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SECTION II.  The Rise and Progress of the Old Dissenters.


SECTION II. The Rise and Progress of the Old Dissenters.

James Dodson

As the Dissenters hold no new opinions, with respect to either civil or religious matters; it is obvious that they cannot, with any propriety, be denominated a sectary, or new upstart society. If we carefully consider the well authenticated histories of our memorable Reformation, from 1638 to 1649; if we examine the printed acts of assembly, during that period, and also the acts of parliament, fixing the conditions of civil rule in the nation; if we candidly peruse the subordinate standards of the Church of Scotland, adapted at that time, as parts of the covenanted uniformity for the three kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland; if we peruse also the Informatory Vindication, Cloud of Witnesses, Plain Reasons [for Presbyterians Dissenting from the Revolution Church], and other books of a similar description, and compare with all these, the Judicial Testimony of the Reformed Presbytery; the native conclusion will be, that the origin of the Old Presbyterian Dissenters, under the inspection of the said Presbytery, may be safely traced to the reformed and covenanted Church of Scotland, when she looked forth fair as the morning, at the year 1649. The Old Dissenters evidently stand on the same ground with that famous church; though they must confess themselves the unworthy descendants of such ancestors.

From the begun decline, in 1650, to the restoration of Charles II. in 1660, the dismal clouds of Cromwell’s usurpation, enthusiastic Independency, and public resolutions, together with sinfully-qualified tolerations and indulgences, rendered it extremely difficult to recognise the faithful witnesses, for the preceding reformation attainments. Yet, even during that period, there was a considerable number, whose unextinguished zeal for the reformation, influenced them to stand boldy forward, and display a banner for the truth. This necessary duty was performed by solemn remonstrances, and protestations, against the public resolutions, and other backslidings of the time.

From the Restoration, to the year 1688, when the Revolution took place, comprehending the twenty-eight years of the most inhuman and bloody persecution, the Church’s testimony for the word of Christ’s patience, was honourably supported, by the faithful preaching of the Gospel in the fields, after those ministers, who honestly avowed their attachment to the former reformation, had been silenced by public authority, and ejected from their parish churches; by solemn declarations and testimonies openly exhibited against the prevailing abominations of the time; by the Sufferers’ Informatory Vindication, in connection with Mr. Shields’ Hind let loose, and the Rev. Mr. Renwick’s Testimony against toleration, given in to some ministers in Edinburgh, a short while before his death; and by the earnest contendings and dying speeches of the martyrs, who sealed their steadfast adherence to the truths of Christ with their blood, shed on the scaffolds, and on the high places of the field.

From this noble race of martyrs, the line of succession was still preserved, at the memorable Revolution, in 1688. The last ordained minister, who, previous to this period, had gone out and in before them, saying, in his Master’s name, “This is the way, walk ye in it,” was the forementioned Rev. James Renwick; who suffered at the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, Feb. 17th, 1688. After his death, Mr. Alexander Shields, author of the Hind let loose, &c. and a preacher, who had laboured a considerable time along with Mr. Renwick, in supporting the same testimony, continued to preach among the people, who had lately lost their young champion, and much beloved pastor.

While matters were in this situation, a Mr. Thomas Linning, who had been formerly sent over to Holland, for finishing his education and receiving ordination, came home to Scotland. He, together with a Mr. William Boyd, who had also lately come from Holland, joined with Mr. Shields. These three together administered Gospel ordinances, for a few months longer, and renewed the covenants at Lesmahago, amongst the poor afflicted people above-mentioned. But when the General Assembly met at Edinburgh, in 1689, the three ministers, deserting their former flock, and relinquishing, in many respects at least, their former principles, gave in their accession to the judicatories of the Revolution church. Thus the people, who wished closely to adhere to the reformation attainments, were left as sheep without a shepherd.

Having, long before this time, formed themselves into praying societies, they still continued these; and had, at particular times, a general correspondence of all the societies together; in order to ascertain the state of matters through the body at large, and to cultivate a closer acquaintance with one another. In this very trying, and rather singular situation, without any change of sentiment, they steadfastly adhered to the very same principles, which were openly espoused, and solemnly ratified, by the covenanted Church of Scotland, in the times of her purest reformation; as can be clearly and fully proved, from their written deeds and declarations.

Thus they remained for about the space of sixteen years, till, in 1706, the Rev. John M’Millan, formerly minister of Balmaghie, in Galloway, having previous to this left the Established Church, acceded to them, and espoused their cause. Receiving an unanimous call to be their minister; he took the pastoral charge of them, and laboured amongst them, for many years after, with much acceptance; as hundreds of respectable characters have attested, both before and since his death.

After Mr. M’Millan had laboured long by himself, he and his people at last received the accession of the Rev. Thomas Nairn; who had been in connexion with the Secession church; but, for reasons which were published to the world, had dissented from them. Mr. M’Millan and he, with some ruling elders who had been regularly ordained before, and who held the same principles, formed and constituted a Presbytery, in the name of Christ, the alone King and Head of his Church, on the 1st of August, 1743, under the title of THE REFORMED PRESBYTERY. This title it still bears, not that they consider themselves as any better than other men, or as having, in their own persons, arrived at higher degrees of perfection: Such thoughts they never entertained; but purely for this reason, that it is at least their honest intention, faithfully to adhere to the whole of our reformation attainments, in both church and state, without knowingly dropping any part of these. On this account, it is presumed, they may justly enough be called the REFORMED, or REFORMATION-PRESBYTERY; while, in another point of view, they might, with equal propriety, be denominated, the DISSENTING PRESBYTERY.

A Mr. Alexander Marshall, who had formerly got the ordinary education of regular students in divinity, having passed the usual pieces of trial, with approbation, before the Reformed Presbytery, was by them licensed to preach the Gospel, in the month of April, 1744. He soon after received a call, was regularly ordained, and took his seat with the other two, as a co-presbyter. After this the Reformed Presbytery, from time to time, received small accessions to the number of both their ministers and people. Having obtained help of God, they continue to this day; witnessing none other things, than what many thousands, in the once famous and reformed Church of Scotland, have witnessed before them.