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Argumentative Testimony. According to the Resolution of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod.


Argumentative Testimony. According to the Resolution of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod.

James Dodson


As the “pillar and the ground of truth,” (1 Tim. 3:15,) and “light of the world,” (Matt. 5:14,) the church is bound to furnish a clear, full, and orderly system of divine truth. Of this the Scriptures are the source—the only and infallible guide in all that relates to saving doctrine, moral law, and ecclesiastical government and order. From these Scriptures the church collects her creed, and then so expresses and arranges its several parts as to constitute a scriptural “form of sound words.” (2 Tim. 1:13.) That this is the right and duty of the church, has already been shown in the argument upon the chapter of this Testimony relating to “Creeds and Confessions.” A right and duty which pre-suppose and are confirmed by the fact that the word of God contains and exhibits, in its direct and positive teachings, a scheme of doctrine, of law, and of order, which has been committed to the church for her own edification, and for the good of mankind.

But, besides its teachings, the Bible presents a testimony against human errors and sins, derogatory to God as the sole object of worship and supreme Moral Governor. Not only is the truth stated, but the opposite error is condemned. The same law which announced to Israel the divine unity, and called upon that people to worship this “one Lord,” (Deut. 6:4, 13,) also forbids the worship of the false gods of the heathen: “Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you.” Deut. 6:14.) Statutes and ordinances were given expressive of the Divine will, which they were to observe, and with equal explicitness the observance of others contrary to them is condemned. “For the statutes of Omri are kept, and all the works of the house of Ahab.” (Micah 6:16.) Jesus himself, while he illustrates the law, (Matt. 5.,) is very express in rebuking and setting aside the glosses and corruptions of the scribes and Pharisees, and directs (Matt. 23.) a most earnest and pungent testimony against them. Paul expounds and defends the doctrine of justification by faith, (Rom. 3., 4.,) and, at the same time, bears witness against the opposing error and its advocates. “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified.” (Rom. 3:20.) “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3.) And so throughout the Scriptures. As they give instruction in the knowledge of the truth and the right—they also, and every where, bring to the light, and testify against error, sin, and wrong.

Keeping in view this feature of divine revelation, we easily ascertain the duty of the church in regard to the subject before us. The Bible is the church’s guide in her public profession, and in all that relates to the accomplishment of her mission. It directs how to teach, and how to deal with those to whom she hears the word of God. It is hers to imitate, so far as imitable, the very mode which the Most High has adopted in delivering His own message. She must teach, for He has taught—she must specify error and sin, and testify against it, for He has done so. To these general considerations we may add the declaration of God by Isaiah, addressed to Israel as a people, to whom was committed the revealed doctrine of the divine unity as exclusive of all other gods—“Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord,” (Isa. 43:10;) with the name and office assigned to the faithful in the days of antichristian supremacy in New Testament times—“I will give power to my two witnesses,” (Rev. 11:3;) “Which have the commandments of God, and the testimony; of Jesus Christ,” (Rev. 12:17;) and, finally, the fact that the trust committed to God’s ancient people is often called a “testimony,” (Rev. 1:9; Isa. 8:20.)

Nor does it avail to say that the Bible is the church’s testimony. (1.) It is no more her testimony than it is her creed. If she may and ought to deduce a systematized creed from the pages of inspiration, she ought, for the same reasons, also to deduce a testimony. (2.) There are even stronger reasons for the latter than for the former. Truth is always the same, but error varies; and sins, substantially the same always, assume new aspects of prominence, prevalence, and temptation to commit them. The Bible testifies against these as then—in each age and country—existing. Following its example, the church should so prepare her testimony as to meet emergent errors, and to oppose the sins of the times.

We are now prepared to consider the nature of the church’s testimony. It should be a standing testimony, full, pointed, and progressive.

1.Standing.—It is not enough that the church issue occasional testimonies against particular errors and sins—she should place beside her “creed” a permanent testimony against every prominent error. In this way alone can she fulfil her function as a witness for Christ, in the spirit, and according to the tenor of the Bible itself. On this point particularly all our previous argument bears. The law of Moses, the prophets, Christ and his apostles, all furnish us with the warrant, and as we are bound to be their followers, impose upon us this obligation. Without a standing testimony we will have but a partial exhibition of the word of God both in its substance and form.

2. Full.—A scriptural testimony must correspond to a scriptural creed, if the latter should be complete, embracing all the leading truths of the word of God relative to His Being, perfections, law, grace, and administration, the former, as the correlate, should omit no error, no mistaken rule of conduct, no perversion of either reason or Scripture, which offends against any of these, or tends to the injury or the misleading of man in the word of God, and the attainment of eternal life. And just as it is not essentia1 to a creed that it enter into every modification and detail of revealed truth, so in a testimony it is not imperative that every form of multifarious error or sin be expressly exhibited and denounced. To attempt this, would only introduce confusion and obscurity; still, nothing should be omitted that is likely to engage the attention of the faithful, and that is not comprehended in the matters already embraced in the articles of the Testimony. “Bind up the testimony.” (Isa. 8:20.)

A full testimony is directed against the errors and sins of men, considered as individuals, of the nations and of even professors of the Christian name and faith. That there should be a testimony against errors incorporated in national constitutions and acts, is clearly shown by the fact, broadly and most distinctly exhibited throughout the Scriptures, that such a testimony was constantly maintained by the law of Moses, and by all the prophets. “Defile not yourselves in any of these things; for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you.” (Lev. 18:24.) “For the Lord hath a controversy with the nations.” (Jer. 25:31.) “Stand now (Babylon) with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries.” (Isa. 47:12.) Jonah was sent of God to testify in His name against Nineveh—her king, her nobles, her people. And how often the prophets of the Lord were commissioned to bear witness against the idolatry and immoralities of the kings and people of Israel, every Bible reader well knows. Elijah “answered” to Ahab, “I have not troubled Israel, but thou and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.” (1 Kings 18:18.) No rank was too high, no power too great, to exempt from the voice of God by his prophets. “See, I have set thee this day over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy.” (Jer. 1:11.) Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, Moab, Ammon—all the idolatrous and immoral empires and kingdoms of antiquity within the reach of the ministry of his servants, were once and again rebuked, admonished, and warned by the messengers sent to them by God. We have the example of Christ himself, in the reproofs before adverted to, so frequent; and so emphatic, against the scribes and elders of Israel—including the entire administration of the commonwealth: an example imitated by his apostles in the warnings extended by them in regard to the sins of the times—not excepting public and national evils. The book of Revelation is almost throughout a long protest against civil, as well as religious corruption—specified most clearly as to its objects—the Roman empire, under the well-known symbol of a beast, seven-headed and ten-horned, and the antichristian apostacy, its ally. And, in fine, to omit a testimony against national evils and wrongs, were to omit a testimony against that very form of sin, which, with one exception, is the most dishonouring to God, hurtful to the church, and ruinous to man in its influence and example.

There should also be a testimony against errors and sins which find a sanction under the name of religion and of the church. (1.) It can make no difference where wrong is found. God has provided no asylum for heresy or immorality. If men attempt to give them shelter under the very name of Christ, so much the more important is it that they be dragged to the light and impaled by a faithful testimony against them. (2.) The church’s own safety, and reputation, and usefulness, demand this. The design of a testimony is, in part, to deliver the victims of error from its control. And hence, it is no favour, but the very opposite, to claim for the church, or for her officers, the privilege of an undisturbed quietude in any departure from the word and law of God. (2.) The authority of Scripture, and the example of prophets, and apostles, and of Christ; himself, imperatively demand this. If the nations were reproved by all these, much more, erring and misguided, and particularly obstinate, professors of the name of God and of Christ. To none under the Old Testament, were prophets so often sent, with messages of admonition and reproof, as to the people of Israel—none were denounced so vehemently by our Saviour himself as the scribes and Pharisees, and their deluded follower—against none did Paul so often and so earnestly remonstrate and testify as against the false teachers who, even then, sought to corrupt the faith and to seduce the faithful. And finally, the seven epistles of John, (Rev. 2., 3.,) to the churches of Lesser Asia, abound in exemplifications of a faithful testimony against declining churches. (4.) The safety of the Lord’s people, and the good of souls, demand this: for of all the fortresses of error, none is of so dangerous a character as when it stands intrenched within the pale of the Christian church. When found even in national organization, it occupies a less favourable position. Indeed, it can do little harm, comparatively, until it has wrought its way among the professed disciples of Christ.

Nor does it avail to say, that a testimony against the nation or the church comes under the condemnation of Scripture as a “speaking evil of the ruler of the people,” a “speaking evil of dignities.” Scripture cannot contradict; itself. It cannot by both precept and example so clearly indicate the duty of giving error and sin no quarter, and at the same time close the mouths of the witnesses against making any assault upon them when exalted to the most conspicuous positions, and invested with the highest earthly sanctions. Mere abuse is never justifiable. To abuse the great is an aggravated offence, provided they be found employing their greatness in defence of the right. To malign the church is most offensive to Christ. To these sins the above passages refer, and not to the duty, plainly enjoined, of vindicating the truth, and Christ as its author, by a faithful testimony against that which assails both.

3. Pointed and seasonable.—This is implied in the very nature of a testimony. A witness upon the stand must testify to the case under trial, and give names and circumstances in all the requisite detail. All this is equally necessary in religious testimony-bearing. It was not left, in the case of Moses, at all indefinite as to what object the testimony referred to. “The nations round about them,” were the nations whose sins they were to avoid. And the prophets, whether sent to Israel or the heathen, were most clear and direct in their rebukes and denunciations. They warned the offenders. Our Saviour indulged in no vague generalities. He quoted (Matt. 5.) the false gloss or tradition, and laid it directly upon its authors: the Pharisees—or their fathers. Paul, in some instances, names the false teachers—and always so described them as to leave no reason to doubt of whom he spake. That wisdom is requisite here, we readily admit—we earnestly maintain; but that is no wisdom which does not give an application to its rebukes so clear and pointed, as that the attentive will not fail to show who are their object. And in this very circumstance, again, it is implied that a testimony should be seasonable—both as to time and place. To testify against obsolete errors—if there be any such—would be of little or no use; and equally useless is a testimony against errors so remote in place as to be out of the way altogether. A Scripture testimony is a present testimony—just as Moses bore witness against the sins of Egypt and of Canaan—Elijah against the sins of Ahab and Israel—Jonah against the then sins of Nineveh—Jeremiah against sins emergent and rampant in his day—our Lord and his apostles in theirs; so should the church ever do. Any other sort of testimony is as faithless as would be that of a witness on the stand, who, instead of testifying to the acts alleged in the present indictment, should wander far away, and speak of something done by some other long ago in another place. If not pointed and seasonable, a testimony will not—as it should—“torment the men that dwell on the earth.” (Rev. 11:10.)

4.Progressive.—This property of a testimony has its origin in the fact already more than once alluded to—the varying forms and conditions of the object against which it is directed. Error is not like truth, ever the same. it puts on new aspects—dresses itself in a new garb, and baptizes itself by new names. Sins, more uniform than error, still vary; and what is more to the purpose, they become, in the progress of the church’s history and researches, better known. Hence, every age finds occasion to add to its list some new phases of error, or to direct its efforts against some new form or some newly-discovered form of sin. Arianism, Popery, Arminianism, Prelacy, Anabaptism, Hopkinsianism, rose successively, and against them, in turn, the church has testified. But she does not, in adding a new name to her lists of error, or in completing her testimony in the field of morals, drop any of the old. These still remain; partly because their objects still exist, and partly as armour laid up in a depository to be drawn out when emergencies arise. To drop—to recede—to cover over by mere general denunciation any error or sin once known, tried, and condemned, were at once most unwise and unscriptural; “unwise,” for it would be a withdrawing from clear light into obscurity, and thus subjecting herself to the danger of assault unprepared; “unscriptural,” for most express is the command of God to leave nothing behind from generation to generation. “For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God; but keep his commandments.” (Ps. 78:5, 7.) “But that which ye have, hold fast till I come.” (Rev. 2:25.) “Bind up the testimony.” (Isa. 8:20.) And the same is also clearly implied in the direction so often given to follow the footsteps of the flock—to walk as they also have walked.

We add a few remarks as to the spirit in which the church should bear her testimony. And—

1. Openly and fearlessly. This is too clearly implied in the preceding to require either illustration or proof. 2. Humbly, not in the spirit of vain-glory—but “in meekness, instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance, to the acknowledging of the truth.” (2 Tim. 2:25.) 3. With love to the souls of men: for one end of a faithful testimony is surely that it may be the means of reclaiming such as err. 4. With fervent zeal for the glory of God, as humble, but decided followers of Him of whom it is said—“The zeal of God’s house consumed him.”


The following is proposed as an addition to the argument on this chapter, already published in overture.

This article of the Testimony has a direct practical bearing in this land. In vindicating the doctrines of some preceding chapters, it has been shown, in passing, that these doctrines, in their consistent application, require such a dissent from the Constitution of these United States. This it is now proposed to establish in greater detail: in other words, to show that the governmental arrangements in this country are not such as should receive the active support of the disciples of Christ. And—

1. The Constitution of the United States makes no acknowledgement of God, or subjection to His supreme authority. That this is a duty imperative upon all nations will not, it is presumed, be denied. Even nature itself teaches it. Yet nothing of the kind can be found in the national constitution. It contains no provision in which even the name of God is mentioned. Nor is there any thing in it, either expressed or implied, which forbids an atheist to enjoy its highest honours. The only article which bears upon the subject at all is art. vi., sec. 3. “The senators and representatives shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution.” But this, unquestionably, cannot exclude even him who denies the very being of God; for if he refuse to swear, he may “affirm;” and so, without even so much as saying “So help me God,” he may take his seat in the halls of legislation. In the same way, it may easily be shown that no provision exists for excluding the profane, the drunkard, the gambler, the adulterer. Even a pagan could not be kept from a seat in the executive chair itself. And what clearer proof can there be of the alarming fact that the moral law of God Most High is not at all recognised as obligatory, or even as existing? The Constitution is the great instrument which constitutes this confederacy one nation.

It may be said that prayers are offered in the halls of Congress, and chaplains appointed in the army and navy. True; but these are all, to say the least, extra-constitutional. To omit any of these acts would not be unconstitutional, either in the letter or in the spirit, which they would be if the constitution acknowledged God, and contained a profession of allegiance to his law.

2. This instrument makes no acknowledgement of the being or dominion of Christ. Without this no nation can claim to be Christian. And yet the only allusion to the Mediator is in the date of the instrument, in which the phrase, “In the year of our Lord,” is used. If this be an acknowledgment of Christ, it will be nearly impossible to find a man engaged in any business in any part of Christendom, who is not an avowed disciple of Jesus Christ: for even atheists, Socinians, infidels, date their deeds, and even their letters, by the Christian era. The idea is preposterous. And, still more. If the constitution acknowledges Christ, then could no infidel consistently swear it, and yet multitudes have done so: the convention which framed it was composed, in part, of infidels—and yet who ever heard of any charge of inconsistency brought against them in swearing to support the constitution? And we add, that by this kind of argument, we not only demonstrate that the constitution does not in terms avouch the dominion of Christ, but also that it does not even in intention; in short, that it was designed to set up a government in express derogation of His claims as the “Governor among the nations.” The very framers of this document and their immediate successors understood it in this sense. By the vi. article of the constitution, treaties with foreign powers become part of the supreme law of the land. Now, as early as 1797, the following article was introduced into a treaty formed with the Bey of Tripoli:—“The government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. It has, in itself, no character of enmity against the laws or religion of a Mussulman.”

3. The constitution recognises and sanctions oppression. It is admitted that as it regards the general principles of human freedom, the constitution presents not a little that is worthy of commendation. As it relates to those already free, the system which it organized is well adapted to encourage enterprise and activity; or rather, it imposes few or none of those restraints upon the free action of the individual citizen in the prosecution of the business of his trade or profession, which prevail in the old world. But to this there is one grand and fatal exception. It does not recognise the manhood, and consequent rights, of all the inhabitants of the land. It was made for the favoured class. Slaves are held under constitutional sanctions. There are four articles of the constitution that refer to slavery. Art. v. see. 3, prescribes the ratio of representation and direct taxation—directing that in arranging this basis there shall be added to all “free persons” “three-fifths of all other persons.” Who can these be but slaves?—for, as all know, apprentices—the only class that could by any supposition belong to the latter class—are free persons. The 9th sec. of the same article prohibits the government from legislating against the African slave-trade for twenty years, and left it optional to do it at the end of that time or not. An article that bound the nation to spread its flag over piracy until 1808, and leaves it at liberty to do so now, needs no comment, especially when we remember that this same document is very careful to guard against any thing in the shape of an acknowledgment of Christianity or national support of its claims: Art. vi, sec. 3, declaring that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” and the first amendment to the constitution, providing that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” Allow the slave-trade, but forbid any recognition of the religion of Jesus Christ! Art. iv., sec. 2, is in these words:—“No person held to service or labour in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or provision therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up upon claim of the party to whom such labour or service is due.” This is plain, certainly. If in any State, slaves are held by law, they are not to be liberated on their escaping, but shall be “delivered up” to their oppressor. How idle to cavil about the word “person!”—slaves are persons, and they so speak of them; or upon the word “due!” for by what rule is this debt to be tried? By the laws of the slaveholding States—and by no other or higher law—for the constitution declares itself to be “supreme law.” Nor does it avail to say that this article might still be operative, as in the case of apprentices, were there no slaves; for while there are slaves it gives slaveholders a national sanction in their iniquity, and pledges the States or the nation—and it matters not which—to employ their power in returning unhappy fugitives from oppression to their galling chains. It aggravates greatly the shamelessness of this provision, that it is not only inconsistent with the very ends of civil government—the protection of the rights and liberties, particularly of the weak and helpless—but also in direct opposition to the law of the Most High—“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee.” (Deut. 23:15.)

The fourth is art. iv., sec. 3, in which the States engage to protect each other against “domestic violence;” a provision manifestly referring chiefly to the slaves—it is “domestic” violence—and which pledges the free States to employ their resources in holding the slaves in chains, should they, as the States themselves had just done, seek to secure their liberty by an appeal to arms.

These provisions, if all else were right in the constitution, would furnish ample reason for standing aloof from any active support of the government of this country. To sanction oppression, and much more to become ourselves oppressors, as in the return of fugitive slaves, is to incur the wrath of Heaven. “Wo unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work.” (Jer. 22:18.)

It avails nothing against all this to say that the constitution was established to “secure liberty,” &c. This is found in the preamble of the constitution; but to ascertain the real character of this instrument, as of any other, we must examine its details. For example, the general design of an association for business of any kind may be altogether lawful, even laudable; but if an article were inserted that it would withhold, if it could be done legally, the lawful wages of the operatives, no moral man could join the association. The cases are parallel; and such a provision, however difficult to conceive of or execute in the case of a private company, is very possible and practicable in a constitution which is above the law. It is preposterous to assert that we must take the general design of the framers of a constitution as stated by themselves, as evidence, in spite of facts to the contrary, of what they really did do. But, in truth, the eye of the framers and adopters of the constitution of the United States was not upon the slaves at all when they inserted their preamble; they regarded only those already free, and gave their sanction—as one of the attributes of freedom—to the holding of slaves, in allowing the States to make slaveholding laws, and then casting over them the aegis of the nation.

4. The constitution expressly binds this nation not to do any thing for the support of religion. The first amendment of the constitution is as follows—“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion;” and art. vi., sec. 3, as already quoted, forbids any “religious test” in reference to the holding of office. None can doubt that the intent, as the very letter, of these provisions, is to establish a government which shall take no cognizance of religion—of the Bible—of the kingdom of Christ. They are, indeed, sagaciously worded. The terms employed are calculated to direct the mind to the establishments of the old world, in which religion has been made an engine of state policy, and “test acts” used for the purpose of excluding the true friends of God from places of power. But under this disguise we readily discern an infidel spirit, which would cast a slur upon the religion of Christ, and set up a government that should not give any countenance or aid to its propagation. And need we add, the history of this land has furnished a sad commentary upon the true bearings and results of these provisions? The halls of legislation have been disgraced by not a few avowed infidels, by the immoral, the reckless, the scoffer; and the capitol of the country has become notorious as the theatre of vicious orgies—as one of the places where it is most difficult to keep up a bright standard of evangelical religion. We add, that the very attempt to make civil government neutral between truth and error, virtue and vice, is to disparage an institution which God has “ordained” for His own glory, and subjected to His Son, for the promotion of His beneficent reign. Such an attempt is as vain as it is wicked. He that is not “for” Christ, is “against” him. He that “gathereth not with Him, scattereth abroad.” And vain in another sense, for Christ will not be robbed of His glory. If men will not give it, He will, sooner or later, take it.

By such considerations as these we vindicate our dissent from the constitution of the country, and we exhibit our dissent by refusing to swear oaths to support it, or the State constitutions linked in with it, by declining to vote or hold office where an oath is required, and by refusing to sit upon juries in courts of law. Refusing to swear, it follows, of course, that office must be declined with which an oath to sustain the constitution is connected. If an office cannot be held, the vote which is designed to send the candidate to swear the oath, must also be withheld. And as to sitting upon juries, they are part of the machinery of the court: they decide according to law—the jurors are recognised as acting in the capacity of citizens, for none but citizens may be jurors. That they are to decide according to law is most evident—otherwise, why enact laws? At best they could have only an advisory power—the jury would be the legislature! And hence, whether the juror be sworn in terms to find his verdict “according to the law,” or merely “according to the evidence,” is entirely immaterial: he cannot pronounce an accused person “guilty,” whom he believes to have violated no law of the land, nor can he refuse his verdict—sitting as he does in a court constituted for the very purpose of applying the law—provided he believes him to have violated it. True, the jury is the judge both of the law and of the evidence; that is, they are to decide what is the law of the land, with all the light they can get—but they are not to make law, nor can they even decide on the constitutionality of any law, for the constitution provides how such a question is to be determined. In short, the juror is a part of the judicial machinery of the land—with limited powers, and these controlled by the law—which is itself based upon and derives its authority from the constitution.

In view of all this, we judge it right, safe, pleasing to God, and in the issue most conducive to the high ends of our Testimony, to occupy a position apart from the national and State arrangements of this land: recognising at the same time whatever is excellent in them, and labouring by our teachings and arguments to lead those around us to see things as we see them, that so the requisite changes may be introduced, and the institutions of the country made such as can consistently be supported by the faithful servants and witnesses of Christ. But, whatever the immediate fruit of our efforts, we cannot adopt the maxim of the Jesuits, and “do evil that good may come;” we cannot swear to what we believe wrong, and hated of God, even with a purpose to seek its amendment. Let public opinion be changed or brought right, and there will be no difficulty in establishing a scriptural government. To do otherwise than we do, would be to sacrifice a good conscience, weaken our testimony, and so hinder, instead of promoting that reformation which we are sure is greatly needed, and for which we labour and pray.