MINUTES OF THE REFORMED PRESBYTERY.
Hill Prairie Meeting House, May 27th, 1867.
The Reformed Presbytery met agreeably to adjournment, and was constituted with prayer by the Moderator.
The members present were Rev. James F. Fulton, Moderator; Rev. David Steele, and Mr. John Tweed, Ruling Elder of Hill Prairie Congregation. Absent, Rev. James J. Peoples.
The former Moderator and Clerk were continued. Minutes of last regular meeting were read and approved.
Adjourned with prayer to meet at the same place on Wednesday, at 10 o’clock a.m.
Same place, May 29th, 10 o’clock am.
Court met and constituted by prayer. Members present as before. Minutes read and approved. The days of thanksgiving and fasting appointed at last annual meeting had been observed with punctuality.
A special meeting of the Presbytery had been held at the call of the Moderator in Philadelphia, October 1st, 1866, to hear and act upon a report of the Commission appointed last June, to organize the First Congregation of Philadelphia. The Presbytery approved the proceedings of Commission, the Minutes of which, with the Presbytery’s action in the settlement of Rev. D. Steele in said congregation, were now laid before the court and unanimously approved.
Rev. D. Steele submitted to the court a communication from our respected and beloved brother the Rev. Dr. Cunningham, of London, bearing on the Signs of the Times, for which the Presbytery hereby returns sincere thanks. Cordially reciprocating the Doctor’s expressions of affection and confidence; and with equal cordiality approving the views which his communication expresses on the aspects of Divine Providence, we recommend that said paper be incorporated with the Minutes for publication. The document is as follows:—
Liverpool, May 7, 1867.
“To the Rev. the Moderator and remnant members of the Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, United States of America, to meet at Hill Prairie, Randolph County, Illinois, on the 27th instant.
“Dear Father and Brethren,—Thus far on my way to visit our dear brethren in Scotland, I embrace the opportunity of addressing to you a few lines in anticipation of your approaching meeting in your judicial capacity. My earnest prayer is that the Lord, the Redeemer, may be pleased in his mercy and grace to meet with you, shine on you with his face, and by his good Spirit illuminate, and sanctify, and comfort your hearts, animating you with all holy resolution and strength to serve Him in your judicial capacity, and granting acceptance to your persons and services, that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
“When I reflect upon the stand, which by Divine grace you have been enabled, as individuals, and as the representatives of a faithful witnessing remnant in the United States, to make for the crown rights and royal prerogatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the alone King and Head of his Church, and as the Governor among the nations, I cannot but seek humbly to magnify His name because of his goodness to you, and to others through you, and earnestly to pray that He may more and more sustain and establish, strengthen, and settle your hearts, and as your difficulties and labours may increase, make his grace sufficient for you, and thus cause you to know that as your days are, so shall your strength be
“And when I think of the privilege that I enjoyed last year of meeting with you in your ecclesiastical capacity, and visiting your Congregations, and reflect upon the kindness of your sentiments and feelings respecting myself and our dear brethren of the London Congregation, and of the Societies in Wigtonshire, which you expressed with so much fervour in word and writing, and reflect upon the uniform brotherly kindness shown to me everywhere, I feel that the brethren and myself have been knit to you more and more, by reason of our personal intercourse, and called to take au increasing interest in the prosperity of yourselves as the servants of Christ, and of your congregations as forming a community supported and defended and encouraged by Himself in the maintenance of his blessed truth.
“I, who have less experience than most of you in the exercise of judicial functions, would not presume to offer my advice to you as to the best manner of maintaining your testimony, and uniting the brethren under your care more and more firmly in sentiment, affection, forbearance, zeal and joint action. But yet not the less would I rejoice to find you, by the grace given to you, rendered fit to meet any emergency of sentiment or action that might be brought before you, so as to discover that you are men of understanding who know the times, and what Israel ought to do.
“Still further, also, dear Father and Brethren, you will, perhaps, kindly give attention to a few sentences which I address to you, bearing on two matters connected with the interests of the kingdom of Christ, which have of late especially engaged my attention. The first of these is the spirit of infidelity which made manifestation of itself even among members of the Covenanted Church of Scotland from nearly the end of the last century till the present time. There are historic documents to prove that about that time a succession of persons agitated the question of re-modelling the Church’s Testimony and her Terms of Communion, in order to suit these to the prevailing spirit of the times, and the record of the acts of the Reformed Synod, mournfully attests with what success. Politicians and historians trace an intimate connection between the French Revolution, the fruit of infidelity, springing out of Popish superstition, and the Rebellion in Ireland, also the tendency to revolution in England, proved by State trials, not to speak of an outbreak in Scotland by persons called Radicals, above twenty years later. What animated those who then sought revolution was a desire to overthrow such constituted civil and ecclesiastical power and authority as existed in the land. But strange and anomalous as it may seem, the same spirit appeared among some where least it might have been expected. Those who proposed innovations in the Covenanted Church, aimed at little less than rebellion against ecclesiastical power and authority, and the subjection of decisions in the Church Courts to the will of the Church members.
“Thus we find that, like electric discharges, this spirit struck out in opposite directions, but with one aim. The abettors of revolution in the State sought to wrest the power of government from those who possessed it. and to assume it to themselves. Those who fomented innovations in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, sought to induce her office bearers to give them leave to incorporate themselves with the government of the country, which their contemporaries in innovation were seeking to annul; and thus, whether they saw it or not, proceeded to join hands with such as would have overthrown both civil and ecclesiastical power, and brought in the anarchy of infidelity and irreligion. Now, God, in his holy providence, was pleased to confine within certain limits this rising tide, and to put it into the hearts of some to adhere faithfully to institutions that were not merely time-honoured, but agreeable to His revealed will. Those who stood in the gap in the day when the enemy came in like a flood, ranked first among them the faithful adherents to the Covenanted cause. Blessed be God that some remain yet in the British Isles to maintain such a post! And that your congregations and yourselves are enabled by Him to occupy such a position in the land wherein you dwell. May the Covenant brethren on both sides of the ocean be enabled to maintain faithfully such positions till a day not merely of relief, but of victory itself comes!
“The second of these matters is the reckoning which the rulers of the earth will have to make with the glorious Mediator, for invading his prerogatives as the King of Zion, and the Prince of the Kings of the earth.
“In the course of His holy providence He has long been reckoning with rulers on account of these things. Sometimes He has dismissed them, and overthrown their power directly. At other times He has used the subjects of these rulers, as in times of revolution, and also alien kingdoms or their rulers, to deprive them of the power which they misused. But a time of reckoning, most serious to all Antichristian rulers, is yet to come. From the end of the last century, or before it a few years, the judgment predicted in Daniel vii. has been sitting on the Papacy; ‘To take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it to the end.’ And since the commencement of the present century, above thirty princes of Europe have vacated their thrones, not by death, but by deposition or flight, or the fortune of war. The people called them to account, and sat upon them in judgment for their crimes, and pronounced on each a sentence which was executed. But those rulers who remain in power, in consequence of concessions made by them to their people, have yet to answer for their maladministration to the King and Lord of all. When political rights are increased to a people, they are apt for a time to be content and to refrain from pressing on their rulers for more. But ‘He who sitteth in the heavens’ has a controversy with the rulers of the earth, which their subjects, but feebly, if at all, recognise. The Erastianism of the governments of Europe is offensive to the Divine Majesty. That of Russia, of Prussia, of Holland, of France, of Britain, is in each case rebellion to be punished by the Judge of all. And never will these governments stand firm, but every moment be exposed to a fate, from which, likely, few or none of them will ever escape till they give up to the King of Zion that power which they have heretofore usurped over his professing people. And never further, will they stand free from danger or from blame till they found their civil statutes on the dictates of His word. A day of terrible judgment is in prospect for all the enemies of God and his Anointed.
“To warn the rulers of the earth and the people under them of the sin and danger of continued rebellion, and to keep themselves free from incorporation with systems anti-Christian, and therefore doomed to destruction, is the duty and privilege of the true Covenanted Church. May the Lord make her office-bearers and her members faithful to the end.
“That the Lord may endow each one of you with a double portion of his Spirit, and bless more and more abundantly the people under your care, is, dear father and brethren, the earnest prayer, I have no doubt of all the brethren with us, and of yours in the cause and testimony of our Lord and Master,
“Affectionately and truly,
“(Signed) JOHN CUNNINGHAM.”
On the Signs of the Times, the Presbytery adopted the following: A Testimony and Warning addressed to the people under the care of this court, and to be used by them as Causes of Fasting.
It is the duty of the Church of Christ, and more especially of her ministers and courts, to assert and defend the perpetual obligation of the moral law, the claims of the Mediator upon all men in individual and social life; and to maintain the sufficiency and purity of Divine institutions: and it is equally their duty to condemn error and sin, and to testify against those who originate or propagate the same. (Ezek. iii. 17; Matt. iv. 4; Rom. iii. 31.) The times passing over us are eventful and ominous. Statesmen in common with divines look upon providences as pregnant with disaster to churches and nations. Many servants of God, eminent in bygone generations, have directed our attention to these prophetic intimations of the Divine purpose which they supposed likely to be verified about the present time. But whether or not we are near the period when the “end of the wonders” approaches, as seen in vision by Daniel and John; it is still incumbent on us as professing witnesses, to “hold fast the profession of our faith without warning.”
We would especially call attention at this time to the lax and unscriptural views entertained and propagated in reference to the decalogue. Whilst some, with the Antinomians, deny its obligation upon Christians altogether, others maintain that the Fourth Commandment in particular is abrogated by the death of Christ, and this in opposition to his own express declaration: “I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil.” (Matt. v. 17.) Too many in this land are like-minded with Dr. Norman McLeod, of Scotland, from whose profane sentiments, publicly advocated, the ungodly, and nominal Christians are encouraged in Sabbath desecration.
Erroneous opinions are published also in relation to the person of Christ. It has been asserted that “humiliation can be predicated only of a finite nature.” Evang. Rep. According to this crude conception, a nature may be a subject of law, and the human nature of our Saviour, being a subject of law, was alone capable of humiliation. This position is equally against reason and Scripture. It is more consonant to reason as well as Scripture, that “Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born,” as the first step. But that step of amazing condescension was taken by the Father’s equal. (Zech. xiii. 7; Phil. ii. 6) Beware, brethren, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit. (Col. ii. 8)
On the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, loose views—not to say heretical sentiments—have been recently broached, threatening to overthrow the faith of some. Hostility to the psalmody which God has furnished to his Church, and especially to what has been, called Rouse’s version, has led men to this dangerous ground. “Annan’s Letters on Psalmody,” and his “Vindication,” together with the “Banner of the Covenant” and “Princeton Review,” disclose the sentiment and feeling of a large majority of those styled Presbyterians relative to the songs of inspiration. It is now boldly asserted, and by some who aspire to a reputation for erudition and piety, that “some of the Psalms are unfit for Gospel worship!”—that “Rouse’s version is not a version at all! It is not a translation, but merely a paraphrase!” Moreover, we are assured, from the same source, that “our English Bible is not the inspired Word of God!” These are alarming disclosures, especially emanating from the pen of some who glory in the name Reformed Presbyterian! Do they come out of the mouth of the dragon? (Rev. xii. 15.)
When the Westminster Divines say that the “Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek . . . . are immediately inspired,” do they mean that a faithful translation is not the Word of God—the inspired word of God? Where our Lord commands us to search the Scriptures, does He require each one to do so in the original Hebrew and Greek? A child may answer such questions, knowing it to be the mind of our gracious Master that we should “hear every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born, the wonderful works of God.” (Acts ii. 8—11.)
All concerned should know that those who advocate the offering of uninspired hymns in praise to God, speak; and write, not merely against Rouse’s version, but against the inspired songs of the Bible as being, “many of them, unsuitable for the lips of a Christian!” And the consistency of logical reasoning has carried some of these reckless sophists so far as to call in question the authority of our English Bible; yet, strange as it may appear, these same zealots are among the most zealous in diffusing the divine Word in all languages! Meanwhile, it should be added, that the version of the Psalms which is commonly attributed to Francis Rouse, is not properly his, but that of the Church of Scotland, availing herself of the genius and learning of Rouse, Boyd, and others,—a version whose fidelity to the original, few of its slanderers have learning enough to perceive, and whose poetic beauties fewer still are able to appreciate.
In relation to the union of the churches and the best means of effecting it, much contrariety of sentiment obtains. While some consider union neither practicable nor desirable, a great many suppose that communion is the nearest, if not the only way to union. “Let us,” say they, “exchange pulpits and admit to the Lord’s table all who are in good standing in other churches.” But who may not see that this method of healing existing branches, places Divine truth altogether in abeyance? It would really defeat one of the ends—the primary end of the Church’s organization in the world. She is intended by Him who purchased her with his own blood to be the “pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Tim. iii. 15.) To all who claim connection with the Reformed Covenanted Church of Scotland, it must be obvious that the work of God—a scriptural reformation of Church and State in the British Isles—reached its greatest purity in the middle of the seventeenth century. Authentic and impartial history will enable any sincere inquirer to discover among conflicting parties which has the fairest claim to be identified with the original body—the parent stock in covenant with God. The most scriptural plan, and no doubt the most successful to effect re-union, is for those who have departed from reformation attainments, to retrace the steps of their defection. This is the only honest and honourable course. “Stand ye in the way, and see, and ask for the old paths . . . . and walk therein.” (Jer. vi. 16.) There can be no real, comfortable, lasting union that has not Divine truth and order for its basis. Unions founded on a sacrifice of any principle which was professed by Christ’s witnesses and sealed by the precious blood of his martyrs, must result in greater breaches. So he threatens. (Isa. viii. 9—13.) He has been faithful to his threatenings for the last two hundred years, in the case of the once famous Church of Scotland.
Christ’s headship over the nations, though less opposed in theory now than formerly, is practically disregarded by most and resisted by many churches styling themselves Reformed, both in the United States and in the British Isles. Efforts made to obtain an acknowledgment of God, his Son and his law in the constitution of this nation, have brought out the open opposition of some ministers of the Gospel! whilst others—and these a large majority—“care for none of these things.” Yes, “tell it not in Gath.” Ministers of the Gospel and of the “Reformed Churches” “want no established religion—desire no such amendments to the national constitution—it is good enough for them—no religious tests!” Thus “they strengthen the hands of evil-doers, that none doth return from wickedness.” Hence “vile men are exalted.”
Crimes are not adequately punished in the streets, nor scandals censured in the Church. Many influential politicians and statesmen oppose the infliction of capital punishment in any case, in direct conflict with the authority of the Supreme Lawgiver, who commands that the murderer shall surely be put to death. (Numbers xxxv. 17, 31.) In the Church, nothing, almost, is deemed censurable but schism; by which is generally understood separation. Unless a member or office-bearer is convicted of some enormity punishable by the civil judge, or is suspected of what some call disorder, insubordination, or following divisive courses, he is not considered censurable. He may live as a heathen, or violate solemn covenant with God and his brethren; but if he attend the communion and contribute to the support of the Gospel at home, especially abroad, and zealously advocate the modern measures of Sunday Schools, he will be reputed an exemplary Christian. “Sound doctrine and the power of godliness” are no longer tests of Christian character, as in former times of reformation.
Select fellowship meetings of the Lord’s people in private, have been extensively supplanted by promiscuous, public union prayer-meetings: and these have gone far towards obliterating the difference between the Church and the world, between truth and error, righteousness and unrighteousness. In these assemblages the brother who has been excommunicated for incestuous adultery, may be found on equal footing with those who had delivered him to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh!
The omitting to give timely and public intimation of the intention of parties to enter into the marriage relation, has been fraught with manifold evils both in Church and State. Family broils, expensive and scandalous litigations, hasty divorces, and lasting animosities, not to mention other consequences, which “it is a shame even to speak of,” are the natural and necessary results of such irregular proceedings.
The almost entire exclusion of the Word of God from the common schools, is a fruitful cause of the profane, irreligious, and criminal conduct of a large proportion of the people. From the halls of national legislation to the dwelling of the humble cottager, the language of the prophet will apply. “By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.” (Hosea iv. 2.) For this contempt of the law of God the community pays a heavy but just penalty, in erecting and supporting houses of correction, alms-houses, and penitentiaries, with other places of confinement for the punishment of criminals and the protection of society.
Innovations upon the long-established usages of the R P. Church, recklessly introduced by individuals, and these often inexperienced, heady, high-minded, have tended to distraction, to alienation, strife, and contention. “They do gender strifes,” and mar edification. Whether these be introduced under the plausible pretense of improvement, progress, or any other recommendation, yet if they hinder edification, they are a violation of the law of charity; for “love worketh no ill to his neighbour.” (Rom. xiii. 10.) And seeing that “love is the fulfilling of the law,” what shall we think of those who “cast stumbling-blocks in their brother’s way”? When a giddy, ambitious stripling occupies the place of precentor in the public congregation (a place which none such should be permitted to occupy), and sings continuously in strains unsuitable to the sentiments, and altogether unknown to the generality of his fellow-worshippers, is it to be supposed that he has wrought no ill to his neighbor? But suppose that such an one, in the fulness of his sufficiency, shall publicly boast that he has “stopped the mouths of the old fogies,” what shall we say? We will say that he is yet ignorant of the first principles of the oracles of God, if not also “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
These things, Dear Brethren, have we written unto you concerning them that seduce you; for now, as well as in the days of the apostles, there are many unruly and vain talkers, and deceivers, whose mouths must be stopped; who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake. But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
CAUSES OF THANKSGIVING.
Every judgment of God inflicted upon the Man of Sin, is a fulfilling at once of prophecy and promise. The breaking of the power of the Austrian empire by the arms of Prussia last year, was a signal display of Mediatory authority shaking to its base one of the pillars by which the Papacy has long been supported. The latter of these dynasties, being nominally Protestant, is thus providentially put into a capacity, if so disposed or directed, to act as a bulwark of defence against future invasions of civil or religious liberty.
Able and learned men are from time to time raised up by the Lord, to stem the current of the floods issuing from the mouth of the Dragon. The vain philosophy, which in pompous and transcendental style would turn away our ears from hearing the truth, and would turn them unto fables, is effectually exposed, if not silenced, by the sword of the Spirit, and enlightened reason. The propagators of atheism and pantheism, as natural brute beasts, so palpably betray their disposition, as to furnish, in some measure, an antidote to their own poison. And the attempts of others, in their so-called scientific investigations of the strata of the earth, and the intellectual powers of man—the faculties of the soul, to unsettle the faith of God’s people, are successfully demonstrated to be futile and abortive.
The manifest impenitence of the nation after the late judgments of God, the awful increase of crime, and the apparent insensibility of the churches, have been the means of rousing distinguished servants of God in different denominations to inquire wherefore the Lord contends with the nation. A goodly number are employing the ability which God has given them in urging upon the people the necessity of a national recognition of God, his Son, and his law—if the life of the nation is to be preserved. Some have advanced so far in vindication of the Divine claims as to demand of the nation formal covenanting with God, an avouching of the Lord as their God, and a surrender of themselves to Him as his people, in the organic law of the land.
As a result of the late civil war, the millions of bondsmen, who had been for generations held in abject servitude, have been restored to civil liberty, and this happy consummation has been accomplished in such a manner as at once to stain the pride of human glory, and redound to the glory of God alone.
The 3rd Thursday of November next was appointed as a day of Thanksgiving, and the last day of February, 1868, a day of Fasting by all under the care of Presbytery,
Adjourned by prayer to meet in the same place, at the call of the Moderator.
Same place, June 10th, 2 o’clock p.m.
Court met and was constituted by prayer. Members present as before. The Minutes were read and approved. Mr. J. H. Marshall, ruling elder, was invited to a seat as a consultation member. He took a seat accordingly.
A paper was received from Rev. J. J. Peoples, suggesting some items for insertion in the Causes of Fasting. The court takes occasion to express regret for the absence of that brother, and the consequent difficulty of taking such action on his paper as may be satisfactory to him. From said paper, however, and other credible sources of information, we learn that some of our brethren have viewed the former action of this court as too indefinite, in relation to contributing money to prevent drafts. The Presbytery now declares as follows—viz.: From the beginning of the national conflict, this court did solemnly warn against co-operation by enlisting in the army, and when during the time intervening between its meetings, some members under severe pressure, had contributed money to free themselves from draft, this court did at its meeting in Adams Co., Ohio, 1865, declare the payment of such money to be inconsistent with our Testimony; the members present having expressed their sorrow for so doing, their case was dismissed with counsel, &c. The Miami Session (from which a reference bearing on the like case, had been brought up to the Presbytery) were directed to counsel and admonish those members whose case was referred; and in case any member or elder refused submission to the foregoing declared sentiments of the court, the Miami Session is here directed to proceed to his suspension from privilege. From the foregoing declaration of doctrine, and the action of this court applying said doctrine to the special case referred from Miami Session, it is obvious that no further discipline was contemplated, save in a case where any member or elder refused submission to, or acquiescence in, the foregoing declared sentiments of this court. And, moreover, counsel and admonition are not usually considered as formal censure.
Again, as a new temptation may be anticipated by the congregation of Miami, or congregations in other States of the American Union, in the matter of changes in their respective Constitutions of civil government, this Presbytery solemnly and affectionately warns brethren against voting for, or against, any amendments to said Constitutions, as the act of voting in such cases, is one of the ways in which our Testimony declares we incorporate with the immorality of the nation.
The Hill Prairie congregation presented a petition for supplies. Their petition was granted, and Rev. D. Steele, was appointed to supply them till the first of July, and Rev. James F. Fulton discretionary till next meeting of Presbytery.
The minutes were read and approved, and the court then finally adjourned to meet in the bounds of Miami congregation on the last Monday of May, 1868.
Closed with prayer,
JAMES F. FULTON, Mod.
DAVID STEELE, P. Cl’k.