SECTION VI. Containing an outline of the Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, and Government to which the Old Dissenters adhere; and of their present situation. [Anno 1806.]
THE form of sound words, which Christ himself has exhibited in the Sacred Oracles, the Dissenters always consider as the rule for their doctrine. As a subordinate standard, agreeable to this, they adopt the Westminster Confession of Faith, with the Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, which they consider as a well-digested summary of what should be taught in the church. These doctrines are generally distinguished by the names—EVANGELICAL or CALVINISTIC. But the Dissenters wish to regard things, rather than names. With respect to worship, they consider the following, as the Divinely instituted ordinances of religious worship, in which God is to be worshipped, in spirit and in truth:—Public prayers, with the heart and with the understanding also, and in a known tongue, but not in written, or humanly prescribed forms;—singing psalms of Divine inspiration, and these alone;—reading, and expounding the Scriptures;—preaching and receiving the Word;—administering, and receiving the sacraments of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper;—together with public fasting and thanksgiving, as the circumstances of the church may require. But they reject all rites and ceremonies of human invention, without exception. Agreeably to this, they follow, substantially, as a subordinate rule, the Westminster Directory for public worship.
For regulating their discipline, both as to matter and manner, the Dissenters wish carefully to attend unto what the Spirit saith to the churches, especially in the New Testament; while, in consistency with this, they take what aid they can find from the ancient books of discipline, of public authority in the Church of Scotland, together with the acts and decisions of assembly, in the time of the Reformation. And as to the particular mode of proceeding in these matters, they observe much the same forms of process, with the other Presbyterian churches of Scotland.
With regard to church rule, and the subordination of the several ecclesiastic courts, the Old Dissenters are strict Presbyterians; taking, according to the best judgment they are able to form of them, the Holy Scriptures for their infallible standard; and in subordination to these, adopting the Form of Presbyterial Church government, agreed upon by the Westminster Assembly. Some of their reasons, for preferring this to every other mode of managing matters, in the Church of Christ, may be seen above.
The Old Presbyterian Dissenters have nothing to boast, with respect to the numbers of either their ministers or people. They have not, as yet, had any ecclesiastical court among them, higher than a Presbytery. They have, indeed, three of these in their connexion; one in Scotland, one in Ireland, and one in North America. These and the people under their inspection, have hitherto, on account of their local situation, only considered themselves, and corresponded together, as sister churches, espousing the same testimony, and acting on the same principles. It hath sometimes, indeed, been proposed to divide the Scotch Presbytery, and to form a Synod; but owing to a considerable number of deaths amongst their ministers, it hath not yet been carried into execution. In Scotland, they have about sixteen congregations; some small, and some larger, but none of them very numerous. Of these, eleven have fixed pastors, two of the eleven being collegiate charges. The rest of the congregations are vacant for the present. In Ireland, they have ten congregations, which have fixed pastors, and two vacant. In America, five, which have fixed pastors, and four or five vacant. Their Judicial Testimony, together with the various Defences thereof; their Terms of Communion, accompanied with an Explanation and Defence; together with their several Warnings, against Popery, against Socinian and Unitarian errors, and against some prevailing sins and immoralities, are before the public, and may be consulted by those who choose.