the dispersion of the Jews, is a standing testimony to the intrinsic value of the Covenanted Reformation. The words of Isaiah are plainly applicable to all false claimants, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.” Not one of these claimants has ever “bound up the testimony and sealed the law” as commanded. On the contrary, every one of them has rejected the only means by which the claim can be sustainedhistorical evidence.[see Appendix IV.] Even those parties within the past hundred years who have approximated nearest to the position of Christ’s covenanted witnesses have explicitly declared their divergence. The Reformed Presbyterians, Reformed Dissenters (now extinct), Seceders, and United Presbyterians, have severally emitted judicial Testimonies: but each is careful to apprise the reader that their respective Testimonies exclude “Narrative, Historical View, and Argument.” These are not to be included in their Terms of Communion. The New Testimony adopted by the Scottish and Irish Reformed Presbyterian Synods might seem to be an exception, because they commonly speak and write of the doctrinal and historical parts of the Testimony; just as if the historical part of the book were also a part of the Testimony. The very same deception is continually practiced on the credulous, the ignorant and careless in America, There is this difference, however, that whereas “Reformation Principles Exhibited” mentions an argumentative part of the framers’ plan, there is not even mention of any such argumentative part in the New Scottish Testimony: and besides, those intelligent and faithful men who all along opposed that great stride in defection, told the innovators plainly that they were imitating the “model of the Trans-Atlantic brethren.”

          It may now appear to the impartial reader that all those claimants to be the successors of Scotland’s covenanted witnesses have actually forfeited their respective claims by relinquishing that which alone could justify them, history and argument. The only rational, scriptural and tenable ground upon which Christ’s witnesses against the blasphemous claims of the great anti-Christ ever stood, or can now stand, was occupied by the Reformed Presbytery in 1761; and the Reformed Presbytery, amid similar opposition and obloquy, occupies the same ground today. It is not difficult to make this evident to an unbiased mind. I must assume that our martyred fathers in Scotland were really martyrs, though this be denied by Papists and Prelates. They suffered “for Jesus’ sake, for the name of Jesus, for righteousness’ sake,” for these are inspired definitions of the word persecution—a word, like liberty, or charity and others, continually misapplied through ignorance of the Holy Scriptures. Even where Satan’s seat is, all Christ’s witnesses are not martyrs. “Behold the devil shall cast some of you in prison,” not all. He only is a martyr who confirms his testimony by death. Now, there is not a word in all the Bible about those people whom we are accustomed to, the Scottish martyrs, yet multitudes have entered into glory who never heard of them, their sufferings, or the occasion or grounds of their sufferings. Even our doctrinal standards we received from our fathers through history alone. Now, I desire the reader to see with his own mental eye, that our faith in the genuineness of these doctrinal standards rests solely on human testimony: that is, we believe on the evidence of the generations who have lived before us, that our Confessions, Covenants, etc., are trues copies of those documents. But our belief so far is not saving faith—“the faith of God’s elect.”[1.] Having these documents handed down to us through history alone, then we compare them with the Bible. Can we perceive their agreement or disagreement without reasoning? No, surely. Well now, if two persons at first sight take different views of any doctrine, will they not at once enter into discussion, and their future agreement result from honest argument; yet neither their agreement in believing the symbols of their profession to be true copies; no, nor even their belief that a certain doctrine is scriptural, constitutes “the faith of God’s elect;” but it does constitute that kind of faith or agreement by which they can “walk together.” I hope the reader can now perceive that “the faith of God’s elect” is not the condition of fellowship in the visible church, and that the visible is distinct from the invisible church. There are few delusions more prevalent and popular than the old error revived, that “assurance of grace and salvation is essential to saving faith;” and that it is, or ought to be one of the terms, or in fact the only condition of fellowship in the visible church.

          The first judicial Testimony sanctioned by the Reformed Presbyterian Church, in 1761, at Ploughlandhead, Scotland, is the only one that has the formal nature and possesses the essential parts of such a document. These parts are three: history to supply facts, arguments to test the character of the facts, and doctrinal statement as the rule of trial. Illustration may be useful here for such as are of weaker capacity. God speaks to us in the Bible, by the use of such earthly things as are familiar to us. John iii. 12. His word is “made plain upon tables that he may run that readeth it.” Hab. ii. 2; so plain that “wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” Isaiah xxxv. 8. I mean those parts of Scripture that make martyrs of “silly lasses,” such as Isabel Allison and Marion Harvey. The weakest disciple is able to distinguish between the witness on the stand and the judge upon the bench; and this distinction would be much more evident and impressive if he himself were “sisted as a witness super inquirendis,” as those two lasses and others were. Is it not the function of a witness to state facts? Yes, certainly. And what is history but a statement of facts? These may be true or false. The character and competence of the witness is to be considered. The function of the judge is to state and apply the law, and in the application of the law he is assisted by others called jurors or associates. Arguments are addressed, by advocates, to judge and jury. Now, I hope the reader will see that the greatest, the most important cause in the universe, the conflict between truth and error, between righteousness and unrighteousness, between Christ and Belial, which has been on trial since the time of Cain and Abel, cannot be conducted without history, argument and doctrinal declaration. All testimony-bearing which lacks any of these three cardinal and essential elements is not merely defective, but decidedly pretentious and unfaithful. This is a pregnant theme, one of deep interest to me for many years, but not to be exhaustively treated within the present limits. One other aspect of the general question of historical testimony may be concisely presented. I firmly believe, and here finally assert, that the moral law in both tables is partly predicated on the credibility of human testimony. We must “receive the witness of men” before either the second or fifth commandments can be obeyed. The “third and fourth generations,” and also the “father and mother” can be known by uninspired testimony alone. Now, if the duties of our natural relations cannot be performed without the credibility of human testimony, why should it be thought a thing incredible that history and argument should be an indispensable bond in ecclesiastical relations?

[CONCLUSION.]


FOOTNOTE:

[1] Oh, what ignorance or sinful shuffling in the use of the words in the Preface to Reformed Principles Exhibited! I know not any words more calculated to “conceal ideas” and to mislead the unwary: and I do believe that many have been blinded, but none enlightened by them.