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James Dodson

Before parting from the reader, some more general statements are due. Let it be distinctly understood that neither I, the Reformed Presbytery, no, nor our worthy and faithful ancestors, ever claimed personal perfection, or perfection for our Testimony. On the contrary, I believe that on the grand doctrine of the mediatorial headship and its corollaries, the witnesses have made real progress since the overthrow of the Second Reformation. The very existence of an extensive agitation for national as well as ecclesiastical recognition of Christianity is proof of progress; though this desirable object can never be effected by the means now most popular. In the overthrow of the great national sin of slavery in the United States, many professing witnesses were overthrown; but they got no more credit, and they deserved no more than was accorded to infidels, the enemies of our divine Lord. The popular judgment was correctly expressed, “It was not man’s war at all; it was God Almighty’s war.”

What has become of the “Evangelical Alliance” which sought to unite all the professed disciples of Christ, and with which distinguished Reformed Presbyterian ministers were ambitious to identify and cooperate? The elements proved on trial to be too heterogeneous to be galvanized. The elements which would not crystallize being now rejected, the effort is attempted to amalgamate all Presbyterians, especially those who have expressly repudiated or emasculated the only scriptural bonds for human society—“the Old Covenants.” “Shall they prosper? Shall they escape that do such things, or shall they break the covenant and be delivered?” These are startling questions, well calculated to rouse the careless. Living in contact with three generations, I have seen so much instability in profession, so many breaches of sacramental and ordination vows, oaths and subscriptions, that I have been often tempted to say with the Psalmist, “All men are liars!” I know that even God’s law and covenant will not bind the soul without grace. After some thirty or forty years’ agitating the question of covenant renovation and a variety of overtures, the Pittsburgh Bond appeared. The actors in that drama of 1871 were not agreed in their interpretation of the document. Some said it was a renovation of our Covenants. Some thought, if it was, it needed to be “supplemented.” The best interpretation of that treacherous bond was by those who viewed it as “a new American covenant,” a warrant for “maintaining Christian friendship with pious men of every name,” by actually and consistently joining their fellowship; with hymns, organs and Freemasonry, “where they might be more useful.” Similar action by a part of the “sister Synod” of Ireland was followed by erasing the Auchensaugh Deed from their Terms of Communion, and by progressive disintegration of the body. Just before the issuing of their “New Testimony” in Scotland there was much said and written about “renewing the Covenants;” and now, after some forty or more years’ discussion, overtures are still held in retentis. Indeed, it seems to be no easy task to harmonize those who plead for “civil magistrates serving the Lord,” and those who advocate “religious equality.” Cooperation and familiarity with the great Presbyterian Council may tend much to future harmony in the “sister Synod” of Scotland. The experiments made in this generation confirm and sadly illustrate the saying of one among the Covenanters of more than two hundred years ago, “Covenanting is either a uniting or dividing ordinance.”

Some of the topics handled in this work have been published heretofore in magazines; but I have thought it expedient to combine them and others in a more compact form, that it may appear that my solemn vows of adherence to all the scriptural testimonies of my predecessors have undergone no change in the past half century. Firmness is often misnamed obstinacy.[1.] Rome persecuted none but “obstinate heretics.” She even proposed to compromise with Luther, but he belonged to the class described in Psalm xv. 4. I desire to belong to that class, however far I differ from modern Lutherans. While defending my position and character, in due subordination to truth, against the sophistries and calumnies of its betrayers, I have not scrupled to connect the names with the measures of public actors, while carefully abstaining from animadversion on their private character or conduct. Perhaps, however, the private conduct of some men will account for their public measures. The gross immoralities of Archbishop Sharpe in private will best account for his treachery and perfidy in the public cause. “Some items of the conduct of some of the members of the Scottish Synod” (whose successors totally abandoned their profession) may be added; such as the forgery of Wm. Symington on the Minutes of Synod, of Goold on the Minutes of Session, the wenching and drunkenness of Osburn, the treachery of Neilson, and the perfidy of McIndoe in reference to the covenant.” Alas! such conduct has not ceased, although sedulously concealed “for the sake of the cause.”

That I have never been opposed to progress in the matter and form of the church’s testimony, convinced that Reformation Principles Exhibited and the New Testimony in Scotland and Ireland are essentially defective, as also that the Testimony of 1761 is in its phraseology in a measure obsolete; on my return from Britain and Ireland, I issued a circular inviting cooperation “in re-adjusting the Judicial Testimony.” The result has been known to many since that date, 1864. The very proposal of progress in the only correct line—“the footsteps of the flock”—only provoked such intense hostility on both sides of the Atlantic, that the magazines of the time poured forth a perfect volley of abuse; yea, successive volleys of defamation and misrepresentation. Ephraim “went on frowardly in the way of his heart; he hath mixed himself among the people. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not; yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not. And the pride of Israel testifieth to his face; and they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek him for all this.” Indeed, it has been hinted by one of themselves, that since their new method of covenanting has failed to hold them together, nothing will affect this but either the practical carrying out of their profession, or the funds. And since every minister carries out his profession in his own way, the only bond of union and term of communion is the funds. In this feature too, they are assimilated to the more corrupt bodies, as well as to Ephraim of old. “And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance; in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin.” Divine grace alone will reform an individual; the same is true of a church or nation; but this is rarely, if ever, vouchsafed in cases of breach of covenant. 2 Chr. xxxvi. 16. “It is a fearful things to fall into the hands of the living God.”

The Lord has preserved his covenant people in all past ages. Provision was made for them at an early period. “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” This is the ground of his people’s faith: “He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom he loved.” And, whether in palace, like David; or in prison, like Joseph, the lot of each is best for him. Speaking of past and present “afflictions of the gospel,” the triumphant language of Paul is, “None of these things move me.” But, Paul, perhaps you are mistaking matters? Your firmness may be mere obstinacy. No; “I know whom I have believed; and therefore I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” The reader will see in what goes before, that I early selected Paul as the best model for a gospel minister to copy in like circumstances; and now, after a long and checkered life, I say to any young minister into whose hands these lines may come, Be thou a follower of me only so far as you find me following Paul. I may truly say, “The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.” Since the day of my licensure, my apparently unfruitful services in the ministry have all along for fifty-three years, been in constant demand, even beyond my ability to supply. I have never courted nor delighted in controversy; nor have I hesitated to defend the cause of the truth when assailed, or to testify against error and immorality, especially as incorporated in the constitution of Church or State. I have never been without those who helped to uphold my soul by their prayers, and my body by contributing of their substance. Many, very many, precious “companions in tribulation” are long since silent in the grace, by whose counsel and words of cheer I have often been refreshed and animated for spiritual warfare. And to this hour I believe I share a place in the affection and confidence of many of the excellent ones of the earth on both sides of the Atlantic. And if the mere antepast of the communion of Christians in the wilderness be pleasant and refreshing, what may we expect it to be in the heavenly Canaan? I have had occasion to grieve when forsaken by a “Demas who loved this present world;” but never had the greater occasion of Paul’s grief when “all they which were in Asia were turned away from him,” misled, no doubt, by Phygellus and Hermogenes.

I have often used sharpness elsewhere and in this connection when treating of error and its abettors; but the prophets and apostles were before me as safe guides. I have not been conscious of hating any brother in my heart when rebuking and withstanding him for blameworthy conduct, as Paul did Peter. We are infallibly taught, that “open rebuke is better than secret love,” and that “faithful are the wounds of a friend:” that “he that rebuketh a man afterward shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue.”

The right management of a testimony for truth against those who propagate error, is one of the most delicate, difficult and disagreeable of a faithful minister’s various functions: yet this was a special part of the “burden of the word of the Lord” by all the prophets of the Lord, John the Baptist, Christ himself, and his apostles. What is the last book of the Bible but a continuous testimony against existing corruptions already in the Asiatic churches, and the still greater corruptions of the prospective anti-Christ? Yet, however irksome to men of peace, necessity is laid upon the witnesses of Christ to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints;” and only those shall be crowned who “strive lawfully.” This I have long attempted, preferring this kind of warfare to living in a sinful peace. I have endeavored so to conduct the spiritual warfare as to gain opponents, and not to make implacable enemies. And how pleasant is the anticipation of rest—eternal rest from this state of ceaseless warfare with a body of sin, when the glorious Captain of Salvation shall issue his order to lay aside the whole armor of God, as no longer to be used: when the weary but victorious soldier of the cross shall enter into peace; where the wicked cease from troubling and where the weary be at rest.

Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, but Great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant; make the writer and the reader perfect in every good work to do his will, working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ; to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.



[1] The old maxim is strikingly characteristic of our age: tempora mutantur, et nos cum illis mutamur, “times are changed, and we are changed with them.”