History teaches that all communities are liable to deterioration. And the histories of all sections of the visible church, into which she has been unhappily and sinfully divided, proves that they do actually degenerate. As any church increases in numbers and wealth, in the same proportion she declines in spirituality. Her testimony becomes less offensive to the men of the world, and then the men of the world begin to court her influence and enter her communion as a step toward securing the objects of their desire. When “Jeshurun waxed fat, he kicked.” Ten tribes of Israel revolted from the house of David. The honors and emoluments lavished upon Christian bishops by Constantine prepared the way for the Romish apostasy, and superinduced the Dark Ages.
On the other hand, the Lord has never left himself without a competent number of witnesses to contend for his cause against all who assail or forsake it. The appearance of these always occasions popular commotion and often revolution. When faithful contending becomes “earnest contending,” the result is actual war—”war in heaven.” Rev. 12:7. We are too liable to forget—and what is worse, too many among us are too ready to question the truth of two of the first and plainest facts of the Bible, that in the human family two seeds exist, the “seed of the woman” and the “seed of the serpent,” and that God at the beginning of our history “put enmity between them.” Yet these facts were taught and emphasized by our Lord during his public ministry. John 8:44. And our best divines, worthy of that name, following the Master’s teaching and “abiding in the doctrine of Christ,” used to tell us that this is a “war of extermination.” I know that this doctrine of our covenant fathers, of Christ, of the Bible, is seldom taught in our age—because few of their sons believe it. And here, I humbly suggest, may be discovered the real source of all the alienations and divisions that exist in the visible church at the present time. We have many such prophets as those described by Micah, “That bite with the teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him.” Samuel Rutherford was well acquainted with this class, as often appears in his Letters. In his day (1650), the “Public Resolutions” developed a vast number of such prophets, whose worldly policy prepared the way for the “Act rescissory,” which overthrew the whole fabric both of the First and Second Reformations in Scotland, England and Ireland. The bloody house of Stuart, for twenty-eight years, were “wroth with the remnant of the woman’s seed,” who courageously “resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” This remnant alone kept the word of Christ’s patience in the furnace of persecution; and afterward, in the time of compromise with the Prince of Orange, when at the Revolution Settlement the National Church surrendered her independence, submitting to the yoke of Erastianism.
The “Society People,” for sixteen years after Mr. James Renwick’s martyrdom, preserved the testimony of the witnesses in its integrity, until Mr. John McMillan became official standard-bearer, in 1706. With the assistance of Mr. John McNeil, licentiate, and the concurrence of the Society People, Mr. McMillan renewed the Covenants, National and Solemn League, at Auchensaugh near Douglas, Scotland, in the year 1712. For his faithful contendings against defection in the Revolution Church, he had been suspended and then deposed from his office by his brethren. All ministers of the Reformed Presbyterian name have derived their office from him; or rather, from Christ, through him.
These covenants comprised the whole of the reformation from Popery and Prelacy, and were a testimony against all the corruptions of both those anti-Christian systems. This is manifest from the enmity of the serpent’s seed to those documents by consigning them to the flames. Now, although the Lord had stopped the bloody career of the Stuarts, and had influenced the body of the people to invite the Prince of Orange to occupy the vacant British throne, the persecution of the witnesses who stood to the Covenants, though mitigated, had not ceased—nor has it ceased up to the present day in the case of their legitimate successors. In all such cases, and in all ages, the backsliders of the church take the lead. This is clear in the pretended censures imposed upon Mr. McMillan by his ecclesiastical brethren. But their malice appeared still farther, in the attempt of these brethren to move the civil authorities to proceed against him. The civil powers, already satiated for the time with the blood of the martyrs lately shed, refused to be the tools of the ministers against Mr. McMillan. Thus “the earth helped the woman.”
In such circumstances of hostility from the church and peril from the state, did our ancestors venture to renew our Covenants in 1712. Their fidelity in that transaction has often been endorsed by pretended successors, who were not prepared to own the obligation of their Public Deed. Take the following example from “Reformation Principles Exhibited:”
“Discipline was relaxed, immorality and heresy were tolerated in the Church, and the remembrance of the reformation was fast declining. Those who defended the good order of the Church against their apostate brethren were sure of being censured by the majority. The faithfulness and zeal of Mr. McMillan provoked the indignation of those who were conscious of the badness of their own cause. They determined to banish him from a flock who sincerely loved him, and they consequently passed against him a sentence of deposition from the ministry. Against these cruel and unjust proceedings, Mr. McMillan protested; and the ministry which he (had) received in a regular manner from the Lord, he refused to resign to the caprice and wickedness of men who had no crime to charge him with, except his faithfulness to the principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The Societies called him to the (exercise of) the ministry among them, and he was afterwards joined in that work by others. Those who had for a long time (sixteen years) been deprived of the public ordinances, were now greatly refreshed by the preached gospel. They rejoiced that an organized, visible Church was again to be found in the land, upon the footing of the once glorious reformation. This visible Covenant Society was indeed small and despised. They resolved, however, as witnesses, to maintain a faithful testimony, and like their brethren, the primitive disciples, to go forth to their Redeemer without the camp, bearing his reproach. They considered that the principles of the reformation were still as true and as valuable as they had been when they were embraced generally in the three kingdoms of the Isles of Britain and Ireland, and when they were admired by all the Protestant churches of Europe. They sincerely lamented their own inability to introduce them advantageously to public notice, but they were resolved, in their humble sphere, to collect them faithfully; to bind them up in one testimony, and to seal them as the law of the house among the disciples of our Lord. They took pleasure in the dust of Zion.”
Now, can any one indite a better encomium of our fathers’ fidelity, or frame a more explicit approval of their transaction in renewing our solemn covenants at Auchensaugh? Would it not be a breach of charity to doubt their sincerity? But true charity “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” The truth in this matter is, that the very men who expressed and put on record, the above-quoted encomium and approbation of the Auchensaugh Deed, were the first to expunge it from the Terms of Communion, where it had stood from 1712 till 1806! In confirmation, if necessary, of the truth now stated, the reader is confidently referred to the book itself. He will not find the Renovation at Auchensaugh, among the Terms of Communion in any copy or edition of Reformation Principles Exhibited, since its first issue in 1806. There may be easily discovered the first organic, fundamental and doctrinal departure from our Covenanted Reformation in America, and as a necessary consequence from declension in doctrine, the practice of occasional hearing followed—an unfaithful, self-contradictory practice, subversive of all reformation. I know that these statements must be offensive to backsliders; but if their offensiveness result from their truthfulness, then their statement is the more necessary on my part, as well as for their spiritual benefit. But it is proper to notice here the sentiments of the same men, respecting the subsequent proceedings of those who succeeded the men of 1712. I quote again from the “Historical View,” one of the three parts of the “Plan” upon which Reformation Principles Exhibited was projected:—
“The Reformed Presbytery in Scotland did, in the year 1761, publish an act, declaration and testimony in behalf of the doctrine, worship, discipline and government of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The object of this publication was to exhibit a correct statement of their own principles, and to defend them by just reasoning. They relate the various steps of reformation in Scotland; they express their approbation of the conduct of the faithful martyrs; they disapprove of the constituted authorities in Britain; and they declare their unity with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, solemnly recognizing the full obligation of the covenants upon themselves and their posterity. This publication is considered as a bond of connection among themselves, and one of the terms upon which they join together in ministerial and Christian communion. It is a valuable document of the Church’s faithfulness. It is an excellent means of handing down to posterity in every nation a just account and an able defense of the contendings of the witnesses against the man of sin. This Testimony, in common with the ecclesiastical standards compiled by the assembly of divines at Westminster, the national covenant of Scotland, and the solemn league of the three kingdoms, England, Ireland and Scotland, affords a scriptural defense and a full exhibition of the reformation in its best state.” All this eulogy and strong expression of approbation of a Judicial Testimony which they were actually engaged in means to supplant!
I know that this heavy charge is denied; and we are often told there is no difference between the “two Testimonies.” If so, where is the need of two? “O but there are peculiarities in the Scottish Testimony.” Very true, and that is the very reason why it must be supplanted. It contains some peculiar and eternal principles which refuse to bend to any political expediency. There is the difficulty, and to those whose earthly politics change with the times, the difficulty has been, and always will be, insurmountable.
For similar political reasons, if they may be called reasons, this highly-eulogized Testimony and other co-ordinate symbols of a scriptural and covenanted profession became obsolete in the British Isles, giving place to substitutes less offensive to a corrupt age. Let no one imagine that I defend symbols of faith from the force of habit, or because they are old, perfect, immutable or infallible; for I have for many years repeatedly said the contrary: that no document framed by the wisdom, learning, or piety of any uninspired man, or body of such, is either perfect or immutable, and much less infallible. But alas! most of those who cry loudest for liberty and against what they call “fetters on intellect,” etc., make the nearest approach to the blasphemous claims of apostate Rome to infallibility. Only put the majority in the Pope’s place, and any change of standards or innovation must be right, however unscriptural or irrational. No, I plead not for the immutability, but for the faithfulness of subordinate standards, both of doctrine and practice.
The germ and elements of change in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the British Isles was in secret operation for many years before they reached a judicial sanction in 1837-9, and a practical exemplification in 1863 [i.e., when the R.P. Church in Scotland split into majority and minority synods—“New” versus “Old” light synods; ED.]. The slow progress of innovators in those lands encountered opposition from the long-established habits of the body of the people. It was quite otherwise in America. There every social problem was matter of popular discussion in the beginning of the present century. This difference between the population of the Old and New worlds may go far to account for the audacious experiment of those who ventured to launch out a mutilated formula of Terms of Communion, without the formality of overture. The case was somewhat different in Scotland with the “mither kirk.” A long course of sapping and mining preceded the open appearance of attack upon the citadel. As in America, so in Scotland, the first authoritative document that excited hostility in secret was the Auchensaugh Renovation; and this began to appear more openly before the close of the last century. In cities, temptations to conform to the world are more numerous, plausible, and pressing than in rural localities; and these temptations are daily encountered alike by the ministry and membership. We might, therefore, expect that in the principal cities of Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow (as in America, New York and Philadelphia), defection would be first developed. Accordingly, this expectation has been verified, and for some generations has become matter of actual and disgraceful history. Among the cities on opposite sides of the Atlantic, where Covenanters have been part of the population, Glasgow and Philadelphia have attained an unenviable preeminence.
So long as the faithful Testimony emitted at Ploughlandhead, Scotland, 1761, and the Renovation of our covenants at Auchensaugh, 1712, were conscientiously regarded in practice, unity and uniformity prevailed in our church; and within the lifetime of the writer of these melancholy lines, she was one in all lands where any of her children sojourned; for they were indeed aliens alike in their native countries and in the nations of their selection, strangers and pilgrims in the earth. And while anti-Christ tyrannizes over the nations they cannot be “reckoned among them,” but must wear the appointed sackcloth and abide in the wilderness. Rev. 12. Was it not long ago predicted (Dan. 7:25), that this apostate enemy would “wear out the saints of the Most High?” In that lengthy and loving discourse of our Saviour addressed to the communicants at the first sacramental table (John 13-16.), he said, “These things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them.” When we see, and can certainly identify the great anti-Christ, as foretold by prophets and apostles, our faith should be strengthened thereby and not shaken. But ah! the corrupting influence of the golden cup in the hand of the mother of harlots! Yes, even upon the saints; for “some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end.” And it is also predicted that the said enemy of God and man shall “scatter the power of the holy people.” Of course, these predictions have been and continue to be accomplished on a larger scale than the territory of the British Isles; but it may be truly affirmed that men of understanding and a holy people were scattered in Scotland, for a period of twenty-eight years, by the sword of persecution. The cause, however, for which those heroic and godly patriots contended, even unto death, did not die. “A wasted remnant” of witnesses survived, held fast, and transmitted unimpaired the blood-sealed testimony. The fidelity of their successors in different countries, and under different conditions of social organization, was tested in different ways. Some one has truly said, for it is almost axiomatic, that “popularity is a greater temptation than persecution.” The history of the successors of the Scottish martyrs in all countries whither they have been scattered, verifies that adage. But may not their true history be also viewed as a fulfilment of these prophetic words? “And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he (anti-Christ) corrupt by flatteries.” From what we may know of our corrupt nature, and from personal experience throughout a long public life, I might be supposed to know something of temptation arising from flattery, usually so closely allied to popularity. [see Appendix III.]
Can any one do more “wickedly against the Covenant” than by renouncing its obligation. This is perjury, a sin and crime heinous and odious in the estimation of heathen nations, as [John] Brown of Wamphray shows at large, from their own writings. But sinners and criminals are not easily convicted. Guilt may be proved and the guilty continue impenitent; and as this is true of individuals, much more difficult is it to convict corporate organized bodies. The fact of the existence of six synods at one time, claiming to represent the Reformed Presbyterian Church (1863), proves this difficulty. And taking into account the claims of the Seceders to be the only successors of the Scottish martyrs, and the only consistent adherents to the whole covenanted attainments of the Second Reformation, the difficulty of conviction is still augmented. The only sure proof, whether or not conviction follow, is that supplied by our Lord to the claim of the Jews, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.” Those who hold the testimony of the said martyrs, and actually apply those principles as they did, both to themselves and their opponents, and they only, are their genuine successors.
Those who know how difficult it was at an early period in the history of the Christian church to convict Arius of heresy, or Pelagius, or the Remonstrants at the Synod of Dort, will not be surprised when similar difficulties are encountered in our own age. Of course, all such difficulties are resolvable originally and ultimately into human imperfection, or more plainly, our native depravity. Yet the true and more immediate cause of existing and conflicting claims by so many parties to be the genuine successors of the martyrs, confessors and witnesses of Scotland, may be ascertained with absolute certainty by any person of ordinary intelligence and freedom from prejudice. That this matter may be understood, let the following considerations be duly pondered. All professing Christians declare their loyal adherence to the Bible as the only standard of their faith and practice. This consensus of professing disciples of Christ implies at least their estimate of the Bible as possessing superlative intrinsic value. All parties appeal to it in controversy. The Roman, Lutheran, Presbyterian and other bodies accept these words—“This is my body.” Can any two persons, the one a Papist, the other a Lutheran, agree in their interpretation of these words? No; the former “believes as the church believes”—that the Lord Jesus, while standing in the presence of his disciples, having a true body and a reasonable soul, a visible and real man, did actually change the bread and wine in his hands, into his own body, soul and divinity, having removed or annihilated these elements! Can the human mind imagine absurdities more monstrous, conceive blasphemies more impious or wicked? The latter, the Lutheran, believes that the bread and wine remain, and that in, under, or with these visible elements, Christ himself is invisibly, but really present. This belief, though less blasphemous and revolting than the former, is equally unphilosophical, unscriptural and irrational. The former is called Transubstantiation, the latter Consubstantiation. The Presbyterian believes that these words mean, and were intended by our Lord to teach all his disciples, that the bread and wine are symbols or emblems addressed to their senses, representing his body and blood:—just as elsewhere throughout the Scriptures, the lean and fat kine in Pharaoh’s dream, the seven stars in John’s vision, etc. Now, can any two individuals of the three parties mentioned “join sweet counsel together and walk to the house of God in company?” Can they obey such inspired and imperative commands as,—“Be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment?” 1 Cor. 1:10. See, also, 1 Cor. 11:18, 19; Phil. 3:16-20. No, they can neither obey the law of Christ nor enjoy Christian communion. Hence arose the necessity in this imperfect state for creeds, confessions, testimonies and other symbols of faith, in which might be explicitly set forth the sense in which two or more Christians understood divine revelation. And, if professing Christians were sufficiently intelligent and really honest, such formularies are well adapted to secure and preserve unity and uniformity among them: and the history of such documents proves that they have in fact been the means of preserving divine truth and all the real piety existing to-day throughout Christendom.
But in this age of boastful progress, free thought and “higher criticism,” our creeds, confessions, covenants and testimonies—all our subordinate standards, both of faith and practice, have become as equivocal, and their language as ambiguous as that of the Bible itself; which such higher critics as Professor Robertson Smith can show us is no longer trustworthy, either as to genuineness or authenticity. I verily think on this point that Cain was the first seemingly pious man of whom we have any authentic account, who entertained—yes, entertained serious doubts as to the credibility of divine revelation; especially in reference to the necessity, reality, efficacy and infallible application to its destined subjects, of an expiatory sacrifice for human guilt. But alas, how many, down through the ages since his time, have evidently “gone in the way of Cain” in their religion! I know that this will be received by many as a very uncharitable opinion; but, if my judgment be scriptural, it cannot be uncharitable. If any reader will be at pains and trouble—and to those charitable persons it will be both painful and troublesome—to search the following proofs of the correctness of my opinion, he may be convinced:—Gen. 6:5; 2 Kings 16:10; Matt. 3:7; John 8:44; Rom. 10:2, 3; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:3, 4—and many others. Is it not manifest that in the larger bodies of professed Christians, what is called “open, free, catholic communion’’ is practiced, and “close” communion is by them matter of reproach heaped upon others? while they inconsistently pretend to have subordinate standards, at least to bind their office-bearers? Now, the Lord says to each of his children, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.” Yet the pernicious example of these large, wealthy, fashionable, worldly churches has evidently corrupted the smaller and sounder ones: and this example, together with the impious earthly politics, has infected the professed public witnesses for “the whole of the covenanted work of reformation.” Of this corrupting influence these self-styled witnesses have furnished undeniable evidence in Scotland, Ireland and America, by the ministers breaking all forms of the most solemn pledges, and openly identifying in fellowship with the very parties against whose errors and consequent immoralities they had testified. These are facts, I say, and undeniable facts in all the three lands named, and they are for a lamentation. Of course, I approve of all or of any in those bodies who maintain their integrity; and whose forebodings, like my own, are that their number is yet to be farther reduced. This was the mind of the late Rev. Wm. Sommerville, and others. And how can any one forecast otherwise who perceives the apathy of the residuary ministers when one of their number elopes and “turns renegade?” Rev. T.M. Elder sends a letter to his Synod, informing his brethren that he has “left their communion.” What censure follows upon this open violation of ordination and other solemn vows [Elder renounced all ecclesiastical affiliation in 1883]? Why, just “drop his name from the roll.” The interpretation is, Synod does not regard terms of communion any longer as involving moral obligation, or as a bond of fellowship. The same tendency to latitudinarianism in that body is farther evinced by the late retiring moderator in his synodic sermon; for reading which instead of preaching, he was but too mildly rebuked by his brethren. This bold and intolerant innovator had incorporated in his pompous and self-contradictory essay the following sentiment: “No branch of the church has divine warrant to disfellowship a single child of God, who is living a God honoring Christian life.” This is seemingly a truism, and without analyzing the words, it will command general assent, yet it certainly cost its author much anxious thought how to conceal its sophistry from detection. And, indeed, it might be difficult to find anywhere in so few words, such a tissue of errors comprised. To say nothing of the vague and popular (because unscriptural) phrase, “branch of the church,” it may be asked,—How did the Rev. David Gregg, who could not preach a synodic sermon, discover “a child of God” without a Scripture test? How does he know that any one fears or honors God, without that test?—that he is “living a Christian life,” without trial by Bible, creed, or any external rule? O he knows every real Christian at sight, by what the learned call intuition! Mr. Gregg has evidently no taste for a costume of sackcloth or the seclusion of a wilderness condition; and as little for creeds, or any other human trammels on a man of “broad views.” [Mr. Gregg subsequently affiliated with the Congregationalists and, later, with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.; ED.]