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James Dodson

FOR the clearer understanding of the testimony borne in the Secession to the Reformation formerly attained in these lands, it may be proper to attend to the following remarks.

1. The Secession-Testimony was not confined to the approbation of a certain system of doctrine, religious worship, and church-government, contained in certain standard-books; it included also a course of acts and measures, pursued in adopting and securing these. This is necessarily implied in the very idea of a Reformation. A reformation is the removal of abuses, and corruptions which adhered or had crept into a society, with the enactment and substitution of salutary laws and regulations in their room. Accordingly, in the original Testimony, besides the approbation of the standards, the great leading acts and measures which were pursued in the settlement of religion are also approved; and this constituted it properly a testimony for the Reformation. This is often overlooked in reasonings and declamations on this subject. Although the Synod, in their Introduction, mention several acts and proceedings of the Reformers which they approve, yet they appear to fall into the vague and improper use of the word Reformation. For, after stating an exception against their ‘giving the formal sanction of civil authority’ to their religious profession (which formerly was considered by Presbyterians as an important part of Scotland’s reformation), they add, ‘It is not however to the imperfect managements of men that we declare our adherence; but to the Reformation itself,’—N[ew] Test[imony] p. 10. see also p. 31.

2. In the Secession-Testimony this Reformation is considered as public and national; as carried on, advanced, and settled, by the civil and ecclesiastic powers, acting in their proper place, but in the way of co-operation in the same great cause. It never entered into the minds of its compilers that religion and reformation belonged only to the church and ecclesiastical courts, and that a nation and its rulers were not to interfere in its promotion. On the contrary, they viewed the reformation and public settlement of religion, as a great national concern, in which the commonwealth as well as the church was deeply interested; and which all ranks of men were bound in their several stations to advance. Accordingly they approve and commemorate the public measures and laws of the state for advancing and settling the Presbyterian religion, as well as those of the church.[1]—And in the Declaration and Defence of their principles respecting civil government, they distinguish the Reformation into two parts, the civil reformation and the ecclesiastical reformation; and they declare that they have a call to ‘bear witness more especially unto our ancient civil reformation ;’ and to do so ‘by opposing our ancient civil reformation to our present civil deformation.’[2]

3. Connected with the above, the covenants of this land were viewed and approved in the Secession-Testimony as public national oaths and covenants, by which church and state become bound to promote and preserve the Reformation, and to stand by and support one another in this work.

But the Synod, in their Narrative and Testimony, confine themselves almost entirely to the ecclesiastical reformation. They approve of the abolition by the state of laws made in favour of a false religion, but do not approve of their making laws in favour of the true.—Accordingly in the Narrative they pass over all these laudable acts ratifying the reformed Presbyterian religion and the Covenants, which were formerly witnessed for as eminent parts of reformation, and instances of the singular favour of God in that work. As was said in a paper given in to the Synod, ‘all the laudable acts and constitutions of civil rulers from the first Reforming Parliament of Scotland down to the Revolution, are either consigned to oblivion, or warily denied their former and due praise: thus the one half of our Reformation, and of what was the nation’s glory, is cut off.’ But that we may see how far the national state of religion, and the actings of the civil powers respecting it, enter into the matter and substance of the Secession-Testimony, it may be proper to be a little more particular.

In the first Testimony (commonly called the extra-judicial, but which was afterwards approved by the Associate Presbytery) it is mentioned, ‘so powerful and prevalent was the light of the gospel, that about the year 205 the king and many peers of the land embraced christianity; and in a short time thereafter, the whole nation became Christians, p. 29. 30.’ In the Judicial Testimony, it is recorded and commemorated, as one of the instances of that ‘great work’ which ‘the land of the Lord’ did ‘effectuate’ at the era of the Reformation, that in ‘the year 1560 not only the Pope’s authority was abolished in Scotland,’ but ‘the first Confession of Faith was ratified and approved by the Parliament;’ also that ‘the first book of Discipline was approved by the Privy Council of Scotland.’ The true Protestant religion now assumed the form of the national religion, and a national profession was made of it, which was afterwards solemnly confirmed by the National Covenant.[3] After the Second book of Discipline, wherein the form of government and discipline of the house of God is more distinctly laid down, was approved and registrated by the General Assembly; ‘all the pieces of Reformation then attained unto were ratified and approved by the Parliament, anno 1592. In grateful acknowledgment of which rare and singular mercies, and for their own mutual strength and support against the common enemy, the National Covenant having been first subscribed by the king and his household, was subscribed by persons of all ranks, anno 1581, and again by all ranks of persons in the year 1590.—By this solemn Oath and Covenant, this kingdom made a national surrender of themselves to the Lord; and bound and obliged both themselves and their posterity,’ &c. [4]

In bearing witness to the second reformation, after mentioning what was done by the General Assembly 1638, it is added, ‘through the good hand of the Lord upon his servants and people, the Reformation then begun and carried on, was ratified and confirmed by the second parliament of king Charles I. anno 1640; the last session of which parliament was countenanced by the king’s presence. And from this time the building of the house of God went on prosperously and successfully.’[5] Among other instances of this prosperous and successful advancement of the work, which ‘deserve particularly to be remembered,’ the Testimony condescends upon the following :—‘During this period, the Estates of the nation gave their helping-hand to the work of reformation; not only by the legal establishment given unto it in the foresaid year 1640, but also by approving the Solemn League and Covenant, anno 1644, and by many other laudable Acts of Parliament passed anno 1649,’ several of which are specified with approbation, particularly the act as to the Coronation-oath which provided, inter alia, that before the admission of the king to the exercise of his office he should, ‘for himself and his successors, consent and agree to acts of Parliament enjoining the Solemn League and Covenant, and fully establishing the Presbyterian government, &c. as they are approved by the General Assembly of this kirk, and Parliament of this kingdom.—The above particulars (it is added) are some instances of the power and goodness of the most high God, manifested in the beginning and progress of the work of reformation in this land; which this Presbytery judge it their duty to record and bear witness unto.’[6]

In the Declaration and Defence, or Answers to Mr. Nairn, the same testimony is borne to the civil part of the Reformation, with references unto the Judicial Testimony for a more particular statement.[7] The Presbytery not only declare in general, that it is ‘peculiarly incumbent upon every civil state whereinto Christianity is introduced, to study and bring to pass, that civil government among them, in all the appurtenances of its constitution and administration, run in agreeableness to the word of God, be subservient unto the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ, and to the interests of the true religion and reformation of the church;’—and that ‘the people considered in their conjunct and politic capacity (as thus only this matter is competent unto them) should, by their deed of civil constitution provide, that their magistrates be obliged to concur in the same true religion and reformation, and to rule them by laws no way prejudicial, but serviceable thereunto.’ But they also apply this doctrine particularly to the Reformation of Scotland, and approve of the settlement of the constitution in Reforming periods. ‘Agreeably unto all this (say they the Deed of Civil Constitution was settled upon a reformed footing, by Act VIII. Parl. 1. James VI.,’ and speaking of the second Reformation in Scotland they say, ‘beside many laudable acts in the civil administration, the Deed of Civil Constitution was farther reformed than ever before by Act 15. of the second Session of Parliament, anno 1649. And according unto this settlement was King Charles II. crowned at Scoon, January 1, 1651.’ Again, ‘the Presbytery acknowledge that the profession, defence, and maintenance of the true religion in doctrine, worship, discipline, and Presbyterial Church Government, agreeable unto and founded upon the word of God, was secured by the fundamental constitution of the civil government in our reforming periods; which deed of civil constitution, in all moral respects is morally unalterable; because of its agreeableness to the divine will revealed in the word, and because it was attained to and fixed in pursuance of our Solemn Covenants.’[8]

As the Secession-Testimony approved of the civil part of the Reformation, so it condemned the conduct of the nation and the civil powers in departing from and abolishing this. In general, this is viewed and condemned as a course of national apostacy and perjury, in the overthrow of public laws, and the violation of solemn oaths and covenants, by which the whole land was bound.[9] ‘A glorious building was pulled down: a reformation ratified, confirmed and established, in the strongest terms, by law, and fenced by the most solemn oaths and covenants, sworn with uplifted hand by our king, our noblemen, &c. was not only sullied but overturned.’ More particularly, they bear witness against the removal of the Act of Classes, anno 1651, by which the nation delivered up ‘not only their valuable civil liberties,’ but also ‘all the civil securities and ratifications given unto the work of reformation—into the hands of—notorious enemies of a Covenanted Reformation.’ Also the infamous Act Rescissory, anno 1661, ‘which did remove all the legal securities given to our church constitution, and the whole work of reformation—all the legal fences from our church constitution.’ While the Associate Presbytery judged it their duty to commemorate with thankfulness the Divine power and goodness manifested to this nation at the Revolution,[10] and durst not dissemble or lightly esteem ‘what security is given by the present government unto our religion, lives and liberties, such as no other people now on earth enjoys the like;’[11] yet they condescended upon sinful managements and defects in the constitution of the civil government, and settlement of religion at that period. Particularly, they lamented it as a sin, that in settling Presbyterian government the parliament 1690, ‘overlooked and passed by all the legal securities given to this church in that covenanting period from 1638 to 1650,’ and that the infamous Act Rescissory, whereby all the acts and deeds of the foresaid period were declared null and void, was never repealed.[12] ‘The body politic (says the Answers to Mr. Nairn), particularly in Scotland, have never, by their deed of civil constitution provided that their magistrates be brought under and admitted upon obligations and terms, such as were fixed upon and established in reforming periods (particularly in the coronation-oath, annis 1567 and 1649); but such as are in many respects, not only different from, but destructive of the same—to the great prejudice of real religion, and reformation in the house of God. On all these accounts, great guilt and wrath is still lying and increasing upon the body politic.’[13] In the original Testimony, the Revolution-parliament is also blamed for not establishing presbytery as agreeable to the word of God and our covenants, nor abolishing prelacy as inconsistent with these, in their settlement of church-government.—‘Prelacy is never considered as contrary to the word of God, and abjured by our covenants; nor our Presbyterian church government, as what the land is bound and obliged to maintain by the most solemn oaths and covenants.’[14]

From these instances it appears, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the Secession-Testimony embraced and witnessed for the Reformation of these lands as properly national; and explicitly approved of the public laws establishing the true reformed and Presbyterian religion, particularly between 1638 and 1649, and not only condemned the act abolishing these laws, ‘because it was stated in direct opposition to the work of Reformation, and introduced the course of apostacy that followed,’ but also condemned the Revolution-parliament for not restoring the authority of these parliaments, and reviving or applying their acts, as the circumstances and necessities of the time did require or admit. The testimony with respect to these laws, does not lie in a few incidental expressions, which may be cut off without injuring the remainder. But, as the civil and ecclesiastical proceedings, the laws of church and state, were intimately and necessarily connected in the public reformation of the land, so they are interwoven with and run through the whole of that testimony by which this was adopted and approved. The principle which calls in question the propriety of a national establishment of religion, and the duty and warrantableness of civil rulers employing their authority in promoting religious reformation, is totally incomparable with the Secession-Testimony; and necessarily leads to a quite different mode of reformation and settling the affairs of a nation.

Accordingly the Synod, having adopted this principle, have in their new deeds dropped and relinquished their testimony in behalf of this important part of the Reformation. This appears from the Narrative both of the first and second period of reformation. In the first, the Synod mentioned the conduct of the parliament of Scotland in abolishing the laws in favour of Popery, but they do not record or approve, nay, they do not even so much as mention their acts ratifying the Protestant Confession of Faith and Discipline. Even the act of Parliament, anno 1592, long the charter of the liberties of the Church of Scotland, by which all the pieces of reformation then attained were ratified, is consigned to oblivion. Under the second period, they do not approve of the legal establishment of the Presbyterian religion, anno 1640, and have expunged the express testimony formerly borne to the laudable co-operation of the Estates of the Nation (‘inspired with a noble and predominant zeal for the house of God’), with the ecclesiastical rulers, and to the laws publicly ratifying the covenants and work of reformation between 1638 and 1649. They no longer testify for the reformed settlements of the civil constitution in the years 1567 and 1649; although these were formerly declared to have been agreeable to the word of God, fixed in consequence of solemn covenant engagements, and therefore morally unalterable. That these are not unintentional omissions, but proceed from principle and design, we are not left to doubt; for the Synod expressly declare in their Introduction: ‘We do not vindicate their embodying the matter of their religious profession with the laws of the country, and giving it the formal sanction of civil authority,’ p. 10. They do not vindicate what in the former Testimony was applauded, and declared worthy of perpetual remembrance; they do not vindicate those laws, the abolition of which was formerly declared to be an instance of the most daring perjury, and a standing ground of divine controversy.

We may here put the question; the conduct of this nation and its rulers in recognising, ratifying, and establishing the true Protestant and Presbyterian religion, was it of God or of man? was it a laudable act and reformed attainment, or an imperfect and sinful measure? This is a question which no Seceder, in particular, can evade. It is beyond a doubt that this was expressly acknowledged in the Secession-Testimony as a laudable and important attainment, acquired by the special favour of God, to be gratefully recorded and perpetuated. It is to be lamented that Seceders should now be in such a state, that they are either unable or afraid to answer this question; as the Jewish teachers were as to the question respecting John’s baptism. The Synod profess that they do not condemn civil establishments of religion. But it cannot be denied that these were formerly approved and expressly witnessed for in the Secession-Testimony and public papers. This approbation the Synod have expressly relinquished; the testimony in their favour they have dropped. Now what is it that wilt warrant any church to relinquish or drop any article from her Confession or Testimony, but its being found and proved to be false and erroneous? What else will release her from her engagements, and from the commands of her Head, "that which ye have already, hold fast till I come." To be consistent with themselves, they must take this for granted, though they do not formally express it. Let us hear their own general doctrine. ‘The truths of Christ being committed to her as a precious trust, it is undoubtedly her duty to keep them carefully. She is commanded to hold fast what she hath, and to contend earnestly for the faith. When any truth which the church exhibits in her Confession is opposed, she ought to stand forth in its defence.—If the judicatories of the church refuse to appear in defence of any article which is attacked; although it be defended by individuals, who thus discover their regard for the truth, there is no evidence that she is unwilling to part with it.’[15] The application is plain. The article in question belonged to their Confession; it is not only generally opposed in the present time, but has been contradicted from the pulpit and press by those of their own communion; they have refused to stand forth in its defence; therefore, themselves being judges there is no evidence that they are unwilling to part with it. There is, indeed, much to the contrary; for, as we shall afterwards see, while they in some places affect to leave the matter undetermined, they in other places advance doctrine totally eversive of it.

While the Synod say that they do not vindicate the reformers in this part of their conduct; viewing things through a false medium, and according to the notions of the spirituality of Christ’s kingdom, they have been left to bring general and suppositions, but heavy charges against them,[16] charges from which, when brought forward by malignant and sectarian enemies of the Reformation, or by those who had made defection from it, they were formerly vindicated by Seceders. These charges fall not only upon the Reformers, but upon all those who have approved of their conduct; particularly in the Secession. While bringing such charges against the reformers and reformation, it is no wonder that the Synod have also found it necessary to blame the original Testimony, and fix a stigma upon it as containing expressions favouring ‘an improper connection between church and state,’ and ‘compulsory measures in support of the true, or for the suppression of false religions;’ p. 14. 49. without doing it the common justice of specifying the exceptionable expressions, or the improper connection or compulsory measures which it is said too much to favour.—Considering that the members of Synod themselves, until of late, solemnly and expressly approved of the public laws and proceedings witnessed for in the Judicial Testimony without any avowed reserve, a very liberal acknowledgment of their own errors would seem to be due, and might have been expected.

It thus appears that the Synod have set aside and relinquished a eat part of the testimony hitherto borne by Seceders to the Reformation of this land. Where is the consistency of representing that they only accept ‘some expressions’ in it, when they have cut off entire paragraphs, and one whole branch of that testimony? The unfaithfulness of dropping and burying this is very great; for it was not the work of man, but of the Lord, who stirred up and blessed the instruments employed in it. On this account, instead of "shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he had done," he has this charge to bring, "they remembered not the multitude of his mercies—they forgot his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them."

In vain do we look into the new Deeds for a faithful and full testimony against the national guilt, in apostatising from and overthrowing the Reformation attained. It must be evident to any reflecting mind, that those who do not vindicate, or whose principles lead them to condemn the national laws and constitutions, fixing and establishing the Reformed religion, can with little consistency and force oppose and condemn the abrogation of these. They must pass over, throw into shade, speak dubiously, or with reserves which weaken all that they say. The first of the public evils testified against and condemned in the former Testimony and Acknowledgment of Sins was the Public Resolutions, anno 1651, by which ‘the nation (with the consent of the church) delivered up not only the maintenance and preservation of their valuable civil liberties, but also of all the civil securities and ratifications given unto the work of reformation from the year 1638 into the hands of those who had appeared for the support of arbitrary power and authority in the state, and who were not our enemies of a covenanted reformation.’[17] These resolutions are indeed mentioned in the Narrative with disapprobation; but they are not condemned as sinful in themselves, nor as a violation of the Solemn League, anno 1648, as was done in the former Testimony. And in the new Acknowledgment of Sins, the confession of them as a national sin is altogether expunged; although this occupied the first place in the former Acknowledgment, and was justly considered as opening the flood-gates to the subsequent course of apostacy. In the account of the proceedings at the Restoration of Charles II. both in the Narrative and in Acknowledgment of Sins, no notice is taken of the infamous Act Rescissory, which annulled and buried all the reforming parliaments, with all the legal securities given to the Presbyterian religion during the preceding period of reformation. This ‘crowning part of the nation’s infamy and guilt, and under which it lies to this day, is thought unworthy of being expressly mentioned either in the Narrative or Testimony, and when it is once mentioned in the Acknowledgment of Sins, not in its most proper place, a fallacious deception is employed in a foot-note,[18] to prevent any from thinking that these buried parliaments and acts, in so far as they gave any ratification or establishment to the Presbyterian religion are approved of, or that they were unjustly annulled.’[19] Indeed, as has justly been remarked, the New Testimony enacted by the Synod, may be viewed as an Act Rescissory, in the ecclesiastical sense, annulling, setting, aside, and burying all the public laws which have been made in support of religion in this land since the period of the Reformation; and the principle upon which it proceeds calls in question, and condemns all the laws which have been passed for ratifying and establishing the Christian religion, or any particular profession of it, in any period or part of the world.

Were we here to enter upon the vindication of the public acts and constitutions made in favour of religion in Scotland, and approved of in the Secession, it would not be difficult to shew that they were consonant with the principles of reason, Christianity, the Reformation, and sound policy; that laws similar to the greater part of them have been adopted in every reformed state, and almost in every civilized country, and that others, which might be peculiar, were rendered necessary and strongly called for by the singular circumstances in which our ancestors were placed, the dangers to which they were exposed, and the enemies with whom they had to conflict (circumstances which are either not sufficiently known or not adverted to by many who condemn or awkwardly apologize for them); that they were necessary for securing to themselves and their posterity distinguished privileges, which every people ought to preserve and cherish in preference to all other blessings; that so far from confounding and blending together civil and ecclesiastical matters, or ascribing to civil rulers a power to model the latter at their pleasure, one design of many of these laws was to provide against such encroachments, and legally to recognise those marches which had been set between the two jurisdictions; and that, so far from proceeding from ignorance of the spirituality of the kingdom of Christ, they were framed by the advice and authority of men who understood this as well as any in modern times can decently pretend to; although they did not adopt the extravagant notions, that this kingdom could not maintain a friendly alliance with the kingdoms of this world, was incapable of receiving benefit or support from them, or stood in no need of securities from them for the legal enjoyment of her external privileges.—But such a vindication would lead into a field of investigation too extensive for the present undertaking; nor is it requisite in answer to charges so general, vague, and unsupported. Anything of this kind that may be necessary at present will fall in under the following branch of the subject.

[go to SECTION VI.]


[1] ‘The profession of Religion adopted by Seceders is the doctrine, worship, discipline and government received and approved by the Assemblies of this church in her reforming periods, as founded upon the word of God, sworn to in our covenants, ratified and established by our reforming parliaments.’—Campbell’s (of Ceres) Vindication of the Judicial Testimony, p. 62.

‘The Parliament not only withdrew all legal encouragement from preceding corruptions and impositions, but gave positive countenance and support to the church in carrying on the work of God. And in this respect we hear witness to the State as well as the Church Reformation of that period.’Morison’s Present Duty, p. 371.

[2] Display, vol. i. p. 278. 280.

[3] The Confession of Faith, after it was ratified, was published, with the following Address, ‘The Estates of Scotland with the Inhabitants of the same, professing Christ Jesus his holy evangel; unto their natural countrymen and unto all other realms and nations, professing the same Lord, &c.’ In the National Covenant the Religion sworn to is described as that which is ‘received, believed, and professed by many and sundry notable churches and realms, but chiefly by the Church of Scotland, the King’s majesty, and three Estates of this Realm, as God’s eternal truth—more particularly expressed in the Confession of our Faith, established and confirmed by sundry Acts of Parliaments, and now of a long time openly professed by the king’s majesty and whole body of this realm, both in burgh and land.’ See also, Wilson’s Defence, p. 37.

[4] Display, vol. i. p 55, 56.

[5] Ibid. p 58.

[6] Display, vol. i. p. 61. 62.

[7] Ibid. p. 278. 284. 288.

[8] Display, vol. i. p. 274.

[9] Ibid p. 63.70. 80. 84. 227. 228. 279. 284.

[10] Display, vol. i. p. 85.

[11] Ibid p. 284-5. with Mr. Gib’s Note.

[12] Ibid. p. 86. 230.

[13] Ibid. p. 286.

[14] Display, vol. i. p. 87.

[15] Narrative and Testimony, p. 3. 5.

[16] Narr. and Test. p. 31. 159. 219. The reader may compare the charges brought by the Synod in the above passages against the proceedings of the reformers, with the following extract from the Burgher Re-exhibition, ‘The building of the house of God in manifold instances advanced prosperously and successfully: Though it must be acknowledged that the enforcing of religious duties with civil penalties, and in too many instances blending the affairs of Church and state with one another, is totally inconsistent with the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom.’The Re-exhibition of the Testimony, p. 90. 91.

[17] Display, vol. i. p. 65.

[18] Narr. and Test. p. 226.

[19] It is scarcely possible to conceive on what grounds the Synod, after expunging the condemnation of the Act Rescissory in their account of the period when it was passed should have retained it here. Did they think the Revolution party more guilty than that at the Restoration? It might have been expected that they would have pointed out how the Revolution-parliament could have abrogated that Act, without reviving the Acts Rescinded, which the Synod is not to be considered as approving. Would they have had the Parliament to have made an Act Rescissory of their own, agreeable to the principles of the Synod? Or, is this article of charge against that Parliament retained with a view of preserving an old argument against their Burgher brethren; even after the Synod have found and adopted a principle which renders all recourse to any particular settlement of religion unnecessary, in condemning the religious clause of some burgess-oaths?