THE Old Presbyterian Dissenters have assumed, and received the appellation of DISSENTERS, on account of the part which their forefathers acted, at the Revolution, in 1689, while they openly and candidly dissented from the public deeds of the nation’s representatives, in both church and state; considering these deeds as involving a mournful departure from former laudable attainments. The epithet OLD has ordinarily been prefixed, to signify, that they are of longer standing, as a distinct body, than any other denomination of Presbyterians, who have separated from the Established Church. In some parts of the country, especially in Ireland, they have been called COVENANTERS, because of their avowed attachment to the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms.
Various nick-names are frequently given to them by others. They have been called WHIGS; a term which, it is well known, has often been applied to the zealous friends of civil or religious liberty,—Cameronians; from the Rev. Richard Cameron, who fell at Airsmoss, in Kyle, on the 20th of July, 1680, by the sword of his bloody persecutors; while he, and a number of his followers, being suddenly and furiously attacked, were nobly defending their lives and religious liberties,—MOUNTAIN-MEN; on account of their adhering to the same cause with those, who supported and countenanced the faithful preaching of the Gospel, on the mountains and moors of Scotland, during the Persecution; and because they themselves, in want of better conveniency, have often been obliged, even since the Revolution, to administer ordinances in the open fields: though this is not so much the case now, as it once was,—M’MILLANS; from the name of the first minister who espoused their cause, after the Revolution; and whose immediate descendants, of the second and third generation, are yet employed in ministering among them. Were the intention of the imposer good, all these nick-names might be considered as very harmless.
There is, however, one very forbidding epithet, viz. ANTI-GOVERNMENT PEOPLE, which some have bestowed on the Dissenters, but which they justly reject, with abhorrence; in as much as they firmly believe, and have also repeatedly shown from the press, that it is totally inapplicable to them. Unless, indeed, it be either from gross ignorance of their avowed principles, or from pure malice, wishing to make them as obnoxious, before the world, as possible, it is difficult to conceive, how this term could ever be applied to the Old Dissenters. So far are they from being unfriendly to civil government amongst men, that they have uniformly and strenuously contended, that it is a precious ordinance, instituted by the Great Creator of heaven and earth, and comprehended in the revelations of his will; in which the ends of it are evidently declared to be, his own glory, the external protection of his church, where the true religion is known and professed, and the good of mankind at large. Nor do Dissenters object to the particular kind of civil government, adopted in our own country, viz. a mixed monarchy. The great matters, on which their scruples turn, are the terms, or fundamental conditions, on which persons are admitted into places of power and trust, in the nation. Could they, in judgment and conscience, approve of these, an idea necessarily implied in owning any government, so long as language retains its usual meaning; did they find these terms of advancement agreeable to the revealed will of God, which they consider as the standard of human conduct, in civil as well as in religious society, and could they once be persuaded in their own minds, that they are consistent with the fundamental laws of the kingdom, in the purest times of that Reformation, unto which they still wish to adhere; instead of differing from the other inhabitants of Britain, concerning their acknowledgments of the present government, they would find a peculiar pleasure in concurring with them. But plainly perceiving, that the Revolution terms of advancement to power are of a different description; the Old Dissenters cannot, in judgment, approve; but find themselves, indeed, under the disagreeable necessity of openly entering a protest against national backsliding, whether it be in church or state. Doing so, they consider themselves as proceeding on the great, and generally admitted principle, that human society is formed by mutual consent, and not by compulsion, or by one party lording it over another. If this be the case, Dissenters cannot consistently be refused the privilege of openly avowing their satisfaction with the fundamental laws of that Great National Society, to which, in the persons of their worthy ancestors, they heartily gave their consent, and to which they still adhere in their own persons; neither can they be justly blamed, after using the best means of information in their power, for following the dictates of their own mind, under the direction of a higher rule, in dissenting from the deeds of those who, at the Revolution, receded from the former laudable attainments, and reorganized the society on principles entirely different.
But let it always be carefully observed, that after publicly entering their dissent from the Revolution-settlement of church and state, and candidly assigning their reasons; it ever hath been, and they trust ever shall be, the study of the Old Dissenters, to live peaceably and inoffensively, without giving disturbance either to small or great. Nor do they wish this to be admitted on their bare assertion. Let stubborn facts bear witness. Let their conduct undergo the severest investigation, for a hundred years back; and it will be found, that in no rebellions, seditions, or public disturbances of any kind, have they ever had a share, or taken any active part. They never entertained the idea, of either opposing public measures, or propagating their own principles, by violence; nor had they ever the remotest thought of injuring either the person, or the property, of any man, high or low, rich or poor, however far he may differ from them, in his opinions. On the contrary, they sincerely wish, by every consistent mean in their power, to promote the peace and happiness of human society, wherever Providence may order their lot. With what shadow, then, of either reason or candour, they may still be called the ANTI-GOVERNMENT PEOPLE, the impartial public shall be left to judge.