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James Dodson

[from The Reformed Presbyterian, Vol. XXIV. No. 1./Vol. VI. No. 1. New Series.

January, 1860. pp. 23-24.]

FOR reasons that need not be mentioned, I could not be present at the last meeting of Illinois presbytery. One item in their minutes appears to me rather remarkable:

“The ordination and installation of officers elect in Clarinda was judged invalid through previous disorganization of the session, and a commission, consisting of D. M’Kee, John Alexander and D. Porter, was appointed to examine, ordain and install the officers elect.”

I have it from good authority that the case was this: the Rev. James Neal constituted a session, with only one elder, and ordained some more elders. Now, I hold, that in doing so, he acted agreeably to the order of Christ’s church.

In 1825 I preached, by presbyterial appointment, a part of the summer and fall in Yorktown, where Mr. Bowden now officiates.

The people requested me to administer the Lord’s supper among them. Understanding that the Northern Presbytery had appointed Dr. [James] Chrystie to administer that ordinance in Stirling, I wrote to him to come to my assistance, but was answered that he could not come. There was but one elder in the congregation, James Guthrie, a native of Ireland, who had exercised his office formerly in Galway congregation, N.Y. But they had three elders elect. What was I to do?

After serious deliberation, I came to the conclusion that Christ has promised to be with two met in his name, Matt. 18:20, and if Mr. Guthrie was of the same opinion with me, we would ordain the three candidates. When I consulted him, he told me that Dr. [Gilbert] M’Master was of the same opinion with me, viz., that, in extreme cases, one minister and one elder might constitute a session.

So we constituted a session, examined the candidates, and, being well pleased with their answers, we ordained them, carefully observing the settled order of the Covenanted church. And, with them to attend at the tables, I administered the sacrament.

Returning home to Vermont, by the canal, I stopped in Schenectady with the intention of preaching there on the Sabbath; but I found our people preparing to attend the communion with Dr. M’Master at Duanesburg. I went with them. In the course of my interview with Dr. M’Master, I gave him an account of what I had done, and it met his entire approbation. The elders whom I ordained were: James Milroy, father to the Rev. Mr. [William] Milroy of Northwood, James Guthrie, who was a member of our Synod in 1833, and James Cullings, who was a member of our Synod in 1855. They were all sons of elders. At the time those elders were ordained, we had in the church such men as Dr. [Alexander] M’Leod, [Samuel B.] Wylie, [James R.] Wilson, [John] Black, M’Master and Chrystie. And, without disparagement to my brethren, I may be allowed to say, that they understood Presbyterian order as well as an that we have in the church at present; yet it was never intimate, by any of them, that there was any thing irregular in the ordination of those elders. It is certain that one elder is not a session, neither is one minister; but it is equally certain that a minister and an elder may hold a session, if the case requires it.

Again, we are told, in the Covenanter for November, that “the elder . . cannot enter, officially, a new place, without the vote of the people.” Now, if this be so, what right had the presbytery to send elders to perform official work, where they were not elected? I am so much of a Papist, that I hold re-baptism or re-ordination to be sacrilege.

I hope, Mr. Editor, that you will give this a place in your magazine, that the attention of our church may be called to the subject, and that it may be properly investigated.