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The Constitution of the Associate Reformed Synod in America Considered, Disowned and Testifyed Against.


The Constitution of the Associate Reformed Synod in America Considered, Disowned and Testifyed Against.

James Dodson

The Reformed Presbytery (Scotland)

Peter Tait, 

We lay before our readers the following old and important document, not doubting that they will regard it as a highly interesting and instructive article. It is entitled—The Constitution of the Associate Reformed Synod in America, considered, disowned, and testified against, as inconsistent with the REFORMATION Constitution of Britain and Ireland; the Reformed Presbytery. It was prepared, adopted, and published 1783, by the then highest Judicatory of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland. During the preceding year, 1782, the UNION between the Reformed Presbytery and two Associate Presbyteries [i.e., Burgher and Anti-Burgher], all America, was completed, after having been five years in agitation, to the New Body was constituted. The earliest opportunity was taken by the Church in Scotland to express her testimony against the union, which she considered essentially defective in many important particulars, and, on the part of Reformed Presbyterians who joined in it, a gross relinquishment of their Reformation attainments. This testimony forms the document given below. Many of our readers will be able to see, in the subsequent practice of the Associate Reformed church, the evidence and illustration of the correctness of the views entertained and expressed by the Church in Scotland, in relation to the Union, when she had nothing from which to form a judgment but the Terms on which that union was effected.—ED.

The Reformed Presbytery having received at different times, through various channels, some intelligence of an Ecclesiastical Union being formed between their brethren in the ministry in America, and some members of the Associate Synod—were at last put in possession of full information of that matter, by a copy of the terms of their union, transmitted to them a member of the new association by authority, bearing the title of The Constitution of the Associate-Reformed Synod. On receipt of this new performance, the presbytery ordered it be read, paragraph by paragraph, by their clerk in the of the meeting, after which the mind of all the members was taken with respect to the soundness of the terms of their union as expressed thereon; when it appeared that the happiest unanimity prevailed through the whole court, that this recent union, whereby the parties had raised themselves to the dignity of a synod, was so far from being a laudable attainment towards the healing of breaches, upon the only justifiable ground of truth, that, in their brethren, it was a manifest relinquishment, in many respects, of the noble cause on behalf of which they, in connection with this presbytery, had formerly displayed a banner; and that the news of this new performance, instead of meeting their approbation, was considered by them as the messenger of heavy tidings, conveying the disagreeable information of an union which had involved in apostacy their brethren, with whom they wished and even hoped to have lived and died in the bond of truth. The presbytery next deliberated what now became their own duty in relation to this unexpected event, when they agreed that something should be done by them in condemnation of a measure so much to be deplored, to which they were the more prompted, in regard, that they had received several letters from private christians in America, complaining of the defection of their ministers from the testimony formerly espoused by them, upon a coalescence taking place between them and some Seceding ministers; and requesting advice from them, as to their present duty, in such a trying juncture. For this purpose the presbytery nominated a committee of their number, with instructions and powers, to meet and draw up a paper expressive of their sentiments about the union, and to transmit copies thereof to their quondam brethren, and these private christians in America, for their consideration.

The several members of the committee as nominated by the presbytery accordingly met, and, after prayer to God for direction, entered upon the serious consideration of the important business committed to them.

It is with the deepest regret, that the committee find themselves laid under the disagreeable necessity against the conduct of their brethren; but when the defence of truth calls them out, no tie whatsoever must be allowed to counteract the superior obligation of faithfulness, they therefore cannot be blamed in using christian freedom with their brethren on this mournful occasion.

The committee cannot help being of the opinion, that it would have been nothing more than consonant to the laws of ecclesiastical society, for their brethren to have acknowledged and consulted with the mother church at home, previous to their adopting a measure, which, as themselves in synod declare,[1] finally dissolves all church fellowship with her, except the church here shall explicitly own their new constitution in company with their friends of the Secession. The committee would not be inattentive to the peculiar embarrassments their brethren might be in, arising from the commotions of America, at the commencement of the union; but they cannot allow that there is sufficient force in this to justify a deed of the kind, concerted and finished altogether independent of the church at home; did practices of this kind become general, all social connection would be at an end. Changes in religion made by churches, especially those which affect the general interests of the gospel and the common bond of union in the catholic body, ought to be cautiously proceeded in. They are sorry to think, that while their brethren have neglected the church here, they seem to have been carried on, in the completion of this union under the influence of their new friends; as, in the inconsistent jumble of principles emitted by the synod (if first principles they may be allowed to have) there are to be seen various traces of a seceding pen, and the cause of truth, formerly in controversy betwixt the parties, is in a great measure yielded up. The appellation, The Associate-Reformed Synod, by which they have distinguished themselves as a church, resigns the honors of the day to the seceding body, and seems to indicate a predilection for their testimony, in point of reformation-principles, before the testimony they had solemnly espoused; if the thing comprehended under the name had been right, the title of the court with more propriety would have read, The Reformed-Associate Synod; as it is certain there was a standing testimony for the reformation cause, long before the associated seceders were heard of.

This new synod, in the summary view they have exhibited of their constitutional doctrinal principles, have thought proper to arrange them under eight distinct articles, which the committee will examine in order. In general, it may be remarked, that the expressions of the synod are laid in such ambiguous forms, and there are so numerous apparent inconsistencies running through these articles, that it is no easy task to form an idea of their genuine meaning: this duplicity of expression may have arisen from the different characters of the constituent members of the synod, as composed of persons formerly holding jarring principles, and who have not, either one or all of the parties, so far as we are told, expressly renounced to one another their old principles; but the whole impelled from a fondness to become members of the same church, have conceived their terms of coalescence after such sort as to offend none, while, alas! precious truth falls to the ground thereby.

The first article sets out with the declared resolution of the synod to adhere "to the system of truth laid down in the Holy Scriptures, and exhibited in the Confession of Faith, and Catechisms larger and shorter," &c. If this article had ended in agreeableness to its beginning, little objection could have been made thereto, but the progress and conclusion of it stain the beauty of the whole: the synod immediately say, "This declaration does not, however, extend to the following sections of the Confession of Faith, which define the powers of civil government in relation to religion, viz. chap. xx. sect. 4, chap. xxiii, sect. 8, chap. xxxi. sect. 2; these sections are resolved for a candid discussion on some future occasion, as God may be pleased to direct." The synod are the best judges of their own reasons for making this exception of these passages out of their general acknowledgment of the Confession of Faith, but the passages themselves are all those parts of that excellent standard which define the powers of magistrates about religion and the church of God. The defectiveness of the adopting act of the synod is no dark evidence that they are not of the same faith with our zealous reformers, else why refer it for future discussion on this important subject? While they have not avowed their sentiments on this head, the synod are liable to the charge of being deficient in fundamentals: there is reason to fear they may have caught the epidemic infection of the age, an evil that seems to rage violently in their own country, that civil government is conversant about secular affairs only. With whatever class of professors this synod may he conjoined, they have no title to be accounted the followers of the reformed-church of Britain and Ireland; a consent given by our brethren in synod to this exception involves them in deep apostacy from their former profession, and throws a slur upon the heroic contendings and sufferings of our pious ancestors for the divine ordinance of civil government, and the principle upon which they acted in endeavoring to extend reformation, namely, that the revelation of the moral law in the word of God, wherever it obtains, obliges all nations to conform thereto in their civil establishments; and that therefore when there is a contradiction and opposition to this law in the constitution of magistracy there is a contradiction and opposition to the ordinance of God’s precept, and so the constitutional deed does not oblige the inhabitants in a subjection thereto for conscience sake, as to God’s ordinance.

The synod plead a right to adjust the circumstances of public worship, and ecclesiastical policy to the situation in which providence may place them. In this respects the outward circumstances of worship as to time and place only, there can be no ground of contest here; a power of this kind never was denied in the covenanted churches; but there is reason to apprehend something more is couched under the expression, as the synod have warily adopted the Directory for public worship with general reserve; did they speak out their sentiments more fully the world would know them better. As to ecclesiastical policy; the policy ordained by the glorious Head of the church is invariably fixed by him to remain the same in all times and places: nor can there be any thing so very uncommon in the state of the church of Christ in America, as to warrant this new synod to claim peculiar powers to themselves, in adjusting the circumstances of her worship and government. The conclusion of this article grants a liberty to every member of synod to call in question, and dispute the truth of any article of their received confession of faith in open synod, provided it be managed with a becoming decorum. If a member of court shall be found to deviate from the received faith and practice of the church, it becomes the immediate duty of the court to endeavor to convince the conscience of the offender, and to restore him again to the truth; but judicial permission granted to a member to introduce and dispute in open court his heretical opinions, or to form objections to all the articles of revealed religion without holding the objector liable to censure, is not only highly dangerous, but it is utterly irreconcilable to the notion of first or received principles in a church. The moment Paul saw Peter to deviate from the truth of the gospel, he withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed. The indulgence the synod have bestowed upon any of their members, is homogeneous with the liberty they have taken to themselves in referring the excepted articles of the Confession of Faith to a future discussion, which, if ever it take place, may either effectual their dissolution, or produce an act of mutual forbearance, indulging one another in their respective opinions. The indulgence granted to their members, and the liberty assumed to themselves, go very far to pronounce that either there is nothing certain in religion, or that the synod have no positive system of faith delivered to them, for which in duty they are bound earnestly to contend against all opposition from within and from without.

In article second the synod "declare their hearty approbation of the earnest contending for the truth, and magnanimous sufferings in its defence by which their pious ancestors were enabled to distinguish themselves in the two last centuries."' This declaration cannot be understood in a sense more extensive than the act of synod adopting the reformation standards, but it is well known the ordinance of civil government according to God’s word, as defined in the excepted articles of the Confession of Faith, was one, and very particular one too, of the great truths for which our ancestors in the last century bled and died; the synod therefore might have been so plain as to have set aside this also, and told the world they would consider this head of suffering again, but for the present they had not made up their mind about it. They further declare their "affectionate remembrance of the National Covenant of Scotland, and of the Solemn League and Covenant of Scotland, England, and Ireland, as well intended engagements to support the cause of civil and religious liberty." Here the synod profess a regard for our solemn covenants; but this profession of our brethren is lame, in as much as they do not explicitly own the moral obligation of these national transactions upon themselves in their own persons; though the descendants of such as vowed. Their language upon this point is rather shuffling; nor does their foot note amend the matter greatly. No change of place can annul the obligation of an oath to Jehovah, consisting of moral duties upon the person or persons who have sworn it, of which kind our solemn covenants are; and if they are of this nature where can be the objection against professing and holding out the same covenants, as to the spirit and substance of them, (mutatis mutandis,) to the people of America, to be accepted and sworn by them in their respective places and stations, any more than to those Isles? Moral duties are the same all the world over, and professors of religion in America are as much bound to worship God after the manner pointed out in his own word, to support the purity of the ordinances of the ministry and magistracy, to love and perform all good offices to one another, to strengthen their hands mutually in the ways of the Lord, and to exert an active zealous opposition against idolatry, heresy, and vice as the church in our own lands; but these were the great objects of our solemn covenants, why not then bring the people of America under the same obligations in entering into a church capacity without delaying the work to an uncertain future period? Had the synod felt in their consciences the obligation of the duty of explicit covenanting, as they profess to have done, why did they not proceed to testify this in the performance of the duty itself, as a mean of cementing their union, of building up the kingdom of Christ among them, and of evidencing their cordial approbation of the covenanting conduct of our pious ancestors, in their noble struggle for civil and religious liberty? The synod hold themselves bound by the divine authority to practise all the moral duties contained in our solemn covenants according to their circumstances. Here again the reader is left at a loss, they have not told us what moral duties comport with their circumstances and what not, though it is pretty evident that this limitation is intended to restrict the duties in these covenants; which renders their affectionate remembrance of them as deficient as their acceptance of the other reformation standards. They also declare their "intention to carry with them all the judicial testimonies against defection from the truth once delivered to the saints, which have been emitted in the present age by their brethren in Britain, as far as these testimonies serve to display the truth, and comport with the circumstances of their church." Most of the approbations and disapprobations of this synod, as also their resolutions to drop or prosecute the testimonies and confessions of the church in Britain, are qualified from their own circumstances, which, in how far they differ from the circumstances of the church here, they have not told the world. To us it appears an inscrutable mystery, that a testimony displayed for the truth in Britain will not comport with the circumstances of the church in America, or in any place of the world. It has long been the unhappiness of professors of religion in Britain and Ireland to be divided in sentiment amongst themselves, which hath given birth to opposite testimonies. But for any thing the synod have declared here, no person can learn what testimony of the church in Britain they wish to support amongst themselves in America. This general and doubtful plan of things, however, seems to be the great hinge on which the constitution turns.

In article third, the synod profess a regard for the religious denominations in Britain to which they formerly belonged, a desire to correspond, and to concur with them in promoting true religion. We would indeed fondly hope our brethren have not altogether forgotten the church with which they once joined in sweet counsel in God’s house; but the committee have reason to ask them, where the evidence of respect for the church and a desire to correspond with her appears, in the strange step they have taken to abandon her communion for the society of those against whom they had formerly testified, without first obtaining from them a full renunciation of their old errors.

Our brethren now consider the church in Britain and Ireland as existing in no other relation to them than one to which "they formerly belonged," a fair confession, they have cut the staff of bands asunder, and broken the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. As to the desire of holding an amicable correspondence and of concurring with her in any just measure for promoting true religion, the question again, recurs where is the consistency of doing this upon the principles of the synod while they declare, in article 4th, their fixed resolution never to suffer the religious controversies of the church here to be introduced into their court, and also in the rules of this new synod, subjoined to their articles, that they will receive no minister coming from this church into their communion, but upon the express condition of homologating this new constitution, with his resolution pledged to adhere to it: though on the same terms they might receive one coming from the Papal or Episcopalian churches into the closest connection with them. If the cause of the church in Britain and Ireland is the cause of God and true religion, why did they forsake her communion? if it is not, how will they justify their consciences in promoting with her the cause of error; and if they cannot admit the ministers of the church in this country to officiate with them in the duties of the ministry in America, how can they concur with them in their ministerial functions out of America? this strange inconsistency can be explained upon no principle but this, that our brethren imagine the terms of ecclesiastical communion in and out of America to be diverse; but how very opposite is this to the holy scriptures, in which we are taught, there is but one body, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, Eph. iv, 4. 5.

In article fourth, the synod declare their resolution "never to suffer to be introduced into their church, the local controversies about the civil establishment of the Presbyterian religion—or any unnecessary disputes about the origin of civil dominion." &c. And "they esteem themselves bound to detach their religious profession from all foreign connections." Here the synod have dug a deep and gloomy grave for the burial of the whole of the civil reformation of Britain and Ireland; never, at no future time, are the civil establishment of the Presbyterian religion, and the origin of civil dominion to be introduced as a subject of discussion into their church. What more effectual measure could the most inveterate enemies of our reformation interest adopt to check its progress, and sink its name into oblivion; after this barefaced decretal with what shew of truth can the synod claim relation to the old reformers of these islands. While they declare their resolution, in the first article, to allow any of their members the liberty of disputing in the face of their court the soundness of all the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion; they here shut the door forever against making mention of our glorious civil reformation. But in doing so, they certainly have forgotten the reserve taken to themselves for admitting unto a candid discussion, in some future time, those sections of the Confession of Faith which treat of the origin of civil dominion, the qualifications and duties of civil magistrates. To give a plausible coloring to this deed, the synod have called these subjects "local controversies" and "unnecessary disputes." For our part we are ignorant of any doctrines in religion that can be considered local: the whole system of the Christian faith is committed as a trust to all nations, tongues and kindreds to whom it is revealed. It sometimes indeed happens that a part of the catholic body of the church, living in a particular place of the world, is providentially called out to defend a certain doctrine of the church’s faith impugned amongst them, (as was the case of the church in these lands in relation to the civil establishment of the Presbyterian religion and the origin of civil dominion) but this by no means renders the doctrine local; nay, the church resident in other places of the world, upon becoming acquainted therewith, is bound to approve and honour the contending part in her maintenance of the truth; as much as the more remote members of an extended empire are bound to applaud the patriotic zeal of their fellow subjects, in repelling the invasion of the common enemy, that may have been more immediately directed against that part of the country which they inhabit. Unnecessary disputes about religion ought ever to be avoided, but when the least iota of precious truth suffers opposition, silence in the church is a most heinous evil.—The synod’s resolution to detach their profession of religion from all foreign connections, contains in it the very soul and spirit of independency, and tends to destroy that universal unity in faith, practice, profession, and testimony which cements together, before the world, the one church of the Living God, scattered through the various kingdoms of the world. It savors too much of the spirit of the kingdoms of this world that claim internal sovereignty in Law, counsel, and operation, independent of each other; but since the spiritual kingdom of the Messiah is one in faith, in hope and baptism, &c. there can be no foundation in its peculiar constitution, for a part thereof to avow a profession of religion detached from all other parts of the same kingdom divided from each other by extensive tracts, and wide oceans, or living under distinct civil governments. But how does this deed of synod comport with their readiness to concur with the church here in promoting true religion; since their religious profession has no connection with that of our’s?

In article fifth the synod lay down their sentiments about discipline, in the branches of deposition and excommunication. They speak of a distinction betwixt the deposition of minister, and a dissolution of his connexion with their church. Query—What is the real difference the synod would state betwixt a formal deposition, and a final dissolution of the union betwixt them and a brother, upon offences given by him? The synod confine the ground of deposition to notorious violations of the law of God, in practice, and such errors in principle as unhinge the christian profession. But may not a violent opposition to any of the christian doctrines and duties, engaged to by a minister at his ordination, accompanied with a contemptuous refusal to submit to his brethren over him in the Lord, be sustained as relevant rounds for inflicting upon him the censure of deposition from the office of the holy ministry, received by him on such footing? And is not a judicial dissolution of the connexion betwixt the synod and a private member of the church: or in other words, a solemn judicial withholding of the seals of the covenant from him, or her, as unworthy to partake thereof, an excommunication of the person from the privileges of the christian church? If there be a difference, we would be glad to know from our brethren in what it consists.

In article sixth the synod hold out their terms of fixed communion to the world, and declare that these "shall be soundness in the truth, as defined in the above mentioned Confessions of Faith, Catechisms," &c.  Communion with the church, is either christian or official; as no limitation is put upon communion, we are allowed to extend it to both kinds. The reader is advised, that the above mentioned are the terms of fixed communion; fixed communion seems to be opposed to what the synod, in the following article, design by the name of occasional communion: as no distinction is offered of this last kind of communion, the reader is left at an uncertainty what idea to affix thereto. Do our brethren by occasional communion, understand communion for once, or returning communion after long intervals? In what laws, or precedents of scripture have they found room for this division of communion? A distinction of this kind is found no where, but in the latitudinarian opinions of men. Search the whole scriptures, and you will find no traces of this, either in the Jewish or Christian church: they never extended private or official communion to any, but those with whom they meant to continue it, provided the receivers persevered to act conformably to the dictates of their holy religion. How absurd would it be in the church to bestow official communion upon a person, by investing him with the sacred office of the ministry, under a declaration, that, upon his installment therein, he was to be no longer of their communion? Is it not equally preposterous to admit unto the enjoyment of the privilege of the seals of the covenant of grace, a person, over whom the church has no jurisdiction? The synod have established distinct terms of admission to each of these two kinds of communion; those who wish to enjoy their fixed communion, must be sound in the faith, as above defined; but we would ask our brethren, how can a person’s acknowledgment of the soundness of the faith, as expressed in the confession, be stated as a term of communion, in a consistency with the synod’s laying open all the doctrines of that confession to objections? nay, how can it be said there is any faith at all in a church, whose doctrines are liable to disputation? The synod have set aside some articles of the Confession of Faith for future discussion, but, they have not said, an acknowledged adherence to the articles excepted out of the confession would be reckoned by them unsoundness in the faith, and so to exclude the adherent from communion with their church.

In article seventh, the synod declare their willingness to hold occasional communion with churches of other denominations. This behooves to be done either by admitting them to the privilege of receiving from the synod the seals of the covenant, and liberty to officiate in conjunction with their office bearers; or by their receiving the same things from other denominations. The authority, under which they would patronize this practice, is the following expression of the Confession of Faith: "To extend communion to all who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus;" these words are taken out of the Scriptures, and as explained in them, and understood by the compilers of the Confession, they mean those only who call upon, and worship the Lord Jesus, after the manner he has appointed to be done in his own divine institutions and ordinances; and not those who profess to call upon and worship the Lord Jesus in a way not established by him in his word. All christian sectaries profess to call upon and worship the Lord Jesus; Popish, Episcopalian, Arminian, do so; but we are commanded to go to the law and testimony, for if any speak not according to these things, it is because there is no light in them. The synod’s application of the expression to support the cause of promiscuous communion, on certain occasions, is a gross perversion of its genuine meaning. There is nothing in the practice of our reformers to vindicate their sense of it. The Solemn League and Covenant, in which our reformers league and bind themselves together, or state the terms of communion with them by others, is such, as may easily convince any person, that the synod’s interpretation of this passage is fallacious. The kind of communion plead for by the synod here, shifts the ground of church fellowship from an agreement in the faith and practice of true religion, to the supposed goodness of persons; a most dangerous maxim in the communion of the church.

In the eighth and last article, the synod make another boast of having detached their principles from local peculiarities; a striking indication of their conceited fondness for this new modeled profession of their own, by which they would bury in everlasting oblivion all that the good hand of God upon his people enabled them to do for his cause and interest, in former ages, and different countries from their own, as inclusive of both the principles of religion on which they proceeded, and the application thereof to particular objects, as presented in the course of providence.

In this article they also point out the mode to be observed by persons in making application for admission to fixed communion with them; and enjoin it upon bodies of people belonging to other denominations of Presbyterians, who cannot be seasonably provided in gospel ordinances by the judicatory under whose inspection they are, that, previous to their being admitted into communion with the synod, they shall inform the judicatory over them, of the reasons of their intended application, and use all due means to obtain the concurrence of the judicatory. To us this appears to be a very strange plan of forming church connections; inasmuch as it implies that these bodies of people, supposed to make application to the synod, are still of the same principles with those of the church to which they formerly belonged, as different from the principles of the synod, but finding it difficult for the time being to receive a full supply of gospel ordinances, have thought proper to apply to the synod for that purpose. If these supposed bodies of people shall be found so loose as to seek admission into communion with a church whose principles they cannot adopt; a church professing to bear a pointed testimony against the errors which prevail in their country, should be so strict as not to open the gates of their church fellowship to admit them; nor is there any weight in the destitute state of these bodies of people, to warrant a church to deviate from the plain path of duty to extend relief to them. But this charitable decision of synod exhibits in a moving light their wide latitudinarian scheme of communion. If these bodies of people had seen the evil of their former principles, and the soundness of those of the synod, they might well state before the judicatory, from which they withdrew, their errors, as just grounds of a separation; but, in this case, there is no necessity for them to endeavour to procure the concurrence of the judicatory in their intended application to another court; nay, it would he absurd and inconsistent in them once to attempt it, and while the synod oblige them to do so, as it recognizes the lawfulness of the authority of the judicatory over them, so it has a manifest tendency to destroy what is the only justifiable ground of forsaking the communion of a church, viz. defection from the faith and ordinances of Christ. The synod would do well recollect the words of the prophet, Open ye the gates that righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Isa. xxvi. 2.

The questions to be proposed unto those who enter into office contained in the formula, and the rules established for directing the judicial operations of the synod, in so far as these reduplicate upon the articles, must be viewed in the same light with them. On the whole, the committee find themselves in duty bound to testify against this synodical union of their brethren, with those of the seceding ministers, with whom they have chosen to associate themselves, on the reasons assigned above, and therefore they did, and hereby do, testify, and declare against this as an ambiguous—defective—loose—unstable—latitudinarian—and local union, opposite to, and eversive of, the covenanted union of Britain and Ireland, in the bond of which they and their brethren were once connected. An ambiguous union, the terms of it being so very doubtful; a defective union, omitting some of the substantial truths of God, and attainments of the reformed covenanted church of Britain and Ireland; a loose union, being founded on very general principles; an unstable union, referring truths about which members are not supposed to be agreed to a future discussion, which may in the issue tend to annihilate the synodical connection; a local union, being detached from all foreign connections with the Christian church in any other parts of the world, and having for its limits the boundaries of the American states.

The committee having delivered their sentiments concerning this synodical union, would now entreat their brethren, in the bowels of our Lord Jesus Christ, seriously to review the nature and tendency of the union in the light of the word of God, to give their observations on it a dispassionate hearing, and, persuaded as they are, that their brethren will find them agreeable to truth, to allow them to have their due influence upon their minds; in doing which they must be convinced, that in the hour of coalition, they have been deceived into an apostacy from their former profession, though perhaps meaning to act in the spirit of it, and that therefore their present duty, remembering from whence they have fallen, is to repent, return, and to do their first works. The gracious call of God to them in his word is, Turn, O backsliding children, for I am married unto you;—the expostulation of this church with them is, Why should our staff of brotherhood be broken asunder? we are brethren, the sons of one mother; why then should division be found amongst us? Though you are now in the hands of another fellowship, it is not yet too late to think of disconnection. We are afraid there are some amongst you who trouble you, and labor to pervert the faith you once espoused, and have so far brought you into bondage, but on your return to your former profession and duty, be assured you will find the church here ready to embrace you with the most cordial reception. As your defection from her communion hath wounded her dearest comforts, nothing but your return can furnish to her true consolation; she hath no greater joy than when all her connections walk in the truth. Be persuaded then, our dear brethren, to reflect upon your present course; try your ways—and speedily turn your feet unto God’s testimonies; which may the Lord himself, who gathers the dispersed of Israel into one, enable you to do. But if it shall be our mortification to find, that you still remain inflexible in your present union, then we must adjure you to hear witness, that not we, but you, by an obstinate dereliction of the common profession we made of the covenanted testimony of Christ, have broken our ecclesiastical union, that all the disagreeable consequences resulting therefrom lie at your door; and to a greater than man you have to answer.

To those of the people who, following their ministers, have been drawn away from their profession, into a submission to this synod in their scheme of principles, the committee would say, What cause have you now discovered in the good profession you once made, that you have so far turned your back upon it? where now is that ancient zeal, which carried you over these wide seas to this country, to seek for yourselves pastors of the reformation church? Have length of time, political revolutions, and the influence of falling churchmen, extinguished all that? But, Oh consider! that no vicissitudes in human affairs can produce any alteration in the precepts of religion, and the permanent obligation lying upon us to prosecute the same. Believe it that the changes which have of late passed over your country, and the instability of your spiritual guides leave the cause of truth the name; hearken to it, dear friends, apostacy in the members of the church, is a very heinous evil before that God who keepeth truth for evermore; defection from, or neutrality about any divine truth, opens a door for more of the same kind. A loose scheme of principles, such as is that of the synod, whereby defection is promoted from former attainments, and the communion of the church laid open to the supposed pious of all denominations, has a native tendency to introduce into the church indifference about every other truth, but those which are supposed to be amongst the essentials of salvation, and who can say where suppositions of this kind will stop? Though the ministers you obtained from this church have deviated from the profession they made at the time you received them in that character, and the relation was formed between you and them, that by no means lays any obligation upon you to follow them in their back-sliding ways. Let it not be always said, The leaders of this people have caused them to err. Recall to your minds the many awful threatenings a jealous God hath denounced in his word against those who turn aside; though he may give pardon to his own people, guilty in this respect, he will certainly take vengeance upon their inventions. There is one request the church in this country hath to ask of you, which is that you will attentively consider their judgment of the synodical union, to which your practices have said Amen; and, if with them you are now able to discern it to be an union which hath involved in apostacy all parties, it will be truly Christian and noble in you to disclaim all future connection with it, and again to return to the profession of the truth, in which desirable event, the church that nourished you in your infancy, will, with parental affection rejoice to receive you as her returning children into her tenderest care, and, by the assistance of God, bestow upon you all the help their situation can afford; but, if deaf to the voice of the church, you persevere in the choice you have made, then know that there hath been a warning sent you from the word of the Lord—and it is at your peril to reject it.

Before we conclude, the committee would tender a few things to those private Christians who have transmitted by letters their complaint upon the union of synod. Though the apostacy of the ministers, and the great majority of the people have given them the most sensible pain; notwithstanding the committee rejoice to find, that there are any left in the church in America, who have not bowed the knee to this synodical union, and, that the Lord hath still a remnant to witness for himself, in that quarter of the world. The committee condole most feelingly with the disappointed, destitute, and tried condition of those members; and they do assure them they have the tenderest sympathy of the church in this country, who desire not to forget them in their prayers before the great Shepherd of Israel, who knows all his own sheep, and is known of them. To those members the committee would recommend a patient continuance in a wise, bold, and steadfast maintenance of the covenanted testimony of the church of Britain and Ireland in her purest times; a testimony that hath been marked with signal token of the divine approbation; stood the test of ages; and has been sealed with the best blood of faithful martyrs. As ye have withstood the force of the artifices laid to ensnare you into the common apostacy, in the day of coalition, endeavor, in dependence upon grace, still to exercise a continued vigilance, lest any avail themselves of philosophy and vain deceit to spoil you of your crown of glory. You have kept the ground whilst others have fallen, let it never be said, in any after period, that ye also have gone away. Remember that perseverance to the end is the criterion of Christ’s faithful witnesses. Deserted by your spiritual guides, who were hound to watch over your souls in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, as it would be inconsistent with a proper testimony against their backsliding, so it is far from being the judgment of this church to advise you to go after them, and now to attend upon their official ministrations; you will at once evidence the truest love for their good, and exhibit the fairest testimony against their evils, by a continued declining of their public ministry; and though in your forlorn state, you may not enjoy the sweet voice of the gospel from the mouth of men, as formerly, yet remember, that the Master of assemblies can feed your souls, manifest himself to your consolation, and advance your eternal salvation, in the believing and diligent use of the private means of grace, to which the faithful have often had recourse in similar circumstances, and which in their joyful experience, have been found to be to their disconsolate souls refreshing wells of salvation. Whilst thus appearing in the public character of witnesses, forget not that your great spiritual duty is, to live in the daily exercise of faith upon Jesus, a crucified Saviour, for the sanctification of your persons, and the establishment of your practices in the paths of true and undefiled religion, against the power of the prevailing vices wherewith you are surrounded. Let your lights of truth, holiness, and virtue so shine before others, that you may be the acknowledged followers of the Lamb; let the wisdom of serpents and the innocence of doves mark all your footsteps; remember that a life of good offices to all, and a tender concern for souls, are insuperable from the character of true Church members. Those of you who live contiguous will see it to be your duty, and find it to be your interest, to convene upon the holy Sabbath, and at other seasons, for the performance of private social worship; and all of you ought to form a general correspondence amongst yourselves, in order to strengthen the hands of one another in your present broken state, in supporting the cause of truth we all profess. The Church in this country is willing to hold a correspondence with you;—as a proof of which they have transmitted this short view of their judgment of the union, both for the conviction of declining members, and the confirmation of you who still avow an adherence to your ancient profession; but, as they are partly ignorant of the state of matters amongst you at large, and as there may be internal differences amongst you in relation to your duty to the ministers of your former connexion, (a thing scarcely to be wondered at, in your very trying situation,) they would desire you to meet together amongst yourselves, or so to correspond, as to be able to collect the views of different persons, where they disagree; and, along with these, to send over a state of your situation, at large, from which they will be better enabled to judge of your case; till then, they assure you of their most sincere wishes for your prosperity in religion, and your steadfastness in the truth, under the great trial Divine Providence hath laid before you. As to your desire, that the Church would so far sympathize with your destitute state, as to send over a supply of ministers to dispense to you the ordinances of salvation, we can assure you, that they are ready to do every thing in their power for your edification; and sincerely wish they may be enabled to grant you the prayer of your request, in sending over a mission of faithful laborers into our vineyard, if future information expected from you shall discover this to be our duty; but they would wish to wait the issue of their judgment of the union upon the ministers who have left you, and also your return, both of which may tend to throw more light upon their duty in this particular. And now, dear Christian friends and brethren in the Lord Jesus, we recommend you to the care of the Chief Shepherd, in whose hands Jehovah hath entrusted both the concerns of his own glory, and the salvation of his people; nay, he looks upon your afflictions, and sends seasonable help to you in your extremity; and, when it would have been no hard thing for his Almighty power to have raised Isaac out of his own ashes, may he raise up to you a faithful priesthood, that will execute all his pleasure. May the spirit of wisdom be given unto you, to know the times and your own duty therein. Farewell, dearly beloved in the Lord.

"The observations of the Committee upon the articles of union being read before the Reformed Presbytery, were approved by them; and the Presbytery order them to be printed, and to be transmitted, with all convenient speed to America.

"Extracted by ARCHD. MASON, Cl[erk] Pr[esbytery]."


[1] See page 27 of the Constitution of the Associate Reformed Synod, when treating on the subject of rules.